school play. He knew, though, that Barolo, as a matter ofnprinciple, wouldn’t walk into a church. Give him a fewndrinks and he could get fired up and rolling. At a party onennight someone rattled his cage and he could be heard aboveneveryone else: “Leap of faith, leap of faith. What they don’tntell you is you could just as easily land on Ra the Sun God ornQuetzalcoatl! All they really mean is tyranny of the local.nIt’s like a Soviet election. One candidate.”nHawkins smiled to himself as he thought of that evening,nand he smiled outwardly now, glad to have this odd, wittyncompanion in a town where he didn’t have many friendsnwho could be witty or serious about anything except theirnlatest tennis racquet, their newest restaurant find. WhatnHawkins found pleasing was the serious way he was funny,nthe serious world he was laughing about, his slanted witnslipping through the world in ways most people nevernimagine. While the jokes occasionally were tinged with anslight bitterness, it was from the kind of integrity onenexpected in mathematics, but was much harder to maintainnin the world outside of numbers. The world of contingencynoutside of numbers was one where a husband and wifencould betray each other, the domain of gonorrheas.nSomehow to become one with his friend’s mind, Hawkinsnbegan to talk in the accents of a Protestant TVnpreacher, as if he were offering a gift to Barolo for hisncompany. “We are gathered together tooodaaay here innGawwwd’s House to give thanks for living in this gretncountry of ours. Let us remember our fighting men whonguard our freeedooms as we approach this Easter season.”nSoon Barolo was grinning, relishing a guy from Chicagonwho had the ear for East Texas or, better. Big ThicketnProtestant.n”I got to watch you religious types,” he said. “You’vencommercialized Easter with chocolate rabbits and chickenneggs. Soon you’ll be turning to my one big Americannholdout. Thanksgiving. Porcelain gift turkeys that lay candyneggs or else eight red-nosed turkeys, ‘On Hobble, OnnGobble,’ will be flying down my chimney demanding myndamn credit card before they’ll leave anything.”n”Gawwwd giveth or taketh away, but no credit,” rejoinednHawkins.nOne day late in February, a false spring day but full ofnpromise, Monica invited Hawkins out to a Big Thicketndinner at the family farm. Her home was not somensprawling ranch house, but a clean, well-kept frame housenwith big porches front and back. The barns were close by,nwith an ample garden space, now mostly with the remains ofnwinter vegetables like turnips and collards separating themnfrom the house. His northern accent drove home that henwas a stranger, but he was Monica’s friend and so he wasntaken right in by the weather-lined father and the tanned,nplump mother, and by Monica’s two rough teenage brothers.nStraightaway the brothers had him out at one of thenbarns looking at their cutting horses, both wearing hats asnbig as umbrellas, their jeans, belts, and boots following andress code as rigid as a Marine guard’s.nAt midday dinner the table top was jammed with food,nwith lots more on a sideboard. A big hen with cornbreadndressing occupied the center, but fanned out below thisnmountain of glazed tawniness were great foothills of fieldnpeas, potato salad, a huge round of cornbread, flanked by anbarbequed ham with links of pork sausage around it, a giantnwhite boat of gravy, a hummock of rice and a quiveringnmound of cranberry jelly looking nervous before what was toncome. Monica’s father asked God to bless all this opulence,nthanking Him at the same time for their guest, and evennthough Hawkins felt self-conscious being singled out fornGod’s notice, he felt like he had been made welcome.nHalting long enough to give God his due, Monica’snrambunctious brothers put on an eating display that wouldnhave stirred the envy of the Aga Khan. Hawkins generallynhad salad at most for lunch and even before the apple pienand ice cream arrived he was reeling. Fortunately, nothingnwas expected of him after this ritual feast except to sip strongncoffee in a rocking chair on the front porch while thenbrothers put on a riding display in the front yard. How theynmanaged it so soon after dinner Hawkins could not imagine.nOn the long drive back to Houston, facing a setting sun,nhe felt how important such gatherings had become, especiallynnow. This family’s daughter had gone off to the jungle ofnHouston to make her solitary way, far from the vortex of thenfamily, partly because her father felt she would be better offnthere. No doubt because he felt the labor wouldn’t be asnhard. Hawkins wondered how good the trade had been,nswapping harder work for the loneliness of the city. He feltnthat he was losing his trust in progress.nAs he recalled the parting scene with Monica’s family innthe yard, watching them leave for the city, it seemed like anclassical frieze on some temple, or an old photograph fromnan earlier time in America — the weathered couple in plainndress, as if they had been together from the beginning ofntime, and offered to time to come their cowboy sons astridentheir mounts, ready to shoot it out with death if he dared tonshow his face. How had he, Hawkins, smart guy fromnChicago, failed to figure out the right moves? He had beennfast on his feet. What had been missing?nHis Mercedes sports coupe swept into a darkeningnHouston. The outskirts were filled with drilling equipmentnsitting idle from an oil boom gone bust. Row upon row ofnthrown-up apartment complexes were vacant or abandoned.nA dying city. Near the interstate highway, from the brokennnnDECEMBER 1989/25n