Cuentitos Ca’ticos by Whitney Purvis

2004 SFWP Literary Awards Program
Prizewinner

by Whitney Purvis

An Excerpt

Los Bluejeans Pr’digos Vuelven
[The Prodigal Jeans Return]

1. Jun’pero Afortunado

Among Jun’pero Afortunado’s most prized possessions in his hatchback that day were a suede jacket that was actually made out of fuzzy plastic; a pair of snakeskin boots that he had inherited from his grandfather; one sand-cast silver belt buckle that had been pawned in Farmington by a Navajo named Jimmy Yellowhorse; one hand-tooled leather belt he found at a pawnshop near Ca’on de Chelly; two dozen well-worn cotton t-shirts; one antique leather trunk with a water stain on the left corner; a Polaroid camera; a polyester gym bag filled with boxers including a green pair with pink flamingos and a red pair with green salamanders; three rolls of undeveloped black and white film; a big tin of lemon drops; a hatband made from kidskin leather; and one perfectly cut pair of jeans. He took excellent care of these things, and even though he didn’t realize it on that morning, he was lost without them.

Three weeks earlier, before anything had been packed into the car, he purchased for himself a pair of jeans that he had been eyeing for months.

‘Those are some guapo jeans, aren’t they?’ he said to Chencho, the store clerk at Ina’s.

‘Seguramente. You see they’ve already been worn in, which is very important. You don’ wanna be breaking them in yourself.’

‘What’s the story?’ Jun’pero said as he scratched his eyebrow.

‘Kind of incredible. I don’t know how we got them, but you can see here on the leather patch that they were made in 1978, which seems like a real long time. But they’re pretty well put together, so maybe it’s the truth.’

‘Nineteen-seventy-eight? They’re twenty five years old?’

‘Claro que s’. And no holes, no pulled threads or nothing.’

Jun’pero Afortunado was not one to spend a great deal of money on himself, but they were, without a doubt, the bluejeans m’s perfectos that he had ever seen in his life. And the allure of a perfect pair of jeans was something that everyone from Caos could understand. Pablo Valencia had been wearing jeans during his stroll in the desert, and it was clear that those jeans were the only thing that survived those eight days without a scratch. He wore them so that the scrub brush didn’t tear holes in his pants and cut his legs, the cowboys wore them because they were tough as hell and the butt never wore away even if you sat in a saddle all day long, and the Mexican brazeros that came up through cowboy country wore them so that the knee-high cacti didn’t spike them in the calves. And they came down over your cowboy boots. But way before that, all the way back before any of those crazy espa’oles started poking around in the Americas, Africans that had been taken into the French slave trade were wearing them ‘in white ‘ while working in the indigo fields. And that maldito indigo not only got under their fingernails and into their skin, but also all over their pants. ‘Qui se passent avec les pantalons bleus?’ they thought. Nobody knew what the story was with the blue pants, but suddenly everyone was wearing them, and blue jeans it was.

The point of all of this is that Jun’pero Afortunado bought the jeans that he liked so much, walked out into the parking lot, and promptly drove away with the bag containing them on top of his car. This was one of his shortcomings. He had left countless cups of coffee up there, only to have all the coffee run down over the windshield at the first touch of the brakes. Whenever it happened, his first instinct was, ‘Who in hell is throwing shit at me?’ but as the paper cup lodged under his windshield wipers, he was always relieved to realize that nobody was throwing anything. Once he even forgot about two bags of groceries, and he was personally responsible for a few of the stray shoes that sometimes appear alongside the road. And as often happens with things that are left on the roof of a car, the jeans were nowhere to be found even after Jun’pero drove back and forth on Avenida Casa de Fieras until nightfall. And so you could say that Jun’pero Afortunado was feeling very desafortunado for quite some time.

One week later he was watching the evening news being broadcast from Albuquerque, and just as the gringo weatherman said it would be ‘very calm with hardly a breeze’ that night, there was a tremendous flash of lightning and it started to hail.

‘Est’pido,’ he said, and he shook his head at the television screen. His dog was sliding back and forth across the back of the couch, scratching his back.

‘What are you doing, amigo?’ Jun’pero asked him. The dog paused briefly, took a long sniff, and then he kept on sliding back and forth.

Bueno. Jun’pero was watching the hail and listening to it ping off the tin roof, one of his most favorite sounds. He had almost forgotten about the tragedy of the lost jeans from a week earlier. Actually, at that moment he had forgotten about it all together, until the phone rang.

”Oye, Jun’pero? This is Chencho over at Ina’s Dry Goods.’

”Bueno, Chencho What’s happening?’ And of course, he felt sad about the jeans all over again.

‘Well, you’re never going to believe this. But you remember those bluejeans perfectos that I sold you? Mira, hombre, someone returned them here, still in the bag. They say they found them on Avenida Casa de Fieras this morning.’

‘This morning?’ Jun’pero said.

