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Excerpt from “The Factory Worker”

Patty was excited on the morning of her departure. She was dreadful about the vast change ahead and leaving the people she loved behind, but she was exhilarated to get on with it. She stood in the driveway with her father beside a stack of luggage, waiting for Victor.

“You be sure and call your mother as soon as you land. She’ll want to know you got there in one piece. Do you have everything, your aunt’s address?”

“I will, and I have her address in my purse, in my pocket, and in my cosmetics bag.”

“I’m sorry I can’t drive you, babe. I have an all-day meeting today I can’t miss. We’re covering a lot of ground.”

“I know. It’s okay. It was sweet to give Victor the day off. That’s the best going away present you could have given me.”

She hugged her father. It was a loving grip with her head to his chest. Her eyes welled with tears.

He patted her back. “Now don’t start sniveling. You’ll stain my suit.”

“I love you, daddy.”

“Daddy? It’s been years since you called me daddy. When you were little I used to hold you when you cried. You ruined more shirts and ties for me. Now look at you, grown, a woman, going off on your own.”

She straightened her father’s tie and patted it in place. He offered his handkerchief. She laughed and sniffed and blotted her nose. “And still ruining your ties.”

“All I want from you is to come back a professional woman, ready to hit the ground running. You’ll probably make more money than I do. I’ve been buying you things all your life. I’m going to make you buy me something.”

“I will. I’ll buy you anything you want. Anything.”

“Victor bought your house?”

“Yes. He loves it.”

“Here he comes now. I have to go or I’ll be late.”

She gave her father a hug. “Good bye, dad.”

“Good bye, babe. Take care.”

The ride to the airport was heartfelt and quiet. She sat close to Victor, hugging his arm. There was nothing either of them could say to make the ride easier. Time seemed to ooze up on them with its threat of the inevitable. Time can be relentless.

They didn’t know how to say good bye, not with so considerable an amount of time attached. The man who checked her baggage was fast and efficient and completely oblivious to the two aching hearts watching him. They had a forty minute wait, and when her call to board was announced, they faced each other. She was terribly brave and Victor wanted to sink into a crack in the floor. Victor looked into her eyes, and as a man will do when taken with great beauty, he must touch it, he put his hand to her cheek.

“Your face, God, how I’ll miss your face. I love you, Patty.”

He put his hand to her cheek as if it were a passionate kiss, and she felt it as such, her tears streaming. He kissed her, and afterward, after the minor tension of accelerated speed and the floating sensation of lifting off and away from everything she loved, she wept quietly into her father’s handkerchief.

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What Follows

 

by

R. Harlan Smith

   On the night Frank Pearls died, he gathered his little congregation around his chair and gave each of them a little snack like a priest giving Holy Communion. They received their snacks gleefully and smacked their lips to show their appreciation. Then he settled back in his chair, swallowed another glass of whiskey, filled the glass again, and in his calm, pleasant voice,  proceeded – sometimes he would read to them from Joyce, or Kierkegaard, or Al Capp, or sometimes he would just talk to them about philosophy, but he would never tell them it was philosophy. Tonight he would talk.

   “My dear friends.” He smiled at them. He loved them.

    “There ain’t any valid rationale to treat folks badly. There’s  reasons enough, of course there’s reasons, but reasons ain’t explanations of any real substance. Hold on a minute.”

   Frank drained his glass and refilled it.

   “There’s always a cause behind this sort of thing, treatin’ folks badly,  and cause is multi-layered, ain’t it. One act causes this or that, which triggers this, which leads to that, which brings this about, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum, don’t you see, until you come to our particular act of treatin’ folks badly, which, in turn becomes an act itself to foster endless other more of’m. Nothin’ ever happens at only one level. Every bit of behavior is segmented to one previous and one following. That’s the one to look out for, the ‘what follows’ one.  Now, you can’t help what come before, but you are in charge of what follows, so always bear in mind you are responsible to and for what follows.”

   With that, Frank Pearls laid his head back to the chair and closed his eyes. His arms sagged to the sides of the chair and the whisky glass slipped from his hand, and he sighed. The little congregation tensed. They had never seen Frank do  this before. A flutter of wonder stirred among them. They kept their eyes on him, waiting, but Frank stayed very still.

   Frank Pearls earned enough money as a Dog Sitter  to supplement his monthly check. There were fifteen, sometimes twenty, dogs. Some were kenneled separately, others  together because they had a merry time together. Every evening, he would gather all the dogs into his house where they would sit obediently before his chair, tails thumping. Then Frank would take out his whiskey and proceed to get drunk, and he would talk to them before the owners arrived.

   The owners liked greeting their cherished beasts at Frank’s front door, leashed and ready to go. It assured them of his personal care and concern. Some of them swear their dogs have become smarter since they’ve been in Frank’s care. They all agreed Frank was the only other owner of their dog.

   The young Miss Hazelton was the first to arrive. Miss Hazelton drove her new Volvo thirty minutes out of her way to leave her little Butch, a long-haired, miniature, female Dachshund, with Frank. She dressed smartly and worked as a product manager for a big company in the city. She knocked several times and when there was no response, she opened the door a little.

   “Hello? Frank?”

   There was no response.

