Fall 2014, Volume 17

Fiction by Michael McGuire

The End of Time

As the floodwaters rose, we tried packing bags of animal feed against the door.  When that showed no signs of being effective, we piled everything we could on beds and tables and, when this was no longer enough, we were forced to choose our most valuable objects, a few papers and a lot of photos, and wedge them on top of the cabinets.  We were beginning to wonder if we would be able to get ourselves out if the waters continued to rise.

“If you had finished the second floor,” said Lupe, my wife, “we wouldn’t have a problem.”

“I began it, didn’t I?”

“That was ten years ago.”

“Time passes.”

We still had beans and there was still gas in the bottle and the connection on top was still above water, but we were flooded with something undrinkable.  The ditch behind the house which usually carried off the aguas negras had so overflowed that you could see the turds rushing down the street.

“José finished his second floor,” said my wife.

“That’s José.”

“He has an inside stairway.  Even if his mother-in-law did fall off it, they don’t have to go out in order to go up.”

“If I could have been sure my mother-in-law would fall off it, I would have finished it years ago.”


Christmas was not that far away and the women had been sitting out the cold evenings across the riochuelo with a likeness of la Virgen y el Niño.  You could hear them praying night after night until the waters rose and they made their way back to their houses as well as they could.  The only thing I ever considered praying for was rain and I wondered if any of the women had prayed for that. 

One thing was certain, the faithful were not having second thoughts.  Los fieles were as used as my wife to having the same thoughts over and over.  The priest could carry on about the sins of the deceased and go on to mention the sins of the newborn and the unborn, and nobody got the least bit uncomfortable.  The only difference was my wife shared her thoughts with me.

Often enough in Pueblo Nuevo a few of the old go off together.  Then the zopilotes circle and, for a while, look down on all of us.

The rituals across the riochuelo had no connection to the death of Lupita who lived not that far from us and whose heart had finally failed at the age of nineteen.  Ill from birth, never physically developing much beyond the age of eleven, she’d been on oxygen for the last four years of her life, sharing the two room house with her mother, her oxygen tank and her father who who was trying to remake himself in the age of computers.

Lupita didn’t drown in the floodwaters but, when oxygen no longer helped, her last moments weren’t much different.  That’s what her father said, and her father was a broken man.

The ceremonies of the Virgin and her Blessed Son also had nothing to do with a young man, Gabriel, or Gaby, not a block away, who hung himself in the woods, also at the age of nineteen.  The deaths were only days apart, but unrelated.  No one really knew why Gaby had done what he had done.  A girl was mentioned, but I had my doubts. 

I’d thought about it, but I didn’t know how anyone could make up his mind to step out of the round of days and nights like that.  Of course we all went round in circles in Pueblo Nuevo, slow historical circles and smaller, faster ones, just like something or someone going down the drain.

In memory I could hardly sort Gaby out from his brother, about the same size, each of whom walked past our house in the same manner, if at different hours, head bent as if looking for something in the street, something the rest of us had missed, hood pulled up for protection against sun or cold, depending on the season.

If Gabriel, or Gaby, had waited a day or two, he might have been swept away in the floodwaters and stepped into eternity rather than doom his spirit to whatever the believers believed the good God had in store for him.  Something that, some said, also went on forever.  Or nearly so.  I never spoke to either brother, though I was kind of watching the survivor now.
I had never spoken to the dead girl either.  After finishing la secundaria, she had been confined to her house.  A four year term.


It wasn’t your typical week in Pueblo Nuevo, yet much across the country was the same as ever. 

Families were sitting out the floods on rooftops or in shelters in Veracruz and Tabasco and Campeche and Quintana Roo.  The drought across Durango, Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Coahuila was entering its seventh year.  The crops doomed from the beginning, some families did not even plant.  It was best not to disturb what was left, not to watch the last of your soil blow away behind the plow. 

Don’t forget.  This was 2012.  Some were predicting the end of time as foretold by the Mayans.

