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Familia. You don’t ask questions. You do what familia tells you. When the old man says go north with your cousin, you do it. And you end up in hell, with a gringo boss who learned his Spanish in the wrong place and talks like a gay Castilian. And a hundred degrees of heat, and these pinche hooked knives that tear your hands to ribbons. But you shouldn’t have lied, you shouldn’t have said you had worked the vineyards. And you shouldn’t have raised your hand when jefe Cathtilian asked for volunteers to work on Sunday. But it’s time-and-a-half, and it’s la familia. It doesn’t make it easier, but it does make it inevitable, and that’s something.
Esteban worked his way down the rows, pulling his boxes alongside. A strange yellow smoke had been drifting over the gold-grass hills all morning, making it hard to breathe, and his baseball cap was soaked through with sweat. Still, at least he was alone, and he didn’t have to listen to ranchero music, or that boom-boom German nonsense. Give him norteño, Flaco Jimenez on the squeezebox, or that hot Puerto Rican salsa. Esteban was a man of rhythm, a man of action; he would dance with the Cuban bonitas on Miami Beach, to Celia Cruz and Poncho Sanchez.
He looked up and discovered, much to his surprise, that he had only two rows left. After that, he would sit down with his treasure: two Tecate cervezas, sealed in a Zip-Lock bag filled with ice, and a spicy lingua burrito. Just the thought of it quickened his hands.
An hour later, Esteban held the last clump of pinot grapes and pretended he was a caballero castrating a bull. As the testicles dropped into his box he let out a joyous grito. He ran to a sprawling oak on the hilltop, opened the Zip-Lock and nearly cried as the ice-cold fluid struck his throat.
After he finished his burrito, Esteban felt the long hours of work pummeling him to the ground. When he woke up, the yellow smoke was rolling over the hill like smog. He stumbled to his feet and realized that he had to pee very badly. Without the presence of the other workers, Esteban saw no reason to hide behind a tree, so he raced into the golden grass, pulled down his shorts and released a great yellow stream.
Someone giggled. Esteban let out an “Ay!” and turned to see a lady on a horse. Then he realized he was facing her with his pendejo hanging out, so he spun back around. He thought of pulling up his shorts, but then he would wet himself, so he waited anxiously for the stream to subside, all too aware that the caballera was now looking at his brown buttocks, out there in God’s daylight. He shook off the last few drops, pulled up his shorts and tried to adopt a casual demeanor.
He half expected the lady to be gone, but still she was there, wearing a strange grin. Her mount was an enormous creature the color of straw, making him almost disappear into the grass. The woman lifted herself up, dismounted and walked his way. Esteban had an urge to bolt, but the woman was beautiful, like no one he had ever seen, with blonde tresses that went from honey to straw to sand, and white skin, and large green eyes. Her clothing was like something out of a movie: a long white dress, a corset of chocolate brown with braided patterns in gold. The corset was pulled tight by a web of laces that pushed her breasts upward; half of their surface was laid bare to Esteban’s eyes. Her hair was strewn with flowers and ribbons, the sleeves of her dress puffed out like the shirt of a pirate, and around her head she wore a copper band, festooned with etchings of oak leaves and birds. He had seen some of these things on the folklorico dancers back home, but never in such perfect array, like the clothing of an angel, like a dream. Is that it? he thought. Am I still asleep? Oh let it not be so!
It wasn’t. She came near, speaking as she approached, but although Esteban knew un poquito de Ingles he did not know this. The rhythm was formal, like a march, and her words were marked with the lisping sounds of his boss’s Spanish. But words were not really needed; the caballera placed her hands against Esteban’s chest, giggled sweetly and brought her thick lips to his. He had kissed a chica before, but never like this. She slipped her tongue into his mouth, and he found his tongue pressing back. It was very odd and exciting. He felt his thing growing in his shorts, and he worried that this would scare the woman away, the way it scared Maria Sanchez. But when the caballera drew back, it was only to undo the laces of her corset.
He had never seen anything so white. The nipples were like the pink sugar cookies his abuelita would make on Sundays. He took one of her breasts in his hand, and when he nibbled on the tip the caballera let out a gasp of pleasure.
His member was painfully stiff. When the lady knelt to unzip him and take him into her mouth, it was too much for him and he burst. He expected her to be angry, but instead she kept sucking, swallowing his seed and continuing until he was hard again. She motioned for him to lie down, then she spread her skirts and crouched over him, bringing his cock to her opening.
This, then, was Esteban’s first time, and now he understood why the older muchachos spoke so endlessly of the wonders of puta. It was like a liquid fire wrapped around his cock. He wished he could see what it looked like, his staff disappearing into the caballera’s white body, but there was something just as stimulating about this mysterious force beneath the pile of skirts, the dreamy look on the lady’s face as she rode him.
This time he was able to last much longer. Soon the gringa was shaking, and moaning, and letting out gritos of her own. He took her by the waist and exploded into her. As his body subsided, he lay back, leaking into her depths as the yellow clouds drifted across the sky. He fought the urge to sleep – he wanted so badly to stay with this pleasure – but inevitably he fell back into slumber.
Esteban woke to the sounds of a scuffle. When he saw white men in green uniforms he did what his cousin had told him and immediately sought cover. He climbed into the low branches of the oak and peered around the wide trunk to see the men leading the caballera away. Another man led the horse by its reins.
Esteban waited fifteen minutes, then walked carefully to the other side of the hill, where he found a dirt road. He could see the fresh tracks of the horse, and the bootmarks of the uniformed men. He followed them downhill until he came to a small valley where everything had been burned to black. All that was left were the charred trunks of trees and the smoldering remains of small structures. He followed the track of the fire as it climbed the opposite hill and beyond, where the burning grass sent up menacing plumes.
Esteban decided that this was the most he would find out this day, so he turned back uphill toward the vineyard. He stepped upon something that let out a tiny whoop, and found a square of metal, scorched black. He turned it over and found fancifully lettered words in English: Renaissance Pleasure Faire. He had no idea what these words meant, so he tucked the sign under his arm and kept walking. Perhaps he would ask his cousin.
Sculpture by Nina Koepcke