drip painting of city by water

“Forever Rockport” by Karen Burnette Garner

“Look what you did,” Boñec said to Jaime—his ten-year-old cousin—when the preliminary reports were announced. “Set the whole country on fire.”

“I didn’t do it,” Jaime said. 

“They say it could go on for days.” 

“But—” Jaime said, getting cut off by Boñec turning the volume all the way up on his boombox. 

They were sitting in Boñec’s room—Boñec on his bed in Nike basketball shorts, a tank top that showed off the muscles he worked on every morning, and unlaced sneakers; Jaime—dressed in a collared Polo and khaki shorts, legs criss-crossed on the floor—had only been in Guatemala for a couple of days. Was supposed to only be there for a couple of weeks. Guess his parents didn’t want him back. Boñec could understand why. He’d spent his entire time in Guatemala complaining about the lack of central AC, the cement floors, and the food, which he ate by the basket anyway. 

“I’m telling,” Jaime said, getting up and brushing off his shorts; a squeak creeping into his voice. 

“Sit down,” Boñec said, tossing him a pack of Tor-Tees—the closest thing he had to the chips he’d seen advertised in American movies. The last thing Boñec wanted was to get his father involved, knowing how strong the hangover would be at ten in the morning. He turned the stereo back down.

“What are we having for lunch?” Jamie asked, hand wrist-deep in chips. 

“¿How much money you got left?” Boñec asked. He watched Jaime dig his oily fingertips into his fanny pack and rustle around some dollars. “Stop,” Boñec said, not wanting him to get them all dirty. “Tell Silvio to get you something when he wakes up.”  

“But I’m hungry now,” Jaime said, stuffing the U.S. Dollars he hadn’t exchanged for Quetzales back into his fanny pack, not caring that one of the bill’s corners caught on the zipper. 

Boñec looked Jaime over again. Why had his aunt and uncle decided this was the year to send Jaime to visit? Was he meant to be a pick-me-up for Boñec, or was sending him to Guatemala cheaper than summer camp, even with the extra 500 dollars they’d sent for Silvio? 

“There’s leftover paella,” Boñec said, changing out of his clothes into his work uniform—a bright yellow t-shirt with the Pollo Campero’s chicken mascot on it, and some black slacks. “¿You know how to work a gas stove?” Boñec asked, checking his reflection in the mirror. Dirt in all his pores, no matter how much he scrubbed, bushy eyebrows no matter how much he plucked. At least the working out was paying off. 

Jaime shook his head no. “¿You don’t have a microwave?” he asked, tipping the empty bag of chips into his palm, then licking the crumbs. 

“¡Water!” Silvio called from his bedroom. 

“You do that, and I’ll heat it up,” Boñec said, grabbing his Pollo Campero visor. He turned off his boombox and ushered Jaime out of his room, closing the flimsy door behind him, wishing he had locks like the ones he’d installed on his old bedroom door. 

“Jaime’s getting it,” Boñec called back, rushing into the kitchen and turning on the tap. He handed Jaime a glass to fill, lit the stove with a match, then pulled the week-old paella out of the fridge and threw it in a pan over the burner. “Turn the nob this way when you come back,” he told Jaime. Jaime nodded a little, but had overfilled the glass of water and was concentrating on not spilling. 

Boñec went into the living room for his motorcycle, then rolled it out the front door. Outside, he kicked down the “for rent” sign—something his uncle Junior had put up a few days before, reminding him that they had overstayed their welcome. He ran back inside and grabbed the insulated food box from the kitchen, turning off the stove just to be safe. Last thing he needed was to burn the place down. He started his bike, eschewing the helmet, strapped down the food box, then took off down Zero Street in Amatitlán, the house in his rearview mirror. It wasn’t a great house, but it was better than his old one—the one he’d known all his life—because, even though he’d driven by and seen that it had been fixed up, he could still see where the bullet holes had been filled in when the sun reflected off a car just right.

