Category Archives: Albuquerque

New Mexico Noir: Mr. Spade or Mr. Darcy?

I sank under the weight of the hamburger and fries in my gut. I wasn’t a soda drinker, but I could understand that a sugary and caffeinated beverage provided a necessary boost after such a meal. Normally, I would have washed it down with an unsweetened iced tea and lemon wedge. Walt didn’t know that, of course, and had ordered me a diet Coke.

I took one sip and nearly gagged on the poisonous taste of the beverage. I could not understand how anybody thought that stuff tasted all right. I set it aside and drank another cup of black coffee. It was time to get back to work, lethargic as I felt.

Anthony was taciturn all afternoon, my very own low-class Spanish Mr. Darcy, who spent the rest of the day sitting at his desk and writing himself notes, or hiding in his bedroom, where all his mysterious boxes sat in stacks.

Walt, on the other hand, had no Jane Austen character equivalent. He was more of a Sancho Panza. He wandered off never to be seen again, ostensibly on foot, rather than on an ass.

The silence of the house mixed with the drone of the swamp cooler was delicious. I filed the rest of the folders away until dizziness set in and my leg muscles cramped. At some point, I noticed, Anthony had placed a black telephone with answering machine on the desk, and I could see the various wires snaking across the floor. I could see where they were plugged in the wall, even though they appeared lifeless.

I looked at the phone time and again before I finally rose and lifted the receiver. It was dead, no dial tone, nothing.

I walked down the hallway and knocked on Anthony’s bedroom door and pushed it open without waiting for a response. The room was in complete disorder. It looked as if Anthony had frantically opened any and every box without regard to the labels he’d written on them as guides. Books and photographs fanned out across the floor.

“Are you going to get phone service any time soon?” I asked him.

“You can use my cell phone if you need to.”

“I need to.”

He dutifully handed it to me, and I carted it away so I could speak privately to my brother. I sat in the swivel chair set at Anthony’s desk, and I felt satisfied with myself. Surely, I, as the secretary, must have the only available desk.
I fully expected to leave a message on my brother’s voice mail. He surprised me by answering.

“Hey, Matthew. I need to stay at your place.”

“What? Why? What phone are you calling from?”

“This is my work number.”

“That’s great, I’ll add it to my contacts. You can’t stay here, Ella.”

His voice had a familiar distant ring to it. It was the ring I’d heard often when he was married to his ex. “I don’t understand. Just the other day you told me I could stay with you and help you watch Caitlyn.”

“Shania and I are trying to work things out, and it never works with you around. You hate Shania.”

What was he saying? Shania was his ex-wife. Wasn’t it a little too late to work things out? It was always like this with my brother, though. Shania did it to him. “I don’t hate her, exactly. I don’t like the way she cheated on you and lied to you, but other than that, we had so much in common. Like, for example, we both have older brothers who are idiots. How can you get back together with a woman you divorced?”

A long silence filled the space from phone to cell tower to phone.

“Mateo? Are you still there?”

“I’m here. We never signed the divorce papers. I thought it would be better for Caitlyn if we didn’t divorce. I knew Shania would eventually come back.”

I closed my eyes and tried to collect my thoughts. There was no use in telling him that her mother’s games weren’t good for Caitlyn either. There was no use, particularly because Caitlyn would always be subjected to her mother’s games, as long as Shania had partial custody.

I did the only thing I could; I changed the subject. “Do you have a key to mom and dad’s house?”

“No. Why?”

“I need to get something I left over there. And they’re impossible to get a hold of. Does anybody have a key?”

“I don’t know. Why would they tell me if they’d given somebody a key? They didn’t tell you, did they? And you’re their favorite.”

I let out a sigh of exasperation. “Whatever, bro. I’ll talk to you some other time. I hope things work out for you and Shania.”

I slammed the phone shut.


I looked up, startled, to see Anthony standing about two feet away from me: damned gumshoe on carpeting, or whatever had made it possible for him to creep silently into the living room and eavesdrop on my conversation.

I handed him his phone. “Do you know how to break into houses?”

“That depends on why you’re asking me.”

“I need to break into my parents’ house and look for something. You don’t have to worry about them pressing charges. They wouldn’t do that to me, and, really, it’s my house, too. My bedroom is still there, with a lot of my stuff from high school that my mom refused to get rid of. So, it wouldn’t really be breaking in at all.”

