'The Consequences': Excerpts from UA professor's 'genius grant'-winning stories

Excerpts from three stories from “The Consequences” by UA Prof. Manuel Muñoz, who just received a 2023 MacArthur “genius grant” in recognition of his fiction writing.

‘Anyone Can Do It’

Her immediate concern was money. It was a Friday when the men didn’t come home from the fields and, true, sometimes they wouldn’t return until late, the headlights of the neighborhood work truck turning the corner, the men drunk and laughing from the bed of the pickup. And, true, other women might have thought first about the green immigration vans prowling the fields and the orchards all around the Valley, ready to take away the men they might not see again for days if good luck held, or longer if they found no luck at all.

When the street fell silent at dusk, the screen doors of the dark houses opened one by one and the shadows of the women came to sit outside, a vigil on the concrete steps. Delfina was one of them, but her worry was a different sort. She didn’t know these women yet and these women didn’t know her: she and her husband and her little boy had been in the neighborhood for only a month, renting a two- room house at the end of the street, with a narrow screened- in back porch, a tight bathroom with no insulation, and a mildewed kitchen. There was only a dirt yard for the boy to play in and they had to drive into the town center to use the pay phone to call back to Texas, where Delfina was from. They had been here just long enough for Delfina’s husband to be welcomed along to the fieldwork, the pay split among all the neighborhood men, the work truck chugging away from the street before the sun even rose.

Related: UA’s Manuel Muñoz wins MacArthur ‘genius grant’ for fiction writing

When Delfina saw the first silhouette rise in defeat, she thought of the private turmoil these other women felt in the absence of their men, and she knew that her own house held none of that. Just days before the end of June, with the rent due soon, she thought that all the women on the front steps might believe that nothing could be any different until the men returned, that nothing could change until they arrived back from wherever they had been taken. She knew the gravity of her worry, to be sure, but she felt a resolve that seemed absent in the women putting out last cigarettes and retreating behind the screen doors. She watched as the street went dark past sundown and the neighborhood children were sent inside to bed. The longer she held her place on her front steps, the stronger she felt.

From the far end of the street, one of the women emerged from a porch and Delfina saw her walk toward her house, guided by a few dim porch lights and the wan blur of television sets glowing through the windows. When the woman, tall and slender, arrived at her front yard, Delfina could make out the long sleeves of a husband’s work shirt and wisps of hair falling from her neighbor’s bun. Buenas tardes, the woman said.

Buenas tardes, Delfina answered and, rather than invite her forward, she rose from the steps and met her at the edge of the yard.

Sometimes they don’t come back right away, the neighbor said in Spanish. But don’t worry. They’ll be back soon. All of them.

‘Fieldwork’

When I was younger, I dreamed aloud about leaving the Valley and my
mother’s question was always, To do what? She asked it in Spanish, of
course, and the single answer — the only answer — I could have dared was
trabajo. Work demanded everything of my family. My mother had come to
the Valley from Texas when she was very young because of work. Her older
sister had gone ahead of her for the same reason (though my mother
later told me that my tía was all talk, that she never worked a day in
her life). Her brothers — my tíos — hunched everywhere in the fields, no
matter the season. The Valley was all about work if you wanted it and
Fresno was a city big enough for anyone. My best friend told me that his
family, like mine, had come to the Fresno area because of the
fieldwork, too. His father and his mother drove a truck from town to
town, looking for crops to pick, and they lived like that until the
truck broke down on Highway 99 outside of Selma. They had no money to
fix the truck, so they settled there.

My best friend doesn’t know if this story is entirely true or not, but I
can easily picture his father, cigarette in hand, standing at the side
of the highway and wasting no time making a decision. His father, like
mine, is pragmatic, with little patience for dreaming. His father, like
mine, had come up from Mexico, the poorest of the poor, just as many
Mexican fathers had come before them. And here was my father now: still
not dreaming, but sleeping deeply in the fluorescent dullness of a
county rehab center, recovering from a stroke, and me, out of work,
tasked by my mother to look after him.

We had been alternating overnights at the rehab center, my mother and I,
sleeping in my father’s room and then switching off after the morning
meal. This vigilance was completely unnecessary, I thought, but my
mother had a fear that the nurse would be English- only. They’re trained
for this, I told her in Spanish, embarrassed by our constant presence,
but near the end of the first few weeks with him, I witnessed his alarm
when a nurse awakened him in the middle of the night for medications and
a blood withdrawal. His disorientation was so strong that it could only
have translated into pain. He struggled to rise from the bed, as if he
sensed that he was being kept in the room against his will, and the
English- speaking nurse had no words to calm him. Tranquilo, tranquilo, I
kept saying to him, but my voice was nothing he recognized. He seized
against both of us for a good long while before the nurse tapped the
call button and someone came in to assist, drawing the curtain around
the bed, and leaving me to listen to him whimper quietly back into
sleep.

After that, I stayed awake all through the unsettling quiet of the dark
hours, the hallways so still I was convinced that the night nurses had
left their posts. I leaned back in the uncomfortable armchair and stared
up at the ceiling, wondered if my father could discern that his road
would end here, in a county rehab center in the Valley, thousands of
miles from where he was born.

That Pink House at the End of the Street on the Other Side of Town

Silvio, whom everyone called El Sapo, had been coming the longest, but only during the wet times when the fields ran muddy and no one else would brave the kind of cold that would lock your knuckles, no matter how thick the gloves. By spring, he’d return to a pueblito called Pozos, which made everyone ask why he’d go back to a hole in the ground. A frog crawling under the mud to wait out the heat. That was El Sapo, leaving sometime in early April before the heat came. And then the others would arrive. Fidelio and his twin brother Modesto who, for some reason, was several inches shorter than him. Jerónimo, quiet and stark, who claimed to know Silvio, but nobody knew for sure. Baldomero El Mero Mero, who boasted that he was the one who had shown the others how to start with a bus in Celaya, take it to the outskirts of Tijuana, and, right over there, at a llantería owned by his old friend Raimundo, you could sneak through the dust yard of Raimundo’s old tires and cross to the other side, get to the highway on foot, and, if you were smart enough to hide your money, catch a Greyhound to a place called Goshen, where you’d go to the phone booth outside of the station, look out at the cotton fields as you dialed a number and told a man named Poldo that you’d made it across. A cousin by way of another cousin. A friend of the family. From Celaya. From Ojo de Agua. From La Cuevita. From Charco Blanco. Yes, yes, of course. A third yes if you promised you had the money to pay a little rent for a month. That’s how Eliseo showed up. And poor Casimiro, who wore thick glasses and peered into the fruit trees with his whole face to see what he was picking. But you’d have to know Spanish to know why all the other men laughed at his name.