* * *

Boñec found out about The Zone Six Devils of Guatemala—or “Los Diabólicos,” as they were more commonly known—a year earlier, simply by living near El Mercado Jocotales, where the group spent most of their time. He’d run out of gas and had been pushing his bike down the street when he saw one of Los Diabólicos—who looked to be about the same age as him—take a beer from the red milk crate at his feet and use the handle of his Yamaha FZ8 to take off the cap. As he lifted the bottle to his mouth, he must have noticed Boñec watching him. 

“¿You see something over here?” he called out to him.

Boñec averted his eyes and pushed his bike with more force. He was only a few feet further down the road when he caught the nearly-full bottle of beer to the back of the head, followed by an explosion of laughter. If there was one thing Boñec wished he hadn’t inherited from his father, it was how quick he was to anger. Without caring about the money he and his mother, Beatriz, had spent on the motorcycle for his eighteenth birthday that year—without thinking that acting out might get him killed—Boñec threw his bike to the ground and started cursing at Los Diabólico’s, heading directly towards them. By the time he realized what he was doing, he had his forehead pressed against one of theirs and was yelling at him to make a move. 

One of the other group members grabbed Boñec by the shirt collar and pulled him off. When Boñec turned to look, he was greeted with a punch to the stomach. Boñec doubled over and one of the others landed another punch square under his left eye, causing Boñec to fall to the poorly-paved street.

“You got some demons in there, ¿huh?” one of them said, circling Boñec. 

Boñec was no stranger to beatings—it was almost a nightly ritual at his house if he showed up before his father had passed out.

“Andrés,” one of the members said to the one who spoke last and nodded at Boñec’s bike.  

“¿Where’d you get that?” Andrés asked, signaling at it with his chin. Boñec didn’t answer. “We could use a new one,” Andrés continued, walking towards it. 

“Back the fuck off it,” Boñec said, and received a swift kick to the ribs by one of Los Diabólicos. 

“I like the color,” Andrés said, kneeling down to look at it. “Like blue electricity,” he said. He put his hand on it, then pantomimed electrocution. All Los Diabólicos laughed. “Like that Chombo song,” he said, then began singing the chorus to “Me Pasa la Corriente.” He continued to inspect Boñec’s bike, finding his messenger bag hanging from the handle bars. He reached in and pulled out a parcel wrapped in brown packing paper. 

“¿What’s this?” he asked, but had already begun unwrapping the package. He discarded the wrappings and the jewelry box and held up a necklace with a small diamond, which he used to motion at Boñec. Boñec stood up, struggling against Los Diabólicos who put their hands on his chest and shoulders. 

“¿Whose is it?” Andrés asked. Boñec stayed silent and Andrés signaled for one of the others to pop him in the mouth.

 “Mother fucker,” Boñec said, licking his then busted lip, swallowing the blood. “It’s my job,” Boñec said, explaining that he worked as a courier, leaving out that his mom had gotten him the position. She worked at a law firm—a secretary—and had gotten him the job after he’d been fired from his car wash position for spitting on a patron who’d jokingly told him he’d missed a spot.

Andrés clicked his tongue. “Tell you what,” he said, “I’ll let you keep the bike.” He pocketed the necklace and signaled for the others to let Boñec go, which they did with a final punch to the back of the head. Boñec turned, fists ready, but seeing all eight of them snarling—tattoos showing, knife handles gleaming in the street lamps—he thought better of it, reminding himself of what his mother told him about quick tempers: Anger, she would say, like rum, tastes sweet in the mouth, but stings in the eyes.

Boñec picked up his bike and pushed, passing multiple gas stations on the way home, wondering how his mom would look at him if she thought he’d gotten fired for stealing. She was always getting on to him about how much he loved money, but Boñec didn’t care about money; he cared about having nice things. He liked being able to say he had the latest kicks, the newest Rock Steady Crew album with the loudest boombox to play the C.D.’s. He’d dropped out right after Sophomore year to work for those luxuries, not to hoard the cash. 

