We had tons of great submission from the Las Cruces Magazine Fiction contest, and we want to share them with you! Coffee on the Map by Cheryl Eichar Jett won first prize, second was Charlotte Ate Green Chiles by Richard Green, and The Trouble With Teenagers by Samson Stormcrow Hayes. We will feature different fiction stories each week! Click on the title and get the whole story below! Enjoy!
I was at the Amador one night with my professor, relaxing after a day of back-to-back faculty meetings which had devolved into screaming matches with no resolution. Antonio came in, a student the previous semester in my class. He was with a buddy and they reminded me of Mutt and Jeff, Antonio being tall and thin, his friend short and rotund. My professor left at that point, telling me to watch my back.
Still, I was free to socialize with Antonio. It was understood that we’d stay till closing and then walk over to El Chamizal. He was from Santa Fe, as well as his friend Eusebio, who was being loud about the dance records that had been stolen from him a few days before, supposedly by someone from Las Cruces. Eusebio had given a baile, a dance party, and discovered the loss afterwards. These were LP’s from Brazil, and in those days essentially irreplaceable. Eusebio had been suspicious of his Las Cruces guests from the get-go. It wasn’t uncommon for NMSU students back then to socialize only among the people they knew back home.
We walked around the corner to El Chamizal, and some of those very Las Cruces students, crucenos, were already at a table. I felt a knot in my stomach. My professor had warned me about Latino violence when I began work. Stereotype, of course; still, I had seen Antonio grab my boss by the collar and point a fist at him for using the phrase “dumb Mexican.” And one of the crucenos, Frankie, almost as tall as Antonio but muscular, not thin, was one of my students that very semester. I had had to give him a make-up test when he was jailed for brawling at the Village Inn down the street, though Frankie emphasized that an Anglo had thrown the first punch.
Eusebio made to approach the ‘Cruces table, but Antonio stopped him, and we sat down as far away as we could in the small restaurant. I ordered the green chile, but the santafesinos stuck with the red that was preferred up north.
I could see animated discussion at the other table, and Frankie got up and walked slowly over to us. Oh no, I thought. Here it comes. And I could feel the tension rise around our table, fists alternately clenching and relaxing, chins jutting out and then pulling back.
“It’s good to see you, Antonio.” He was speaking slowly, almost formally.
“Hey, Frankie, ¿Qué pués?” Same restrained style of speech.
“Okay, man, I’m doin’ okay,” Frankie said. “I hear one of your friends lost something.”
Eusebio shot up, but one of the others held onto him. Antonio said, “That’s right. Some records. Eusebio,” he nodded at him, “says they were gone at the end of the party. They’re from Brazil; he can’t replace them. They were really good records, de versa.”
“That’s bad, man. Things like that shouldn’t oughta happen.” Frankie was calm, deliberate.
“You’re right, Frankie,” Antonio said. “It messes things up when stuff like that happen.”
“Yeah, it can really make problems with people. But it doesn’t have to be that way, ‘Tonio. I think it’s going to be okay.”
Eusebio stood up with his fist clenched and butted in, “Oh, yeah, how’s it going to be okay?” Meanwhile, back at Frankie’s table, one of the other crucenos stood up. But at both tables the hotheads were pulled back into their seats, and the dance went on.
Frankie acted as if he hadn’t heard anything. “I’m sure, Antonio, that it’ll all be good in a day or two.”
Antonio answered him, “If you say so, I know it will, Frankie. I know you guys from Las Cruces, and you do what you say.”
“Count on it, man,” Frankie said. They shook hands, and he walked back to his table. The local boys got up without looking at our table, paid their bill, and left.
Eusebio was unconvinced. “You didn’t even make him admit that one of their guys stole them.”
“Yeah, those cruceno boys are pretty crude, aren’t they?” Antonio said. “Let’s just wait and
The others at the table nodded their heads, so Eusebio shut up. We finished our meal and left.
The records were at his doorstep when we dropped him off. He brought them back to the car and
showed them to us with a satisfied smile. “Nice work, Antonio!”
