At first the Shepherd came to Santigo in a dream years ago while in the army choosing the Atlantic and the Queen Mary instead of life on the llano in San Luis. It was the first time the Vaquero can remember dreaming. Never had the head for it or so he thought. Seemed like something for children or a luxury of time. But the Shepherd came to him on horseback alongside his dog companion. The girl nipped at the Vaquero’s feet and he stepped and jerked away from the animal. In the dream the mounted Shepherd with the lathered face and neck and unkempt mountain clothes reminded him of the Vaquero’s path and work—his family and the wars going on at home and in the fields of his Jefe’s lands. The Shepherd laughs and speaks pointedly of home and duty and what makes the entire situation feel more real than dreamlike is the sun and skies surrounding the old man on horseback. He cannot speak but only listen to the man who moves steady toward the moonlight. Your people need you, Vaquero. Where are you from your people? This Army of yours is nowhere in your thoughts. Not like your people. Come home. Outside of his bunk the Vaquero becomes seasick and vomits onto the deck as he watches the horizon. USO women are handing out donuts and coffee and the Vaquero hears one remark, Lookit they’re sending babies!
After a quick trip to Colorado Felipa has returned to me. In the form of some sad bits of free writing. Haven’t seen her in a while. She was the last one I thought would turn up again:
After Felipa and Carlos finally loaded their clothes into the truckito and the neighbors helped the old man Carlos ot of his wheeled chair and into the cab, Felipa burned every last family picture in her bedroom. The threats had been soft and never real until that moment out near the nearly-used-up wood pile.
I’m gonna burn these damn pictures up. Ain’t got no family I want to see them survive with, she would wail.
She had taken to drinking a few stray cans of beer stolen from Carlos’ nightly paper sack. No one took her quite as serious as she wanted.
And in the weeks and months following Carlos’ amputation she had gotten into the habit of taking the old man’s place at the back porch and hollering away at the neighbors. Especially in the months her sister moved home and away from their house on Franklin Street.
And this was her mindset during the sessions of organizing and planning before the big move away from San Luis. After the mortgage was lost and after the money had all dried up—after the pinche doctors from Alamosa sent out their bills.
Disgraced and tired Felipa felt she had nothing left and felt she wanted nothing left of her life and memories. It was almost a reckoning from what the old folks told me later on. She just pulled out the clothes and bedding that she was told there was no room for in the truckito and in the move and piled them onto the center of her bedroom. She watched as the men from the neighborhood broke down her brass bed and broke down her mirrors and dressing tables for the back of the truckito. She mentioned she would return to the piles of clothes and framed pictures but Felipa new better. She made believe that she would return after finding cardboard to pack them out.
Que Pasa, Felipa, the woman from across the way mentioned as she swept out the carpets and spotted the mess of clothes and photographs.
I’m finding places for all of them, she lied.
She found the kerosene in the back shed and remembered how the man cleaned his oil stains to his jeans. The matches were in Carlos’ coveralls and alongside his cigarillos and rolling papers. She had also taken to the habit of smoking and even chewing as she worked in the back garden. Drinking and smoking in the company of the neighbor’s was once a disgrace to the young Felipa but now became her defeat.
She pulled the matches from her purse and calmly struck them along the pack. She walked solemnly to the bedroom and dropped the fire on to her clothes and family photos. Carlos was in the truckito speaking to Ruben Archuleta from blocks over and discussing the best routes down the valley highway towards the interstate and the drive north to Huerfano County.
The woman will have to drive us out of here.
She have a license?
The men smoked their cigarillos and laughed. Carlos asked about his smokes and his matches.
Just yards away in the center of the house where the woman poured her kerosene and drenched her bedding and photographs the flame and sticks of wood slipped from her fingers. The spark and flame surprised her and in seconds the heat and smoke had nearly over taken her and as she fought the urge to throw her purse and then nearly her entire body into the flames.
It was the floor boards and abandoned rugs that went up first. Then the flames tickled the wood panels on the north wall. Felipa stood and watched mesmerized by it all. She giggled and stepped back as the heat rose.
When the men came running from the dusty yard out back Carlos was screaming, My wife! My sweet darling!
The dark haired boy, Relles, bare footed and tired takes the reins of the mare and throws his leg over with a kick. He’s been waiting for hours to ride out onto the llano. He can’t help but smile and then giggle as the mount kicks and strides away from the boy’s Jefe and the fieldwork. The Jefe told the boy the horse needed rest and grain and so the boy bit his lip and clipped onions until twilight. And after a day’s work the boy’s energy rivals the horse’s and the boy lurches with each powerful jump nearly uncontrollably for hundreds of yards. After weeks of side jobs it is the first time the boy has ventured onto the silent llano. When he finally checks back with the Jefe the old man wipes at his forehead and at the back of his neck. His face is small and worrisome. And the boys face glows with love and wonder for the horse and the yards paced ahead.