“The collection reminds us, again and again, that each of us has only one life, and forces us to confront the biggest questions: Shouldn’t that one life matter, shouldn’t that life be worth remembering, shouldn’t it be worth examining, contemplating, pursuing in understanding, even though all varieties of understanding are so difficult, so time-bound, so provisional?
“This is a variety of beauty too rare in contemporary literature, a synthesis of material and practice and time and courage and love that must have cost its writer dearly; it’s not easy to be so vulnerable so consistently. Quade attempts, page by page, to give up carefully held secrets, to hold them up to the light so we can get at the truth beneath, the existential truth. Perhaps this is as close as we can get to what is sacred in an age in which so many have otherwise rejected the idea of the sacred.”
Kyle Minor, ‘Night at the Fiestas,’ by Kirstin Valdez Quade, The New York Times, March 24, 2015.
“My skin lost its color, my body its mass, until one morning in May when, as I gazed out the classroom window, I saw old Mrs. Romero walking down the street, her shawl still billowing around her like wings. My teacher called my name sharply, and I was surprised to find myself in my body, sitting solid in my desk. I decided right then: I would lead the Corpus Christi procession. I would wear the wings and everyone would see me.
“I practiced fervently, in the bathtub, walking to school, in bed at night. The way I imagined it, I would give my recitation in front of the entire town. Father Chavez would hold up his hand at the end of Mass, before people could shift and cough and gather their hats, and he would say, ‘Wait. There is one more thing you need to hear.’ One or two girls would go before me, stumble through their psalms (short ones, unremarkable ones). Then I would stand, walk with grace to the front of the church, and there, before the altar, I’d speak with eloquence that people afterward would describe as unearthly. I’d offer my psalm as a gift to my mother. I’d watch her watch me from the pew, her eyes full of tears and pride meant only for me.
“Instead, of course, our recitations took place in Sunday school before Mass. One by one we stood before our classmates as our teacher, Mrs. Reyes, followed our words from her Bible. Antonia recited the same psalm she had recited the year before. When it was my turn, I stumbled over the phrase, “For my iniquities are gone over my head: and as a heavy burden are become heavy upon me.” When I sat down with the other children, tears gathered behind my eyes and I told myself that none of it mattered.
“A week before the procession, my mother met me outside school. During the day she rarely left the store or my little brothers, so I knew it was important.
“‘Mrs. Reyes came by the store today,’ my mother said. I couldn’t tell from her face if the news had been good or bad, or about me at all. She put her hand on my shoulder and led me home.
“I walked stiffly under her hand, waiting, eyes on the dusty toes of my shoes.
“Finally, my mother turned and hugged me.’You did it, Maria.’ ”
“Frances was pretending to be someone else, someone whose father was not the bus driver. Instead, she told herself, she was a girl alone in the world, journeying to the city. With every gesture, she pictured herself: turning the page of her book, tucking a sweaty lock of hair behind her ear, lifting her chin to gaze out the bus window. Except Frances wasn’t alone, and her father, evidently thinking she’d come along today for his company, kept calling back to her with boisterous cheer over the exertions of the engine.
“‘Broke down here in ’42, Francy.’ He indicated the endless yellow grass, summer-dry and dotted with cows and the occasional splintered shed, and Frances sighed and lowered her book politely to meet his eye in the rearview mirror. ‘Had a busload of fellows all on their way to training at Fort Bliss. Every day for three years I picked up two, three boys from each town and brung them south.’ He chuckled at the memory. ‘You wouldn’t believe how many ideas twenty ranch boys have about a bus engine.’
“Not counting Frances, eleven passengers had boarded early that morning in Raton, many of them also heading to Santa Fe for the Fiestas. Frances’s father had offered each and every one of them a jolly greeting. ‘Glorious day, isn’t it?’ ‘Got my girl with me.’ ‘Getting off in Santa Fe? So’s my Frances.’ Each time a lady boarded–three did–he took her bag and followed her to her seat and stowed it in the net above while she removed her gloves and arranged her purse. Then he stood aside with his bulk pressed into the seats to let the other passengers by. Frances had found herself looking away from his sad, obsequious displays of friendliness, embarrassed.”