Gretchen Van Lente
Pancho Villa Goes to Heaven

If they asked, she would say yes and he would say no at the same time: we are married; we aren’t married. Somos maridos.  No somos maridos.

They did not speak English but when she sat down to dinner one night and muttered to herself, in English, Oh, here’s the chili, they looked long and deep into her eyes and laughed, shaking their heads. 

They gave her guacachale barriers for parasites.  “This will keep you in the bathroom all night,” said Chela, speaking slowly to be sure she was understood, and Anna Lisa replied, eating the berries, “I spent all last night in the toilet.”

She was surprised at how much they liked her, since she sat silently judging them.

That was at Chela’s house, Martín’s half sister, where they all met everyday to visit and laugh and gossip and eat corn with chili—all other things in life being too expensive. Anna Lisa Dionne was not comfortable accomplishing nothing all day, and yet she understood the importance of these long drawn out family visits, so charming in nature.  For eventually they would all stab each other in the back.  At least, that was how she read the signs.

Poverty in Venus Tiano Carranto (a town named for a hero, though no one could remember his deeds) was hardly the worst by third world standards.  She had done her Peace Core thing, once upon a time.   She knew about tin shacks and mud floors and communal toilets.   But at Martín’s house—the house he had inherited and the reason for their visit to Michuacan—she’d been caught off guard.  After ten years, she had not even known of her boys humble origins.  It was not a corrugated shack with a mud floor, she told herself.  But she couldn’t commit to saying it was even one step up.

Do I feel sorry for him, or am I just a snob?   It exhausted her, not knowing what she felt.  Martín’s new home, his inheritance, was not a place where one would accept a drink.  She felt enormous relief when no hospitality was extended--even though the reason was obvious--they had nothing, the squatters in this house.

And the strangest part was that after all these years together, he had only just, apparently, decided to trust her with the story of his poverty.  When Martín introduced her into his newly inherited house—now occupied by a cousin (who was the favorite son of his thieving uncle) he showed no trace of embarrassment over the appalling condition of what to her was no more than a hole in the wall.  Jesus, she told herself at once, had a better start in life than her boy friend.  Yet Martín did not watch for her reaction, or even care if she had one.  He simply and completely trusted her not to have a reaction.  And she did not know if that was a good sign or a bad sign. If he cared, wouldn’t he be embarrassed?

Certainly she had been in worst situations without flinching—a shack on a reservation in Iowa where, at the front door, the flies blackened her eyes and made a step forward like a fall off a cliff—a solid wall of flies as thick as the side of the house, but hadn’t she only been there out of curiosity about a handsome boy?  At nineteen had she been judgment free, with sexual impulses overriding everything?

At Martín’s house she could not bare the flies crawling over everything, or the fact that people did not sweep them off their faces.  She hated the fly strip dangling from the ceiling so close to her head.   This is so stupid of me!  Tolerating herself was harder than anything.  Martín had only been an infant in that house.  He’d crossed the border at age twelve.  He’d come of age in Beverly Hills, the same way Anna Lisa had.

Martín, a caretaker’s son, had two tutors lined up before he set foot in the U.S, one for English and one for tennis.  Anna Lisa, a poor relative, went to the finest schools in L.A., ultimately receiving a PhD in Comparative Religion “just for the hell of it.”

They had known of each other when they were young, and Martin had given her a few hilarious tennis lessons.  She was the worst student he had ever had, he explained to her in a way that made them drop to their stomachs on the court, their chins bracing the pavement, punch happy. “Why don’t you try the army?”   He could barely get the words out.  She had lobbed her shoe at him through the net, hitting him in the ass when he bent to recover her ball.

He would not charge her for the two lessons, he’d said, because she was funny.  But, he explained carefully, she shouldn’t come back again.

Ultimately, many years later, it was AA that brought them together.  They felt like outsiders in the addictive community of Beverly Hills.  And so, to get even, they created a system for rating face lifts. Number one was “Inter-Galactic.”  Number ten was “Permanently Surprised.”  That had been the start of ten good years.

