My strawberry-haired Tia Lena told the story over bowls of green chile and mugs of sugared coffee. This was before my mother ran off, when Lena cooked for me and we lived in the red brick house across from the concrete Bessemer Ditch.
“My poor Papa Carlos,” she said. “Rest his soul.”
“Mean old cuss,” my mother said, all while she scraped at every last dirty plate from the kitchen table and wiping down counters. “Hated women. Loved his drink though.”
“Shame on you!” my Tia answered. “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.
“He’s dead and gone!” my mother said. “Nobody knows about that man no more!”
The Tia shook her head and threw up her hand in disgust. “My poor Papa. In the mountains and villages of the San Luis Valley is where you can find him. The place of my birth—”
“We buried him down at Imperial,” my mother continued. “Don’t you remember? Nothing left of him or his people anyhow. House out on Franklin Street burned down and ashes. Nothing much left of the town neither. No work or nothing.”
“No,” Lena insisted. “He’s out 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 place but not the man, right?”
“Promise me,” Lena 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 the 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.