By Al Riske
Luminis Books Copyright © 2012 Al Riske
All rights reserved.
The boy who broke Sabrina's window stood on the stoop, shivering. This early in the morning it was still chilly here in the high desert, but he seemed scared, too — like he couldn't imagine anything worse than being right where he was, having done what he did.
Shards of glass bit into the wooden planks beneath his hiking boots.
"I broke your window," he said.
"So I see."
He handed her the Sunday Journal.
"I'm really sorry."
"What's this?" Sabrina asked.
He looked up at her then, sleepy-eyed and as confused as she was. The boy had an expressive face. It wasn't hard to tell what he was thinking, and that made her feel sorry for him. More sorry than she already felt.
"Wrong house," he said finally.
She looked up and saw the small pickup idling by the curb, newspapers in the cab, more in the bed. On both sides of the street, practically every house was an adobe with the doors and window frames painted the same blue you see throughout New Mexico. It wasn't too hard to put together, even without that first cup of coffee.
The boy said, "I'm not the regular guy. I'm just ... I'm filling in, and I got confused. I thought this was a porch-delivery house, and I ... I threw the paper. I threw it pretty hard, I guess. I should have —"
Sabrina pulled her robe tight around her throat and handed the paper back to the boy. He glanced back at his idling pickup — he hardly seemed old enough to drive — then looked into her eyes.
"I'll pay for the window," he said.
The offer was sincere. She could see it in the boy's face, hear it in his voice. He was ready to take full responsibility but also dreaded the cost, whatever it would be. Sabrina did, too, and yet —
"I'll tell you what," she said. "You can do some things for me mañana and we'll call it even."
When Joshua Margolis returned to work off his debt, the woman, Sabrina Carlsen, was wearing black jeans and a white tanktop, hoop earrings and a silver bracelet. Her top was untucked and her dark brown hair fell freely around her shoulders. She folded her arms.
"Good, you're here," she said. "We've got a lot to do."
They walked around to the backyard, where she handed him a five-pound sledgehammer.
"I can't stand all this cement," she said. "I want it out of here."
Joshua looked at the gray expanse in front of him.
"Couldn't I just pay for the window?" he asked.
Sabrina laughed and tousled his hair.
"It'll be fun," she said. "I'll be back in an hour or so to help you."
Joshua took a good hard swing with the sledgehammer, then had to look closely for evidence that he had done any damage whatsoever. He tried again. Taking an even bigger swing this time — rocking back and raising up — he brought the hammer head down hard and felt the shock in his hands. Now there were two tiny pock marks in the concrete.
When he looked up, Sabrina was already gone. There was just the hint of her perfume in the air.
All Was Quiet when Sabrina returned. How odd. She squinted at the tiny face of her silver wristwatch. Well, maybe not so odd. It had been three hours since she left Joshua to pound her patio to smithereens.
The patio, she discovered, was still intact, hardly scratched. Under the head of the sledgehammer, there was a note scrawled on the back of a faded and now un-crumpled receipt of some sort, evidently the only scrap of paper available:
"Sorry. Need a bigger sledge. Better yet, a jackhammer."
Sabrina smiled, sighed, folded the note in half, folded it again, kept folding it until she couldn't fold it any more.
"Guess I'll have to call Barry," she said aloud.
Barry Martinez Tended bar at Sabrina's favorite watering hole, the Shadow Dance Bar & Grill, and she could tell right away that he was interested. It took her awhile to warm up to him, though. For one thing she was seeing someone else when they met. But Barry began to seem a lot more attractive when she found out he was also an apprentice glassblower. She was a painter herself (and a failed actress, but never mind that). She made her living cutting hair, though, so they were kind of alike. In any case, she had always been drawn to creative people.
Now Barry had his shirt off and his torso was glistening in the slanting sunlight. At his feet, the patio was rubble. Sabrina handed him a cold Pacifico, his favorite.
"I really appreciate this," she said.
He drank half the bottle as Sabrina watched sweat drip from his chin to his chest and run down over his softly rounded belly. In fact there were several small streams cutting through the dust on his body like flash floods after a sudden rainstorm.
"No problem," he said. "You can show me your appreciation in just a minute."
Sabrina just smiled.
Everything she knew about men (well, not everything) she had learned from reading Esquire magazine. A longtime subscriber, she understood that men, at their best, had a lot of romanticized notions and wild fantasies about women. The reality was much different, and yet she was not averse to playing into those fantasies from time to time.
She liked thinking of herself as every man's fantasy.
The boy helped her move the rubble to the side of the house, where each week she would put a few chalky chunks into the garbage (whoever thought to put wheels on garbage cans deserved the kind of thanks Barry got, ten times over, she thought) until it was all gone.
The boy's eyes were dark but bright, and his hair was blond on top but nearly black underneath. She asked him if he had dyed it. He shook his head.
"No, it just does that," he said.