Martín was only in Pueblo Viejo (the easier name for the town) to settle the disputes.  If he didn’t there would be no end to the fighting between his relatives over his property. He had no choice.  He had to claim the house he was born in, plus the simple hector of land belonging to the father he had never met.  When he said to her that, perhaps, he would buy many more hectors in the valley, and grow flowers, and import them to Los Angeles, she flashed him a startled look.

“I’ve never heard you say one good thing about NAFTA.  You hate it.”  

“I know,” he replied, and they laughed—at Martin and who he was.  Someone who made drastic and dramatic changes in his life as quickly as someone else might pick their cereal.  They knew each other so well.  They accepted so well. This is what Anna Lisa had always thought.

So what was bothering her now, after all these years?  What was it she wanted from him?  How was she being excluded in Martín’s vision of the future?  Why was passing time in his newly inherited house so disturbing?  What are the fucking signs, she asked herself, staring up at the low, skinny pyramid of logs above her head that passed for a ceiling.

She thought it could be a number of things, a number of signs all adding up to impending doom.  No curtain across the toilet behind the house?  The pregnant wife of Martín’s cousin looked like a girl, and the cousin, a professional cock fighter, was a too-handsome man in a clean t-shirt, a young man who made her feel old because he was so strong and flawless and proud in spite of being poor.  The cousin had moved into the house when Martín’s father passed away.  He paid no rent to anyone, and he intended to remain living in the house, in spite of Martín’s appearance in town.  But such disputes did not stop cousins from embracing and enjoying the day and the gift of gab when they had not seen each other since childhood.  That, to Anna Lisa, was a bad sign, although she couldn’t say why.

Perhaps, she thought, her real problem was a lack of generosity.  Or perhaps it was merely the blandness of cement floors.  Or empty walls.  There was nothing to look at in Martín’s house.  That was a sign, too.  A sign her life would also be empty some day.

A calendar promoting Los Tornneos de Gallos was the one splash of color in the cavern of bumpy cement with no back wall, with a view of outhouses and rooster coops.  Guillermo, the young, smooth, muscular cousin had torn the poster off a nail, tearing it irreparably in his eagerness to show her his name on the schedule, and he had shrugged at the damage he had done to his one token of pride in this house where he squatted, relying on the good faith of relatives.  The little incident had caused an erosion into his self esteem, and she had been the cause of it.

Because she had wandered off to admire the roosters, like no other roosters she had ever seen.

“It’s like they have muscle,” she said in English to her “husband,” and Martín replied in English, in front of his cousin, “Guillermo had twice as many last month.”  He rolled his eyes at her.  After which he asked Guillermo in Spanish for a drink of water.

Everything would have been fine if Martín’s uncle Felipe had not bribed someone to put his own name, Felipe Carlos Carerra, on the deeds for the house and the hector of land in the valley below Pueblo Viejo.  Or if Martín’s half sister Chela had not lied and said the hector and the house had been promised to her by Martín—in a suspicious letter she was not embarrassed to produce.  Or if Martín felt he could trust his half sister and her lawyer after he finished paying them off.  Or if they didn’t have to go before the committee.  All the surrounding landowners would convene at some point to testify before the commissioner.  Who owned the house?  The squatter or the son of the man?  And more importantly, who owned the small hector of land?  Felipe Carlos Carerra who tended and sold the cows that never belonged to him in the first place?  Or Martín Carrera Guterrez, whose father, Alejandro Carlos Carerra,  swore on his death bed that all he owned in this world, the cows, the house, the hector in the valley below, belonged to the son he had abandoned at birth?

Not that a dying decree mattered much.  Martín simply stood in line to inherit.  His mother had passed away.  Martín was next in line. That was the law.  Martín Carerra Guterrez was the legal heir.  If she could believe the gossip, Martín’s father, Alejandro Carlos Carerra, had simply been asserting his iron will one last time on his deathbed, for Tio Felipe, the thieving uncle, had been at his side when he died.

