In the first light of dawn, before returning to sleep another two hours, Jo woke up to find Jack standing over her. Though “found” wasn’t quite right. She sensed him. And instead of opening her eyes to prove it, she strained to hear his breathing, to hear some shuffle or rustle that might signal his physical self. She could hear none. He was instead simply and solely a slight pressure on the side of her face, a warmth. She lay still until he moved, finally, until he turned around and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Likewise, when she woke again she knew she was alone in the house. There was cold coffee on the counter and Jo poured herself a cup before stepping out into the crisp but quickly warming air. She looked around at the hard, dry earth teaming impossibly with life, and at the small shed that stood twenty yards from the door. She’d had a close encounter with a rattlesnake there on a similar morning years ago, and could still hear the hollow, deadly sound, both strange and somehow utterly known. It had risen into a softly swaying S, and she’d stood completely still for over ten minutes until Jack had come home to find her at the shed’s door. After he’d killed it—using a machete his father had for just such occasions—he’d told her how fortunate she was that the snake had developed a warning sign.
“We wouldn’t be having this conversation otherwise,” he’d said.
The house sat at the bottom of a small dip in the land, and though Jo hadn’t liked it at first, she’d soon discovered its significant benefit: the Wall was completely hidden from view. You could spend days down there without being reminded of the very thing that now, even more than Baboquivari, dominated the landscape. Jo looked at the sacred peak in the distance, rising out of its range like a broken knuckle. She sipped her cold coffee.
“Morning!” Micah called. He was standing up by the windmill, Rockette by his side. “Come join me for a minute.”
It felt like a minor betrayal for Rockette to be with him, despite all the obvious contradictions this implied, and Jo made her ascent, slowly, feeling irritable and sad. About halfway up she began to see the Wall ahead of her to the south: it rose behind Micah like a standing army. He was looking north, toward the run.
Jo squatted down and bid Rockette good morning.
“Something at the run?” she asked.
“No,” he said, “the protesters.”
She stood, and to her amazement saw that what had been a couple dozen people the night before was now a gathering of hundreds. What’s more, there seemed to be some kind of organized event under way. People were dressed up, and a small platform had been built to one side. There were two police cruisers from the Tohono O’odham reservation parked along the edge of the road.
“That’s been going on, too,” said Micah. “The cruisers got here about a half-hour ago.”
“Did you talk to Jack this morning?”
“Briefly. He said it wasn’t an unusual turnout.”
“Wow,” Jo said. She brought her coffee mug to her mouth to give herself time to think. She didn’t know what to make of it, this explosion of Indians. It was difficult for her to admit, but the simple, good feelings she’d conjured last night now seemed, if not misguided entirely, at least misplaced.
“Also,” Micah added, “we’re welcome to see this morning’s show, if we want. I think it would be a good thing to do.”
A flash to the west caught Jo’s eye, and she turned to see the first tour bus of the day winding toward them. As it weaved back and forth along the road its windows caught the morning sun and shot shards of sharp light across the dead red desert.
“Well, we better get over there, then,” she said.
They walked back down to the house, where Jo dropped off her cup and blew the night’s dried snot out of her nose, then headed back up the trail. It seemed like half her time here so far had been spent walking this path, contorting her body to squeeze through, and she concentrated on not being any wider than Micah, who led the way.
“I love this path,” Micah said. “It reminds me of sneaking past my parents’ bedroom after they went to sleep. I used to go out and just walk around the neighborhood at night. A lesbian couple lived on the corner, and I was particularly interested in them. I didn’t know what lesbians were, really.”
“I think Jack is going to help us.”
Micah stopped, and she almost ran into him. He turned around. “Are you serious?”
Actually, Jo hadn’t known what she thought before opening her mouth, and was herself a little shocked by the claim. Now that she’d said it, however, it seemed true. Not that her conversation with him would provide any evidence.
“I’m serious that I think so,” she said.
“What did he say?”
“It wasn’t so much what he said.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know.”
Micah gave her a look, then turned back around and kept walking. They left the path and headed to the Visitor center to look for Jack, but were intercepted by a young man with dark eyes wearing pink flip-flops. He wore a gold cross around his neck, and his nametag read Archie.
“Jack told me to give you these,” he said.
He held up two light blue surgical masks by the elastic, and they dangled and danced in the space between them. Micah took the masks and thanked him, but the boy stood there, staring, like he had something else to say.
“God told me all about you two,” he said.
“Good things, I hope,” said Micah without missing a beat.
Archie’s head was tilted away from the sun, his right eye squinting, and he looked back and forth between them. “The show starts in five minutes,” he said finally.
They watched him walk away, his flip-flops slapping the undersides of his feet, and
Micah shook his head.
“Weird kid,” he said.
“He didn’t like you,” Jo said.
“Are you kidding? Kids love me.”
Micah put on the mask, then held out his hand and said, “Scalpel.”
Ignoring him, Jo craned her neck to see across the street. The gathering had convened to one side, and she thought she heard singing.
“Nurse!” said Micah, frantically. “Nurse! I think we’re losing him.” He pulled the mask up so it covered his forehead.
“We lost him.”
Jo pointed to the tourists presently climbing the watchtower stairs. “Let’s look for him up there,” she said.
Minutes later they were standing over the field, listening to Archie explain how to adjust the masks, if they decided to wear them, and how tight was too tight.
“If it hurts, it’s too tight,” he said. “Enjoy the show.”
