Water Running Girl

My father subsidizes my lifestyle with hand-me-down periodicals. It was in an issue of Anthropology Today, I think, that I read about people in the Pacific doing just what these homegirls and homeboys are doing here. The other thing that inspired this story is my abiding interest in the consequences of sea level rise, wetland subsidence, erosion, and the loss of infrastructure due to policy decisions. Oh, and Spanglish, and teenagers.


        " Please you so pretty querida you know you want to it's so nice," Bobby's voice soft and persuasive and he was right about one thing: Jessie wanted to.
              They were sitting together on the utility box behind the trailer at the seawall project. Everybody knew that was too close to the water, but where else could you be alone with your novio? Anyway Jessie knew the neighborhood like the back of her hand. She was born and raised on calle 69 and she knew how to keep out of the potholes -- cousin Martin called them tidepools because the water in them raised and lowered with the tide, even the ones ten blocks inland from the places where the mudflats oozed through eyeless old houses. She was sure of herself, but careful too. In school they had studied the germs in the water. They looked at them in the microscope, one by one the kids lined up and peeked at the tiny living things down there, pretty as flowers but nasty when they got inside you, a scary lesson every school kid got.
              Right here and now they had kind of a nice view of the stars because the lights were off in the whole neighborhood again. Martin had joked that too many people must not be paying their bills, but it was just because of the construction up on the boulevard and it would be fixed by morning. Martin always used the word "destruction" instead of "construction." But the new park was nice, nicer than the blocks of abandoned houses and tienditas that had been there before.
              Jessie shook herself. "No way Jose, I can't afford to. You want a hand, all right. But no puedo hacer el sexo contigo, chico, you get it? I can't afford to be careless. Mindy and Grace both due any day, my mother needs some help around the house."
             "Me neither, baby, I got implants, feel them right here, just like this, just the same as this here, feels the same through my clothes, yeah? Te quiero so bad. I know you got the implants too, I remember when you got them. No me quieres, Me quieres, I know it. Don't lie. Quieres hacerlo. You want to do it."
              "Implants shit. I know I can't get knocked up, but boy, I don't know where else you been putting that thing and I don't want to get sick."
              "I ain't put it nowhere, I ain't been with nobody in over six months, you know it's true, I been saving myself for you . . ."
              "WATER RUNNING!" She could hear Martin's big voice from the next block, shocking the neighborhood out of its dreams. "WATER RUNNING!"
              "So long baby, got to run. Your sister at home or you going to come?" Jessie was on her feet already, ready to fly, the aching in her crotch already fading.
              "I'll go get her." Bobby took his time, tucking his shirt in.
              "Lazy guys, leave all the work to the women."
              "I ain't so lazy. Got a job everyday at the public works, filling in the tidepools and stuff. You think about that one, chica -- I got something going for me, not just a backstreet loverboy like some of them."
              "I wouldn't have been talking to you in the first place if I didn't know that. Talk to you later, honey, got to go water running."
      . . . . .
              Jessie ran home, grabbed her hose and her couplings and her buckets from their place by the door and swift-walked to Dona Marisol's house. The pipe in the basement knocked loud. Jessie made her way across the car panels and old chunks of sidewalk embedded in the mud and sidled up to the valve. It was hard to turn the valve so the women could shuffle the big buckets under the opening to catch the ugly water that flowed first. They had a rhythm developed from experience, and every woman';s bucket got about the same amount before the water was clear enough to attach the splitter to the pipe and send the water off to the real tanks back at the houses. After they got the splitter on, some of the women evened the buckets out the rest of the way while the rest of them tended the splitter and saw to it that the water flowed equally to each house. They had to be alert for changes in water pressure. Sudden surges would kick the splitter around and give the women bruises if they didn't pay attention. And there was the continual danger of the houses getting unequal amounts of water, which would cause tension in the club.
           Water was running good. There would be enough for days even if it shut off before morning, like it did more and more often these days. But this time it ran all night and then some. The water club had strict rules about procedure and precedence. Sometimes, when the water ran slow, the members would get nervous and squabble, but when the water ran fast and long like this, the women standing at the pipe switched the hoses on cue and everybody's tanks got filled, a little at a time for each tank, and around the circle like that, twenty tanks, all filled, and then the backup tanks at Marcieleen's and Juanita's houses. Twelve hours later, with all the tanks filled, they hooked the regular pipe back up and the whole neighborhood started doing laundry.
