A NOVEL BY MANDY KEIFETZ
Only Five Daughters
Doll, my plan is this: Get what I need and get the hell out of town. It's not a great plan, I know. It's even, I guess, an old-fashioned plan. But my head feels a thousand years old and it's the only plan I can think of. This is a two-fold plan, Doll. It also involves you. Get what I need. Get the hell out of town. And then get my ass over to your bedroom. That can even be the new address for my ass: Flan's Ass, c/o the Doll's bedroom, NYC. It's got a ring to it, you have to admit. New York City. Molly's bedroom. Be still my sour old heart. You said in your last letter that you missed me upside down and backwards, wanted me there. You also said I was not to take your letter as bait for consoling words. So, Doll, I hope these words don't console you. Or something. Please pick up my trunk -- big black leather sucker -- at Kennedy Airport around 3:30 pm, Thursday, the 20th, and I'll meet you at Fee's that night. Love, Flan.
I wrote that exactly two weeks before my probation was up. I rolled it out
of the typewriter, folded it into an envelope addressed to Molly and slipped
the whole thing into the back pocket of my jeans. It was broiling in Mapache.
The driest Fall New Mexico'd ever seen and even so I had to wipe the sweat
off my chest with a clean towel before putting my shirt back on.
Nary Totonac, old and bent, deep red lines etched into his face, was struggling with his pecan trees, of course, and I started across the field to give him notice. Nary'd been good to me. He'd given me the job and the brown adobe shack to live in when I got out of prison, claiming that my grandmother, the madam, had done as much and then some for him.
I hated to let Nary down. He'd kept me on even after the pecan weevil and the drought had come up from Juarez, destroying half his winter crop. I felt terrible about leaving him in the lurch, especially after the fine meals I'd shared with his family, but the truth was, there wasn't much I could do to help him save his farm. It was out of our hands.
If I stuck around, it'd just be me salivating after his beautiful sixteen-hand gray appaloosa, and shooting longing glances at his youngest daughter, Sonia. She was fucking gorgeous. Nary himself called her his red hot tamale. She had those eyes you read about in crummy pulp books, Spanish Eyes, flashing black eyes, and bleached white hair down to her ass.
I'd been trying to get her into the sack for close to three years now and every time she'd bat those glittering eyes at me and giggle prettily, "mañana, mañana." Of course mañana never came which was the thing I hated most about the Southwest. It's always mañana with Mexicans and they almost never come across.
Thinking about it, I felt the bile rise in my throat. My black boots were cracked with three years of hard farm labor. They were just about ruined. All the cracks were a dusty tan brown from the bone-dry dirt. I felt the sun on the back of my neck and I knew I looked almost as red as a Mexican myself.
Yeah, I had to get out of Mapache, away from this burnt-up culture. I figured a few years in clammy, brutal New York were just what I needed. The whole time I worked at Nary's, and even more when I was in the slam, I'd hallucinated about going back East. In fact, my whole damn life has been one long struggle to get to a place like New York and stay there; but somehow or other I always find myself back in the Southwest, sweating and choking, my mouth full of gritty dry dirt.
New York made me think of Molly and I took the letter out of my pocket and reread it as I made my way toward old Nary, who was throwing dead pecans for his german shepherd, Vulf. I knew Vulf was going to eat about a thousand pecan weevils and then get sick and shit green all over the farm; and Nary's wife would beat him with a beaded belt. But I'd had that fight with them hundreds of times and my face hurt from the glare, so I kept my eyes on the letter.
It was pretty good. Picturing Molly reading it, her long black hair falling into her eyes, I got hard. I had a much better plan than the one I'd described to her, of course. One that involved a load of peyote and season tickets to the Mets; but I was afraid Molly wouldn't help me unless she thought I was finally gonna settle down and become some kind of fat, pipe-smoking philosopher.
See, Molly's a strange girl. If you saw her walking down some street in New York, struggling under a ton of books and papers, patiently addressing invisible demons, hair in her face, tight black jeans, blue sweater over perfect breasts, you'd never think she could know someone like me. And God knows no one I come across would ever dream there was a person like Molly. An Easterner? A Hungarian? A professor plagued by an entourage of ghosts? It's like we pull a fast one on God every time we kiss.
But I met her in a bar. And, well, bars are like that. Everybody's got to drink. And two very different people can end up with the exact same thirst for the slick burn of tequila. Molly's eyes are gray-blue, huge, the color of an old black-and-white TV purring all night in the corner of darkened trailer. She's tall, taller than me, about 5'10" or 11", taller in the black boots she wears.
Black hair. Blue eyes. Black jeans. Blue sweater. Black boots. Blue smoke curling around her fingers. Black and blue and black again. A guy could look at her and get the idea that bruising's gonna enter into this soon, and in a big way. But it isn't like that. At the college where Molly teaches, they call her Doctor Silence.
When I stepped up close to Nary he was bent over Vulf, showing him a handful of rotten pecans. Black weevils squirmed in his palm.
"You see this, Vulfito? Is terrible. Just terrible."