He spun around and slid quickly down the stairs, leaving the group feeling strangely awkward and exposed. Though the show hadn’t yet begun, they turned their attention to the field as a way of avoiding one another. It had been sculpted to resemble a dry riverbed. Along it were carefully spaced berms and large boulders that once could have parted running water. It was empty. Jo looked down across the bare scene, and felt her stomach tighten. They’d been instructed to watch for aliens moving up from the south, and to shout out instructions to the patrol Jeeps that would be driving slowly through the arena.
“We’re the ones who look like aliens,” Micah said.
Standing before Jo was a tall man in a yellow polo shirt that had “Sweet Surrender” embroidered across the back, so in order to see anything to the south she had to lean out. She leaned. A moment later a line of men and women moved onto the field, and light brown clouds immediately formed around them, rolling out in all directions like a fog. Then came the trucks, two of them, coming from the field’s south corners and slowly crisscrossing the grounds. Though the dust rose and deepened, she could make out the line of hunched human forms moving single file upriver from berm to boulder, boulder to berm, like an eel, but just as she began to think they’d make too easy a target, the man in front, the coyote, gave them a signal and they broke apart.
They spread out, some alone, some in small clusters, and moved jerkily forward, running from point to point and hovering, waiting for safe passage. As they neared the tourist’s tower, a woman on the far side of the booth began to call out and point frantically, and after another minute the man with her did too. They let loose a string of “Hey’s” and “Over there’s” while their fingers shot this way and that like guard dogs tethered to a pole. Micah looked at Jo and shook his head—she couldn’t tell if he too was disapproving or whether it was a statement of awe—and then raised his own hand slowly and pointed to a particularly large berm in the middle of the field.
“There,” he said. He wasn’t helping the Jeeps.
Jo felt sick.
It was over in ten minutes; half of the immigrants had been caught, by Jo’s count, but at most two of these captures had been aided by the hysterical couple. After they removed their masks Jo gave the woman a dirty look and received a bewildered one in return, then the group filed back down the stairs.
“Has the show changed much?” asked Micah, climbing down behind her.
“I don’t know,” said Jo. “I’d never seen it before.”
The truth was, she’d never had any interest in seeing the show. She’d never wanted to support it in that way, and anyway, she’d assumed it would make her sad. She was right. She paused between steps.
“I don’t know if I can do it,” she said.
Micah’s hand grabbed her shoulder.
“Oh I think you can,” he said. His voice had lost its normally light, playful tone. “But it’s up to you, of course. Do you want me to call Children’s Hospital and have them discontinue treatment?”
Jo continued down the steps.
The group was directed to the visitor center, where they were given water while waiting for Jack. The visitors seemed dazed. Most of them were overweight, and perhaps climbing up and down those stairs in the heat had taken its toll, but Jo imagined that, even if it was only subconscious, they were psychically drained by what they’d seen.
Even the hysterical couple was silent. They stood around, docile as cows, until Jack came in through a door on the back wall. He wore the same red plaid shirt he’d had on yesterday. It was un-tucked.
“Hey folks,” he said, bizarrely patting the air in front of him, “let’s hear it for the resident aliens!”
This earned him only modest applause. Jo squirmed, embarrassed.
“Those men and women represent the more than one million illegal crossings per year that were…” Jack spotted Jo, and it seemed to take him off-guard, “that used to pour into the, ah, the U.S. under circumstances just like those you witnessed.”
“I don’t think we were expected for this leg of the trip,” Micah said under his breath.
Jack spoke a little about the Wall’s dimensions, and then asked if anyone had any questions. After a long pause, Jo couldn’t stand it anymore, and raised her hand. She was determined to inject a measure of legitimate education into the spectacle.
“When a family was caught,” she said, “would they be sent back to Mexico together, or were they split up?”
Jack’s face did not betray his feelings about this question.
“Good question,” he said. “Actually, it was rare that families crossed together, because of the dangerous conditions. Children were often left behind with older relatives. But if a family was apprehended, the government did everything they could to return it safely and intact to Mexico.”
There was a general murmur of approval, but then Micah spoke up.
“In practice, though,” he said loudly, “they’d be torn apart a lot of the time, because the men were questioned longer and sometimes detained.”
The group turned to look at Micah, his face contorting to retrieve the facts. “Also,” he continued, “the number of deaths among female crossers and children shot up in the last decade of the open border.” The room was silent. “I’ve read a little bit about it,” he explained.
Jo caught Jack’s eyes and shrugged, trying to smile.
Jack took a question about how much money it had cost to build the Wall—a lot—and one about sympathetic ranchers leaving water stations in the desert for people making the cross. Then he pointed the visitors to the gift shop. As they left the building he walked around the room, kicking discarded paper cones into a pile.
Micah kicked one to help. “Thanks for inviting us, Jack,” he said. “It was pretty wild.”
Jack avoided their eyes. “Glad you enjoyed yourself,” he murmured, though that wasn’t what Micah had said.
Jo watched Jack lean down and pick up a handful of trash. Jack always seemed exposed and a little delicate just after a show, after the visitors had left and he was left with only the empty spaces he’d created for them. She knew that he took the show seriously, that he’d made the best of his situation here, and that although it had turned out much differently than he’d expected he hadn’t complained. He’d taken responsibility for Border Run! as though taking in a wayward child. He’d cared for it and raised it as his own. And now, after all these years of labor, he defended it with the defiant ferocity of someone defending a bad decision.
The door swung open again and Archie came in, followed closely by a couple of unfamiliar men. It was time for the Postmortem. Archie looked at them with the same blank expression he had before the show, as if trying to decide if they were real. Jo signaled to Micah that it was time to leave, and they walked out the door without another word.