from The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

“Is she going to be there?” D.Q. asked.

“Your mother? I told her it wasn’t a good idea. She’ll want to see you in a day or two, after the initial tests.”

“The deal was that I would stay with her during the waiting period. I’ll be megablasted with lomustine, vincristine, and prednisone and I don’t know what else, kryptonite, and then I’ll stay with her for two weeks and that is it. She said she’d sign the papers if I did that. Do you have the papers? Did you bring them?”

“I have them,” Father Concha said. It was the first time Pancho had seen D.Q. agitated. Father Concha continued, his voice even calmer than usual, “She’ll sign them, but not today. She’ll want to meet with her lawyer.”

“She’s had the papers since March. Her lawyer has read them. You don’t know her. She’s going to make me go through this and then she won’t sign the papers. She’ll just keep me in that ranch house of hers, pumping me full of chemicals and herbs. You can’t let that happen! She needs to sign guardianship over to you before I undergo this treatment. I thought that was the deal.” D.Q. was breathing heavily. Pancho could see droplets of his spit land on the windshield. He watched Father Concha carefully for any signs that he was getting rattled. There were none.

“You need to be open-minded about the treatment. Concentrate on being positive about it. Give it a chance.”

The next time D.Q. spoke, his voice was subdued. “I’m giving it a chance, Father. But I have to think ahead. I don’t want my last few months to be wasted. I have to take control here. You want me to have a positive attitude toward these trials, okay. You want me to believe that a miracle is possible? I believe a miracle is possible. But I’m not going to be a fool about it. You understand? You understand me. Say you understand what I’m trying to do here. Say it, please.”

“I understand.”

D.Q.’s shoulders relaxed, the tension going out of them. “Remember the time we were coming back from Albuquerque, after the diagnosis was confirmed?”

“Yes.”

Pancho closed his eyes. He was glad that D.Q. and Father Concha seemed to have forgotten he was in the back. He was tired. Sleeping had been hard. He kept hearing his sister’s voice. At one point during the night, he got up and opened the exit door next to his stall. “Rosa, you out there?” he called out. It was entirely possible that he was losing his mind.

“You said that even if the prognosis were correct and my time was limited, that didn’t excuse me from the obligation to fulfill my duties in life. Remember?”

“I remember.”

“I thought it was a harsh thing to say. I mean, at first I thought you were talking about my place in the rotation, you know, helping Margarita every two weeks and all.”

“I was.”

Pancho opened his eyes, but it was too late. He missed the Panda’s smile. He closed them again and leaned his head against the window. He didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to think. But every time he started to think, a rush of anger drowned his thoughts.

“What if you finally discovered your duty? Wouldn’t your primary obligation be to fulfill it?”

“Our primary duty in life is to live.”

“But to live how? Like a vegetable? With your head stuck in a toilet day and night, throwing up, so doped up against the pain that all you do is sleep?”

The .22 and bullets were in a plastic bag in his backpack. He could feel the revolver’s hardness with his hand. He heard on a television show that if a victim is shot more than once, that means the killer had something personal against him. He didn’t have anything personal against the man who killed his sister, unless you considered hatred personal.

“So what is this duty you have discovered?”

“Here, let me read you something. This is from Walden by Henry David Thoreau.” Pancho heard D.Q. turn the pages in a book.

“You should rest,” Father Concha said. “You’ll need all your strength for the blood tests and other procedures you’ll be going through.”

“Here it is. I’ll just read this and then I’ll rest. Pancho, are you listening? Listen to this.”

“Yeah,” Pancho said when he heard his name. He didn’t know what he was saying “yeah” to.

D.Q. read: “‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. . . .’”

He closed the book and put it back in the bag. D.Q. turned his head to look out the side window. He watched the same gliding hawk that Pancho watched. When the hawk had disappeared from view, D.Q. spoke. “Pancho, are you awake? Were you listening?”

“Yeah,” he answered.
“What did you think of that passage, Pancho?” Father Concha asked, his eyes in the rearview mirror zeroing in on him.

My father and I used to take out the meollo from inside the bones with a knife, and then we would spread it like butter on a hot flour tortilla. We’d put salt on it and hot sauce. It was good. Real good. Then we’d suck out whatever was still in the bone until the bone was clean.”

Pancho couldn’t see Father Concha’s face, but he was almost certain he smiled.

“You see, Father,” D.Q. said, “that’s what I’m talking about.”