Mather Schneider

Hermosillo Fire

Saturday, Saturday, pretty Saturday. The melon-man drives by in his little truck selling cantaloupe and watermelon. Yesterday was Black Friday. People trampled themselves bloody in hideous stampedes for discounted luxury items like mile-wide TVs, video games, flavored underwear, microwaves, who knows what else. I barely got out of bed all day. 

Before Natalie got deported, we used to get up at 3:30 a.m. Natalia worked the breakfast shift at McDonald’s and I drove a cab. For 15 years we did that. We hated it, and dreamed of escaping it. Then the decision was made for us. Now we live in this tiny house in Hermosillo with Natalia’s parents. We make do. We try to look at the bright side. 

On Thursday night a vagabond lit a fire in the dump behind the house here on Avenida Economia. The houses stretch for a few blocks in a straight line, all flat-topped with cement roofs, separated by a 3-foot gap, so that an agile child can run the length, leaping like a steeplechase over the empty spaces. 

I was good and snozzled when we all saw and smelled the smoke. It was no joke, really barreling up like a locomotive. I climbed up the old home-made ladder to the roof of the house to do some surveillance. A cement block wall separates the houses from the dump. The blaze was rising like crazy in the dark night. Holy shit! A million mercurochrome tentacles. The unspeakable crackling, like glass hibiscus flowers crunched between the yellow teeth of Godzilla. Too much dry grass and garbage back there. 

“Hand me the hose!” 

I stood up there on the roof and used my thumb to arch the hose water, what little pressure came out of it, over the cement block wall into the flames. It helped, I warded it off our little area at least. Soon others were up on their roofs doing the same, or just using buckets. The children were having a hoot, running, screaming, laughing. Everyone else was flooding the street, watching the show. Hell approaching, let’s party! The heat and red light on our faces up there on the roof: booga booga! Good thing Natalia paid the water bill.

I stood with that hose water arching out and it was like pissing in a dream and you just piss and piss and piss. Existence, yes? It took me back to the fires of my youth. All the weenies roasted, all the ants killed with magnifying glasses on summer Illinois days in the ditch-weed. My grandfather’s bonfires in the back 40, throwing an old tire on there to really get it going, that furious black tunnel of smoke crawling up into the sky, so thick it seemed you could climb it like Jack and the Beanstalk. Fires on the banks of the Illinois river among the dead fish and the oily water and the train tracks where the trains came with their howling wind and madness. 

The fire seemed to come under some control there behind that cement wall in the Hermosillo dump. Whew! Hey, somebody toss me a beer! I stood up there and drank a beer and a neighbor kid launched himself over the gap from the next house and stood next to me, his brown face glowing.

“And you? What do you want, chamaco?” I said.

“Are you from the other side?”

“What gave it away?”

“Is it true what they say?”

“What do they say?”

“That life is better on the other side?”

“No, that’s not true.”

“But people have money there.”

“Some do, yes.”

“Do you have a computer?”

“No. I have a notebook.”

“I don’t have a computer either. Do you have a cell phone?

“Yes I have a cell phone.”

“I don’t. You wouldn’t have an old one you don’t want anymore?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t. Who you gonna call, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Somebody.”

“Does your father know where you’re at?”

“No.”

“What’s your father do?”

“He’s a bricklayer.”

“That’s a noble profession. He sounds like a good man.”

“Yeah.”

I gave him a 20 peso note and he shot off like a spark over the rooftops. Other children watched me from the dark, little raccoon eyes. The crowd on the street was giddy and we were all almost sad to see that the fire had given up. It never did leap the cement block wall. I climbed down from the roof and finished my beer at my little table with the spiders. Natalia and everyone filtered back into the houses. 

An hour later the fire truck came. The firemen stood around the truck looking at the remnants of the coals for a while, then they left. I sat in the dark. I wondered how we were going to make it, living in Hermosillo with our money running out. I reached my hand into the beer cooler but there was nothing but dirty melted ice.

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