   She opened the door just enough to fit her head and looked around, her eyebrows up, her eyes wide, with a perfect inquisitive expression. The house was still. She stepped inside and called out to Frank, and again there was no response.

   “Frank?” she called again.

   Strange, she thought, there were no dogs in the kennels and no dogs wandering about the house. She wondered how that could be.

   She found the dogs lying about in front of Frank in his chair. She thought he was sleeping. Some of the dogs raised their heads sadly to look at her and lowered them again. Others just mournfully rolled their eyes to watch her. Butch came to her immediately. Miss Hazelton caught her up in her arms with a hug and a kiss.

   Miss Hazelton had never seen a dead person and she was not sure how to tell if a person is dead. She thought she should walk on the tips of her toes and be as quiet as possible, although she didn’t know why, but she did. She looked very carefully at Frank Pearls. His eyes were partially closed and his jaw sagged open. She felt embarrassed for him, and she wondered if it was rude to stare at a dead person, as fascinating as it was.

   Miss Hazelton felt it was her duty to stay and explain to the others. She called the police and they called an ambulance to take Frank away after the Coroner declared there was no foul play and Frank’s passing was a death of natural causes. Frank’s clients were shocked and disappointed. Their dogs dragged at their leashes and walked reluctantly to their owner’s cars with their heads down.

   The county auctioned Frank Pearls’ house and everything in it. What did not sell was donated to the Goodwill Center. His ten year old niece in Ohio was delighted to hear she had inherited three hundred and thirty-eight dollars from her uncle Frank. Frank’s belongings went everywhere.

   Maria and Carlos Ruiz found Frank’s chair at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. Carlos liked it right away.

   “This is still a pretty good chair,” he said.

   Maria agreed. She examined the cushion. “We don’t even have to patch anything up.” They brought it home in the trunk of the car.

   “A man should have his chair,” Maria said.

   Carlos liked to sit and have a glass of beer when he came home from delivering heavy jugs of water all day. He could put it right across from the television for the soccer tournaments and. Don Francisco.

   It was Friday and hot, and Carlos Ruiz drove his route and dreamed all day of sitting in his chair with his beer while Maria set out dinner. He smiled on his way home, charmed by the image of little Zapata, Maria’s Chihuahua, running into the living room and leaping up onto his lap to welcome him home with a shower of loving licks and anxious whining. “Que Bueno perro,” he said. Sometimes his love for little Zapata brought tears to his eyes. Just a little dog.

  Maria kept him leashed in a corner of the kitchen where he spent most of his day. She didn’t like animals on the furniture. It made a smell. So little Zapata was comfortably leashed with a reasonable length so he could stretch his legs, and a thick folded blanket which Maria religiously vacuumed and laundered every Saturday.

   When Carlos was settled in his chair with his shoes off and his belt loosened, Maria unleashed little Zapata and delivered a cold glass of beer to her Carlos; always Zapata and the beer at the same time; two pleasures at once for her beloved Carlito. She kissed him on the forehead. He worked so hard. However, little Zapata, instead of leaping up on Carlos’ lap, sat on the floor in front of him and looked up at him as if waiting for something.

   It was at about that time when Maria heard a scratching on her kitchen door. She moved the curtain and looked. It was Cooper, the Villalobos’ Bull Dog. She opened the door and he and two other wiggly little mop heads pushed  past her to join little Zapata on the floor in front of Carlos. Then, because Maria, in her surprise, had left the door open, the rest of the dogs rushed in, nine of them.. Maria noticed more dogs gathering in the yard. And when she crossed herself, “Mio Dios,” she heard Carlos say, “My dear friends…”

   He smiled at them and became overwhelmed with a deep fondness for them. “Now I will tell you the story of how my ancestors discovered all dogs are singers…”

end

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All Dogs Are Singers

 by

R. Harlan Smith

   They sat wrapped in their cobijas around a quiet little fire that made dancing shadows on the Sajuaros. Cocopeli, the coyote, watched them from the brush with great curiosity, trying to think of a trick to play on them. He kept an eye on Dolores.

   Manuel opened another beer. He was going to tell them about the Secret of the Dogs, but he kept putting them off. Sometimes Storytellers do that. Finally, he said, “Whoever said there are no stupid questions had the monopoly on stupid statements.”

   Ricardo was on his sixth beer. The emptys were lined up between his feet. He liked the feel of a bottle under his foot. “Manuel, what’s the dog’s secret? C’mon.”

   Ricardo was Dolores’ little brother. She was there because he was there. She looked after him. They were excited, Ricardo and Alberto and Alex, because they knew Manuel’s stories were told to aggravate Dolores and bait her into an embarrassment. Manuel’s mother was a curanda and they thought Manuel knew things a brujo knew, so they gave him a walking stick to stay in his good graces. Alex made it and carved a crow at the top. Manuel kept it with great pride. He loved his friends and they loved him.

   Manuel took a long drink and settled into his rickety old chair. He had a captive audience. “The secret is, all dogs are singers.”

   They went silent then, waiting for Manuel to start his story. It was a silence a Storyteller used with great skill to take up any errant slack in attention. He let them wait and spoke.