We congratulated him and drove off.
Later, I thought about my faculty, their stereotyping, and how they themselves behaved at meetings, perhaps not so physical, but with a lot less skill at working things out.
Charlotte also liked red chiles. She always left some on the plants in her garden to ripen. They were so pretty, but they were equally decorative when picked and strung up on ristras, hung in her kitchen and by her front door. At the rate of Charlotte’s chile consumption, she usually ran out of green before the new crop came in, and she was forced either to buy whatever green chiles were available at the market or resort to red. She did both. In those cold late winter days the dusky taste of dried red chile powder made into a sauce for enchiladas or stirred into posole seemed appropriate anyway. But green was her passion.
There was a 1980 silver gray Ford Ranger pickup in Charlotte’s driveway. There once had also been a Honda, missing since the day her husband, Fred, had gone to the carwash and never returned. That was in the early evening just before a dinner of fish tacos with a special salsa of Anaheims and jalapenos, tomatoes and red onions. Charlotte waited for Fred for a few minutes, but then decided to go ahead with her meal while it was fresh and hot. After eating and thinking about a recipe for green chile mole, Charlotte fell asleep on the sofa. She awoke the next morning with an appetite for chorizo and eggs, which she began to prepare after starting the coffee. She went to the bedroom to awaken Fred, who was sleeping later than usual, she thought, but Fred was not there. Since she had not made the bed the day before, in fact, had not made the bed for several days, it did not occur to her that he had not been in it. She looked out the living room window at the driveway, but upon noticing the missing Honda, merely assumed that Fred had risen early and gone to work at the “What’s Your Sign?” sign shop, where he had made point-of-purchase signs for fifteen years. Some orders had to be filled on short notice, she thought, and it was thoughtful of him not to awaken her when he returned from the carwash or when he left this morning. She had been entertained by a dream of sailing in a green boat on a green sea, clipping along with the wind, not feeling it on her back as it pushed her effortlessly, as it had had in her childhood when she sailed with her father on Chesapeake Bay.
Charlotte had lived in the same little cinder block house in a development of cinder block houses since Fred was discharged from the Army. Although she missed the Chesapeake Bay and the green Eastern coast, Fred had wanted to stay in New Mexico and Charlotte had adjusted. After Fred got a job at the sign shop, Charlotte got a job as a clerk at the state university in the Agriculture School. In time, she was moved over to the chile research department, where she had learned about all the varieties of chiles that were gradually becoming an economic staple in the county. Charlotte was wary about Mexican food and always asked for a hamburger (no chile, please, just plain) if they went out to eat.
At the college, however, Charlotte observed that some chiles were being bred to be milder as well as spicier. Professor Muldoon was an expert in capsaicin and explained in detail how there was a chart that detailed how spicy each one was. Some had a heat index in the thousands–in fact, some of the smallest ones–while others were low and appealed to the taste of newcomers to the valley, the snowbirds and retired people who were settling in the valley in increasing numbers. “They’re really very healthy, full of vitamin C, and you might enjoy them. Try the Big Jim variety next time you go out to the store and make some chiles rellenos. They’re real easy to cook, too.
So Charlotte bought some chiles at the store, being assured by the clerk that they were the mild variety. She started to cut the long green pods, slicing off the stem and cutting them open and scraping off the seeds, she felt some heat in her fingers. “Oh dear,” she thought, what are these going to do to my stomach?” As she was used to making stuffed bell peppers, she didn’t realize that these needed to be skinned, so there was a tough cellulose covering every slice in the stew that she was making, and Fred had to spit it out. Her neighbor, Navidad Rodriguez, who lived several houses down Calle de Sueños, told her that she had to put them on the burner until the skin blackened, then put them in a plastic bag until the skins peeled off with little effort and wear plastic gloves, too. That definitely improved the result, so her next stew was much better. In fact, the stew was wonderfully tasty, and even got a compliment from Fred. Charlotte had a second helping. “Professor Muldoon was right,” she thought, “this is really very good and not too spicy at all.”
