The Montoya stories begin over plates of the Tia’s fried potatoes and bowls of green chile, over mugs of her coffee swirling with non-dairy creamer and sugar. The redheaded woman moves her last dish to the sink and wipes greasy hands to her frayed apron, before easing back into her seat under our narrow, brick framed window and the view over the concrete Bessemer Ditch. She is quick to remind: the man is our grandfather no matter what we have heard and we should have respect. “My poor, poor Papa Carlos,” she says, and later with the lighting of an unfiltered cigarette, “he loved his drink, that one.”
“Hated women,” my mother adds, “but loved his drink.”
“Bruna!” the Tia answers. “Shame on you! Don’t say such things to this boy!”
“What?” Bruna responds.
Later, after the old woman smashes 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 ask.
“No, the man himself.”
Bruna answered looking bewildered and worried at her mother’s mental state: “He’s dead and gone, mother! Nobody cares about that man or his business no more! We buried him in San Luis. Don’t you remember?” Then she would focus in on the woman’s face and deep brown eyes. “Nothing left of him or his people out there anyhow. House on Franklin Street is torn down and ashes. And nothing much left of the town neither. No work or nothing out there.”
“No,” the old woman insists. “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 me.”
“If I know anything this boy here must find his way out. He needs to look after that man.”
“Mama, that’s crazy,” Bruna says. “You mean visit the town but not the man, right?”
And at that the small kitchen on the corner of Tyler and Adams Street goes silent and still as she flickes at her lighter and then puffs away.
“Promise me, hijo,” she later orders, when my mother has left us to talk. Sitting close she puts her ancient and leathery hand into mine and presses until I finally relent, until I nod and smile. Then she pats at my hands and then my cheeks all the while dark smoke spills from her nostrils. “Good boy, mihijo,” she repeats. “You go see about that Montoya.”
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.