Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Guadalupe de la Luz

Lupe dried the last breakfast dish and placed it in the rack above the stone sink before she shuffled across the rough floor, ignoring the rising dust.

Dust rose in April. Nothing to be done, but accept. Less than an hour before she had poured water across the floor and mopped the dust that had blown in through the wide crack beneath the door. She opened the door and threw the dirty water out onto the hard-packed and rocky soil that stretched in front of her small adobe hogar, her home.

Just after mopping, the floor was cool and clean beneath her feet. Then the dust rose again. Nothing to be done. Not until tomorrow, when she’d rise from her narrow bed: a mattress on rough wooden slats, a mattress the gringa ladies had stuffed with knotted plastic bags that crinkled each time she turned over.

Then, today’s dishes done, floor done, Lupe sat on the bed’s edge and worked to slip the pink sweat pants down over her knobbed knees with twisted hands that screamed. The bed rustled, crinkled, popped, and with the last pop she giggled.

Undressed, she couldn’t see her withered body in the cracked compact mirror propped open with her toothbrush besides the bathroom sink. She pulled on the blue full skirt and the white blouse with the careful embroidery done so many years ago when her hand could still hold a needle.  She chose her favorite green rebozo with the slight pink weave and wrapped head and shoulders.

There was less than 50 pesos inside the coffee can on the shelf.   With today’s exchange at 13, she knew she had less than 4 dollars American.  Lupe always knew the exchange.  When it was high, like now, she would seek out new gringos, more likely to have change from home. The ones who would give her their quarters, nickels, dimes and the occasional dollar.

She would need half the fifty to get from her home in Los Rodriguez to the jardin in San Miguel and back.  It was a risk. If God was not pleased, if she brought home less than bus fare, she would be hungry once more that week.

She could walk. Today she had the choice, unlike the days when the can was empty, and the only choice was to walk.

She could walk. Three hours there, three hours back, leaving scarcely enough daylight to gather the coins she had to have.

Today Lupe took the bus, gambling that the extra hours on her corner would pay off. She chose her corner by the day of the week. Today was Wednesday and she knew that three walking tours would end opposite where she sat. Still in groups, her gringos would be generous, their friends watching.

She sat, her twisted hand, palm up on her knee, and waited. Waited, while she remembered better years.  A block down from her, she could hear Maria chatting with the store owner upon whose stoop she sat. By Maria’s shift from chattering her chisme, her gossip, of the day to a plaintive whine of señoooor, por favoooor, Lupe could tell when a tourist approached. Maria’s plea enraged Lupe. She herself would never stoop to such an undignified display.  And Maria, of all people, with three fine sons, all perfectly capable of taking care of her.

A gringa, who had just stepped away from Maria’s clutch, muttered, “Ten pobrecita (here poor little one)” and dropped a fifty centavo — not even a peso — into Lupe’s hand.

It was the likes of Maria, Lupe thought, that made it more difficult day by day for Lupe to survive.


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