‘Bueno, s’. You should come and get them.’

So on that Sunday morning three weeks after he bought the jeans and two weeks after they were returned to him, he had all of his things loaded into his hatchback because he was moving to a new casita on the other side of town. It might bear repeating that his new jeans were also packed away. He stopped at Josefine’s for an enchilada, but what we will never know is whether he locked the car or not. He was inside for no more than forty-five minutes, during which time he saw Oldy Ochoa and Mayor Baldrow hatching some kind of plot.
”Chantajista ‘ he heard Oldy say, slamming the table with his fist. This was of no interest to Jun’pero, however, because all he cared about were his chicken enchiladas smothered in green chile with an egg on top. The furthest thing from his mind at that moment was whether or not all of his things were being stolen out of his car. He enjoyed his enchiladas very much, washed them down with a nice glass of orange Fanta, paid his check and left. The sun was white, and the clouds were black over the mountains.
Upon making his way into the parking lot, he could see from a distance that things had gone seriously awry ‘ both doors and the trunk of his hatchback were open, the all-Tejano radio station was blaring from the radio, and there was absolutamente nada left in his car.
‘Carajo,’ he said.

He stood there in the parking lot with his hands in his pockets for a minute, and then he turned around and went back into Josefine’s. The bell on the door handle clanked.

‘Oye, who took my shit?’ he asked.

Nobody knew anything. And nobody had seen anybody walk by with three duffels and two trunks while he had been enjoying his enchiladas and Fanta with his back to the window. The rookie cop Velardo was sitting at the end of the counter with a plate of french fries.

‘Hey, cholo,’ Oldy called to Velardo, and pointed to Jun’pero.

‘I’m an animal cop,’ Velardo replied.

‘You’re still a cop, aren’t you?’ Jun’pero said.

‘Kinda. I mean, I’m sort of a cop.’
Velardo used the payphone in the back to call Chente, who was scraping all the old paint off the window panes in his house.

‘Why in hell are you calling me?’ Chente said.

‘I’m not really sure, sir.’ Velardo said. ‘This situation is kind of beyond my area of expertise.’

‘Lots of things are beyond your area of expertise, Velardo,’ Chente joked. ‘Shouldn’t you call your jefe or something?’

‘It’s Sunday.’

‘So?’

‘So, it’s Sunday. He doesn’t work Sundays.’

‘Looks like rain, Velardo. Better get out the shower cap.’

”Qu’?’

‘Alright, so you should just do like the cops on TV. Take some notes, talk to a few people, tell me if you hear anything more about the plague. You can do this, chulo. Even pretend cops can do this.’ Chente recalled only one other time when someone had taken everything out of somebody’s car: A woman reported that all of her clothes were stolen from her 1995 Toyota Celica parked on the 2400 block of Agua Fr’a Street between 8 a.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday. The clothing was later found in her closet, deputies said. It had been moved by her husband.
Police Notes
La Voz Ca’tica, 2 April 1998, pg. 2A

So that didn’t really count. This was different. Once Velardo had taken the report, he dropped it off at the newspaper. On Monday morning, it was the first note on the page:
A man reported that all of his possessions were stolen from his silver 1988 Honda hatchback in the parking lot of Josefine’s, 923 W. Calle Puesta del Sol, between 12:15 p.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday while the victim was eating enchiladas and drinking orange Fanta. Nobody saw anything, police said.
Police Notes
La Voz Ca’tica, 21 July 2003, pg. 1B

Jun’pero spent most of the next three weeks trying to replace his wardrobe and everything else that had been stolen. Chencho at Ina’s Dry Goods gave him two sweaters, a jacket and a pair of shoes not only because he felt bad for him, but because he too recognized the tragedy of the lost bluejeans perfectos. None of it was the same though. Jun’pero still reached for his fuzzy plastic jacket every morning, and he never felt quite himself without the belt buckle pawned by Jimmy Yellowhorse. His dog spent many afternoons sniffing his new clothes, which didn’t smell right to him either. Chencho thought that the loss of the jeans was not unlike someone losing a priceless religious relic, and no matter what he did for Jun’pero, it hardly seemed enough.

One morning, Chencho said about the bluejeans:
‘Listen, amigo, they found you the first time, maybe they will find you again.’

Little did either of them know that he was exactly right, and it was only a matter of days before the prodigal jeans’ return.

2.
Eusebio Faustino

He would come home with an assortment of things in his pockets ‘ nail clippers, cupcakes, chewing tobacco ‘ that he had stolen from the gas station, the convenience store, or wherever else he had been that day. Once he came home with half a dozen beef sticks tucked under his shirt. Eusebio Faustino was doing very well as a mechanic, and he also had a small airbrushing business on the side. His specialty was painting religious figures on the trunks of low riders, but he also had a knack for applying flaming decals along the sides of trucks and motorcycles. He considered himself a kind of tattoo artist for vehicles. Yet even with all his success, his one weakness in the world was stealing things. Sometimes he didn’t even realize what he was doing. One time he was with his wife at the grocery store and he a slipped box of raisins into his jacket pocket.