The next day there was stew left over, so Charlotte decided to add a little more chile to it. Tasting the result, she began to savor the rich pungent flavor and, even though it was now spicier, she thought she liked it even more. At dinner Fred looked at the bowl and, without commenting, began to eat. “Isn’t this what we had last night?” he asked. “It’s hotter. What did you do to it?”
“It’s just green chile, dear. Do you like it?”
“I liked it better yesterday,” he said.
“I’ll make something different tomorrow,” Charlotte said cheerfully. “Something you’ll really like.”
The next day Charlotte decided to try chiles rellenos. Navidad helped her with that, too, insisting that she try the spicier chiles that she already had on hand, using Monterrey jack for the stuffing and covering them with batter before frying. “It’s okay,” said Fred, “but I really would like some mac and cheese soon.”
So the next day Charlotte made macaroni and cheese, but after she cooked that creamy sauce of flour and milk, stirring in shredded American cheese, she was tempted to add just a little chopped green chile for color, contrasting nicely with the chopped tomatoes that she sometimes added. Then she dropped in a little more, before adding the cooked macaroni and putting it in the oven.
With its lovely brown crust it looked delectable. Fred will love it, Charlotte thought, but he was less enthusiastic than she anticipated, and she felt badly for a while. But eventually thoughts of her next recipe began to cheer her up, maybe green enchilada sauce, so the following day she served Fred a big plate of flat enchiladas, corn tortillas layered with Monterrey jack cheese, covered with a delectable green chile sauce with tomatillo and onion.
“Charlotte, what’s this? “Fred said after a few bites, “Mexican food again? Could we have a steak soon?”
So the next day Charlotte went shopping for a steak, splurging on a nice T-bone well-trimmed. But before cooking it when Fred got home, she had found a recipe for steak Tampico, smothered with green chiles and American cheese, and instead of potatoes she couldn’t resist cooking beans and making Spanish rice. It looked lovely. Fred, however, looked at it with dismay. “What is all this stuff on my steak?” he said. He scraped it off violently and threw it in the sink. “I only wanted steak seared on both sides and red in the center, the way I always had it, and where are the potatoes? What is this rice-lookin’ stuff?”
After that, Charlotte fixed Fred the meals he always expected: plain mac and cheese, steak and potatoes, meat loaf, and beef stew, but she also cooked for herself–
chiles rellenos, green enchiladas, and adding chiles in her portion of beef stew and meat loaf. But somehow, Fred’s meals began to look less and less appealing–runny bacon, overdone eggs, steak brown in the middle, tasteless meat loaf. It wasn’t that Charlotte was ignoring Fred’s well-being; she simply concentrated on her own chile-filled dishes while Fred’s food languished as an afterthought.
Charlotte began to plan her own menus several days in advance, trying new recipes. She now had a schedule: enchiladas on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, rellenos on Wednesday, but Thursdays she would experiment with something different. Fridays were always devoted to green chile stew, with leftovers for Saturday, and Sunday she always looked forward to green chile chicken casserole.
Tonight will be fish, Charlotte thought on experimental Thursday. She found some sea bass at the supermarket and thought that this might be something with chiles that Fred would actually like. She grilled it nicely while her husband watched the news, then seasoned it and warmed some tortillas, filled them with fish and the lovely green chile salsa that she had invented herself.
“Dinner is ready, dear.” Fred came to the table, looked at the tacos, then at Charlotte. He said he thought he was out of cigarettes and while he was out he was going to get the car washed.
* * *
Charlotte sat on her front porch enjoying the mild evening. Across the street in the neighbor’s yard there were three Italian cypresses. Dark green, they made her think of the Big Jim variety that she was so fond of. There was also a row of arbor vitae, brighter green and fatter, shaped like jalapeños. How like the cherry peppers she bought in a jar was the Mexican elder by the neighbor’s porch. Charlotte’s thoughts turned toward Christmas. This year, she thought, she would decorate the front porch with little white lights with those green chile pop-on plastic covers that she had seen at the drug store. Maybe even two strands.
She wondered if she could learn to make tamales.
