Charlie Resor showed up for work with his brother Bud every day. He worked to kick his habit every minute and every hour. Day by day, Bud told him. Bud would always be there for him, no matter what. Charlie worked on engines like they were living and breathing entities, not merely metal objects. His times last week at the AMA test and tune trials in Texas were good, not great, but he knew that as long as he was clean and sober that he had the strength to handle the races coming up. Springfield was Memorial Day weekend. It was all up to him to prove that he could still ride. Charlie did hit one thirty on a backstretch. He maintained one hundred and two during one trial. The AMA officials were talking with promoter Lynn Rammell. They seemed satisfied that Charlie could handle the crowd of racers around him. A heavy hitter, Lance Bridges, pressed him on every turn. Rammell, Charlie found out at the end of the day, had paid Bridges to harass him. Charlie, on one turn, could have slid under Bridges’ front wheel, but backed off. That seemed to impress Rammell so much that he told Charlie that he liked his temperament as well as his professionalism on the track.
The Harley was up on the brake stationary for Dyno tuning. Charlie stared at the computer monitor. “Bud, I can’t get the right map.” The back wheel of the motorcycle spun. He tried different RPMs, but couldn’t get the right line on the screen above the other lines.
“You got to get this right today,” Bud reminded Charlie. “He’s comin’ by to pick it up tomorrow.”
“I’ll stay all night if I have to,” Charlie coughed.
“I’ll turn the fan on,” Bud laughed. “Too many fumes.”
“What?” Charlie asked, lifting up the flap of his ear phones.
“Put the damn fan on before you get overcome.”
“All night if I have to,” Charlie yelled over the engine noise.
“You got nuthin better to do?”
“You need a woman,” Bud shook his head.
“No woman will have nuthin to do with me.”
“Someday a woman will.”
Susan stayed behind Charlie Resor’s Harley on Route 99, as she headed back to Celeryville. She had let herself into the Joe’s little house on the lane. She had picked up a few things that she knew didn’t matter to Joe if she took them. One item was a picture of her and Joe with the boys next to them like stair steps. Peter at that time was taller than James, but James soon caught up with his twin brother in height. Joe had told her it was all right for her to take the picture. It was on the dresser door counter. She noticed the perfume that Joe bought her for an anniversary. He was proud that he’d purchased a gift for her that he thought was special. But to her it was a cheap perfume. She did not like the scent. She wore it a few times to please her husband. She had done so many things she did not want to do just to please Joe. He felt that his family was well off. Joe didn’t know what real wealth was. Charlie pulled off the highway on a road with a sign that read ‘Isaac Walton’ one mile ahead. She looked forward to seeing her father at the mansion.
“I will be so proud to have your children living here where they have always belonged,” Eduard said to his daughter as she entered his spacious office.
“Father, you can wait until the divorce is over,” Susan said.
“Next month it all starts up,” Eduard rubbed his hands together. “Another great season.”
Susan too could feel the excitement of the fields producing the bounty of radishes, lettuce, and tomatoes much like when she was a little girl, a buzz of energy would bustle from the Hispanic families and supervisors working in the fields and in the processing buildings. Her boys would get lost in this exhilaration of farming the finest produce in the world. They would inherit this empire. Susan and Eduard walked along the deep irrigation canals. The water was low now in April. The black earth was covered in the protective cover of barley. Some of the fields were being tilled for planting. Temperatures had soared to seventy. Susan smelled the loamy rich dark soil.
“How is your relationship with Mackenzie?” Eduard asked.
“He hasn’t asked me to marry him again.”
“He will again right after the divorce is final.”
“Are you so sure?” Susan breathed out. “Once rejected--”
“When the time is right for him and you.”
“Why do I need to marry again?”
“A woman of your beauty should have an important man as a husband,” Eduard said, staring at the pump house. “When a man sees that you are unattached, he will make a fool of himself. Men that we need to close deals with will be difficult to negotiate with if they feel you lost respect for them because of their imprudent actions.”
“It’s all about this empire of yours, isn’t it Father?” Susan folded her arms.
“You will come to see the importance of it all,” Eduard said, tilting his head toward the sky. “If Jaki had lived, you would be married to him, and Henry and my partnership would be sealed in blood.”