   “The reason dogs don’t sing so much is because cats sing, too. But dogs don’t usually like cats as a rule, so they won’t do anything cats do. But all dogs are singers. Once in a while, a dog’ll sing somethin’ to a siren, or a train whistle. They like singin’ with accompaniment. It’s kind of irresistible for’m. Cats, they like to sing in duos or groups, but they’re strictly A Capella. Another difference is, cats sing to each other, but when a dog sings it’s a prayer.”

   Dolores was nodding, not so much in agreement as in a fixed state of aggravated tolerance. Manuel was pissing her off by putting off getting to the story. The younger set was not so tolerant of the old techniques of Storytelling the old men used, but that’s the only way Manuel learned. She swore she was going to put a bullet in Manuel’s lip someday, and everybody believed she’d do it. She was the only one among them who wore a gun belt. Manuel thought she looked so hot in her jeans and her gun belt and her sleeveless top that hid her marvelous tits that he could only dream about. He dreamed about them and longed like a dog praying to the moon for the privilege to kiss them. He was convinced she had the greatest pair of tits since Eleanor Roosevelt. Manuel was nice to Ricardo, so he would hang around and Dolores would be there, too. She was twenty years old and just the sight of her took Manuel’s breath away.

   Manuel took another drink to swallow his desires. “Yep. Their secret is, all dogs are singers.”

   “Tsk, Uhh!” Dolores rolled her eyes up into the universe.

   Manuel winked at Alex. “My father and his twin brother and some of the other old folks used to drink their home brew around the fire at night and tell stories.”

   “Your father had a twin brother?” Alberto said. “Were they identical?”

   Manuel stopped to think. “Well, they went before a magistrate once for fightin’ with each other. The magistrate looked at my father’s straight hair and his brother’s kinky hair, not to mention my father was handsomer and taller, and the magistrate said, ‘You don’t look much like twins.’ My father said, ‘Yep,’ and his brother said ‘Nope’, and since both answers were right, the villagers thought they must be  Storytellers; them and an old Indian named Pete.

   “Pete? Who’s Pete?” Dolores said.

   “Yeah. One of my father’s friends was an old Tohono O’Odham guy. He kept his hair long and parted in the middle, and his face was dark and all wrinkled and rutted. His cheeks had little craters between the creases from when he had the pox as a little kid. He was ugly. We were scared of him. The fire made shadows on his face that made him look like an old Sajuaro stump with long, white hair. And every hair in his mustache was as thick as a pencil lead.”

   “Oh, geez!” Dolores said.

   “He said his name was Pete, but everybody knew his name wasn’t Pete. His real name was so hard to say you could swallow your tongue just tryin’. His name in Tohono O’Odham meant, ‘Some snakes you go around, some snakes you make a U-turn.’ The people who could say his name were his friends. The ones who tried, but couldn’t get it right, he’d just go around’m. The people who didn’t even try, he’d turn around and go the other way. There were others who said no Tohono O’Odham would have a name like that. They said Pete was an Israeli.”

   More or less through her teeth, Dolores said, “Manuel, will you get on with it? Please?”

   Manuel was delighted. He had her attention. Manuel loved Dolores in secret; her and her Reservation Pig sun glasses she wore even now in the middle of the night. It made the fire easy on her eyes. “Okay, okay! Man. You’re gettin’ to be a mean drunk, Dolores!”

   “What?!”

   “Let him talk, Dolores. Let him talk,” Ricardo said.

   “I am not a mean drunk!”

   Manuel went on. “Sometimes they told stories everyone could hear, even the women and children. Other stories were exclusive, only the elders could hear. Some of the older boys could listen from outside the circle. And when Pete began to tell us his story with the fire makin’ shadows on his face, very seriously he said, ‘All dogs are singers.’ He usually started with the names of all the relatives and family who were there when the story happened. It’s the custom, but I’ll pass that part up.”

   “Thank God!” Dolores shifted in her chair.

   “Well, it was the early part of the twentieth century, nineteen aught somethin’. There was nothin’ left of the old West except Buffalo Bill, and he was in England.

   “Why’d they call him Buffalo Bill?”, Ricardo said. “Buffalos don’t have bills.” Ricardo Ortiz was the youngest among them. Dolores glared at him. He hunched his shoulders and looked at his foot. He was only wearing one shoe.

   Manuel ignored Ricardo. “There was a scientist named Percy.”

   “Percy?” Dolores said. “Why do you have to give him such a sissy name? Why not Bob, or George, or something?”

   “Or Alice,” Alberto said.

   “Or Eduardo,” Alex complained. They’re not all gringos.”

   Manuel leaned over toward Dolores and looked through her sun glasses into her gray-as-gray-can-be eyes. “Because his mom named him Percy. That’s why.

   “Yeah, Percy, he liked numbers. He said his numbers could prove there was another planet, but nobody could see it yet. They laughed at him, the other scientists. They said he was makin’ things up. He said, ‘No, I’m not. When it goes by the other planets, it makes’m wobble a little and slows’m down,” and he said his numbers could prove it, and they did, but still they wouldn’t take him seriously.

   “Then one day somebody made a better long eye that could see farther out into the stars.”

   “What’s a long eye?” Alberto said.

