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Charlie M. Delgado

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Why, Arizona
By Charlie M. Delgado
Sunday, March 10, 2002



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The woman watched the odometer of the old Chevy turn 175,000 miles as she blazed down highway 86 nearing Why, Arizona. She heard a gentle knocking start in the engine to hail the event. She turned the radio off to make sure it wasn't just a counter beat and sighed when the sound remained.

There was a sign just ahead advertising a service station along a side road. All she could see from her present location were rocky hills, sagebrush and heat mirages. She wondered if the station was just a dusty memory. She slowed the car while considering and finally decided it was worth a look. She didn't want to break down once she got into Mexico, and finding a place where she could rinse off a layer of dust and sweat sounded attractive. She turned and punched the accelerator.

What if the car broke down out here, miles from anything that resembled civilization? This troubled her for a moment. She tried to remember the last time she saw a car or a building of any kind. She wasn't sure, but knew it must have been quite a while. Her gaze traveled across the surreal landscape. She was surprised to discover that the thought of dying out there was a great deal less frightening than the thought of going home.

The guilty flutter rose again in her stomach as she raced by the desert brush under the scorching sun. Taking a deep breath to calm the queasiness, she found it easier to fill her lungs with the suffocating heat of the desert than the stifling tension found at home. It had been that way for years.

She had intended to talk to Jimmy before she left, but the opportunity never seemed to come. A letter, she thought, would be better, much easier than an ugly confrontation. In the end, she hadn't even left the letter, she just hopped in the car after he left for work and started driving. It was a cowardly way to run away from a ten-year investment, but it was done. That was more that 1800 miles and nearly 48 hours ago. There was no turning back at this point.

She got away, all right. Chuckling to herself, she felt almost giddy with the madness of it. She made her getaway and was now only a few hours from Puerto Peñasco. She said the name out loud, liking the way it rolled in her mouth.

Coming around a hill, she saw the promised service station by the side of the road along with a few other buildings that might constitute what passed for a town in these parts. Everything looked quiet and deserted, but she had learned this wasn't unusual during the hottest part of the afternoon in the southwestern desert.

"Siesta," she said aloud, pronouncing each syllable carefully, liking the way this word felt in her mouth as well.

She pulled up to the ancient, dusty pumps and honked her horn. A dark-skinned man of medium height with sharp features and a long, silky-black ponytail came out of the small building.

"Can you do an oil change?"

The man nodded, fixing her with a strange look from his dark eyes.

"Great. Check the other fluids and fill it up, too. How far to Puerto Peñasco?"

"Hour and a half, two hours," the man replied. "I'll pull it around back. There's a cooler just inside the door. Help yourself to something cold."

She reached into the back seat for her six-string before heading into the building. The interior of the old adobe shack was dim and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. She found the promised cooler and a Coke inside. She was tempted to sit in the half-light of the place and rest, but decided on the bench out front instead. The canvas awning provided some shade and the cool drink helped. A moment later she took the guitar from its case and began playing absently, little bits and pieces of songs, nothing cohesive.

As she sat plucking in the shade, a man came around the corner. The deep furrows of time in his face told of a very long life ? how long, she couldn't guess. He held an ancient twelve-string in one gnarled hand. She stopped playing as he took a seat in an old webbed lawn chair. His stiff fingers began weaving a Mexican folk song she remembered hearing somewhere. He played for a moment then stopped and gestured toward her guitar, saying something she couldn't understand. His meaning was obvious though, and she made an attempt to duplicate the notes he had just played. Her fingers stumbled to a stop and the old man chuckled, playing the riff again. She made another attempt.

They continued like this for nearly half an hour while she waited for her car. Finally, the younger man pulled it around to the pump and topped off the tank while she continued to play. She had succeeded in getting the tune. The younger man smiled at them as he approached. She set the guitar aside and stood, reaching into the pocket of her worn jeans.

"What do I owe you?"

"Twelve dollars," the man replied.

As she counted this amount from her precious small store, the old man spoke to the younger one very rapidly, gesturing toward her as he did so. The younger man nodded.

"My grandfather would like to tell you a story," he said as he accepted the money from her.

"I'm afraid I wouldn't understand it," she replied. "Besides, I'm kind of in a hurry."

"It won't take long," the young man insisted as he smiled warmly. "I will tell you all that he says."

She looked at the old man and something in his eyes caused her to hesitate. She was anxious to arrive at her destination, but found herself not really wanting to leave just yet.

"All right," she said as she lowered herself onto the bench again. "Let's have a story." She returned her guitar to its case as the young man drew up a small stool next to his grandfather. The old man waited until they had settled themselves before he began to speak.

"Many years ago, in the time of the old ones, the Yaqui were a wandering people. The lands they traveled were harsh and stingy and only by moving along with the seasons could they find what they needed to survive. They had many homes established along their route and, in each of these homes, a holy place where the new season could be greeted and the gods invited to protect and provide."

The alternating and slightly overlapping voices blended in concert forming a liquid, soothing melody like a lazy stream. She felt herself instantly coming under the spell of the flowing words and leaned closer, staring intently at the old man.

"One day, as The People arrived at their spring home, they were greeted with a terrible event. Their holy place had been invaded by an evil demon. The demon was vile and ugly and refused to let The People go to their holy place to call the gods. This disturbed The People greatly, for surely they would starve if the gods did not come to provide for them. There was much discussion among the elders that night and finally it was decided that, in the morning, they would send the holy ones to work their magic on the demon and drive it from the holy place. Surely this plan would work and they were all very hopeful.

