Little Bonifacio squints into the sunlight, sweat beading on his forehead. His hand is wrapped around a plastic milk jug that’s been filled with water. He’s momentarily dazed. His eyes slowly adjust to the light and he can make out his grandfather, Apá, standing in a field of pepino, the brim of his hat shadowing his face.
Apá means father. That’s what Bonifacio’s grandfather is to him. Bonifacio’s biological father, who he can hardly remember, is somewhere down South with his other family.
Apá is tall for a Mexican, sturdy and stern. When he sees him, Bonifacio unconsciously draws back his shoulders, puffing out his little chest. He hopes that one day he will be the same kind of man as Apá—one who doesn’t need words, because the way he holds himself says it all.
And he will become like Apá. When Bonifacio is seventeen and drunk, he will race his motorcycle down Countyline Street in the middle of the night, disregarding every red light. He will arrive at home, miraculously in one piece, and stumble through the front door to find Apá sitting alone at the table, his eyes watery, his hand wrapped around a cold beer. Apá will say nothing, Bonifacio, too, will say nothing.
Now, he runs through a row of cucumbers with the jug of water raised high above his head. He speeds up and quickly reaches Apá. Bonifacio wants to talk, ask Apá how his day is going and be asked back, but his grandfather will be more impressed with swift silence, so Bonifacio is pleased with himself when the only greeting he gives Apá is a nod as he hands him the jug. Apá upcaps it and drinks and drinks until it’s half-empty.
A helicopter with a white plus sign on its side flies over the fields, its blades spinning so fast that they blend into one. Perhaps the helicopter is life-flighting someone who has had a heart attack or been struck by a car. Bonifacio thinks of all the people he’s known who are dead. One: Apá’s elder brother. He drowned during a drunken swim in a lake. Two: A boy from school who got hit by a semi while riding his bicycle. Bonifacio didn’t actually know the boy, but he used to see him around from time to time.
Apá and Bonifacio make the sign of the cross. Apá surprises Bonifacio when he begins to speak. He casually mentions that he once saw a flying saucer back in Mexico when he was a ranchero. It sounded like a helicopter and flattened the grass in a circle behind the barn, terrifying the cows.
“Were you scared?” Bonifacio asks.
“Of little green men? I’ll kick them in their heads,” Apá says.
When Bonifacio is older, he’ll recall his youth with equal parts nostalgia and disgust. Smoking in the boys’ room while listening to the Mötley Crüe version of the song, “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” Crashing Apá’s truck into the sandwich shop where his first girlfriend, Roxanne, worked. Bonifacio will assume that when Apá sees his dented truck, the broken mirrors, he will beat Bonifacio’s ass, shout at him, kick him out, or all three. But Apá will only say that he expects Bonifacio to pay him back. He won’t expect anything else.
Bonifacio doesn’t know it yet, but he wants to be a rockstar. Not the kind that shoots heroin and sleeps with groupies, but the kind that sits beneath a tree with a freshly- tuned guitar. One who plucks at the strings until a pattern forms. One who repeats the pattern while wandering the Earth until sleepy souls begin to follow the sound.
On Friday and Saturday night, all the fieldworkers come together and have a huge party. Kegs, tall boys tucked into brown paper bags. Tequila, salt, lime. The pack of cigarettes that peeps out of Apá’s shirt pocket. Paletas and beans for the children. Thumping music and wailing gritos for the adults.
Someone will leave a guitar at one of these parties. After a few days, no one will claim it, and it will somehow make its way into Bonifacio’s hands. He’ll quickly learn how to play it even though he has no teacher, not even an instructional video. Apá will recognize Bonifacio’s talent and allot him two hours of practice time each day, much to the chagrin of Bonifacio’s cousins, who will have to take up his chores.
But none of this has happened yet and Bonifacio hasn’t yet learned to recoil from himself and from everything he wants for himself. As Apá remembers his UFO encounter, a deep frothy laugh rises out of him like the foam on top of a beer, spilling over with a sudden bubbliness. Bonifacio still has many tasks to complete today—take the remaining water to his mother, hang the clothes on the line, practice his pitch—but for now, he allows himself to focus on the sound of his father’s laughter. For the time being, this can sustain him.
Angelica Esquivel is a Xicana writer and embroidery artist whose work has appeared in publications such as Crab Orchard Review, Cream City Review, and Gordon Square Review.