           "Missed the bus," Jessie said to her "old guy," her mother, when she finally got home.
           "I'm so sorry, sweetie," Bea said, staring intently at the corner. "You let any eats in?"
      "No, that's the hallucinations," Jessie said.
           "Do you see it?"
           "Not this time. What does it look like?"
           "That's good. It's just a nest of little blind newborn kittens. Now what do you think that's about?"
      "It's about time to get your prescription filled, I guess, mama. Do you really think your hallucinations mean something? Isn't that when they say you're crazy, when you think your hallucinations mean something?"
      "No, they don't mean something, sometimes they just connect with what's going on. Like when the water's going to run, you know what I mean? Tonight I went over to ~1artin's and told him to start yelling because the water was going to be running. I knew it because there seemed to be a river running through the house, and it was so pretty, bonito como el rio de vida, I knew it was really the water coming down the pipe. Like some of the old guys can feel the rain coming?"
      "Stop it, mama, you're scaring me. Don't act like a crazy old guy and leave me be the only one in this house makes any sense.
      "Silly kid. That's not crazy talk, that's just old 9U7 talk. Anyways, you going to go uptown to the jitney or miss school today? Better make up your mind."
      "1 better miss school today. I am so tired and there's still laundry and stuff and Mindy and Grade wont touch it. They say it would give their babies germs.'
      "I guess that nurse said they should keep their hands clean while they're pregnant. Nobody told me that when I was carrying you. But they're out today anyway. Estan ir a compras. Took the jitney while you were at the pipe, buying food. I told them no more that fry box stuff 1 bring us something good for their babies, frutas, verduras, legumbres."
      "How they going to bring all that home?"
      "Took some chicos."
      "I'll get the laundry going and then go to sleep. I got to catch up so I can make up my work tomorrow."
      "Okay, honey, Yo voy a banarme while the water's running."
      "I should too. Maybe I will. The water runs for a shorter and shorter time these days. Don't want to buy water from the truck for el bano."
      ‘No. Bobby, I am not going to knock off school for you today. Thought you said you had a job every day with the Public Works."
      "Worked too much overtime last week, they give us today off. Didn't you notice how much better the streets was down hers?"
      "Not really. I just about twisted my ankle in one of those tidepools on water running. You guys never go on our street."
      Bobby slicked back his hair. "We just go where they tell us. I been telling them we ought to go on our street but they shine me on. You sure you no quieres ir al parque conmigo?"
      "1 missed yesterday for the water running. I miss more days than that I lose my place in the program. As it is I only get to miss water running days if I get all A's. Maybe see you after school, eh, chico?"
      "Yeah, right, maybe."
      The bus stop looked like a dozer had chomped it: bench in chunks all over the sidewalk, sign twisted into a pretzel. The bus didn't stop. Jessie started to walk the eight blocks up to the avenue to where the jitney ran. It cost a lot more than the bus, but it always stopped if you waited for it on the avenue, and it went right up to the school if you asked the driver nice. Jessie was still tired from the water running, so she didn't really regret the money. Maybe she would walk home so she wouldn't have to worry about money for the next day. Or maybe not: she could probably guilt-trip one of her sisters into giving her bus money.
      She sensed the truck slowing down behind her before she was aware of hearing the motor. She turned just enough so she could catch it in her peripheral vision. It was a water company truck, not the tank type of truck, but a maintenance truck. And even with the corner of her eye, Jessie could see that the driver was young and cute, with real light hair and skin, almost cream- colored. Tie was waving and smiling, not in a pushy way, but a friendly way.
      "Buenos dies, senorita," he called as he paced her with the truck. Jessie knew she ought to run away from any boy who approached her like this but her vibe detectors were happy. She turned and gave him the scowl she reserved for the boys she really liked.
      "What do you want, muchacho?' she asked.
      "I wondered if you need a ride. The buses are not stopping today. I have been giving rides to everyone I can. I know what it is like to be stranded.'
      "Mama said don't take rides from strangers."
      "Me llama Dewayne Marco Jackson Tierra, mi madre se llama Dora Luisa Marilyn Tierra Shoats de Jackson, ml padre se llama Dewayne Jackson Senior. Y usted? Como se llama? Puedo te llamar tu?"