   “That’s what Pete called a telescope. And, sure enough, some farm boy from Illinois saw Percy’s planet. They said it probably wasn’t a planet at all. It didn’t obey the rules the other planets obeyed. It didn’t go around the sun on the same plane with all the other planets. But what scared everybody was what they saw out there with it. There was somethin’ movin’ around Percy’s planet. ‘It must be a moon,’ they said. But it wasn’t a moon because they saw it move form Percy’s planet to the planet Neptune and it circled around Neptune for a while. Then it went to  Uranus. By then they were positive it was bein’ steered by somethin’ intelligent. It looked like it could go anywhere it wanted, and it was lookin’ at all the planets.

   “This was an important discovery. They didn’t think they should tell the media and everybody right away, but after a few months they did tell the president. The president took one look and said, ‘It’s lookin’ at Mars. It’s comin’ here next.’ “

   As Manuel spoke, he reached into the cooler and took out the mason jar. He motioned to Dolores with it. She held her glass out to him and he poured more wine for her. She looked at him them in a very gentle way that made his heart jump. He screwed the lid back on and returned the jar to the cooler. He wiped the icy water on his jeans.

   “By then people in other countries saw it, too. They all agreed it was comin’ to the earth next.

   “When the word got out, people got scared. Somethin’ was comin’ from outer space, man. Who knows what it would do when it discovered people? Anything could happen. Everybody got real worried, and since dogs were man’s best friend, they got worried, too. Everywhere dogs began to sing. Rich dogs, poor dogs, city dogs, country dogs, even dogs that didn’t have voices, suddenly they could sing.”

   Dolores said, “Dogs that don’t have voices?”

   “He’s right,” Alberto said. “There’s an African dog, the Basenji, it doesn’t have a true bark.”

   They all wondered how Alberto knew that, but they were too interested in Manuel’s story to ask.

   “Right,” Manuel said. “The singin’ went on for days, hyenas in Africa, wolves in Siberia, dingoes in Australia, and every other conceivable kind of other dog in all the cities, hamlets, and villages of the whole world. What a racket they made.

   Alberto pointed a finger at Manuel. “A hyena ain’t a dog, Manuel.”

   “Yeah, well. You know how hyenas are. They try to muscle in on everything.”

   “Chihuahuas in the Sierra Madre,” Ricardo said.

   “Bulldogs in Boston,” Alberto said.

   “Corn dogs in Coney Island,” Alex said.

   Dolores closed her eyes and shook her head.

   “Yeah. And that’s how they discovered all dogs are singers, and the planet Pluto at the same time. Pete said this planet was known for uncoverin’ things that were long time secrets, and it was no wonder they found out all dogs were singers. That was almost a hundred years ago. And, y’know, old people die and new ones are born, and if the story don’t get passed on, people forget. That’s why today everybody knows about Percy and the planet Pluto, but hardly anybody knows all dogs are singers, except the Storytellers.”

   Alex was barely holding back a smile. He looked over at Ricardo and Alberto who were doing very well in keeping a straight face. They were waiting for Dolores. She was seething, staring out toward the stars. They knew she was getting angrier by the minute. She had to ask the obvious question. Alex thought her teeth were clenched as she took the bait.

   “Manuel… ?”

   Manuel waited. There was not a peso’s worth of patience left in her voice. He knew she would sound grim. Although she wondered if it was a stupid question, in her anger she barreled over the thought and demanded to know, “What about the God damned thing that was coming toward earth, Manuel? Jesus Christ.”

   “Oh, it went away.”

   “What?” Dolores sat up. “It went away?! What the hell am I supposed to do with that?! It went away.”

   Manuel shrugged. “Dolores, everybody knows if there’s dogs, you don’t go there.”

   Alberto and Ricardo and Alex screamed with laughter. They stomped their feet and shook their heads, and Alex said, “Tu comer te la,” and they laughed even harder.

   Dolores leaned back, muttering. “Pendajo. Estupido pendajo.

   She twirled the wine in her Mason jar. “He’s insane! He’s freakin’ loopy!”

Manuel smiled.

end

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Rosa and Cleopatra

by

R. Harlan Smith

Rosa’s Canteena did not belong to Rosa. It was the property of one don Louis Ortiz Ornellas, but he disappeared one day. He drove out of Dos Cruces in his fine gray and black Lincoln Zephyr and never came back. No one knows what happened to him.  Some people say they never heard of him. All Rosa knows is she doesn’t have to make high monthly payments anymore. Rosa was the only citizen of Dos Cruces who had a job and still she was as poor as everyone else. But no more. It has made life easy for her, keeping all her profits to herself. She was inspired to make chili and sell tacos to make even more money, but the farmers didn’t have enough money to buy anything and eat at Rosa’s Canteena. Instead, she kept a pot of beans warming and a stack of tortillas. It brought in a few pesos more, and she was happy with that, but sometimes she felt lonely. “There is no one who loves me,” she would say, but only to herself. Rosa Magdalina was aching lonely for a close friend.

   There were times when Rosa would shut down the bar and leave the rest open for the people. The villagers would share their food and Father Franciscus would bless everything. It was nice for everybody to eat together while Rosa went up to her place high up in the rocks. It took over two hours to walk up there. She built it herself and it was nice on a  flat rock and she put deer hides down to walk in her bare feet. It was cool up there and the smell of the village was only a memory. People were saying Rosa Magdalina was getting old and old people like to be alone, which wasn’t true. Old people don’t like to be alone.

