Over bowls of green chile and mugs of black coffee, my redheaded Tia Lena sold stories of the old man, all while she scraped at every last dirty plate from the kitchen table. This was back when she lived in the red bricked house across from the Bessemer Ditch.
“My poor Papa Carlos,” she would say wiping down the counters, “he loved his drink.”
“Old man hated women,” some of the old folks used to repeat. “Loved his drink though.”
“A carpenter and a provider,” My Tia answered, “Shame on youse! Don’t say such things!”
Later, after the Tia smashed out her latest cigarette and before lighting another, she advised us all to get up off our asses and locate the man for ourselves.
“You mean where he’s buried?”
“No,” she said, “the man. My Papa. In Monte Vista where I was born.”
“He’s dead and gone! Nobody knows about that man no more!” they would say, all the while the woman shaking her head.
“We buried him,” they continued. “Don’t you remember? Nothing left of him or his people anyhow. House on Franklin Street torn down and ashes. Nothing much left of the town neither. No work or nothing out there.”
“No,” she insisted. “He’s out there.”
“Mama, you’re scaring us. Can’t you see what’s real?”
“We need to look after that man.”
“That’s crazy,” they would say. “You mean the town but not the man, right?”
“Promise me,” she later ordered when it was just me and her. Sitting close and crying 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.