Veronica saw it just before it happened, saw it and knew. She leaned across the sink and slapped the window with a soapy hand, smack, smack and scream. Her cry alerted the sisters and sisters-in-law who had been scraping plates and wrapping up the leftover tamales, the sticky-faced children eluding rough swipes of the washcloth and the men who had gathered in the family room in front of fútbol. Maybe her scream, her soggy palm flat against the window alerted Jose as much as the double bump under the van’s tires, which had felt like nothing at all. Like running over a gardening hose, or – as he would tell Ernesto later, on their way home from the hospital – maybe a sleeping bag. Something small and insignificant left on the driveway, forgotten in the general rush of coming home from church, the women cooking the meal and chasing around the children, the men cracking open a beer to feel its satisfying cool slide down their throats. That’s where Jose had been headed, for more beer, two twenties in his wallet. This one’s on me, he’d said.
The double bump was Jose’s almost two-year-old, Carlos, escaped from the general bustle in the kitchen to follow his father outside. They’d stripped him down to a diaper for lunch, so his tangled body now looked naked, vulnerable, his brown baby skin splotched with red, his head beneath a dark patch of hair concave, hollowed like the inside of a bowl.
People spilled out the front door instantly, the screen door smacking shut between them. Jose left the keys in the ignition and hopped out, squatting down over Carlos’s body. He covered Carlos with his chest and shoulders and bare arms, as if this could protect him now. Mijo! Mijo! he screamed.
PAULA TREICK DeBOARD lives, teaches, and writes in Modesto, California. When not annoying her husband or pacifying her pets, she is hard at work on her first novel.