“I’ve got a set of lock pick tools I can teach you to use, if you promise to only use them for the purpose you just mentioned.”

“On my honor.”

The vision of Anthony as my Spanish Mr. Darcy faded as suddenly as it had sprung up. Mr. Darcy would never have known how to pick locks. My life seldom reflected the literature that I loved, the books I’d read for my degrees in Spanish and English literature.

My jobs rarely reflected my education, either, unless my pulp paperback noir mysteries counted as part of a different sort of education altogether. I looked at Anthony, who was checking the messages on his phone.

A nervous thrill ran down my spine. It should have sent warnings signals to the rest of my body, but the only messages I received were yes, yes, yes.


New Mexico Noir: The Cranes

I looked up from my spot on the floor to see Walt and Anthony lounging against the antique desk they’d moved into the living room. Apparently, their one big effort of dragging it in here was enough to justify doing nothing.

I admit that they’d had to play at contortionist tricks to fit it through the doorway, and then maneuver it through the crooked hallway, but now they were the ones acting like antique fixtures. For heaven’s sake, they weren’t talking or anything. All I could hear was the whine of cicadas that drifted in through the open windows.

For my part, I was filing away folder after folder and finding nothing from the famous year, 2008, or the alcoholic year, 2009. My blood sugar had dropped to a dangerous level hours before. Plus, the heat made me feel prickly with annoyance. Sweat dripped down my back and past the waistband of my slacks.
I bent over to pull the last stack of files from what now seemed a cavernous box.

“Ay, nalgacitas!” Walt said.

The idiot could speak. I pushed myself up and stood and glared at them: Walt with his blank face, as if he’d not said something inappropriate, and Anthony with his amused smile. When literary characters stare daggers into people, it must be highly satisfying for them.

“It’s too damned hot in here,” I said. “And I could use a lunch break, if you don’t mind.”

“Hey, Walt,” said Anthony.

Walt continued to stare blankly at a spot on the wall behind my head.

“Walt, come back from Mars and go hook up the swamp cooler.”

Walt’s blank eyes rolled up to the ceiling. “I’m afraid of heights.”

“Fine, I’ll do it. You go buy some burritos from the burrito lady. Ella, you can take a break.”

“Why thank you, Anthony,” I sweetly said. Not that I needed his permission. I knew my rights as an employee, W4 or no.

Anthony put his hands on my shoulders. “Relax.” He squeezed hard and stared at me intently for a moment before letting go.

Obviously, he was the one who needed to relax. The combination of his intense gaze and his painfully short and hard massage were enough to make me want to collapse in fear.

Moments later, I heard his heavy footsteps clanging up a ladder and clomping over the rooftop. I stepped down into the kitchen to see if I could find the necessary supplies for making coffee. Happily, I plugged in an old coffee pot to discover that it still worked. I also found an old can of store brand coffee. It wasn’t Starbucks, but it would do.

I was just sipping a fresh hot cup of coffee when the swamp cooler magically blew moistened air on me. At the same time, Walt and Anthony banged in the door, Walt carrying several Blake’s Lotaburger bags that smelled of hot burgers and fries.

While Walt and I scarfed food with the relish of a skinny girl and a fat man respectively, Anthony ate about three fries before his bat ears pricked up to the sounds outside. He found a pair of binoculars in a kitchen cupboard and took up post at the kitchen window.

“What’s he doing?” I asked with my mouth full of burger.

“Sabrina’s over at Mrs. Garcia’s,” Walt said and wiped ketchup from his hands and face. “Give me the binocs, Tony. I want to see what’s going on.”

“I’m investigating, all right?” Anthony held the binoculars out of reach of his short primo, just as a child would do.

With my naked eye, I could see a petite, dark-haired girl in silhouette with low-cut jeans and white half-shirt which was a bare covering for her small, perky breasts. Irritated with Anthony’s voyeurism, I snatched the binoculars from him. Not only was I almost as tall as he was, unlike Walt, but he wasn’t expecting my assault.

“What are we looking for?” I asked.

The girl hugged Mrs. Garcia’s shoulders with her thin butterscotch-colored arms. It wasn’t exactly damning behavior.

“You aren’t looking for anything,” said Anthony, and snatched the binoculars back from me.

