by Tom Sheehan
It happened overnight in Bola City, and Jehrico Taxico, local junk man and businessman, was right there in the middle of things again. The whole town never figured Jehrico to fall in love, be more attracted to a woman than to his love of junk and making things work again, those which had lost the chance or the token push to gain the new chance. Junk searching, junk collecting, junk re-use were Jehrico’s main dishes in life. No mere woman was going to displace such talents.
This is not a story of a mere woman.
“Hell,” said Collie Sizemore, “Jehrico never once jumped in the tub with Molly. Never once had that joy and I been thinking about it non-stop since they set that damned thing up and started making money on it, that old piece of junk he found out there in some lost canyon. Can you imagine the chances he had with Molly and none ever took. Shakes me to my boot bottoms, it does. Right down where it counts.”
But once in a rare moon, when all the magic sticks of Indian medicine men and their magic stones point in one direction at one time, fate takes a big bite of life and spits it out for proper drying and falling into a rightful place. The fact is that Jehrico, though never wishing for such changes as a woman would bring, totally happy as a junk collector, knew fate was always hanging out someplace in a canyon, out on the grass where a wagon may have passed on 30 or 40 years earlier, died in its tracks and left odds and ends, or on a bold spot on the trail where nothing salvageable was likely to appear, the “likely” part being argumentative. Up from Mexico he had come, as a footloose and abandoned boy making his own way in the world and using every little tossed-out item that came across his path. To him and his wiles, and his need for gain at any measure, nothing was useless; not a piece of wood because it made a toothpick, and not an abandoned or lost iron bath tub or an abandoned piano, all too promising for future business advantages. Never mind a hunk of iron destined, in his mind, for many uses time and again the way the west and its need for implementation grew.
But fate jumped in one day on a return trip to the ghost town of Welcome Fire, where Jehrico once had retrieved an old piano, and where on this return trip came face to face with an Indian brave who had a woman trussed on an Indian pony. Jehrico saw two things in her eyes, deep pain and fear for the near future and a note of both beauty and understanding that said she knew his soul was also hurting some way.
The Indian had seen Jehrico before. “You gather old pieces, trade them, make new use. Tribe talk about you. Tribe saw you take the iron devil out of the canyon many moons ago. I have found a woman. Make new use of her in village.” The Indian pointed at the dark-haired, dark-eyed woman tied to a pony, no saddle under her. She was a hidden woman that somehow crept into Jehrico … and stayed put.
Her plight offered no quick solution to the junk collector, who said, “Get the best you can out of her. She will not last long. She will fade quick as old dog in last days.”
The Indian said, “You think no good come from her?”
Jehrico looked into her eyes in a quick glance, shook his head, and said, “It is written by the gods, if pony run off on you with her tied on, you will lose good pony.”
“You want to trade for pony?” the Indian said. “I make trade.”
Jehrico was fixing his argument in place. “I will trade for pony. He is decent pony.”
“You take woman with pony?”
“Why would I do that?” Jehrico replied. “I have miles to go in my searches. I have little food. Enough for me. I don’t need something that will eat my food and then will die on me. I would have to bury her so buzzards not take away. My God says I would have to bury her. What do you do for dead woman in your tribe? Gather much wood? Make big fire? Wait until she burn away for the High Spirit to take up with Him?”
The Indian, seeing Jehrico’s hand rubbing the handle of a knife, said, “I take knife, you take pony and woman.”
Jehrico, said, “I swap knife for pony, like I said.”
The woman was staring at him; her eyes had changed, as though she finally understood what Jehrico was doing.
The Indian relented. “I swap pony for knife. You can have woman for free.”
Jehrico handed him the knife, took the pony by the mane, patted him slowly with his other hand, and rode away slowly, saying, “If woman dies on me on the trail I will ask the Gods for help to bury her.” Then he put his heel against Mildred his mule and nudged her. “Off we go, Mildred. We make camp in another valley.”
