Chapter 3: God In a Tortilla

In which tortillas foretell the past, but Oso is stuck in the future!
 

Oso watched with some amusement as his granddaughter stuffed her face with food. Although she tried to hide her hunger, the sudden loss of manners was anything but subtle.

“Living off Nutrilla, I hear,” he said.

“It’s cheap and nutritious. Or so they say. It’s not bad,” she said, swallowing her mouthful and slurping a cup of strong black coffee. “Same with day old bread from the Rainbow outlet. And I use my coffee grounds several times before I dump them. This coffee is delicious.”

“If we’re going to work together, you need to eat better. And dress better. Try to have a little decorum.”

She looked up from the plate of green chile chicken enchiladas. They had chosen one of the recently refabbed traditional New Mexican diners, which were making a comeback after the years of nontraditional health food directives had taken over eating practices nationwide. It was obvious she was entirely unused to New Mexican cuisine, as she had grown up with the directives. Her eyes had that glazed I’ve found God in a tortilla expression. Historically, although images could occasionally be found cooked into a tortilla, for New Mexicans, it was the tortilla itself that contained the essence of the Father-Son-Holy Spirit. No images necessary.

By contrast, Devon, who preferred french fries and orange soda, was slapping the table and giggling as he sat beside the pretty granddaughter figure. He was like a lovelorn, window-licking teenager. In the early days, Minäs like Devon had been used to staff low-paying jobs in restaurants and elsewhere, but that had quickly changed due to their inability to write down orders, remember them, or deliver even the wrong orders to tables. Instead, their enchilada plates had been delivered by a less-than-thrilled human waitress, who had glared daggers at Devon as he table-slapped. Some people believed Minäs were like pets that should be kept out of most businesses, due to health and safety concerns.

“Devon, stop, or I’ll disengage you,” Oso said, using his firm voice.

Devon immediately stopped, his face turning a peculiar shade of bilious yellow.

“Granddad, that’s mean. Minäs are people, too.”

Oso stared her down until she looked away.

“I can’t afford to buy better food and clothes,” she protested. “I’m trying to make it on my own, you know.”

“Which is why you asked me for an exclusive interview. Because you’re not trying to take advantage of your family connections.”

“Okay, I am, but it’s not like I’ve asked you for money.”

“True, you and your brother aren’t like my other grandchildren and nieces and nephews, which is why I said yes. I would also give an exception to Adam’s children.”

“Uncle Adam’s children don’t need money because their dad didn’t squander their inheritance like mine did.”

“I also approve of your honesty.”

Her lips almost curled in disgust—a bare hint on an otherwise placid, pretty face. “Mom will spend the rest of her life working because of him.”

“We all have choices to make. Olivia made hers when she married a man I advised her not to.”

“She committed herself,” she corrected him. “People haven’t gotten married for about thirty years. They have commitment ceremonies.”

“They get committed. How boring. In my day, marriage was an adventure, not a chore.” He paused and sipped his coffee thoughtfully. “In your mother’s case, boring might not be the correct word. She committed herself to the loony bin.”

Stephanie sighed and pushed away her empty plate. “Exactly. We all make choices. I make choices when I save money for the future and go without good food and nice clothes. I make responsible choices. I’m not going to get committed for love, like Mom did. I’ll commit myself pragmatically, if I choose to do it at all, which I doubt.”

“So young, yet so cynical. Been around the block already, have you?”

“No. That’s the point. I’m not going around the block. Ever. I’m going to find a freeway that will take me all the way to the end.”

She was so entertaining, this young woman who’d just spent an hour or more crying over some man she worked with, one Mark Anderson, to a mechanized face. Mark Anderson. He recognized that name. “As a journalist, you know that words mean things. When you commit yourself to this man you cry over, get married to him. One of those terms is restrictive, the other isn’t. I’ll let you figure out which is which.”

“Commitment is a fluid contract. Contracts can be made to allow for as much freedom as the signers want. Like Javi when he was committed to his androgyne mate. Shouldn’t we get back to the subject?”

“That wasn’t very deep, Stephanie. I’m disappointed.” Then he realized the import of what she’d just said. “Did your fool of a brother bother to get himself committed and not invite his grandfather to the ceremony?”

“Do you blame him? And, yes. Javi was committed for a while to Emmett.”

“Emmett?”

“The halftime clown. Everybody knows who Emmett the halftime clown is. Nobody was invited to the commitment ceremony, not even me.”

Oso shook his head. “Let’s talk about something we might both be able to understand. If you want to make it in this world, you must have priorities. You must first and foremost dress for success.”

“I try to!”

Devon jumped at her outburst, slapping his hand so hard on the table that it rocked.

“It’s okay, Devon,” she reassured the Minä.

“No, it isn’t okay, Devon. Go back in the shell you emerged from. And as for you, my dear, you’re an almost but not quite. Wear some heels, for God’s sake. And eat some meat.”

“I’m not wearing heels to work in. I’d fall on my ass. Excuse the language.”

“Maybe your Mark would be more interested if you wore heels. Just to be clear, you aren’t in love with Mark Anderson, sports writer and editor extraordinaire, are you?”

“The very one.”

“He’s a shiny star at that sorry paper of yours.”

“Mark is a shiny star? Don’t tell him. He adores you. And I have no idea whether I’m in love with him. I don’t know what his life plans are, and his excuse for dates is going to Casey’s Sports Bar.”

“Whoa. Stop right there. Save it for Dr. Helen Freud, and then marry him. He’s a good man. I can tell from his stories.”

