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Refugio


by Joani Reese


The boy cadges pesos from Gringos on the streets of PeƱasco, his buttoned sleeves much mended and gray. “Clean your windshield, lady? Chicles, Senor?” He fashions plans to escape from the beautiful country that grew him but can offer no future. The north, he hears, is covered in gold.

This boy knows walking each sunrise to an ocean-fine beat will not fill his empty belly. The smell of fried pompano and tiger shrimp freshly caught floats from the tourist restaurants and brings the pain fresh to his afternoon search for a meal. Just off the beach, dolphins ride the clouds, frothy waves under their wings offer sweet distraction for a moment or two, but he knows in his bones he must leave.

The day arrives when the boy begins his bumpy ride north past pipe organs that play a yellow tune of second chances in his head. Spotted goats stumble, tethered to cactus arms along the road, condemned forever to root in this arid ground. Sonora is a hummingbird whose wings beat music through Refugio's blood as he sets out alone among strangers.

The boy curls beneath a plastic tarp until the truck stops in a depression of rock, hidden from the border's many eyes. Possessions gathered in a bag, Refugio prepares for the long trudge through scrub brush and sand where thirst, this dead-eyed Coyote who leads him, and the final, unforgiving uniforms are more dangerous than rattle snakes. He clutches his water bottle against the cross that hangs from his neck.

Dust rises in plumes behind the line of people fleeing north. As Mexico retreats, excitement conducts the music of the boy's heart.  A mother, one day ahead, mourns on her knees in a prison cell. Her children are nowhere, her chanting cry the melody of loss. It is the modern music of America that Refugio will learn too soon, this brave and fated leaving for a Neverland where families go to die.

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