Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Magic of Blood

by Dagoberto Gilb

“In stories both harsh and lovely, hopeful and heartbreaking, of men on the fringes of America, Dagoberto Gilb reveals a powerful new literary voice.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date September 12, 1994
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3399-1
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

Dagoberto Gilb is a powerful and important new talent in American fiction. Fresh, funny, relentless, beautifully crafted, his writing possesses that rare Chekhovian ability to perfectly capture the nuances of ordinary life–and make it resonate with unexpected meaning. The Magic of Blood is his unforgettable first book.

Praise

“Gilb’s fiction is the most exciting and emotionally draining since Raymond Carver’s.” –The Nation

“Dagoberto Gilb’s stories in The Magic of Blood, pulled from a working-class life, are like nothing else out there. The reader tumbles into a Southwest world of bills and debts and being laid off, of old trucks, paychecks that bounce, greedy landladies, fights, cheap girls, drugs, unemployment compensation, difficult bosses, color of skin, language games, a hunger for work. The stories are leavened with compassion and humor and there is not a shred of sentimentality. The Magic of Blood marks the introduction of an important new voice in American literature.” –E. Annie Proulx, from the citation for PEN’s Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award

“These are lovely, heartbreaking, finely crafted stories dealing with a portion of society literature scarcely ever reaches.” –Jim Harrison

“Gilb’s fiction is brutally realistic. Yet his characters are imbued with a wry sense of humor–and hope.” –Newsweek

“In stories both harsh and lovely, hopeful and heartbreaking, of men on the fringes of America, Dagoberto Gilb reveals a powerful new literary voice.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The vast stretch of desert between LA and El Paso is a migration route for workers who move back and forth in search of work. In these artfully written stories, Dago introduces us to this world and its workers. This is a sharp, realistic view from la frontera!” –Rudolfo Anaya

“Nobody but Dagoberto has the information and the talent to write these stories. He reminds me of the best of Russian literature. Chekhov writes Gogol. Fresh and funny and sad.” –James Crumley

“Gilb tells these stories almost matter-of-factly, but behind this casualness is a talent that delivers. He offers a fierce and relentless eyeballing of people who are not going to make it . . . There is no exit in these pages.” –Gary Soto

“Neither narrowly ethnic nor fashionably minimalist, these are Chekhovian stories about very un-Chekhovian lives: those of construction workers, bums, day laborers, month-to-month tenants, on-the-edge families, and other people who led marginal existence during the Reagan-Bush years.” –Wendy Lesser

“A powerful, necessary voice in American literature whose emergence defies any pigeon-holing.” –Rick DeMarinis

Excerpt

Parking Places

John Veloz, a plumber, was getting out of his truck parked not quite in front of his duplex apartment. He and his wife Maria had just moved in. It was after work.

Vic Carrillo was watering the plants and flowers around the front of his duplex. He and his wife Helen had lived here many years.

The front doors and windows of both couples’ apartments were so close to the activity of the street that it seemed to be as much a part of their lives as a loud television set.

“Hello,” Vic said to John.

“Hello,” said John.

“Welcome to the neighborhood.”

“Thanks.”

“I think you’ll like it here. It’s very quiet.”

“That’s why my wife and I chose it.”

“We were glad to see you move in. If you need anything, just let us know.”

“Thank you,” John said appreciatively.

When we went through his front door that day, John felt very good about finding this place to live.

He told Maria about the friendly neighbor across the street and said wistfully, “Who knows, maybe someday I’ll buy something here. Maybe things will get so we can afford to live here permanently.” That made Maria very happy, and the two embraced hopefully.

The only source of irritation that John and Maria encountered in their neighborhood was the parking. Though her car was no problem since they had a spot in the duplex’s two-car garage, his truck was another thing. Because many other people lived in the old, odd-shaped duplexes and triplexes and multiple complexes that weighed down the hilly section of Los Angeles, there were many cars, and then there was also the fact that parking was permitted on only one side of their narrow street. Yet John was lucky in a way since he went to work earlier than most and came home earlier because of that. Only once in a while did he have to park a block or more away.

One day Maria told John to come to their front window. “Look at this,” she said suspiciously. “The minute that car left, Vic Carrillo put theirs in the space.”

“Pretty smart,” said John.

“Do you know that that other parked car next to it is theirs too?”

“Really?”

“That means they have two on the street and one in the garage.”

“It must be nice.”

“They must watch from their window.”

“They’ve lived here a long time.”

“You’re right,” she said, almost apologetically.

The Carrillos and Velozes found that they got along very well as neighbors and even found a special kinship because of their similar Texas roots. They liked each other so much that finally Vic and Helen asked John and Maria over to dinner. And what a dinner: the best chili from Terlingua’s cook-off, young corn on the cob, a big salad with bright red tomatoes and ripe splices of avocado, inch-and-a-half steaks barbequed over dried mesquite that Vic saved for special occasions, and, for dessert, homemade peach pie with homemade vanilla ice cream on top.

“This is so delicious!” Maria raved.

“I’m so glad you like it,” Helen told her.

“You guys didn’t need to go to such an expense for us,” said Maria.

“It’s nothing,” Vic told her. “We like to eat good.”

They all felt stuffed.

