“What are you carrying in here, a ton of bricks?” Memo asked D.Q. He was dragging a red duffel bag to the van parked in front of the school. Behind him, Pancho carried his backpack and a suitcase in each hand, his own and D.Q.’s. D.Q. was in his wheelchair waiting for them.
“Careful, my books are in there,” D.Q. said. “Put the bag next to where I’m sitting. I may do some reading on the way.”
“You’ll be too busy yapping to read,” Memo predicted.
“Where’s the Panda?” D.Q. asked.
“He stopped by the kitchen to pick up some sandwiches that Margarita made for you.”
Pancho placed the suitcases in the van. He kept his backpack on. “We taking the wheelchair?” he asked D.Q.
“I guess we better.” D.Q. pulled the brake lever and lifted himself out slowly. D.Q. climbed into the front seat while Pancho folded the chair. Memo was making faces as if he was trying not to cry. “I want that room ready by the time I get back,” D.Q. told him. “Oh, shit!”
“What happened?” Memo asked.
“I forgot the perico.”
“My parrot. I left it on my desk. I wanted to take it with me.”
“I’ll get it for you,” Memo volunteered. He turned around and went inside the building in a run.
“What do you want that thing for?” Pancho asked, settling himself in the middle row of the van. He placed the backpack next to him.
“I don’t know. I like it. It’ll bring me good luck.”
“Yeah, like it did me,” Pancho said.
“Aaahhh.” D.Q. made a noise that sounded like the bleat of a baby lamb. “That’s a whine. Remember the first rule of the Death Warrior Manifesto.”
Pancho was about to tell D.Q. where to stick his Death Warrior Manifesto when Father Concha stepped out of the building. He was carrying a large plastic bag in one hand and a black briefcase in the other. “Ready?” he asked.
“Memo’s bringing me something I forgot,” D.Q. said.
Father Concha put the plastic bag and his briefcase in the seat behind Pancho. In the seven days that he had been at St. Anthony’s, Pancho had yet to catch the priest smiling. Father Concha got into the driver’s seat, buckled his seat belt, and started the van. Pancho closed his door just as Memo came running out. He handed the wooden parrot to D.Q. “Okay, little penguin,” D.Q. said to him. “Get my room ready. Don’t let Margarita put any sissy-looking curtains on the windows. I want manly stuff, you understand.”
“Yeah, manly stuff. Nothing sissy.” The van was beginning to move and Memo and D.Q. were still doing some kind of funny handshake. Memo was wiping his left eye with his shoulder. Then the van accelerated. “See you, Pancho,” Memo called.
They were all quiet until they got to I-25 and then D.Q. asked,
“You know any good jokes, Father?”
“No,” Father Concha said. He was looking in the rearview mirror, determining whether it was safe to switch lanes.
“Pancho, when we’re in Albuquerque, we need to have us some adventures. We should do fun things, maybe go out drinking, pick up some girls, live it up a little. I mean, how often will we get a chance to visit the big city?”
Father Concha cast a sideways glance at D.Q. Pancho didn’t think the comment required a response. Ever since D.Q. woke him up that morning, he had been jabbering nonsense.
“Oh, I just thought of a joke,” D.Q. was now saying. “This couple gets married and they get into an accident just as they leave the church. So they go to heaven and are waiting for St. Peter, and the guy says to his wife, ‘You know honey, eternity is a long time to be married, maybe . . .’”
Pancho saw Father Concha reach over and touch D.Q.’s arm. “It’s all right, you don’t have to say anything,” Father Concha said. “It’s all going to be all right.”
D.Q. exhaled loudly. “It wasn’t a good joke anyway.”
“We’ll go straight to the hospital. As I understand it, they’ll keep you there overnight,” Father Concha said.
“Is she going to be there?” D.Q. asked.
“Your mother? I told her it wasn’t a good idea. She’ll want to see you in a day or two, after the initial tests.”
“The deal was that I would stay with her during the waiting period. I’ll be megablasted with lomustine, vincristine, prednisone, and I don’t know what else, kryptonite, and then I’ll stay with her for two weeks and that is it. She said she’d sign the papers if I did that. Do you have the papers? Did you bring them?”
