She arrived in a nineteen-year-old Dodge Colt Vista, a beater with New York plates, in which the air conditioning was shot and the backseat was wedged up with a two-by-four. She came with a dog, a German shepherd who—she claimed—was a retired drug-sniffer from the NYPD. It was a story she had invented just a few nights before when a motel owner in Amarillo hadn’t wanted to let her into a room with such a big dog. She’d looked right into his bloodshot eyes and, as if possessed or perhaps inspired, said, “That’s a retired police dog. She’s not about to cause any problems.” The motel proprietor had glanced out the office door toward the car, where Magpie sat, alert and huge in the driver’s seat, laughed, and said, “Okay. Thirty-nine bucks for a single.” In the room, which stunk of cigarettes, Margaret had scratched Magpie’s ears and encouraged her to sleep on the bed. When she drove on the next morning, the story already seemed plausible. Perhaps it was the emptiness of the landscape. She wanted to fill it with some- thing interesting, and even a lie would suffice.
                  So, just days later, it was automatic, even natural, for Margaret to say no when the neighborhood children asked to pet her big scary dog. “Not unless I’m right here,” she warned. “Never come into this yard unless you see me outside first. Tell your parents.” Margaret knew the value of such a myth in such a barrio, and she smiled to herself as the children ran off, past skinny shotgun houses with bars on the windows, past dogs chained at the neck to trees, past old people who sat outside their front doors on folding chairs, drinking and smoking and waiting for the evening desert breeze to find its way through the iron security doors into their houses to cool them off.
                  She stood out, she knew, a skinny Anglo woman, all alone in a vecino where all she heard was Spanish. The young girls pushing strollers along the dirt strip at the edge of the street smiled shyly at her, though, and she smiled back as she unloaded three canvas suitcases, a box of oil paints, some kitchenware, two milk crates of books, and not much else. She carried these items one by one into a small adobe house with a big yard shaded by Chinese elm trees and filled with ants, the kind that pack a bad bite, the kind of bite that has you wondering, if you’re not local, if you should run fast to the hospital emergency room.
                  Margaret was an artist, a woman whose high hopes had flattened out on the pavement of New York, where, despite her formidable talent, she couldn’t even get a show in an unimportant gallery, where her bartending job had gotten old, and her commute into Manhattan had gotten longer and longer the farther out she moved, one step ahead of the rent hikes. Plus, her interest had evolved from painting, which was manageable in her tiny studio apartments, to sculpture, which wasn’t. And not just any form of sculpture. Margaret wanted to weld. She dreamed of acetylene torches and sparks flying in arcs onto some nonflammable flooring.
                  She saved money, tucking dollar bills, fives, and tens, into books, drawers, and old coffee tins all over her apartment in Far Rockaway. Fresh from work, she stretched out on her old upholstered couch at four-thirty in the morning and perfected a wish list for the next place, her personal paradise on this earth, and the first thing on it was “good junkyards,” for Margaret had fallen in love with rust, with old metal that slowly transforms itself to dust after going through a long redheaded phase. It began one winter morning when, walking Magpie along the beach just after dawn, she had found an ancient lock washed up from the sea. It was thick with rust and Margaret immediately imagined the wooden locker that had rotted away around it, setting it free to tumble in the surf for a hundred years. She had peered intensely into the grey waves, thanking them for the gift. When she turned around, the lock cradled in her woolen mitten, fog had formed, and it seemed as if the whole city, which had always been her home, had abruptly disappeared. There is nothing left for me here, she admitted to herself, and she gripped the rusty lock tighter. It was no longer bearable, all the loss, and she decided then and there, as if the deep fog had provided a moment of paradoxical clarity, to move away, to find a new place and start over, fresh. She carried the rusty lock home and placed it on her bedside table. It was the first thing she put in the car on the day she left.
                  She picked Albuquerque on the spur of the moment when she read in a travel magazine that coyotes still run along the riverbanks right in the middle of the city. Margaret had closed her eyes then, imagining a streak, skinny and yellow-eyed, shooting toward the muddy water of the Rio Grande, as, in the background, downtown buildings pulsated in waves of desert heat. When her lease expired, she collected her dog, her car, and her eight thousand dusty dollars, saved over three long years, and took off. Speeding along the highway at eighty miles per hour in a pack of wild eighteen-wheelers, she noticed a few tendrils of hope starting to sprout, and then a ribbon of fear, and she turned the radio up louder and pressed down harder on the gas.
