No one remembered voting for the Mayor, and it wasn’t entirely clear to Jack how official her office was. She was only a few years older than him, and before he’d left home the title had been casually used as a kind of deferential nod toward what she’d been through, how well she’d managed, and how much she could drink. By the time he returned with Jo, however, she’d not only sobered up, she’d gained access to the town coffers and enjoyed official recognition from the higher rungs of government. She also had a child. After a period of deliberate and public incredulity, Jack had decided to play along, and stopped reminding people that those holding public office are supposed to run for reelection every now and then. The fact was, no one seemed interested in uprooting Jesse Craig. Besides, she actually seemed to have his best interests in mind.
Jesse stood with her hands on her hips, slowly twisting right and left as though warming up for a run. Jesse did not run. She was a thick woman, not fat, but solid; her arms seemed to make it all the way to her hands without tapering. Her brown leather vest shone in the sun.
“Heard you have some visitors,” she said.
“I never did think too well of Jo for running out on you like that.” The Mayor was known to speak her mind.
They were standing in the parking lot by the tour bus, and Jack could see the driver hunched over his wheel, his tourists still mingling back at the gift shop.
“Anyhow,” she said, “folks will be coming your way in two shakes to start setting up. Shame about Dezzie’s place; she was on food duty, and reckons she lost a hundred and fifty tamales in the fire. So that’s a setback.”
“I’m going to be asking around for donations tomorrow,” Jack said. “Get her fixed up with something.”
“Don’t bother, she’s taken care of.”
“Feds come in this morning and said they’d be hauling a FEMA trailer in for her.”
“Never heard anything like it. I’m telling you, they’ve been crawling all over this place last few days, shaking hands. It’s like a goddamned PR campaign. And Jack, they’ve been asking about you. Asking if you’re paying local taxes, asking how people around here feel about you.”
Jack shook his head, sighed. “They came through yesterday,” he said, “Paco and some suit.”
“Of course, I said the town can’t get enough of you. I said come on down to the Busk and see how the town feels.”
“Well, I sure appreciate that, Jesse. Now if you could put in a good word for me up across the road.”
“Shit,” she said. “Can’t put in a good word for Jesus Christ himself up there. But that reminds me. Guess there was a death last night. Navajo boy. Tribal deputy asked me if they could go ahead and bury the kid right there.”
“Right up there?”
The Mayor nodded, squinting at Jack, then looked up the driveway at the gathering. Instead of following her gaze, Jack looked at the dirty wrinkles in Jesse’s face. Jesse was raised in Arivaca by her mother, Madeline, after her father died in a re-opened copper mine outside of Tombstone when Jesse was a toddler. They’d lived on the edge of town until the small pension awarded them by the mine ran out, then took an apartment behind the community center where Madeline whored herself until Jesse was old enough to know better. She disappeared soon after, leaving Jesse, barely a teen, to fend for herself. This woman, like many folks out here, had been to hell and back, yet here she was, silently asking Jack’s permission for someone to bury their son on land that wasn’t even his.
“I reckon they should put the kid to rest as soon as they can,” he said.
“Yep, that’s about what I figured.”
They watched the tour group, slow in the growing heat, climb back onto the bus.
“Well,” Jesse said, “I’m going to pay my respects, and I figure I’ll be coming and going, helping people get sorted out.”
“You’re going up across the road?” Jack looked back at the show, trying to remember what it was he didn’t want to forget. He wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt.
Jack surprised himself. “I might as well join you,” he said.
Jesse shrugged, and together they started walking up the long dirt drive toward Warsaw Canyon Road. The dust was beginning to rise with the heat, and small brown Sparrows hopped along beside them until spooked, then flew up some feet before returning to the drive and repeating the cycle. They played in the clouds of dust, which eddied and spun as they rose and fell, and a moment later they were joined by another bird, one Jack had never seen. It was smaller than the Sparrows, and had black wings specked with white; it wore bold yellow splotches the shape of lemons on either side of its head. Jesse stopped short.
“I’ll be god damned,” she said.
“Pour yourself a drink, Jack. You’re looking at a Golden-cheeked Warbler.”
“Those have been extinct for fifty-odd years. At least, supposed to was. And even when they were around, they weren’t near this far north this time of year.”
Jack peered over at the Mayor, watching her hands find her hips and hang there.
The Warbler fluttered up with the small group of Sparrows and then landed again, joining their formation. It stood out like a sore thumb, he thought, but the birds didn’t seem to mind. They just continued getting spooked and then forgetting, falling back in place like a rolling surf.
“How long have you known about birds?” Jack asked.
Jesse looked at him. “What name did you come up with for my son?”
The Warbler broke off from the pack of Sparrows and flew north across the road and over the heads of the gathered tribes.
“All due respect, Mayor, that’s for me to know.”
They began walking again in silence, their own personal mysteries intact.