Jo had a remarkable ability to make Jack feel like a failure. As they crossed the parking lot Jack watched her waving to Sunshine and taking in the bustle of activity around them, and though she didn’t seem upset she was quiet—Jack felt certain that she saw every bit of progress he’d made as a step in the wrong direction. He’d built the skin and bones operation they’d started together into a meaty cash-cow; he’d worked to increase efficiency and decrease overhead without abolishing value-added benefits like complimentary drinking water and a line of gift shop items priced so low it barely covered cost; he’d even run with Jo’s idea for an annual festival until it flooded the town with funds enough to fix potholes and buy new horse rails. But to Jo it was all just a distraction from the inequalities between the haves and the have-nots. It had always been this way with her. Caught in the tension of things mattering.
Jo stopped short to let a white chicken run squawking before them. It was followed closely by Wendy McAdams, who ran a livestock auction south of Tucson. She gave Jo a hug, then hurried off to catch up with her wayward bird.
“Jack,” Jo said, after Wendy’s exit, “I miss you.”
These words killed Jack, a little. He pointed to the spot where the bus would be parking, and explained that she’d need to be vigilant. He told her to not let anyone put up a booth along the bus route through the lot. Jo nodded quietly, looking bashful, expectant, and Jack knew he should acknowledge her words.
Instead he said there was something he needed to do back at the house, then turned around and left her standing, watching him walk away. He felt her eyes on his back until he turned the corner of the visitor center, where he ran into Larry, who was carrying an armful of T-shirts that said “Honorary Border Guard.”
“Hey chief,” said Larry. “We still selling those?”
“They’re practically the only ones we do sell, anymore.”
Jack stared south, where the Wall rose flat above the close low hills. He’d always been against those shirts.
“Ironic, isn’t it,” Larry said, “that people want to wear them even after such poor performance.”
“Yeah, I’m working on it.”
“You know, I talked to that Archie kid. He seems pretty enthusiastic about—”
“I said I’m working on it.”
Jack left Larry with his arms full and proceeded toward his pledged destination. He walked quickly down the path toward home, still not knowing what else he’d do there besides hide. Near the end of the path he was joined by Rockette, who tagged along at his heels through the soft, cool sand hidden from the sun by flowering plants. She followed Jack inside and sat by the door, watching him tear through the bookshelves above the couch and then move on to the large trunk in the corner. After sifting through about a dozen old maps of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado, Jack pulled out some paper, taped together and folded. He cleared a place on the floor. Rockette moved a little closer, curious to see what Jack was up to, and sneezed at the dust he’d raised by moving things around. He opened the paper and spread it out, then sat with his back to the couch and looked across the torn, neglected sheets he once felt held such promise.
“Well girl, there it is. ‘The Border: Then and Now’.”
He scanned his old plans. He traced his finger across from the Facts Pavilion to the Indigenous People Tent; he placed an open palm over the obstacle course he’d intended for visitors to use themselves, to experience what crossing was like for those who used to brave it. He’d imagined a kiosk where visitors could learn about the big decisions that led to the border’s path: the Mexican-American War, the Louisiana Purchase, the Adams-Onis Treaty… And there was to be a reading room with books, fiction and non-fiction alike, about life along the border. There were food stands serving everything from Chimichangas to Frito-pies. Fresh Jamaica.
What if Che came up into something like this? For the first time, Jack realized that Border Run! would be Che’s first experience with the U.S., and he felt ashamed. This man, trained as a fighter for freedom, would emerge in a space so removed from freedom fighting that it made a spectacle of such efforts, made a mockery of them.
Rockette let out a small, impatient bark.
“You’re absolutely right,” Jack said. “And it’s long overdue.”
He looked around the room for a place to hang the plans, but quickly saw that in order to do so, he’d have to dismantle the shelves of books that presently jutted from every surface. The light, too, was bad, and this is what gave him the idea. He pulled a hammer and some nails from a junk drawer in the kitchen, rolled up the plans, then walked outside and around back. Rockette followed closely at his heels, watched him hang the plans on the outside south-facing wall, then slipped into her hiding place under the bedroom. The adobe crumbled a little around the nails he’d hammered in, but it would hold until monsoon season. The dog looked out at him—slightly bewildered, he thought—as he considered his work. It was all still plausible, still sound. What it lacked was excitement. It had always lacked excitement. Even now, even after selling out the basic tenants of the original plan, the most excitement they’d had in weeks was the A- Wall kid crashing their Q and A.
Jack felt in his pockets for a pen, then jogged farther into the yard to the incinerator, where he dug around until finding a small piece of singed wood. What if he could incorporate some element of protest? What if he invited A-Wall, or some similar group, to the grounds themselves, to set up a booth, to stump for their cause, to cause a ruckus? To protest the very thing that drew people to it? He went back to the plans and found a suitable spot for another booth, or a stage, and marked it with a black, sooty X.
He admired the X for a moment, an elegant solution, it seemed to him, to a complicated problem, and turned and threw the stick. As if she’d been waiting for it, Rockette shot out from her spot beneath the house and leapt over a small berm, giving chase. Jack watched her disappear, then looked back at what she’d left.
Years ago, she’d dug herself a small hole beneath the house to keep cool, and though he didn’t like the idea of other critters having access to the crawlspace, he’d resisted patching it up. He knelt before it to check up on the damage, and something caught his eye, something he hadn’t seen in years: a small yellow toy box covered now in dirt but still basically intact. He pulled it out and opened it. Inside was the remnants of a childhood without much opportunity for play: a roughly hewn car with wooden wheels, a small red cape he vaguely remembered wearing, some marbles of various sizes. Jo was supposed to have burned this, of course, and he remembered the scene vividly. She’d been trying to get rid of everything in the house, and after refusing to let her throw out completely practical things, he’d finally found something disposable and she’d been horrified. If we never threw out children’s toys, he’d told her, we’d be drowning in junk. He remembered being taken aback by the ferocity of her response.
He took the box inside and placed it on the kitchen counter. Would she remember? The light was beginning to change, the bright yellows deepening and mixing with pale reds and orange. The heat was receding, the sun edging toward the invisible sea. He thought of Marci’s never-ending rotation of collections. Her treasures. Some people didn’t distinguish between trash and treasure, he thought. But wasn’t it exactly this division that permitted one to move forward, to let go of the past? Between himself and Jo they’d saved it all—those things belonging to a dead man, and those things belonging to a lost childhood. Where did that leave them?