“Granddad! This interview wasn’t supposed to be about me. It was supposed to be about you. Can we stick to it? I need to know where all this began.” She gave a long look at the Minä sitting beside her, who was drooling and blowing bubbles in his spittle. “And I want to know what went wrong. I mean, I know. Government regulations. But that’s not the whole story. And since Tomi Corp is coming out with their retro line, this is a good time to get a front-page story based on you.”

“A front-page story. Hmm. You’re not thinking big enough. You’re not thinking like a Beñat.”

“If Mom’s any indication, most Beñats don’t think like you.”

“I don’t care. Think bigger. Go ahead, do it. I’m waiting.”

“Well, I could write a book instead of a newspaper story.” She looked up and snapped her fingers. “I could write two biographies, one from Uncle Gilly’s perspective and one from yours. Maybe I could get a decent advance from a publisher, since you’re a famous person and they still give advances for that kind of work. I could put some money down on a house.”

Oso grunted. “That’s better, but I don’t know why you need to bring Gilly into it.”

“Uncle Gilly is a fascinating person, that’s why. And he’s overlooked in the media. You’re always the person the media wants, but I have connections to both of you. I can bring a whole new voice to the table. This is going to be so good.”

His granddaughter’s eyes were glowing, as though the whole romantic business had already been settled. He had to let her down gently. “He won’t agree to it; you know Gilly. I’m not sure yet I’m going to. It will be an enormous time investment.”

“What projects are you investing in these days? You’ve been holed up in the Sandias for a year. Everybody misses you.” The glowing eyes blinked back tears. “Everybody knows you’re suffering out there alone, missing Grandma.”

He couldn’t let her down, gently or otherwise. “All right, I’ve got a proposition for you. You write this book for me, according to the way I want it written, and I’ll pay you for your work and feed you, too. And again, no guarantees with Gilly on that part. Even if he said yes, he wouldn’t feed you. Still, there’s no need to hold your breath for a book advance.”

“Really, Granddad?” She leaned across the table and kissed him on the cheek, which jostled the table, woke Devon from his bubble-spitting stupor, and caused the poor Minä to give her a wet sloppy kiss. She wrinkled her nose and wiped it away, which made the poor excuse for a man guffaw.

“In exchange, aside from the book you’re going to write, you can introduce me to Mark Anderson. His work in that paper is the closest thing to poetry I’ve ever read.”

“He writes about sports like it’s theater. He’s a conspiracy theorist.”

“What you mean is a conspiracy realist.”

“Granddad, can we not talk about Mark? We were going to talk about you.” She leaned over and searched through her voluminous faux leather purse and pulled out what appeared to be a teletyping machine.

“What in God’s name is that weird technological relic you’ve got there?”

“Oh, it’s standard League issue. We can send and receive articles between machines and upload them to our ancient bling-ring drives.” She held up her right ring finger, and what appeared to be a ruby red crystal set in a titanium ring blinked with glittering lights. She turned it off. “And we have access to our own databases, but can’t, at least with this machine, access any version of the internet. I can also take fairly good dictation with it and make recordings for backup purposes once you put on this mic. The only problem is the recording’s not great tech, so I’ll end up with a lot of background noise.”

He looked at the mic in distaste as she handed it over. It seemed a useful enough machine, though, so he conceded to attach the mic to his lapel. “You should have said something. Next time, we can do this at my house where it’s quiet.” As her face immediately fell into a worried frown, he quickly added, “I’ll pay for the travel up the mountain and feed you well, just as I already said. I promise. It will be better food and coffee than this.”

Her face relaxed into a peaceful smile. “I like it here, Granddad. Thanks for bringing me. I feel—I don’t know. I feel attached to my roots while sitting with you in a New Mexican restaurant.”

“There’s nothing like chile to invigorate the soul. I’m sorry you didn’t grow up with it.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“I never said it was.”

He looked out at the cafe, at the groups of families sitting in the cheery yellow booths, at the chrome stools that sat at the coffee counter. The windows were fogged up, and lights flashed outside. If he squinted, the world looked as it did then, in his childhood. Of course, he hadn’t grown up in Albuquerque, but in a small city to the south. And his childhood had been hard. Not that he would admit it to anyone, as he had always been expected to be a survivor. The one who never gave out. The adult child among adult adults who couldn’t manage.

“Granddad?” Stephanie gently nudged him back to the present.

He cleared his throat and began his narrative where his life story had all begun. “I’ve been having memories of the future since I was twelve,” he said. “And it isn’t a coincidence that the first time I had one, I had a run-in with Agnes.”

“Who?” She stopped in the middle of her typing. “Memories of the future? You mean prophetic visions?”

“No, I don’t mean prophetic visions. Every so often, in the middle of an otherwise normal life, I would remember something that was about to happen.”

“That’s impossible.”

“For you, maybe. It didn’t take me long to recognize that the rest of the world didn’t see the world as I did.”

“And how did you see the world?”

“The best description I have is of a 4D tree hanging with golden globes of fruit.”

She squirmed in her seat. “Okay?”

“I’m going to tell my story now, and you can take your notes and ask your questions afterward. I refuse to be constantly interrupted.”

She was far too poised as a journalist to roll her eyes. Instead, the sarcasm leaked out in her tone. “All right, whatever, Granddad.”

“If you want to cop an attitude, you will call me sir, Mr. Beñat, or nothing.”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s better.”

 
If you find this near-future reality to your liking, you might like to purchase Jaybird’s Nest and Other Stories for only $.99.

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