Those who survived the blasts and who were strong enough for the journey trekked south to the border to try and escape the fallout. They searched for the few remaining gaps in the wall, tempted the arid desert, dared river currents, offered bribes at the checkpoints. Some were arrested, some shot by citizen police paranoid about radiation. They hopped trains, walked by night, relied on rumors of safe houses.
Consuelo Pinto, a religious elderly woman, was said to harbor gringo families. The one that arrived after dinner that night now slept on the living room floor under blankets she provided. Filthy, she thought, as she stood at the sink washing out the few things they had brought with them, the changes of underwear already soiled. Consuelo pulled from the man’s rucksack a dirt-caked pair of socks, a crusty bandana, an orange peel, and a threadbare red cap with the English words she recognized from the TV not even a decade before, “Make America Great Again.” She knew what it meant, more or less. She had heard stories from a few in town who returned again after leaving years before. She had seen on the news what her brothers and their families had likely been through, though she never heard from them again.
Consuelo submerged the hat in the soapy water out of habit and started scrubbing. The government man would be by in the morning or the next for his routine weekly inspection. She’d been brought up to believe that forgiveness was a virtue, but there were the grandchildren to think of now. She turned to gaze at the grizzly man sleeping with his hand on his son’s shoulder. He had seemed friendly enough — grateful with his few Spanish words and cheerful with his gestures. She pulled the hat out of the water and looked at it, dripping onto her liver-spotted hands, like it might have the answer.
She heard a car door slam shut out front, heavy footsteps on the gravel, and a knock at the door.