It is fitting that Eddie is surrounded by students of mortuary science as he sits at a "wobbly metal table" at Fresno's City College. The nineteen-year-old student’s life is defined by death and desolation—his father, cousin, and two uncles are dead. So is Juan, his best friend from high school, who was killed in an industrial accident. Juan’s sister, Belinda, is heavy with child but her husband, Junior, is in Vacaville Prison. Eddie is dropping out of City College, where he has been studying air conditioning. He quit going to class when his cousin Jesus was stabbed to death in the restroom at a club by a stranger who took exception to an innocent comment about his shoes. As the sun rises over the trees and the hot asphalt of the college begins to shimmer with vapors, Eddie theorizes that these vapors originate not from the sun’s heat but from a huge onion buried under the city. The onion, a “remarkable bulb of sadness,” victimizes everyone—young and old—and makes them cry.
Eddie lives in a decrepit apartment in “a part of Fresno where fences [sag] and the paint blister[s] on houses.” Like his neighbors, who are all Mexican like himself, he struggles to procure the bare necessities of living. Beyond that, there is not much to do “except eat and sleep, watch out for drive-bys, and pace [him]self through life.” To get by, Eddie stencils address numbers on curbs in the north part of Fresno, where most of the people are White. Eddie turns on the balky swamp cooler in his apartment for a short time after returning from the college, then he goes to the garage to get his bike, which has the tools of his trade in a basket up front. As he heads off to work, he hears someone call his name; it is Lupe, a “homie” from high school, who relays the message, “Angel wants to see you.”
Eddie knows that Angel wants him to “get the creep” who killed Jesus. He desperately wants to stay clear of the endless cycle of...
(The entire section is 663 words.)
Eddie thinks about God and wonders why sometimes God hears prayers but other times seems so far away. He remembers his friend Juan, who had been doing “exactly what he was told and what the Bible and his family asked of him.” But he was killed in a freak accident at his job. Eddie thinks about Angel and “how bad ass” he is; the incorrigible gangster even stole the crucifix he wears around his neck. The telephone rings and Eddie knows it is his aunt, calling to urge him to avenge her son’s death, so he does not pick it up.
Mr. Stiles, a man for whom he had painted a curb the day before, has promised work, so Eddie sets out for his house on his bicycle. Mr. Stiles has plans to relandscape his yard, and Eddie’s first task is to dig a hole so a birch tree can be planted near the driveway. As Eddie works, a blue-eyed boy on a tricycle pedals over and asks what he is doing. When Eddie explains about the birch, the boy mishears him and observes indignantly, “It ain’t nice for you to say bitch."
The job otherwise goes well, and at the end of each day, Mr. Stiles pays Eddie thirty dollars. When Eddie arrives on the third day, however, he finds his employer uncharacteristically subdued. The mother of the little neighbor boy has complained about his hired help’s bad language. When Eddie explains what had happened, Mr. Stiles believes him and takes him over to the woman to explain the miscommunication. Mr. Stiles keeps him on. Eddie basks in the unaccustomed confidence the man shows him, and he begins to believe that someday his life might actually get better. After five days, Mr. Stiles asks Eddie to take a load of refuse to the dump, entrusting him with his Toyota pickup truck and twenty dollars to pay the fees.
Eddie is ecstatic to be given the opportunity to prove his integrity, and he sets out for the dump in high spirits. On the way, however, he exercises questionable judgment when he drives slowly by...
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Eddie has always been told that the “good life” is centered on work and family; if one focuses on these things, the rewards will be unlimited. From his observations, however, Eddie concludes that “the working life [is] a scam.” Experience has shown him that “no matter how hard [he] trie[s] to live a straight life, [he will] still mess up.”
Remembering disconsolately how his aunt rewrapped the pistol she brought the night before and took it with her as she left in tears, Eddie drags himself out of bed. He is half-heartedly working on a bowl of cereal when Angel appears at the door. The wasted gangster invites himself into the apartment and looks around nervously. Before he can say anything, Eddie demands, “What did you do with the truck?”
Angel denies stealing the truck but admits that he has “snagged” an Acura. The car is parked outside, and he suggests that if Eddie will help him strip it down, they might be able to sell the parts. Angel then brings out a gun—the same one Eddie’s aunt had been carrying. Eddie cries out in shock and orders Angel out of the house; as he leaves, Angel turns and calls him a “sissy.”
Eddie goes to City College to sell back his air-conditioning textbooks. He stops at the cafeteria and meets Norma, a girl with whom he went to school. Norma mentions that she has heard about the death of his cousin, Jesus, and asks if he is “going to do something about it.” She then invites Eddie to come visit her sometime; there is a pool where she lives. Eddie goes out to the patio, where he sits and reads the campus newspaper and enjoys a cold drink. When he looks up, he sees “a Mexican guy” sitting at a nearby table. He notices that the guy is wearing yellow shoes and remembers that the person who stabbed his cousin had been wearing yellow shoes. Even though he has no reason to think this boy is the murderer, he follows him and accosts him in the parking lot, barking...
