He crouched under the steps, shaking. Shaking all over. And praying he
wouldn’t pee in his pants this time. That would just make her mad. She’d
scream at him. Tell him what a baby he was. Not a man. He wished he was a
man. Maybe if he wished hard enough... Maybe if he wasn’t so wicked...
He screwed his eyes shut tight. Shutting everything out. Maybe if he couldn’t see the devil, the devil wouldn’t see him.
But the devil was in there now.
He could hear the old bed creaking. Could hear Mama panting and gasping.
And the devil was grunting.
He clasped his hands over his ears. He didn’t want to hear Mama like that.
He bit his lip. Kept biting so it hurt. So it bled. And that helped to shut out the sounds.
But it didn’t help enough. She was crying out louder now. And the man was grunting harder. And he was calling her names. Whore. Slut.
And now she was screaming out.
And the devil was groaning real loud. Groaning and grunting.
He slid down lower, trying to flatten himself into the darkness, wishing he could always be part of that blessed blackness. If he could melt into it, nobody would ever find him then.
What if the man came looking for him? Sometimes he came looking. Would he see him in the dark? Maybe he should rub dirt into his clothes? Make them black too. Would the man hear his heart thumping? Surely his heart beat would give him away? He could hear it so surely the devil would too? And he could hear the blood pounding in his ears. Surely the devil would hear that if he came looking for him?
He bit his lip again. And he was shaking even more now that he could hear his blood pulsing. He didn’t want to think about his blood. But even so... it was odd, because even though he was a bastard half-breed, his blood was the same colour as everyone else’s. He should know – he’d seen it often enough. So if his blood looked the same why was he so different? Why did people hate him?
What was the devil doing now? He strained his ears, listening for the tell tale signs that maybe Mama would do him again. Maybe he wouldn’t come looking for the half-breed.
He sucked in a long shuddering breath, trying to control his shaking. One day he would be a man. And he would never shake again. No, instead he’d make men shake when they saw him.
He took the warm thought and hugged it close to him, wrapping it around him like a blanket. If he believed it hard enough it would be true.
Yes. Men would fear him. He wouldn’t be Juanito the Mestizo. He would be a pistolero. He would give himself a new name. A name that struck fear in people. They would tremble and shake and they would pee in their pants. The thought made him smile. Yes. Everyone would fear him one day.
His smile grew wider as he thought of the treasure at his hiding place. His own gun. His very own gun. Yes, now he had a gun of his own he could start to practice. He’d practice really hard until he got good. Until he was the best. The fastest pistolero anyone had ever seen.
He could hardly believe that he’d gotten his own gun. But had he hidden it well enough? Nobody must find it. They’d take it away. And if they found it they’d want to know where it came from; he could hardly say he’d found it on a dead man in the desert. People wouldn’t like that.
He bit his lip again. Taking the gun didn’t seem right if he thought about it... But the man was dead so he couldn’t use it... Maybe the man would like to think his gun was going to be used by the fastest pistolero that anyone had ever seen.
He jerked upright, banging his head, and started to shudder as he heard the devil’s voice. He was saying something to Mama. She was telling him to come back to bed.
He screwed his eyes shut praying that the man would stay with Mama; that he wouldn’t come looking for him. He prayed as hard as he could, hoping God was listening.
The moon was up now like a bright yellow light in the sky. It was so bright it made everything in the town square look like the sun was shining on it. But a more gentle, quiet, sun than the daytime sun. Everything had soft blurred edges now but in the day everything had sharp edges and was so harsh it could make his eyes hurt.
Peering through the gap under the steps he could see the clock on the old white mission. The two hands were pointing straight up; they were lined up exactly together on the number at the top of the clock. He clasped a hand over his mouth to stop a laugh of pleasure. He knew the time twice each day. He knew that when the two hands pointed up together it was either mid-day or midnight. He liked knowing the time twice a day.
He’d like to be able to tell the time when the hands did other things too, because they never stopped moving so it must mean things when they pointed in different directions. But nobody ever told him what they meant. Maybe when he was a pistolero people would tell him. They’d probably tell him anything he wanted because they’d all admire him. And fear him. He wanted them to fear him.