   The only trouble was the Montez brothers liked to hunt up there with their rifles. They were young boys; noisy, clumsy louts, and Rosa hated them. Hunting was a game to them. They didn’t take it seriously. She warned them; “When you see smoke from my chimney, you stay away.”

   They taunted her. “We’re gonna come get you,” they sang from the rocks. “We’re gonna come get you, Rosa Magdalina.”

   “I’m telling Father Franciscus,” she shouted.

   Hector and Nestor Montez stayed away, but Rosa kept her ears open. “There’s no animal moves over rocks like a man,” her father, Miguel, told her. “You can hear a man a mile away. When I was younger, I could hear a snake comin’.” Then he would add, “Even with your mother snoring,” and they would all laugh, her and her brothers.. She wondered where Esteban and Emilio were. She hated Emilio, always fighting. She called him a vomit dispenser. They must be big now. Things were nice in those days.

   Rosa Magdalina could do a lot of thinking for a few days up in her place. Sometimes it brought tears to her eyes, remembering, but it made her feel good. It was good to be alone for a while.

   Rosa heard shooting and shouting just before the light of dawn. She pulled the blanket aside from her door and stood  to listen. She heard distant shots again and ricochets. It must be the Montez boys chasing down some poor creature.

   A large shape crept quickly over the rocks and hurried past Rosa’s hut. It saw her and stopped dead in its tracks and looked up at her with troubled eyes. She could have taken a step and touched an old mountain cat. The shooting and whistling and shouting was getting closer. The old cat was haggard and beat up. There were two wounds, her hind legs. It looked like the same bullet had hit both legs. The wounds weren’t bad, but they were slowing her down. She had lost blood and her wounded hind legs were giving out. The Montez boys were getting closer, shouting and whistling to keep her on the run till she dropped. She looked up at Rosa with such desperation in her eyes, Rosa said, “Why don’t you come in.” Rosa stepped aside to offer the cat a way to come in. The cat grumbled and she dropped her head to see past Rosa into the hut, then managed to drag her hind legs through Rosa’s door. She was breathing hard and testing for scent through her mouth. She scurried immediately across the room and crouched, panting and blinking behind Rosa’s little stove. It was the only thing in the room to hide behind. She might have been losing her eyesight, the way she blinked. That would scare her even more.

   It was a lucky thing Rosa Magdalina didn’t have the strength to kill a man with a broom handle, because she hit them to kill them, not to hurt them. They held their heads and hissed and paced and stomped with the pain. Rosa wanted to hurt them and she was pleased they were bleeding. She kept their rifles and beat on their legs to make them leave. She told them if they want their rifles send their father to come get them. Miscreantos.

   The cat kept a leary eye on Rosa as she filled a bowl with water and placed it within reach. Then she sat on the floor on the other side of the little stove and talked to the old cat as she continued to lick her wounds and grumble.

   Rosa talked to her: “I know, little cat. The legs are hurt easy. A woman’s legs are sensitive.”

   The bleeding had stopped.  She stared, blinking  at Rosa as Rosa talked, then she laid her head down and groaned, she was so exhausted.

   The next day Rosa could only get her to eat a little bit of chicken. When she yawned, Rosa could see she had teeth missing. In time, Rosa was able to pet her and scratch her chin, which she enjoyed very much. Rosa assured her she was beautiful again, and she looked like the great cats beside Cleopatra’s throne. Her eyes were a little clouded. Rosa thought she wasn’t much more than a blur to her. She was able to stand on the second day, but it made her grumble, and it tired her out. Rosa coaxed her with meat to walk a few steps and eventually she was following Rosa around the room. They took long walks together through the rocks and across open stretches of grass. After a few days she was able to run and she tripped Rosa by grabbing her skirts. They sprawled in the grasses and wasted  the days away. Rosa was laughing out loud and feeling joy for the first time in a very long time. Cleo’s legs were healing fine, and at last Rosa Magdalina felt like her entire soul was filled with love.

   One morning, when Rosa woke up, Cleo was gone. All the better, Rosa thought. She can’t live in a hut. She has to be free to hunt. Rosa worried. How could Cleo hunt if she could barely see? Rosa worried all day and fought back her tears.. Her concern for Cleo’s welfare worked her over like a nagging tooth. It was terrible not to have her around, watching all the things Rosa did, as if someday she might do them. And all the while Rosa talked to Cleo. She talked about things she hadn’t thought of in years, and it seemed the more she talked, the more she remembered, and she saw things differently afterward. She came to realize she had had a good life. Rosa Magdalina was not so lonely anymore. Cleo sat and watched her, and Rosa looked at her regal figure with loving eyes and an almost uncontainable fondness flooding her heart.

   When Cleo returned late in the morning and climbed onto Rosa’s bed to be with her, Rosa wept. For the first time in years, she cried like a child. “You came back,” she whispered. “Oh, my Cleo, I thought you were through with me.” She hugged her Cleo and wept and kissed her about the ears and head and breathed deeply the familiar musky smell of the grumbling Cleo. “My friend,” she sobbed. “My wonderful old friend,” and she wept so hard she could barely speak. Soon, they fell into a fine slumber with Rosa holding a large paw to her chest, their foreheads together.

