The Carlos stories began with just a few words from the redheaded Abuelita. They came to us with plates of fried potatoes and bowls of green chile, alongside mugs of coffee swirling with milk, and later with the lighting of cigarettes. And when the old woman moved her last dish to the sink and wiped greasy hands to her frayed apron, she eased back into her seat under our narrow, brick framed window and the view over the concrete Bessemer Ditch, and she was quick to remind us. The man was our grandfather, she repeated, no matter what we had heard and we should have respect. “My poor, poor Papa,” she would insist. “The man loved stories and his drink.”
“Hated women,” my mother added, “but loved his drink.”
“Bruna!” the Abuela answered. “Shame on you! Don’t say such things to this boy!”
“What?” Bruna responded. “It’s the truth.”
“He worked hard in el valle as all men in them days.”
Later, after she smashed out her latest cigarette and before lighting another, she advised me to get back to Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley of Colorado and find the man. To find the man for myself.
“You mean where he’s buried?” we asked.
“No, the man himself near San Luis.”
Bruna answered looking bewildered and worried at her mother’s mental state. “He’s dead and gone, mother!” Then she would focus in on the old woman’s face and deep eyes. “Nothing left of him or his people out there anyhow. House on Franklin Street is torn down and gone. And nothing much left of the town neither.”
“No,” the old woman insisted. “He’s out there and when this boy is old enough he will find his way out of this Godforsaken city and meet the man.”
“Mama, you’re scaring the boy.”
“If I know anything this boy here must find his way. He needs to look after that man.”
“Mama, that’s crazy,” Bruna said. “You mean visit the town but not the man, right?”
And at that the small kitchen on Orman and Routte Avenue would get silent and still as she flicked at her lighter and then puffed away.
“Promise me, hijo,” she later ordered. Sitting close she put her ancient and leathery hand into mine and pressed until I finally relented, until I nodded and smiled. Then she patted at my hands and then my cheeks all the while dark smoke spilled from her nostrils. “Good boy, hijo,” she repeated. “You leave this city and see about that man.”
John Paul Jaramillo’s stories have appeared in numerous publications, including the Acentos Review, Palabra, A Magazine of Chicano and Latino Literary Art and Somos en Escrito. He is the author of the story collection The House of Order, named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and the novel in stories Little Mocos from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read.