New Mexico Noir: Mirror de la Mariposa

When we left Herman’s house, Anthony was beyond irritated with me. He wouldn’t speak to me, in fact. Clearly, Anthony was far too sensitive. He was my employer, though, and I decided I should placate him.

Back at the house, I threw myself into cleaning. Mysteriously, Anthony pitched in, leaving Walt to clear the weedy yard—that is, after he woke Walt from his drowsy summer nap by punching him hard on one rounded shoulder.

Anthony and I worked side by side for hours, pausing only to order a large, green chile and pepperoni pizza and drink a few Bud lights, which, at that point, I was actually grateful for. I did the unthinkable: poured the beer over crushed ice and added lime juice, compliments of the bag of limes I found in an otherwise empty refrigerator. I also discovered a bottle of Jose Cuervo in the cupboard over the stove, but didn’t help myself, because, frankly, I’m not fond of tequila hangovers.

Long after midnight, Anthony promised that he would hire somebody to clean the carpets. We were both ready to drop from exhaustion and, yet, the house still smelled like cat piss—with the added lingering odor of pepperoni.

I stumbled outside, into the yard that was lit by the moon. Hours ago, Walt had walked off into the night. He’d left the weeds in yard bags at the curb, and not said good-bye. Meanwhile, Anthony and I filled the cleared patch of dirt with garbage, broken furniture, and mangled mini blinds. It was a depressing sight to behold.

I heard the screen door slam behind me.

“Come on, I’ll take you home,” Anthony said, his voice hoarse with tiredness.

“O.k. What happened to Walt?”

“Quien sabe? My primo is a strange man. Always has been. Forty years old, lives with his mom, never says more than a few words, Demetria being one in his tiny vocabulary. When we were kids, they had him in special ed until they realized his IQ was over 130. I was really the only one who could compete with him on a mental level.”

“Oh, yeah, right. I believe that,” I said. Honestly, I’d only seen the light of intellect flick on at the sight of Demetria, whose red dress had revealed her hourglass figure. Other than that, he’d acted like a mute fool.

I climbed in the cab of Anthony’s truck, and, for some reason, he glared at me from the driver’s seat, his brown eyes turning black in the darkness. I was too tired to care. I was filthy, my hair tangled into a million knots, and my clothes limp over my lack of curves. I laid back my head and closed my eyes, listening only to the noise of the music on the radio, ACDC, or something similarly loud and obnoxious.

I didn’t open my eyes again until I felt the truck stop for longer than a red light, and I heard Anthony clearing his throat.

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow around eleven, o.k.?”

I nodded.

“Good work today, Ella.”

He sounded like my little league coach from the second grade. “Thank you, Anthony.”

“Tomorrow we’ll start setting up the office.”

“Right.” I slid from the truck. I wanted nothing more than to strip off my clothes and fall headlong into bed. As I headed for my door, I heard his truck rumbling away in the otherwise silent night.

Because most of the porch lights on the apartments had burnt out, I didn’t see that my door was cracked open until my boots had click-clacked across the sidewalk right up to my welcome mat. My tired and slack body immediately straightened, and adrenaline coursed through my blood. I held my breath, listening, peering through the black space in the crack of the doorway.

I saw nothing, and all was quiet. Maybe I had left the door ajar early the previous morning. It didn’t seem likely, but it was possible. Cautiously, I pushed the door open a few more inches, before stepping onto the bed of carpeted flooring. I padded softly, considering I was wearing my Juarense boots. I stumbled over a box on the floor, which shouldn’t have been there, and fell to my knees. Instantly, a beam of light crossed in front of me, and a black-clad man kicked me in the face, tossing me backwards against my book shelves.

And then he was gone; he slammed the door behind himself and ran. I could hear his feet pounding down the sidewalk, the creak of the gate, and then nothing.

My primary concern was that he had broken my nose. I felt blood gushing down my face, and I pushed myself up, even though my whole body trembled with weakness. When I turned on a light, I saw that the dark figure, whoever it was, had overturned my paltry possessions and had, pathetically, slashed my wall posters from top to bottom.

With tears in my eyes, I stumbled into the bathroom and grabbed a wad of toilet paper, soaking it in tears and blood. I tentatively raised my eyes to the mirror to check the state of my face. Nausea roiled in my belly and burned acid in my throat.

Normally, my reflection does not make me ill. But then, I’d never before witnessed my face outlined with a fuchsia butterfly, its wings hovering haloesque around my ears. It appeared that the artist had used my most expensive Lancome lipstick to draw the image. As evidence, the lipstick lay in the sink basin, rolled all the way up, its tip crushed flat. What astonished me most was the quality of the artistry in the drawing. The wings were delicately folded, and I thought they might flutter away.

I groaned. The butterfly riveted me, especially with my swollen nose in its center. If this was the life of a detective’s secretary, I wasn’t sure I wanted it. I had to call Anthony.

I found his business card in the pile of bills and other junk that still sat by my phone, on the topmost corner of my bookcase, back in my otherwise devastated living room.

He answered after two rings. “Bueno?”

His reassuring voice brought me to tears. I tried to talk, but couldn’t quite get the words out.

“Ella?”

“I–you,” I sobbed.

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

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