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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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."
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 . . ."
RUNNING!" She could hear Martin's big voice from the next block,
shocking the neighborhood out of its dreams. "WATER RUNNING!"
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
go get her." Bobby took his time, tucking his shirt in.
guys, leave all the work to the women."
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."
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."
. . . . .
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.
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
the bus," Jessie said to her "old guy," her mother, when
she finally got home.
so sorry, sweetie," Bea said, staring intently at the corner. "You
let any eats in?"
"No, that's the hallucinations,"
you see it?"
this time. What does it look like?"
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
"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,
"How they going to bring all that
"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
"What do you want, muchacho?' she
"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
"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
"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."
"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,"
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
"So why do you care? Tie wasn't your
"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
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."
"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
"Well, shit, I guess we got to get
on the stick," Jessie said. She hesitated, and then dialed Dewayne's
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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."
"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
"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."
"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
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?
"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
"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
"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
"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?"
"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
"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
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
"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.'