On the Day of the Dead, the Solona Music Hall is jumping. That's where Altagracia Quintero meets John Burns, just two weeks too late.
Altagracia – her friends call her Grace – has a tattoo of Nuestra Señora de Altagracia on her shoulder, she's got a Ford Motor Company tattoo running down her leg, and she has grease worked so deep into her hands that it'll never wash out. Grace works at Sanchez Motorworks, customizing hot rods. Finding the line in a classic car is her calling.
Now Grace has to find the line in her own life. A few blocks around the Alverson Arms is all her world -- from the little grocery store where she buys beans, tamales, and cigarettes (“cigarettes can kill you,” they tell her, but she smokes them anyway) to the record shop, to the library where Henry, a black man confined to a wheelchair, researches the mystery of life in death – but she’s got unfinished business keeping her close to home.
Grace loves John, and John loves her, and that would be wonderful, except that John, like Grace, has unfinished business – he’s haunted by the childhood death of his younger brother. He's never stopped feeling responsible. Like Grace in her way, John is an artist, and before their relationship can find its resolution, the two of them will have to teach each other about life and love, about hot rods and Elvis Presley, and about why it's necessary to let some things go.
She woke up when he got out of bed. As she lay there, listening to him pee, it occurred to her that she’d actually been sleeping. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real sleep. She stretched languorously, appreciating the pull on her muscles and how the sheets slid across her skin. When the toilet flushed, she sat up to watch him return to bed, but he didn’t climb back in. Instead, he sat at the end, pulling up his feet to sit cross-legged on the comforter.
"I killed my brother," he said.
He lifted a hand. "Oh, I don’t