      "Jessie Vergeson. Puedes hablar en ingles, no necesitas usar usted."
      "See, now we're not strangers anymore. Where can I take you?"
      "Well, it's getting late. I'm trying to get to Gates School."
      "I knew you were going places. Hop in, I'll take you."
      The boulevard had fewer potholes than the side streets downhill from it, and unlike them, the holes did not fill up with water when the tide came in. And besides, the truck had good suspension. It was pleasant to ride along with Dewayne and not have to stop every few blocks for some old guys and their babies and packages.
      ‘So. You work for the water company."
      ‘Yes, I do. My uncle works for them, but he didn't get me the job, he told me how to do it and I got it myself. It's a good job but it doesn't go far. I'm going to school too, I'm going to be an engineer and then I'll really go far. I seen this house in the hills. I'm going to live in it someday. Before I'm thirty. What are you studying?"
      "Medical technician. Program is pretty short and they help you get your first job. Pays good too."
      "You're going places too. Maybe we go together, eh?"
      "Not so fast. I don't go no place with boys who move too fast. I got stuff to take care of."
      "You like Go Wo movies?"
      "Not really. I like Sammi Chandar better. More romantic."
      "So you like romances?"
      "Not the stupid ones. I like Sammi Chandar because she goes for smart guys and she stands up for herself."
      "Just like you."
      "Well, here's Gates School, the end of the line. Puedo encontrarte otra vez?"
      "Maybe. Viva en calle 69, down at the end, in the blue house. Just look for the projectile hallucinations. That's my old guy. She's not nuts, though. Just got the static."
      "You shouldn't use that word for your mother. You should show respect when you talk. I have a cousin with that. He takes pills, though, so we don't see them. He just goes around like it's not happening but sometimes he has to ask about stuff. He keeps forgetting whether he has a real dog or not."
      "Does he?"
      "Yeah, but it's brown and the one he keeps seeing is white."
      Jessie laughed. "That's what it's like all right."
      "See you, then."
      "Sure, claro, hasta luego."
      Jessie shook her head as she walked away. Good thing she never let Bobby get serious. Dewayne was much cuter, and smarter, and he had nice green eyes.
      "Water running yesterday?" This was the nice teacher, the one that understood what it was like in the flats. She knew Jessie never took days off for no reason.
      "Yes. It ran for a long time. We did all the laundry and had baths and also filled the tanks. Whole neighborhood was tired yesterday, but everybody's happy and clean."
      "Congratulations. It's a good thing you got here a little early today. You need the time. We did a lot yesterday."
      "We always do a lot It's harder in your class than it is in water running!"
      Ms. Lazar's eyebrows lifted. "I just bet it is," she said, handing Jessie the disk for her makeup work.
      "Can I see the coordinator today?" Jessie asked. "My sisters are getting real close to their due date and I thought Eddie said I could have a phone card if I need one."
      "Yes, he'll be in around four. Make it quick, though, Jessie. Hagano said she's giving a test."
      Eddie was fresh from a conference on retaining disadvantaged students and he was happy to give Jessie a phone card and even happier to take advantage of her moment of need to pry deeply into her situation. Jessie understood this was the price of dependence and told him everything. "My mother's doing well, her hallucinations are under good control and she doesn't forget to take her pills, I hardly ever see anything. Both my sisters are doing well, the nurse said Mindy will have her baby in a couple of weeks. I'm keeping up good, I never miss school except sometimes when the water is running like yesterday. I don't need any contraceptives. I've got implants which I don't even need and condoms I don't need because I don't do stuff. Em too busy ~and the boys are all immature. We're doing all right for food but we could use some chile."
      Eddy smiled. "I don't know if this helps, but Gujral Foods gave us some coupons this week."
      "That'll work, sure, thanks," Jessie said.
      Dewayne showed up on the boulevard the next morning. Jessie gave him a hard time, but she got in the truck. "When do you get off school?" he asked. "I could drive you home."
      "No way," she said. "You be knocking off work early to pick me up and you lose that precious job."
      Dewayne liked walking in the park up in the heights where there was a view. From up there you could see how the houses marched right down into the water. You couldn't quite tell where useful parts stopped and the flooded parts started. It all looked the same, cute like little toys. The part of the view that Dewayne liked was higher up the slope, where there were no tidepools in the streets.