The drug wars seemed destined to go on forever.  Tens of thousands were dead, mostly the young between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two, some tortured and killed by competing cartels, some simply killed by the military.  In a case where a person just “disappeared,” there was no telling if he or she had been tortured and killed, or only killed.  The body told the tale that could not be concealed, but if the body never turned up, the tale could hardly be told.

But it wasn’t really flood or drought, or murder or suicide or untimely if natural death that I was thinking about. 


I was thinking about a man who had outlived his usefulness, but still had five years.  Maybe ten.  Years which, with Pedro’s ability to earn a living taken from him, promised to be the hardest of all.

Pedro’s face was a sorry sight.  Time had him by what was left of his hair and he knew it. 

His knowledge of the kind of farming you did with your hands was encyclopedic.  He knew everything there was to know.  He didn’t have to think about a problem, not long anyway.  He did what needed to be done.  This knowledge had became worthless the moment his body was no longer up to it.  Never mind if he still had a wedge of corn on a hillside.  He could not only not rent out his labor to anyone else, he could not apply it to his own miserable milpa.

Pedro was not a man who could remake himself with computers like Lupita’s father, a task that might keep him on this earth now his daughter was dead.  Because Pedro’s work had always had to be done then, right then, he had never had a moment in which to learn how to read and now, though he still had strength for an undemanding occupation, it was too late. 

At night Pedro passed whole hours unable to breathe.  A persistent cough turned him one way, then the other.  His legs hurt, his hands hurt.  His wife who, like my wife, was named Lupe, listened to Pedro stop breathing only to start up again a little later, more with helpless love in her soul than with concern over what would happen when her husband’s work came to a complete stop.

The children had gone north years ago.  Having never been heard from, they were as gone as if they had lost themselves in the desert or just been “disappeared” by illegitimate coyotes, guides to nowhere.

But, before the flood, it was nearly the moment for the harvest.  Pedro knew it in his hands and told Lupe and Lupe rode la mula to la milpa and yanked out weeds and channeled water with the spade and sat up all night with the old shotgun until the real coyote who had been eating their corn showed up and she blew it away.  In the morning she walked back to Pueblo Nuevo, the mule piled high with firewood and jars of water from the spring and told Pedro, as if he needed to be told, that the corn was ready, it looked good.


 “I think it’s time to get out,” said my wife.

“You may be right,” I said, “you usually are.”

We were sitting crosslegged on the kitchen table, a position that probably encouraged thoughts as well as second thoughts.  The bedrooms were long ago gone under, but the kitchen was a little higher than the rest of the house and we were all right there.  For a while.  The water rushing down the street and the riochuelo behind the house had maintained a low whisper for so long you hardly knew you were hearing it but if you covered your ears and uncovered them, then you could hear it.

Maybe it did sound like the end of time.  How would I know?  If you connected this flood with floods occurring all over the world and, somehow, with the droughts, then you knew: surely something was happening.


“This is the end, I guess,” said Pedro when I saw him sitting on the board outside his house.  His wife was off giving the final touches to their harvest more than an hour away by mule.  I sat down beside him.

“Maybe not,” I said.

“Why not, amigo?”

“There’s a job at la presidencia.”

Pedro thought a moment then asked “I have to be able to read, don’t I?”

“Only dates and names” I said, “maybe titles.  People like to hear their titles.  Sometime it’s on a little card, sometimes it’s on a nametag, sometimes it’s written there on the…”

“I can’t do it.”

We looked at each other a moment, then away.  Pedro’s house was on a little rise, a fact that might prove advantageous if the floods came this year.


We looked out over Pueblo Nuevo, a pueblo that, despite its name, was older than anyone could remember.  It had been here when the war of the cristeros occurred, pitting the educated against the faithful, neighbor against neighbor.  One side shot the teacher of la primeria, who had been among the former.  The other side pulled the images of the santos from the church and burnt them in the street, which the faithful could never forget. 