                  She had found the tumbledown adobe house near the zoo by accident—turned her head at precisely the right moment to see a small “for rent” sign in the window on a street she happened to turn down while cruising the greenbelt along the river looking for coyotes. From a pay phone in a nearby Diamond Shamrock gas station, she called the landlord, and while she waited for him to arrive, she walked Magpie up one side of the street and down the other. The neighborhood seemed law- less, with beat-up cars on blocks in dusty yards, ranchero music spilling from open doors, and the air weighted with the frenetic speech of seals and monkeys, and the infrequent roar of a bored or angry lion. But next to the house was a cement pad big enough for a one-car garage to have fallen down around it and been carted away; and, just staring in through the gate, a chain-link slider that would keep Magpie in if she remembered to lock it, Margaret imagined a welding tank and torches lined up along the edge of that cement pad. She could build a little shade structure and work out there all spring, summer, and fall. She could fill the dirt in the yard with shapes, all made of rust, and keep on making more. She could fill the whole city if they’d let her.
                  The house was three times the size of her ex-apartment, and she felt deep relief the moment she opened the door. The walls inside were a foot thick and rippled, like pillows; they had nichos carved out where she placed her rusty lock and her shell collection. She shined up the old saltillo tile floors with Mop & Glow, whispering “Viva Mexico” as she worked. Without knowing why, she understood the rhythms of this house, this city. She quickly learned to step around black widow spiders in the yard, and, mercilessly, she yanked up the sprawling green ground ferns with their pretty yellow flowers before they produced thorns, called goats’ heads, that got embedded in Magpie’s feet. Without effort, she remembered to draw the curtains tightly closed as the first rays of blazing western sun slanted into her living room, just after the monkeys in the zoo began to howl and the stray dogs disappeared off the street into unknown shady places for the long, hot afternoon.
                  When the man from the phone company finally arrived to install her phone, he brought the Yellow Pages, and she pored through the junkyard listings until she spotted an ad for Coronado Wrecking. The very next day she drove there, straight down Broadway into the throbbing sun. She made a left onto a dirt road that led her toward twenty-seven acres of junk piled into the sand dunes along the interstate highway, and she thought, Yes. Immediately, she made a three-point turn and sped to Home Depot where she bought four sturdy five-gallon buckets, and from then on she spent her days at Coronado Wrecking. Alone among mountains of junked engines, obsolete machinery, and esoteric construction equipment, she used her pliers and screwdrivers to pry off rusty parts, loading her buckets until she could barely lift them to the scale in the office, and paying pennies a pound.
                  She carried the buckets back to her cement pad, spilling them out with a sense of destiny. Then she laid out the pieces, a fine film of dust—rust-colored—settling into her hair, which was long and black, just like every other woman’s in this barrio. She forgot about looking for a job or finding a kitchen table. She forgot to unpack her pots and pans. She forgot about everything, except walking her dog, a habit she had had for eight years, every day, three times a day, no matter what.
                  Which is precisely what she was doing when she rounded the corner onto Barelas Road and happened to catch a bolt of blue-tipped lightning in her peripheral vision. From inside the dark cavern of Garcia’s Automotive Repair Shop on the corner, just three blocks from her house, she saw shooting sparks and she floated toward them, a woman in a serious trance. A car, a low rider painted green and gold, was up on the lift, and a man, strong armed and tattooed, stood beneath it and worked a torch, lifting the flame up and into the underbelly of that car. Margaret stood at the door, her toes crossing the line where the bright sun and the inside shade met, and a great, overwhelming lust formed in her. She wanted her fingertips to extend, to incorporate fire in them. She wanted heat, melting molten metal. She wanted to sever what was and reconstruct it into something vivid and original.
                  The man wore green mechanic’s coveralls with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders and a nametag embroidered with “Rico” on the pocket. He had a ponytail with a streak of silver woven through it, and the muscles in his arms had such fine definition, so many curves and shadows, that they looked like they’d been pasted onto him from some younger man. He turned toward her, aware through some ghetto-inspired psychic sense, of a strange presence too close. When he saw her outline, a small white woman with hair like pitch and a face that rivers of weariness had flooded through, her and her big dog outlined in the sunbeams so a halo was created, he thought for a moment she was the Virgin of Guadalupe come to Garcia’s Automotive Repair for a personal visitation—maybe to punish him for the “In Guad We Trust” bumper sticker he had on his truck as a little joke to himself, for Rico never trusted anything or anyone. But now he wanted to fling his welding torch into the corner and get down on his knees in front of this woman. Her lust hit him like a fist. It had been a long time since a woman looked at him with such desire. It made him straighten his shoulders and turn his hips to face her, head on.
