carlos montoya

excerpt: papa carlos

papa carlos

The crimson-haired Lena Valdez told the stories over bowls of green chile and mugs of sugary coffee. This was before my mother ran off, when Lena cooked for us and we lived in the brick house across from the concrete ditch in Huerfano County. 

“My poor papa Carlos,” she said. “God rest his soul.”

“Mean old bastard of a man,” my mother said. She scraped at every last dirty plate from the kitchen table and then wiped down counters. “Treated folks like hell. Hated women. Loved his drink.”

“Shame on you!” Lena answered. “Don’t say such things!” Then she smashed out her latest cigarette and before lighting another, she advised us to locate the man for ourselves.

“He’s dead and gone,” my mother said, exasperated. 

Lena shook her head and threw up her hands in disgust. “Carlos Montoya was a builder and a soldado. In the villages of the San Luis Valley. The man is there. That is where you can find him. The place of his birth.”

“We buried him at Roselawn. Don’t you remember?” my mother said. “Nothing left of him. House out on Franklin Street burned down and ashes. He’s in the ground!”

“No,” Lena insisted. “He’s there!”

“You’re scaring me. Can’t you see what’s real no more? That’s fool as all hell,” she said. “You mean out to the town, right?” 

When it was just me and the old woman sitting close and whispering, she put her ancient and leathery hand into mine. “Promise me,” Lena said until I finally nodded and smiled. “Good boy, mihijo,” she repeated. “You go see about my poor Papa Carlos.”


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.