Or forgive.

Pueblo Nuevo had been here when the French came through looking for Benito Juárez.  They didn’t find el presidente de la república, but they changed the makeup of the pueblo forever.  Ever since, though most were born dark as their ancestors, some, a brother or a sister, would be white as a Spaniard.

Or a Frenchman.

Never mind the wars.  Pueblo Nuevo had been out of it since anyone could remember.  When most of Mexico was modern, we were still a long way up the mountain on a dirt road.  All of us remembered the lack of gas bottles for cooking, the long nights without electricity for light, the days without water, even drinking water, and the floods which were still with us.

The only things we didn’t have to worry about were hurricanes and earthquakes.  Hurricanes never reached Pueblo Nuevo.  We did have a volcano in the distance, an active one, but the ash never fell this far.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to live with, and all of us remember it, was the lack of schools.  Until my children’s generation there was no secundaria and no preparatoria, the latter now being only a few years old.  All children were supposed to go to the primaria, though not everyone did.  Now we have one or two of the young making their way out and away to la universidad, if they can pass the test, though few do, most have to go on to something else, and, sometimes, we have parents who can neither read nor write.


Pedro could not read or write because he’d worked sunup to sundown from the beginning.  Years ago he and his wife had come here from somewhere else.  They’d arrived in Pueblo Nuevo with nothing from nowhere, perhaps because somewhere near was where they had run out of what little they had.

Pedro found work immediately.  He was a good worker, he never quit until the work was done and he knew what he was doing.  In the evenings he constructed a structure of old boards and paper and flattened cans for them to live in and, at first, nobody paid any attention to the couple, they were not the first people to come to come from nowhere to, some would say, nowhere.  This was the time before electricity or water or gas.  Lupe, like those before her, cooked on sticks shoved further in the barrel as they burnt.

One night, I don’t know how, their house caught fire.  Pedro and Lupe stood in the light from the flames watching it burn.  Someone took them in that night.  Everyone liked Pedro.  He was a good worker, confiable, which distinguished him from quite a few in Pueblo Nuevo and the next day the people met to see what could be done.

They built them a house, this one they’re in.  Someone donated the scrap of land, someone the materials and, with Pedro doing most of the work, others helped, not the church though which, pleading poverty, didn’t.

The years passed.  Pedro and Lupe had children.  Most found menial jobs in Pueblo Nuevo, some made it out, probably crossed the border, and were never heard from again.


“Listen, Pedro, you don’t have to know many words, only a few, and I’m going to teach them to you.”

“No you’re not.  It’s not your fault.  Thank you, but I’m too old to learn.”

“Lupita’s father is learning computers.”

Lupita was the dead girl.  My wife’s name was also Lupe.  Maybe half the girls in Pueblo Nuevo were called Guadalupe, or Lupe.  To tell them apart we called some Lupita.

“That’s Lupita’s father,” said Pedro.

“He’s continuing, he’s going on, his time has not yet...”

“That’s Lupita’s father,” said Pedro once more.

Here I took a crumpled piece of paper out of my pocket.  I’d printed a couple of words on it.  One was PRESIDENTE.

“Look, Pedro.  This word is PRESIDENTE.”

“I don’t care.”

Benito Juárez was Presidente de la República.  The Presidente de Pueblo Nuevo, that is to say the mayor, is Enrique.”

“Enrique is a pendejo.”

“That may be true, but…”

“When he became presidente, he said we’re not going to have a beauty competition this year.  My daughter is queen.”

“That’s true.  That’s what he said and his daughter was crowned the next day.”

There was no need to call the mayor’s daughter by her Christian name, which was only a slight variation on the name of nearly every other girl in the pueblo, though a word might be said about the competitions.  Beauty wasn’t everything.  The beauties of Pueblo Nuevo were expected to talk about what they would do for the water, the hills, and the trees on the hills.

“Enrique is a pendejo,” said Pedro.

