Felix was voluble today. Oscar sighed, relieved.
"Xavier fue de Monterey," he recounted.
"No Monterrey"—he added, a rich effusion like froth from the motor of a sleek luxury vessel around the r. "In California. He was from there. He used to come into my shop. He was good with his hands, he helped me fix things—sometimes he helped my brother-in-law repair his nets. He chose his words carefully, as if he were carving them in stone. Each one a commitment. Each one an effort. Each one a burden. He was running from something, I had figured that out. He met Mariangeles’s mother when she served him supper one night. She thought he had money. He did have something valuable with him. I heard it was pearls. There were rumors. But I wouldn’t say they didn’t love each other. Tu sabes—whatever that means. I think you know what that means. I mean, I think you know what I mean. It was like that with you and Maria, no?"
A creaking in the hull woke him. He lay for a minute in between before pushing himself up and pulling on his clothes.
The days had begun to glide past and thoughts were like burrs catching on a silk sheet. The image in the cave returned to him with a shock followed by a long ache—as if he had done something he was doomed to relive—twist and turn though he might, it would return when he closed his eyes.
That morning at breakfast Oscar glimpsed his reflection in his tin cup, wan and elongated. His head seemed to go on forever. He could just make out the dark stubble around his thin moustache, which had been a crisp line ashore. His eyes looked almost bruised in the silvery convex. He tipped the cup so that his nostrils loomed. His hair stood up like a soft brush. The men at the table looked at him and looked away.
His mind rehearsed the days he had spent in the town. He sifted for details. Again he saw Lupita sitting outside her door like a sentry, her daughter a stoic giantess nursing a thick-bodied child. There were no more tamales. Lupita’s laugh was hollow as she told him to come back tomorrow for puerco and elote. She seemed wary as he stood there. He was just trying to figure out what else to have for dinner. Pozole? She smiled, but her eyes were cold. Yes, you should go, she had said without warmth. You should go west. I think it is time for you to go.
A thick coiled rope flying through the air, a dark hand closing on it. The crew dispersed. Oscar went south.
He stepped down from the bus and it chugged away with a burst of exhaust. The rains would come soon. The rays would thrust themselves with an ecstatic convulsion above the surface of the lagoon, the mangoes would ripen—apricot teardrops, swollen red livers filled with jelly, globular coconut-scented mangoes—thousands of them. Birds would peck at the pits in the split lush orange, leaving them clean.