and waves his hand above his head to ward them off. He thinks about Felicia, one of the barmaids at the Eureka bar, and her cloud of candy-sweet hair. He likes to get close to her on the dance floor so he can feel the pooch below her girdle. Then he walks back to his stool, giddy as a high-school boy, and drinks until the room is moving around like a speeded-up movie and all he can remember the next morning are bits and pieces of the night beforethe neon in Felicia’s mound of laquered hair, her smashed, yellow breasts, and her tongue, thick and foamy with beer, in his mouth. At a washed-out gravel road, he glances up and sees the doctor, Regina Garity, looking down at him. The sharp, intelligent face flusters him, and when he reaches the top of the hill where she is waiting, his voice is blustery. “Something’s wrong with her,” he shouts. “We poured a bottle of molasses over her food, and she still don’t eat. These fell off in her bucket?’ From the pocket of his blue jeans, he withdraws several long, yellowish stubs and holds them out in the palm of his hand: donkey teeth. Regina looks at the animal and frowns slightly. “You know I’m not a veterinarian, don’t you?” “I guess. But so long’s I’m here, would you mind having a look? I don’t think Grants has no more vets.” “I will. But one of these days the county is going to have to do something about this,” Regina says. Leonard laughs. “Maybe if you called, they’d do that, but they sure as hell ain’t gonna pay any attention to me.” “Well, that’s not what I meant at all,” she says, taking the rope from his hands and motioning him to follow her down to the barn. Leonard walks behind her, studying the mannish triangle of her back and the two flattened loaves that move up and down inside her blue jeans. She ties the animal to the hitching rail, then goes into the washroom and retrieves a black bag containing syringes and numerous small vials of medicine. While she is drawing a clear liquid from one of the vials into a needle, Leonard saunters down the breezeway, glances into the stalls, then returns, and looks down the hill toward the mine. He studies the color and shape of the rocks on the cliff where the mine is located, looking for the eggy-colored striations that often indicate the presence of uranium. “I seen you up here before,” he says, glancing back at Regina. “All this yours?” “I’m buying it from the Baca family. It was supposed to go to their youngest son, but he never came home from Korea. Or rather, he disappeared soon after his ship landed in San Diego.” “Some guys I was with, they talked about doing the same thing.” “I suppose it is hard to go home when you feel so changed inside,” Regina muses. “Well I cain’t speak for them other guys, but I ain’t never felt better?’ “You were in Korea?” “Yes ma’am. Four long ones. Fifty-one to fifty-five?’ “It must have been something?’ “Oh, I learned some things, first aid and such, but most of it’s stuff I never been able to use on the job:’ He laughs again, an explosion of dry air, and scratches his black hair, which still bears the imprint of his mining hat. He has exposed cheekbones with small dips below them, and his eyes are the color of wet pine. Regina rubs her hand along the donkey’s hot neck, then pinches up a loose fold of skin and injects a sedative beneath it. The dazed animal flinches slightly. A few moments later, it drops its head and begins to weave. Regina then slides two fingers between the donkey’s lips, and the animal opens its mouth. Its tongue and palate are covered with watery blisters, and the lower jawbone in which the teeth are embedded appears to be dissolving, as if it has been rinsed in acid and is slowly being eaten away. The animal’s throat is covered with a greenish fuzz that Regina instantly recognizes as gangrene. She straightens up and looks at Leonard. “What on Earth’s happened to her?” “Nothing. We treat her good,” Leonard says. “All day she gets to eat them weeds that grow down by the arroyo.” “Does she have a name?” “Jackass,” he snorts. “No, Mirabel. That’s what the kids call her anyway?’ “Mirabel,” says Regina, cupping a hand under the animal’s sleepy face and drawing it closer. She speaks quietly to the little donkey and then goes back into the barn. A few minutes later, she returns with a bucket of soapy water, dips a clean, white cloth into it, and wrings it dry. Then she opens the donkey’s mouth and begins to clean it. Leonard walks over to a yucca plant about 10 feet from the barn and pulls out his knife. “You mind?” he asks, pointing to the sharp, green leaves. Without waiting for an answer, he slices off a leaf, splits it lengthwise, then sticks it in his mouth and begins cleaning his teeth. He lifts his upper lip in an exaggerated way, moving the yucca blade between the spaces in his two front teeth, which are very white and well formed. “The Indians make soap from this, but it don’t taste soapy to me.” “The soap’s in the roots,” says Regina. “Lordy. Seems like it’d be a whole lot easier to buy a box of Tide than dig out one of these things. Now that’s a bear of a job. You ever tried moving one of them cow-tongue cactuses?” “Not really?’ “I expect you wouldn’t have. I had me a job doing that one summer, clearing the land for a carrot farm out east of here. I never will forget them stickers. Come right through my jeans, my gloves, even my boots. Here I was, nearly growed, and I cried when my aunt pulled them out of me. Finally she just put me in a big tub of warm water and let them raise up on their own. Course that was the fun part.” His eyes slide over her big, womanly breasts, which to his mind don’t fit with her stringy, long-legged, man’s body. Regina says nothing, so he walks back over to where she is working and looks down into the bucket. Small brown scabs float on top of the water, which is pinkish from the donkey’s blood. “Don’t that just make you sick?” he asks. “I can see how it would make some people squeamish,” Regina responds, rinsing the cloth. JANUARY 12, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 35
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