He stood up, shaking his head and closing his hand around the infested pecans, crushing them. I hoped he would say "terrible" again. I liked the way he said it. He rolled the R's out into a low long growl. He sounded just like Vulf, in fact. He dropped the nut fragments into the dust and wiped his hands on the sides of jeans. I saw a couple of half-dead weevils clinging to the seams. He clapped a great red hand on my shoulder and I set my face hard so I wouldn't grimace. I felt sorry for Nary about the weevils but I didn't want the bugs on my shirt. I was going into town.
"Nary," I said.
"Flanagan. You see these wee-bowls? It is terrible."
Vulf barked and I grinned. Of course Nary didn't know that was the name of a kid's toy and I didn't want to tell him. It would be embarrassing. Nary was sensitive about his accent, a crazy mixture of Mexican, German, and Vera Cruz Indian. I knew the suits at Molly's office would probably eat him up; but he didn't like to talk about it, and that was okay with me.
I picked up a pecan and threw it for Vulf. It was a good throw. He leapt up and caught it right at the peak of the arc, his tan legs at least three feet off the ground, then trotted back to us, dropping the nut between Nary's legs.
"You going into town, Flanagan?"
"Yeah, Nary, I..."
"Af, you leave us soon, Flanagan. So, don' look surprised. I know you. Your probation almost up. Now you move on. This is good. Now you been with Nary. Now you stay out of trouble. For your beautiful grandmother, God rest her soul, I never do less. Tonight you eat with us, hokay? We drink the tequila we brought up from Juarez. Very good. Sauza Blanco. Special. Special night. Vulf he 'ave some too. Dogs love the tequila."
He squatted down on his dead farm land and scratched his ratty dog behind the ears. Vulf thumped his tail, his mouth hanging half open in a big stupid grin. Nary looked up at me, squinting in the sun.
"You take Arturo into town, Flanagan?"
"I was thinkin' about it."
He spit and stretched. "I don't know which you love more, Señor Flanagan, my horse, or my daughter."
I wasn't sure what to say. He'd never talked like this before and I didn't really want to get into it. I was anxious to get to town. It was true I loved them both, but probably not as much as Nary would've liked to think.
"They're much the same, you know?"
"Sonia and Arturo?"
"You laugh, Flanagan, but it is true. Arturo, he is very pretty, is he no, with his spots?"
"He is, Nary. The best Appi in the county."
"Yet I ride him into town, sitting up there sixteen one, maybe two high, and what do the ranchers say as I pass? Go on, you tell Nary. I heard before."
"They say he's an idiot horse, brains in his spots."
"But you know Arturo is very smart, gentle, one in a thousand, a million."
what's the point?"
"Okay, Nary, I get the point."
He sighed, picking weevils off of Vulf's coat, then shook his head, swivelling to take in the entire sight of his ravaged farm.
"Af. I'm not sure you do, Flanagan. But anyway it don't matter. Not you I worry about, truly. This land, my family. I worry what will ‘appen. I wish I could sell this land, take Mrs. Totonac to Atlantic City. Always she wanted to live classy like that, back East. You think I care who I sell to? Another farmer? The Church? The Army? Af. They talk in town about these greedy developers but I don't care. I would sell to anyone. No one want this terrible land. Not in five acre lots like it must be. And little Sonia, she need her mother. Sixteen and still with no real prospects? Af."
At the sound of Nary saying "terrible," Vulf started barking. Nary shook his head, unscrambling his tired old brains, and smiled.
"Never mind this, Flanagan. You go to town, never mind the crazy talk of a crazy old man."
I stood from my crouch, waiting for the old farmer to spill it, watching him trace patterns in Vulf's mangy ruff. He was quiet a few minutes and when he finally spoke his voice was hushed and level.
"You do something for me, Flanagan, now you are leaving?"
"Yeah, Nary, anything. Shoot." Extending his thumb and forefinger, he pulled a silent trigger at me.
"You must stop to tease my Sonia, hah? She like you but no can 'ave. Hay un chingo piche de putas hembras en este puta mundo, pero solo hay cinco hijas, many girls, you understand, but only five daughters. I rest easier on this terrible farm knowing that my Sonia, she 'ave nothing to fear from you."
His face was all smile but I knew he was dead serious. Anyway, it was no problem. Sonia was a pretty little girl but I was thinking about Molly again. Iíd need that tequila. Even though Sauza Blanco is just about the worst shit ever squeezed out of a cactus. It tastes like liquid candy corn.
"Sure, Nary, no problem."
"Good," he said, and smiled at me, full of teeth and mirth this time. "Stop by hacienda on the way to town, Flanagan. Ask Mrs. Totonac if she need anything."
Nary always called his wife Mrs. Totonac. I didnít bother to stop by the hacienda, though. I knew his asking was just a formality, a way of including me in the family, and I figured Iíd already done my part with the oath of chastity to their young daughter. After all, what could Mrs. Totonac possibly want from a tiny town like Mapache? Chintzy turquoise earrings, a boilermaker from El Cabra, the bar, or maybe I could pick her up a nice cold six of absolution from the church. Thatís all they have in Mapache.
I suppose I could have borrowed the truck, or even Arturo, Naryís genius horse, and gone into Las Cruces where they have a Skagg's Alpha-Beta, the giant Mormon supermarket chain, but I was itchy to get to town. I was working on a big deal, something that could easily keep me out of the Southwest, and away from the questionable charms of the Totonac girl, forever. I didnít want to take any chances.
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