"Yes," he said. "In India they have something called the caste system. Members of different castes cannot marry or even eat together. The lowest caste is called the Untouchables."
"But the Untouchables can touch each other?"
"Then that's it, exactly. The Nutters were the bottom of the pile, but we had each other. We all got invited to the prom and everything, from inside our own group. But poor Scotty with his electricity and his trigonometry, he just didn't belong to any group. It was like we were all the animals on Noah's ark that came in pairs, except of his kind there was only the one."
It struck me how foolishly I was chattering about something that was neither here nor there. Mama would call this "rattling your teeth." I drank about half my beer without saying another word.
Then I said, "I could kind of see it with Scotty, but Esperanza had somebody. Has somebody. How could she want to leave you? It's not fair." I realized I was furious with Esperanza. I wondered if he was too, but didn't dare ask. We sat there in the shadowy living room thinking our thoughts. You could hear us swallowing beer.
Then out of the clear blue sky he said, "In Guatemala City the police use electricity for interrogation. They have something called the 'telephone,' which is an actual telephone of the type they use in the field. It has its own generator, operated by a handle." He held up one hand and turned the other one in a circle in front of the palm.
"A crank? Like the old-fashioned telephones?"
"Operated with a crank," he said. "The telephones are made in the United States."
"What do you mean, they use them for interrogation? Do you mean they question you over the telephone?"
Estevan seemed annoyed with me. "They disconnect the receiver wire and tape the two ends to your body. To sensitive parts." He just stared at me until it hit me like a truck. I felt it in my stomach muscles, just the way I did when I realized that for nearly an hour I had been in the presence of Newt Hardbine's corpse. There is this horrible thing staring you in the face and you're blabbering about bowling-pin lamps and 4-H.
"I'll get us another beer," I said. I went to the kitchen and brought back the rest of the six pack, carrying it by the plastic rings like a purse. I popped two of them open and plumped back down on the sofa, no longer caring what I looked like. The schoolgirl nerves that had possessed me half an hour ago seemed ridiculous now; this was like having a crush on some guy only to find out he's been dating your mother or your math teacher. This man was way beyond me.
"I don't know exactly how to say this," I said. "I thought I'd had a pretty hard life. But I keep finding out that life can be hard in ways I never knew about."
"I can see that it would be easier not to know," he said.
"That's not fair, you don't see at all. You think you're the foreigner here, and I'm the American, and I just look the other way while the President or somebody sends down this and that, shiploads of telephones to torture people with. But nobody asked my permission, okay? Sometimes I feel like I'm a foreigner too. I come from a place that's so different from here you would think you'd stepped right off the map into some other country where they use dirt for decoration and the national pastime is having babies. People don't look the same, talk the same, nothing. Half the time I have no idea what's going on around me here."
A little shadow moved in the doorway and we both jumped. It was Turtle.
"You're a rascal," I said. "You hop back to bed this minute."
She took one hop backwards, and both Estevan and I tried not to smile. "This minute," I said, in the meanest voice I could muster. She hopped backwards through the door, clapping her hands one time with each hop. We could hear her hopping and clapping all the way back through the kitchen and into bed. Snowboots jumped onto the back of the sofa and sat behind my neck, waiting for something. He made me nervous.
"All I am saying is, don't be so sure until you have all the facts," Estevan said. "You cannot know what Esperanza has had to live through."
I was confused. He was picking up the middle of a conversation I didn't even know we'd started.
"No," I said. "I don't. Or you either."
He looked away from me and touched the corners of his eyes, and I knew he was crying in the secret way men feel they have to do. He said something I couldn't hear very well, and a name, "Ismene."
I shoved Snowboots gently away from the back of my neck. "What?" I asked.