The next morning, Boñec fueled his bike and drove back to the market—already full of pedestrian and motor traffic. He weaved through chicken buses that coughed exhaust into his face. Past heladeros pushing their carts and street vendors setting up their canopies, each of them selling fruit, meat, chips, everything. Ladies gathered inside of little cabanas, their bare hands making fresh tortillas, going in and out of the fire and comals. Mothers with their babies wrapped in tunics around their backs and shouting, “¡Melons!” “¡Fried corn!” “Rellenos!” Past vendors with machetes peeking out from under their tables to discourage stealing.

Boñec pulled up to the spot from the night before and saw Andrés coming out of a comedor with a paper plate full of eggs, refried black beans, and fresh cream. 

“¿How much you gonna get for it?” Boñec asked, pulling up alongside him. 

Andrés looked at Boñec and laughed. “Not as innocent as you think you are,” he said and continued walking. 

“I want my half,” Boñec said following alongside him. 

“It don’t work like that,” Andrés said. 

“If you don’t got the power to do it,” Boñec said, turning off his bike, “tell me who does,” he said and knocked the plate out of Andrés’ hands. 

 Andrés moved so fast. He grabbed Boñec by the shirt collar and landed two good ones on his ribcage. 

Doubled over on his bike, Boñec managed to wheeze out the words, “With jump-ins like that, my grandma could join.” There was a moment of silence. Then Andrés began to laugh.

“That shit was funny,” he said, slapping Boñec’s helmet a few times. Andrés leaned back and sized him up again. “All right, I’ll pass it around,” he said. “That plate of food though,” he said, kicking at the dirt-covered eggs and beans, “that’s coming out of your end.” 

Boñec smirked in response, revved his engine, then took off down the street. He drove to the building that housed the law firm where he and his mother worked and took the elevator up. When the doors opened, he saw his mom sitting behind the front desk and watched her face drop.

“¿What is this?” she asked, coming around to him, gesturing at the bruised eye and busted lip he’d managed to hide from her the night before. Boñec saw one of the lawyers walking towards him. “¿Where is it?” Beatriz asked in a whisper. But before Boñec could respond, the lawyer who’d sent the package to surprise his wife reached them and began to question him about the necklace. He fired Boñec, not believing that it’d been stolen, then almost fired Beatriz, until one of the other lawyers convinced him to let her pay it back with monthly installments coming directly out of her paycheck. 

At home, Boñec convinced Beatriz that he’d been jumped and that the package really was stolen. She seemed to believe it until the night of the initiation later that week, when Boñec had returned home with his other eye swollen and a chipped tooth. 

“¿Again?” Beatriz asked. This was before the haircut, before the tattoo, before expensive items—name-brand sneakers, American sports teams’ jerseys, the gold chain—appeared in his room; before he stayed out most nights delivering eightballs and dime bags up and down Zone 6, sporting a tattoo of two horns with the number 666 in flames on his upper arm and a buzz cut. 

“No one’ll think it’s different from the other beatings,” Boñec said, referring to his father. Boñec knew that his uncle Junior—a real estate agent with connections in Amatitlán—had once told Beatriz to leave Silvio, that he would set her up in a nice house where he couldn’t touch her. But Beatriz had turned him down, saying that a good, Christian woman didn’t leave her husband in his time of need. Yet, she had been forced to leave, to escape through death at the hands of her son, and then it was him who was stuck, unable to leave his father out of guilt.

* * *

Boñec got to Pollo Campero early and clocked in. He put on the stupid cloth visor they made employees wear and headed to the delivery counter. 

“¿What’s up, Miguel?” he said. 

“’Sup, ¿Ratón?” Miguel said. Boñec had earned the nickname “mouse,” after Speedy Gonzales, for being the fastest delivery guy on staff. It didn’t matter that he used his own bike instead of the restaurant’s wanna-be-motorcycle mopeds; management cared about only one thing—how fast orders could get delivered without someone dying. 

