Jack stood before the tour group and raised his arm, palm up, hand pointing south.
“Now you see why we need the Wall,” he said finally.
The group nodded glumly, sipping their water and staring around themselves emptily, or at the floor. Jack tried to remember the last time he enjoyed this part of the show. He couldn’t. He wondered how long they’d stand here in silence if he let them. As he looked over the faces waiting expectantly for him to continue, he could think only of his old plans nailed to the outside wall of his house. They itched inside him like a secret. When someone finally spoke, it actually took Jack a moment to process the sound as speech.
“What do you mean,” the man repeated. He was short, and had long hair pulled back into a ponytail. He took off his glasses and wiped his face with a small white cloth.
Jack had never before been asked to clarify this statement. He was suddenly convinced he could tell these people anything he wanted about the wall and they’d believe it, repeat it, and one day spit it back to someone as fact. The wall was built by Abraham Lincoln. The wall was built in a day. The wall has spikes triggered by people trying to dig their way underneath. The wall was built for our safety.
Instead he told them the actual height, the true length, and he explained how many people it prevented from entering the United States every year. One of the tourists up front, a slender young woman in white pumps, stood with a puzzled look on her face, as though every bit of what Jack said was lost on her. This couldn’t be the case, of course— confusion was likely her natural expression—but as Jack proceeded to describe the conditions of border crossing in the late 20th Century he became unable to focus on anything else. Her raised blond eyebrow, like a hooked finger, held him in place, and suddenly it was as though his sole purpose was to convince this woman that he was not just talking about some random, abstract thing. He was talking about something right outside, something that she’d seen only moments before. Something real.
But what he said was something else entirely.
“Do you really think we can keep people out?” he said. Jack was staring directly at her, but it took her a moment to understand the question was for her alone.
“Well,” she said nervously, “isn’t that what you’ve been saying?”
She turned to look at the other tourists, and reached down to grab the hand of a young boy standing beside her. Jack hadn’t noticed the kid. Yes, he thought, that is what I’ve been saying. But it’s not what I believe. It’s not what I want. He thought then of Ben, a boy who’d grown up both fatherless and, in a way, a son of the town itself. What would his legacy be? What would any of their legacies be? Jack let the room wait as he tried to summon a response. He had no defense, no way of explaining away the lie he’d been telling.
“You can make walls ‘till you’re blue in the face,” Jack said, finally.
He didn’t know where he was going with this.
“You can divide and divide and divide again, but all these divisions are bullshit. Nothing is ever really separate. That wall out there is just a thin strip under open air that sits on dirt. It’s the same dirt that lies on the other side, and it’s the same air that fills the lungs of everyone on earth. If we go back far enough, we start calling the same people family, and if we look far enough forward, we’ll see one another at the same weddings. We share blood like we share the air. We share blood and air and skin and wind and dust and all this stuff, this stuff you see around you is connecting us, not keeping us apart. That thing south of Border Run! you’ve just seen, it’s not permanent, it’s not even really there. It’s an illusion. You know this. If you’re honest you know this is true.”
The room was quiet, and the noise of people laughing and bargaining outside could be heard through the thin walls of the Center. Someone slurped their water and crunched the cup in their hand. Jack stood before them, not knowing what to do next.
“Does anyone have any questions?” he asked.
No one spoke for a moment, and Jack saw Larry creeping around outside. He peered in the window. Then the woman’s son raised his free hand.
“Are you a communist?”
Jack smiled, and looked up at his mother. “This is your lucky day,” he said, “because you happened to come on the day of our annual Busk Ceremony. The Busk Ceremony is an ancient Indian custom for giving thanks to the Supreme Spirit.” Jack began to cut through the group toward the door behind them, and waved to Larry. “My colleague Larry will give you a little introduction to the variety of local arts and crafts for sale in the parking lot, and I think you’ll have the option of sticking around for part of the entertainment that’ll be happening a little later. You can talk to your driver about that. Thank you all for coming to Border Run!”
He opened the door and let Larry come in, then stepped past him into the day, where he was eclipsed by bright light.
Jack looked north, across the road. The Indians faced him, staring him down quietly, some sitting in front but most standing, hundreds of them, their judgment silently invading his event, though no one seemed to be paying any attention to them but him. The dull utility of their act impressed and scared him. It was difficult to understand, disproportionate. Though somewhat invasive, surely his wasn’t an oppressive force, a force worthy of such protest. Who could think that? Yet they came, year after year, and their numbers had grown from a trickle into this blunt flood. It drained him to look at their impassive faces. In the foreground, he saw Micah talking with the bus driver, and hurried in that direction, wanting to shake off the vague, dispiriting sense of wrongdoing.
“Morning, Jack,” Micah said. “This is Rusty.”
Jack shook hands with the man. He rarely spoke to the drivers.
“Can you believe,” said Micah, “that this thing can travel 120 hours straight between charges?”
“Technically, it could probably go 160, but company policy caps us lower, for insurance purposes.” Rusty was a man who sat all day. Just standing in this heat made sweat pour down his face, but he seemed genuinely proud of his bus, and tickled by Micah’s interest, which, as far as Jack could tell, was sincere. “Of course, it won’t break 65 miles an hour.”
“Well, you know what they say,” said Micah. “It’s either fast or far.”
Jack had never heard that, but he figured they probably said it. He watched Micah peeking up through the cab’s open door at the dashboard’s wide, sprawling city of buttons and lights.
Micah was the least radical leftist revolutionary Jack had ever met.
“Have you seen Jo?” Micah asked.
“Not since my Q and A. I don’t suppose you’ve seen Rockette running around here.”
Micah shook his head.
“Damn,” said Jack. “Well, Micah. I’ve got to meet with my team, but we should talk afterward. I want to run a couple things by you.”
Micah spread his arms wide, as if offering a hug. “Hey, I’m certainly not going anywhere.”
“You want to sit up there at the wheel?” asked Rusty. “It looks a lot more complicated than it is.”
Micah shot Jack a guilty look before springing up the stairs. Rusty nodded to Jack, and struggled up after him. Then he pressed a button by the wheel, and the bus door closed behind them, blowing Jack a kiss of cool air.
He turned around as a group of boys walked by: it was the same crew that had been posting Busk signs the night before last. Hoot’s son stared straight ahead, his message clearly that he was above any further contact with the man, and the other kids slunk by, trying to follow Jeremy’s example, but stealing furtive looks all the while. One even grinned, then broke into a skip after passing, as though to release the energy contained in their strange yet urgently necessary act. It was all part of the transition to adulthood, and Jack left them alone. It did make him wonder, however, why Ben wasn’t in their midst. The only person he’d ever seen Ben with was Prince, which didn’t bode well. Perhaps there was a deeper reason the Mayor had consented to have her son receive a Busk name. Perhaps what had originated as a way to strengthen the bond between Arivaca and the business community had deepened, in Jesse’s mind, into a hope that her son would see his youthful indiscretions in the context of adulthood, and rethink them. This thought, of course, only increased the anxiety he had about coming up with something suitable.
Behind him the bus horn blew, sending a small flock of birds into the air, and Jack looked for one with a yellow stripe. The bird he’d seen earlier with Jesse, however, was probably long gone, and instead Jack looked back to see Micah waving excitedly from the driver’s seat.