Interstate 10 still looks like a dam from the air. A long, low dam. To its west, Phoenix South Mountain Park pops out of the desert like a plastic blister and between its base and the highway, the irrigated communities there seem to have run down off the mountain, slid through its dry arroyos, and collected in a lush, green pool contained by the, wide sunken road. On its other side, the eastern side, the ground is flat and dry and brown, a death brown, and the houses are small and low and none of them have the requisite droplet of azure behind them seen scattered like first drops of blue rain around the houses in the wealthier communities. I always try to see Leti's mother's house down there, east of the highway, as we come in, I know its there somewhere, but there are no landmarks - I can see the mall to the north, I know her house is in the middle of the second block to the east, but before I can count, we are already banking, changing course, coming in for approach.
        We only have carry-ons, so we are out quickly and the driver is there with his “Mr. P_______” sign, so we are at Placida’s house equally fast. The street is quiet at midday on a Friday, most of the people are at work, and the children are at school, so the brown front yards are empty except for the occasional, faded, all-weather plastic toy, and the only sound is that sound a dog makes when barking behind a chainlink fence. The front door with its brass number and three little windows on a diagonal lies at the end of a row of paving stones and as we follow them, their edges violated by brown grass that has drawn the strength to grow from somewhere, I wonder what happens to the money we send Placida every month to pay someone to take care of her yard. I hear the car drive off behind us as Letitia takes a deep breath, looks at me, and then rings the bell. We hear it buzzing inside, hear Buster yap for a minute or so, running up to the other side of the door, but that's all. Leti waits a moment, looking down at the mat on the concrete porch, its six horseheads long since faded off into the sun, and then rings again without looking up. Again, buzzing, yapping that this time dissolves into whining, but nothing else. She looks at me, I shrug. We walk around what we can of the house, the gate to the fenced back yard is locked and I could climb it but we’re not there yet, there’s almost always some other explanation for why Placida isn’t here. I walk up and down the block and do not see her car, which I report back to Letitia as she peers through the living room window, its gauzy white curtain allowing light in but not back out so it is impossible to really see anything. Our cellphones seem to have no coverage so we decide to wait for a little while and see if she appears. We put our bags down on the porch, and sit on its concrete lip, our legs out in the sun, but our bodies, at least, in the shade. After about forty minutes, when there is still no sign of her, I suggest I walk to the bodega a few blocks away, get some drinks and snacks, and use the public phone to check our messages. Something has obviously happened, as something always does with Placida, but we need to find out what it is on this particular occasion, whether we should call a cab, check into a hotel, etc. For once, at least, the possibility does not exist that she just forgot we were coming—I made Leti call her this morning on the way to the airport to avoid precisely that misunderstanding.
        At the curb, I look up and down the street and then back at Leti, wondering if she will be OK here, in this neighborhood, by herself. But she is well shaded and, for once, most people passing by would not notice her. Besides, even though this isn’t the house she grew up in, she's better equipped to handle herself around here than I am. If anything, she should be the one walking to the store. Not that this is a particularly bad area, but over the last couple years we’ve heard one or two stories from her sisters or from her mother herself about a bodega being robbed or a drive-by. We should really move Placida to another house, a better place, but she doesn’t want to leave and she doesn’t want to stop working.

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