Susan would have laughed at what her father said if it wasn’t so chilling to her. “If you had a son, then he would be married to Jules?”
Eduard looked down his nose at his daughter. She didn’t understand now, but she would. “Jules made a mistake.”
“I made a mistake marrying the man I loved?” Susan said though clenched teeth. “The man I still love?”
“The longer you and your ex-husband stay apart, the better,” Eduard said. “You will come to love Mackenzie.”
“How many growing seasons do you think it will take for me to fall in love with Kenzie?”
“Don’t take that tone,” Eduard said, emotionless. “Mackenzie loves you.”
“I want to run back to Joseph every day.”
“All you will find is that Esmeralda,” Eduard said. “Your ex-husband is probably sleeping with her now.”
“How do you know about Esmeralda?”
“I have my sources.”
“She helps with the boys and cleans,” Susan threw her hands up. “She is smart. Joe has her doing my job at the store.”
“Sounds like the perfect girl for your ex. The right girl for that little town. The right girl to keep him happy.”
“Can’t you say ‘Joseph’, father?” The wind was swirling dust around them. “I call his name every night in my pillow. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of him, and my heart aches.”
Eduard stared out at the sun setting behind Celeryville. “That trash Mary will probably want Joe again once she knows another girl has him.”
“You won’t stop.”
“Joe wants younger women. He will have a new one every month. He is such a ‘handsome guy,’ as you say.”
Susan could not believe how heartless her father was. “My sons look so much like their father. They have his quiet confidence and kindness. I am proud of that.” The tears were flowing again. Joseph wasn’t next to her, but he was making her cry again.
“They will be raised here to be sturdy oaks, not to show weakness. They will stand stoic and stable against all adversities. They will learn to work hard to attain status. They will learn to dominate with power, and not let their enemies back on their feet. They will be real men and never show shame.”
“Learn to be worthy of this empire,” Susan said. She turned and walked back to the Van Wert offices alone.
Joe found out that the township trustees had made the final decision on the Longear zoning proposal at a special session that no one seemed to notice in the newspaper’s official announcements. Boots told him in the breakroom that all three trustees voted to accept the zoning change from the planning board. The Wal Mart project, which originally had such promise to be controversial and to self-destruct, ended with an affirmative whimper.
“Look at it this way, Son,” Boots said, pouring a mug of coffee, “you did all that you could. The money was too great. Money speaks louder than good sense.”
“We need to plan for a cash flow crunch,” Joe said.
“Bank as much dough as we can,” Boots sighed. “Paying bills will be more important than anything a year from now.”
“In a way, I thank God that my boys will have a future down at Van Wert’s. It all could be over here in a few years.” Joe put his hands in his pockets.
“The sick thing is that Eduard will probably sell Wal Mart better produce than what we can get.”
“All that Wal Mart meat is loaded with preservatives,” Joe said. “So much that they need an ingredient label.”
“Think of how nuts that is,” Boots shook his head. “People today just don’t care about quality meats. Whatever is cheapest.”
“The world is changing rapidly,” Joe said. “I hope my boys don’t have their dreams ruined by a war.”
“Like my baseball dreams by World War Two.”
“Andy has a chance at something.” Joe leaned up against the scratched wall paneling. “The other boys can excel at some sport too, I think.”
“If we fail here, maybe you have a career in politics,” Boots grinned. “Everyone at that one trustee meeting was impressed with your debating skills.”
“I still want to be a head coach. That’s the job I want. What I always wanted. I could always teach too. Maybe computers.”
“Your mother and I could retire. Sell out to Big Lots. Collect some rent.”
“I don’t want to give up yet, Dad.”
“Don’t give up on Susan.”
“I’ll get the final word next month.”
“That wife of yours just might still drop this whole garl darn notion.”
“But that father of hers will not.”
Joe called to Andy in his bedroom to say goodbye to Maria. She kissed him on his cheek, and drew her arms away from him through the window where she had leaned. He closed the window to the shunting sound of a passing train. He gave a thumbs up to his father and slipped under the covers.
