Chapter 31

The roar of the once yellow and crackling fire has turned to a silent, black-encrusted orange glow. Uncle Carlos is getting into his police car. His family is already inside and waiting for him. I wave and watch the last of the relatives leave. I walk back into the house and notice a picture on the wall, “Jose, tu photo?”

“Yes,” He smiles and looks around. “You photo here.” He points to a picture.

I take a closer look. He wasn’t kidding. That was taken today. “Ayayay!” There is a moment of dead silence, and then we start laughing. We all plop down on the sofa and big overstuffed chair. I can’t believe I said that.

Aunt Adriana is putting Clarita to bed, and Tia Joselyn is bringing out some coffee. That’s weird, coffee before bed?  Everyone takes a cup, so I do too. It’s good. “Coffee es muy bueno.”

“Yes.” Jose is still working his English.

“Si.” Herminio says, but with a sly smile, “Starbucks.”

“Párelo. Tenga un poco de respeto a su primo eh?” comes a voice of authority from another room.

I don’t know what that was, but they keep laughing anyway, until grandma walks in. Now they’re quiet as bricks and it’s my turn to laugh.

She seems to be giving instructions about quartos—rooms, so I think she’s giving us our bunk assignments. They all stop and look at me. I must have missed something.

“When you go home Pancho?” Jose asks.

I just shrug. That should work in any language.

“You fly here?”

“Si.” I’m to feel a language war coming on . . .

“¿Tienes tu boleto?” Grandma asks Jose to ask me, but I know what she said.

“No. No tienay ticket, wallet, dinero, zapatos, nada.” There, take that Jose.

Grandma says some more stuff to Jose, and he says some stuff back. Neither of them look surprised. Uncle Carlos must not have filled them in on what happened to me. Grandma leaves the room and Jose looks at me, “I drive you to Tepic mañana—tomorrow.” He smiles arrogantly at me.

“Donday Tepic?” I turn to face him directly.

“North from here.” he says with a serious look. This battle of languages is so on!

“Tepic es circa . . . donde?”

“The beach.”

Oh shit . . . my turn. What do I want to say?  Ummmm. He is waiting. “Ummm, okay.”

We both laugh. Technically, that works in any language, but we both know he won. High five Jose. Good job.

Aunt Josie laughs as she enters the room. She must have heard some of our dueling linguo’s. Yep, the old, kiss-on-the-forehead-for-your-little-cousin routine. “su ninos es muy gracioso eh?” she says as she leaves, ruffling Jose’s hair on the way.

Tia Adriana plops some blankets down right next to me on the sofa, and her warm lips smash into my forehead. “Buenos suertos Pancho.” She smiles at me and then goes to her room. I guess that means I’m sleeping out here. The coffee is just warm enough, so I finish it quickly, as does everyone else. Jose starts a yawn and it goes around like a wave at a baseball game. I want to laugh, but I’m finding it physically impossible to laugh and yawn at the same time, although I do put in a good effort. When I’m finished, I don’t feel the need to laugh any more. I must have yawned it out of me somehow. Herminio grabs my empty cup and takes it into the kitchen. “Gracias Herminio.”

The light in the kitchen is still on. It throws unfamiliar shadows across the walls. As I lay here collecting my thoughts and going over the events of the day, I began to feel . . . conflicted.

I’m in a foreign country, in a strangers house, with all kinds of people I’ve never even met before today . . . yet they are my family? How am I supposed to feel about this? Before today I didn’t like Mexicans at all. I’ve hated them my whole life. It’s all I know. I trusted that anger. It was mine. I earned every ounce of it. But now I know it was all a lie. Something we tell ourselves when we don’t really know the truth. The mixture of emotions is moving around my chest like oil and water, mixing, but not blending, fighting for their own space, their right to exist.

I’m so tired, but there’s no way I can sleep with all these thoughts bouncing around in my head.  What’s up with this? I can’t be crying. Oh, great, more tears follow. I feel the avalanche inside my chest. It’s hard to breathe.

A shadow comes through the kitchen, and I try to get a grip. It’s Grandmother. She walks over to the sofa and stands there. She’s staring at me. I know she can see me, even in the semi darkness. I must look like such a cry-baby. What’s going through her mind? Before today I hadn’t existed to her either. I was out there, but I was just a ghost from a past life that she had never seen in person, and would never have recognized if she had.

She comes over to me, and bends down, and hugs me tightly, just like the first time. This is not helping.

She is very strong.  She must know how tough this is for me. But for her? What about her? She officially lost a son today. She now knows she will never see him again.

Grandm—Abuela releases her grip and kisses my forehead. Suddenly I’m a child, small and alone. “No te preocupes Pancho.” She runs her fingers through my hair, stands and quietly walks away. I don’t move. I don’t know what to do. She stops before she enters the kitchen hallway. She turns and looks back at me.  One side of her face is lit and she looks . . . not happy, so much as . . .  content.

“Te quiero Pancho.” And she is gone.

The light in the kitchen goes out and the stars, the brightness of the sky at night, is the only light that intrudes on the living room, throwing shadows on all that it deems unimportant for the moment.

I see picture frames, but not the pictures themselves. I imagine what they look like and how they are related to me. This is what it was like before I came here; empty picture frames on the wall.

I see Jesus hanging on the wall too. That’s the only three-dimensional figure up there. Everything else is flat, square and empty.

He really stands out at night and seems to hold court on the walls of this home. I never paid too much attention to it before. His head is turned to the side, and looking down, almost as if he’s looking specifically at me, judging me.

Who is this stranger that dares come into this house? His sacrifice for me, evident on the cross from which he hangs. Oh, crap. I wonder if he knows the joke I pulled on one of his namesakes at work. That wasn’t so smart. I wasn’t so smart. I thought I knew it all. My angry world worked. Now I can’t tell north from south. My moral compass is busted . . . or maybe it always has been, and I’m only now just finding out. I don’t know what to think.

My chest is beginning to heave again and I’m no longer in control of my breathing. I feel a tug, deep down inside. Water gushes from my eyes like little fountains. My body seems to have a mind of it’s own. The days events replay on the TV in my mind. Horses, jail, airplanes, cantina, Taco Bell, beer, tequila, jail, Uncle Carlos, the party, Donna Villa, my cousins, my tias, my mom . . . my dad?

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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