     "I used to live down the flats about six blocks from your house," he said. "Place where we live now is pretty good, water and electricity and no boos. Nice place, we got tv, web, everything. But it breaks down all the time. Got to be fixing things every day and you never know what's going to go next. I want to be living someplace you can take things for granted."
      Jessie nodded her head. How on earth was she going to ask Dewayne for water like her mother wanted her to? After two weeks the water had run out. Some of the men borrowed a pickup to buy water in the suburbs, and Jessie's family had bought some, but it wasn't enough for four people, any minute five, and it had cost almost as much as the water company truck. And who knew when the water would run again? It had been longer and longer between times, lately, and except for that one good run, it had run for shorter and shorter times.
      Dewayne stopped. "You're worried, aren't you, querida? water, isn't it? I can get you some real cheap. You just call me anytime, I got cell." Jessie knew that already, he wore the tiny phone on his belt, right over his fly.
      "You can't sell it to me, though," Jessie said. "You have to sell it to the water club. Or it's not fair and everybody gets mad."
      "No can do. Tell you what: I sell you the water, and you sell it to the club. I sell it so cheap you can take a profit and the club still gets it cheap. Buy you some pretty clothes, something classy looking."
      If Jessie showed up with new clothes after a water transaction everybody would know she had cheated the club, and aside from the evil looks she would get from the neighbors on calle 69, it would make her feel like scum to know that what they thought was true. But she could buy the water and sell it for cost. That would be okay.
      "You think you're hot stuff now with your rich boyfriend and you can buy water for the neighborhood. But you dropped a good boy when you dropped Bobby and you better not think you can pick him up again because he's not yours anymore."
      Jessie looked up from her book. "What's on your ass?" she asked Mindy.
      "Bobby's got a new girlfriend, that's what," Mindy said, puffing and blowing as she wrestled with a basket of hand-me-down baby clothes. She was picking through it looking for the girl ones. She was partial to the dramatic, pink and red and white ruffly things.
      "So why do you care? Tie wasn't your boyfriend."
      "Because Bobby's got a car, that's why, and I am not looking forward to riding the bus when I go to the hospital."
      "Don't worry. We'll get you a ride. Bobby wouldn't turn you down just because he's not going out with your sister anymore."
      ‘Shows how much you know. Joyce Ann told me today I better not ask him for a ride because she'll tear me a new asshole and you too if I mess with her boyfriend."
      "She's psycho. Bobby's psycho too if he's going out with her. There's other people with cars, anyway. You planning on going into labor anytime soon?"
      Mindy's eyes went wide. "Yep, pretty soon, I think." The grimace on her face said this was the real thing.
      "Fuck. Donde esta mi carte de telefono? Gotta call the doctor and stuff."
      Gracie came in and handed the card to Jessie. "Just got back. Had to call the clinic."
      "What for?"
      "Didn't you see all that static this morning? Mom's got a whole Saturday morning cartoon show going on all over the house. Spilling out into the calls. Old guy Garcia comes over to complain there's octopuses in her kitchen or something. You didn't have your nose in~your book, you'd have seen it too.'
      There was, in fact, a litter of kittens in the basket of baby clothes, hail of them white with spots of orange tabby and half of them black. The white and orange ones had pink bows and the black ones had blue bows. And there was a little guy jumping up and down on the phone card, with his hands around his mouth like he was yelling.
      "Well, shit, I guess we got to get on the stick," Jessie said. She hesitated, and then dialed Dewayne's number.
      "Not to worry, querida," he said. "I'm up on the boulevard right now. I can get you in five minutes. Hey, you wait fifteen and I get you in a car instead of this old truck."
      A sleek little animal with a sharp nose and needle teeth peeked around Jessie's face from its perch on the handset. One of Bea's hallucinations. Mindy was yelling for her bag. "No, you better get us now," Jessie said.
      Of course it was a squeeze, five people in the cab of a truck, two of them pregnant and one a fat old guy hallucinating so hard she couldn't find the door handle. Bea's hallucinations were coming so fast and spilling so furious that everybody started having trouble with them.
      "What the fuck you doing, chingado?" Mindy screamed as Dewayne swerved so hard they nearly tipped over.
      "I can't tell, it looked like a real box in the road. Can't you tell her to stop doing that?"