(The entire section is 692 words.)
Norma offers Eddie a soda and sandwiches when he arrives at her place, and the two sit by the pool and kiss. In the midst of their passion, Norma tells Eddie that he is a lot like his dead cousin, Jesus, and adds, “You know that Angel did it, don’t you?” Eddie is taken aback by this revelation. At first he cannot believe the gangster would be capable of such a thing. Norma insists that the rumor is “all around.” People are saying that Jesus had been angry because Angel sold a car they had stolen together and refused to share the profits; this resulted in an argument that ended with Jesus’s fatal stabbing. Eddie is still not quite convinced that Norma is telling the truth, but he knows Angel is ruthless and is carrying a gun. With a rising sense of paranoia, he imagines that Angel is coming after him; he keeps to the shadows as he returns to his apartment.
The next day, Eddie is sitting on his sofa when a sharply dressed soldier appears at his door. It is Jose Dominguez, “a friend...[he] used to sniff glue with” who has found his way out of the barrio by joining the Marines. Jose is about to be deployed to an unknown destination. He is on leave now, and Eddie cannot believe he would use his liberty to “come back to this hole.” The two friends decide to go to a restaurant to get some breakfast. They receive “first-rate service” because Jose looks so handsome in his uniform. As they sit at the table, a shirtless “black dude” comes in, trying to sell some onions. Jose magnanimously agrees to buy some when they are finished with their meal; the man will wait for them outside.
Jose ends up buying three sacks of onions. When they are loading them in his car, Eddie looks up and spots Mr. Stiles’s Toyota pickup parked across the street. Shocked, he utters a sharp exclamation, and when he explains about the truck to his friend, Jose says, “Let’s go get it.” Eddie is more cautious, however, and decides to go...
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Even though he longs to “sprint straight into the future,” Eddie is inexorably drawn back to the morass of his past. He feels convinced that Angel is out to get him, but he wants to meet him on his own terms. He returns to Holmes Playground in search of his nemesis. There, Eddie talks with Coach, an ex-gang member and Vietnam vet who is now the recreation director at the park. Coach pointedly ignores Eddie’s queries about Angel and instead enlists his help to “do the lines” on the baseball field. As he is laying out the chalk, Samuel arrives. He is the little brother of Eddie’s friend Lupe—and a budding junior high school gangster. He is wasted from sniffing glue and maliciously messes up the freshly marked...
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Desperate for someone to turn to, Eddie considers the people he has trusted in his life. He could go to a priest or to a high school art teacher he had liked, but then he envisions the darkness of the confessional and remembers that he heard the educator moved to Oregon. He has already tried his godmother. He considers Raul Hernandez, a good cop who runs an anti-gang program that involves getting jobs for “the homies.” Ironically, Eddie is not “bad enough” to get one of those jobs; one has to be a “real gangster” to be eligible for the opportunity.
Eddie finally decides to visit Coach at Holmes Playground. He goes early on a Saturday morning. While Coach is busy getting the neighborhood kids situated, Eddie...
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Eddie is held and questioned for two hours at the station. Mr. Stiles's truck has been used in a laundromat robbery in which an "old dude" was assaulted, but the police determine that Eddie is speaking the truth when he insists that he had nothing to do with the crime. Back out on the street, Eddie decides to visit Jose at the hospital, which is only a few blocks away, but finds that his friend has been discharged to the care of his family.
Eddie returns to his apartment, where he finds that his bike, which he had left at Mr. Stiles's house on the fateful day when he took the truck to the dump, is leaning against the wall near his front door. In the wire basket is a peace-offering: a six-pack of soda, a ten-dollar bill,...
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In bed that night, Eddie suddenly hears footsteps on his porch and a sinister voice calling his name. Thinking that it must be Angel, he rises to investigate, but there is no one there. He wonders if he is losing his mind. In the morning, he walks to the store for some groceries and is stopped by Belinda, a girl from the neighborhood who is pushing a stroller up the street. Belinda flirts with Eddie, but he does not reciprocate because he knows that if he does, her husband Junior, who is being held at the prison in Vacaville, will hear about it and retaliate. As he talks to Belinda, Eddie catches a glimpse of Angel standing at the end of the block. Cutting the conversation short, Eddie runs after him, but it is too late: Angel is...
(The entire section is 668 words.)
As Eddie and Angel tear into each other, two old security guards arrive but back off from the violence in indecision. The combatants have enough presence of mind to flee, leaving behind a trail of blood as they stagger away down the street. Jose, who is crying, pulls up next to Eddie in his mother's car and begs him to get in, but Eddie waves him off and stumbles alone across a vacant lot toward home. At the apartment, Eddie bathes and finds that in addition to the bruises and contusions that cover his body, his left eye is closed and his mouth is so swollen that he cannot form words. That night, Lupe comes by, pounding at the door and pressing his face against the windows. He is angry at Eddie for smashing his little brother...
(The entire section is 575 words.)