“¿You keeping up with the volcano?”

“Not really,” Boñec said. 

“They think it’s going to be the worst one in decades,” Miguel said, imitating an explosion with his hands and mouth. 

“To work,” one of the managers said, placing a delivery bag between Boñec and Miguel before walking away.

Boñec flipped him off, then took the bags out to his bike, shoved them into the food box, and stuffed his visor in with them. He took a look at the address on the ticket, and was going to plug it into his phone, when his father’s name popped up on the screen. 

“Come get Jaime,” Silvio said, his voice sounding as though it came from an old gravel truck. Nothing like what he used to sound like before the booze. He wouldn’t know; it was what Beatriz had told him. Back when she talked about her and Silvio’s first days together, before the death of his daughter Lucia. Silvio’s ex-wife didn’t tell him until after the funeral. She’d sent him a letter with the name of the cemetery and directions to the modest plot, which she said he’d helped pay for with his child support. Silvio had gone to the burial site, then a bar, then gone back home drunk. The route became a ritual, but in time, only the bar stop remained. Boñec found the death to be an excuse for the need to drink. 

“I’ll get him after this delivery,” Boñec said. 

“Now,” Silvio said and hung up. There was no point arguing. 

Thirty minutes later, Boñec was driving down 6a Avenue with Jamie holding on to his midsection like a python. Amatitlán had less traffic than the city, but there was no way to drive to Zero Street then up to 10th Avenue without someone calling to complain about the delivery time.

“Slow down,” Jamie yelled at him, tightening his grip. 

“¡Ya! Stop,” Boñec said, using his left hand to get some slack from Jaime’s arms, only to have Jaime squeeze back tighter. 

“Don’t lean,” Boñec yelled at him, taking the turn on the street the ticket had listed. He laid on the accelerator for the last half block, the numbers on the buildings blurring by until he reached the right one. 

“We’re here,” Boñec said, flipping the kickstand and unbuckling Jaime’s hands from his waist. He unmounted the bike, swung his foot in front of Jaime’s face, and told him not to move while he was gone. 

On the third floor, Boñec found the right unit number and knocked. He could hear the news coming out of almost every door, all of the channels inside announcing the imminent explosion of El Volcán de Fuego. The door opened, and a white guy about his age asked how much it was, then handed Boñec two American bills Boñec wasn’t supposed to take.

“¿Do you think we’re far enough from the blast zone?” the guy asked in his broken Spanish. 

“Last time,” Boñec said, “my whole house got destroyed by a giant rock.” He held his hands out and demonstrated what it looked like. “Killed my mother,” he lied. The guy turned cocaine white, apologized to Boñec for his loss, then closed the door.

“¿What took so long?” Jaime wanted to know. 

“Move,” Boñec said, pushing him further back on the bike. He hopped on. 

“¿What now?” Jamie said.

“We go get another one,” Boñec said, “but I’m dropping you on the corner so no one sees.” 

“But it’s hot,” Jaime said. Boñec ignored him. 

“Oh,” Jaime said, “some guy came up and asked me whose bike this was.” 

“¿What?” Boñec asked, turning to look at Jaime.

“He said he used to know someone with one like it, but that it was blue, not black.” 

Boñec looked around. Sweat began to form on his forehead and dripped down his back in zigzags. It wouldn’t be strange for someone from the city to be around, but what business would a Diabólico have out here—50 kilometers from Zone 6? Maybe he was being paranoid. He’d gotten a paint job on his bike when they’d first moved, had only been back to the old place two or three times and no one knew Jaime was his cousin. 

“¿What did you say to him?” Boñec asked, waving aside his first instincts, thinking maybe someone just liked the bike. 

“Nothing,” Jaime said. “I told him it was my cousin’s.” 

“¿You use my name?” Boñec asked. 

Jaime nodded. “He said you and him were tight,” Jaime said.  

