New Mexico Noir: The Lost Brother

My family had left me hanging. They used to be my sheltering tree, and then they dispersed like leaves torn off in a wind storm. And, yes, awful windstorms tear through New Mexico regularly.

My parents had given their retirement barbecue and, soon afterward, disappeared to Colorado. My brother, Matthew, was still around, but he was impossible to reach by phone or otherwise. I called him over and over throughout the day on Saturday, always connecting with an inhuman voice mail, an electronic female voice that refused to give out any information, except that “the party you are attempting to reach is not available. Please leave a name, number, and message and somebody may return your call.”

Late in the afternoon, as Angelica and I drank iced tea together in her back yard, Anthony called. I had hoped to ask Matthew a few questions before talking to Anthony, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“Not much. I was wondering if you’d call me today. My ex is causing me trouble.”

“From what I know about Victor, that’s normal. You up for going through some boxes with me today?”

“I don’t think so. It’s Saturday, and I need the weekend off. I need to think.”

“I think you’re too far in this to back out, now, Ella.”

My hand was slippery from sweat. It was so hot, and my heart was thudding. I drank the watery dregs of tea and melting ice. “Meaning what?”

“Nothing. Monday morning will be fine. Where are you planning on staying? Are you going back to your apartment?”

“I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll stay where I’m at. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll move to Mexico.” Mexico suddenly seemed a safe haven, a place to rest beneath leafy trees on grass. It was hotter across the border, I reminded myself.

“Don’t go to Mexico, not a good idea. I’ll pick you up at your friend’s house on Monday morning.”

I pressed the glass against my forehead. “Monday’s fine.” Surely, Matthew would return my call before Monday. If he didn’t, Mexico was still an option.

In my head, Mexico was a better place than it was in reality. I envisioned the coolness of the bright, multi-colored houses, rows and rows of them. Why didn’t we have the color aesthetic of the Mediterranean? It seemed to offset the idea of heat.

Matthew and I had visited Juarez not so long ago, in the days when we didn’t need a passport to walk back across the footbridge into El Paso. The plaza there was lovely, spread out beneath the Juarez Cathedral with its tall spires reaching well beyond the gates that protected the building. Three people tried to sell my brother roses to give me, thinking we were a couple. It was true; we looked little alike. He had black hair like our mother, and I had my father’s blond hair.

It was so hot that day in Juarez, hotter by degrees than up North in Albuquerque, and we wanted to lay our heads in the grass, but the grass was gated off and not open during the day as the church was. We took a tour of the church, instead, and the tour guide was pleasant, not to mention, impressed by our handle of Spanish. He was only too happy to give up his English speech for his native Spanish.

We toured the church, we ate in a tourist restaurant, we drank a bucketful of beers, and we walked back home and felt that we could breathe at liberty again. Despite the roses and the spires and the beauty; despite the language and the church and our own prayers offered there, we didn’t feel free at all in Juarez.

I wasn’t certain, now, where I could feel at liberty again.

“Angelica, would you mind if I borrowed your car to drive to my brother’s house? I’d walk or take the bus, but I’d hate to waste the time when I don’t know if he’ll actually be there.”

“I’ll take you if you want. Hey, we could go to the flea market afterward.”

I gave her a pained look. “It’s so hot at the flea market. There’s too many people there.”

“But I always find such cool stuff there.”

“Could you possibly fit any more furniture in your house?”

“I can always make room for more, but you’re right, it is really hot and crowded. Do you want to go to the mall, instead?”

“You hate the mall. I hate the mall. Hey, great idea, let’s go there. It’s air-conditioned.”

After Angelica and I attempted to make ourselves gorgeous in front of the bathroom mirror, we dragged her sons, kicking and screaming into the back seat of her Corolla. None of us appreciated the mall, actually. Her sons would have preferred to play violent military games on their computer. Angelica would have preferred to put a new walnut stain on a roughed up antique umbrella holder, and I would have enjoyed a day of discovering exciting used paperbacks at Birdsong Books.

Instead, we jammed ourselves into the hot car and drove to my brother’s house, where he used to live with his wife until she walked out on him. I was overjoyed when I saw his car in the driveway.

He was less happy to see me.

I smacked his head. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.”

“Ow. I’ve been busy. What do you want?”

“I need to know about Anthony.”

“Who?”

“Carrillos. You went to school with him.”

My brother was a terrible liar. His face mocked me, even while he attempted confusion. “Oh, I think I know who you’re talking about. He was the little shithead who was in love with my sister. Yeah, you, but mostly a younger you in the family portrait Mom sent me.”

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