      "If she could stop doing that we wouldn't be taking her the clinic now, would we? You think she likes having all that damned static everywhere? You think she's crazy?" Mindy, perched high on her mother's lap, gripped the dash with white knuckles. Gracie, on Jessie's lap, held on to Mindy with one hand and the ceiling with the other.
      "Usually people who have hallucinations are considered crazy. Just tell me, is that car really there?" Dewayne's voice betrayed him -- he was panicking.
     "What car?" Gracie asked.
     "That green and yellow Cadillac with the pink skull and crossbones on it. It's weaving all over the damned road."
     "That's one of Mom's," Mindy said. "You can always tell if you aren't stupid."
     "I don't see nothing," Jessie said. That wasn't quite true. She saw a yellow and green baby buggy with a pink pirate flag, but it wasn't in the road, so it didn't count.
     'How can you tell there's nothing else there?"
     "I don't know. You just pay attention, I guess."
     "What's that?" Dewayne choked. Jessie was surely not going to tell him.
     "Let me have the wheel, stupid," Gracie said, almost grabbing it away from Dewayne. Jessie was glad she didn't, because they swerved bad enough as it was. Dewayne pulled over to the side of the road and let Gracie take over.
     "This is better," Gracie said. "I can tell my ass from a hole in the ground." And she did drive without any more incidents. Though she had to ask Jessie, just once, about a car.
     At the clinic Jessie sent Dewayne home. "I'll call you if we need a ride later. No sense you hanging around for all that time waiting to see." He took off gratefully.
     The obstetrical unit took in both Mindy and Gracie, though Gracie's labor hadn't started yet. They said Gracie's baby was ready and they might as well take him right now. The other nurses weren't so sanguine about Bea at first. They kept saying she must have been missing her doses, until a doctor came over from the study unit and did a blood workup on her. "Another one," he said. "Let me see that bottle again."
     He read the label and shook his head. "It's that batch again. We'll get you some from a different batch. We got about ten l-- patients in here with the same thing, all from that batch." Jessie noticed how carefully he didn't say "loonies," though he clearly wanted to.

. . . . .

     "Isn't she the most beautiful thing?" Mindy was cooing to her baby. Jessie thought she might just be so. But she wasn't going to say it out loud, when she didn't know where Gracie was. Gracie and Mindy got along worse than ever, these days, always in competition for the attention or aid their babies demanded.
     "In the old days, didn't they carry them longer before they had them?" Jessie asked her mother, thinking the history lesson would divert all of them.
      "Yes, and they used to be ready to nurse right away," Bea said. "No tubes and stuff."
      "My baby is a perfectly healthy normal infant," Mindy said. "Don't bum me out. She comes off the tubes in three four days."
      "She is a beautiful baby," Bea said. "She'll have green eyes later on. Probably freckles."
      "No duh," said Mindy. "Larry Fenton is all green eyes and freckles. No red hair though, my Isabela va a tenir pelo castano como su madre."
      "A little red in the highlights," said Jessie. "I'll bet you a hamburguesa and a milkshake she'll have red highlights next summer."
      "No bet. She will. But not really red, or I'll dye it."
      Bea suddenly sat up straight. "Jessie, sweetie, run over Martin's and tell him water running, okay? Not for long, want to be on the stick."
      Jessie rolled her eyes and muttered that her old guy was crazy but she ran and told him and Martin thought it wasn't crazy at all, so he started yelling right away. By the time the whole club was lined up (except for Yesenia who was at work and nobody at her place was home, so Jessie and Marcileen took over her spot between them) the water was trickling. It never got up to a good roaring flood, which meant that it was easier to manage, but it meant that the tanks were not quite filled and there was no extra water. "Everybody be real careful;" Marcieleen said. "We don't want to end up buying too much water, even if the profit goes to Jessie's boyfriend." Everybody laughed, but Jessie just felt sick.
      "Sure, you can buy as much as you want, baby, you know that, puedo darte un buen precio."
      "Good. The natives are getting restless, you know? Springtime, babies popping out all over, not just mi hermanas."
      "How are they doing?"
      "Real good. Carlito just came off the tubes and Isabela smiled already."
      "Just gas."
      "No, it's a real smile."
      "So, quieres ir al parque?"
      "Claro, pero tengo volver en dos horas, I got work to do."
      The park was rank and weedy, bursting into unauthorized bloom all over the place.