Boñec looked around, imagining Los Diabólicos would be on them in seconds. “You inbred motherfucker,” Boñec said, and started the bike, taking one last look around before speeding down the street; Jaime had just enough time to hold on. Boñec drove like he was being chased—ignoring stop signs, running red lights, squeezing between buses at the last possible second. He checked his rearview mirror almost as much as he checked the road in front of him, looking for any sign of a bike or car with a driver he might recognize. But no matter how fast the speedometer said he was going, he knew: nothing was faster than sins coming back for revenge.

* * *

Six months earlier, Beatriz had found out what Boñec was up to. She wouldn’t say how, but she’d confronted Boñec, asking him if it was true. Boñec had told her she was crazy and denied the whole thing, said that he was with his friends, not gang members, and that whoever told her must have confused him with someone else.

“Don’t lie to me,” Beatriz said and set about ripping his jerseys from their hangers and grabbing sneakers by the laces, taking as much as she could carry in one trip and throwing it into a pile in the living room. Boñec followed her, telling her she had finally lost her mind, that all of the punches from Silvio had damaged her brain, but Beatriz wasn’t listening. She’d gone into the kitchen and come back with matches.

“I worked hard for those,” Boñec said, stepping between her and his clothes.  

“¿What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?” Beatriz asked, lighting a match. Boñec snatched them from her. She yelled at him, cursed—something he’d never heard her do—and told him to pack his things. 

“Having one bad man in the house is bad enough,” Beatriz said, “I don’t need two.” She looked at him as though he were more dangerous than Silvio. 

Boñec yelled, pleaded, argued, but Beatriz stayed silent. She stayed silent until Boñec said what she wanted to hear. 

The following week, after Boñec had failed to show up at the market to pick up his cut of the brick they were selling, Andrés and the others parked across the street from his house and revved their engines until he went out to talk to them.

“I’m done,” he said. 

Los Diabólicos laughed. 

“I’m serious,” Boñec said. The laughs stopped, and the only thing that filled the silence was the transitory sound of jokes turning into violent threats and accusations. But Boñec didn’t budge, the image of his mom kneeling beside her bed at night kept him focused.

 Andrés finally held up his hand, telling the others to quit talking and said, “All right, you can leave.” 

Boñec, unsure if it was a test, turned away uneasily and walked towards his house. “But there’s only one way out,” Andrés called after him, reaching into his waistband, where he kept his gun tucked. 

Boñec saw the handle, the barrel, and booked it—without thinking—inside. He slammed the door behind him as bullets made their impact against the house—making imprints on the metal door, lodging into the cement walls, and breaking the barred-windows. 

“¡Down! ¡Down!” Boñec yelled at his mom as he ran past her to his room to get the gun Andrés had given him. He got it from the inside of one of his shoes and ran back into the living room, unsure of how to use it. When Andrés had given it to him, he’d asked if he’d ever shot one before, and, too embarrassed to say he hadn’t, he’d lied.

Boñec army-crawled past the broken glass, the picture frames that lay scattered around him, and the flecks of dust and pieces of his house that were beginning to settle on the ground. There were no more gunshots, just Andrés shouting something Boñec couldn’t hear, then hoots and hollers from Los Diabólicos, and finally, the sound of motorcycles driving away. He looked at the destruction around him and saw his father coming out of the bathroom at the back of the house, crouched down, hands over his head, fly unzipped. His mom was lying down in the kitchen, just like he’d told her to do. 

“Mom,” he called out. “Mom, ¿you okay?” He moved over to her, thinking she was too scared to make any noise. When he reached her, he saw it—the blood oozing out of the two bullet holes in her chest. The plantains—burning on the stove. 

“¿What have you done?” Silvio asked, stumbling to his knees beside Beatriz’s body. “¿What did you do?”   

