Living Where the Light is Better
    Garrett Quentin Smith

Tina's brother Bobby lied to her when he said he saw me from his car going into Starburst titty lounge. The bastard saw me from inside the place hiding his face behind some black girl's boobs no doubt, while I was looking for poor lost Catalina. Tina, by that time, was busy jerking me around each day deciding whether to accept the diamond that my teaching summer school had bought her. She let a crystal water glass fly at me when Bobby told his lie during dinner with the family.

"And you're Mexican!" Tina shouted. As if that were the clincher. "Don't pass yourself as Prep School Jimmy with a tan. The busboy at Houston's calls you homeboy." Tina and her mother went to find a corner of the mansion to sob in, while I drove myself to St. Joe's to get two stitches.

Next day, back at Starburst chatting with saggy-breasted transsexuals, I was disgusted at the sickness that would bring my student here.

"Just seventeen," I said to the faux blond Chilanga, who stood close enough to bring me into the aura of her perfume stink.

"No te entiendo, Pocho," she said, and shifted over to the furry-chested paisano on the next barstool who separated his legs to greet her. My Uncle Chava, when I was still a child, had burdened me with the nickname “coconut”: brown colored shell, white inside.

A mountainous Mexican behind the bar beckoned me to follow him into the dancers’ dressing room. "Puras jovencitas, little faded one," he said. We walked past skinny speed freaks powdering their privates into another room where three teenagers sat on an old truck bench in lacey crotchless undergarments. The mountain drummed his elbows waiting for me to select my rosebud. He snarled and the middle girl recoiled, so I picked her. She still had some humanity. For eighty bucks, Mountain and the Ice Girls left us alone, assuming we would explore the challenges of car sex sans vehicle.

I whipped out my Polaroid of sweet Catalina in bangs and schoolgirl suspenders, taken before she began to dress in spaghetti-strap blouses and plastic black go-go boots. Before she stopped coming to summer school altogether.


I had gone first to look for her at her uncle's house. "Must have gotten married," he said between sips from his Tecate can, "or off working somewhere. Hace mucho que no la veo." A bee buzzed into my beer can opening. A baby cousin stopped me later as I walked past front yard refrigerators toward my blue Kia Rio.

"Working on Virginia Street," I thought I heard her say.

I said, “What?” but the child was already off playing with old transmission parts.


And now the girl by my side didn't understand a word of what I was saying, just like Catalina when she took history from me as a freshman.

"No está aquí," she said about the picture.

I paced across the concrete floor consumed with disappointment. With my eyes closed, I remembered Catalina's fingernails, her eyebrows and the way she clicked her tongue when I teased her about her boyfriends. I mourned the scholarships she wouldn't apply for and the bright future she'd never realize. I crumpled the photo into a jagged pellet and tossed it through the cell's only window. Watching it sail, there was something outside that made me turn and run out of the strip club into savage sunlight. Through a window of the building next door, I had seen a room full of sewing machines and a brown girl humped over each one.

No one answered at the bolted entrance and even an old piece of rebar I found did nothing to break open the door lock. One by one the faces got up from their machines to look down to see who was making more racket than the shrieking manager. “Ud. No es la migra,” called out to me one woman in long black braids.

“Busco Catalina, una niña. I’m looking for Catalina.”

A grandma’s gray face pushed itself to the forefront of the window throng. “The migra took Catalina in a raid Monday morning, but don’t worry,” she said. “You know what she’ll do back in Mexico.”

“What’s that?” I said.

“The same thing every Mexican does.”

Then I got it, and drove away in my Rio as fast as four plastic cylinders could carry me, after stopping to buy sixteen jugs of spring water, after dragging the humanity girl out of the back room of the Starburst, after breaking open Mountain’s skull with my rebar, after poking the rebar through each window of the sweatshop owner’s Lexus.

We sailed through the desert, humanity girl laughing her ass off because I called Tina a turd when we talked on the cell phone. To our right, the molten circle of the sun was beginning its dip to meld itself into the fire of desert sand. I couldn’t help but hum Bob Marley. We were bringing the waters of salvation to Catalina and her people.


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