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Authors: Margaret Millar

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Beyond This Point Are Monsters

BOOK: Beyond This Point Are Monsters
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BEYOND THIS POINT ARE MONSTERS 

 

by

 

Margaret Millar

 

 

 

 

 

Syndicate Books

New York

Text Copyright © 1970 by Margaret Millar.

  

This edition published in 2016 by

Syndicate Books

www.syndicatebooks.com

 

 

 

 

For Judge John A. Westwick

CHA
PTER ONE

in devon's dream
they were searching the reservoir again for Robert. It was almost the way it had happened the first time, with the Mexican policeman, Valenzuela, shouting orders to his men, and the young divers standing around in rubber suits with aqualungs strapped to their backs.

In the dream Devon watched, mute and helpless, from the ranch house. The real Devon had gone out to protest to Estivar, the foreman: “Why are they looking for him in there?”

“They have to look every place, Mrs. Osborne.”

“The water's so dirty. Robert's a very clean person.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“He would never have gone in such dirty water.”

“He might not have had much to say about it, ma'am.”

The water, used only for irrigation, was too murky for the divers to work, and in the end the police used a giant scoop and strainer. They spent hours dragging the bottom. All they found were rusting pieces of machinery and old tires and pieces of lumber and the muddy bones of a new­born baby. Finding the nameless, faceless child had upset the policeman, Valenzuela, more than finding a dozen Roberts. It was as if the Roberts of this world always did something to deserve their fate, however bloody or wet or feverish. But the child, the baby— “
Goddamn
,” Valenzuela said, crossing himself, and took the little pile of bones away in a shoe box.

She woke up to the sound of Dulzura knocking on the bedroom door.

“Mrs. Osborne? You awake?” The door opened no more than a crack. “You better get up now. Breakfast is on the stove.”

“It's early,” Devon said. “Only six-thirty.”

“But this is the
day.
Have you forgot?”

“No.” Not very likely. She'd signed the petition herself while the lawyer watched, looking relieved that she'd finally consented.

Dulzura's small fat hand trembled on the door. “I'm scared. Everybody will be staring at me.”

“You only have to tell the truth.”

“How am I sure of the truth after all this time? And if I lie after swearing on the Bible, Estivar says they'll put me in jail.”

“He was joking.”

“He didn't laugh.”

“They won't put you in jail,” Devon said. “I'll be ready for breakfast in ten minutes.”

But she lay still, listening to Dulzura's leaden step on the stairs and the grumbling of the wind as it went round and round the house trying to get in. The autumn night had been warm. Devon's short brown hair was moist and her nightgown clung damply to her body, as though she herself had been fished out of the reservoir and stretched on the bed to dry, a half-drowned mermaid.

Dulzura would tell the truth, of course, because it was too simple to distort: after dinner Robert had gone out to look for his dog and on the way he'd stopped in the kitchen to see Dulzura. He wished her a happy birthday, kidded her about getting to be a big girl and went out the back door toward the garage.

Robert's car was still there, the top down, the key in the ignition. Estivar said it was bad policy to leave the car like that, it was too much of a temptation to the Mexican mi­grant workers who came to harvest lemons in the spring and crate tomatoes in the summer and pick cantaloupe in the fall. Every group of migrants that had arrived and departed during the past year undoubtedly knew about the car, but no attempt had ever been made to steal it. Perhaps Estivar had warned them severely or perhaps they thought such a car would have a curse on it. Whatever the reason, it lay dead and undisturbed under its shroud of dust.

