By Charles Haddox
My grandfather, Don Arcadio, has been telling me about growing up in an orphanage in Parral, Chihuahua after the revolution. We’ve been sitting and talking for what seems like hours. He’s been describing the cold, dark hallways, the elderly nuns in white aprons, the tiny bowls of beans for lunch, the kid with big ears and a square head who would make him stroke his hand for hours (they called it cosquis—tickling), and the bullies who would lock him up in a cupboard. His tone changes when he talks about the streets outside the orphanage: the tree-lined boulevards of Parral, the cool, spacious cathedral, the grand two-story villas.
I’m wheeling him out the parking lot door of the dialysis center, and I look back at the sole remaining client. He’s a dentist that I once saw as a kid. And now he’s sprawled out on one of the “lounge chairs,” as the staff calls them, hooked up to a machine, his body wrecked, watching Fox News with total absorption. Odd to think that his hands were once in my mouth.
Outside, the old neighborhood of red brick bungalows built in the twenties seems mellow under a bright orange sunset, the yards full of blue lilies, “margaritas,” bright calendulas, and spineless prickly pear clumps. Growing up in shiny public housing built in the 1980s, I used to think that these houses were prehistoric. They recently leveled a couple of blocks of ’em to build the dialysis center.
I slide my grandfather into the front seat of the car with the help of a polished wooden board, and cram his folded-up wheelchair intothe trunk. It’s a cold spring evening. The old man is already complaining.
A thin young woman with dyed blond hair taps at my window. She’s crying, and has a red knot over her left eye. I roll down the window. She asks me for a ride.
“My parents’ house. It’s on Mongolia Street.”
I know that she means Magnolia Street, which is fortunately not far from my grandfather’s place.
“I had a fight with my boyfrien’ and I can’t get home. I don’t have any money.”
“Get in,” I say, a little flattered that she’s asked me for help. If I was a young woman, I would never ask a couple seedy characters like me and my abuelo for a ride.
“Thanks a lot,” she says.
The old man speaks enough English to get what’s going on, and begins to object loudly about the detour we’re making. He insists that he needs to eat ASAP, but I know that he’s really worried about missing a stupid show on Telemundo that deals with paranormal activity in Mexico. It’s the show that he cares about, not his meal, even though he’ll be fed during the program, for sure—stuff that my grandmother serves him which he shouldn’t be eating anyway—cheese and white bread and Mexican sausage and chocolate ice cream, all topped off with a coke or orange Fanta. He gets the grandkids to bring him seconds on the coke by acting like he’s having a seizure—he calls it a “coke fit”—that can only be cured by a dose of what my brother Juanito calls “senior citizen beer.”
The young woman sits in the back seat, quiet, stiff, ill at ease, while my grandfather grumbles.
She doesn’t stop sobbing until the old man brings up the orphanage. It’s a true El Paso moment, because it turns out her mom’s from Parral. Even though there are almost a million people in El Paso, everybody’s got a “cousin” who knows you, who went to school with you--or a relative from the place your parents or grandparents are from. The young woman, whose name I don’t even know, is swapping stories with the old man, the two of them filled with mindless glee. That’s what happens when people discuss Mexico. I’ve never been to Parral, so I can’t participate in the fun. I think of interrupting them just to ask her what happened with her boyfriend, but common sense prevails. You know what they say: the less you know, the less responsible you are for whatever happens.
My grandfather’s words are flowery, elegiac. The streets of Parral. Oh, the streets of Parral.
When I get to her parents’ house on Magnolia, the woman tries to give me a gold class ring that she’s wearing.
“No, it’s okay,” I tell her, and there’s a little back and forth until she drops the offer.
“You might think about calling the cops next time,” I add.
“Voy a volver allí, a Parral.” “I’m going back there, to Parral,” my grandfather tells her.
I give the young woman an embarrassed smile, and she says to me, “My mother’s always sayin’ the same thing.” As she slips the ring back on her finger she adds, “Makes sense, huh? Think everybody’s just trying--you know--trying to get back home.”
Charles Haddox lives in El Paso, Texas, on the Texas-Mexico border, and has family roots in both countries. His work has appeared in a number of journals including Concho River Review, The Sierra Nevada Review, Corium Magazine and The Summerset Review. You can find out more about him at www.charleshaddox.wordpress.com