Volume 14
An Online Literary Magazine
January 30, 2020


The Hawks Are In Love


Beth Escott Newcomer


Hawk riding the thermals. Photo by Sarchia Kursheed.


ne man stood apart from the other three who were hanging around in front of the Labor Exchange. He was smaller than the others, but he was the only one smiling. He was also the only one without a hat. His blue-black hair was parted and neatly combed, thick with pomade. He wore a white button-down shirt with dress slacks. And wingtips. Wingtips!


I pointed at the other three, and they all took seats in the back of the truck. Before I pulled out of the parking lot, I took a last look at the fourth man.


“Work for you?” He was beaming at me, showing a mouthful of straight, well-kept teeth, walking toward the truck with his hands out, palms up. “Please. I am a good man.”


And I am a goddamned sucker.


I flashed on my own lucky break not so many months ago, a city boy reduced to ride thumbing, couch surfing and quarter bumming, ending up way out here in the sticks with no skills to speak of but for a tired line of bullshit. A line my boss Hank bought, for some reason. Or didn’t buy. Bottom line: he took a chance on me.


“OK, señor. Hurry up.” I motioned for him to get in on the passenger side of the cab.


“Lalo,” he said, pointing to himself with his thumb. “Please.”


“All right, Lalo. You got it.”


I’ll bet this is the last time Hank sends me to pick out the workers.


He keeps giving me chances, and I keep letting him down. I’m just a worker myself, after all. Not even really a foreman, though that’s what I call myself down at the bar after work if anyone asks me what I do around here. Frankly, the old man doesn’t pay me enough to supervise anybody. Why should he? I can’t speak a word of Spanish. And even the ones who understand English pretend they don’t when I’m around. I’m just a white guy in a brown guy’s world.


When I adjusted the rearview mirror, I stole a glimpse of Lalo out of the corner of my eye. He was sitting perfectly still on the bench seat, smiling, staring straight ahead, his feet barely touching the floorboards.




When we got back to the nursery, I passed out the shovels and picks and Hank showed the men where to dig the trench, explaining in Spanish how deep and how long.


“What’s with the small guy?” Hank asked me as we headed back down the hill.


“He’s a good man,” I said.


“Maybe. But his hands are soft. I don’t think he’s gonna last till lunch,” said Hank and turned his back and walked away, grumbling “fuckin’ idiot” under his breath.


An hour later, I went back to check on the digging project. The men had made good progress, no thanks to Lalo whom I found sitting on an upended 15-gallon can, shading his eyes with both hands, watching two hawks circling each other and riding the thermals above us. His shovel lay on the ground at his feet—neither of which had touched much dirt in the last sixty minutes.


“Los halcones están enamorados,” he said, grinning at me, and pointing up. “The hawks. They are in love.”


“I’m sorry. This is just not working out,” I said, shaking my head.


I left him there, turned and trudged slowly along the dusty path, around the boxed agaves and the towering San Pedro cactus, on up to the trailer. I stood in the doorway, enjoying the breeze coming from the oscillating fan on Hank’s desk. He turned down the radio when he saw me. I don’t know how he can stand that opera shit. “You were right, Boss. That small guy is no good for the digging project.”


“Maybe he can help you paint the greenhouse,” he said, looking at me over his reading glasses. And when I didn’t respond immediately, he said, “Today, Chief. Right now.”


Then he returned his attention to his seed catalog, and continued making marks in the margins of the pages with a stub of a pencil.


“I’m on it, Hank,” I said, dreading the nasty chore. It’s what I get for being a nice guy, helping out my fellow man. Huffing my way back down the hill, a man with no choice, I performed an exaggerated salute to an Alluaudia plant. “Sir, yes sir.”


He had moved the 15-gallon can to a shady spot nearby. “C’mon, Lalo, let’s go paint the greenhouse.”


“Work for you?” he said, springing to his feet. “Please.”


I showed him the paint and the ladder and he nodded eagerly, no doubt happy to be out of the sun. But in spite of his enthusiasm, it quickly became apparent he lacked skills in this area as well: Holding a coffee can full of whitewash, he circled the ladder several times before choosing to mount it from the wrong side, climbing up the unevenly spaced braces, sliding on the rungs with his slick leather-soled shoes. Paint rained down in little splashes all over the floor.


I shouted at him, “Jesus Christ, Lalo, what the fuck’s the matter with you?” and I snatched the brush and the coffee can from him. Was he lazy? Retarded? Was he from some remote village where they had not yet adopted the use of ladders?


He looked like he might cry, his head tipped down, his eyes looking up. “I am a good man,” he said.


“OK, dude. I’m sorry I yelled.”


Shit. Why am I apologizing?


“Let’s try for something a bit more basic. This way.”


He was happy again. The bounce in his step restored, the moronic smile back on his face, he followed me to an adjacent building where I showed him how to perform the idiot-proof task of whitewashing the dozen or so plant benches that lined the growing room.


“It’s a three-step process, Lalo,” I said. “One: Dip your brush in the can like this.” He watched my every move. “Two: Run the brush along the board to cover it with paint until the brush runs dry. Like this.” He nodded vigorously. “Three: Do it again until all the boards of all these benches are painted. OK?” I watched him for a few minutes to make sure he got the hang of it.


I headed back to the main building, grabbed the ladder, a brush, and the can of paint and found myself a spot to work as far away from Lalo as possible.


Painting the rafters of the old greenhouse was an even more tedious job than I expected, involving the unwelcome features of spiders and their webs, and an ancient and dusty brand of filth that kept making me sneeze suddenly, which in turn caused unfortunate paint smears on the fiberglass skylight near where it met the trim.


I began to blame Lalo for my troubles and to resent his cluelessness, his annoyingly cheerful attitude, his sweet cologne that hung in the humid air. He disgusted me. As the morning wore on, I developed a theory about Lalo. He was faking. No one could be that stupid. I am a good man. Right. Good for what? Good for making me look like a horse’s ass, that’s what.


I decided to run him back to the Labor Exchange at lunchtime.


When noon rolled around, I went back to the growing room and found half the benches still unpainted and no sign of Lalo. That lazy little shit; he was probably napping, but where? I looked for him by the delivery truck, at the potting bench, around the office, under the pepper trees. I widened my search and headed toward the growing grounds. He could be anywhere on the ten acres.


Then I thought I heard some music—at first faint and indistinct, as if it were being played in some distant neighbor’s house. But the closer I got to the irrigation project, the more clearly came the strains of an aria, each phrase building on the last, a high, pure, tenor voice reverberating off the canyon walls.


I saw Hank standing motionless near the other men. Did he bring his radio with him to the work site? I scrambled up the embankment to join him and started to say something, but he stopped me.


He whispered, “It’s from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. ‘Deserto sulla terra,’” then placed his index finger to his lips and closed his eyes.


In the shade of a guava tree, Lalo stood with his hands out and his palms up, singing with all his heart for Hank and me, for the diggers who had stopped their work and leaned on their shovels to listen, and for the pair of hawks that just kept circling and diving in the warm spring air.



Beth Escott Newcomer's stories have appeared in several quality literary journals including Paterson Literary Review, Switchback, Alembic, The MacGuffin, Umbrella Factory, and the Sand Hill Review whose editors saw fit to nominate her story "Tightrope" for a Pushcart Prize in 2014. After many years of city thrills and restless seeking, she now lives a peaceful life with her husband and a pack of dogs in rural Fallbrook, California.







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