New Mexico Noir: Back to Manuela’s

Anthony surveyed the damage with me. It appeared that the butterfly artist had not stolen anything, but, then, I didn’t own anything worse stealing. He’d simply made a mess of my already paltry and unstable existence in the world.

“He slashed Sor Juana,” I said.

“What?”

“My muse, Sor Juana, on the poster.” I held the pieces together so he could see the nun in all her splendor, wearing her Catherine wheel, and gazing beatifically back at whomever looked at her. “Who would slash a picture of a nun?”

“Who would hang a picture of a nun? That’s the better question.”

“She wasn’t just a nun, in case you didn’t already know. She was a poet, mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer, too.”

“And yet, she hides things. That’s why she was slashed.”

Anthony was right; I had hidden a letter in its original envelope behind the poster, and telltale bits of tape still clung to the wall. The intruder, of course, had pulled the envelope down and flung it to the floor when he’d found nothing of value inside. To me, the envelope was my enemy, as well as my most treasured friend, because it contained the first love letter written to me from the only man I’d ever loved. I’d hidden it behind Sor Juana to prevent myself from destroying it in a fit of lonely rage.

“It wasn’t anything important,” I told him. “Just a letter.”

Anthony decided that we should leave everything as it was and call the police. A small break-in like this wouldn’t rate as high priority for them, but he felt it was the right thing to do. Meanwhile, he took his own photos of the butterfly on the mirror and the sad state of the living room, where my hundreds of books were splayed open, their spines jutting in every direction; and of my bedroom, where the man had tossed my bedding and upturned the futon. My closet was also a wreck, my clothes and shoes scattered across the floor. With my foot, I surreptitiously shoved a few pairs of underwear underneath a pile of Levis.

It was disturbing enough that my privacy had been invaded in such a heartless and destructive way. That Anthony had to witness my unattractive cotton underwear strewn on the carpet was added misery. I was thirty-eight, and my possessions were as cheap and temporary as a college girl’s. My futon was of the cheaper variety, solid wood, but rickety with a lumpy mattress. My bookshelves were of the cinder block and board variety. My kitchen card table was a thrift store find, which was a good thing, actually, because that meant it wasn’t quite as wobbly as the one I’d originally bought at Wal Mart. My best possessions were my books, now in disarray—rather than alphabetically arranged—my cowgirl boots, and my laptop.

The lines that had recently appeared around my eyes were only slightly more permanent than my ragged panties. I’d lose the wrinkles when I was dead. Maybe in the next few weeks, I’d lose the bruising on my nose.

By the time the cops showed up to take my statement and assess the damage, my nerves were about as frayed as everything else.

There were two cops total who responded to the call—a young, short bulldog type named Lopez, and a taller blonde named Hutchins. They looked curiously at the butterfly, but didn’t pay it much attention. Anthony offered them no information about butterflies—ruby, fuchsia, or otherwise. I thought he should have told the cops about Demetria and her threats, at the very least. As it was, it appeared the man in black had targeted me personally, as though he were a jealous ex who had painted our private love symbol on the mirror.

Hutchins patted my back. “Do you have somewhere you can stay tonight? Deal with this mess tomorrow?”

“I’m sure I’ll find a place.”

“Put an icepack on that nose, or you’ll be sorry,” he added.

“Thanks.”

As the cops were on their way out the door, I caught the cop called Lopez doing the fist-smack handshake with Anthony. So they were wonder twins, too.

“I assume this has something to do with a case you’re working on, Anthony, and if there’s something you want to talk to me about, you know where to find me. Nothing was stolen, and she wasn’t really hurt, so there’s not much else we’re going to do.”

“I know how it works,” Anthony said. “I’ll make sure she’s all right.”

“Bueno. We’ll be around. Mucho cuidado, Anthony. Ma’am.”

I gave him a little wave and tiny, tiny smile, but only because it gave me some relief to see their cop car gliding out of the parking lot.

“You could always sleep on my couch, cat piss and all,” said Anthony.

“No, thanks. I’ll go to Angelica’s house. It smells like potted plants—and her husband’s cigarettes.”

“As long as she’s someone you can call at two in the morning.”

“She’s at Manuela’s, working. You met her there the other night.”

“That’s right, huh? Let’s go eat some enchiladas.”

I packed a few things: toothbrush, laptop, and clothes. We turned out lights, shut the blinds, and locked the front door behind us—as if locks made any difference. I shuddered. I wanted some chile very badly, since Anthony had mentioned enchiladas, but I wondered if it was wise to eat after so much turmoil.

With my backpack in hand, though, I climbed back in Anthony’s truck, and we rumbled down the road until the beacon of Manuela’s diner shone before our weary eyes.

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