“Voyeur,” I muttered. Sugary skin-tone notwithstanding, the girl was not yet out of high school.

“What? You think I want to check out sixteen-year-old tramps? My daughter’s sixteen.”

I felt justifiably defensive for the girl. “How do you know she’s a tramp?”

Walt snorted with laughter. “Everybody knows that.”

“Logical fallacy number one,” I said.

“She’s wearing red lipstick, hoop earrings, and a tummy-less shirt,” said Anthony. “I wouldn’t let my daughter leave the house like that.”

“Yes, but why do you care?”

It seemed an obvious question to me. Even trampy girls need time with the local neighborhood grandma. Herman rounded the corner from the backyard, so it seemed that grown men also needed time with Mrs. Garcia. As soon as she saw Herman, Sabrina stalked off to the house, letting the screen door slam as she disappeared from view.

“I don’t trust her,” said Anthony. “That’s all there is to it. She didn’t have any time for her Grandma before now, so what’s she up to?”

“Maybe her family life is bad,” I suggested, which warranted no response. “Maybe you should just go over there and find out what she’s doing. In any case, I can’t see how you’re going to learn something by watching her through binoculars, unless, of course, you really are a voyeur.”

Anthony set the binoculars on the windowsill and resumed eating. In Mrs. Garcia’s yard, Herman was demonstrating his Tai Chi crane posture. Mrs. Garcia watched him for a minute and then tried the posture herself. I hated to say it, but neither looked as if they would be flying gracefully away any time soon.

And Anthony only seemed to care about the graceful girl who’d hidden herself away in the adobe house across the street. To me, Herman with his grand bigote was far more fascinating.


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.”


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.”


New Mexico Noir: After Church Pastries

“Well, look what the cat dragged in.”

I whirled around at the sound of the familiar voice.  “Granny Helen!  What are you doing?  You weren’t at mass this morning.”

The old woman was short and spry.  She stood with her arms akimbo and looked up at me.  “And when’s the last time you were at early mass on a Sunday morning, Ella?”

“A long time, but you’re always there.”

“I decided to go the Calvary Chapel with my friend, Cathy.  Have to try something new, or I’ll shrivel up and lose my brain like everybody else my age.  I always wanted to know what really happens when people speak in tongues.”

“So, what happens?” Angelica asked.

“Nothing, I guess.  It’s just a form of praying from what I can see.  You ladies need some coffee, don’t you?  I think I might have some cinnamon rolls, too, if they’re not stale.  Why don’t you come in, instead of standing on the porch all day?  I never lock my doors, you know.”

“Still?  In this neighborhood?”  I was only a little surprised.  She was old enough to be beyond changing her life patterns.  The Calvary Chapel did seem an odd choice when I thought about it that way.

“I figure if someone needs something badly enough to break in, they’re welcome to it.  I’d rather they asked, but some people don’t know any better.”

“Has anybody ever stolen from you?” Angelica asked, as we followed Helen into her kitchen.

“No, I don’t think so.  That’s not true.  My nephew stole my jars of spare cash, but that was twenty years ago now.  I heard he moved to L.A., where he’s in prison, for all I know.”

“Did he need the money?” I asked.

She frowned and looked thoughtful.  “I think he did, Ella.  For better or worse, I think he did.  And he was far too frightened to ask for it.”

“Do you need help with the coffee?” I asked.

“Oh, no.  You young working ladies are always worn out.  You have a seat.”

I obeyed her, but both Angelica and I had to remove the clutter from off the kitchen chairs in order to sit.  I removed a stack of circulars and a JC Penney’s catalog.  Underneath the mess, it was the same old pea green and chrome dinette set my brother and I had used as children for our after school snacks.

Grandma Steadman used to live in an immaculately neat and efficiently run environment that now appeared to be coming apart at the seams.  The floor was sticky wherever I placed my shoes, and a layer of dust covered the table.  I did notice that a new, clean highchair had replaced any older, dilapidated models, and that there was a stack of freshly washed toddler plates and cups in the dish drainer.

“My brother says you’re caring for Caitlyn.”

“I’ve never been able to say ‘no’ to Matthew.  And I’m not going to now, not as long as I can manage.”   

“Are you sure you don’t need help?” I asked her.