Down the prairie a few miles, the latter part of the day coming on, shadows making new landmarks come to life, Jehrico untied her hands, splashed water on her wrists, gave her a drink from his flask, and said, “My name is Jehrico. What is your name? Where did you come from? How did the Indian capture you?”
The woman, her eyes changed again, a crease of a smile trying to make way at one corner of her mouth that had pouty lips, shook her beautiful black hair and said, “I am Lupalazo. I came from Mexico when a man take me from my home. He was taking me home to be slave. The Indian killed him and took me. He was taking me to his village to be slave. Are you going to make me slave? You fooled Indian right from the start. I saw what you were doing. I can see down into you from far away out here. That is best thing happen to me since my father die two moons ago. I was alone. No family. Will I be in your family now?”
Jehrico found himself already at that idea. “Yes,” he said, “you can be in my family. You can be my family.”
She said, looking straight into his eyes, “Lupalazo say we both need to clean away the past from both of us. We need to go in water and bathe. We need to get rid of bad smell and bad things. Do you know where we can go in water? Water in Mexico is beautiful. Makes you feel clean where mountain send down a message from high up.”
To the most secret place on the river Jehrico took her, wondering how it would be handled, them both at her insistence needing a bath.
But Lupalazo made it the easiest part of the day, the easiest part of the trade. “Nobody outside my family ever see all of me,” she said. “The Indian and the cowboy not see all of me. But I am in your family now and you can see all of me and I can see all of you. We do not worry about such things in our family.” Her smile triggered goodness and joy in both of them.
And at the edge of the river, under a growth of trees that formed like an umbrella over one spot, she took off her clothes and stood there at the edge of the river waiting for Jehrico to undress.
But he was stunned. He could not move. She was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen, never having seen a naked woman before, never dreaming of this sight. Spirits ran right through him, speaking strange words to him, sending strange feelings. Was she not better than a worthy piece of iron, a bronze piece thick as his arm? The thick bottom of a broken bottle, the sun coming for it?
“Are you afraid of water?” she said. “You need to have bath like I do. I will feel better. You look like you have never seen a woman with no clothes on. Is it that way? Do you like what you see? Have you ever seen a woman with no clothes on?”
“No.” stammered Jehrico, “I have never seen a woman with no clothes on. Never in my life.”
“Do you like what you see?” She did not pirouette or make any sensual move. She stood still, a proud and beautiful woman at a crux in her life. “I am in your family now. You can see me anytime. I like how your face looks at me. How your eyes fill up with me. Now is my turn.”
She gestured at him still fully clothed.
Jehrico Taxico, for the first time in his life, disrobed in front of a woman and knew he was in love for ever and ever. And felt more so when Lupalazo smiled back at him, stretched her hand for his hand and the pair of new lovers walked into the cool part of the river and felt the wash coming over them, the wash of splendidly clear water from high in the mountains.
After their bath they lie down in the shade of the trees and knew they were put together for their whole lives. “I will see you from everyplace I am from now on. From far or near.” She held his hand tightly to her.
And of course, it was Collie Sizemore, Bola City’s social scout, saloon porch denizen in the last of the evening light, who yelled out to all in Hagen’s Saloon, “Hey, folks, here comes J&M and he’s got a woman on an Indian pony and she’s prettier than that damned pony, I swear. Her hair’s black as Hades must be black when the fires are out. She’s not an Indian, but she might be from Jehrico’s old home town, ‘cause they look like they’re the best of friends forever, and he ain’t been gone but two days to Welcome Fire to do some more scroungin’. And he scrounged up somethin’ awful nice, if you was to ask me about it.”
The barkeep said, “Collie, you sound like you need a drink.”
Collie Sizemore, as much herald as Bola City would ever know, said, “I feel like somethin’ to celebrate is comin’ on me.”
So it was, only a week later, marriage now the first thing on his mind, Jehrico Taxico asked Lupalazo to marry him in a ceremony to be held in J&M’s Emporium and Dance Hall, the place Jehrico and Molly Yarbrough built around the retrieved piano Jehrico brought in from the ghost town of Welcome Fire.