I have a damn good attorney; that’s the reason we keep coming to Canton, once a month, every month. My attorney keeps finding ways to stall the prosecution, and I try to resist smiling each time the county’s attorney wipes her crimp-curled locks away from her face and flips through her stack of files to counter my attorney’s latest motion. I’m guilty, of course. Isn’t everyone? But like my father said, this is a game, a sleek, motorized game, and all that matters is who wins and what they get away with.
“Where did you get the Subway?” my father asks when I enter the hotel room.
“There’s a store on the highway next to the burger place.”
“I’ve never seen that.”
“It’s there.” I toss the Snickers bar on the bed beside him. “I got that for you.” He’s laid up against the pillow, on top of the bedspread reading a paperback Western. He goes through three or four a week. This one is called A Lawman’s Promise. I don’t see how Wal-Mart keeps enough in stock to satisfy him.
He takes the candy bar into his hand and turns it over, momentarily mystified by it. It’s understandable. I don’t do a lot of nice things for people. I don’t remember birthdays, I don’t say “bless you,” I never say I’ll call someone again when I know I won’t because I know that I won’t, and what good is false hope?
“Thank you, Jerry,” he says, and his voice goes so high and melodious, almost a plea, that my heart drops from my chest and into my stomach. I’m not supposed to be doing things like this, that’s what my mother said. My father puts his finger to his lips. “Better keep this hidden from Mom.”
I know he’s going to eat that Snickers so damn fast the very thought of hiding it from someone would be absurd. My father used to be fat when I was a kid. He was short and stumpy and in his policeman’s uniform looked like a Keystone Cop funny-fast-running toward his black, boxy patrol car, the other funny-fast-running officers at his heels. Then my father got cancer when I was in high school, and he became thin. He said after the chemotherapy everything tasted like cardboard and the pounds slipped from his frame. My mother was so happy she took a picture of my father holding his “fat pants” in front of him after he dropped to 160 pounds. But the food’s lack of flavor didn’t keep him out of the kitchen for long. Soon, he said if he ate enough, he could taste it again, just a trace of it. The pounds reappeared like department store fliers, and my mother put her camera away.
I sit on my bed and take my sandwich out of its wrapper. My father’s right. The food at Subway is getting shoddy. The toppings are haphazardly scattered, the mustard is thick at one end and missing at the other, and the tuna salad itself lacks a certain zing it once had. It’s hard to describe, not that I would ever try. I learned not to talk about food in my parents’ house. Sit down and eat. Throw away what you don’t want.
“How much did you pay for that?”
“Too much.” I take a bite and try to enjoy it, shove it around my teeth and gums.
“Their food’s gettin’ bloomin’ ridiculous.”
I nod and keep eating. I can’t finish it fast enough.
“I bet you paid eight or nine bucks for what?—a damn sandwich.”
“I saw the sign when I left. Gas went up again.”
“Four cents, I think.”
Whenever my father threatens to embark on one of his rants about this business trying to rob you or this politician trying to trick you, I bring up the gas prices. It’s a fail-safe conversation stopper.
My father unwraps the Snickers bar, just the one end. I don’t eat candy bars, but I wonder why he doesn’t just unwrap the whole thing and begin eating. Why is he giving his Snickers bar a slow-motion striptease?
I’m chewing, but I can still hear the soft, teasing smack of the caramel, the flaking of the chocolate, the crunch of the nuts. My father is enjoying his Snickers. He loves them so much, I just had to give him one. Never mind that I hate candy, can’t watch someone eating something sweet without wanting to retch. I believed as a child and believe today that sugar will bloat you, cripple you, kill you. My father just wants something sweet inside him, and I can’t even eat my sandwich, I feel so sick.
He finishes, wads the wrapper up, rises from the bed and throws it away in the tiny trashcan at the opposite end of the room.
“They have maids for that.”
“No sense not doing it yourself.”
“Why do you think we’re paying them?”
“You gotta learn to look after your own, Jerry.”
