Sunday, May 20, 2012

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The look of pure horror in the man's eyes made it all worthwhile for Miguel. Up to then, it had been just another day on the job.

Miguel Hernandez was employed by the recreation department of Sun Valley, one of the fifty or so brown-skins whose job it was to maintain the five golf courses in this Arizona retirement community.

“Hey, Miguel,” his supervisor, Juan Rodriguez, had told him, “you take care of the tees on the front nine today. They gotta be mowed way out around ‘em, specially that seedy shit on seven and eight.”

Juan lived two doors south of Miguel in the community of Saguaro, known to all not living there as “Little Mexico.” Lived in a house no better than Miguel’s, but because Juan had lived in Arizona all his life he was supervisor of the tees and traps at the Paradiso del Sol course in Sun Valley. Miguel, a relative newcomer to the area, did not resent Juan’s supervision, even though Juan would have liked him to. They were neighbors but not friends. Miguel had left all his friends, as well as a few enemies, behind him when he came to los Estados Unidos from Columbia. He had entered through Mexico, not quite wetting his back, but sneaking in nevertheless. The enemies-left-behind had made an anonymous entry necessary.

“I will take care of it, Juan. Consider it done.”

Juan hated Miguel’s refusal to address him as Mister Rodriguez, although Juan could hardly insist.

“Huh, yes, you do that. I’ll be back in an hour to check on your progress.”

Miguel smiled at Juan’s back as the man climbed heavily into the golf cart and zoomed away down the cart path toward the maintenance shed.

Miguel got on the green riding mower that was his bailiwick since his hiring only two months before. He reveled in the heat beneath him, the warmth of sun-kissed mower seat. He reveled in the heat above him, the sun shining down from another perfect sky on another perfect day in the Valley of the Sun. He took off his straw hat and with a folded white handkerchief wiped the beads of sweat from the speckled baldness, the whiskered cheeks, the mustache that gave him, he liked to think, a Pancho Villa menace. No one, neither friend nor enemy, would recognize him in this hirsute guise. He carefully tucked the handkerchief back into the pocket of his blue jumpsuit, glancing again at the cloudless blue above. Two black grackles high in a palm whistled and cooed to each other, and three doves in tight formation cut across his vision to land in a backyard among five or six cottontail rabbits.

Even the birds and animals here look like they belong in a Disney film, he thought. They all seem to smile as they go about their business. So, an occasional coyote might make life exciting. Que sera, sera. But even SeƱor Disney recognized the need for some spice in life: without at least a few skirmishes between good and evil, life would not be worth living. What is Snow White without that nasty old woman with the long nose, scrubbing her hands and cackling over the apple?

Many of the viejos, the old Americanos who retire here simply do not realize how fortunate they are to live in such a place as this, in such a climate as this. Or maybe they do and they just do not like to show it. At least not to Miguel Hernandez. No, he continued, that is not entirely fair. I have met many friendly people here, smiling people, people smiling because they realize their good fortune, having found their heaven on earth here in this Sun Valley. Smiling even at a Miguel Hernandez, or a Carlos Montera. A few ill-tempered people, he admitted, but not many. He was convinced that anyone who could live in this place and spend his days scowling at the world and the world’s inhabitants must have been born with lower lip extended and venom in his eyes. The English word “crotchety,” related to the French crochet, appealed to Miguel. To his ear the expression’s cacophony mirrored nicely how such people often looked: their backs and limbs set at sharp angles, like hooks, their faces sharp-lined, eyes narrowed into little slits like knives. Full of little hooks, as the French word suggested. Miguel enjoyed the diversity of the romance languages.

With blades raised, he drove his mower to the seventh tee, where Juan’s “seedy shit” held reign. A group of four men were preparing to tee off number seven, a short par-three with wicked water in front, then wrapping bluely and wetly around the right side. Miguel had watched with amusement the trepidation with which many of the golfers approached this tee shot. The mallards and carp had fed on a good many “retired” golf balls since Miguel’s arrival in this country.

He stopped the mower well back of the tee, the motor idling softly. One of the men glared back at him, then said something to the other three. They all looked his way, but none with the same animosity of the one who glared.