Jehrico wanted to marry Lupalazo in a hurry, to make her an honest woman, and the shindig promised to be a lively one, and all the sideline accessory actions went into play. Lupalazo, of course, pulled a lot of attention her way, and her and Molly Yarbrough had a great get-acquainted session at the livery site where Jehrico’s tub was still a customer favorite in warm weather and after long cattle drives or long hours with the reins of a coach or wagon.
Molly said, “We’re lucky, Lupalazo, that we caught up with a churchman, Father Rueben Galarzo. He will perform the wedding. I’d like to be the maid of honor for you.”
“Oh, that very nice news, Molly. A churchman from my country once and Jehrico’s country once, and you say it is okay to marry Jehrico who make me dizzy. Make my head spin. It is okay to get married when head is spinning? Does your head spin sometime? You get dizzy? Mine spin whenever Jehrico is near me, and even when I am here and he is down there and fix building for the wedding.”
She thought over what she had said, and asked again of Molly, “Is it okay to get married by churchman when head spin?”
“It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s good to let your head spin. But be careful you don’t fall off your horse.” The ludicrous image leaped at the two women.
Molly and Lupalazo laughed until their sides hurt, and then Lupalazo said to Molly, “Does your head spin, Molly?”
Molly said, “Once in a while, after all my business is done.”
Jehrico’s future wife said, in all honesty, “Is great when it spin all the time and don’t worry about food or where to go or what else to do. But when I wake up I know I am hungry. All the dizzy time make me hungry. I could eat big steak now.”
The two women of the west shared another laughing concert, getting to know each other with deep affinity.
Molly had only one question to ask Lupalazo, and it was the source of her name. “How did your name come about?’ she had said, the curiosity coming as a warm look in her face.
“Oh, my mother tell me about night I was born. My father drink while sit and wait, lots of tequila and branch wine, and he look with his magic glass at shooting stars, many of them that night, and got his riata and told my mother he was going to rope a falling star for me when I came born, which was in the next hour. That is how she tell me, father to rope a star fall from the sky for me.”
Molly, after necessary preparations, had shut down the tub operation, saving it for co-owner Jehrico Taxico and the future Mrs. Lupalazo Taxico’s wedding and she picked out a dress for the bride from her own finery, a red silk body hugger from St. Louis that nobody had seen her wear. When she saw Lupalazo put it on she knew Jehrico would be knocked for a loop further than his current knocked loop when he saw her in it. Such a man in a man’s world would be knocked away for the count seeing the Mexican beauty at her luscious best. She’d even taken Molly’s breath away for a short count.
Molly Yarbrough realized that the junk collector supreme had picked up the most retrievable good thing he’d ever found in his scrounging travels, and come away with a whole gold mine.
The wedding was the highlight of the year for Bola City, and activities went on for four days, but nobody knew after a few hours where Jehrico had taken his bride.
Molly figured it was up along the river, or more likely to a ghost town where Jehrico might be showing his new wife a whole lost town he might someday bring back to life.
Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951. His short story collections are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, from Press 53; and From the Quickening and A Collection of Friends, Pocol Press. He has 18 Pushcart nominations, appeared in Dzanc Best of the Web 2009, has 290 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine, appeared in 4 issues of Rosebud Magazine and 8 issues of Ocean Magazine. His novels include Vigilantes East, An Accountable Death, Death of a Phantom Receiver (an NFL mystery). Milspeak Publishers issued eBooks Korean Echoes, 2011 and The Westering, 2012 and will be followed by 9 more collections in the series. The Westering has been nominated for a National Book Award by the publisher. His work is in Wherever It Pleases, Nervous Breakdown, Troubadour21, Stone Hobo, Faith-Hope-Fiction, Canary, Subtle Tea, Red Dirt Review, Nontrue, Danse Macabre, Nashwaak Review, Jake’s Locked-Room Anthology, Ray’s Road Review, The Best of Sand Hill Review, The Linnet’s Wings, Wilderness House Literary Review, Dew on the Kudzu, Blue Lake Review, Qarrtsiluni, and many more Internet sites and in print magazines.
photo by Kristi Harms