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FICTION A Painting In Santa Fe BY DAGOBERTO GILB ” ny luck?” Hub shouted above his rototiller. He hadn’t seen Jesse walk in the yard until he was almost standing next to him. Hub frowned at the machine, snugged the wire-rimmed glasses around his ears, switched off the engine. “I need a beer. You?” The blue overalls made Hub seem taller and thinner than he was. He and Jesse turned toward the back of the adobe house. “You find anything?” Jesse wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt, washed and new, the “I just remembered,” said Hub after some seconds passed. same combination for years. If the high tops were laced up his feet, “Lupe called.” that meant work, while the rough-cut cowboy boots were for dress “She didn’t say something?” Jesse asked. up. He’d been out looking for work. “She was returning yours.” Hub looked at Grace, suddenly It was weeks before official spring, and though snow topped the thinking there might have been more to it. “I think she was returnSandias, the day’s sun was warm, and Hub wiped sweat off his ing your call.” He dropped his empty can into a bag full of other face. He was cleaning up, getting ready for planting. Hub and aluminums. “You ready for another?” Grace’s land, with a view of ancient valleys and volcanic moun “Did she say where she was?” Jesse was asking Hub, and Hub tains, was terraced over almost two acres, much of it in use: apple, glanced at Grace. cherry, apricot, and peach trees, raspberry and grape vines, flowers “I got a phone number.” domestic and wild, herbs and cactus and even a small lawn. There “If you want some privacy,” Grace said, “use the phone in our were turkeys in a pen and chickens and three geese, two proppedbedroom.” up cars, one with wrenches and sockets under and around it. Grace opened the backdoor screen, two cans of beer in her hand. The wide-brimmed straw hat she wore outdoors was on her head. “You find one?” she asked Jesse. “He’s back here, isn’t he?” Hub told her. “That doesn’t mean he didn’t,” she said. “I suppose that’s true,” Hub said. That Jesse didn’t respond was the answer. “You’ll get something,” Grace assured him. “We know what an artist you are.” Hub and Jesse took swigs from the cans of discount beer. “They’re making highrises that look like adobes up there,” Jesse finally told them. “It upsets me to go to Santa Fe,” Hub said. “I never feel like I’m dressed right. I feel like wearing a cowboy hat and some longfrilled leather so I look more like part of the attraction than a tourist.” “Gucci and turquoise blend in better,” said Grace. “Though I can’t complain. We shouldn’t.” “On the California coast, it’s frothy waves hitting rocks, sea gulls floating above,” said Hub. “In Santa Fe, they paint those shadows on peeling adobe walls, the baby blue sky bursting through the thick windows.” “There’s good work there too,” said Grace. “The Shidoni is a beautiful space and the work is honest and very strong. Those kind of places may even redeem all the commercial art in the community.” She paused there, once she caught Hub staring at her, and turned, apologetic, to Jesse. “Have you ever been there?” It was a question that didn’t need to be asked, but she didn’t know how else to move along. Jesse shook his head. “You should,” she said. “It’s really worth it.” Hub and Grace continued to be fascinated by Jesse Molina. He listened carefully and seemed so interested in their world, as though everything he learned was a discovery. They liked this man, who was building their home, who worked too hard, who ran the men he hired equally hard but without loud words, who had to be told to slow it down, to take it easy, to enjoy the work more. Hub and Grace wanted their house, they would tell him back then, not so much that it be done fast but beautifully. Jesse had looked at them mysteriously, a muscular serenity, trying to translate the meaning. It was an expression they saw on him often: Jesse working hard to comprehend the abstract, a geometric puzzle. He would stare at the adobe bricks he was laying, or the wood he was cutting, the plaster on a hod he did everything, seemed able to do every trade well, like a decathlete and he stared to hear better. Around him they felt like Europeans, delicate and upper class, though Hub was from the Colorado suburbs and Grace was from urban New Jersey. Then there was the clich Jesse: the Chicano who suddenly would drink too much, who would do too much of whatever drugs were around and who’d disappear for days at a time. Twice other women dropped in on him while he built their house. That didn’t matter until they got to know his wife, Guadalupe. It was Grace who began inviting her over for lunch with them all. Grace adored Lupe, talked about how gorgeous she was a natural aura, she called it so much so that Grace asked if Lupe would sit for her. Jesse did not approve. Jesse said no. Said no firmly. Grace kept asking Lupe anyway. He’s just being a macho Mexican, she told her, and Jesse will get over it, would understand later. She would paint her beside their daughter, she told Lupe. Lupe and the baby were so beautiful, radiant, he was so lucky, and when he saw the painting he would understand, it would be like the Madonna and child, she said. No, Jesse told Grace. He took Lupe aside and one 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 23, 1999