New Mexico Noir: In the Light of Morning

It was Monday morning, bright and early, and I had nothing better to do than stare at my sad reflection in the mirror.  To my eyes, my nose was still enormous, and the bruising still evident, even though my brother had made only a passing reference to its hideousness on Saturday, and Grandma Steadman hadn’t said anything at all.

I don’t know why I should have cared.  I had no place to go aside from Anthony’s house. Sadly, thanks to my brother, Anthony was the reason I cared.  Even if Matthew’s claim was true, that Anthony had fallen in love with a picture of me back in high school, it was inconceivable that I could conform to a made-up, seventeen-year-old version of myself, not at thirty-eight.  After all these years, it was unlikely that Anthony still found me attractive.

Of course, Anthony wasn’t any younger than I was, and I found him attractive.  That was the real problem, I decided.  I was attracted to him, and I didn’t want him looking at my nose all day.

Angelica was asleep, or I would have asked her for some concealment advice.  We both played the female beauty game half-heartedly at best, but she had a slight advantage over me, in that she was naturally gorgeous.  Plus, she had a husband worth pleasing—not that she had to try very hard.

I pulled out a rumpled pair of slacks from my backpack and shook them out.  They were former waitressing pants, size ten due to my height combined with a big butt, with a waistline that didn’t fit thanks to my scrawny upper half.  Actually, I was scrawny everywhere except in the derriere.  I was like an awkward, gangly colt with an enormous rump.

Such was my desperation, which probably wouldn’t have been so great if Victor hadn’t shown up the other day, that I couldn’t eat breakfast.  Angelica’s dear husband was in the kitchen making himself breakfast, and he handed me a cup of coffee.

“Do you want some eggs?” he asked me.

I shook my head.

“Ella, I don’t know if Angelica told you, but my auntie from Chihuahua is coming for a visit, and we’re going to need the guest room.  You’re welcome to stay, but you’ll have to sleep on the couch.”

I shook my head again.  His aunt always visited them at the end of summer.  I had expected the news and, honestly, had hoped for it.  I didn’t want to be a burden to my best friend and her family.  Going back to my apartment, though—that was not an option. 

“Don’t worry about me. I can stay with my brother.”

“It’s not a problem,” Dave said.  “My couch is your couch, anytime.”

“You’re probably more generous than my brother, but he’s family, so he has to put me up.”

“You’re our family, Ella.”

I shook my head, my eyes clouding over.  I missed my real family.

“Yes, you are.”  He stood up, rumpled my hair like a brother would do, and dumped his plate in the sink without rinsing it.  “I’ve got to get to work, and it sounds like that dude’s here for you.”

The rumble of Anthony truck was distinctive.  “His name’s Anthony.”

“Whatever.”

I pulled myself together, wiped my eyes, and grabbed my backpack.  The sight of the sky blue truck brought me both relief and anxiety, despite, or because of, the loud Metallica pouring out the open windows.

By contrast, Anthony’s old house was peaceful.  Once inside, I was struck by freshness.  It no longer smelled like cat piss, and the rooms were clear of rickety, old furniture.  The carpets still bore curved paths where a steam cleaner had passed.  Instead of furniture, light filled every room, and I realized that Anthony had removed the dusty, sun-warped mini blinds and made an effort to wash the windows, evidenced by the streaks across the glass.

I felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t made that kind of effort cleaning up his house.  “I don’t know why you’re paying me.  You did more work than I did.”

“I wanted to get an office set up as soon as possible.  That’s what we’re doing today.  It’s not perfect.  I’d like to paint the walls and rip up the carpet completely, but it’s fine for now.”  He nodded his head toward his bedroom.  “Let’s get started.”

He had a large and heavy old desk that we could only move out of the room where it was stored with help of Walt, who showed up about mid morning.  Meanwhile, we hauled the empty file cabinets and lined them up against one living room wall.  We dragged out the boxes marked files and cut them open with a box cutter.

“You can start putting these files away and alphabetizing them.  I never throw anything away, so I’ve got files going back more than ten years.  Each cabinet holds five years worth of files, so everything needs to be alphabetized and dated.  Leave out any files dated from 2008.  I want to look at all of those.”

“All right.  But not 2009?”

“I don’t think there is anything from 2009, at least not much.  If you find anything dated from 2009, leave that out, too.”

“You don’t know?”

“I lost most of my business before then.  I also didn’t have a secretary to file anything for me.”

“You couldn’t do it yourself?”

Anthony clenched his jaw and gave me a hard, cold look.  Then, his features softened.  “I was drinking too much, Chiquita.”

“But you didn’t lose all your business?”

“I was still working on the Demetria case.  Look for anything that’s loose, too.  And don’t throw anything away.  I lost a lot of stuff when I moved out of the office.  I had important photos, and I don’t remember what else.  I could have stuff in any of those other boxes back in my room, too.”

I looked around me at all the boxes filled with files, and I thought about the numerous other boxes that Anthony had shoved in the corner of his bedroom. 

“That’s a lot of boxes.”

“Yeah, I know.  That’s why I hired you to help me.”

“Should I watch out for anything labeled with Demetria, or her ruby butterfly?”

“Sure, you could try, but you probably won’t find either. I would look for her last name, Gallina. As far as the ruby butterfly’s concerned, Demetria’s it. There is no other butterfly.”

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