Fiction Fiction 2009

Alba

Último knew people claimed they’d seen Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary and even Jesus Christ. But this was Alba, an ordinary girl from Ricardo Flores. She had on shorts and a pale blouse, and her face was conflicted with desire. “Let me make a fire,” he said to her. “You must be cold.”

A week after he had talked to Elena Rivera about the land, she came into the bakery. She bought two cinnamon rolls. “Aparicio likes these,” she said. “I’ll tell him you made them.”

“I did,” Último said, “only for him.”

“I talked my parents into selling,” she said. “Who else, I told them, would buy a house like that on a field of stones with tires holding down the roof?”

“Others like me,” Último said.

“There are no others like you. They want $15,000, $3,000 now, and the rest in four years. They will charge no interest.”

“Give me two weeks,” Último said. “I will find $3,000.”

But he had no idea how he would get the money. He tried the bank, but, as he thought, he had no assets and no credit, and even Elena Rivera’s recommendation got him nowhere. He thought of asking the widow Obregón for a loan, but that would change their friendship. He had only one other idea, and on a Thursday after work at the bakery, he drove his moped to Deming.

He went first to the Broken Spoke, where the bartender remembered him. “Your hair is longer,” the bartender said.

“You’ve gained weight and look prosperous,” said Larry Munzer, sitting on the same bar stool he had been on a year ago.

“I am almost a chile grower,” Último said. “Do you understand what that means?”

“You’re almost a man,” the bartender said.

“I’m looking for Brenda,” Último said. “We’re still married.”

“She’s back in town,” Larry Munzer said. “She’s started up the Hair You Are Salon. She married a nice guy from California.”

“All the better,” Último said.

Brenda was surprised and not at all happy to see him. The upshot was, in return for $3,000, he offered her a divorce, silence, and forgiveness of the money he’d paid on her debts. She used the money from her loan. It took a few days—Último had to ride back to Deming another time—but he signed the contract to buy his house and the land around it.

Before offering to buy the property, Último had examined what he was doing. The cottonwoods along the arroyo were healthy, and though the arroyo was dry, the hand pump in the yard was good. Último disassembled the pump and measured the well casing—15 feet, not very deep. He borrowed an electric pump from Tom Martínez and ran an extension cord to the house. Whether there was a stream underground or a reservoir Último didn’t know, but the pump produced five cubic feet per second, which was plenty to irrigate five acres of chiles.

Now Último eyeballed the highest point on his property, figured out how he would get water to it, and then traded away the moped to Alex Tomar for the use of his tractor. On Sunday, when the bakery was closed, he plowed up the stones. The plow blade broke, and Último welded it. It broke again, and he welded it again, and he finished plowing in the dark. On Monday, surveying the field of loose stones, Último had more work than ever.

For the next two weeks, every spare minute, he carried stones. Aparicio helped. They gathered the stones into a pile, loaded them into a wheelbarrow, and wheeled them to the arroyo across a plywood trail laid out over the broken ground. The wheelbarrow was too heavy to dump, so Último turned it on its side, and they heaved stones into the arroyo.

After work now, Último had no time for siestas. He loaded and unloaded the wheelbarrow hundreds of times, each day creating more arable ground. Then one day when he came home, Isabel was there and asked her same question.

“I can’t now,” Último said. “Come back when it is too dark to work.”

“You’ll be too tired.”

“I’m too tired now.”

“Would you want me to tell my father about us?”

“What have I done but what you wanted?” Último asked. “What love is it if you force me?”

“Better than nothing,” Isabel said. “Come inside, Último. I need you now.”

Presented by

Kent Nelson’s most recent novel is Land That Moves, Land That Stands Still. He lives in Ouray, Colorado.

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