Through the cotton of antihistamines I can make out the tiny shapes of Joe, Secundino and Winnie. I’m upstairs in the studio that overlooks the town ‘plaza.’ It’s about three acres of prairie set down between Ritch and Catron avenues. The church faces it, the mayor’s house backs it, and to the North is that stately two-storied adobe house, abandoned for 30 years now. Its unglazed dormer windows a black glaucoma, the iron headboard a florid makeshift railing to the front steps. Countless tourists have eyed that place, but Lorenzo won’t sell it. I gather he would rather let it return to the earth along with the memories of all the Herreras that lived there.
Winnie leaves the group down near the grove of young aspens on the plaza. Joe and Sec start to stumble up to my place. Two little drunken men. The village is full of little people, poverty, and infirmity, and I–in my unemployment, illness, occasional hot-headedness, and short stature–am in full communion with it. It is quaresma in Mora county, statistically the most impoverished county in the Union.
Joe rattles my door handle and screeches “Bonito! hey Frankie!…” Sec is more circumspect, and looks at his feet when Joe is nelly like this. I invite them in, greeting these childhood friends as compadre (Sec, the handsome wrangler) and comadre (Joe, the artsy queen). Joe’s got some clippers–he’s come to prune my trees. I know what payment will be, so I drive to the Sav-O-Mat to get beer. When I get back, the Russian Olive has been trimmed. Except there is one wildly twisted branch reaching into the portal. I ask Joe about this thorny remaining intrusion, and he smiles cryptically.
Joe lost his parents some years back. He was drinking before that, but now he drinks with a true vengeance against God. He rarely goes to Mass now. He has sclerosis of the liver. Sometimes he is in pain.
If I were to get really sick, that is to say if I were to sero-convert and get full-blown AIDS, I think I know what it would be like to live here. There would be the same irritability and discomfort of too many medications, the same dopey appreciation of my house and my friends. Joe and Sec would still visit, and I’d still get buzzed with them once in a while. My parents would probably know nothing, content to creep about their Santa Fe house.
I make dinner for everyone, Joe eats little of it, I get exasperated. He is by now tanked, and he falls in the bathroom while taking a leak. I turn on the porchlight and usher him out, standing near that demanding olive branch. The high winds kicked so much stuff into the atmosphere, the sky is a geranium red. I am thinking about the first time I met Joseph, and the immediate understanding we had. His great gift was to introduce me to his friends. I knew that anyone who loved Joe would be kind to me. Joe’s dark twisted form leaves the horizon, and I am left fingering the spines of the grotesque olive branch.
© Tasso 2000