In the spring, I moved from an apartment near the university into a rented house on the scrubby southeast edge of Tucson. In deciding on the house, I'd focused on small things I liked: white hexagonal tile set in black grout in the bathroom, a bedroom closet I could lie down in. The scope of something as large and crucial as location was well beyond me, and so I found myself in the kind of neighborhood where everyone has dogs but nobody walks them. I heard them all the time, barking, howling, carrying on in their penned yards.
I knew a couple of the neighbors. Steve next door worked a night shift somewhere—I'd hear his truck rattle into his driveway around five most mornings. Across the narrow street from me lived Candace. Candace was about three hundred pounds, with the arms of an overfed baby. It was hard to tell how old she was, the way it sometimes is with the very fat. When I moved in we had a short conversation about the shoes I was wearing. She wanted to know where I got them. "Italy," I said, which was a lie. "Oh," she crowed, "I knew it," like she could recognize a pair of Italian shoes anywhere.
Predictably, Tucson was unable to produce a spring; March and April were flat, colorless things with too many days. Then, at the end of April, I started hearing gunshots.
"It's that time of year," Steve said.
I was standing out in my dirt yard trying to decide what to do about it. Will had been dead eight months, and I had a notion that if I could get some grass going I'd feel better about things in general.
Steve was cleaning out the back of his truck. In one hand he held a hose that he directed into the flatbed, in the other, a plastic jug of bleach that he splashed around randomly.
Shots were going off behind us—maybe on the next block.
I flinched. "What time of year? Spring?"
"Fourth of July." He paused, coughing into his elbow. "They gear up early around here."
"Fourth of July? It's April," I said.
He tossed the empty jug in the direction of his garage and picked up a new one from the drive. He coughed again, a burst that caught him off guard.
"You better watch it, too," he said, uncapping the new jug. "People get crazy." [End Page 176]
During the day I worked downtown at a museum. I was the junior inventory controller of the Native American Department, which meant I catalogued a lot of arrowheads found by industrious ten-year-old boys. I liked the boys that came in; they were without manners or subtlety. They stared at my bad eye and asked about it, while their mothers stood behind them, murmuring about politeness. I'd been through a windshield face first, and though my face had mostly held together, my eyelid had been severed by a cut that zigzagged from my hairline to the inner corner of my eye. The tear duct leaked on and off now, regardless of need or appropriateness. Epiphora, the doctors called it, a condition in which the tears accumulate in the eye and trickle over the cheek. It was a term people often got wrong: epiphone, epidermis, epiphany. Also, the way the eyelid had been put back together made one eye seem higher than the other. It gave me a slightly tilted look, so that I appeared to be perpetually trying to make sense of things.
After work I'd come home, heave all the windows open and crank the evaporative cooler, an appliance that blew warmish damp air. Under its grinding and spewing, I could still hear the dogs barking. "Shut up!" I yelled out the window once, but they kept on going. When it got dark out, I ate dinner in front of true crime dramas, then went to bed, flipping the pillow all night to get the cool side next to my face. Weekends, I pulled plugs of weeds out of the dirt and tried to coax green shoots...