   One morning, Cleo moved softly out of bed and crouched in front of the door. Someone was sneaking up on the hut.

   “Oh, Rosa-a-a-a. We’re coming to see you, Rosa.”

   When the Montez boys stepped into the room, grinning with evil intent, Cleo met them with a screech of outrage so loud it was heard down in the village. The Montez boys were paralyzed where they stood. Now, everyone in the village knew there was a puma near by and it scared them. They had their children and their penned stock to worry about. They reached for their machetes and their old guns.

   “Nestor, don’t run,” Hector said.

   “If there was ever a time to run, I think this is one of’m, Hector.”

   “No. Don’t run.”

   “Hector, I’m runnin’, man.”

   “No, Nestor. Don’t run.”

   “Oh, man. What are we gonna do, Hector?”

   Cleo sniffed the air. These were the ones who shot her. She remembered  them.

   “Hector, just back out real slow.”

   “I don’t know much about slow right now. We gotta get outta here, man.”

   “Just back out real slow.”

   They backed out slowly and took faster and faster steps until it was safe to break into a full run. They got to Rosa’s Canteena just in time to see Dolores Ortiz drinking her first beer of the morning. “A puma,” they shouted. “We tracked a puma to Rosa Magdelina’s house and it’s in there right now with Rosa. It must have killed her by now.”

   Dolores Ortiz was the first one to reach Rosa’s hut. It looked quiet enough. She slipped the rawhide loop off the hammer of her .44 and took a deep breath and rushed in. She saw the cat standing over Rosa on her bed. Rosa was scratching Cleo’s chin. Dolores drew her .44 and killed the cat straightaway, thinking it was attacking her friend Rosa Magdalina. They heard Rosa’s scream all the way down to the village, as if Dolores’ bullet had exploded through her own heart.

   Cleo whimpered in a terrible way and went limp and collapsed shivering onto Rosa’a chest, and Rosa moaned and hugged the great cat as if to keep her life from rising out of her.

   “Oh, my Cleo, my Cleo. No, no, no, my Cleo,” she cried. “I love you, my Cleo. Don’t leave me. Oh, please, God, don’t leave me my Cleo.”

   It was over. Old, half blind Cleo died being loved, and there was no explanation for anything. Rosa Magdalina hugged her beloved Cleo and rocked back and forth with her, aching and crying with the greatest, most agonizing injustice she had ever known. It was a terrible mistake that could not be undone. The old men who gambled for matches had to pull Cleo out of Rosa’s arms. They carried Cleo down to the village. They agreed she would make a fine skin.

   “What about Rosa?” someone said. “Maybe we shouldn’t leave her that way.”

   “Let her be. She needs to mend. Someday she’ll come back.”

   But Rosa didn’t come back. Her heart couldn’t take it. It was no use beating anymore. She curled into a ball and stayed that way until she died on the next full moon. Anyone brave enough to go up there would swear Rosa and Cleopatra still ran and played and frolicked among the rocks and the grasslands. You could hear her joyful laughing.

   Dolores Ortiz put little Ricardo on the back of her motorcycle. She took the smooth, paved road to Chihuahua, her tears streaming from behind her dark glasses.

   “Where are we going?” little Ricardo asked.

   “Anywhere we damned well please.”

   What a good answer little Ricardo thought. He loved his big sister. Hers was the only face he looked to for true love.

   The people of the village of Dos Cruces never saw them again.  And that was how Rosa Magdalina learned the joy of life is in the journey, and it is sometimes impossible to endure the end of it.

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Uncategorized

Don Louis Ortez Ornellas, the Benefactor

by

R. Harlan Smith

   It was the monsoon season. All it did was rain. Even when it didn’t rain, clouds kept hiding the sky as far as you could see. The people of the village of Dos Cruces east of Chihuahua in the Sierra Madre sat under their ramadas and in their doorways, trying to keep their matches and tobacco dry, and the kindling for their stoves so they could smoke and cook. Sixty-six people lived there with their goats and chickens and little gardens. Even the dogs moped around impatiently with nothing to sniff at. It was one of these days when don Louis Ortez Ornellas drove into town in his nice black and gray Lincoln Zephyr and his fine beige suit.

   As usual, don Louis pretended to be in a good mood, smiling and waving his greetings. He was used to the somber response they gave him, so when he parked at Rosa’s Canteena and hurried in, he didn’t expect much. He took off his hat and whipped a spray of rain on the floor. Rosa put a glass and a bottle and her payment on the bar and stood back with her arms folded across her chest. Don Louis cursed the mud on his ostrich skin boots and looked around the room. There were four old men gambling for match sticks in the back. Dolores, the big sister of little Ricardo Ortiz, sat alone at a table near the bar where she could see out the door. When she saw don Louis, she put her muddy boots up on the other chair at her table. It was a motion that hid her thumb as it slipped the rawhide loop off the hammer of her .44. Don Loius didn’t notice. She sat with her feet up, one hand in her lap rubbing two coins together, her other hand held on to a glass of beer on the table. Don Louis couldn’t tell she kept her eyes on him behind her sun glasses, or that she was willing to kill him.

