It bothered Alfonso that he missed the island, that he thought about it all the time. Most of all he missed water -- the turquoise waves of the Caribbean, the rivers that crisscrossed all over, the rain that arrived every afternoon at two, more punctual than a train.
Here, it never rained, and the closest he could get to water was in the building next door. It was, by far, the nicest building in Leones. The walls were painted a dirty pink and over the front entrance, the name of the place was written in fancy script: Desert Crest Studio Apartments.
He was looking at it now, the pool shimmering across the fence.
"What's the worst that could happen?" Sisto asked.
"You know," Alfonso said, giving Gregorio, who followed Sisto everywhere, a sidelong glance. Gregorio, he knew, felt the same even if he didn't come right out and say it. Gregorio never came right out and said anything.
"Don't let him get to you," Sisto said. "We get thrown out we get thrown out."
Alfonso drew circles on the sand with the toe of his shoe. Sand. This all used to be beach a million years ago. Where did all that water go?
"I'm getting too old."
Sisto's tone bordered on mockery, as it did too often. "It hurts you, don't it," he said as if feeling shame or embarrassment was something to be ridiculed.
"Nah," Alfonso said, "but it makes me want to kill him."
"No vale la pena," Sisto said. He's not worth it.
"I didn't mean for reals."
What a huge disappointment, this Mojave desert. It wasn't covered with smooth sand dunes as Alfonso had seen in pictures. There were no camels here, no sparkling oasis. This was rough, the sand coarse and covered with scrub and dry shrubs. The California desert made itself unattractive on purpose, it deliberately covered itself with its own trash, as if to say stay away, there's nothing here for you. A hot hand of wind slapped him as if to confirm his thoughts. Dust in his teeth, his nostrils, his eyes. He should be used to it by now but he wasn't.
He wondered what life would be like on the other side. Every time he left his apartment, the turquoise water of the pool called to him. But twelve feet of chain-link fence protected it from people like him. For added security, and because nothing else grew here, a dense cactus garden surrounded the pool, it's thorns long and sharp.
It’s possible to leave California.
Not all migrations must go west. Just hop on Interstate-210 and head out past the Miller Brewing Company (“Miller, the Champagne of Beers”), cross the Los Angeles County line and drive through the Inland Empire with its vast swatches of rock and dead earth.
If it is wintertime and there has been rain, the reigning mountaintops might be dusted with snow, almost California postcard pretty. Ignore it. You have other destinations, beyond San Bernardino and Redlands.
You can cut up the 15 and head toward Barstow and before long Las Vegas, that gangster mirage in the desert, will appear, or you can keep going to where the 210 merges with the 10 and head out to Cabazon, people riding dirt bikes and other off road vehicles and gambling in Indian casinos.
You’ll come to the Banning Pass with the windmills and the trains moving along a mountain ridge that is now on your right, and you could go all the way out to Indio or you cut could up through Joshua Tree and really feel like you are leaving, like you have entered alien territory, that it is all behind you . . .