AFTERWORD I BY RUPERTO GARCIA Alfred Longoria Alfred Longoria died at 17. Nobody knows why he escaped the rest of his lifewith all its complications, its heartbreak and lack of love, its twists and turns and disappointments. But he managed it. Somehow, he managed it. From that day on, he became a distant observerdetached, but ever present; watchful, but untouched; concerned with what would happen next, but more out of curiosity than emotion; content with the cocoon that death provided him. For many years, he had watched Maria Gonzales bathe each night, and it became a ritual he continued even after his death. He had started when he was eight, climbing onto the roof of the house. He would walk toward the back of the roof and then onto the roof of the shopif you could call it a shop; it was more like a collection of dilapidated boards that served as a wall and half a roof. It was the place his father would go to fix things. But that halfroof provided enough space for Alfred Longoria to sit, just high enough to be able to look across the yards and see the outside shower Maria Gonzales used every night. Maria Gonzales had a fine body: smooth and wet and brown to the point of bronze. She had the whitest teeth \(though of course he never looked at them when he was watching her from her brown face. Her face was beautiful. But most of all, it was the firmness of her body that held him captivated, eternally bidding him to climb from roof to roof. She would bathe slowly for himor so he thought at eight, and then at 12, and later at 17. And as she bathed, Maria Gonzales would slowly rub the soap across her flat stomach a stroke at a time, looking toward the sky as she stroked her neck, her long elegant fingers bubbling the soap over herself. She was Maria Gonzalez, and the way she bathed brought the boys and young men to the rooftops. They would gaze at her in the darkness, unaware of each other as she bathed. And in the middle of the afternoon, when she wasn’t bathing, they would gaze at their own shoes, at the rocks in the middle of the caliche roads, at the shrubbery in front of her mother’s well-kept home, and at her windowswaiting, yearning, and aching for Maria Gonzales to get dirty once again. For many yearseven after he died Alfred Longoria was no different. He waited as patiently and as religiously as any other. One time there was a brief, quiet murmur among the boys: Mrs. Gonzales, her mother, wasn’t bad either. She too had her daughter’s body. In fact, Alfred Longoria once spent an entire evening fantasizing about this or that and watching soapy hands rub over a firm, youthful midriff, until he realized it was the mother he had been watching. He made the same mistake one time after he had died. He could still recall the first time that it happenedthe red embarrassment of his face as he quietly climbed down the side of the building. One night, having caught him climbing down the side of the house, his father asked him what he was doing up there. Another time, it was his mother who caught him. Both times, without pausing to think about it, he said he had been looking at the stars and at how the moon, in its creamy whiteness, looked against the darkened sky. Then he added, without much afterthought, that he liked to watch the clouds at night because they didn’t look like cotton the way they did in daylight. Instead they looked like silk threads spread across a blue-black, velveteen table. “They look like brushed strands,” he said. “Like someone had brushed them as if they were hair and had left them spread out across the table.” Days, even years later, whenever they heard him on the roof, his mother and father would tell visitors that one day their son would be an astronoroof, he could hear his parents repeat the words, almost verbatim, that he had used when they caught him coming down the side of the house. He felt guiltiest about having had lied when he heard his mother repeating those words. The guilt would wash over and encompass him, not wanting to let him go. But along with the guilt came a warm feeling of pride: She actually believed that someday he would become a poet. He could tell how deeply she believed it by the way that she spoke to the women who came to visit. She hadn’t read many books, except for the short Mexican novelas that the women at work camps passed from one to the othermother to daughter, neighbor to neighborthe heirlooms of the poor. But whatever it wasa novela or the family Bibleshe would clutch it and press it against her heart when she uttered the final word: “No, no. He won’t be an astronomer; my son will be a poets’ Her words would be followed by a pause, which from his high distance he would imagine was a barely audible sigh: “He will be a poetf She seemed to relish the idea. They were all workers, with calloused hands. And most of the men didn’t read a word of anything. Nor did she, for that matter, at least not regularly. She looked at La Biblia and occasionally read it, but she had never read a pictureless novel or a poem. She liked the thought of it, though, and whenever she looked at the comic-book-like characters in the novelas, she would dream of someday reading a real book without pictures. And the sound of her voice, whenever she 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 7, 2006
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