It was a big family. So much so that Ama Quina was still having babies when her oldest children started families of their own. The initial significance of this overlapping was that Ama Quina functioned as wet nurse for her grandchildren not long after she had weaned her two youngest boys Sergio and Roy, El Polaco—he was called that because his skin was so light he looked Polish. Ama Quina’s nueras, daughters-in-law, were not happy about handing over their babies for another woman to nurse, but the young brides’ hands were needed in the fields as was the extra paycheck.
The children also learned the importance of work and getting paid. When they were old enough to walk, each child followed the family to the field to pitch in and help with the work. Since the kids were raised so close together and with everyone sharing duties, they did not observe the formalities of family titles as is the custom. The grandparents and heads of the clan, Ama Quina and Apa Cheto, were the only ones to carry a title before their names. For the rest, there were no titles to distinguish one member of the family from the next like tío, tía, primo, prima, hermano, etc. So the children of their second oldest son Julio, Gilbert and Davey, grew up like little brothers to their uncles Checo and el Polaco and called them by their first name instead of tío even though the uncles were years older than the kids. Whenever anyone outside the family commented on this “falta de respeto,” Julio would respond, “Es culpa de uno for not teaching them any better.” The only way to distinguish which child belonged to each couple was at night when the clan broke up after work and everyone retired to their respective rooms, which were just that, cuartitos, one room shacks that the patron lent the field workers. Following an accident, Julio was laid up in one of these rooms because his hand had been almost severed when it was caught in a spiked press the men were trying to move without the aid of a tractor. His wife, Anita, had pleaded with the doctor to save her husband’s hand, and when this did not move the surgeon to action she wrote down his name and was very careful of the spelling because she did not want to make a mistake when her husband woke without his right hand and asked for the name of the man “he must kill for leaving him crippled.” The surgery lasted eight hours and there was six months of bed rest before Julio could move around with his arm in a sling. The hand was still attached, swollen and for the time being useless, but the fingers moved under the thick white gauze more and more everyday and the burning around his wrist where the spike had bitten and torn his flesh was now almost bearable. He could have enjoyed the time away from the fields had it not been for the constant complaining and quarreling he faced each evening when his wife and kids came back from the campo.
While injured, Julio had to rely on the paychecks of his little brothers, Checo and El Polaco, to sustain his family. But the way Anita told it, she was the only one doing for the family, staying longer in the fields, running back to the cuartito to see to his hand and cooking the midday meal. Julio thought his wife a chiflada who didn’t appreciate the help they were getting from Checo and el Polaco. Even Gilbert at ten and Davy only nine years old picked more grapes than she did. This reminded Julio of another of his troubles. Gilbert and Davy had gotten harder to manage for Anita. The boys ran away from her in the fields and preferred to pick the rows next to their uncles Checo and Polaco instead of next to their mother where she could keep better track of the money they were earning. Anita, Julio thought, just didn’t understand boys; it was only natural for them to choose other boys for company over their mother. Julio was at least thankful that Checo and Roy salieron buenos as far as brothers go.
One evening when Anita came home herding the boys in front of her, Julio thought about slipping out of the shack and eating dinner somewhere else. Davy was marching ahead of his mother clutching his pants and howling continuously, his sobs only interrupted by sudden attacks of hiccups. Gilbert walked with a more deliberate pace between his little brother and his mother. His cheeks were streaked with furrowed rows of dust where tears had fallen.
“¿Qué paso?” Julio asked his wife as the group came nearer.
“Tus queridos hermanos,” Anita hissed pushing Gilbert who had all but stopped in his tracks at the sound of his father’s voice. “Checo and Polaco were making them fight again. Why don’t they fight themselves if they want to see a fight? Why do they have to pick on my babies?”
“Oh, that’s how boys play,” Julio said stepping out of the doorway so the group could pass. “You keep calling them babies and they’ll never grow up. My brothers are just trying to toughen them up.”
Anita turned in the middle of the room. “Toughen them up? I found them wrestling in the dirt with their pants around their knees. How does that make them tough?”
Julio looked at his boys. Davy was still crying. Gilbert was trying hard to shrink into the furthest corner in the room. “They were just playing.”
“Checo and Polaco were poking their little butts with sticks, laughing like idiotas while my babies cried in the dirt.” Anita’s eyes were rimmed with tears and the veins in her neck looked like they were about to leap out of her skin.
“Algo paso, Julio,” Anita screamed. “Your brothers did something to my babies.”