“I’m not going to finish this,” I say and begin to slip the sandwich back into the bag. I’ve gone to bed hungry before. It’s easy, you listen to your stomach and let it rumble you to sleep.
“Let me cut off a piece, then.” He takes out his pocketknife and slices a hunk from the sandwich. He hasn’t eaten or drank after me in over three years, ever since I got the disease. He pops the piece into his mouth and chews it thoughtfully. He shakes his head and looks at me. “I told you it’s not as good as before.”
My father reads his Western while I watch Bill Maher on the free HBO. He hates the cursing and the innuendos on these shows. I’ve never asked, but I bet he wishes life were like one of those paperbacks with the rugged horseman and the mountain landscape on the cover: simple, simple as a candy bar.
After Bill Maher, I turn out the light, and we go to bed. I don’t sleep, but it’s dark. My stomach makes a wet, loud noise. I’m starving.
“Jerry, was that you?”
I don’t answer. He doesn’t ask again.
Wyatt’s horse, tired from a hard day’s ride, trudged down the gentle rocky slope. The horse was tired, but so was Wyatt, eager to turn in and nurse the bruises of a hard day in the heat of the plains.
The chirps of summer cicadas from a nearby stream welcomed the two as Wyatt dismounted and tied up his horse to the wooden post out front of the cabin. Though the cabin was showed it’s age, it still stood strong and resolute as ever deep within the shadows of tangled branches. ‘A safe place to hide out for a while, this is what I need.’ He thought to himself as he pushed open the creaking door. Slowly making his way into the small single room cabin, he stretched out his cramped limbs and dropped his pistol and saddlebag on the rough-hewn table near the door.
Looking up, he noticed a small glow emanating from the stone fireplace – evidence of a recent fire having died out. Suddenly alert, Wyatt began for his pistol that now lay back on the table – out of reach.
“Hold it! Or I’ll shoot,” came a rough voice from the shadows of the cabin, as the sound of a pistol cocking clicked in the darkness. “Down on the floor.” It said coolly, only the glint of moonlight on steel spurs and gun could be made out of the shadow in the corner.
Wyatt stood still, anger tensing throughout his body as he begrudgingly lowered himself to his knees. The old wooden floorboards creaking as he shifted his weight upon them. “What’s it you want?” he asked, trying to maintain a sense of control, hoping that the stranger wouldn’t hear the fear and confusion mounting inside him.
The man in the corner rose silently from his seat, gun still trained on Wyatt, and walked over to the fireplace, stoking the coals as he lays a pine log on top of the hearth. The wood caught and illuminated the figure. Though still a young man, he appeared grizzled and haggard as though he were twice his age. An odd mix of Comanche and traditional cowboy garb adorned the man, with a long patterned poncho hanging from around the shoulders.
Suddenly recognizing the man, Wyatt called out with a quiver of fear to his voice, “Now, now… hold on now Indigo. I didn’t kill your father.”
Indigo strikes Wyatt hard across the head with the butt of his Colt .45. Wyatt fell hard to the ground – splitting headache, vision blurred, and with the metallic taste of blood now trickling throughout his mouth. Slowly he pushed himself back into a seated position facing Indigo, who now stood before him.
“No,” he gruffly replies. “You only betrayed him to a bunch of filthy murderers and sold my mother to slavers.” A cold sense of anger underlying the sarcasm in his voice.
“Well now that’s his fault for coming back here after he betrayed his own kind – marrying that heathen red sk – .“ A blow from Indigo to Wyatt’s head again sent him crashing to floor, cut off mid sentence.
Indigo strode back to his original corner, pulling out a small pouch of tobacco from under his poncho and a piece of paper. Reaching into the pouch, he pulled out a small pinch of tobacco and began to roll a cigarette as Wyatt brought himself up once again.
“What do you want from me?” He whimpered, the pain of the second blow clearly having rattled Wyatt’s courage.
“Names, directions, and for you to meet God.” Indigo growled from the corner, still working on his cigarette.
“Now I was baptized in the river last summer, I met him in his glorious light, and I was forgiven of my sins.” Wyatt declared defiantly, with only a hint of fear to his voice this time.