The twins were sound asleep in their bunks. Matty had finished counting his winnings on a bet. He said the Indians would beat the Yankees. Esmeralda was sitting on the couch in a bathrobe with her legs curled under her. She was reading Catcher in the Rye.
“That’s the fifth book this week,” Joe said.
“I can read fast,” Esmeralda said. “The more English, the better for me.”
“You have been a godsend for me and the boys.” Joe stood at the far end of the couch.”I think they will soon be down in Celeryville. You can move back to Emmy then.”
Esmeralda closed her book quietly, and looked at Joe with those light sapphire eyes. “I can keep your home clean. Cook good food for you, you know. You have been good to me. I do a good job, yes?”
“You have caught on to the office work at the store like you’ve always done it. I am amazed at what you can do.”
“Emmy and I worked hard down in Mamulique,” Esmeralda scooted tightly against the corner of the couch. She placed her hand down on the center cushion. “Our father, Don Glafiro, believed in hard work. I am the daughter of Don’s third wife. Emmy is the son of Don’s first wife, you know.”
“I did not know that,” Joe said and sat at the far end of the couch.
“Don Glafiro was what I think you call a straw boss. Us kids did all the work.” Esmeralda smiled. “Us kids made cement blocks and sold them for a peso each to the ranchers outside town. Emmy skinned animals, and butchered them. He walked around town selling the meat that hung around his neck from a rope.”
“I have to say you two worked hard.” Joe raised his left leg up onto the couch.
“One day,” Esmeralda giggled, “Emmy got chased by a javelin. That pig smelled the blood, you know.”
Joe beamed at Esmeralda’s innocent childlike way she covered her mouth when she laughed. “This village…what is it called, Mamu…”
“Mamulique,” she said, and touched Joe on his knee. She shyly looked down at the floor, and back up into his eyes. She pulled her hand away, and placed it on the top of the couch.
She smelled fresh from the shower that she took. Her black hair had been wrapped in a towel, but was now tossed out so it would dry faster. “This Manulique sounds like a wonderful place to be brought up.”
“Oh Senor, it is just like Monroe Falls.”
“Well, everyone is probably asleep in this little town, so I think I will turn in.” Joe stood, and touched Esmeralda’s hand on the top of the couch. “I look forward to those huevos rancheros tomorrow.”
“I brought home more of Emmy’s salsa for those chicos,” Esmeralda said sweetly. “They cover those eggs like no one’s business, you know.”
“Good night, Esmeralda,” Joe said, and walked to his bedroom.
That night Joe dreamed of being in Susan’s arms. He slept deeply. He could almost feel her touch. He smelled her Chanel. Her warmth made him seem to float. If he could wave Andy’s magic wand from his magician set to bring Susan back to him and keep his boys forever, he would do it. Why Eduard thought so little of him and his family was a mystery. If he could wave that wand and bring back Eduard’s wife Kathryn, he would do that too. A man needed a good woman to walk through the wilderness with. A man needed a woman as a compass to walk through the wilds. The loss of Kathryn had made Eduard a sad and depressed man who used his wealth and power to subconsciously beat people down. He beat Joe and his family down, so he could bring his daughter back and take away Joe’s sons. Joe felt Susan’s touch on his chest. Her soft kisses on his lips seemed so real. Her sweet breath was making him feel urges that he had not felt in a long time. She rubbed his chest more firmly.
“Forgive me Joseph, I love you so much,” she said breathlessly.
“What is happening?” Joe jolted out of his sleep.
“Oh please do not throw me out of your bed.”
“We can’t do this,” Joe said, and lifted Esmeralda off him with both of his arms.
“I cannot stay away from you anymore.”
“If my sons ever knew we are sleeping together, they would be confused.”
“I cannot help myself anymore.”
“My boys want their mother back.”
“Will you throw me out?”
“I…I don’t know what I will do.” Joe looked at Esmeralda. Her short night gown matched her sapphire eyes.
“I have shamed you.”
“No, no…you could never shame me,” Joe said with more control. “We will pretend this never happened.”
“You Senor, can pretend, but never me.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I walk in shame. Now I have shamed you.” She crawled to the foot of the bed, and wrapped her arms around her stomach. She leaned against the footboard.