   Don Louis gave Rosa a nod and took up her payment and his glass and the bottle. Rosa just looked at him as if her were a fly and there was nothing else to look at. Don Louis crossed the floor to Dolores’ table, grinning. He was happy to see her.

   “You don’t mind to join me with a drink, eh, Dolores?”

   Dolores didn’t speak. She put her boots down and smiled to herself as don Loius sat in the mud she left on the chair.

   “Such a pretty smile for me. How is little Ricardo?”

   “You saw him last month?”

   “Of course, I saw him last month.”

   “He’s the same this month.”

   Don Louis downed a drink. “Good. That’s good.”

   “Did you like the present I sent to you?”

   Don Louis won a motorcycle in a poker game from a man in Chihuahua. Two of his men had to beat the man to get it away from him. Don Louis instructed the two men to find a woman named Dolores Ortiz in Dos Cruces and give it to her. They found her in Rosa’s Canteena at her table. When they came toward her she slipped the loop off the hammer of her .44 and stood up to face them. She didn’t know who they were, these men in suits, but they looked like bad news. The fat one who rode the motorcycle put up his hands in a peaceful gesture: “Tranquillo, tranquillo,” he said, holding up the keys. “Don Louis sent this to you with his respects.”

   “I don’t want it,” Dolores said.

   Where was there to go in Dos Cruces on such a big machine?

   The man threw the keys and the papers for it on her table. The two men looked at her for a minute and grinned at her, shaking their heads, then they jumped into their pickup and headed back to Chihuahua. The people gathered around it to have a look at such a big shiny machine. It had the name of a gringo on the gas tank. They wondered who Harley Davidson was and why he would give his beautiful machine to Dolores Ortiz. The muffler ticked and clicked as it cooled. Dolores drove it up to her hideout in the rocks where she lived and left it there in a cave. She walked back down the hill and sat at her table with a fresh beer. Rosa smiled and shook her head. Dolores nodded and smiled. Dolores closed her eyes when she smiled and it drove men wild. They all felt cheated and frustrated by her sun glasses.

   “It’s a very nice present, don Louis, but there’s no gasoline in Dos Cruces.”

   Don Louis turned to the men in back. “Carlos,” he called out. “Carlos Ramirez. Come here.”

   An old man rose from the table and came over to don Louise who handed him the keys to his Lincold Zephyr. “Bring the gas cans from my trunk and put them inside the door.” The old man obeyed without a word. The five gallon cans were too heavy for him, but he struggled with both of them one at a time and went back to his friends.

   “Did little Ricardo like the sandals I brought for him?”

   “No.”

   “No?” Don Louis was visibly disappointed. “What does it take to please that boy?”

   Dolores shrugged. “He wants a shoe.”

   “A shoe? One shoe?”

   “He already has one. He’s waiting to find another one.”

   “But the sandals-”

   “They were too big. He gave them to Daniel Aguilar who keeps goats up in the grasslands.”

   “Yes. I know Daniel. That’s a day’s walk from here.”

   “Daniel gave him some meat.”

   “Meat? I can bring him all the meat he wants. Stupid boy.”

   “You be careful how you talk about little Ricardo.”

   “Are you making a threat to me, your benefactor?”

   “No.”

   Don Louis tensed his jaw. His face swelled red and he took a deep breath and let it out through his nose like a bull. He looked down at his boots and cursed the mud again. “I have to go back,” he said. “It’s not raining so bad in Chihuahua.”

   Dolores stared out at the rain on the street.

   “You and little Ricardo could live in Chihuahua. He could go to school.”

   Dolores didn’t answer.

   Don Louis stood up and threw a handful of bubble gum on the table. “For little Ricardo,” he said.

   Dolores sat very still.

   “I’ll see you next month.”

   “Maybe.”

  Don Louis put his hat on and walked out of Rosa’s Canteena. Rosa laughed quietly at the mud on the seat of his pants. He raced his motor and sped out of Dos Cruces, swerving back and forth and throwing mud everywhere.

   Dolores slipped the loop back over the hammer on her .44.

   But that wasn’t the end of the story. There was more to it than that. It was easy to see don Louis had a soft spot for women. He got them to do things for him for money. He didn’t know what to do with a woman that had no respect for money, a woman like the stubborn but pretty Dolores Ortiz. Things were different the following month when don Louis came to Dos Cruces.

   Don Louis came to Dos Cruces late Saturday afternoon in his fine Lincoln Zephyr on a day when the sun was bright and there were great white billowing clouds piled high in the sky like ice cream, and Father Francisco was making kites with long tails for the children and coloring the sky with them. Everyone agreed it was a day fit for a fiesta. There was music coming from Rosa’s Canteena and the fragrances of pork cooking; sausages and bacon, and there was plenty of rice and beans steaming in pots, and heated tortillas. It was the first time don Louis had ever heard joy coming from the hearts of the people of Dos Cruces.

   He parked close to the door and got out with a little bag with a pair of shoes in it and walked into Rosa’s looking for Dolores at her table, but his face fell into a frown when he saw she was not sitting there. The music stopped and the crowd went silent.

   “What’s the matter?” he said. “Go on. Go on with your fun. What’s the occasion?” he asked Rosa.

   “It’s a celebration of things to come.”

   “Things to come.” Don Louis nodded. “Things to come.”