“No, of course not.”  She was bustling around the kitchen, apparently looking for things she couldn’t find.  She did manage to cover a tray of bakery cinnamon rolls with plastic wrap and spin them in the microwave for a few minutes.

Angelica put down the Macys ad she was looking at, full of sales on fall wear, which was not attractive when it was still over ninety degrees in the afternoon.  “We really don’t need to eat anything.  I don’t want you to go to any trouble.”

“What you need is a cinnamon roll and coffee,” she firmly said.  “Then you can tell me why you came by to visit me.”

We accepted her hospitality, which consisted of stale, but warmed-over pastries covered with chunks of rancid butter, served with pale coffee and slightly sour milk.

“The only reason we came by,” I said, while choking down the last crumb of roll, “was to see if you had any contact information for my parents.”

“Yes, your mother left me with an address to give you in case of emergency.”

“That’s such a relief.  I need to ask my mom so many questions.  You’re a lifesaver.”

“Ella, I feel I should warn you that your parents needed to get away for their own reasons.  You don’t need to concern yourself with their problems.”

“From what I can tell, their problems have intruded in my life.  I admit, I’m the first one to claim complete ignorance, but there’s something I really need to ask my mom about.  If you could just give me a number where I can call her, I could get this off my chest.”

“The problem is, I don’t have a number, just an address.”

“Anything’s better than nothing.  An address is more than I have right now.”  I would just have to wait longer for a reply.  Or, as a last resort, I would drive up to Colorado.

“Let me see.  I think I put it in my business drawer.”

Angelica and I watched wide-eyed while Grandma Steadman pulled piles of jumbled papers out of a kitchen drawer–the junk drawer, most people would call it.  Her reading glasses hung from a chain around her neck, and she placed them on her nose and slowly began to scrutinize each and every scrap of paper.

An hour and a half later, after Angelica and I had drunk the whole pot of pale coffee, she found the address.  Sadly, it was only a P.O. Box with a Creede, CO address.  Where Creede, CO was, I had no idea.

“You don’t know Anthony Carrillo’s family, do you, Granny Helen?”

“I knew his grandmother, Marie Carrillo, before she moved in with her daughter.  I haven’t seen her for months.  How is Anthony?”

“He lives in her house,” I said.  “I’m helping him fix it up.”

“You and Anthony can come over here after you’re done with her house.  Mine could use a little fixing up, too.  Don’t look worried, Ella.  That was a joke.”

“My boys could come do your yard work,” Angelica offered.

She patted Angelica’s hand and pulled off her glasses.  “No, that’s not necessary.  My son sends somebody every few months.  You better just copy that address down, Ella, so I still have a copy.  That’s what your mom wanted.”

“Of course. You don’t have a key to mom and dad’s house, do you?”

“No.  I have a defunct key to their old house, but not their new one.  You should ask Matthew.”

“Yes, I should.”  I hadn’t thought to ask Matthew yesterday, which was a little silly.  I was only the secretary, though, and not the investigator.  I was the housekeeper, too, and the woman whose own domicile was a wreck.. 

That was not to mention that I was the daughter of a painter, one who had, in her prime, painted several large canvases with ruby-colored butterflies.  I remembered them, but only as faint images in my mind.  I wondered, suddenly, where my mom stored her old paintings.


New Mexico Noir: Shadows of the Past

My family had a long history with the church. I had a long history of falling asleep in the church. New Mexico mission churches are thick-walled and shadowy. Plus, the only variation in the liturgy occurs when the priest chooses matins instead of service one in the hymnal.

Father Garcia was an old man when I was a child, even older now that I was an adult, and he respected the largely elderly congregation by not forcing us to stand too frequently during the service. Taking all of that into account, I wondered why the entire crowd didn’t knock their heads back against the pews in slumber.

Angelica elbowed me. I started awake.

She whispered in my ear, “I can’t believe you dragged me here, and you’re the one falling asleep.”

I straightened my back and trained my eyes on the statues, which were set up in an alcove at the front. Windows had been cut into this alcove, such that beams of morning light fell from either side on the bowed angels. I’d always wondered why they’d chosen to place a statue of St. Felipe at the highest point, above the altar, rather than a symbol or statue of Christ.