The tides of migrants that came and went were gov­erned by the sun the way the ocean tides were governed by the moon. It was now October, the peak season of the year, and the bunkhouse was full. Devon had no personal connection with the migrant workers. They spoke no Eng­lish, and Estivar discouraged her from trying to communi­cate with them in her high school Spanish. She didn't know their names or where they came from. Small and hungry, they moved across her fields like rodents.
“Must have been a couple of wetbacks,” one of the deputies said. “Must have robbed and killed him and buried him some place.” “We have no wetbacks here,” Estivar said sharply. Later Estivar told Devon that the deputy was a very igno­rant man because the term wetbacks,
mojados
, was appli­cable only in Texas where the U.S.-Mexican border was the Rio Grande River; here, in California, where the bor­der was marked by miles of barbed-wire fence, the illegal entrants were properly called
alambres,
wires.

Devon got out of bed and went over to the window to pull aside the drapes. She had long since moved out of the bedroom she'd shared with Robert into the smallest room on the second floor of the ranch house. Small rooms were less lonely, easier to fill. This one, which faced south, had a sweeping view of the river valley, and in the distance the parched hills of Tijuana with its wooden shacks and its domed cathedral the same color as the mustard they sold for hot dogs at the race track and the bull ring. Tijuana looked best at night when it became a cluster of starry lights on the horizon, or at dawn when the cathedral dome turned pink and the shacks were still hidden by darkness.

Through the open window Devon could hear the phone ringing in the kitchen below and Dulzura answer­ing it, her voice shrill as a parrot's because telephones made her nervous. A minute later she was at the bedroom door again, breathing heavily from exertion and resent­ment.

“It's his mother, says it's important.”

“Tell her I'll call her back.”

“She don't like to wait.”

No, Devon thought, Robert's mother didn't like to wait. But she had waited, the same as the rest of them, for the sound of a doorbell, a phone, a car in the driveway, a step in the hall; she had waited for a letter, a telegram, a post­card, a message from a friend or a stranger.

“Tell her I'll call her back,” Devon said.

From the window she could see, too, the rows of tama­risks planted to break the wind and protect the reservoir from blowing sand. To the east was the dry riverbed and to the west the fields of tomatoes, already harvested. The fields were alive with small birds. They swooped between the rows of plants, fluttered among the yellowing leaves, pecked at the rotting remains of fruit and searched the ground for fallen seeds and insects. Estivar could identify every one of them. He called them by their Mexican names, which made them all seem foreign and exotic to Devon until she found out that many of them were birds she'd known back home. The
chupamirto
was just a hum­mingbird, the
cardelina
a goldfinch, the
golondrina
a swallow.

Other things which had familiar names were not famil­iar at all. To Devon, born and brought up on the East Coast, rain was what spoiled a picnic or a trip to the zoo, not something people measured in tenths of inches like misers with molten gold. And a river had always been a permanent thing, like the Hudson or the Delaware or the Potomac. The river she watched now from her bedroom window was bone-dry most of the year, yet sometimes it turned into a rampaging torrent strong enough to carry a truck downstream. There were few bridges. It was gener­ally assumed that when it rained hard, people would have sense enough to stay home or stick to the main highway; and when it was dry, they simply drove or walked across the riverbed as if it were a special road, untaxed and maintenance-free.

The far side of the river marked the boundary line of the next ranch, which belonged to Leo Bishop. When Rob­ert brought her home as his bride a year and a half ago, Leo Bishop was the first neighbor she'd met. Robert asked her to be especially nice to him because he'd lost his wife suddenly and tragically during the winter. Devon had done her best, but there were still times when he seemed as foreign to her as any of the
alambres.

Devon showered and began to dress. The clothes she was to wear had been hanging ready for a week. She had driven into San Diego to meet Robert's mother and Rob­ert's mother had picked the outfit, a brown sharkskin suit a shade lighter than Devon's hair and a shade darker than her tanned skin. It made her look as though she and the suit had come out of the same dye vat, but she didn't argue with the choice. Brown seemed as good a color as any for a young woman about to become a widow on a sunny day in autumn.

She went down the back stairs that led directly into the kitchen.

Dulzura was at the stove, stirring something in a skillet with her left hand and fanning herself with her right. She was not yet thirty years old, but her youth, like the stool she sat on, was camouflaged by folds of fat.

