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Collection II
Volume II, Unit 4
by Matthew Dexter

Forgiving Wind

Forgiving Wind  audio! (Volume II. Unit 4)
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Forgiving Wind

“Welcome to the wild,” he says, jumping off his favorite horse.

He shuffles over like an ostrich, kicking the mud from dusty stirrups, holding out a crusty weather-beaten glove. I shake it, out of politeness, if nothing else. My mother doesn’t condone"He shuffles over like an ostrich, kicking the mud from dusty stirrups.... My mother doesn't condone cowboys trampling her tomatoes; that would be reprehensible. But Mama's out searching for gold." cowboys trampling her tomatoes; that would be reprehensible"He shuffles over like an ostrich, kicking the mud from dusty stirrups.... My mother doesn't condone cowboys trampling her tomatoes; that would be reprehensible. But Mama's out searching for gold.". But Mama’s out searching for gold.

The whole family has been hypnotized by the dream of El Dorado. Rumors that Cortez buried gold in the Baja so he wouldn’t have to sail it all back to Spain for King Charles. Mama insists the famous explorer passed away before he had the opportunity to dig up his treasure.

“Ready for an adventure?”

The cowboy is a hired hand, but a hand of confidence.

“I’m ready when you are,” I say, saddling the mule.

“The audacity"Mama insists the famous explorer passed away before he had the opportunity to dig up his treasure.... 'The audacity of your mother to believe she can find gold in the dirt,' [the cowboy] says." of your mother to believe she can find gold in the dirt,” he says.

“Never know—”

“Hey Grandpa,” he shouts, waving his sombrero to the man who never moves; just sits on the porch, a forgotten statue, as his family goes crazy. The old man waves and smiles. He’s already said his goodbyes.

There’s been a wicked deal of turmoil"There's been a wicked deal of turmoil in the family since Mama told us we would be living off the land, digging for a hidden treasure only god knows exists. She left me and Grandpa behind to meet the cretins trying to evict us, to give us an extra month." in the family since Mama told us we would be living off the land, digging for a hidden treasure only god knows exists. She left me and Grandpa behind to meet the cretins trying to evict us, to give us an extra month. And that’s all we have. But she is our mother, so we obey. It’s ironic"It's ironic that she took such an interest in digging for gold when she's spent her entire life ridiculing material possessions, especially jewelry and automobiles." that she took such an interest in digging for gold when she’s spent her entire life ridiculing material possessions, especially jewelry and automobiles. This is why we ride horses. We’re the weird family with the vociferous"We're the weird family with the vociferous old lady always yelling at us, talking her mouth off round-the-clock, till she falls asleep beneath the stars." old lady always yelling at us, talking her mouth off round-the-clock, till she falls asleep beneath the stars.

“We’re not quite ready, man,” the cowboy says. “Come down and help me tie these ropes around our future.”

There was mayhem in the house when she told Grandpa she was taking us out of school. They argued about it for hours, but the lure of instant riches eventually enchanted him, as it did us all. Mama was given this strange map after digging in the garden—read it and immediately became entranced by the idea of fortune. On the map was the northern portion of the Baja California peninsula. Two weeks later, we picked up our backpacks and said goodbye to San Ysidro; crossed the border, sombreros on our heads, dreams in our pockets.

Children were throwing rocks across the border fence into the United States. The conditions in Tijuana can best be described as squalid"The conditions in Tijuana can best be described as squalid—bottomless poverty and romantics—yet we matched south, into the wild west of her madness."—bottomless poverty and romantics—yet we marched south, into the wild west of her madness. Eating tacos and speaking Spanglish we wasted pesos in dilapidated cantinas for a few days, before Mama had an epiphany about her luck never happening over a bottle of whiskey and a deck of cards.

The crazy cowboy yokes"The crazy cowboy yokes his wagon to the back of a couple stubborn mules... 'Yoke your wagon to the stars,' I tell him, paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson. The connection eludes him." his wagon to the back of a couple stubborn mules and smiles with wild abandon: “This is how we used to travel when I was your age.”

