Home > All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked Saints
Author: Maggie Stiefvater

You can hear a miracle a long way after dark.

Miracles are very like radio waves in this way. Not many people realize that the ordinary radio wave and the extraordinary miracle have much in common. Left to their own devices, radio waves would not be audible for much more than forty or fifty miles. They travel on perfectly straight paths from their broadcast source, and because the Earth is round, it does not take them long to part ways with the ground and head out to the stars. Wouldn’t we all, if we had the chance? What a shame that both miracles and radio waves are invisible, because it would be quite a sight: ribbons of marvel and sound stretching out straight and true from all over the world.

But not all radio waves and miracles escape unheard. Some bounce off the ceiling of the ionosphere, where helpful free electrons oscillate in joyful harmony with them before thrusting them back to Earth at new angles. In this way a signal can leap from Rosarito or Nogales, knock its head on the ionosphere, and find itself in Houston or Denver, stronger than ever. And if it is broadcast after sundown? Many things in this life work better without the sun’s meddlesome attention, and this process is one of them. At night, radio waves and miracles can caper up and down so many times over that in some unpredictable cases, they eventually reach transmitters and saints thousands of miles away from their sources. In this way a small miracle in tiny Bicho Raro might be heard all the way in Philadelphia, or vice versa. Is this science? Religion? It is difficult even for scientists and saints to tell the difference between the two. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. When you cultivate invisible seeds, you can’t expect everyone to agree on the shape of your invisible crops. It is wiser to simply acknowledge that they grow well together.

On the night this story begins, both a saint and a scientist were listening to miracles.

It was dark, true-dark in the way it gets in the desert, and the three Soria cousins had gathered in the back of a box truck. Above them, the bigger stars had been pushing the smaller stars out of their heavenly home in a pretty little shower for about an hour. The sky beneath was pure black all the way down to the greasewood and rabbitbrush that filled the valley.

It was mostly quiet, except for the radio and the miracles.

The truck was parked in a vast stretch of scrub several miles from the nearest town. It wasn’t really anything to look at, just a faded red 1958 Dodge moving truck with a somewhat optimistic expression. One taillight was fractured. The right front tire was ever so slightly flatter than the left. There was a stain on the passenger seat that would always smell like cherry Coke. A little wooden alebrije that was part skunk and part coyote was strung up on the rearview mirror. The truck had Michigan plates, although this was not Michigan.

The radio was playing. Not the one in the cab—the one in the cargo area, a teal-blue Motorola unit taken from Antonia Soria’s kitchen counter. It was playing the Soria cousins’ station. Not the one they liked to listen to—the one they had created. The box truck was their broadcast studio on wheels.

They, their. Really, it was Beatriz Soria’s truck, and Beatriz Soria’s radio station. This is every Soria’s story, but it is hers more than anyone else’s. Although it wasn’t her voice playing over the AM radio waves, it was her complicated and wiry heart powering them. Other people have smiles and tears to show how they feel; enigmatic Beatriz Soria had a box truck full of transmitters in the Colorado desert. If she cut herself, wherever she was, the speakers in the box truck bled.

“… if you’re tired of singin’ only to swingin’,” the DJ promised, “you’ll find us after the sun goes down but before the sun comes up.”

This voice belonged to the youngest of the cousins, Joaquin. He was sixteen years old, took himself very seriously, and preferred that you did as well. He was suave and clean-shaven, with headphones pressed against a single ear to avoid spoiling his hair, which he had oiled into an Elvis pompadour of considerable height. Two flashlights illuminated him like golden, premature spotlights, leaving everything else in purple and blue and black. He wore the same shirt he had been wearing for two months: a short-sleeved red Hawaiian-print number with the collar popped. He had seen a shirt worn similarly in the single film he had managed to see in 1961 and had vowed to re-create the look for himself. A garden of soda bottles filled with water grew by his feet. He had a phobia of dehydration, and to combat it, he always carried enough water to moisten him for days.

After dark, he did not go by the name Joaquin Soria. In the mobile station that roamed the high alpine desert, he called himself Diablo Diablo. It was a DJ name that would have scandalized both his mother and grandmother had they known, which was the point. Truth be told, it scandalized Joaquin himself a little. He enjoyed the thrill of danger each time he said it, superstitiously believing that if he whispered a third Diablo after the name, the devil might actually appear.

Here was a thing Joaquin Soria wanted: to be famous. Here was a thing he feared: dying alone in the parched dust outside Bicho Raro.

“… some more of that dancing and dreaming,” Diablo Diablo’s voice continued, “the hottest sounds of ’62, from Del Norte to Blanca and from Villa Grove to Antonito, the music that’ll save your soul.”

The other two cousins in the truck, Beatriz and Daniel, raised their eyebrows. This claim of covering the entire San Luis Valley was certainly fraudulent, but Joaquin’s interests tended more toward things that would be nice if they were true rather than things that actually were true. No, the station did not cover the valley, but what a kind place the world would be if it could.

Daniel shifted position. The cousins were knee to knee in the back of the truck, and because of this cramped proximity, Daniel’s long foot couldn’t help but unsettle one of Joaquin’s water bottles. The metal cap burst across the floor, skittering on its rim as if pursued. The wires on the floor shrank back from the water. Disaster whispered briefly. Then Joaquin snatched up the bottle and shook it at Daniel.

“Don’t break the truck,” he said. “It’s new.”

It was not new, but it was new to being a radio station. Before the truck had been pressed into its current role, it had been used by Ana Maria Soria’s brother’s wife’s sister’s family to transport the Alonso brothers from painting jobs to bars. The truck had grown weary of this tedium and had broken down, and since the Alonso brothers preferred painting and drinking to lifting the truck’s spirits, it had been left to grow weeds. In fact, during this time, it had collected enough moisture for a crop of swamp timothy and sedges to grow fast and thick over its roof and hood, completely transforming the truck into a wetland in the middle of the desert. Animals came from miles to live in this oasis—first a beaver, then twelve leopard frogs with their creaking-rocking-chair calls, then thirty cutthroat trout so eager for a new home that they walked to the truck across the valley. The final blow came when four dozen sandhill cranes arrived—as tall as men and twice as noisy. The chaos of this swamp kept everyone awake, every hour of every day.

Beatriz had been tasked with driving the animals away. That was when she had discovered the truck beneath it all. Her slow restoration of the truck had evicted the animals so gradually that the new marsh hardly noticed it was being asked to leave, and soon most of the Soria family did not remember that it had even been there. Even the truck seemed to have been mostly forgotten. Though the wooden planks of the floor were still stained with rust-red circles from paint cans, the only reminder of its time as an ecosystem was an egg Beatriz had found under the gas pedal. It was enormous, hand-sized, mottled like the moon and light as air. She’d made a gauzy hairnet hammock for it and hung it in the back of the truck for luck. Now it swung to and fro over Korean War transmitters, third-hand tape decks, broken turntables and scavenged tubes, resistors and capacitors.

Diablo Diablo (Diablo!) crooned, “Next we’re gonna spin a pretty little number by the Drifters. This is ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ … but we’re not done dancing, so stay tuned.”

Joaquin did not, in fact, spin a pretty little number by the Drifters, though it did begin to play from one of the tape decks. The entire broadcast had been pretaped in case the station had to take off in a hurry. The Federal Communications Commission took a dim view of America’s youth establishing unlicensed radio stations in their free time, particularly as America’s youth seemed to have terrible taste in music and a hankering for revolution. Fines and jail time waited for offenders.

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