      "You guys helped me out too, you know, I been asking to get on the commission for a long time and they finally let me because I landed your account. Now I get to sell as much water as I can. I sold to the club on calle 72 and the one on calle 67 too. Doing good. I can afford us an apartamiento, got one picked out, real small but it's real nice, muy elegante with nice furniture already in it and everything new and clean."
      "I'm not moving out with you, Dewayne. I told you that."
      "But that was before. I don't blame you not wanting to live with my old guys and my cousins and stuff. Now I can afford a nice place of our own"
      "My old guy and my sisters need me, chico, and I need them. You know what pays for my program? The fact that I live with them. I be living on my own and I have to pay my own way and I can't afford it on your wages."
      "My old guy would pay. Un prestamo hasta tu trabajas."
      "You do not get it one bit, tonto. Take me home, we'll talk about it another time. Tengo una prueba manana."
      "Where you been? Water running while you were gone and Gracie went to fetch it because you weren't here and she came home bleeding and Mindy went to take her place. Get on over there, honey, Mindy's not ready for that kind of work either."
      "0 dios mio," Jessie said, throwing her books on the floor. No use in asking why Bea didn't take her place. She was hauling buckets around because the pipes didn't reach the tanks at this end of the block.
      "The water's running?" Dewayne frowned.
      "Yes, tonto, I got to go to work now. You going to stay and help?'
      "Sorry, I got to go, just remembered some work I have to do. Place I got to get to. See you later, baby."
      "Hasta lluego."
      "You been keeping a weasel for a pet lately?" Bea asked Dewayne abruptly, but he was in too much of a hurry to answer, and Jessie was in too much of a hurry to hear him if he had, and she generally ignored her mother's hallucinations anyway, so long as they didn't spill over and get in her face.
      Nobody said anything when Jessie got to the main, but Mindy flashed her a look like she wasn't sure whether to be mad at her for not being there in the first place or grateful to her for coming in the second place. Jessie took over and Mindy went on home to her baby. The water was coming good and everybody had to work hard to keep it under control.
      Abruptly the water stopped, only ten minutes after Jessie got to work. "Must be an air pocket," said Marcieleen. "But never saw an air pocket just like that.'
      "Water never stopped for good this soon," Juanita said.
      "No, we got to hang around."
      Six hours later the water had still not come on again. Some of the men had come over a couple of times to commiserate with the women, especially Martin, who worked as hard on the club as any of the women and always took it personally when it did well or not.
      "Thing pisses me off," he said. "It's like they turn it off. to make us buy it or something."
      "We already buy it," Marcieleen said. "We pay the connection fee every month no mater how much water comes down that pipe."
      "Tell me about it."
      "Tanks are nearly empty. Better talk to your boyfriend, chica, get a delivery real soon." Juanita looked tired.
      Jessie waited until the delivery was over and walked around the back of the truck with Dewayne. "So," she asked, "How did you know there wasn't enough water yesterday? Everybody thinks I called you but mi carte is all used up and I can't get another one until next week. Who told you?"
      "Nobody." Dewayne ran his fingers through his short, stiff hair. "I was over at calle 72 yesterday and they didn't have too much water from the main so I figured your club probably got a short run too."
      "Yeah. That makes sense. I guess."
      "You think anymore about what I said?"
      "What you said about what?"
      "Moving out of here. Vas a viver conmigo? Or not?"
      "Not. Chico, I like you, but I'm not ready to play house with you."
      "I'm ready now. I am not going to wait forever. This is your chance to get out of this. You shouldn't be working so hard running yourself ragged over the water running. No necesitas si tu vives conmigo."
      "Water running is no big deal. Anyway they suppose to fix the line next year after the new levee is made."
      "They aren't going to do any of that. You look at that levee? It's not for this neighborhood. You going to lose your homes just like them down below San Pablo, be trying to get into apartments up the heights and there won't be any. And you wait that long I'll be married to somebody else, you lost your chance.".
      "You can't threaten me into living with you."
      "No me quieres tu?"
      "Not the point. I have other things to attend to right now."
      "You going to regret this."
      ‘Maybe. Maybe if I did come with you I would regret it too."
      . . . .
      "Why's everybody acting so weird?'
      "Come on in the back, we got refrescos." Mindy slung Isabela over her shoulder like a sack and Isabela laughed, a deep belly chuckle, and grabbed at Mindy's long black hair. Jessie followed her into the kitchen.