“I have them,” Father Concha said. He continued, his voice even calmer than usual, “She’ll sign them, but not today. She’ll want to meet with her lawyer.”
“She’s had the papers since March. Her lawyer has read them. You don’t know her. She’s going to make me go through this and then she won’t sign the papers. She’ll just keep me in that ranch house of hers, pumping me full of chemicals and herbs. You can’t let that happen! She needs to sign guardianship over to youbefore I undergo this treatment. I thought that was the deal.” D.Q. was breathing heavily. Pancho could see droplets of his spit land on the windshield. He watched Father Concha carefully for any signs that he was getting rattled. There were none.
“You need to be open-minded about the treatment. Concentrate on being positive about it. Give it a chance.”
The next time D.Q. spoke, his voice was subdued. “I’m giving it a chance, Father. But I have to think ahead. I don’t want my last few months to be wasted. I have to take control here. You want me to have a positive attitude toward these trials, okay. You want me to believe that a miracle is possible? I believe a miracle is possible. But I’m not going to be a fool about it. You understand? You understand me. Say you understand what I’m trying to do here. Say it, please.”
D.Q.’s shoulders relaxed, the tension going out of them. “Remember the time we were coming back from Albuquerque, after the diagnosis was confirmed?”
Pancho closed his eyes. He was glad that D.Q. and Father Concha seemed to have forgotten he was in the back. He was tired. Sleeping had been hard. He kept hearing his sister’s voice. At one point during the night, he got up and opened the exit door next to his stall. “Rosa, you out there?” he called out. It was entirely possible that he was losing his mind.
“You said that even if the prognosis was correct and my time was limited, that didn’t excuse me from the obligation to fulfill my duties in life. Remember?”
“I thought it was a harsh thing to say. I mean, at first I thought you were talking about my place in the rotation, you know, helping Margarita every two weeks and all.”
Pancho opened his eyes, but it was too late. He missed the Panda’s smile. He closed them again and leaned his head against the window. He didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to think. But every time he started to think, a rush of anger drowned his thoughts.
“What if you finally discovered your duty? Wouldn’t your primary obligation be to fulfill it?”
“Our primary duty in life is to live.”
“But to live how? Like a vegetable? With your head stuck in a toilet day and night, throwing up, so doped up against the pain that all you do is sleep?”
The .22 and bullets were in a plastic bag in his backpack. He could feel the revolver’s hardness with his hand. He heard on a television show that if a victim is shot more than once, that means the killer had something personal against him. He didn’t have anything personal against the man who killed his sister, unless you considered hatred personal.
“So what is this duty you have discovered?”
“Here, let me read you something. This is from Walden by Henry David Thoreau.” Pancho heard D.Q. turn the pages in a book.
“You should rest,” Father Concha said. “You’ll need all your strength for the blood tests and other procedures you’ll be going through.”
“Here it is. I’ll just read this and then I’ll rest. Pancho, are you listening? Listen to this.”
“Yeah,” Pancho said when he heard his name. He didn’t know what he was saying “yeah” to.
D.Q. read: “‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. . . .’”
He closed the book and put it back in the bag. D.Q. turned his head to look out the side window. He watched the same gliding hawk that Pancho watched. When the hawk had disappeared from view, D.Q. spoke. “Pancho, are you awake? Were you listening?”
“Yeah,” he answered.
“What did you think of that passage, Pancho?” Father Concha asked, his eyes in the rearview mirror zeroing in on him.
“My father and I used to take out the meollo from inside the bones with a knife, and then we would spread it like butter on a hot flour tortilla. We’d put salt on it and hot sauce. It was good. Real good. Then we’d suck out whatever was still in the bone until the bone was clean.”
Pancho couldn’t see Father Concha’s face, but he was almost certain he smiled.
“You see, Father,” D.Q. said, “that’s what I’m talking about.”
Excerpted from THE LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIORS © Copyright 2011 by Francisco X. Stork. Reprinted with permission by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. All rights reserved.