They walked the streets in the early evening.  All the cacophony was gone so suddenly.  At a certain hour it simply fell off.  The streets became abandoned and cleaned by the rain.  Many vecinos sat outside in the night air to chat with any passer by.  How they remembered Martín, she couldn’t begin to guess.  He was twelve when his mother appeared out of no where to take him north.  But the old women sitting out in chairs called out to him, embraced him, spoke as if no time had passed, and worked their opinions seamlessly into the gossip consuming the entire pueblo.

“Everything that belonged to your father,” they said, “Now belongs to you.”  They spoke righteously, without mentioning Tio Felipe’s name.  “We know why she had to leave,” they said, as if they had just witnessed Lupe Guterrez de Carerra being dragged through the street by her husband, when in fact Martín’s mother had died many years ago, after making a success of her life in the U.S.

As Martín explained to her, he hadn’t even known about his inheritance in Michuacan until Felipe called one day in a panic about Chela’s letter. And then Anna Lisa had been the one to insist that he claim his inheritance from his dishonest relatives.  Martín, on his own, had not wanted to appear “greedy.”  He did not want the “bad blood,” he’d said.

It was all her doing.  She had talked her fiancé into claiming the inheritance that was rightfully his.  What was she thinking? Why hadn’t she listened to him? What did she think was waiting for them in Mexico? At times she wondered what invaluable lesson she was learning, or why at times, forgetting herself, she turned to Martín and spoke in Spanish, a thing which would have been awkward between them only a month ago.

If the day was loud, congested, exploding with colors and banners and children inventing games out of trash and clumsy drivers, the night was its opposite, a time for strolling through the deserted, rain swept streets, smelling sweet air on the way to some neighbor’s taco stand.  A strolling couple could just follow their noses.

As they sat eating tacos at a child’s plastic table in the middle of the street, Martín explained to her, since certain people talked too fast, what had really gone on at his Tio Felipe’s house, the day before, when she and Martín had gone to visit the thieving uncle.  Surprisingly, they had not even talked, man to man, about the house or the hector of land.  They talked about Martín’s grandfather: the father of his Tio Felipe, his father Alejandro, and three spinster aunts whose names Martín could not remember. Their insults.  Their attempts to powder their faces. Their bony hands which pinched.  That was all he remembered about his great aunts, who were all buried in Pueblo Viejo now, in the same grave.

He had explained that situation to her, to the best of his abilities, a long time ago, when they first began talking about their lives.   Martín’s father had abandoned him for booze.  Martín’s mother had abandoned her son for another reason—to save her life.  And in the vacuum, Abuelo Alejo had seized upon Martín as his own, like spoils from a war between his mother and father.  Then one day his mother Lupe appeared magically in his grandfather Alejo’s house and said, “Get your coat.  We’re going north.”

Martín said it might have happened on his twelfth birthday.   He had been sitting on the floor playing dominoes and smoking a cigarette in the house where he lived with his grandfather and the three stingy aunts.  Suddenly, like magic, or a dream, his mother appeared out of nowhere, accompanied by a rich gringa who had legitimate papers for him.  He left, he said, with just his coat, as they had been in a hurry to escape from Alejo, his paternal grandfather, and the three aunts who looked like nuns in their wraps of black clothing.

 “You never actually saw your mother before,” Lisa had said, the first time she heard the story.  “You were an infant when she left.  How did you know it was her?  Why did you trust her?  She could have been any strange woman.”

 “She was my mother.  Of course I knew it was her. Any way, I had seen pictures of her as a girl.”

“You’re saying she was a girl?  When she had you?”

He’d shrugged, choosing not to answer. By then she was used to inexplicable things that were none of her business, and so she said nothing.

Anna Lisa now listened to the story of Martín’s grandfather Alejo with great interest—the story of a ten year old boy, a guide for the Revolution de Reforma of 1910, the story of Alejo Carlos, who had once beat Martín every morning of his life for sneaking off to the fights every evening.  After one month in Mexico she understood less and less. But she would sit in this moment without a worry, in the pleasant night air, in the severe dark lighted by a single bulb from a neighbor’s window, and drift away into a timeless pleasure—something nearly as delicious as her rain water bath every morning.

