photo by Victor Ward
Delaney Mossbacher, a writer, who considers himself a liberal humanist, hits a Hispanic person with his car. That person is obviously hurt badly and Delaney tries to talk to the man in English. But soon he realizes that the man does not understand. Although the man has several severe injuries, he rejects seeing a doctor, but asks for money instead. Delaney gives him $20 and leaves for the recycling center, where he has been heading for originally. He can’t stop thinking about the accident and finally it occurs to him that the victim must be one of the illegal immigrants camping in Topanga State Park.
Delaney does not feel guilty anymore, but he feels his anger arouse.
At the end of the chapter, Delaney calls his wife, who disapproves of the way Delaney has handled the conflict.
The second chapter is from the point of view of Cándido Rincón. Having been hit by Delaney’s car, he is overcome with pain, and his different injuries are described. Cándido is on his way back home from the labor exchange to get to work, when he is hit by Delaney Mossbacher’s car. He is able to walk half way back to his camp when he collapses. Ameríca, Cándido’s wife, is also on her way back to their camp in the canyon. She has tried to get work, too; a Guatemalan woman has given her an address for a sewing job, but instead of earning money she spends two dollars and twenty cents for the bus fare. The narrator describes how Ameríca feels in the U.S. environment. First she feels like a human being again, when she walks along the coast, lined by big houses, people jogging and the smell of the ocean air. She ends up in a bad neighbourhood. It turns out that the address does not exist and that she is lost, since after leaving their village in Mexico four months ago, Ameríca and Cándido have not been able to learn enough English. Finally a Mexican woman helps her to find a bus. When she walks up the canyon, she finds Cándido lying on the ground. Her first thought is that he has found work and got drunk, but when she comes closer she sees blood and feels that they are in deep trouble.
She drags him back to their camp and takes care of him as good as possible.
At first she wants to consult a doctor, but he won’t let her because he is afraid that “Immigration” may find out about him.
One day, when Cándido is still very weak, Ameríca wants to go and get work.
It hurts Cándido deep inside that he isn’t able to feed his wife, and he wants to go himself, but he is still much too weak. However both his pride and his fear don’t allow it to let her go either. América reminds him of his promises about the good life and of their dreams of an own apartment they should have.
This hurts him even more and finally he gives in and lets her go.
The third chapter is mainly about the Mossbachers’ daily life. The neighborhood they live in is a good one, even though the houses look all the same. Delaney describes his every-day rituals that he follows quite precisely. He takes Kyra’s son, Jordan, to school and that is when the best time of the day begins for Delaney because then he has a couple hours to himself to write his monthly column for a nature magazine. In that relation Delaney is described as a naturalist.
At breakfast time all three of them sit together and eat. Kyra makes Jordan eat only nutritionally valuable and extraordinary healthy food, like granola bars which Jordan does not like at all. Jordan is described as a typical American child of his age, who is dedicated to TV, video games and baseball cards.
When they sit at the table, suddenly a coyote comes into their yard, grabs one of the Mossbachers’ two dogs and takes off with it. Delaney immediately starts pursuing the coyote, Kyra right behind him, but the animal has already disappeared into the woods. After searching for about an hour, Kyra goes off to work and Delaney later finds only some remains of their dog.
At night Delaney leaves for a meeting of the neighborhood association. The issue that is discussed there is the question whether or not a wall should be built around the neighbourhood, which can then only be accessed through a gate by residents or people who have a permit from a resident. Delaney does not think much of this idea, in his eyes it is “undemocratic”. But that is not why he goes to the meeting, in fact he wants to alert the association and create some consciousness of the coyote trouble. But nobody listens to him, because he doesn’t “speak to the issue”. Delaney becomes angry and frustrated, and in his desperation he even takes out a torn-off foreleg of his dog, and waves it.
Later on the steps of the auditorium, where the meeting takes place, Delaney talks to Jack Jardine Jr., the son of the association’s president, Jack Jardine.
There is a little flashback to a few days before; Delaney talks to Jack Jardine and his son is present. Delaney feels guilty about the accident and asks Jardine for advice. Jardine tells him, that he has not done anything wrong and that it has been Cándido’s own fault because he hasn’t asked for help.
With that conversation in mind, Jardine Jr. asks Delaney now, where exactly the Mexican lives Delaney has run over. Delaney wonders why he is so curious, but tells him what he knows, since he does not have anything to hide.
América goes to the labor exchange every morning to get work while Cándido is still too weak to get up and just dozes the whole day and thinks about his life.