He seemed shy yet open, and her heart went out to him. He was so cute and so sincere — the kind of boy any girl should feel lucky to have, but wouldn't. She got the feeling that he had not yet been hurt. Not deeply. But of course he would be. And the damage ... she didn't want to think about the damage.
"What are you going to do back here?" he wanted to know.
"Plant grass, a few flowers, maybe have a garden over in that corner."
"Need some help?"
"You've paid your debt," Sabrina said.
She watched Joshua's lip curl and his shoulders bunch together.
"I could help anyway," he said.
Sabrina just looked at him.
"How old are you?" she asked.
"Seventeen. How old are you?"
She mussed his hair, which was becoming a habit.
"Don't get cocky, kid."
"I already have a girlfriend," he said, "if that's what you're worried about."
Sabrina, who was thirty-one, couldn't help but smile.
"Okay, then," she said. "Come back next week and I'll put you to work."
Sabrina had fallen in love with New Mexico instantly and forever. She didn't count the airport or Albuquerque. Albuquerque was just another American city to her. But once she got on to the Turquoise Trail the feeling was much different.
She would always remember driving north in her rented Ford Focus. It was cloudy but warm and the landscape looked a lot like California at first, but as she continued into the hills, everything changed. The ground rose, rocky and dotted with sage brush. Then she rounded a bend and everything was green. A forest of small trees spread out before her. The workplace was all but forgotten.
The land, she noticed, was an odd combination of very flat and very hilly. She stopped along the roadside to retrieve some snacks from the trunk and saw her first arroyo on the other side of a barbed-wire fence where three cows grazed.
She was not in any hurry. She could do whatever she wanted. It was an uncommon feeling, and Sabrina liked it. She decided she would live here as soon as she could.
Sabrina had expected to love Santa Fe, and she did — but not unreservedly. It was the traffic. The traffic reminded her of Los Angeles. And it was hard to find a place to park.
She took the High Road to Taos, the slower, more scenic route, which snakes along a ridge that, much of the time, is higher than anything around it, except the blue mountains on the horizon. There was hardly any traffic that day, and no one seemed to be in a hurry, least of all Sabrina. Even so, she made only one stop — a viewpoint in the Carson National Forest, where the evergreen trees looked roughly as tall as in Washington or Oregon, where she had grown up. Almost everywhere else she had seen here the trees looked notably shorter than what she was used to.
Then, descending into Taos, she knew she had found home. High mountains around a small plain — a nice place to build a town. It was smaller and less sophisticated than Santa Fe but also less pretentious. Perfect.
She had thought she would be inspired living among so many talented people, but mostly she's just been intimidated. Her best painting paled in comparison to the work of New Mexico artists she really admired — Greg Moon, Margaret Nes, Miguel Martinez, R.C. Gorman ...
School was out, and Joshua could think of no better way to spend the summer than hanging out with Ronni. Her family had this old-style hacienda on the outskirts of Taos, with an above-ground pool in the backyard, and he would drive out there most days. If he wasn't working.
This time, they were sitting at the kitchen table, and she was showing him a new photo album she had convinced her parents to pick up for her on a trip into town. He wasn't expecting any resistance, let alone a fight, when he offered to help her fill it.
"Oh, no, that's okay," Ronni said. "It'd just be boring old family snapshots."
"You didn't think it was so boring going through my family's albums."
"I know. That's what gave me the idea to do this one."
Ronni was the most crazy beautiful girl Joshua had ever dated. The other two couldn't compare. Not with Ronni's long two-tone hair (light and lighter shades of brown, thanks to frequent exposure to the high-desert sun), her bright green eyes, her mischievous grin, her killer body. Even the small gap between her two front teeth added to her charm.
"So what makes you think I wouldn't like to see your pictures?" Joshua asked.
Mrs. Seger, a quiet, efficient woman with the same two-tone hair as Ronni only much shorter, opened a cupboard and pulled out an old shoe box.
"Now's the perfect time to get started," she said, sliding the box onto the scarred wooden table between them.
Ronni reached for it, but Joshua was quicker.
"What's the matter?" he said. "Got a little bare-bottom shot in here you don't want me to see?"
"Come on, Joshua, this is embarrassing."
"Like my face wasn't red when you were giggling over that one of me —"
Ronni scooted to the edge of her seat, leaned forward.
"That was different," she said
"Yeah, it was me then. Now it's your turn," he said, lifting the lid off the tattered box — one corner held together by brown packing tape.
"Joshua, if you do ..."
"I'll never speak to you again," Ronni said.
Her father, a stern-faced sheriff's deputy, came into the kitchen and snagged a Dos Equis from the fridge.
"Go ahead," he said. "She's bluffing."
"He won't because he knows I mean business," Ronni said, without taking her eyes off Joshua.
