We went to the bathhouse because it was Dorian’s thirtieth birthday and, being the kind of friend he was, he wanted to do something for himself—partying at Chicago’s Boystown, a neighborhood we’d frequented when we’d been undergraduates at Iowa—and then something for us, especially for Aviraj, who was Dorian’s closest friend and still a virgin. He had flown for this, Aviraj had; I had flown, too, but it wasn’t as big of a deal, because I had come from New York—costing me around $250—and he had from Mumbai—which could’ve cost shy of $1,000 (not that I asked). This infamous holding-out on Aviraj’s part had come, on the one hand, because of his spiritual beliefs and, on the other, because—idealistic as he was—he had never been able to keep a man, which had brought about that soothing old joke of ours where we told him not to worry; he was surely the type of guy who never dated and then, bam!, he’d marry on his first try. The group would laugh at this jealous joke, yet a jealous silence would always follow, for not only did we believe it to be true, but we also believed Aviraj to be the only one of us who had marriage in him.
Good vibes started at Movida, my favorite paisa club in Bakersfield, because it was real. Other clubs were only restaurants during the day or warehouses on the fairgrounds. Movida was a big-time deal, built especially for visiting artists who came from everywhere—L.A., Mexico, sometimes Central or South America. It was the dance spot you took your girl to, if you wanted to be among the best dressed, the most beautiful.
The baby would be fine, Saeed’s wife said. As the family gathered around the dinner table for his special dessert, a beet cake with yogurt icing, and his home-brewed beer, Saeed agreed to watch the kids on Thursday so that his wife could have a day to herself. They were his grandchildren, too, after all. Although it was only his fifth day in the new country, he had already gotten over his jet lag, touched and kissed his family multiple times, and been given a tour of the neighborhood. He had also bought a road bike and signed up for a spot at the community garden. Now it was time to get acquainted with the grandkids.
I met Jacinta in the migrant camp where we grew up. I remember that it was the beginning of June, a few days into the start of the harvest. At that time, Jacinta had lived for nine springs—she was two years younger than me—and for obvious reasons she still used her given last name, López del Campo. Those of us who saw her timidly climb the stairs and enter the last shack, which served as our classroom, with her butterfly notebook pressed to her chest and her gaze glued to her sun-toasted legs, never imagined that in less than ten years she’d be proclaimed the artistic heir to Joaquín Murrieta, a figure shrouded in dustbut fondly remembered within the Mexican communities settled in the central lands of California.
This piece is an excerpt from The Cemetery Boys, a novel in progress.
Sunday had arrived—Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord thy God—and brought with it a strong exhale that breezed over various labor camp sites of the San Joaquin Valley. Resourceful worshipers set up sanctified spaces and stretched borrowed tarps between sun-scorched oaks to contain the cool shade. The ground was covered in the white grime of harvest dust. The traveling priest presided in front of his truck’s flatbed, renovated to serve as an altar for Catholics, but for anyone, really, who had a righteous belief in divine intervention, joyous faith in a higher power.