A dust storm from the south came in earlier that afternoon: The changing light, the red wall of grit covering Albuquerque. Into any open window or door. Into eyes and mouths if caught outside. Then gone by night, leaving a dirty layer. But the sky had cleared. Even the smog. Stars glowing.
After brushing off the dust from the front steps of his family’s trailer, Roberto sat drinking a Coke, watching the littler boys play soccer out in the street under the lights. His mother inside, clapping from a game show on Univisión coming through the door, mixed with his sister’s new Shakira cd, in English, from her bedroom.
His friend Antonio came running up, smiling. Hey cabrón! Qué onda?
Roberto shook his head, almost laughing. Nada, chitolín.
Gripping wrists and knocking fists. Antonio sat down next to him. Hey man, you want to get laid finally?
Roberto laughed. What?
Serious man. Finally get it over with. Be a man. Un hombre!
Sí en serio. I know this guy, Nesto, one of the other bussers at La Señorita. He knows this guy who’s got a girl over there. She putting out for anyone man. He said we could come over.
Roberto laughed again. How much?
Antonio shrugged. Nothing I don’t think. I don’t know.
Cabrón. It’s time. How you gonna have any confidence with the ladies if you don’t get it over with? They can tell you haven’t done it yet.
Pues, yo también, claro. The ladies like a guy who knows what he’s doing. This is our chance!
Roberto thought about it. Hold on.
He went inside and to his room for his wallet. His sister’s music louder, with her singing along. He went back out to the living room, pausing at the door. Mamá, me voy.
She looked at him quickly, then back at the television. Adónde vas?
Bueno. Not late.
No. Como no.
They crossed under I-40, car and trucks rumbling over the cement. Antonio pointed at a fence, and slipped through a hole. Roberto followed, into a trailer park. A gust of wind. Plastic bags and scraps of paper blowing down the street. Antonio laughed. Woo!
He pointed to the trailer at the end of the cul-de-sac, with an old pickup in the driveway and two cars parked out front. The boys ran up the front step and Antonio pounded on the door. Abré!
The door opened and a man in a dirty white t-shirt opened. Short black hair, un-shaven, black jeans, and boots. Old green tattoos on his arms and chest. Skulls. Knives. Qué? Quienes son?
Antonio stopped smiling. Amigos de Nesto.
The man nodded and stepped back. Ah. Bueno. Come in. Pásale.
The boys stepped into the living room. Six other young men sat on the floor and couches, smoking cigarettes. Some norteño cranked on the stereo, and a lucha libre match on the tv with the sound off.
Antonio smiled and went over to one of them and banged fists. Vato!
Tonio, cabrón, you made it.
Yeah man, I brought Roberto.
Roberto nodded as Ernesto introduced everyone. The older guy, Rufi, handed them both a beer. You got money?
The boys stared at each other. Antonio shrugged. Cuánto?
Rufi looked at them, smiling. How old are you?
Antonio looked at Roberto quickly. Fifteen.
Rufi stared at him. Fifteen, huh? Ok, for you, twenty, hombrecito.
The boys both nodded and got out their wallets. The other guys laughed, as Rufi took the money. He motioned to the back of the trailer. She’s back there.
Antonio and Roberto looked at each other. Antonio shrugged and pointed to himself, smiling. I’ll go first, ok?
Roberto nodded. Ok.
A couple of the guys yelled anda! and órale! after Antonio as he left the room. Roberto sat on the floor next to Ernesto, who was texting someone. Ernesto saw him looking and grinned. La novia. Wants to know where I’m at!
Roberto nodded smiled and someone said, ay cabrón. Someone passed him a one-hitter and a lighter, and he took a hit. No one really watching the wrestling, talking in groups, arguing, laughing. Lots of cabróns and a la chingadas.
After a while Antonio came back out. A couple of the guys knocked fists with him, but when he sat down on the other side of Roberto he wasn’t smiling, and wouldn’t look at him.
Rufi pointed at Roberto. Próximo caballero.
The guys laughed. Roberto got up and walked down the hall. He opened the last door and went in.
She was naked, face down on the bed, wrists tied to the headboard. Not moving, face turned to the right, covered by her hair.
He shut the door behind him and leaned back against it. At the sound of the door shutting she groaned and moved slightly.
He took a step towards her. Hello?
She groaned again softly.
He walked to the right side of the bed and reached down and touched her on the shoulder. Hey. You ok?
She lifted her head, her hair sticking to her face. She looked up at him, eyes glazed, whispering. Dónde...está...mi novio?
He stepped back, staring at her. Her eyelids closed and she turned her face the other direction.
He backed up to the door, looking at her, reaching for the knob. He opened the door and left, closing it behind him.
The guys cheered him when he came out. He sat back down next to Antonio and stared at the floor. Rufi came over and handed him the one-hitter and lighter. Ahora te has hecho un hombre! Don’t worry. She won’t remember shit. He smiled and went into the kitchen.
Roberto took a hit, coughed, and passed it to Antonio.
Ernesto checked his phone. Bueno, me voy. Gotta see the old lady!
He stood up and Antonio and Roberto stood too.
Rufi came back holding a can of Tecate and saluted them. Órale vatos. Luego!
They said goodbye and left. Outside the air cool and the stars still glowing. Ernest asked Antonio if they needed a ride, but he said no.
Ernesto winked. Ok mano, see you at work!
He got in his car and drove off. The two boys started walking, hands deep in their pockets. They walked without saying anything for a few minutes. Then Antonio laughed. So you fuck her man?
Roberto looked at him, then nodded. Yeah.
You use a condom?
Ay cabrón, I did. I’m not gonna catch anything off of that.
They walked the rest of the way back to the trailer park in silence. At his trailer Roberto gave a wave goodbye. Antonio grinned. Bueno, compa!
Inside, his mother was still watching tv, a telenovela, sitting in her recliner and shaking her head at the women onscreen. Mira. Look at those skirts. Que putas!
She smiled at him. M’ijo, food is in the oven. Did you have fun with Antonio?
He’s a nice boy. Un buen chico.
The door to his sister’s room opened and Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” poured out. She walked out in her underwear and a t-shirt. She saw him and smiled, raising her arms and dancing over to him. Hey guapo!
He scowled and turned away. Vete!
His mother looked over, frowning. Susana, baja la música! And put on some clothes!
Susana danced up to him, singing and shaking her hips. Come on! Baila, Roberto!
He spun and pushed her, hard. Leave me alone!
She slammed against the refrigerator and fell to the floor. They stared at each other for a moment. Her eyes watered and she sobbed.
His mother came up out of her chair and across the room, slapping him. Roberto! Pero, qué haces?
His face darkened and he pushed her back, though not as strong. Mamá! Leave me alone! She can’t act like a puta! You can’t let her!
His mother stared at him, crossing her arms, as his sister stood up, sniffling. Roberto, qué te pasa? She frowned and pointed to the door. Fuera. Get out. You do not hit your sister.
He glared at her, opened his mouth to say something, but turned and walked outside, slamming the door.
He stood on the porch, staring up through the brown haze at the few visible stars, clenching his fists. The hiss of traffic on the freeway. His mother’s television and the program voices. His mother talking and sister crying. The wind. He breathed in, deeply. And held it.