THE COMEUPPANCE OF LUPE RIVERA
Manuel Muñoz

I know it’s hard to believe, in this day and age, but her name really was Guadalupe. Hard to believe, because she was a woman in her late twenties, born right here in the heart of California, with parents who spoke good English. What kind of name is Guadalupe when, these days, it’s Terry and Nicole and Kristen? I know some of those girls from the neighborhood who married farmers’ sons and dropped their last names. So now they’re Terry Westmoreland and Nicole Sargavakian and Kristen Young, but still brown as me and Guadalupe Rivera, my neighbor across the street who doesn’t live there anymore. Lupe Rivera. I know some wouldn’t care to hear about a woman with a name like that, and I would have to set you up somehow different if this were about Terry Westmoreland. Somewhere along the line I would have to tell you that Terry was Mexican. But with a name like Lupe, you already know. And, for the record, it’s Lu-peh, not Loopy, not a butterfly swirling around in the front yard. I’ve heard Lupe correct people all the time, very tartly. “It’s Lu-peh. You speak Spanish,” she’d say to the girl at the ballpark concession stand. “Lu-peh,” she’d say one more time, collecting her change and then, while leaving, she’d mutter under her breath, “Bitch.”

With an attitude like that, it’s no wonder that not many people in town felt too bad about what happened to Lupe. There was a lot to be jealous of if you wanted to be. When you’re smart like Lupe, you can have a job like union arbiter for the city employees, with your own office and a car to drive around in, even if it is a government one, a beige Dodge Aries. I asked my cousin Cecilia what that job required and Cecilia told me only that Lupe was perfect for it. “You have to have a big mouth, but be a good listener, too,” she said. “And a lot of the time you have to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”

Because of that job, Lupe had a little house on the corner of Gold Street that was all her own because her parents moved back to Texas. It says a lot about Lupe that she made the side door to the house the front entrance, building a walkway out of brick all the way to the curb, turning on that particular porch light during the dark hours. She liked to say that she lived on Sierra Way and not Gold Street. Not that it matters. Sierra Way is bigger and it has sidewalks and drainage, but it’s just as ugly.

You never saw her out on the lawn keeping it green, but there was always her latest man tending to it, always someone different. When Tío Nico let me stay here a few months ago, it wasn’t long before I saw Lupe’s latest actually putting up a new fence all by himself. This was early in the morning, about seven, when I was getting in my car to go to work at my retail job in Fresno and there he was getting out of his pickup truck. You start to know things when you live across the street from Lupe. Even though his truck was rusty and the tires rimmed with dirt, I knew who had paid for all that wood sitting in the truckbed. He didn’t look like just a contractor—he looked like a Lupe type. Stepping out of his truck in a plaid shirt, tight Wrangler jeans, boots. I waved over to him as I drove off, just to show I was friendly to Lupe, and wondered where Lupe ran into such men in the Valley, like they stepped right out of the advertisements for tejano music, come to life just for her.

That evening, when I drove down Gold Street, I saw the pickup truck still there and heard the hammering even over the radio. Out on the lawn, Lupe’s latest had already put up the posts and leveled and nailed in more than half the fence. He tipped his chin to me as I parked, and I pretended to check out his work, flashing him an okay as I made my way inside Tío’s house, but he had lost the plaid shirt and was wearing his cowboy hat. Just then, I saw Nicole Sargavakian turn the corner slowly off Sierra Way. So word was getting around about Lupe’s latest: handsome and willing to work out in the sun just for her, hairy chest just like Andy Garcia but better because he was right there on Gold Street for all to see.

 

You can read The Comeuppance of Lupe Rivera in its entirety in issue 2 of Swink.

Manuel Muñoz is the author of a short story collection, Zigzagger (Northwestern University Press, 2003), and his work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Boston Review, Epoch, and many other journals. “Skyshot,” a story from the collection, was part of “Selected Shorts” at the Getty Center, Los Angeles, and broadcast on National Public Radio in 2004. Born and raised in Dinuba, California, Muñoz graduated from Harvard University and received his M.F.A. in creative writing at Cornell University. He lives in New York City.

 

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