The waitress took our drink order and disappeared. Without warning, he slapped a recent newspaper onto the table in front of me.
“Did you say in print that I’m a liar?”
“Well…” It was the column about La Llorona.
“Probably a million people have read this by now.”
“I don’t think the Alpine Avalanche reaches a million people.” But wouldn’t that be great?
He gave me a dark look.
“It’s only a story,” I said.
“It makes me look bad. It’s slander.”
“No; it isn’t that at all. It’s about that time you tried to scare me with La Llorona—” His expression stopped my explanation. If you’re a gringo and think you have a grasp of the Spanish language, you should try explaining to an angry Mexican man how calling him a liar is not slander. Yeah. I’ll wait.
“I know this wasn’t the first time you called me a liar in print.”
Who is the big-mouthed troublemaker in Terlingua translating my columns to him? I tried to find out but it was no dice. I’m offering a reward.
“I was having fun at your expense,” I admitted, “but anybody who reads what I write about you knows it’s without malice. They’re just stories. All I’m doing is telling a tale.”
He was not impressed.
“It’s not like you haven’t had a few laughs at my expense,” I added.
He tried to say that wasn’t true but I knew better, and he knew I knew. His wide-eyed innocent look didn’t fly. Instead of admitting guilt, he crammed a salsa-loaded chip into his mouth.
As with a thousand arguments before, this one dissipated like early-morning fog. We began to talk about our daughter, our favorite subject. As I listened to him enthuse about a possible trip to visit her in California, another story came to mind. When I look at him there are millions.
Back in the eighties, Lajitas used to host unforgettable dances. The favorites were referred to as “Mexican dances.” People came from all over the region and the town would be booked full. A band from Ojinaga or San Carlos would arrive and “let the festivities begin!”
Our daughter, whose name is Margarita, was a few weeks old when we decided to take her to a dance. We seldom missed one and had seen other couples there with their babies. She had already been introduced to the wonders of dancing by one of the all-time greats, her second cousin, Kiko Garcia. During an in-out trip to the Lajitas Trading Post, he jumped up from a bench, yelled, “Mi primita!” and grabbed my three-day-old baby and danced her around the porch. I swear I think she smiled.
We dressed to the nines and headed to the dance. As we walked past the side of the pavilion towards its entrance, the music began. It was loud enough to rattle teeth in Cuidad Chihuahua. The sudden blast startled our child and she wailed. Her dad handed her to me, but trying to comfort her was useless. She was so distressed we didn’t have the heart to stay.
We returned home, agonized about it, and decided to leave Margarita with a neighbor who constantly begged to keep her. It was the first time we’d left her with anyone other than her grandmother, but we knew she’d be in loving hands. And we’d only be a yell away.
It was difficult to leave our baby, but we needed time together and we wanted to dance. We made it through two before Margarita’s dad said, “Do you think she’s all right?”
“I can’t stand this.”
He grabbed my hand. “Let’s go.”
Our daughter was sleeping the peaceful sleep of tiny babies, but we swept her out of there as if the place was burning down. We put her to bed at home and then we danced.
When we parted after lunch, my ex hugged me and whispered, “Please stop calling me a liar.”
“I will when you quit lying.”
He laughed and started to walk away but came back. “Did I ever tell you about the time I came face-to-face with the Ghost of Paso Lajitas?”