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Warm Wind, Cold Sky

When she first moved in next door at the old trailer, they said she looked like a crazy Cinderella. Honey and her sister laughed, peeping through the little diamond window in the trailer door, drinking warm beer from cans. It was the dress, a getup that Fred said was South American and Honey’s man, Blue Moon, said was Mexican and nothing at all special.

Maria stood in the yard between the trailers and sadly watched four brown men in cowboy hats lug in beaten boxes and supermarket bags that contained all their stuff. Her man is Raoul and he had a square face which never smiled. She watched him smoke a lot of cigarettes on the hood of their black Camaro, using his boots to rub them out.

Honey said she looked tragic, old movie style, with the October wind trailing her hair across her placid face like black fingers. She said it is weird how those people seem to live such different lives, even down to their thoughts. She said Maria had that look on her face like Jesus on the cross.

“It makes me feel bad about myself,” she told Moon, who stirred whiskey into his ice and cola.

“For doing what? Spying on your dirty Mexican neighbors?”

“No,” she said, pulling away from the tiny door window. “It makes me feel, I don’t know, uneasy and troubled … kinda … you know?”

“Woman, no I don’t know. You’ve lost me completely.”

Honey watched the windows on that side all weekend. With the wind blowing – warm wind, cold sky – it stirred up noises the whole time. You can’t have thieves, she told her sister on the phone. Moon is a thief, her sister said.

“But he doesn’t steal our stuff,” argued Honey.

Sunday late afternoon, with Fred and Moon fishing at Silver Lake for crappie and catfish, daggers of sun slanted all through the trailer park, Honey puts the cats out to drink milk on the steps. She can pet them, purring and tails flickering, while also watching the new neighbors.

Finally Maria came out, to comb her hair after washing. A long, slender cigarette, brown as the fallen leaves, hung from her pouted lips. She brushed with her eyes closed, smoke trailing up her smooth face into a shaft of sunlight. One of the cats – a one-eyed tabby who goes missing for days at a time – looked up at Honey, as if half expecting the woman to engage in conversation with the new neighbor.

“Mind your business, Ladybug,” Honey grumbled softly, stroking the cat’s lumpy head and carefully watching Maria, who paused her own grooming to shake and ash the end of her curious cigarette. They held each other’s stare a moment. Maria looked away and started brushing again, her empty hand following the brush down with each stroke.

It reminded Honey of her grandmother, her father’s mother, a half-Cherokee woman who worked out in the fields until she was an old woman but always paid great attention to her long black hair. The grandmother said someone put a spell on it to keep it from turning white, but no such spell had been placed on her sun-ravaged face and arms.

She wished Fred would bring Moon back, preferably with a mess of crappie. She would scale and cut them right at the bottom of these steps, even is Miss Pretty was still brushing her Mexicali locks. She smiled just thinking about it, about scales falling all the way over to land on those pretty pink-painted toes.

 

Maria opened her eyes and stared again, coming and brushing as if she never planned to stop, the cigarette arched between her lips.