"And so, as the sun was rising the next morning, the holy ones made the short journey to the place the demon had settled and began to work their spells and sing their magic songs to drive the demon away. They chanted and shook their gourds, they danced and painted themselves in holy colors, they work masks of terrifying make. As the sun began to settle in the western sky, still the demon sat comfortably in the hold place. His magic had been greater and the holy men retuned to the camp with their sad news.

"Again that evening, there was much discussion and it was decided that, on the following day, the elders and wise ones would go to the holy place. Perhaps they could reason the demon or trick the demon into leaving. Surely this plan would work and they were all very hopeful.

"And so, as the sun was rising the next morning, the wise ones made the short journey to the place the demon had settled and began to apply their wisdom to drive the demon away. They asked their riddles and engaged in debate until all their knowledge had been expended. As the sun began to settle in the western sky, still the demon sat comfortably in the holy place. His knowledge had been greater and the wise ones returned to the camp with their sad news.

"Again that evening, there was much discussion and it was decided that, on the following day, the warriors of their band would go to the holy place. Perhaps they could drive the demon away with their arrows and war clubs, terrify him with their war cries. Surely this plan would work and they were all very hopeful.

"And so, as the sun was rising the next morning, the warriors made the short journey to the place the demon had settled and began to attack the demon to drive him away. The demon only laughed at the horrible sound of their war cries. Their clubs and arrows caused him no harm. As the sun began to settle in the western sky, still the demon sat comfortably in the holy place. His strength had been greater and the warriors returned to the camp with their sad news.

"Again that evening, there was much discussion and it was decided that, on the following day, the women of their band would go to the holy place. Perhaps they could plead with the demon and convince him to go away. Surely this plan would work and they were all very hopeful.

"And so, as the sun was rising the next morning, the women made the short journey to the place the demon had settled and began to plead with the demon to drive him away. They spoke in woeful voices of their starving children and the hardship that would come to them. They demon only laughed at their sadness, seemingly growing stronger with each tear that fell. As the sun began to settle in the western sky, still the demon sat comfortably in the holy place. He had been unmoved and the women returned to the camp with their sad news.

"Again that evening, there was much discussion and this time The People had run out of ideas. The supplies they had brought with them would dwindle and they knew that they would sit in this place and starve. With heavy hearts, they went to bed that evening, knowing that there was no hope left in the world.

"While The People talked that evening, the children gathered in their own council. They had watched the sadness and suffering of their parents grow over the days and had heard them speak of the evil demon camped in their holy place. The children worried for the sadness of their parents and thought they should try to dispel the demon themselves. They agreed that they would rise before the sun on the following day and see what they might do about this very sad situation.

"And so, as the sun was rising the next morning, the children of The People made the short journey to the place the demon had settled. They gathered around the place and stared at the demon in fear. The plan they had made the previous night suddenly seemed very foolish and they wondered how they would attack such a fearsome thing. The demon made a horrifying sound, followed by an even more horrifying face and the children jumped back in fear ? except for young boy, who covered his mouth to hide a smile and a small chuckle. The other children looked at him in surprise.

"'It was a funny face,' the child said. 'Don't you think?' The others thought about this for a moment and decided they had to agree. The face the demon made was very funny. First one, then the others began to chuckle softly. The demon was surprised at this and made a face even more horrifying than the one before. The children began to laugh in earnest. The demon howled at them, telling them to stop this noise, but the children found this very funny and laughed even louder. They made up a song to tease the demon and began to sing it. At the sound of their merry singing, the demon began to wither in pain and howled all the louder. The children saw the effect of their merrymaking and sang louder still as they began to dance in circles around him. He cried out, begging the children to stop and they threw the petals of desert flowers at him. The demon cried out in pain and fled the holy place, unable to withstand their joy.

"The People, having heard the noise of the children, came running in time to see the demon flee. There was much laughing and joyful dancing as they celebrated. The old ones made a song about the brave children and how they saved The People."

The two men sat frozen as the tale came to an abrupt end. She had the brief impression that they were figures cast in wax and that she had only dreamed their previous animation. She leaned forward, staring intently at one, then the other. There was a fathomless expression in the eyes of both. She groped for an elusive something that seemed on the very fringe of her realization.

The scree of a hawk broke the silence and the woman jumped. Her flesh was covered with goose bumps and she wanted to get away. She mumbled her thanks to the old man, grabbed her guitar and hurried to her car. She turned the engine over and sent a spray of dust and stones flying as she pulled onto the highway. She pushed the pedal to the floor, but couldn't seem to outrun the strange feeling that had come over her.

She came to the main road and paused there for a moment. To her right, only a few miles away, lay the Mexican border. To her left was the road home.


-------

© 2001 Charlie Delgado
All Rights Reserved

This story is one of a collection, each a contemporary retelling of a Native American legend.


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Reviewed by brennie's daily 9/14/2002
Charlie - I liked this the first time I read it. I still like it. Good on ya.

- Brenda
Reviewed by Quincey Burkhalter 4/5/2002
I am from New Mexico so the the feeling of the landscape, the people and general lonliness of the area reminds me of home. thank you for a great read.
Reviewed by Jozef Imrich 3/24/2002
You spoke to me personally with your story.

A great yarn, as I would say to you in person and in my Bohemina-Antipodean accent.
Reviewed by Duane Pesice 3/23/2002
I love this tale...every time I read it I get more out of it. And I still maintain it's a critter story.


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