She said, without looking around, “I'm making some scrambled eggs to go with the
chorizo.”

“I'll just have orange juice and coffee, thanks.”

“Mr. Osborne used to be crazy about
chorizo
,
he had a real Mexican stomach . . . You should anyway try the eggs. See how nice they look.”

Devon glanced briefly at the moist
yellow mass rusted with chili powder and turned away. “They look very nice.”

“But you don't like.”

“Not this morning.”

“No Mrs. Osborne, no little dog, I will have to eat everything myself. Obalz.”

It was Dulzura's favorite expression and for a long time Devon had assumed it was a Spanish word indicating dis­pleasure. She'd finally asked the foreman, Estivar, about it.

“There is no such word in my language,” Estivar said.

“But it must mean something, Dulzura uses it all the time.”

“Oh, it means something all right, you can bet on that.”

“I see. It's English.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Dulzura was one of Estivar's so-called cousins. He had great numbers of them. If they spoke English, he claimed they were from the San Diego or Los Angeles branch of the family; if they spoke only Spanish, they were from the Sonora branch, or the Sinaloa or Jalisco or Chihuahua, whichever word suited his fancy if not the facts. At times of peak employment Estivar's cousins swarmed over the valley like an army of occupation. They planted, cul­tivated, irrigated; they pruned, thinned, stripped, sprayed; they picked, sorted, baled, boxed and bunched. Then suddenly they would disappear, as if the earth from which such an abundance of produce had been taken had absorbed the workers themselves like fertilizer.

Dulzura scraped the eggs out of the skillet into a bowl. “His mother on the phone, she said I better wear stock­ings. I only got the pair I'm saving for my brother's wed­ding.”

“You can wear them more than once, surely.”

“Not if I have to kneel when I swear on the Bible.”

“Nobody kneels in a courtroom.” Devon had never been in a courtroom but she spoke with conviction be­cause she knew Dulzura was watching for any sign of uncertainty, her eyes dark and moist as ripe olives. “The women will be wearing stockings, and all the men coats and ties.”

“Even Estivar and Mr. Bishop?”

“Yes.”

The phone began ringing again and Devon went down the hall to answer on the extension in the study.

The study had been Robert's room. For a long time it had remained, like his car in the garage, exactly the way he left it. It was too painful for Devon to go inside or even to pass the closed door. Now the room was altered. As soon as the date for the hearing had been set, Devon began packing Robert's things in cardboard cartons, planning to store them in the attic—his tennis rackets and the trophies he'd won, his collection of silver coins, the maps of places he'd wanted to go, the books he'd intended to read.

Devon had cried so hard over the task that Dulzura began crying too, and they wailed together like a couple of old Irishwomen at a wake. After it was over and Devon could see again out of her swollen eyes, she took a marking pencil and printed Salvation Army on each of the cartons. Estivar was carrying the last of them into the front hall when Robert's mother arrived from the city, as she some­times did, without warning.

Devon expected Mrs. Osborne to be disturbed by the sight of the cartons or at least to argue about their disposi­tion. Instead, Mrs. Osborne calmly offered to deliver them to the Salvation Army herself. She even helped Estivar load the trunk of her car and the back seat. She was half a head taller than Estivar and almost as strong, and the two of them worked together quickly and efficiently and in silence as though they'd been partners on many such jobs in the past. Mrs. Osborne was seated behind the wheel ready to leave when she turned to Devon and said in her soft, firm voice:
“Robert always intended to clean up his study. He'll be glad we saved him the trouble.”

Devon closed the door of the study and picked up the phone. “Yes?”

“Why didn't you call me back, Devon?”

“There was no hurry. It's still very early.”

“I'm well aware of it. I spent the night watching the clock.”

“I'm sorry you couldn't sleep.”

BOOK: Beyond This Point Are Monsters
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