“Tell me everything Felipe said about your grandfather being a scout in the revolution.  He was a boy soldier, wasn’t he?  A Villista?  I understood that much of the conversation.”

“Felipe is a better story teller than I am.  Felipe is the story teller in our family”

She was surprised at how quickly he had re-adopted his father’s family, for better or worse. Before the inheritance the two sides had not even known or cared about each other. She did not think it left her in good standing.  “Felipe is a thief.  How do you know he’s telling the truth?”

“A thief always has to tell the truth.  It’s the other side of his nature.”

“You always tell the truth, Martín.”

He laughed so hard.  She never thought her jokes were so damn funny but her boy sure did.  She made him laugh a hundred times a day, just like that, with leaks in his eyes and his head thrown back and everything perfect between them.  They often laughed and thought they couldn’t stop, at something he said, something she said.  But Anna Lisa was not laughing much lately. Not since she had arrived in Michuacan. Instead, she was growing more insecure everyday, and difficult to please.

Martin paused for a moment to receive the tacos through the neighbor’s window.  “Gracias Maestro.”  He placed the tacos before her and he placed one less in front of him.  Another sign. Then he lit a cigarette and watched the smoke.  She knew he would begin telling the story his own way, as if The Revolution had affected him personally.  She’d been too busy working on her manners to read all the signs, but she knew impending doom.

He watched the smoke of his cigarette and leaned far back in his plastic chair with a boot crossing his leg.  At first, neither of them touched their tacos, the special meat chipped right off the top of a cow’s decapitated head—a delicacy in Michuacan.
“Things never change in Mexico,” said Martín.  “It’s why I’d like to be here.  My cousins and I.  We’ve been talking about how we’re the new generation.  The old men are dying off.  People like Felipe and my father and the commissioner.  Men stuck in the past.  They’ve all given up on changing anything.

“You don’t know your U.S. history, Anna Lisa. Like a lot of people.  Nobody wants to know the truth. But the truth is that the U.S. controlled every aspect of The Revolution.  What choice did they have, Villa and Zapata, against a giant like the U.S.?

“And there’s the other thing.  They spoke about it openly in 1910.  People don’t say it today but they feel the same: we can never be a great nation because of the Indios. A lot of people think that. It goes right to the heart of every genocide in this region of the world.

“Everyone knows the story of Villa in Chihuahua.  How he killed a woman who pleaded for her husband’s life. But it was all a big mistake.  A terrible misunderstanding.”

She slapped her chair down.  “Oh, wow.” She shook her head.  “I really hate to hear you say that.  Honey, Baby, I may not know my U.S. history but it’s a mistake to kill a woman?  What the hell are you saying?” 

But he continued, dragging on his cigarette and staring into space as if he were talking to someone more understanding.  

“He would have spared that man, Villa would have, because Villa was good.  He wanted the land for the Indians.  That’s all he wanted.  But the woman’s husband was already murdered before he had a chance to wave his magic wand, as he so often did, to spare a life, and so she cursed him, told him to kill her right there and then.  She told him to shoot her on the spot.  She demanded it.  And my grandfather Alejo saw this.  He saw Villa shake and sweat and lose control of every nerve in his body.  He saw him twitching like a hot wire. Then he saw Villa pull out his gun and shoot the woman, just as she asked him to.  Villa lost his mind in front of his men.  And since Villa went crazy, so did his men.  Then the carnage happened.”

“I don’t think I want to hear this.”   She picked at her taco, sticking slices of chopped meat in her mouth and chewing on it.  “Ignorance is bliss, baby.”

But he continued anyway.  “My grandfather traveled in a mule driven cart with his soldier father, his mother, who was also a Villista, his abuela, who cooked for them, and his soldier brother who was also, as you put it, a soldier boy.  My grandfather was ten.  His brother, my great uncle, was twelve.  He name was Pedrito.  But they also called him little Zapata.

“All the rebel families had been watching.  Many took part in the slaughter of ninety women.  Villa’s soldiers went crazy.  And Villa, I don’t know.  Why he didn’t stop it.”