He thinks about his time in Mexico and his first meeting with América. She is the younger sister of his first wife Resurrección. He marries her just after getting back from nine months of work in the North. Three quarters of the year, so Cándido says, his village is basically without men because they are all up North working. One year when he comes back from the North, Resurrección has lived with another man and has spent all the money, Cándido has sent her. Cándido is angry and looks for revenge. But the other man is stronger and Cándido ends up lying in the street bleeding with everyone turning their backs on him. He has tried making his way across the border to the U.S. but has been chased back to Mexico. He has tried making ends meet by begging from tourists, when one day he meets América again and decides to give it another try and cross the border with her.
They have been successful, but he is sick of worry for América. When he wakes up he is thirsty and even drinks polluted water out of a stream. Later he hears voices getting closer to his camp and he hides behind some bushes. At first he is scared they may be INS agents, but then he realizes that they are two white teenagers. They take apart the whole camp, toss everything into the dirty stream, rip up one of América`s dresses and at last even leave behind an obscene message that reveals their racist attitude.
Meanwhile América is at the labor exchange. After first nervousness because she is the only woman there, she feels quite comfortable because the faces around her are to some degree familiar to her. She meets a white woman, Mary, at the exchange. They have communication problems, but América realizes that the white woman has to beg for work in her own country just like herself, who is an illegal immigrant. América is shocked and all her hopes disappear at once. She doesn’t feel comfortable. The faces around her do not look familiar anymore but hungry and greedy for women.
She is reminded of their border crossing at night. The man paid to take them over safely, the coyote, is suddenly gone and an armed group of Mexicans appears in order to mug them. Just before they are able to rape América, the US border police discover them and send them back to Mexico, along with hundreds of other illegal immigrants.
While Delaney walks home after leaving the meeting, he thinks about the happenings of the day and starts to calm down and relax. The silence is interrupted by a car moving past him over and over again. At first Delaney does not care about it, but by the time he gets home he is afraid. At home he puts Sacheverell`s foreleg into the freezer with the intention to bury it the next day. While he puts it away, he thinks of the gate that is to be put up at the entrance to Arroyo Blanco. Kyra, shocked by the disappearance of her dog Sacheverell, wants to sleep with Delaney because that is therapeutic to her. Right after sleeping together Kyra realizes that her dog is dead and asks her husband about it. He has to tell her about the dog’s foreleg and where he put it. She goes to take a look at it, but when her second dog comes into the kitchen as well it is too much for her. The next morning she does not feel capable of selling houses and regrets having looked at the foreleg. However, later on she drives to a property which she is about to sell. While getting ready for the buyers, Kyra forgets about the death of her dog, but as time goes by, she feels more stressed since she is again reminded of her dead dog. She calls home to check how Jordan and Delaney take the death of the dog, but sees that they are fine. While locking up the last house on her list, the Da Ros Place, she starts to dream about her future in such a house and feels more and more relaxed and comfortable. She does not even want to leave that house anymore. Meanwhile Delaney buries the dog’s foreleg and then puts the finishing touches to his monthly column, “Pilgrim At Topanga Creek”. He writes about a pilgrim, that leaves civilization to climb a mountain and spend the night in the natural environment. He does so because he wants to remind himself of his ancestors and their lives.
In his monthly column, “Pilgrim at Topanga Creek”, Delaney talks about the coyote problem created by canines living near human communities. He states that more and more coyotes approach humans and that they are no longer satisfied with garbage as food. Delaney also blames the increasing coyote problem on humans. In his mind it is their fault and he indirectly tells them to do something about it. They are expected to do it by themselves because as experience shows other methods have just worked for a limited period of time.
Cándido does not want América to go to work to earn the money for the two of them, but she thinks that is what she needs to do to help out. They start arguing and Cándido slaps her. She understands his emotions, but goes to the work exchange the next morning nevertheless. There she meets a stranger who seems nice and tries to start a conversation, but she does not want to talk to him. Then, the stranger starts hitting her. América is afraid and thinks of Cándido. While she waits for work, memories of her home come to her mind. After a while a man enters the work exchange to hire someone for a cleaning job. He picks América; another girl, called Mary, goes with them as well. They have to clean little buddhas in a house in Arroyo Blanco. Even though she has been hired to work six hours, she works more than that. On her way back her employer starts hitting her, and she feels uncomfortable being alone with him in his car. While América is at work, Cándido starts to move their camp across the pool in the canyon because he wants a safer place for her and himself. He also feels bad about their discussion and about slapping her. He is worried since América does not come back, and while he walks to meet her up in the canyon, he meets the same stranger América has met before. They start talking about the canyon and that some boys have come to destroy Cándido’s camp. He does not want the stranger to live in the canyon as well.
