My strawberry-haired Tia Lena told the stories of her father over bowls of green chile and mugs of sugared coffee. This was back before my mother ran off, back when Lena cooked for me and we all lived in the red bricked house across from the Bessemer Ditch.
“My poor Papa Carlos,” she would say, “rest his soul.”
“Mean old cuss,” my mother repeated all while she scraped at every last dirty plate from the kitchen table and wiping down counters. “Hated women. Loved his drink though.”
“A workingman,” My Tia answered back. “Shame on you! Don’t say such things!”
Later, after the Tia smashed out her latest cigarette and before lighting another, she advised us to locate the man for ourselves.
“You mean where he’s buried?”
“No,” she said, “the man. My Papa. In the San Luis Valley. The place of my birth—”
“He’s dead and gone!” my mother said, all the while my Tia shook her head. “Nobody out there knows about that man no more!”
“We buried him,” my mother continued. “Don’t you remember? Nothing left of him or his people anyhow. House on Franklin Street burned down and ashes. Nothing much left of the town neither. No work or nothing out there.”
“No,” she insisted. “He’s out there.”
“You’re scaring us. Can’t you see what’s real?”
“We need to look after that man.”
“That’s crazy,” she said. “You mean the town but not the man, right?”
“Promise me,” she ordered when it was just me and her. Sitting close and whispering she put her ancient and leathery hand into mine and pressed at me until I finally nodded and smiled. “Good boy, mihijo,” she repeated. “You go see about your people.”
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.