“Yoke your wagon to the stars,” I tell him, paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The connection eludes him. But I mount my mule again and we ride off together into a clueless world, where education consists of counting how many screws loose we have in our minds. I follow the madman into the desert, the horizon our destination.

The journey is not without unpleasant surprises: a giant mosquito bites me on the eyelid and the cowboy spears a rattlesnake with his hunting knife just as it’s about to strike my mule.

“We’re a family with no country,” I say, “only rainbows and dreams of El Dorado.”

I try to explain that El Dorado has little to do with Baja, and that the map was probably written by ignorant children, but Mama says it was “given to us by the heavens, so let it bring us what it may.”

It’s the middle of June and the sun digs into our shoulders like the acrylic nails of Satan. I told her we were better off chasing butterflies, but she packed her stuff, stole some shovels, and headed south. She’s been digging for days. In the mirages of my delirium Grandpa waves as we fade away into the heat waves of the uninhabited southwest.

The breeze our only respite, sweat dripping into our eyes, the bombastic"The breeze our only respite, sweat dripping into our eyes, the bombastic cowboy talking incessant gibberish and dancing in his saddle—but i stopped listening hours ago." cowboy talking incessant gibberish and dancing in his saddle—but I stopped listening hours ago. The blind fanaticism"The blind fanaticism of our family is tearing us apart. Chasing gold, buried treasure: if we don't find any we'll lose our land, our home, everything." of our family is tearing us apart. Chasing gold, buried treasure: if we don’t find any we’ll lose our land, our home, everything.

“But the money will make us better,” Mama claimed. Personally, I doubted it. And I had tried to intimate" 'But the money will make us better,' Mama claimed. Personally, I doubted it. And I had tried to intimate—only hinting, since, to contradict her openly wasn't wise—that I didn't believe money, simple dollars alone, could cure what ailed us."—only hinting, since, to contradict her openly wasn’t wise—that I didn’t believe money, simple dollars alone, could cure what ailed us.

So we ride on into the crimson sunset, camping as twilight breaches"So we ride on into the crimson sunset, camping as twilight breaches the indigo blue of the horizon." the indigo blue of the horizon. We cook beans over a fire and tell ghost stories about our ancestors. The cowboy terrifies me with his tales, but it’s an intimate campfire and I’ve never felt closer to anyone. Here on the range the strange sounds of the Baja come alive and I fall into a dreamless sleep so deep and bright that not even the lure of gold can stir me.

That is, until the strange sounds just before dawn begin to haunt the campsite. A coyote comes down from above and lands on the cowboy’s shoulders. He wrestles the beast, cuts it with the hunting knife, and tosses the monster into the fire where it howls beneath the moon for what seems like eternity before burning up into the heavens.

I wake up shivering. The cowboy is dancing around the orange embers of the fire.

“It’s cold as hell,” he says.


The cowboy tosses the coyote into the fire where it howls beneath the moon for what
seems like eternity before burning up into the heavens.

Illustration by Teresa Murphy

“That’s an oxymoron" 'It's cold as hell,' he says.
'That's an oxymoron,' I inform him, but he isn’t listening, doesn't care if his words are contradictory."
,” I inform him, but he isn’t listening, doesn’t care if his words are contradictory. Who’s culpable"Who's culpable if we die in the desert? I wonder, hunkering over the embers as the cowboy gets lost in the manic tribal dance." if we die in the desert? I wonder, hunkering over the embers as the cowboy gets lost in a manic tribal dance. He looks like a lunatic, but I don’t want to disparage"He looks like a lunatic, but I don't want to disparage him—insulting or berating him would be stupid." him—insulting or berating him would be stupid. He’s filled with dogmatic"He's filled with dogmatic beliefs: rigid to the core about his insistence on knowing everything; an obstinate Don Quixote chasing windmills." beliefs: rigid to the core about his insistence on knowing everything; an obstinate Don Quixote chasing windmills. He’s sure that rain means the world needs to be cleansed, that the stars are attached to his wagon on a clear night. Once I tried to gently point out the innocent confusion of his beliefs. There was no antagonism"Once I tried to gently point out the innocent confusion of his beliefs. There was no antagonism in my words, but he still took it amiss, my trying to instruct him." in my words, but he still took it amiss, my trying to instruct him. It’s good that he’s got a short memory.