Before the cops arrived, before the hour and a half drive to the temporary address his uncle Junior had provided, Boñec had allowed himself a brief moment of tears in the bathroom—the faucet running and the vent going, masking his sobs with flushes from the toilet. He couldn’t shake how the expression on his mother’s face was one of pain, surprise, and love, as if what hurt most hadn’t been the bullets, but the actions of her son. When Silvio banged on the door saying the cops were there, he’d wiped his eyes and walked out, hoping Silvio wouldn’t mistake his heartbreak for weakness. 

* * *

When Boñec busted into the house, shoving Jamie in first, Silvio—already holding a cup of rum—wanted to know who the hell Boñec thought he was slamming doors in his house. 

“It’s not your house,” Boñec said, running past him to his room, Jamie right behind him. 

“Borrowed a few bills,” Silvio shouted after him. Boñec looked over at the new hiding spot he’d chosen—not his Nike shoe, not in a baggie inside of his protein powder, not even the small front pocket in one of his shirts, but at the underside of his desk, where the tape he’d used to hold his quetzales now hung loosely from one side. Boñec ignored it and looked out the window for any sign of a muffler or brake pedal.

“¿What about the free Pollo Campero you promised me?” Jaime wanted to know.

“Shut up,” Boñec said. “Listen to some music or something.”

Jaime turned on the boombox and flipped through the radio stations. The signal was cutting in and out, but Boñec managed to catch words like volcano and words like danger and evacuate.

“Let’s go up to the terrace,” Jamie said. 

“No,” Boñec said, still trying to peek around corners. But maybe Jaime had a point. 

“Okay, let’s go,” Boñec said and jogged down the hallway and up the stairs.

At the top, Jaime—puffing, face the color of magma—wheezed out, “¿Are those your friends?” Boñec looked at where Jaime was pointing—past the clotheslines on other terraces, past the dirt lot with patches of grass that made up the neighborhood soccer field, past the graffitied houses—and saw Los Diabólicos riding around the neighborhood looking for him. 

“Fuck,” Boñec said.

“¿Are you guys going for a ride?”

“No,” Boñec said. 

“¿Then why’d you leave your bike out?” Jaime asked, pointing down at his motorcycle parked in front of the house. 

Boñec’s head snapped to the bike. He looked down his street. One of Los Diabólicos turned down at that moment, the three revs of the motorcycle engine letting Boñec know the bike had been spotted. 

“Get inside,” Boñec said.

“I want to keep watching,” Jaime said, sitting down on the ground. Boñec kicked him in the thigh. “Ow, all right,” Jaime said, getting up and rubbing his leg. 

Boñec locked the door to the terrace and raced into the living room. “Dad,” he said, surprising even himself. Silvio had been Silvio or that son of a bitch or even Sil, but never Dad. 

“I’ll replace it,” Silvio said. 

“It’s not about the money,” Boñec said, desperate to get his father’s attention, or however much of it he hadn’t yet drank away that day. 

“Always is with you,” Silvio said, readjusting in his chair. 

“¡Listen!” Boñec said, the anger inside of him pulsating, trying to get out. “I’m trying to save your life.” 

“¿Like you saved your mother’s?” Silvio said, getting up out of his chair and stumbling past Boñec, rum in hand and on his breath. Unable to control himself any longer, and with Jaime still watching, Boñec socked the side of Silvio’s face, knocking him to the ground, where he dropped and broke the bottle he never seemed to be without. 

“¿Is that what it takes to get you to put it down?” Boñec said, kicking a piece of glass under the couch.

Silvio stood up slowly, carefully. He was shorter than Boñec, round in the middle, bald on top, but it wasn’t what he looked like on the outside that scared Boñec.

“I am going to kill you,” Silvio said, soberly. 

They’re going to kill me,” Boñec said, signaling out the window, where the sound of motorcycle engines could be heard growing steadily closer. Something must have registered in Silvio, because Boñec saw something he’d never seen in his father before—fear, almost reverence. 

“Your mother’s killers,” Silvio said, looking at the closed blinds as if he could see through them.