San Felipe de Neri was not the duskiest Catholic mission in New Mexico. For a start, they had painted the walls white, and had hung cylindrical lamps from the high ceiling that cast a rosy glow. Despite that, it was just shadowy enough to emphasize the bright beams of sun at the front, and to create a hushed atmosphere.

It was in this peculiar, church hush that I felt as if my family were there with me in the service. We had always attended church together, all four of us. As an adult, I had not desisted from regular masses because of disillusionment over my belief in God, but disillusionment over the unity of my family, who no longer worshiped here.

Yesterday, my brother had insisted he knew as well as I did the whereabouts of our parents, which meant that he had no idea. When his words brought me to tears, he reluctantly hugged me.

“And Anthony?” I asked. Earlier, I’d asked him directly what he knew of Anthony Carrillo, and he had skirted the subject, drifting to the current one that involved the sudden loss—or disappearance, rather—of our parents. His embrace was not unwelcome, even though he was as hot and sweaty as I was. I laid my head on his shoulder and felt the kinship flow between us. We were both orphans of a sort.

“Anthony Carrillo?” He pushed me away from him, yet held me by the shoulders at arm’s length. “Anthony was in a different class from me. He’s your age. I didn’t know him all that well.”

“What do you know about him now?”

“Obviously, only that he’s still in love with you.”

“If you recall, Bro, Anthony and I just met. How could he be in love with me?”

“Back in high school, he was in love with his idea of you. Mom sent me family photos every year, and he fell in love with your image on film. I told him you weren’t as good to look at in person, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”

I couldn’t help smiling at this news. “But what does that have to do with now? Should I be worried working for him?”

“No. Why should you be? He’s as good as gold. I promise. But I wouldn’t go back to your apartment if I were you. Stay with Angelica, or with me if you have to. You can watch Caitlyn when I’m at work.”

After Matthew’s divorce, he and his ex-wife split their four-year-old in half—not literally, of course, even if it felt that way to Caitlyn. “How come you never told me you needed help?”

“Because, up to now, you worked nights and slept during the day. She’s been staying with Granny Helen, who can’t really keep up with her.”

Granny Helen also happened to be Grandma Steadman, the woman I wanted to speak with at church. She was our adopted grandma, the woman who cared for my brother and I after school and made us pinwheel macaroni and cheese, a soupy dish that involved more milk than cheese, and a hint of tomato sauce. Thinking about her pinwheels brought tears to my eyes.

Where was she, anyway? The pastor’s sermon was winding down, and he was exhorting us to carry the light of the gospel to a dark world once we’d left the church that day. In New Mexico, however, this particular exhortation always struck me with the certain irony that I would be assailed by the brighter light of the sun outside the church.

After the pastoral blessing, I rose and scanned those crazy enough to attend early mass on a Sunday morning. It was not a large gathering. I could see that Grandma Steadman was not in attendance.

“Why did we get up so early?” Angelica asked.

“So we could go to church and then go over to Grandma Steadman’s house to see why she’s not here.”

“I guess the blessing in all this is that I got to attend a mass without my ADD sons for once.”

We emerged into the gentleness of the August morning, walked through the grounds, and out onto the plaza. Old Town was empty, except for the other martyrs of the faith who were leaving church before most people had risen from bed. The shops and restaurants were closed, the sidewalks empty, the trees still sleeping and casting dappled, morning light over the grass.

Angelica sighed and slipped her sunglasses over her eyes. “I think we should take a nap in the grass,” she said.

It did sound like a delicious idea. We could rest peacefully and then walk over to Little Anita’s for breakfast enchiladas or carne adovada and eggs. But, no, we had business to attend to. We needed to find Grandma Steadman.

Angelica drove us down Rio Grande a few blocks, then turned left to find my childhood neighborhood. Grandma Steadman’s house was three doors down from parents’ old house. Her stucco was cracked and dirty, her yard weedy, and her flower garden unkempt. The sight of it made me sad, because I remembered her flower garden as the best on the street, a riot of seasonal flowers, including a mass of variegated tulips in the spring. Now, wild desert marigolds grew in unwieldy clumps, alongside heavily drooping hollyhocks.

Her windows were dark, her porch cool from lack of sun. Spider webs hung thickly in the corners and under eaves.

“Should we knock?” I asked.

Angelica nodded. I knocked, very softly at first. With each knock, I pounded a little harder. Then we stood and waited, listening to the heavy silence that answered us.