“You don’t walk in shame.”
“When I sold those blocks to the ranchers, one day I was raped. Don Glafiro told me not to go alone. I was thirteen. The man said he would pay double. I should not have followed him behind the barn.”
“Esmeralda, you are not shamed because of that.” Joe slipped off the bed, and pulled Esmeralda onto the floor. He held her close.
“Dad, is Mom home?” Andy asked, standing in the doorway, rubbing his eyes.”I heard people talkin’ when I…I had ta go.”
“It’s just Esmeralda, son. She had a bad dream.”
“I…I was just hopin’ it was Mom,” Andy said, and walked to the hall bathroom.
Esmeralda caressed Joe’s cheeks with the backs of her fingers. “Joseph, I will be a good woman for you.”
“I know how much I care for you.”
“I will give you many children.”
Joe’s mind spun. “Let’s talk about all this when the boys are off to school.” Joe found himself rubbing the back of Esmeralda. The nightgown was smooth on his hand. “We can’t do this.”
“Whatever happens, I want you to know my love.”
Joe watched her hurry down the hall to the guest bedroom. She closed the door completely. For a moment he wanted Esmeralda in his bed for the rest of the night. For a brief time he had thought Susan was next to him. If only Susan would change her mind, he would do whatever she asked of him. If only they could become a family again, he could explain it all to Esmeralda. Her heart would break. She would go back to Mamulique and marry. If only it all could be as it was.
Father O’Malley’s homily was on Ecclesiastes 3:4. “There is a time t’ weep,” Father said. “An’ a time t’ laugh. There is a time t’ mourn, an’ a time t’ dance. This is a time t’ weep an’ mourn,” Father said. “One hundred an’ sixty eight poor souls were snuffed out in an instant. Our hearts go out t’ Oklahoma City. Why would anyone do such a thing? Nineteen wee children perished. Children laughing an’ playing were wiped from this earth by the hand o’ evil. The murderers will soon be caught, but what goes through the thoughts o’ man t’ commit such a crime? Is it hatred o’ this country, or hatred o’ God?”
Joe sat with Matty and the twins. Esmeralda sat with her brother and Jules. Maria and Andy sat together in the pew behind them all. Jack and Jimbo were altar boys at nine o’clock mass. Esmeralda stole glances at Joe. She had put on her finest dress, and the perfume that Jules had given her. She wanted to walk alone with Joe back to his home. She wanted him to know that she wasn’t the kind of girl to jump in bed with a man, but that was exactly what she had done. She didn’t know what had gotten into her, but she could not sleep the rest of the night when she went back to her bed. She shivered under the covers from her longing for Joe’s touch.
Maria deliberately walked slowly with Andy after church. She wanted to talk to him about her discussion with her mother. She kept brushing Andy’s hand to get him to hold hers, but he walked not saying a word. He seemed preoccupied about something. “What are you thinking, Andy?”
“You have a lot on your mind, I know.”
“Just Dad and I having a talk.”
Andy gave Maria a pained look.
“Why are you so sad today? What Father said about all those poor people?”
“I think Dad and Esmeralda are having s…sex.”
Maria had a look of revulsion. “My aunt would never do such a thing--”
“I saw them holdin’ each other in Dad’s room.”
“Oh, Andy,” Maria said, “that doesn’t mean they’re having sex. They’re both lonely. Like I’m so lonely for you.”
“Dad tried to t…tell me about sex da other day.”
“Mom told me all about sex too. I knew so much about what she said already.”
Andy had a pensive look. “I’m getting so mixed up about Dad and Mom, and you.”
“We don’t need to have sex to love each other.”
Andy looked like he was going to cry. “No way we are havin’ sex.”
“Did you know that in the middle ages girls married at eleven and had babies?”
“You are way too g…grown up for me,” Andy started to walk faster. “No babies for me.”
“I just don’t want to lose you, that’s all.” Maria sped up.
“I need to get by myself.” Andy sprinted back to the house. He ran right past Joe and Esmeralda. He wanted to worry about football, and basketball, and baseball, not about life. He wanted his mother to kiss him goodnight again.