Excerpts from The Things We Do That Make No Sense
Below are brief samples from a few of the fifteen stories featured in the collection.
Mom remained against the wall, bouncing Ana slightly in her arms, singing, I assumed, a lullaby into her ear. I wondered if it was one she’d sung to me or if she’d chosen new songs for a new child.
Posters stretched in both directions beside her, plastered so tightly together that they hid most of the white wall tile. Because of the tunnel’s curvature the posters leered over us. They were like the ones on storefronts, signposts, and alleyways throughout the city. The clenched fist of the Republic. They shall not pass! A trade union image of a winged man rising to the sky to slay bombers. Another with close-up photographs of eight dead children. Killed by rebel bombs in Madrid! Innocent victims of the enemies of Spain!
One showed militiamen in blue overalls and side caps firing their guns from behind an outcrop. One lay dead, sprawled backward, blood pooling onto the dirt. A woman in the same blue uniform knelt above him, aiming
with her right eye closed, a rifle stock braced against her chest. Smoke poured from the barrel. A thin beam of fire ran off the edge of the poster, toward an enemy I couldn’t see but assumed she’d shot dead.
We’d always had guns. By preschool we were lying on our bellies in the basement rec room, propped up on elbows, aiming with one eye shut at our Magic Shot Shooting Gallery. We bought wooden popguns during vacations on Mackinac, firing white thread with corks on the end. In the summer, we pointed lime-green, rocket-shaped water pistols at each other and at cousins and at those kids who lived across the street.
Our grandparents had few toys at their house, but they had this: an Astro Wild West skill-action steel bank. A little cowboy stood inches across from a brilliant silver six-shooter that was three times his size. The gun was spring-loaded and fired the black pennies we’d find in their green shag carpet. We’d shoot, and if our aim was true, the cowboy’s hat would fall back, his hands would rise up in surrender, and the penny would disappear in the hollow of the bank.
By first grade we had our own six-shooters, glinting cast iron with revolving cylinders and break-barrel action, that we pulled from front pockets and aimed at our dad. Soon after, he was buying us toy firearms made of gunmetal gray plastic that looked legit but just clicked weakly in our small hands. Our squirt guns became more serious, too—bright orange Colt .45s with invisible cracks, the water running down our wrists and forearms. In the August heat, pre-pubescently sweating along our hairlines, we’d get thirsty, stick the muzzles in our mouths, and pull the triggers.
The pool water dripped from Luke’s hair and chest and legs, dotting the concrete and vanishing seconds later under the Mexican summer sun. He reached behind himself, grabbed the white towel draped over the lawn chair, and wrapped it high around his midsection, covering his growing belly and the surgical scars on his lower back. He still had the arms of a pro ballplayer and looked good in a T-shirt, but when he took his shirt off he couldn’t stand the sight of himself, even peripherally. He reached down by his feet to grab his cigarettes, lighter, and a glass of white tequila with ice.
The patio roof of Casa Isabela overlooked two blocks of Old Town neighborhood, and beyond it, down the steep hill, lay the churches and bars and finally the ocean waters of Puerto Vallarta. For the past three days Luke had sat here, watching the horizon but also watching the neighbors in the foreground. Smiling men with machetes acting out swordfights with one another. Children in school uniforms playing fútbol in the street. Women raising their nightshirts over rooftop toilets. Above them all, clay roof tiles slid earthward like old-age skin.
He sipped the drink, set it down, and lit a cigarette. The downstairs stone-carving studio was quiet. Esteban and Omar had set their tools down hours ago. The noise now came from the drug dealers on the corner.