She watched him shake his head as if he were morning the death of a friend.  Then he continued.

“My grandfather watched his own father shoot a woman who had danced a few dances with a soldier of the Carrancista Garrison.”

“Can we just eat our tacos?”  She felt like stuffing her face now, and she began devouring one whole taco in a few bites.

“My grandfather, he was a guide, Tio Felipe says.  Not entirely a Villista.  He was a bare foot boy in a beat up sombrero and a serape so eaten away with holes it looked like a piece of gossamer pulled down over his head.  Dirty from head to toe, and maybe an Indio, maybe not, Felipe says.  He knew the deserts and the mountains of Chihuahua like nobody because he’d crossed them a million times, looking for something edible for his family.  Foraging for food like an animal.  He knew where water was.  He kept field maps of rebel camps in his head.

“But his brother Pedritio was a soldier with a uniform, a Villista.   Felipe says his father’s brother tried to dress like his name sake, like a “littler Zapata.”  A dandy.  An Indio you could worship. But Zapata was a good looking Indian, and my great uncle, Felipe claims, was just an ugly boy. He wore a man’s leather coat under his rags.  It hung from his collar down to the ground, where he tripped on it, because he was also wearing a man’s pair of boots. A brand new pair of boots.  Just like the coat was brand new, given to him by his commanding officer. He wore a new sombrero and a new gun with a leather holster.  The ammunition belts crossing his chest weighed heavier than he did.  It was all for show, of course.  But his brother Pedrito shot those women, too.”

He looked at her for the first time, turning slowly away from the trail of his smoke, but now she couldn’t look at him.  She picked at her meat and glanced at him sideways.  This is not even the worst of it, she thought.  This is another fucking sign.

“Chihuahua was the beginning of the end.  Many people think the revolution ended later, and some even think that it’s still alive.  We’re all still searching for the wealth of Mexico.  Where is it?” he asked her, and there was accusation in his voice.  “Where is the wealth of Mexico!’  He was angry.  He took a fierce drag off his cigarette.

“The U.S. wanted oil just like they always want the oil, and they saw to it that things would stay the same.  They used their muscle.  The revolution never happened.”

Then he was jerking forward in his seat, stumping his cigarette out, raising his voice in anger and frustration.  “Look at Zapata!  At pictures of his face! He knew it.  His face tells the story.  He’s terrified in those camera lenses.  He’s stiff.  He trusts no one.  In those pictures you see of him, he already knows they don’t stand a chance against the foreigners and still he and Villa had their pictures taken with the spineless generals who would concede everything to the U.S..   Men like Zapata and Obregón gave their lives, knowing nothing would change. They gave their lives for an idea.  That is a Hero, Anna Lisa.”

“If that is a hero I am a flying pig.”

“No, you’re missing the point. You don’t know your U.S. history, Anna Lisa.”

“So Shoot me.  I don’t know my U.S. history.”

“Listen to me, Villa lost his soul, trying to fight the good fight.  The man was a millionaire after his pillaging, but he was a Robin Hood, too.  The history books say he settled for a ranchero and some cash.  You think he needed that?  He settled for a broken spirit.  They left one man standing so they could say to the people, you had your revolution.  The man who shot a woman. He is your revolution.   Villa meant more alive to them than dead.  He was their symbol of revolution, the one they had and the one they didn’t have.  The illusion and the reality at the same time.”  

He settled back in his seat again, seeming to gain some measure of relief.  For this Anna Lisa was grateful because she was beginning to feel like a large sign with a bulls-eye emblazoned in red, white, and blue.

“Most of the boy soldiers became army men when they grew up, my great uncle did, I assume.  But my grandfather had had enough.  He never forgot seeing the women shot.  Or Villa, losing his mind.  It’s a terrible thing watching a good man lose his mind.

“Michuacan was as far as he ran. He did it on foot.  He never saw his soldier family again. He sold corn in the market place for the rest of his life. “

“So, I take it you never resented your grandfather Alejo for beating you everyday of your life.  You felt sorry for him.  He was some kind of hero.”

