Sunday Scribbling #139: A Winter's Tale
We reached Española in the early afternoon, after a big swoop past Santa Fe. Since I was sure we’d loop back to Española, I didn’t linger there. We took the highway east into a mountain valley towards Chimayó. The sky was turquoise blue against yellow mountains. It was a lazy drive in the afternoon sun—little traffic and a winding road. Jackie took a snooze in the back seat for both of us.
“My compliments,” he said.
“I’m the designated driver,” I said.
“I went light on the tequila,” he replied.
“There is no such thing as light on tequila,” I said, but took the lovely cocktail glass in hand. “I smell apples.”
“Apple cider, lemon juice, crème de cassis, and Herradura.”
“Shall we say the—culprit?” He bowed ever so slightly.
Culprit was right. It was nowhere to be found in my first sip of the drink, which quickly led to second and third—and larger—sips. Halfway through the drink I felt like my body had turned into a river: I could hear myself rushing over stones.
Someone took possession of my mouth and said, “Alejandro,” for so the bartender had introduced himself.
“Indeed,” he said, from behind his beautifully carved wooden bar.
“Do you hear the river?”
I felt myself rushing over the brilliant limestone of the greenbelt back in
“I am a river. You should see me.”
“Ah, yes. The river.” He chuckled.
I could not turn to him in his mirth. The sun of the fire felt as if it were nestled upon my left cheek. To turn would be to lose the sun.
“Why are you giggling, Alejandro?” I said.
“For most it is something like
“You are a very bad man, Alejandro.”
“Muy mal,” he replied.
He was, in fact, a bit of a shaman. I spent the next three hours in his empty lounge, as he went about his afternoon chores. He gave me just the one cocktail, but fed me an abundant feast of his own choosing, items mostly not on the menu. When he moved to an outdoor bar for further errands, he took me with him and set me down at a table on the lovely hillside terrace behind the hacienda. At one point I mentioned Jackie, and he left to rescue her from the wagon. She lay on the warm flagstone of the terrace, while I drank very strong coffee.
My head was coming back around. Alejandro was hand-squeezing limes.
“Shouldn’t I be cold out here?” I said.
“Chimayans are never cold,” he replied.
“That’s the Herradura talking.”
He smiled and nodded. “Precisely.”
Alejandro lit a fire in the kiva fireplace beside the table. The sun had gone behind the mountains and the valley light was dimming. Evening diners were beginning to take tables inside the restaurant and on the terrace beside other kivas. Waiters were lighting votives on all the tables. I was no longer drunk, but I still did not want to move. I had not felt such peace in a very long time.
"o n'other than Ann Richards, theWith a feeling of heartache, I said, “Alejandro, I must go.”
“What is this must?” he said. “There is no must. You have just arrived in Chimayó. Have you been to the weavers? No. To the Santuario? Of course not. You have not yet fulfilled your obligation to Chimayó. Of course you cannot leave.”
“You are taking me prisoner?”
“On the contrary. I am setting you free.”
He sat down beside me, and folded his hands upon the table. I liked his face very much. His hair was very dark. There was a hint of Emiliano Zapata in his look, with his dashing moustache, but there was also an extraordinary gentleness in his manner. I could not tell his age—he could have been forty, could have been sixty.
“Listen to me,” he said. “I do not make it a habit of handing out free drinks to every person who walks into my lounge. Ask my friends. Much to their chagrin, I make them all pay me up front. But, this afternoon I see a young woman walk into my room, and the first thing I feel is my heart is breaking. The feeling does not stay with me long, but for the few moments before it passed, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to weep. Alejandro Montoya is not given to tears, believe me. After that feeling passes, I feel a clenching like chains around my heart. These are not the feelings of Alejandro who lives in this quiet valley. These are feelings, I realize quickly, that this young woman has brought with her into my tidy little workroom. What can I offer this woman, I wonder? I have nothing to offer her. I am a man who plies liquor into his customers, listens to their stories, wakes them with coffee when it’s time to go home. I do not know how to cure such pain as you carry in this afternoon. I am at a complete loss, and then Christ whispers to me, ‘One Chimayó cocktail will not hurt her.’ I tell him, ‘She has already refused.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ he says. ‘But this one is on me.’ So, I give you his cocktail and I feed you and let you sit with me while I putter around, and I can see and feel in my own chest that your heart is lighter. The chains are looser. Yes, I know, your pain is not gone, but you have felt some of the peace that so many others feel who stumble into our little valley. People who come to Chimayó and drink the drinks I set before them, eat the food we cook for them, who then buy their blankets and wool jackets from the weavers, and then go and get soppy-eyed over at the Santuario as they experience maybe five minutes of a little mystery in their lives before heading out for their next shopping spree. Not once do they think of giving anything back besides the money they charge to their silver and gold and blue and titanium credit cards. But, I look at you and I say to myself, you are not one of those people. You come with your broken heart and your little dog and your strange car with the sleeping bag in the back seat, and before I know it you are a river running across river stones, and out of nowhere the thought comes to me, ‘She must give back.’ I am puzzled, I do not know what this means, I think maybe this is Christ speaking again to me, but he says, ‘No, Alejandro, this is all yours, mijo.’ So, forgive me, mija, but I cannot shake the idea that you have an obligation and you have not met it.”
It was a lot of words to take in on strong black coffee, but one thing was clear to me—I felt no need, and no desire, to argue. I hadn’t a clue what this all meant, but my body just seemed to be saying, “the man is right. You’re not going anywhere.’
Still, I put up the token fight.
I said, “I don’t have a titanium card, Alejandro, but would cash do?”
He smiled, relieved, I think, to be shorn of the intensity of his big speech.
He said, “Emma Sullivan, you are a very bad woman. Very bad.”
Labels: emma alejandro and jackie