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"He actually wants me to go," she kept repeating, and even though she said she wasn't going to make up her mind right away, I felt in my bones that sooner or later she'd go. If I knew Lou Ann, she would go.

It seemed like the world was coming apart at the gussets. Mattie was gone more than she was home these days, "bird-watching." Terry, the red-haired doctor, had moved to the Navajo reservation up north (to work, not because he had head rights). Father William looked like he had what people in Pittman call a case of the nerves.

The last time I'd really had a chance to talk with Mattie, she'd said there was trouble in the air. Esperanza and Estevan were going to have to be moved to a safe house farther from the border. The two best possibilities were Oregon and Oklahoma.

Flat, hopeless Oklahoma. "What would happen if they stayed here?" I asked.

"Immigration is making noises. They could come in and arrest them, and they'd be deported before you even had time to sit down and think about it."

"Here?" I asked. "They would come into your house?"

Mattie said yes. She also said, as I knew very well, that in that case Estevan's and Esperanza's lives wouldn't be worth a plugged nickel.

"That just can't be right," I said, "that they would do that to a person, knowing they'd be killed. There's got to be some other way."

"The only legal way a person from Guatemala can stay here is if they can prove in court that their life was in danger when they left."

"But they were, Mattie, and you know it. You know what happened to them. To Esperanza's brother, and all." I didn't say, To their daughter. I wondered if Mattie knew, but of course she would have to.

"Their own say-so is no good; they have to have hard proof. Pictures and documents." She picked up a whitewall and I thought she was going to throw it across the lot, but she only hoisted it onto the top of a pile beside me. "When people run for their lives they frequently neglect to bring along their file cabinets of evidence," she said. Mattie wasn't often bitter but when she was, she was.

I didn't want to believe the world could be so unjust. But of course it was right there in front of my nose. If the truth was a snake it would have bitten me a long time ago. It would have had me for dinner.

Chapter 12 Into the Terrible Night

At three o'clock in the afternoon all the cicadas stopped buzzing at once. They left such an emptiness in the air it hurt your ears. Around four o'clock we heard thunder. Mattie turned over the "Closed" sign in the window and said, "Come on. I want you to smell this."

She wanted Esperanza to come too, and surprisingly she agreed. I went upstairs to phone Edna and Mrs. Parsons, though I practically could have yelled to them across the park, to say I'd be home later than usual. Edna said that was fine, just fine, the kids were no trouble, and we prepared to leave. At the last minute it turned out that Estevan could come too; he had the night off. The restaurant was closed for some unexpected family celebration. We all piled into the cab of Matties truck with Esperanza on Estevan's lap and me straddling the stick shift. The three of us had no idea where we were headed, or why, but the air had sparks in it. I felt as though I had a blind date with destiny, and someone had heard a rumor that destiny looked like Christopher Reeve.

Mattie said that for the Indians who lived in this desert, who had lived here long before Tucson ever came along, today was New Year's Day.

"What, July the twelfth?" I asked, because that's what day it was, but Mattie said not necessarily. They celebrated it on whatever day the summer's first rain fell. That began the new year. Everything started over then, she said: they planted their crops, the kids ran naked through the puddles while their mothers washed their clothes and blankets and everything else they owned, and they all drank cactus-fruit wine until they fell over from happiness. Even the animals and plants came alive again when the drought finally broke.

"You'll see," Mattie said. "You'll feel the same way."

Mattie turned onto a gravel road. We bounced through several stream beds with dry, pebbled bottoms scorched white, and eventually pulled over on high ground about a mile or so out of town. We picked our way on foot through the brush to a spot near a grove of black-trunked mesquite trees on the very top of the hill.

The whole Tucson Valley lay in front of us, resting in its cradle of mountains. The sloped desert plain that lay between us and the city was like a palm stretched out for a fortuneteller to read, with its mounds and hillocks, its life lines and heart lines of dry stream beds.