“Well, I could see his point,” said Martín, because he’d grown immune to her sarcasm.  “My grandfather Alejo had no pleasure in life. He watched the slaughter of 90 women.  He watched his family standing in that firing squad.  His own small brother, dressed from head to toe in a man’s army coat, shot down women twice his size.”

Strangely, it was at that moment that she glanced and saw, for the first time, that the glob of chopped up meat on a tray in the neighbor’s window was the decapitated head of a cow.  She saw the cow’s mouth gaping open in torture, as if the thing were still alive and knew the top of his head was being eaten, piece by piece.

“That is a cow’s head!” she screamed.

“You didn’t know that?”

She looked down at her tacos.  She looked at him.  She looked at the cow’s fat tongue lolling off to the side.

“You’ve been eating them all month,” he said.  “What’s the matter?”

“Now see, this is lack of communicate,” she pushed her plate away

“It’s a delicacy.  You said you liked it.”

“Please tell me there’s more to the story.” She noticed he was not embarrassed, for her or for him.  He was simply a proud Mexican Man.

“Felipe says my grandfather did have one great pleasure.  His obsession, my grandfather called it.  Everyday he would smoke a little marijuana rolled up in a corn husk.  But very little.  He would only smoke as much as he could fit on the nail of his thumb”

Martín began too laugh and so did she.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“He had a really big thumb nail.  I know.  He used to scratch me with that thing.  It was a shovel.”

“Did it ever occur to you not to sneak away to the fights?  I mean, didn’t you get tired of being beaten every day?”

“No,” he said. “To me, it was worth it.  I was as stubborn as he was.  That, I guess, is why I never blamed him.”

“You never blame anyone, Martin.”

“Sure I do,” and he gave her one of those looks she could never understand—pain without regret.  And that was never a good sign.


It had been a tough month in a relationship that had gone too smoothly for ten years.  At one point he had said to her, “Maybe if you had some other purpose to your life besides shopping,” after which he immediately apologized.  She had said worse things to him.  Her boy had patience.  Her boy was loyal.  He had many good qualities about him, and this, she always knew, would some day be a problem.

She didn’t finish her tacos.  She shoved them away.  Martin covered for her.  He ate hers, and then he ordered three more, eating them one, two, three.  It would have been a disgrace to leave the food uneaten.  So wrong to insult any man’s dignity, or any woman’s. She knew that, and still she’d risked insulting the neighbor.  Didn’t she already have a problem with her stomach?  Didn’t they all, all of them, tease her about using the bathroom one more time before they went about the town?

On the way back home, strolling through the middle of the streets, they shared a cigarette. 

“So.  You have your house and you’ll get your hector.  Chela is probably partying her brains out right now.”   It had been a generous pay off.   Several months ago, he had not even known if his half-sister was alive or dead.

“I hope not,” he said.  “She could do something with that money.  It was enough to start her in something.”

“Like what?”

Martín didn’t answer her question.  He simply didn’t sometimes.   She was used to that, to speaking to the side of his head without a hope of being heard, as if he chose silence.  As if he chose to be alone at times, when he was with her.

He threw the cigarette down in the street and ground it out with the toe of his boot.

“I wasn’t done with that,” she said.

He turned to face her.  He put his hands on her arms and turned her body around forcefully so that he could look her in the face.  He held on to her arms without letting go.

“Felipe is sick,” he said.  “He has the same cancer my father had.”

“What are you telling me?”

“Felipe took care of my father.”

“Felipe is a thief!” she yelled.  She knew her boy. She knew where this was going.  “You don’t owe him anything.  You gave him all the cows.  Let him buy a doctor. You said he has money.  You give everything away. You owe him nothing, Martín.”

