I get home from work in the afternoon and open my door the sound of a power drill. The house was foreclosed on in the earlier part of the year, and it's been sold twice since then, disturbing my quasi-legal squatting arrangement in the west unit, considered uninhabitable due to the leak in the roof, the holes in the floor, and the mold. Somehow I lived there for two years; it went by very fast.
So now I am living in the east side of the house with C. again. We are wary but friendly, two refugees crowded into the same tent. All the other tenants are leaving, one by one. The vegetable garden we all shared at the front of the house is torn up. The new owner wants xeroscaping. She's making improvements. No one could blame her. The place needs improving.
She hired a guy named Luis to rip down the walls in the ceilings in the west unit and make it all new again. He's been at it ten hours a day for the last few weeks, the hardest working guy in show business. I always wave at him when I go past. I wave at him today.
"Almost done," he says. "You want to see?"
You always want to see the place where you used to live. We go inside and walk through the rooms, looking at the smooth planes of fresh plaster, the shining white paint and dove-gray trim. For a second I feel like I'm dreaming. Everything is familiar and everything is different. A place I used to live, a long time ago.
"Wow. It looks amazing. Good job."
Luis wipes his forehead with the back of his arm. "It was a lot of work," he says.
For a minute when the house went on the market I thought maybe I should try to find a way to buy it. Then I thought, right. Buy this place I've been trying to get free of for the last god knows how many years. Buy this leaking roof and these mold-infested walls, this compromise, and spend the rest of my life trying to make it into something that I want. But that's not how the wind is blowing.
We go out on the porch. The yard out here used to be a wild place, a tangle of knotty shrubs and flowering weeks just barely pushed back enough for a few rows of chard and tomatoes and basil and sunflowers. It's all plowed down to the roots now and there's nothing wild about it anymore.
"Is she going to have you do the outside next?" I ask.
Luis shakes his head. I like his face. All the lines in it go up. "After I finish in there, I'm going home for a while. My son is getting married at the end of the month, back in Mexico."
"And my other son is graduating from college."
"Hey, that's great. Congratulations again."
"I have good kids," he says. "My son that's getting married, he's a lawyer."
"Wow. You must be proud."
"All good kids. All my kids go to college. Except for my daughter." He squints out over the yard, into the sun. "My daughter was in college, but she throws it all away to get married. I told her not to do it."
"Well, there's always time, right? She'll be OK."
"I think so. I think so. But I always tell her, you've got to do your school. Because for a woman, I think it is a lot harder. Do you know what I mean?" He looks at me earnestly. He has the kind of eyes that look like they're really looking at you. I nod. "Because you and me can do the same job," he says. "And I'm always going to get paid more for it. So I think it is harder to be a woman. I think a woman has to try a lot harder."
"I know what you're saying."
"What about you? Are you in school?"
"I'm going back."
"Congratulations," he says. "So we are both doing good."
We shake hands.
I unlock the door into C.'s place, our place. I am doing homework when he gets home. After a while I look out the window. There's an unfamiliar quality to the light, and then I see the storm cloud, colored orange by the end-of-day light.
It hasn't rained this spring at all. It hasn't rained since anybody can remember when. We are staring down the barrel of a 50-year drought and it's so hot already. It's so hot, and it's not even May yet.
C. and I go outside walk down to the end of the street where we can see it better. It is enormous, roiling, and coming fast. Other neighbors are already on the corner, staring up. I recognize the girl from across the alley. "You heard the governor prayed for rain this weekend, right?" she says.
"Sweet Baby Jesus," C. says. "Who did he pray to?"
"I guess we'll find out." The neighbor girl shivers and wraps her arms around herself. "We ought to get inside before that hits us," she says.
We go back to the house and I go back to doing my homework. Once in a while I reach up and turn down the buzzing SC unit to see if I'll hear rain, but I don't. Later I lie in bed, fantasizing about water from the sky, running off the eaves and filling the creeks. I dream of mud puddles and dams over-flowing, but it's no good. In the morning when we wake up the ground is dry as a bone and it's a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky.