The soft knock came at the kitchen door, and when Mrs. O'Brian
opened it, there on the back porch were her best tenant, Mr.
Ramirez, and two police officers, one on each side of him. Mr.
Ramirez just stood there, walled in and small.
"Why, Mr. Ramirez!" said Mrs. O'Brian.
Mr. Ramirez was overcome. He did not seem to have words to explain.
He had arrived at Mrs. O'Brian's rooming house more than two years
earlier and had lived there ever since. He had come by bus from
Mexico City to San Diego and had then gone up to Los Angeles. There
he had found the clean little room, with glossy blue linoleum, and
pictures and calendars on the flowered walls, and Mrs. O'Brian as
the strict but kindly landlady. During the war, he had worked at
the airplane factory and made parts for the planes that flew off
somewhere, and even now, after the war, he still held his job. From
the first, he had made big money. He saved some of it, and he got
drunk only once a week--a privilege that, to Mrs. O'Brian's way of
thinking, every good workingman deserved, unquestioned and
Inside Mrs. O'Brian's kitchen, pies were baking in the oven. Soon
the pies would come out with complexions like Mr. Ramirez's, brown
and shiny and crisp, with slits in them for the air almost like the
slits of Mr. Ramirez's dark eyes. The kitchen smelled good. The
policemen leaned forward, lured by the odor. Mr. Ramirez gazed at
his feet, as if they had carried him into all this trouble.
"What happened, Mr. Ramirez?" asked Mrs. O'Brian.
Behind Mrs. O'Brian, as he lifted his eyes, Mr. Ramirez saw the
long table, laid with clean white linen and set with a platter,
cool, shining glasses, a water pitcher with ice cubes floating
inside it, a bowl of fresh potato salad, and one of bananas and
oranges, cubed and sugared. At this table sat Mrs. O'Brian's
children--her three grown sons, eating and conversing, and her two
younger daughters, who were staring at the policemen as they ate.
"I have been here thirty months," said Mr. Ramirez quietly, looking
at Mrs. O'Brian's plump hands.
"That's six months too long," said one policeman. "He only had a
temporary visa. We've just got around to looking for him."
Soon after Mr. Ramirez had arrived, he bought a radio for his
little room; evenings, he turned it up very loud and enjoyed it.
And he had bought a wrist-watch and enjoyed that, too. And on many
nights he had walked silent streets and seen the bright clothes in
the windows and bought some of them, and he had seen the jewels and
bought some of them for his few lady friends. And he had gone to
picture shows five nights a week for a while. Then, also, he had
ridden the streetcars--all night some nights--smelling the
electricity, his dark eyes moving over the advertisements, feeling
the wheels rumble under him, watching the little sleeping houses
and big hotels slip by. Besides that, he had gone to large
restaurants, where he had eaten many-course dinners, and to the
opera and the theatre. And he had bought a car, which later, when
he forgot to pay for it, the dealer had driven off angrily from in
front of the rooming house.
"So here I am," said Mr. Ramirez now, "to tell you that I must give
up my room, Mrs. O'Brian. I come to get my baggage and clothes and
go with these men."
"Back to Mexico?"
"Yes. To Lagos. That is a little town north of Mexico City."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Ramirez."
"I'm packed," said Mr. Ramirez hoarsely, blinking his dark eyes
rapidly and moving his hands helplessly before him. The policemen
did not touch him. There was no necessity for that. "Here is the
key, Mrs. O'Brian," Mr. Ramirez said, "I have my bag already."
Mrs. O'Brian, for the first time, noticed a suitcase standing
behind him on the porch.
Mr. Ramirez looked in again at the huge kitchen, at the bright
silver cutlery and the young people eating and the shining waxed
floor. He turned and looked for a long moment at the apartment
house next door, rising up three stories, high and beautiful. He
looked at the balconies and fire escapes and back-porch stairs, at
the lines of laundry snapping in the wind.
"You've been a good tenant," said Mrs. O'Brian.
"Thank you, thank you, Mrs. O'Brian," he said softly. He closed his
Mrs. O'Brian stood holding the door half open. One of her sons,
behind her, said that her dinner was getting cold, but she shook
her head at him and turned back to Mr. Ramirez. She remembered a
visit she had once made to some Mexican border towns--the hot days,
the endless crickets leaping and falling or lying dead and brittle
like the small cigars in the shop windows' and the canals taking
river water out to the farms, the dirt roads, the scorched fields,
the little adobe houses, the bleached clothes, the eroded
landscape. She remembered the silent towns, the warm beer, the hot,
thick foods each day. She remembered the slow, dragging horses and
the parched jack rabbits on the road. She remembered the iron
mountains and the dusty valleys and the ocean beaches that spread
hundreds of miles with no sound but the waves --no cars, no
"I'm sure sorry, Mr. Ramirez," she said.
"I don't want to go back, Mrs. O'Brian," he said weakly. "I like it
here. I want to stay here. I've worked, I've got money. I look all
right, don't I? And I don't want to go back!"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Ramirez," she said. "I wish there was something I
"Mrs. O'Brian!" he cried suddenly, tears rolling out from under his
eyelids. He reached out his hands and took her hand fervently,
shaking it, wringing it, holding to it. "Mrs. O'Brian, I see you
never, I see you never!"
The policemen smiled at this, but Mr. Ramirez did not notice it,
and they stopped smiling very soon.
"Goodbye, Mrs. O'Brian. You have been good to me. Oh, goodbye, Mrs.
O'Brian. I see you never!"
The policemen waited for Mr. Ramirez to turn, pick up his suitcase,
and walk away. Then they followed him, tipping their caps to Mrs.
O'Brian. She watched them go down the porch steps. Then she shut
the door quietly and went slowly back to her chair at the table.
She pulled the chair out and sat down. She picked up the shining
knife and fork and started once more upon her steak.
"Hurry up, Mom," said one of the sons. "It'll be cold."
Mrs. O'Brian took one bite and chewed on it for a long, slow time;
then she stared at the closed door. She laid down her knife and
"What's wrong, Ma?" asked her son.
"I just realized," said Mrs. O'Brian--she put her hand to her
face--"I'II never see Mr. Ramirez again."
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