“¿Killers?” Jaime asked.

Boñec nodded at Silvio. “They followed us,” he said, ignoring Jaime. “He—” Boñec said, but was cut off by the loudness of his own voice, when the sound of the motorcycles died out all at once, and everything went silent. Boñec held his breath. 

“Hey, motherfucker,” a voice Boñec knew to be Andrés’ called from outside. “¿This where you been hiding?”

“¿What’s happening?” Jaime wanted to know. 

“You come out, and we don’t kill the alcoholic and that little fat bitch you got with you,” Andrés said.  

Silvio looked back at Boñec and Jaime. After the death of his wife, Silvio would always say he was going to the police to turn Boñec in, but he never did. When the police first showed up, Silivo had told them the shooters must have mistaken their house for someone else’s. That was the same thing he’d said to his sister back in The States—that the bullets were meant for the neighbors, that Beatriz’s death had been an accident. That’s how they’d felt safe sending Jaime. 

“Death is the only way out,” Andrés shouted from outside. “You got thirty seconds.” 

“Get down,” Boñec said, pushing on Silvio’s and Jaime’s shoulders. They squatted with their backs against the kitchen wall. “¿Can you drive?” Boñec asked.

“I’m not drunk,” Silvio said. 

“Me either,” Jaime said, holding himself as if he might piss his pants.

“Twenty seconds,” Andrés said. 

“Take your car,” Boñec said, nodding towards the back, telling him to hurry up.  

Silvio stood up and pulled out the keys to his van. “No,” he said, tossing them to Boñec. He walked back to the side table by his lounging chair and took a sip of the rum he’d poured before the bottle was broken. “Been hoping I would see them again,” he said, and Boñec knew he meant both Los Diabolicos and his wife and daughter.

“Maybe we can all go,” Jaime said, shifting his weight back and forth on his knees. 

Boñec knew that wasn’t an option; they would follow. 

“Ten seconds,” Andrés said.

“I have a gun,” Boñec said, knowing Silvio’s mind was made up. “I’ll get it.” He was about to run past Silvio, when Silvio put his hand on Boñec’s forearm. 

“I know where you keep it,” Silvio said, and shot the rest of his rum. “Go,” he said, “before I give you one more beating to remember me by.” He pushed Boñec towards the back door. 

Boñec grabbed Jaime by the wrist and took one last look at his father as he ran out. He got into the van and drove, thinking of nothing but the sound of gunshots that followed them down the alley, tears welling up inside of him. As they made the turn down the street parallel to theirs, there was another shot—this one sounded deeper than the ones that had come before it, as if it had been shot out of a cannon. It was like thunder that caused the ground beneath their feet to growl and shake. 

He imagined his father standing by the window, shooting out at Los Diabolicos with a machine gun he’d been hiding. Or maybe he’d walked out the front door and started blasting away. Or said he was willing to turn in his son if they let him go, just to get close enough to shoot Andrés through the head before the others killed him. Or maybe he just sat back down in his chair and waited for the bullets that had missed him the first time.

Boñec glanced at Jaime—shivering and wide-eyed—in the passenger seat, was about to ask if he was okay, when Jaime said, “Look,” and pointed out of the driver’s side window. Boñec turned and watched through blurred eyes as the reds and yellows of the lava mixed with the blues of the sky; watched as the pyroclastic flow he’d learned about in school made its way down the mountain. Boñec had seen two eruptions from El Volcán de Fuego before, but this one looked violent, like it was spitting and coughing out debris from inside, up past the clouds as though it had been trying to rid itself of a sickness and was finally able to let it out. 

He drove through the ashes falling all around him like snow, the pieces of rocks landing on the road in front of him, on the windshield, the roof of the car. A giant cloud of smoke came from El Volcán de Fuego like a just-used gun barrel, and, even with a runny nose, he could tell, everything around him smelled like burning dirt and plantains. Almost as if the whole world was on fire. 

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