                  Perhaps you could say Rico’s hips, turned like that toward a woman, had grown rusty. They no longer moved with the rhythm that wrapped itself around a man and a woman like rodeo rope and mercilessly yanked them off their feet. His wife, Rosalita, had turned away from him four years before, slowly frozen over until all he could do in bed was stare at her back, or rather at the prim nightgown that covered it, and listen to her breathe. He was not a man to push himself on her when she said no. And the no had grown impenetrable, like cement, and finally he turned away himself. He was still in shock, knocked down flat even, by the way things change over time.
                  They had brought three daughters into this world, and before the youngest had even purchased her first lace bra, Rosalita had ebbed away from him, like the sea when it sucks itself out to create a killer wave. And for Rico, having a cold wife, a wife who still looked good, who still moved in those enticing ways that made her bottom jiggle, this was the wave that kept him drowning, over and over, for four years now, never having enough air in his lungs to decide what to do next.
                  And the vecino was changing, too. Anglo people arrived with their purebred dogs on leashes and water bottles hooked onto their waistbands in specially made holders. They walked along the banks of the Rio, where, two decades before, he himself had dug up the terrones for his house and brought them home by wheelbarrow. The sons and daughters of the viejos, his neighbors, sold out to white people the minute their parents died, moving like sheep to subdivisions on the West Mesa, where the houses were new and came equipped with dishwashers and microwave ovens, where streets did not flood during the monsoon season and crowing roosters were not allowed.
                  There he was, forty-three years old, traveling two miles to his shop and two miles home six days a week. The shop had been his father’s, a corner garage with two work bays and a little office in which, over time, he accumulated a mini-fridge, a hot plate, a desk with four drawers, an office chair on wheels, and two folding chairs. His mother had signed it over to him two weeks after his father was laid to rest, dead at fifty-six of a blood clot that hit his brain like an atom bomb.
                  Rico was a man who felt caged up, like a murderer serving a life sentence in a bad jail, the kind they have in Mexico where you pray to die. Many times he looked at his body, where the skin was so tight—even now that he felt old—that the veins were like road maps; and he could almost, but not quite, see what it was underneath it that wanted to break out and make a run for it but couldn’t. It was another man completely, one who never fell for the lie that wives and babies and places by the river were worth a goddamn. It was a man who turned his back on that two mile stretch from his casa to his shop, who had the balls to take off in his youth, maybe join the navy or find some war to fight in, maybe disappear into the dry hills of Mexico and take peyote morning, noon, and night. He felt this strongly, but he told no one, not even Rosalita, even after all these years. Long ago, when he and Rosalita were young, they spent every weekend night dancing in Enrique’s bar on Isleta and then thrashed around the bedroom like two demons from hell. Now, she was a ghost, floating through the kitchen in her long nightgown. What was the use of talking to a woman who sucked herself so far inward that she never even thought to glance in his direction?
                  One night, three years before, the day his middle daughter, Ana, had graduated from Rio Grande High, the first in the family line who ever finished, Rico had come home from the ceremony all shook up. His shirt had wet circles under the arm- pits, and he felt the blood in his neck like a snake about to strike. In the dark, he ran through the bosque, ran along the riverbank like a coyote, until he fell into the dirt and cried like a baby. He could still feel the loss of everything, the nothingness of his life, in the bones of his wrists and hands when they held the torch. But when he came home that night, his boots caked with mud and his new shirt ruined by the red clay of the riverbank, Rico had made a decision, and he had stuck to it ever since. He would keep order in his life, despite this part inside, this madman, who wanted to get out and tear up everything. In his shop, his tools were clean and oiled. They each had a specific place, and they were in it, always. The corners were swept, the weeds that grew up through the cracks in the sidewalk out front were pulled, and even his desk was organized, with slots prepared for receipt books, pencils, pens, and phone numbers. At home it was the same. Even Rosalita teased him about the way he hung up his shirts, always but- toning the top button so they looked alive on the hanger. For years now, Rico had just moved along, from one thing he had to do to the next, like a train across the mesa.