Kyra is still in her favourite house, the Da Ros Place, which is about to be sold. Kyra, quite unhappy that the house may be sold, settles down while the buyers look around. In the end they do not want to buy it. Delaney is home preparing dinner for his wife, Jordan, and himself, when he discovers that he needs to go and buy some pasta to finish. He wants to get it from the super market, however he cannot leave Jordan at home by himself and takes him with him. While Jordan waits in the car playing with his game boy, Delaney does the shopping. In the market he runs into Jack Jardine and his son, Jack Jr.. Jack starts talking with Delaney about the meeting and the gate which is about to be put up at the entrance to Arroyo Blanco. They also talk about immigration and the increasing problems caused by illegal immigrants. Both, Jack and Delaney, hold different opinions on that topic, and after a while they leave the market. While Delaney walks to his car, he sees a fight between a few men on the other side of the parking lot. He identifies one of them as the Mexican hit a couple of days ago and left injured near the road. He feels guilty once again, but Jack, still at his side, brings up the whole immigration problem again, and Delaney does not feel guilty for too long. When he comes home again, dinner is ruined, but nobody is hungry anyway. The next day he decides to go hiking in the canyon. He leaves his car next to the road. While hiking, he discovers Cándido’s camp down in the canyon. He feels embarrassed by it and angry. When he hears some voices in the canyon, he gets a little bit afraid because of robberies having happened down there. He walks back up and meets two strangers who start talking to him. He does not really care about them because he is still angry about the campsite and he wants to send the sheriff down. When Delaney is back on the road he cannot find his car. He keeps looking for it all the way back to the grocery store. From a pay phone where he calls Kyra to tell her that his car has been stolen.
While driving Delaney sees a Mexican who looks like Cándido. He reacts immediately and calls the police. Because of that he causes a car crash and loses the Mexican. Furthermore, the policeman arriving does not care about him. So Delaney decides to follow the Mexican’s footprints to find him. He follows the footprints up to Arroyo Blanco Drive where they turn into the road. Delaney is not surprised about that because of the Spanish-looking graffiti and everything that has happened there. He gets angry about it and ideas of Cándido’s death in the car accident come to his mind. Even though it rains and gets dark outside Delaney keeps on looking for the Mexican. He walks home to pick up his gun, purchased together with Jack and of which he has always been afraid. He walks over to Jack’s place to develop the pictures of graffiti-spraying people. When he recognizes that Jack Jr. is the sprayer, he almost stops his plan of trying to find the Mexican, but he changes his mind quickly. So he leaves the house again and walks to the canyon where he further searches for the Mexican. After a while he sees smoke and walks into that direction. Kyra drives to pick up Jordan at a friend’s house. While she drives there she listens to her whale sound tape and relaxes and thinks about her life. She is tired of her job and wants more time for her family. On her way she passes a sign at a house that is on the market and she gets interested in it. When she sees the house, she is surprised and her interest is aroused even more. So she goes and meets the owners.
Cándido waits for América in the bushes near the parking lot after being in a fight with a few other men. He is really concerned because she comes back quite late. Having waited there for about an hour Cándido sees América arrive. He is happy to see her, but at the same time he is unhappy because she works whereas he cannot. He does not like the idea that a woman is the breadwinner. América goes to a market to buy some food and Cándido follows her. When América sees Cándido she looks at him with a proud and joyful expression on her face because she has earned her first money. They talk about her work, and she tells him that she can continue to work the next day. Cándido is really happy about that. Both of them do not see their future being that bad anymore. They walk down to their new campsite, and Cándido leads her through the pool. At their new campsite they prepare dinner. América thinks that the worst is behind them because she has a job and he may get work as well. The next morning they walk to the labor exchange together to get some work. They have to wait for a long time until the fat man arrives to get América or somebody else to clean his buddhas. She works for him again, and after a day’s work she comes back to the parking lot where she looks for Cándido. She cannot find him and waits in the market and in the parking lot until it gets dark. Then she decides to walk to their campsite. Shortly before she arrives, two strangers stop her and start talking to her. She is afraid of them and turns around to run away. She just wants to run to the street because she figures she is safe there. On her way the two men get a hold of her and throw her to the ground. They rape her and leave her where she is.
Chapters 1-4 by
HOLGER THIESS and
Chapters 5-8 by TAMARA KNUDSEN