Indigo said nothing, striking a match and putting the flame to his cigarette. The pungent aroma of tobacco fills the air of the cabin. The crackling of the fire being the only sound to break the silence.
Nervousness crept back into Wyatt, sputtering, “it was Zachariah who put the bullet in him, I didn’t know what he was going to do. I… I thought… He headed out towards El Paso last I heard. And your mother, she was outside their territories, and you know how people are around here, if I didn’t sell her, someone else would have.” A long pause, followed by the inhalation of smoke followed. “I needed the money, they were gonna take my land!”
Indigo stood up, slowly and deliberately. Wyatt sensing his looming power, retreated unto himself, fearing for his life. Suddenly Indigo handed him the lit cigarette, and slowly Wyatt brought it to his lips and began to take a drag.
“Did you know the Comanche smoked tobacco as a way to commune with their gods?” Indigo asked as he walked past and behind him, peering out the lone, single-paned window in the front of the cabin.
“No” Wyatt replies, taking another drag on the cigarette.
“Well, I am your God.” Indigo remarked, a resolute sound of anger to his voice, as he lifted his gun to the back of Wyatt’s head. The sound of the .45 blast rung out into the night. And Wyatt slumped dead face forward onto the rough floor of the cabin.
Indigo walked out of the cabin, leaving behind the body. Wyatt’s saddle bag in hand, he went over and threw it over the horse tied up in the front and began to undo the hitching knot holding the horse. As soon as it cam undone, he mounted the horse and rode off into the night.
Lured by the invitation to fling her screen-less windows wide open, letting in the cleansing warmth of the morning air, the lady in the yellow house screeched her appreciation in a blast that could have been a mix of operetta and Luche Libre fight song. After many months of being cooped up in her dank adobe dwelling, her springtime scream song exploded from her lungs with warbling enthusiasm, bouncing off the bare kitchen walls and running madly into the neighborhood. Unable to choose between fight, flight, or freeze, I spun my startled eyes across the street in the direction of the yellow house, in hopes that I could ascertain the epicenter of this inharmonious and inhuman musical malaise. All I could see was the wide open kitchen window. Open like a scream, its tattered lace curtain, a wagging tongue, caught by the cross breeze, attempting a flailing retreat out of the house.
The sharp song of the lady in the yellow house threatened to curl and peel the selfsame yellow paint of the house that gave the lady her name. Her bent and crooked husband, Nacho, who worked in the city streets department brought home the remains of yellow paint, left over in five gallon buckets, that was used to draw lines on the roadways and parking lots of town. Summer after summer, the gray stucco of their two-room, self-made adobe house was covered with the incandescent color of a school bus. It was as if the blazing brilliance of the iridescent paint was meant to make a mockery of county building codes. Drawing attention to the sagging house and yet blinding any would be inspector to the faulty workmanship that, had the lady in the yellow house struck a resonant tone, would cause the house to disintegrate into a pile resembling what could hypothetically be described as crumbled Ritz cracker mixed with Cheese Whiz. If the color of the house failed to attract the attention of the casual passerby, the shriek of song was there, demanding their attention. Like a vicious dog, unwary of property boundaries lunging fiercely, straining the limits of it’s chain, molesting all pedestrians, causing them to whip their heads in the direction of the threat and putting extra purpose in their step.
The lady in the yellow house never had any visitors. The people steered clear of her siren song, and even the Jehovah Witnesses refused to journey up the buckling cement path to the front door of her property. The most faithful of the neighborhood crossed themselves before crossing in front of the howling mouth of hell that was the yellow house.
Not much was known about the lady in the yellow house and the neighbors could only speculate as to who she was and what she sang. Eventually as the weather grew warmer and the cool breezes of spring faded, so too did the howling song of the Lady in the yellow house, leaving in it’s wake, barking dogs, crying babies, and the rhythmic bleating of car alarms. So, there, in the blazing beacon of house, all the neighbors’ attention was drawn, reminding us that spring had come, heralded like a trumpet’s flair from the lady in the yellow house.