“The woman pushed Juanca away and grabbed his face with both hands. The thing she’d been holding in her right hand was a gun. A big gun. Her frail fingers were still stretched around it when she brought her hands up to Juanca’s face.”
Excerpt from Chapter 15 of THE DEVIL TAKES YOU HOME by Gabino Iglesias. Copyright © 2022 by Gabino Iglesias. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
Juanca eventually smacked his signal light down and veered right. The car slid onto an exit, and small houses, lampposts, short fences, and trees replaced the wide-open space. Lights were on behind some windows. The darkness that had draped itself above us while we were on the road, and the fear of the unknown that had crept into the corners of my brain, had kept me on edge. I also didn’t feel comfortable sleeping next to Juanca now. Yeah, the violence outside the restaurant and seeing those horrible photos had messed up my nerves. The residential area, the domesticity and normalcy of it all, put me at ease.
Eventually Juanca slowed down and parked in front of a squat house made of red bricks with a large dead tree in front of it. A champagne Lumina sat in the driveway, its wheels pooling at the bottom. Juanca killed the engine.
“This is my place,” he said. “Well, my amá’s place.”
We repeated the unfolding and stretching process. Juanca’s car ticked arrhythmically in the quiet street, our deep breaths and the distant sound of cars a few streets over the only sounds on the street despite the relatively early hour.
At the end of the street there was a tall brown wall. Mexico was on the other side of that.
“I gotta pee, man,” said Brian with a grunt. Hearing his voice made me realize whatever he’d asked in the car and this short declaration were the only words he’d uttered since Juanca had dressed him down. It’d been nothing more than a short scolding brought on by his silent complicity, but it had changed the atmosphere between us.
“Me too,” said Juanca. “Let’s get inside. And stay behind me. Mi amá está un poco sorda. She might shoot one of you if she doesn’t see me first.”
The thought of an old lady with hearing problems sitting inside that house with a gun made me uncomfortable.
I watched Juanca digging into his pocket. I assumed he was looking for keys, but watching him reminded me there were also other things in there as well.
Instead of a key chain, Juanca pulled out a single key as he approached the brown, peeling door of the house. He slid it into the lock, turned it, and pushed the door open. The hinges let out a high-pitched scream. Juanca stood at the threshold and yelled.“Amá!”
Brian and I came up behind him. Beyond the door was a small living room with a brown-and-yellow sofa covered in plastic and a small table with a huge television on the opposite wall. The TV was thick and, just like a tree, that meant it was old. The sofa’s plastic cover was also a throwback. I wondered if Juanca ever sat in front of it as a kid with a pile of rocks next to him, waiting anxiously for some rodent to crawl from under the cushions.
In the weak light coming from the lamp in the middle of the hallway stood a short, thin woman in a robe. Her hair was a frayed halo of gray around her head. It reminded me of the way people look in cartoons when they get electrocuted. The blue robe she wore had huge red flowers on it. Amapolas. It covered her body but hung from her bony shoulders like she’d stolen it from a much bigger woman. She was wearing white chanclas. Something bulky hung from her right hand.
“¿Eres tú, Juanito?” her voice was a delicate vase teetering at the edge of a table.
“Sí, Amá, soy yo.”
Juanca stepped into the house and turned to invite us in with a nod.
I walked into the house and the first thing I noticed was a strange smell. It made me think of rain but also of digging with Melisa in the yard. She had a thing for roses. There were yellow roses next to our door. In the back, she took whatever available space she could find to add some plants. She had a green thumb. Thinking of her all sweaty and dirty was oddly comforting.
“Ay, mijito, ven aquí y saluda a tu madre.”
Juanca obliged. His body seemed too big for the hallway and the tiny woman disappeared when he embraced her. I heard whispers and kisses. The woman pushed Juanca away and grabbed his face with both hands. The thing she’d been holding in her right hand was a gun. A big gun. Her frail fingers were still stretched around it when she brought her hands up to Juanca’s face. A sad smile pulled the corners of her mouth upward while dragging her eyebrows down a bit. Happiness, love, and something akin to pain fought for control of her features. No one won that battle.
“¿Cómo has estado, Amá? ¿Cómo te sientes?” Juanca asked. “Cansada, hijito. Me pesan los huesos.” With that, she looked our way. “¿Quiénes son estos señores, Juanito?”
“Son unos amigos de Austin. Los traje para que me ayudaran con algo.”
“¿Vas a cruzar? Me dijiste que ya no — ”
“Tranquila, Amá. Es solo una vez más. Te lo prometo. Después de eso te saco de aquí.”
The woman nodded and lowered her head. I got the sense that this was a conversation they’d had many times before. After a second, she lifted her head and came toward us.
“Buenas noches, señores,” she said as she walked toward us. “Yo soy Margarita, la madre de Juan Carlos. Tomen asiento, por favor. Están ustedes en su casa,” she said, lifting a frail hand toward the yellow sofa. Brian and I mumbled a “buenas noches” and a “gracias” and sat down.
“Mira, Juanito, si van a ir, por lo menos déjame que les de una bendición para que la Virgencita los acompañe.”
She wanted to give us a blessing. Cold fingers squeezed the back of my neck when she said it.
Juanca sighed. He came to the sofa and sat between Brian and me.
“My mom wants to pray for us. She wants the Virgin to protect us.”
This was not the time to argue. If praying for us made her happy, good for her.
Juanca’s mother approached us, closed her eyes, lifted her hands, and started praying.
“Querida Virgencita, esta noche te pido que protejas a estos tres hijos tuyos con tu manto sagrado. Acuérdate, oh piadosísima Virgencita de Guadalupe, de que nunca se ha oído decir que nadie que te haya implorado protección, nadie que haya implorado tu santísimo socorro o que haya buscado tu in- tercesión ha sido abandonado por ti, Madrecita Santa. Animada por esta confianza que todos tenemos en ti, Virgencita, esta noche regreso a ti, Santa Madre, y me acerco humildemente a ti como una hija para que tú, Madre del Verbo Encarnado, no menosprecies mis peticiones, y en tu infinita misericordia me escuches lo que te pido y protejas a estos hombres de todo aquello que les quiera hacer mal. Amén.”
We sat there, looking at her as she prayed. When she finished, I inhaled. Without being fully aware of it, I’d been expecting something to happen. The shaking crosses covering El Milagrito’s walls were still in my head, occupying that special space where we only keep things that should be nightmares but that happened to us while we were awake.
Brian asked about the bathroom and Juanca silently pointed a finger toward a dark hallway. Brian stood up slowly, like his balance was off, and plodded in the direction Juanca had signaled.
Margarita stood over Juanca and asked him to be careful again. He nodded. “Sabes que no puedo perderte, mijo,” she said. “Si te pierdo a ti ya no me queda nada en esta vida.”
You know I can’t lose you, son. If I lose you, I won’t have anything left in this life.
Hardcover, ISBN-13 9780316426916,320 Pages
August 2, 2022
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor, and literary critic living in Austin, TX. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novels Zero Saints and Coyote Songs. Iglesias' nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Electric Literature, and LitReactor, and his reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Publishers Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, Criminal Element, Mystery Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He's been a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and the Millions Tournament of Books, and is a member of the Horror Writers Association, the Mystery Writers of America, and the National Book Critics Circle.