New Mexico Noir: Parental Abandonment

If Demetria followed us, I was almost positive we lost her at the grocery store.  Seriously, we would have lost anybody.  Shopping with Anthony was about the most annoying sport I’ve played all year.  Here is my note to self, post shopping: Don’t fall for Anthony, dreamy eyes and all, because he will drive you out of your mind. 

He inspected and commented on every item I added to the cart.  For example, I wanted butter.

“Isn’t that bad for you?” he asked.  “Won’t that make you fat, mi’jita?”

I wanted Daisy sour cream, the full-fat variety.

“Oh, wouldn’t you rather have this low-fat kind?  It’s better for you.”

And on it went like that with me throwing in my favorite saturated-fat foods, only to have them censored and thrown back out by the opposing team.  Who would’ve thought an alcoholic who lived on pizza and beer would suddenly turn into the food police when I was desperately hungry for some real food?  Finally, we compromised, agreed to disagree on food choices; I ate a pre-made burrito to stave off starvation, and we both sighed in relief.

We carted the groceries back to his house, where I detected no signs of Demetria—and, yes, my senses were throbbing and in overdrive.  If she’d been hiding somewhere, I would have smelled her or, likewise, spotted her with my hawk eyes.

Still, as we walked back out into the night, my skin prickled at the nape of my neck.  The farther away we drove, the better I felt, even though I already knew we would end the night breaking into my parents’ home.  Meanwhile, the tension from earlier completely dissipated over a shared thermos of coffee, as we sat for two hours surveilling my parents’ neighborhood.

They lived on a quiet side street and, although they had security stickers on their windows, I didn’t think the stickers meant anything.  In the early days, my dad had left his police cruiser parked at the curb most nights, which was an adequate deterrent to would-be burglars.  In the early days, life was a bit simpler for them.

When Anthony had deemed that the hour was late enough, that the sky was dark enough due to an obscured moon, that the neighborhood slept as if dead to the world, we crept to the back of the house, and he went to work with his lock pick tools.  With every second, my heart beat faster, from the same caffeine that had anesthetized me while we’d surveilled in safety from his truck.  It wasn’t that I feared a neighbor would hear or see us.  It was that the hedge of darkness surrounding the backyard could have hid anything or anyone from us.

Several moments later, which felt like several hours, he had the door open.  We crossed the threshold. I was caught instantly by the smell.  The house, my parents’ house, smelled of abandonment.  If I breathed in very deeply, I detected a lingering hint of oregano and fried tortillas, of roasted chiles and beans.  The coolness from the tiles seeped up from the floor and wrapped my ankles in chills.  The air nearer my nose, however, was hot and stuffy, as a closed-up house would be at the end of summer in Albuquerque.

“I’m going to wait by the back door for you,” Anthony said.  “Whatever you’re looking for, be fast about it.  All right?  This whole situation makes me nervous.”

I nodded and walked softly over the tiles of the dining area and into the living room, where the only sign of life emitted from the answering machine, which flashed with a 9-9-9.  Even the VCR and DVD player were dark.  I had, thanks to Anthony, thought to bring a small canvas bag with me, and I unplugged the answering machine and threw it in the bag.  I felt very much like a real detective at that moment—but, then, my eyes smarted.  I was a detective by default investigating my own parents.

I briefly scanned the surfaces of the living room and saw nothing but a layer of dust.  Feeling as if I must have missed something, I backtracked to the kitchen, where I quickly glanced through the orderly drawers.  My mother had never tolerated mess, and she didn’t have the ubiquitous junk drawer that others had in their kitchens.  The refrigerator was both empty and dark, left unplugged and with the two doors standing ajar.  In the cupboards, I discovered a few dry goods, such as a bag of pinwheel pasta and a few cans of tomato sauce.

As my eyes roved the kitchen space one last time, I saw a face at the kitchen window and nearly suffered a heart attack right then and there.  It was Anthony, and he held up one hand as if to indicate I had five minutes left.  I flipped him off with one finger, and he wasn’t amused with me, so I moved on.

My dad’s office was not exactly where I would have chosen to focus my search, but I couldn’t leave without at least glancing in its dark, static interior.  Over the walls, I swept a small flashlight, looking at his police awards and pictures and trophies.  His desk was as empty as I expected it to be, the laptop missing, and only a dark printer left in one corner.  The drawers were filled with scandalous items such as stamps and envelopes and tape dispensers and pens and pencils.

Briefly, I looked through the closet, only to discover that my dad had failed to pack his golf clubs when they’d fled to Colorado.  So it wasn’t a golfing vacation they were on, apparently.

I left his office behind, feeling like an inadequate detective.  The room that had, at one time, belonged to me as a guest room, or a place to crash, was now filled with my mom’s artwork.  Boxes and boxes of paintings filled the room and threatened to burst the walls from their frames.  How would I search through these boxes in five minutes, or less?  And that was not to mention the garage, which she had revamped for her studio. I flipped quickly through the first box of paintings.  They were older pieces, images of the church and community gatherings, bailes, and matanzas.

I realized I couldn’t, actually, search through all of these boxes.  I turned around and quickly looked through their bedroom with its carefully made bed, blue and white coverlet without a crease to be seen.  They’d cleaned everything before they’d left—everything!  There wasn’t a scrap of paper left for me to investigate.  Even their bathroom was spotless.

It was depressing.  I also felt that I was wasting precious sleeping hours, both mine and Anthony’s.  Why would I have thought they would hide incriminating evidence in their home?

As a last resort, I tried my mom’s studio, but the door was locked.  All right, I would fetch Anthony and his lock-pick tools.  I scurried outside and nearly yelled at the black-clad man on the back porch, forgetting the hour, the darkness, our mission.

But it wasn’t Anthony.  It was another man, another black clad-figure, and I hauled up in alarm and slipped back inside the confines of the house, my heart pounding.

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