Mr. Seger twisted the cap off his cerveza and stared briefly into Joshua's eyes, then went back to the baseball game playing on the big black Trinitron in the corner of the family room. Mrs. Seger followed with a bowl of corn chips and, in passing, patted Joshua's shoulder and smiled.
"I'm warning you," Ronni said.
Joshua peered into the box.
"I'm not talking to you if you do," she said.
He looked up.
She pursed her lips and came out of her seat slightly; Joshua twisted sideways and held the box just out of reach. She sat back down.
Random incidents flashed through his mind: Being in her room and having her say, "You don't have to leave, just turn around," as she changed her clothes. Her saying, "That's what you think, Homie," when he claimed he would never change a dirty diaper. But now, watching him across the kitchen table, she wasn't saying anything.
Joshua stood, toppling his chair behind him, and dropped the box on the table. The contents bounced and mostly landed back in the box, but a few stray snapshots landed on the table. He turned then and stumbled on the overturned chair. He tried to pick it up, set it right, but it moved away from him somehow, his foot and his hand working at cross purposes.
Embarrassed, he gave up and walked out. Ronni followed, stifling a laugh.
"Oh, don't leave mad," she said. "If it means that much to you ..."
The glare outside made his eyes water, but he kept going.
"Come back inside," she said.
He couldn't even look at her now, just jumped in his pickup, slammed the door with a tinny bang, and fired up the engine, giving it more gas than he meant to. As he drove away, he looked in the rearview mirror and saw Ronni standing in the driveway, hands on her hips.
When he got back to his house, he kept going and ended up at Sabrina's place — a location he would find his way to more and more. Though he hadn't given it much thought, he was vaguely aware of a strong, instant, inexplicable bond between them. It was as if he had already known her a long time, though of course he hadn't — unless it was in some other lifetime and he didn't really believe in that.
"Hey you," she said. "You want to come in? We're just watching the game."
He could hear someone in the living room yelling, "Going, going ... damn!"
"No, I ..."
"Want me to weed the flowerbed?"
He looked at her and saw that she was looking back at him as if he were a puzzle she couldn't figure out.
"If that's what you're dying to do," she said.
Joshua felt his lips turn up at the corners then and was surprised to find he was almost sort of smiling.
"Well, you've got a lot of weeds here," he said.
Sabrina smiled, too. Just a little.
"I see what you mean," she said. "I'll come out and help you in a minute."
When she knelt down beside him, she said, "So, what's really going on?"
"I just had a fight with my girlfriend."
She nodded to herself and dug up a weed.
"A bad one?"
He nodded to himself, too.
Joshua stared at the ground and shook his head.
"This is going to sound stupid ..."
"Why should you be any different?" Sabrina said.
Joshua looked up.
"I just mean it's always something stupid," she said. "Every fight I've ever had anyway."
As he told the story, all of it came flooding back to him: Ronni's smug certainty, her father's evident disappointment, her mother's pity, his own wavering weakness, his barely averted impulse to give in to her the way he always did — all that and a bunch of other crazy, blissful, and frustrating crap from the past few months. Now he was left with just that final image of Ronni in his rearview mirror, hands on hips, so crazy killer beautiful and yet ...
He was grateful for Sabrina's silent interest.
"Good for you," she said at last.
"Good? How is this good?"
"You stood up for yourself, showed some cojones," she said.
Joshua shrugged, uncertain, and Sabrina mussed his hair.
"You have to make a stand sometime," she said. "Even if it seems like a half-assed time for it."
Joshua was in his room, a blue bedroom at the front of the house, with two windows that came together in the far corner. The smaller one faced the driveway; the bigger one, the street. Just now the streetlight on the other side flickered to life and cast a yellow glow through his blinds.
He was doing sit-ups. Fifty. A hundred. He kept going, tried not to think. His stomach hurt. He kept going. One hundred and fifty.
"You don't have to leave, just turn around."
He had never done so many sit-ups, never imagined he could. On his back, he stopped, tried not to think. One more. One more and he was sure he'd collapse into unconsciousness.
"That's what you think, Homie."
Though he was winded now and breathing through his mouth, the musty odor of his own tennis shoes, lying on the floor next to him, still seeped into his nostrils. He picked them up and threw them across the room.
"I stink," he said.
Joshua fell back on the floor and remembered his jacket, the faded denim thing Ronni had borrowed and still had. She loved that jacket and he loved seeing her in it, but he didn't want to give it up, either. Would he have to ask her for it? No, she would return it. She wouldn't want to wear it anymore, would she? Would he?
Then he heard the sudden, too-loud ring of the phone — just once — followed by the gentle rumble of his father's voice:
"Joshua! For you!"
In the kitchen, he picked up the phone, a bulky black wall unit with push buttons arranged in a circle to resemble an old-time dial. Joshua lifted the heavy handset off the counter where his father had left it.
"Are you still mad?"
It was Ronni. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Sabrina's Window by Al Riske. Copyright © 2012 Al Riske. Excerpted by permission of Luminis Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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