A note is taped to our front door. It says something about a community-standards violation and cites section 2B from the HOA policies handbook: All residents are responsible for the upkeep and general maintenance of their front yards. The signature is live — fresh ink and all — because in our parts, an untamed lawn is grounds for a full-scale suburbia stand-off.
People in the 'burbs like things pretty. Truth is, we do too. We like our property lines delineated with boxwood, our five-foot fences crawling with jasmine, the four corners of our plot staked with gigantic tropicals. We prefer that our grass doesn't bend too far in the breeze, that our lives are edged at ninety and pruned in January. So we hire Jesús.
Through the peephole: a short man in jeans and a western shirt snapped chin high. I can't see his face. A boy's BMX bike leans against the pillar, a jug of water lashed to the handlebars with a bungee cord. He looks up. I recognize him as our neighbor's gardener.
"¿Trabajo?" he asks before the door is fully open.
"Sí. Mucho." I smile big, an apology for a lack of suave with languages beyond my backyard.
Three years ago and pre-baby, my husband and I bought our house for the big yard. Today, we resent it for the same reason.
On our way to the garage, we exchange names. His is Jesús. I give him the formal version of mine, "Victoria," and roll the R, because that's my lame tic around people with accents: I imitate.
"How many?" Jesús asks, pointing to my son wobbling toward the door.
"Uno." I hold up one finger. "One year."
Three fingers fanned, Jesús says, "Tres niños." Happy to have worked them into his day, he exhales. "Mi familia" — he adjusts his belt buckle, as wide as the culture gap between us, and his voice falls south — "en México."
Jesús scans the garage packed tight with a motley collection of various gas-powered things that, in fleeting weekends of home-repair enthusiasm, my husband insisted were necessary.
Amid the glut, I'm struck by the urge to give him something that says I'm sorry for asking you to feed and groom my world.
Instead of the $8 he quoted, I pay him $10 an hour. An extra $2 for watching him collect rose-bush trimmings barehanded and wondering how he irons his shirts without an ironing board, with a wife in Mexico.
Our house backs up to open space. Nothing but nettle, wild poppies, a pine tree the HOA planted for good measure, and a path they don't know about. Or maybe they do, but they haven't figured out how to handle illegals living in the periphery.
"Those people are living behind us, you know," Mr. Jeffers, our cantankerous neighbor, points out one day when his ten-speed goes missing.
"Those people don't steal; they don't have time," I say. "They leave at seven and come home at eight." A grocery bag on each wrist sagging with value packs of beef, tortilla chips, water jugs, and if it's Friday, Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Mr. Jeffers says a green-and-white Border Patrol truck was roving around the hills behind us yesterday. "About time," he says.
I decide I hate Mr. Jeffers, those translucent legs, the schnapps on his breath. Anyway, Jesús is walking toward my house, so I excuse myself.
"Hola." I open the garage with baby in arms. "Mucho gordo," Jesús says, puffing out his cheeks to animate "fat," his face luminous. "Mis niños son gordos." We laugh in the same language. He rolls out the mower and gets to work. From inside, I watch him make diamonds in our lawn underneath the shadows of sycamores.
Saturday at 10:30, Jesús returns to restore pretty. I open the door and notice he's wearing an old watch of my husband's. I recognize the Chargers cap too; the sweat rings have tripled since its time atop my husband's head. Jesús yanks the cap off, excited to show me something. "Virgin Mary," he says and with his forefinger traces a series of sweat rings mildly resembling a face.
Once a week behind our fence I leave a bag marked "free." Two weeks ago: a Chargers hat, two watches, women's gloves, and earrings. Last week: a six-quart pasta pot, a pound of pasta, and a jar of sauce. Sometimes I peek through the wood slats and watch them crest the hill and vanish into the scrub. Always tired men traveling in pairs. Father, son. Brother, brother. Father, father.
"I think miracle," he repeats, raising the hat to the sky and retracing the image.
"Yes, a miracle." We walk to the garage.
"Mi hermano's birthday today. Six," he says pulling from his wallet a photo of a little boy tackling a chicken. "I send." He points to the hat. "He wear to escuela."
On one of the hottest days of the year, Jesús snaps the brown off geraniums and laces a jacaranda tree, purple blooms raining on his head.
When the sun splits the center of the sky, I take him water, wondering all the way to the yard if he needs the water or if I need the giving of water.
Jesús stopped coming last month, the day our agapanthus bloomed.
The toilet paper and bath towels inside last month's "free" bag are waterlogged with May-gray's dew. Our house is overgrown too, the four corners of our plot blunted with weeds reaching for our neighbors' property lines. The path is thick with milkweed and cattail; you'd never know it was a thoroughfare into the hills.
Rumor has it the INS got wind of the encampment and flushed them out of the dogwoods like moles. Smoke and guns and yelling in a language they had only begun to learn. I like to think Jesús was glad for it. That he was simply biding his time. That maybe he calls the mandate to head home a "miracle." I like to think he's sleeping with his family in a sturdy house of brick, framed by a fence and bordered in hyacinth.