   Rosa stood as usual behind the bar. Her hair was up and she had a bit of rose color on her lips. She smiled openly to show the little bit of gold in her tooth, and that was not common. What was also not common was the glass and bottle on the bar for him, and his payment. They weren’t there.

   Don Louis looked at Rosa. “Well?” he said.

   “Well what?” she shot back angrily.

   Don Louis was surprised and a little scared with the silence in the room. He looked at Rosa: “Where is your payment, Rosa Magdalena?”

   Rosa stared right back at him. “Dolores took it,” she said.

  Don Louis’s eyes got very big. His face swelled red again and his mouth fell open. Then in a low angry voice he said, “Where is Dolores Ortiz?”

   Rosa shrugged. “Who knows?”

   Then she called out to the crowd. “Does anybody know where Dolores Ortiz is?”

   They all shrugged and looked at each other. They didn’t know.

  Don Louis twirled the bag and slammed it onto the bar to scare Rosa, but she was not scared. He walked to the middle of the room and unbuttoned his jacket to cool off. They could see he wore his shoulder holster with the shiny little snub-nose six shooter. He loosened his shirt collar, and the crowd moved back away from him.

   He walked to the table where the food was spread and dipped a heap of guacamole with his fingers. He put it in his mouth and spat it on the floor and wiped his fingers on the table cloth.

   “Okay,” he said. “Okay. I know where she is.”

   Don Louis backed his Lincold Zephyr away from Rosa’s Canteena and sped up the hill to where Dolores’ hideout was. It was a hard climb for his car and the tires spun and one of them gasped the air out and flopped all the way up to where he disappeared over the top of the hill. Everyone went outside and watched the top of the hill. They didn’t know what to expect. All they could see was the dust that followed him up there.

   Little Ricardo ran around to the back of the hill and climbed up to the top of the rocks where he could see don Louis and his Lincoln Zephyr with a flat rear tire down below.

   Don Louis skidded to a stop and got out of his car. He squinted his eyes and wiped the sweat away from his forehead with a monogrammed handkerchief.

   He called out. “Dolores Ortiz. I know you’re up there.”

   Only a dead silence came back to him. He strained his eyes to see where she might hide, but there was nothing. He paced back and forth cursing and waving his arms. Then he lit one of his little cigars and leaned against a fender and smoked for a while. He had never been so angry in his life. Only a woman could make him so mad.

   “Dolores Ortiz,” he called again, and there was no response.

   The people in the village watched and listened, but there was nothing to see or hear. Someone said it was not a good idea to make don Louis angry. He would take it out on anybody. “Not today I don’t think so,” someone said.

   Don Louis finished his little cigar and threw it down and crushed it angrily with his boot. It was the hottest time of the day, so he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to change his tire. When he was finished, he stood with his hands on his hips and called out to Dolores Ortiz.

   “Dolores Ortiz, just give me Rosa’s payment and I’ll go away.”

   He waited and still there was no answer.

   “Puta,” he said, and he took out his shiny little pistol. “I’m coming up,” he said, “I will kill you, Dolores Ortiz. And when I’m finished with you, I will find your stupid little one-shoe brother and kill him, too.” And he started up the rocks. Dolores’s thumb slipped the little rawhide loop off the hammer of her .44. She rested the barrel on her forearm and shot don Louis’ hat off. The bullet burrowed into the top of the Lincoln Zephyr and whined off down into the canyon on the other side of the hill.

   Don Louis’ voice was hysterical. “You shoot my hat? And you shoot my car? Now I will kill you for sure.”

  Don Louis fired several shots at the puff of smoke, hoping a ricochet would get her. He heard a little squeal. He would never have dreamed it was a squeal of glee and not the squeal of zinging pain of a hot little bullet. Dolores moved quickly to the side and took a position off to his right. She watched him clamber over the rocks and stood up in plain view. She whistled and when don Louis looked, her bullet went into don Louis’ eye. His arms went up and he fell backwards to land beside his car with a big pink mess at the back of his head. It was ugly.

   The villagers outside Rosa’s Canteena heard the gunfire; the little pops of don Louis’ shiny pistol and the two explosive shots of Dolores’ .44.

   Little Ricardo helped his big sister load don Louis into his car and they pushed it over the edge. It fell over and over and settled upside down into a crevice two hundred feet below. A landslide of boulders and debris followed it down and buried it forever.

   “Did you take his money?” Ricardo said.

   “Yes.”

   The people outside Rosa’s Canteena waited for more gun shots until one of them pointed to the top of the hill.

   “Look,” someone said.

   A tire was bobbing up and down toward the top of the hill. Then under it they saw Dolores Ortiz holding it over her head. She gave it a heave and bounced it down the hill. The villagers watched as if hypnotized as it rolled toward them and past them and clear to the other end of the village where it ran out of momentum and fell over into the weeds. Then Dolores Ortiz fixed her hat smartly on her head. She put her arm across little Ricardo’s shoulders, and she and little Ricardo Ortiz came down the hill side by side.

   That night, after everyone was full of food and the musicians could play no more and they were all full of home brew, they made a fire behind Rosa’s Canteena. Little Ricardo wore a brand new pair of shoes. He threw his old shoe onto the fire and tonight, the night of the festival of things to come, little Ricardo was the one with a story to tell.

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