“Es muerta,” Antonio says, shaking his head sadly. We look at the tree, trying to see whether any part of it might be saved, but finally decide that it is only good for a little firewood and that it will take two truckloads to cart the rest to El Dumpay.
Antonio only speaks a little English and I speak no Spanish at all, but we manage to communicate through gesture, good will and a little mind-reading. I know that he is not yet thirty but has two sons, one of them twelve, going on thirteen. I know that he is a strict and devoted father who must be home when school gets out and his wife goes to work. He seems to support his parents in Mexico, and more than once has taken in a relative who had nowhere else to go.
Back before he had papers, Antonio went door to door looking for work. I told him I didn’t really have anything, but if he would leave his telephone number, I would call him when I did. He wrote and erased, wrote and erased, and I thought that anybody who wanted that much to get something right would be good to know.
He and several relatives painted my house by hand, with brushes. Antonio didn’t mind washing windows or cars, did all his estimating and billing in his head and never made a mistake, even when he had taken advances for lunch or materials. I worried about how he would keep doing all this when he grew older. I wished he would take an English class or try to get a contractor’s license, but he was too busy working to do much of anything else.
I made business cards for him so he wouldn’t have to keep writing and erasing.
“Maggie, minuto, come,” he says, and I trudge over to the fence where he is cutting up the dead tree with a handsaw even as the sound of chainsaws and chippers blast away from neighbors’ houses. He shows me a decayed stump some eight feet high, two feet in diameter at the top, five inches at the rotting bottom, upright only because it is leaning on branches. The stump had been hidden by the dead tree Antonio was taking out.
“Oh, my God,” I say, picturing orphaned children, Antonio or me squashed as flat as the coyote in Loony Toons. “Be careful! Don’t do anything! Wait until somebody else comes!” Holding my breath, I nervously pull away some logs as Antonio casually clips a few branches, mentally measuring where the stump might fall.
Then he pushes the stump and it falls to the ground with an enormous earth-shaking thud.
“One truck,” he says “for this at Dumpay. Forty-seven dollaria.”
“Not worth it,” I say, and we wordlessly agree to leave the stump where it fell.