Julio paced the room like a kenneled dog. His hand throbbed more now than it had all day. Davy had begun a new bout with the hiccups that threatened to drown out Anita’s shouting. Gilbert had his face buried in the corner, crying in silence.
“No paso nada,” Julio said rubbing his wrist. “No paso nada.”
“Algo paso, Julio. Your brothers did something to my babies.”
“No paso nada,” Julio shouted. “They’re helping us, without their checks we couldn’t buy food.” He moved on Davy, grabbing him by the arm with his good hand and lifting his bandaged hand in the sling over the boy’s head. “Verdad que no paso nada,” he demanded from the boy. Davy was silent for a moment then began crying anew. Anita lunged at Julio, crashing into his bandaged wrist as she screamed, “Poco hombre.” Julio winced with pain, released his hold on Davy then shoved Anita to the floor, where she stayed.
Gilbert ran to his mother’s arms, but she pushed him away and covered her face to cry. Gilbert kneeled next to his mother sobbing, “No paso nada. No paso nada.”
Later, Davy woke in the middle of the night screaming from a nightmare, the first of many. In a couple of weeks, the nightmares came accompanied by incidents of sleepwalking. They tried tying a string to the boy while he slept then attaching the other end around Julio’s foot so he could feel if the child got up in the middle of the night. But this only caused the boy to wake up throwing fits, punching, and kicking like a captured savage.
Daytime rivaled the night in its lack of peace. Gilbert and Davy could not get within arm’s reach of each other without becoming a tangled mass of kicking feet and gouging fists. The boys’ fights caused Julio and Anita to quarrel. The quarrels gave the rest of the camp more to talk about.
Anita and Julio took Davy to Ama Quina for a limpia. Ama Quina rubbed an egg over Davy then cracked it and emptied its contents into a glass of water. The yolk was stained in the center with blood, a true sign of mal de ojo. She took a broom and swept over the boy and then made him hold his head under a towel over a bowl of burning herbs. She frothed the boy in alcohol and wrapped him in sheets. Drying her hands on her apron, Ama Quina said, “Si esto no lo cura, llévalo de aquí.”
The camp was talking about Julio’s poor luck. His hand all broke up and on top of that a sick kid. But this wasn’t all that was being said. Julio’s older brother Ines told their sister Lola about how Checo and Roy were joking about making Davy and Gilbert play with their chilitos. Chetito was heard talking with Mel and Rafa about how Checo had told him how he held Davy and the funny garbled noises Davy made when Checo made him kiss Gilbert’s pipi. More details leaked out, but no one can be sure what is true and what has been exaggerated when talking about these things.
No one but Checo and Roy—with skin so fair he looked Polish—could know how surprised Davy and Gilbert looked when they sneaked up behind them as the boys peed. Only Checo and Roy can close their eyes and see the baffled look on Davy and Gilbert’s face when Checo asked them, “Who's bigger?”
“I’m older,” Gilbert said.
“But I’m bigger,” Davy said still peeing.
“Let’s see,” Roy said grabbing Gilbert between the legs. Roy locked Gilbert’s hands behind his back and with his free hand reached around and finished pulling the boy’s pants and underwear down, all the while shrieking with laughter. Checo had Davy from behind by the elbows, shorts dropped to the knees, grinding the boys butt into his crotch and yelling, “Look, the little girl likes it.”
“Look at Gilbert’s pretty chilito,” Roy said. “Make him kiss it.”
Checo pushed Davy’s face between Gilbert’s legs. Davy screamed but was muffled by a mouthful of flesh. Gilbert bawled with pain and tried desperately to break free but he was busy trying to get his eyes to close tighter, tighter. When the boys were finally turned loose, they stood facing each other, panting. Davy, feeling a betrayal he could not understand and because he didn’t’ know what else to do, punched his brother in the face as hard as he could. The blow seemed to wake Gilbert out of a trance and he lunged at his little brother knocking him to the ground. They rolled around in the dirt until their mother appeared and Checo and Roy ran off laughing like idiots.
Apa Cheto and the older brothers gathered some money to help Julio move his family to a neighboring ranch that needed a new foreman. His hand was almost fully healed and would be as good as new by the time the harvesting season started again. Two years after that, Julio was able to move his family out of state to Texas where he found an even better job driving a truck for a lumber yard in Houston.
Davy’s nightmares became less frequent with every move but never really went away. As time passed, the family talked less and less about the nightmares and more and more about how Gilbert and Davy, even now as young men, couldn’t be in the same room with each other without getting into a fight. Everyone agreed that it was very sad that the two boys never learned to get along like brothers.