      "So, what's the secret -- surprise funeral or something?"
      "No, it's going to be water running in about fifteen minutes or something."
      "Really. How you know? Old guys feel it in their bones?"
      "No, Martin and some guys are going to go turn it on for all the calles 60 through 80 or so. Larry found the place. Bobby's going too. Told you you shouldn't have broke up with Bobby."
      "You're not together with Larry anymore either, and you got a kid with him, he's the one who found the place."
      "Well. We'll see about that together thing."
      "Mindy: You told me you didn't like him anymore. Dices que el es feo y tonto y mas corto que un raton."
      "I was mad at him. Anyway, we all got to shut up because Martin's not at the pipe and we got to listen real hard."
      "So who's there?"
      "Gracie, who else? She's got the second loudest voice en la calle."
      "You boys must have turned that thing on hard," Marcieleen half-complained as Martin and Larry and Bobby returned. "We been working so hard we almost dropped."
      "Let me help," said Larry, dropping down to the hole beside her. His sidelong look at Jessie seemed to say "and be sure you tell your sister about this, okay?"
      The water raged for three hours and then stopped as abruptly as the time before. "What now?" Jessie felt like crying. She was exhausted, but she ought to have more to show for it than this. Half tanks.
      "We'll go back and turn it back on, maybe." Larry hauled himself up to the basement floor.
      "No, wait a' few days," Juanita said. "They probably have cops on it or something, since they turned it of f. Probably call it vandalism."
      "Ain't vandalism to get what you pay for," Marcieleen said, but she didn't want the guys to go back yet either. "This will last a little while. You guys can go sneak around over there and if it doesn't get sate too soon, we can still buy cheap from Jessie's boyfriend."
      "Sorry about being so mean last time," Dewayne said. "It's just I love you so much and it hurts me to see you holding back like this, stuck down here in these flats."
      "You come here to sell some water?"
      "That's the kind of truck they give me this morning."
      "What makes you think we need the water this time?"
      "Do you?"
      "Yes. Water turned off after three hours last time." Jessie almost told the story of how it got turned on, but she stopped herself.
      "Been a lot of vandalism on the line," DeWayne said. "People opening up the valves and letting the water run out. Must be crazy."
      "Yeah, crazy or something. So, you never told me, what else you do for the water company when you're not selling water?"
      "Just stuff. Whatever they tell me to do. Drive around and take orders. So, there's a Sammi Chandar movie at the Nuevo Millennium. Quieres ir a verlo?"
      "Maybe. Couple days. Got a lot of work to do right now."

. . . . .
      "You don't know. That's a serious thing to say about someone when you don't know it."
      "I feel it."
      "I want some proof before I believe it."
      The water club women were sitting crowded on the couch and the chairs and Jaunita was sitting on the ice chest so she had to stand up when somebody wanted a drink. Their men stood, against the wall, behind the chairs, looking serious and dignified like the senior guard to a committee of empresses. Jessie was surprised. She would have thought that they would have been too eager to take the shreds of her evidence and her hunches and go after the boy.
      "Proof is easy," Martin said. "We go turn on the water and if he comes to turn it off we know it's true."
      "And then what?"
      "We teach him a lesson." Don Willy turned to Jessie with an apologetic expression on his face. "We won't harm him, you understand, because of our regard for you, but we will mess him up good."
      "Don't hold back on account of me," she said, surprising herself.
      "But he's young," Marcieleen said. "He doesn't know anything. He can learn."
      Jessie kept vigil over the pipe with the rest of the club. The knocking sound came, louder and louder, as the water came down the pipe, pushing the air and rust out before it. The first nasty flood splashed over the edges of the buckets put there to catch it. After it cleared the water ran for an hour and then stopped. "Somebody stopped it," Julie Ann said. Half an hour later the water started running again. The women cheered and high-fived, and took up the rotation where they left off. Since the water had been shutting off so soon lately, the club had been running short rotations, to make sure everybody got something out of it.
      An hour later the men returned.
      They didn't want to talk about it. Jessie's stomach dropped. "Was he there?"
      The men nodded.
      "How bad was it?"
      "Not too bad. He could drive."
      Don Willy gave Jessie a weak smile. "Guess you need a new boyfriend, huh?"
      "I think I'm going to do without for a little while.'