“So just what exactly is it you do for a living, Vic?” asked John over some cherry liqueur, something he’d never tasted before.

“I was an electrician in San Antone. Then I got a chance to take over a contractor’s business here.”

John didn’t ask, even though he was dying to hear the rest.

“We like it in Los Angeles,” Vic went on. “Lots of opportunities. We almost bought that place you live in, for instance. I kind of wish I was smarter then. We’d have got it dirt cheap compared to today’s prices.”

“You own this place, is that right?” Maria asked.

“It was my daddy’s,” Helen told them. “He bought it when we moved out here. It was an investment for him. Then when Vic and I got married, he gave it to us for a wedding present.”

“How nice of him!” said Maria.

“Rich Spaniard,” Vic laughed.

John restrained his jealousy. ‘so you keeping busy?”

“In these times? No way. The fact is I haven’t done any contractor’s work in five, six, already maybe eight years. I worked for the city a while to keep busy, but I didn’t like it. Hell, we can live comfortably off our property. I own the place next door and that place next door to you. Property income’s the only way to go, I’ll tell ya.”

The next morning, a Sunday, Maria asked John to make a trip to the market to buy some coffee since they were out. Without really thinking about it, John took his truck. Now it just so happened that John had been parked in one of the two parking places the Carillos always made sure was theirs, and when he returned, with coffee and a bag of pan dulce he bought at the bakery next to the market, his space was gone, and the Carillos’ car was in its place. And since it was the weekend, there were no empty spaces nearby.

“I was only gone five minutes, ten minutes at the most!” John was screaming as he came through the front door. “The way they act you’d think they owned those parking places too!”

“They’ve been here a long time,” Marcia said judiciously. “It’s just a habit with them. People like us come and go and they’re staying.”

“There’s no reason for it,” he said more calmly. “I was only gone five minutes. Why couldn’t he leave that car where it was? Nobody else can park in front of his garage like him. He could park there if he wanted to. He didn’t have to take that space from me.”

“Somebody else might have come along and parked there. Then neither of you would have had the space. Have you thought of that?”

Though they tried not to talk about it, from then on John and Maria kept their eyes on the way Vic Carrillo maneuvered his cars around so that he and Helen would have both of the spaces directly in front of their duplex. If they were going to use the newest car, the one in the garage, it was simple, but if they wanted one of the other two then Vic had to move the one out of the garage to the front of his driveway, keep it running, start and move the one he took from the street, slip the new one in the old one’s slot, then back the old one where the new one was, in the driveway. John and Maria particularly liked to watch Vic take the car farthest from his driveway, because then he moved all three cars so that an older car and the driveway would surround the newest car, which guaranteed that no one could park in front of it and possibly back into it. It was quite a spectacle when Vic and Helen came or went, and most of the time John and Maria gut muted chuckles form it.

Meanwhile, there was their friendship, and John and Maria felt obligated to have Vic and Helen over to dinner too. So Maria cooked pinto beans and melted jack and cheddar cheeses in it, steamed some rice, made her own flour tortillas, and ground a salsa from fresh chiles and tomatoes. John picked up two six-packs of Michelob and cooked carnitas on his back porch.

“You both are eating so little,” Maria fretted toward the end of the meal.

“It’s very good,” Helen assured her. “It’s only that we seldom eat pork, and Vic can’t eat chile anymore.”

“Another beer?” John asked Vic.

“No thanks. I’m filled up. You go ahead though.”

John did, and the four of them sat quietly around the living room.

“Guess what?” Vic said. “I’m taking a job with the city schools. I couldn’t resist it. I get bored sitting around, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” said John. “I’ve been out of work for over a month now.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Part of the trade, I guess.”

“I hope it doesn’t last too long for you,” Helen said. “It’s too bad my father isn’t still alive. He always knew people who needed plumbers. Good plumbers were the hardest for him to find when he had his business. They were just as hard for Vic when he took over. Good plumbers are rare.”

John’s unemployment lasted some time, and since Vic now had a job, he often would leave one of the spaces in front of his home vacant and John would park his truck there. For some reason, leaving it there gave him some weird kind of pleasure. John loved to open the curtains and see Vic’s car parked in the driveway in front of his garage. He loved imagining Vic and Helen living their lives looking out their front window, miserable without one of their parking places.

One Sunday morning John and Maria were forced to take his truck because he was getting the radiator in her car boiled out. John didn’t want to, but Maria was insistent.

“You’re obsessed!” she told him. “You can’t do anything without thinking about that parking place!”

He’s the one that’s obsessed!”

“Well, you’re as bad as him now.”

“Okay, okay,” he conceded. “It’s just that it’s not fair. I just hate giving it to him. I hate knowing he’s gonna jump out of his house and move that car.”

“We have to take the truck, John.”

And it wasn’t long after that John was loading his truck for the last time with their belongings. They were moving. Though John’s employment outlook had improved and Maria had taken a job as a bank teller, they decided it would be better for them in a different neighborhood.

“Well,” said John to Vic. “Guess that’s it. I guess we’ll see you around.”

Vic, who’d quit his job, was watering the lush plants and colorful flowers in front of his duplex, the ones that almost reached over and kissed his two cars.

“Sure thing,” said Vic. “We’ll keep in touch.”