Suddenly she could remember what had sickened her about Felipe.  It was body language, much as she hated that phrase.  Inside Felipe’s house, there was no furniture.  They’d had to lean against the wall.  Felipe had one plastic chair, which he sat in.  He wore a dull wooden crucifix on a string covering his burnt, hairless chest. Not even enough decency, she’d thought, to put a shirt on as he sat beside his railing, guarding the pinball slugs which he hid under his hat.  And when the children approached him, they did so cautiously, fearfully, almost on tip toe.  They tried not to make a sound.  They spoke no words to Felipe.  He was a man who took pennies from children.  And the children, except for a turn to lose their pennies in his pinball machines, got nothing in return from Felipe.  Not a smile.  Not a name.  Not a breath.  The children opened their hands without a word. He plucked the pennies out and dropped the slugs into the same hand.  Then the children dashed away.  Children knew.  Not that he was a bad man.  Just that he was an awful man.  They knew he had a heart like a machine that gobbles pennies.

And suddenly she remembered him unlocking a door when they had arrived.  He’d disappeared behind the locked door.  When he returned, he dropped a single piece of candy into her hand.  

“Martín,” she tried to touch his face but he jerked away.  “You won’t do this to me.  I know you won’t”

She was panicking. What did she have to offer him?  Elaborate dinner parties?  Her impressive friends?  An occasional brush with a celebrity?

“It’s an ugly town, Martín.  The people here, they’re not your family.  You don’t know them like me. They just want your money!”

Was she losing her mind, like Pancho Villa?  Was it hopeless?  Was she fighting for nothing?  Was it just an idea, the two of them?  If Mexico was real to him, what was she?She felt herself blinded by panic.  She was loosing her boy to Mexico.  To an armpit ciudad in Michuacan.  Her stubborn, stubborn boy.

She jerked away and began walking home one step behind him.  She didn’t know the way through the narrow streets.  Each individual house was merely a door in a corridor of cement, and to Anna Lisa, all the doors and all the corridors lining either side of the street looked the same.  Pueblo Villa, like every other town they had visited, was simply a maze of cement corridors without names, and needing Martín to navigate the maze was now the ultimate pisser, because she couldn’t scream in front of the vecinos, sitting out there in the night air with so much peace on their minds in spite of everything.  So she walked close enough to mutter at his head.

“I want a drink.  Get me a room and a bottle.  If you do this thing, if you move to Mexico, Mr. Hero, Mr. new generation, I will drink myself to death.  Starting today.  Starting right now.  Why aren’t there any liquor stores in this town?’

“Because no one has any money?”

“Is that what you want?  A gutter drunk girlfriend? That’s what I’ve decided to be Martín. You’re gutter drunk girlfriend.  Aren’t you proud of me?  You’ll be a hero and I’ll be your gutter drunk girlfriend, right here in Michuacan.”

He stopped and tried to grab her arm but she pulled away.

“I’m getting drunk.  I want a bottle and a room.”

“Anna, hush.”   He tried to make another grab.  He managed to lace his arm around hers and hold her tightly to his body. “You’re already drunk,” he said.

She stumbled beside him. “Just shoot me,” she said. “I don’t know my U.S. history.”


In a more or less spacious house, they had been the guests all month of yet another cousin, Maria, or Mari, the one person, and it was just her luck, who hadn’t completely fallen in love with the odd gringa novia.  Mari never slowed down her speech, never spoke to her directly, never looked her in the eye, or if she did it was only for a second and that was worse. But Ana Lisa adored Mari.  A woman with religious icons plastered all over her house, chingado was every other word she spoke.

They tried so hard every night to be quiet in the bed Maria had carefully made up for them in her best room, but it was difficult. In ten years, things had just gotten hotter between them.  But on this night, they were tired, angry, and sick of each other.   They left space on the bed.

As they began to drift off, Anna sat up like a zombie rising from the dead. 

“What am I,” she said, “ethnocentric all of the sudden?”

“What’s that?”

“Never mind.  You don’t want to know.”

“You never mind.  I heard you the first time.”

They dove, faces down, into the same pillow, stuffing their mouths with linen and sawdust so that Mari would not hear them laughing and think something else, and then they were crying, and she was kissing his eyes over and over, saying “I won’t get drunk.  I promise. I would do anything for you.  I would die for you.”