OUR LADY OF INFIDELITY: A Novel of Miracles
There is a form of love so beautiful we can hardly stand to be in its presence. Given where we live and what we are, it is simply beyond us. We know that now. But there was a time here in Infidelity, an unbearably hot end of August into September, when we got to taste it. When it tried us out and found us wanting.
It came to us through a child, Luz Reyes, a name that few of us had pronounced, though she lived (along with her mother Josefina Guerra-Reyes) nearly six years at the margins of our lives. First, a few miles up the freeway in a converted garage behind the auto shop belonging to Bryant Platz. And then, later, right among us in one of the stucco bungalows in the hill district, a small brown rise just up from where the church used to be.
Some claim it was not Luz at all who was responsible for what arrived in Infidelity that August the fifteenth. That it was far more complicated than her so-called gift. Right from the start the skeptics among us were casting about for blame, trying to figure who was behind that car wash vision that had us all confounded. They had their pick of candidates.
Walt Adair is usually named first because it was his window—his car wash. Though Walt had mixed feelings about the whole thing right from the start.
Some blame Josefina for not dragging her daughter off that sidewalk right away and giving her a good hard slap. Others say the beauteous Zoe Luedke was the cause. Here one day, gone the next, golden-eyed, graceful, and shy. Hers were the hands that put in the window. Strange hands too, long-fingered, maimed. An accident, some say of that chopped-off finger. That husband, the rumormongers whisper.
In the end, most people settle on Father Bill. Never mind that we were ripe for it—what he stirred in us, the hunger for something we had not known was missing. The promise we could not fulfill without him. Though in the blame department we are none of us exempt, because all of us took and most of us got and no one considered what it might cost Luz.
Any way you view it, something happened to a child here and we let it.
The day it started was hot. Summer in the High Desert no one’s expecting snow, but this particular August the fifteenth dawned so hot even the Joshua trees woke confused, their gray wooly branches pointing down to the earth instead of up to the impossibly blue and cloudless desert sky.
At least that was the report from the campgrounds ten miles east of here. Strange reports up and down the freeway in Infidelity that day. The dependable griddle at the Infidelity Diner burned everything
that touched it—buttermilk pancakes to tuna melts. Tourists in the sliding-door view rooms of the Infidelity Motel awoke to a racket of sand against glass that completely obscured the trio of Joshua trees and the snow-capped San Jacinto peaks they’d paid extra to see.
One hundred and three on the Joshua Freeway and not quite eight. The sun, a molten globe, burned fierce and white. Drivers heading east would speak of the glare. How they had been nearly blinded behind their windshields and had to proceed through Infidelity on faith. Up the steep Joshua grade then headlong into the bowl of it. Just swimming that morning, they all said, with unearthly light.
And Luz Reyes, the child who would become for a while the center of all our lives, steps out of her house in the hill district, 9 Mariposa Lane, headed for Our Lady of Guadalupe and eight o’clock Mass but ends up at the car wash—a long mile away.
There she stands on the sidewalk outside Walt Adair’s front office, thick dark braids down her back, her starched yellow dress limp with sweat, new sandals coated with High Desert road dust. Called, she will later claim. Called by what?