It’s cooler up there where Oscar works, Houston melting into the pavement seventeen stories below. He moves lithely, walking the beams, bolt-heads like oversized eyes steering him straight. It’s not as though he could fall to his death. Not most of the time. But here among the other men that plumb the seams of skyscrapers, you might think Oscar’s got it bad—hardly speaks English, bottom of the tier, a boss that never promises more than one week of work—but Oscar knows.
He knows that no matter who his boss is, the moral his abuela repeated holds true: Las piedras rodando se encuentran; “The stones keep rolling.” First, crossing the border. Then, finding his cousins. Next, hiding. Finally, construction. There had even been Christmas two years in a row now, feasts and gifts, muy auténtico. One thing leads to the next. Now, the job in Houston. Next month, who knows?
Occasionally, Oscar gets to stick around a site long enough to see a section of a building completed. It’s a rare sensation, that modest feeling of ownership. He likes to help the new ones when they arrive, their work boots still unscuffed, golden brown. One morning, Samuel shows up; lies all over his face. Not even eighteen. Inexperienced. But brave, Oscar gives him that much. Oscar points at the row of hard hats and bright orange vests, motioning until Samuel catches on, grabs a set.
Later, on the seventeenth floor, Samuel is all trembles and shakes.
“Never up, hombre. Down,” Oscar says. “Always point your saw down.” He watches Samuel try to steady his un-callused hands but they quiver even after he sets the hacksaw down, even after they’re back on the ground with the rest of the crew. They betray him even as Samuel maws through leftover tamales. They eat in silence and Oscar pats Samuel on the back, then coaxes him back to work. He knows that the shakes will go away. That the stones will keep rolling.
See Oscar high above city, laughing at the pigeons, the way they flutter against the endless blue. See Oscar rest for a moment in the buttery sunlight, work boots balanced atop those wide, steel beams. See the way he looks over his city, his Texas—the state so proud it tried to secede from the Union. See Oscar thinking: Yeah, I kinda get that; wanting something so bad you put it all on the line just for a fighting chance.