“You have some crazy ideas,” I say as we saddle up the animals, enjoying a quick breakfast with the cherry sunrise. It’s true that he’s a madman, but a mild-mannered one at that. His heart is golden; no need to excoriate"It's true that he's a madman, but a mild-mannered one at that. His heart is golden; no need to excoriate his character for the things he cannot control." his character for the things he cannot control. His enthusiasm is contagious, and even the mules get inspired when he gives his morning speech. Though he’s prone to hyperbole"His enthusiasm is contagious, and even the mules get inspired when he gives his morning speech. Though he's prone to hyperbole, there is something irresistible about it...", there is something irresistible about it, and there’s no other place I would rather be at this moment.

An auspicious sign comes into view just as we’re about to ride into a golden dawn: a double rainbow all the way across the sky.

“Full-on double rainbow all the way across the sky…”

He begins crying when he sees all the colors. He sings and weeps, pulled along by the inertia of his emotions. I exhort"He begins crying when he sees all the colors... I exhort him to stop, borrowing something from his own high-flown talk. 'No need to cry,' I say. 'Beauty should bring only joy.' " him to stop, borrowing something from his own high-flown talk. “No need to cry,” I say. “Beauty should bring only joy.” Prying him out from his majestic psychoses often takes some coaxing, but he wipes his eyes on the reins of his animal and we ride off after the king’s gold.

“We’re almost at the end of the rainbow,” he says. I’m not so sure we are, but it’s hard to tell with all the morning mist, so I indulge his imagination.

By midday the rainbow is merely a figment of a cowboy’s forgotten morning. Like a fish, he only has a six-second memory. You can try to extricate"Like a fish, he only has a six-second memory. You can try to extricate the details from the labyrinth of his mind, but it's like scraping gold dust from the core of the earth—a near-impossible task." the details from the labyrinth of his mind, but it’s like scraping gold dust from the core of the earth—a near-impossible task.

Mama and the rest of the gang are waiting in the shade of a large palm tree. The palm fronds shake in front of her face as she sleeps on a pillow of gold dust. They’re shameless, courageous, their faces exuding a look of pure impudence"They're shameless, courageous, their faces exuding a look of pure impudence as they snooze beneath the noonday sun." as they snooze beneath the noonday sun. They’ve all lost weight digging for promises; Mama is curled into a coil, like a snake, so flexible and lithe"They've all lost weight digging for promises; Mama is curled into a coil, like a snake, so flexible and lithe she could float on air and strike you like a cobra, and perhaps she will." she could float on air and strike you like a cobra, and perhaps she will.

The cowboy shakes his head. “Still think people who believe in treasure are imbeciles?” he asks.

“People who search for gold are morons,” my sister mocks.

I watch the glitter on her eyelashes, promises flickering from all their eyelids. Mama awakes like a grizzly, shakes the fronds with her laugh.

“Don’t be so hypocritical" 'People who search for gold are morons,' my sister mocks.... 'Don't be so hypocritical, little one,' [Mama] says to the girl, 'you've been digging yourself for days, praising the dirt at our feet...' ", little one,” she says to the girl, “you’ve been digging yourself for days, praising the dirt at our feet. Come here, dear boy, kiss your Mama.”

I kiss my Mama and tell her about the double rainbow, the angels, the proliferation"I kiss my Mama and tell her about the double rainbow, the angels, the proliferation of all my doubts, as they float into a forgiving wind, toward the stars." of all my doubts, as they float into a forgiving wind, toward the stars.