                  So he was taken by surprise by what stormed over him when he saw that woman in the doorway of his shop. In that moment, seeing her in the arc of light, he felt his life caving in, an old mine shaft that intended to collapse no matter how many miners were still inside. But in another way, he felt it open up.
                  “Can you teach me to weld?” she asked, her voice not much more than an echo.
                  “I can teach you anything you want to learn,” he replied, and the power in these words centered itself right in his balls, and he felt like a king.
                  “I want to learn to weld,” she said. “I already have the parts laid out in my yard.”
                  “What kind of metal?” Rico knew women. He knew they couldn’t tell the difference between a piece of steel and a piece of aluminum, that they thought all the metals in the world would melt before the torch. He knew that women lived in a dream world, that they never saw the truth of the simplest thing, like what metals will bond together and which ones won’t, or how to tell what was hot enough and what wasn’t.
                  “Iron,” she said. “I think.”
                  “I better take a look,” Rico said. It sounded casual, as if the words were skidding across the ice that once in a great while formed on the river, pretending there was no dirty water underneath.
                  “Could you?” she asked, and, as if she owned the place, she quickly moved to his desk, and wrote down her address on his notepad. The whole time, that big dog watched Rico, her eyes communicating in the way only a big dog’s can. They said, Stay back, old man. Stay back.
                  “Does that dog bite?” he asked.
                  “Only when I tell her to. She’s very well trained, an ex- police dog.” She said this over her shoulder so automatically that he almost believed it. But that would probably make this woman an ex-policewoman, and Rico could tell from the curve of her hips that that was not true. He could tell by the way she didn’t look around, never swept her eyes toward the bays or the closed door to the bathroom behind her.
                  “Can you come by today? Later? After work?” she asked, and her voice was breathless, as if she wanted to burn in the fire between them.
                  “Yeah. About six,” he said.
                  “Great. I’ll wait for you.”
                  I’ll bet you will, he thought. I’ll bet you’ve been waiting for me for your whole life. This thought arrived like an avalanche. It carried him away, tumbled him head first into the desire she was not able to hide. He looked at the slip of paper she’d left behind. Her name was Margaret. Rico moved to the doorway to watch her walk to the corner and turn left.
                  All afternoon, he worked his torch with the precision and focus of an assassin. He imagined Margaret on fire beneath him, reminding him how passion burned, how it scorched the human body from the inside out and left it wanting more. At the end of the day, he didn’t wash up. He didn’t change out of his coveralls. He didn’t call Rosalita to tell her he’d be late. He went straight to Margaret, dirty.
                  When he pulled up in front of her house, she was on her hands and knees on the cement pad, her rear end aimed toward the driveway, and he felt himself get hard. He climbed out of his truck not caring if she or anybody else saw the bulge in the front of his coveralls, and he walked toward her. There she was, surrounded by a hundred old rusty parts, things he knew she had no idea how to use. Carburetors and condensation pumps, tie bolts and butterfly nuts, oil pans and heavy duty towing chain. Her face was the color of apricots when they first appear on the trees in May, but her eyes, which were green, blazed at him, like the eyes of a cornered animal.
                  She sat back on her heels. “What? No torch?” she said and she smiled a little, like they had a big secret between them already.
                  “I got it right here for you, mama,” he said, though he didn’t mean to. They were words he had heard his older brother, Fernando, use on girls a long, long time ago, magic words that melted the girls from the vecino, causing them to lower their eyes in a way that drew Fernando toward them. But they were not his words. Truthfully, though, standing not ten feet from her, it had crossed his mind that, with her squatting down like that, she was at just the right height to blow him to kingdom come, and he had to resist the urge to reach for the zipper of his coveralls.
                  Rico saw it when the words hit her, the way they knocked her speechless and disgusted her, and in that moment if he could have moved fast enough, he would have made a joke of himself, given her his most devilish smile, and saved everything. But he was too slow, always had been, his whole life, and he saw the moment pass, on its way to rust, just like everything else.
                  “Sorry, buddy,” she said at last, her voice instantly drained of any color. “I just want to learn to weld.”
                  And here was another opening, another place to step in and resurrect the moment, but now his face burned with shame and foolishness. “I’m sorry, too,” he said, and he meant it, but it came out of his mouth with a macho edge, like words he wanted to cut into her with a knife. So he turned and left before it got any worse, and the last thing he saw was an old tractor fender in the shape of a rusty crescent moon, which she seemed, because of the angle at which it rested against the cement pad, to be squatting in, just waiting to stand up and be counted.