Chapter 1 Summary

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.)