The devil was talking again now. He sounded angry about something. He was stomping around in the shack, the old wooden floor creaking under his weight. But Mama was laughing at him. Jeering and saying he wasn’t much of a man. Why did she say things like that? It would make him angrier. So angry he might hit Mama. Or so angry that maybe he would come looking for the half-breed.
He swallowed hard and took a handful or dirt and rubbed it over his clothes. He didn’t want a flash of white to give him away if the devil came looking. He was still sore from the last time.
Maybe he should run into the desert before the devil started looking... The moon was so bright he could find his way to his hiding place.
The door of the shack was flung open and the devil was there, his shirt open and his long johns showing white in the moonlight. And now the devil was coming down the steps, laughing that cold laugh that made him want to pee.
He tried to hold his breath, wishing his heart would stop thumping. Could the devil hear it?
He stifled a cry of fear as the devil reached under the steps with those giant hairy hands...
“Ven aquí cabrón mestizo! Yo sé que estás ahí.”
Swallowing hard, he grabbed handfuls of sand and threw it at the devil, squirming past as the man grunted in rage.
He ran as fast as he could, past the other shacks, and out toward the desert. He ran faster than he could remember ever running. Maybe that meant he was becoming a man if he could run faster.
He didn’t stop running until he was heaving so hard that he thought his chest would split wide open. He crouched over, sucking in great breaths of the warm soft air. His body was still shaking but the devil would never find him out here.
The breathing got easier and so he walked now, his head back, staring wide mouthed up at the heavens. The inky blue sky stretched out for ever. There were more stars than a man could count if he lived to be a hundred. Except he couldn’t count. But he knew people who could... He wished they’d teach him. Maybe when he was a pistolero somebody would teach him to count.
But somewhere up there, in that huge, sparkling, diamond heavy sky, was God. Watching Juanito. Seeing if he was good or bad. But he must be bad because of what the devil did to him. God was punishing him for being bad. That’s what the priests said.
He’d heard them say things like that when he’d crept into the mission and hidden under the seats in the darkest corners. But he didn’t want to be wicked. He wanted to be good. He wanted God to be kind to him.
And he tried so hard to be good. And he looked after Mama as good as he could. But the other children all laughed at him. Said Mama was mad. But he’d seen mad people once. They’d been behind a fence at a place they’d passed by. They had tongues hanging out, and looked strange and had foam coming out of their mouths. But Mama was beautiful, so she couldn’t be mad. She didn’t look like those people.
Maybe the other children envied him because their mamas weren’t beautiful like his Mama. And he knew their papas thought his Mama was beautiful because sometimes they came to see her when it was dark. They wanted to touch her. They wanted to fuck her. But when he’d said that, one of the priests had told him he was a wicked lying boy and had taken him and whipped him. He didn’t tell the priest that one of the priests from the next village sometimes came to see Mama. And it wasn’t to pray with her... But he knew if he said that he’d get an even worse whipping.
He could see his hiding place now. The place that made him warm even on the coldest night. He heaved in a deep breath. It was his place, his very own special place. God knew about it, but at least God hadn’t told anyone else where he hid. Or not yet... He always thanked God for keeping it a secret. And he promised God he’d try to be good. He just wished he could keep his promise. But when the devil was around he made Juanito do bad things... Really bad things...
And yet in the town the devil smiled at people. People thought he was a good man. But surely what he did to Juanito was bad? But it was Juanito’s own fault. The devil said so. Mama said so too. But the devil really hurt him...
He scrabbled around in the hiding place in the hollow under the mesquite bush. Grinning, he pulled out the gun, all wrapped up in one of mama’s sheets. It gleamed in the moonlight, the metal almost blue and so cool to his touch. He loved the feel of it in his hand and against his face. He hugged it to himself, stroking it and feeling every curve and mark in the metal. It was even more beautiful than Mama.
And it was his.
Sitting by the bush he rocked himself back and forth with the gun clutched tight against him. The gun made him feel safe. Made him feel strong like a man. Nobody would hurt him when he had a gun in his hand. And when he was a pistolero he’d make someone tell him what the hands on the clock meant when they weren’t pointing straight up.
And maybe one day he’d go in search of his Gringo father and shoot him dead. And that would be the very finest thing of all.