Later, we repair a section of fence, Hector stringing the wire and me hammering the U-nails. The last one goes in and I give the wire a tug.
Hector grunts and gathers the spool.
“You gonna pray to those holy santos?”
“Is private,” Hector says.
My mom prayed. Those childhood Sundays when she dragged me to the cathedral, a big old building that smelled like bad perfume. On the real hot days I got queasy. This was back then, in the city. When my dad was around he preferred to drink on Sundays.
“I didn’t know you were so religious.”
“I didn’t know you so religious,” Hector mimes.
There was a woman I wanted to marry for a time. We were living together, in the house I grew up in, had it to myself by then. Some friend told us to go for walks after we fought, to try that. So on an evening we’re walking, cooling down, something already wrong between us—I see that now—and we pass the cathedral and she pulls the door open and in we go, don’t know why. Dim, quiet. Shadow clouded the ceiling, vague forms, murals I can’t recall with any sharp lines. We sat in silence. We were small and smothered under impenetrable mystery. That’s how I felt, at least. Goddamn, though, because she took my hand on the way home. Held it and smiled at me when she did it. I remember that now, too, but not how I screwed it up later on.
“Tell me, man,” I say to Hector. “Those santos, they work for you?”
Hector stops, disintegrates a clump of baked dirt with his toe. He raises his arms and lets them slap back to his side. He doesn’t say more. Mr. Thad sits on the bottom step of the big house’s porch, staring at the clay between his boots. He waves us over. An empty wine bottle stands on the step beside him.
“Lookit this.” Mr. Thad points to the ground, the black squirming mass.
Ants, a chaos of them. Closer still, I see the baby snake beneath the swarm. It was small but is now dead and dried out, and the ants pick the husk of the thing apart and carry off the pieces.
Mr. Thad shows his teeth, dark flecks of chew. “That’s one dead serpent,” he says, and he wheezes. He hacks, then tells us to go home.
Pinging on the roof wakes me up. I come down from a panicked dream and smell that good petrichor through the open window. I kick my covers aside, get up, and look out. Lightning flashes, running through the sheets of rain. For an instant the world is only light, and in the dark and quaking repose I draw a first breath.