Ah ha, Miguel thought, another of that rare bird, the American crotch.

The others all teed off without injury to their psyches, no injury to the surface of the green nor to the surface of the blue. A tradeoff, he chuckled inwardly, the bailout to the left so their balls can live for at least one more hole. Viva los cojones!

The last man gave him one more glare and then bent to tee his ball. He set his feet belligerently wide, the toes pointing out at an awkward angle. He waggled three times and then swung mightily. The ball shot on a line to the right, skipping five times before sinking into the pond. The man leaned on the club and stared at the spot where his ball had disappeared. Then he turned again to Miguel.

“Why don’t you shut that damn thing off when you’re around golfers!” he shouted. Even from that distance Miguel could see how red the man’s face was, his cheeks and neck swollen like proud flesh.

Miguel just sat there looking at the man.

“Or maybe you don’t understand English, you stupid bean eater! I said turn it off, godammit!”

Miguel reached out and turned the key. He would not be hurried by such ridiculous talk. The day was too fine to worry about this man with the sensitive ears of a dog.

The man put down another ball and repeated his setup routine. This time the ball barely made it off the front of the tee and then slowly, tantalizingly, crept down the hill and into the water. A flock of skittish widgeons rose up from the surface and stumbled farther out onto the pond, their splashing loud in the moment’s tension.

If the man’s first anger was a five on the rage Richter scale, the next was easily a twenty. He turned to Miguel, his face livid.

“You . . . you miserable fucking spic wetback bastard you! WHAT do you think you’re doing, sitting there with that stupid smirk on your face?” The man started off the tee moving toward Miguel, the club upraised menacingly.

Five steps short of Miguel, the swollen features finally exploded. With a gasp, he dropped the club and like a stone fell forward to the ground. His three playing companions crowded around him, nobody knowing what to do. Finally, one shouted to no one in particular, “Call 911, somebody! Joe! Use your cell! We need an ambulance!” One of the three, Joe, apparently, took a cell phone from his cart, fumbled it momentarily, and dialed.

Miguel climbed down from the mower and went to the group. They parted from him as from a flame. He turned the man onto his back and, noting the azure hue of the man’s face and lack of respiration, checked the man’s mouth. He tilted the head back and felt to see if the tongue was obstructing the air passage. He listened with ear to mouth. Nothing. He felt for carotid pulse. Nothing. He pinched the man’s nostrils, took a deep breath, and exhaled into the open mouth, covering the man’s mouth with his. Four times. Still no response. He locked his hands over the man’s sternum and began compressing. One and two and three and four and five. Pause. Then again. Pause. And again. Fifteen in all. Then pinch the nostrils and mouth to mouth. Then fifteen more compressions. Then mouth to mouth again.

He was completing the third cycle, kneeling over the man and breathing into his mouth when he felt a response. The man’s shoulders moved and his eyes focused. Miguel could see the dawning recognition in his eyes as the man looked up into Miguel’s face, only inches from his own. Looked up into chocolate eyes and mustachioed, bewhiskered Pancho Villa menace, but menace with a slight smile on the lips. Could see the growing comprehension and horror in the man’s eyes as the man realized he had just been administered to by this peasant crouching over him. Miguel watched with amusement as the man raised his hand and wiped at rubbery lips.

Yes, there would undoubtedly be some fuss over his saving this hookery man. The news people would want to know more about him and how he came to know CPR. It would be dangerous to tell too much. But his disguise was good, and the news would not reach too far from the area, surely not all the way to Colombia.

Besides, the look of horror in the man’s eyes made any danger to Miguel Hernandez, to Dr. Carlos Montera, M.D. and Ph.D., well worth it. He could even tolerate his own distaste after having kissed this man who represented so much of what he most despised about the world. But he would kiss the devil himself rather than let a life slip away needlessly.

He could hear the klaxon cry of the rescue unit approaching. He leaned down and kissed the man’s forehead. It was worth it to hear the gurgle of protest and see the man’s look of disgust.

Dr. Carlos Montera leaned back on his heels and smiled benignly down at the man, employing his very best bedside manner.