‘Did you just steal that?’

‘Steal what?’ he said.
And so it went.

That morning he was headed to the hardware store when he passed the parking lot alongside Josefine’s. The antique trunk was what caught his eye. Before he even realized it, he had pulled up alongside Jun’pero’s hatchback, and left his key in the ignition with the engine running as peered inside. Unfortunately, Eusebio Faustino’s wife was not there to stop the situation from getting out of hand.

‘D’os m’o,’ he said with delight as he tried the door handle.

He would later say that the door was unlocked, but nobody was sure if he had jimmied the lock ‘ his work as a mechanic sometimes crossed over into locksmithery ‘ or whether it had actually been open to start with. And then for reasons unknown even to Eusebio himself, he tuned the radio to the all-Tejano station and proceeded to put all of Jun’pero’s belongings into the backseat of his 1968 Cougar. This was considerably more serious than pocketing raisins at the grocery store, but Eusebio didn’t stop for a minute to think of that. All he could think of was that he liked the antique trunk very much, and that he couldn’t wait to get home to inspect everything that he had found.

Inez Faustino, Eusebio’s wife, had left that morning for a two week trip to visit her mother in Puebla, Mexico. For those two weeks, Eusebio contemplated whether or not to unpack the duffels, because he knew better than anyone that he was completely incapable of folding clothes neatly, so that if he did open the duffels, there was no going back. Everything would be out of the bag, literally. After he brought the duffels into the house, he stood there looking at them for hours, wondering if he should unzip them or not. He pulled one of the dining room chairs next to everything that he had stolen, and for many nights he sat there and considered what to do while drinking beer and listening to his dog’s tail thump on the tile floor. Eusebio had never been very good at judging the passage of time ‘ hours would pass without his noticing and he would sometimes consult the calendar in the office of his autobody and airbrushing shop only to find it was an entire week later than he had thought. But in Eusebio’s defense, the last few weeks of July in New Mexico do run together smoothly and quietly, and everyone loses track of time when every morning is just as bright as the next. And so before Eusebio knew it, his wife had come home.

That evening, he was on the back porch eating an apricot that he had just picked off the tree when he heard the clatter of the front door.

‘What the hell is all this shit?’ he heard her say. The duffels were still in the front hallway along with two watermelons that he had stolen three days before.

”Ladr’n ‘ she growled as she stomped towards him. ‘I turn my back and you start stealing suitcases and watermelons?’

Half an apricot was still in his mouth.

‘You’re taking this shit back right now,’ she said. ‘I don’t know where you got them or who you took them from, but I will not have that crap in my house. I will not have stolen rotting watermelons in my front hallway. Devuelva esta mierda ahorita…’ And she said everything all over again in Spanish ‘ that’s when Eusebio knew she really meant it. Nobody put the fear of God into him like his wife, and he was never more afraid than when she started saying everything twice.

Still with the apricot in his mouth, which had been there so long he was starting to drool, he loaded everything back into the Cougar, including the watermelons. He hadn’t stopped to discuss with his wife what exactly he should do with everything, and so he decided to put it all back where he found it. On his way to Josefine’s, he stopped off at Albertson’s, put the watermelons in a stray grocery cart in the parking lot, and gave it a swift shove towards the front door. From his rearview mirror he watched the cart coast right up to the sliding glass doors. He drove straight into town, without stopping anywhere to steal anything ‘ he was briefly tempted by a tremendous outdoor display of half-price yard furniture, but the nightmarish logistics of that were enough to scare him off, not to mention the very idea of his wife’s face if he came home with a chaise-lounge strapped to the top of the car. It was late enough that the streets were almost empty, and luckily there was nobody parked next to Josefine’s. Of course, Jun’pero’s hatchback wasn’t there in the parking lot at that moment, so he put the duffels and trunks as close as he could to where they had been three weeks earlier, which happened to be under some low bushes on the far side of the lot.

When he got back home, his wife was standing in the front hall with the phone in her hand.

‘Call them,’ she said.

‘Who?’

Police received an anonymous call that some suitcases were under the bushes next to Josefine’s, 923 W. Calle Puesta del Sol, at 10:41 p.m. Tuesday. The six nylon duffels and two trunks belonged to Jun’pero Afortunado, 23, of Caos, and had been reported stolen two weeks ago. Nothing had been taken, but the initials ‘E.F.’ were carved into one of the trunks.
Police Notes
La Voz Ca’tica, 5 August 2003, pg. 2B

2 Comments

  1. Whitney Plaster

    And it all makes sense now…

    Reply
  2. James wait

    Wow Whitney that is a really good story I can totally imagine the characters in my head especially traveling through the rez. I have been there I can totally see it I have a lot of great friends that live there! Hope to see you beating Steven King as a best-seller soon!

    Reply

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