“You said that.”

“I said it because it’s true.”

Here I took a stub out of my pocket, put the paper on the board and printed the word PENDEJO.

“Look, Pedro, this word here is PRESIDENTE and this word here is PENDEJO.”

In spite of himself, Pedro watched as I printed the sentence EL PRESIDENTE ES UN PENDEJOPendejo, which means pubic hair or, in this case, asshole, is a word Pedro will be unlikely to be called upon to write or even read in his new job.  Still I had his attention.


“Let’s go,” said my wife.

For some reason my mind had gone to Pedro’s first lesson.  It was a few days ago and we hadn’t yet had the second.  Still, I had high hopes for him.  The job wasn’t going anywhere.  It wasn’t a job a young man would take and the young men were gone anyway.  Disappeared.

“The water has reached the windowsill,” said my wife.  “It will be coming in soon…and fast.”

We were still seated crosslegged on the kitchen table.  There was no stairway to the second floor that wasn’t there or to the roof that was.

Let’s go, José,” pleaded my wife.

José was the name of the man who had finished his second floor.  It was not an uncommon name in Pueblo Nuevo, no less common than Pedro.

“How?” I asked.

“There’s the ladder,” said my wife.

“The ladder’s outside.”


“It might be gone, carried away.  I didn’t tie it down.”

“We’re going to be gone, carried away.”

It was true, what she said, and I thought of Lupita and Gabriel, or Gaby, who were also gone, carried away, and I looked at my wife.  There it was.  I could see it.  My Lupe loved me just like Pedro’s Lupe loved him and I wondered if his Lupe had got some of the corn in, anyway, before the flood.


The water was surprisingly cold, from the mountains, and it came almost to my ribs.  I turned to my wife.

“We’re going,” I said.

“About time,” she said.




BIO: Michael McGuire was born and raised, lives in or near; he divides his time; his dog is nondescript, his horse is dead.

"McGuire's writing is hauntingly thoughtful, inexorably true." —
Publisher's Weekly

A book of his stories (
The Ice Forest, Marlboro Press, distributed by Northwestern University Press) was named one of the “Best Books of the Year” by Publisher’s Weekly.

McGuire’s stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review, Hudson Review, New Directions in Prose & Poetry, etc. His plays have been done by the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Mark Taper Forum of Los Angeles, and many other theatres, and are published by Broadway Play Publishing. One, La frontera, set in the same world as the novel and the stories, won the $10,000. International Prism Competition. The Scott Fitzgerald Play, University of Missouri Press, a Breakthrough Book chosen by Joy Williams, is now available as an Author’s Guild Backinprint edition. Both playbooks are also available on Kindle.

A story of the border world, "Paloma Triste," is in the “Plumed Serpent” edition of Nimrod International. A story of the disappearing women of Ciudad Juárez, "¡Qué Dios te acompañe!", is in Southwestern American Literature, as a story of workplace exploitation, "Rosa de las Rosas", is in Guernica. "He Will Sing to You" was a 2011 cover-story in the Texas Observer. "Hernando and the Ever Widening Waste," a fictional handling of deforestation in Mexico, is in Terrain.org. "Querida María", a literary approach to abduction and extortion, is in the Arroyo Literary Review as is "The Fortuneteller and the Cowboy" in The Texas Review, "Beside the Golden Door" in Drunken Boat and "Poppy y Pepe y las transformaciones" in the inaugural edition of Agave. "La marca" is online in Literal, Latin American Voices, "La cantina" is published in Crossborder, "Blind Rain" is in "Printer’s Row Fiction," The Chicago Tribune, "Alondra de la carretera" in Louisiana Literature and "La boca" in the Concho River Review. "Three Sisters," a story of violence to journalists in Mexico, is in the Spring 2014 Kenyon Review.

His collections have been finalists in the Drue Heinz and Flannery O’Connor competitions. He is a member of the Authors Guild, the Dramatists Guild and Pen America.