Everyone said he was lucky but I didn't believe it. Not for a second. Jedidiah Jones wasn't lucky; the angels of clemency had forsaken him but the devil, the dim-witted devil of injudicious earthly things, whispered in his ear that he was a good boy and Jed confused the imp on his shoulder for an angel. My cousin, half white, half Mexican and full fool, was lucky at cards. That's all. Just lucky at cards. And tonight was no different. He leaned back in his chair, tilting the legs the same way he would tilt his hat back on his head until it seemed it would fall but it didn't. He leaned back and smiled big the way only he could whether he had a bad hand or a good hand. He loved the game and so did I but he thought he was the better player since he was so good at pretending to be good. And even when I tried to do as he did, I went unnoticed while he went home with all the winnings.
The year was 1836. Battles were behind us and more were before us and many spoke of a war that would change our lives but none of that mattered to my cousin. Jedidiah Jones sloped his long, tapered chest into the table, peeked at his hand and winked at me across from him. Another card from the dealer caused him to slant his hat farther back on his head. I recognized that tip-off. He was about to win big or lose big. Either way, all eyes were on my cousin because he had a way that obliged you to watch him.
I was the plain opposite. No one watched me and at the time I might have taken advantage of my unexceptional character more had I known that I could have used it to my gain, but I lacked confidence and envied what I didn't have and that was Jed's style for winning even when he was losing. Me, I was impatient for victory, the kind of impatience that makes you look nervous to others, especially since I didn't know how to risk all that had to be risked if I was to be the victor. I fidgeted, twirling strands of hair, or I bit my nails but I never threw myself wholly into the game. I was young and scared but too stupid to know I was scared so instead I feigned a self-possession that carried me through my young life like the lie that it was.
I think back to that infamous day for no other reason than missing Jedidiah Jones. I ask myself plenty why I bother yearning for my conceited cousin but when I imagine his white teeth glinting from that idiot grin, I pine for him more. Nearly a decade has passed since our many battles with each other and I still get mad at myself for the way I feel. Of course, the years have taught me some things but what I am not yet sure.
What I do know is that I held him responsible for every consequence that followed the events of the day that changed our lives for eternity and beyond. It was nothing but one small poker game but it tainted all things known to us. He never admitted that game's meaning. He couldn't. It would have meant different choices and realizations at a time when boys like Jedidiah Jones had their fair-haired futures handed to them. I remember every detail of that day because every detail played over and over in my head for months after as I tried to make sense of what had happened, but mostly I was obsessed with how it happened. Never the why of it. Why was too big a venture and anyway, I've come to appreciate that "why" is not worth mentioning since it's only an excuse for those who need one. Me, I'm tired of excuses.
The game started out easy, with my father, Jed and me playing to pass the time. None of us wanted to get back to the ranch so early on a Saturday afternoon. I guess Jed won enough times off of my father to get to feeling confident so that when three ugly strangers entered the saloon in our small town of El Pueblo, Jedidiah Jones swaggered from the bar back to our table waving to the newcomers to come play.
I gawked at each one, memorizing their vile faces without knowing that's what I was doing at the time. The leader of the bunch had a short stub of a nose with scabs falling off, looking like his snout had only recently been chopped back. As the strangers sat down, the stub-nosed leader elbowed another man equally as ugly with an ear half gone as if someone had cut it but neglected to cut clear through. The third of the trio, with a craggy face and yellow teeth, wasn't as homely and I hardly noticed him since he put down his cards and folded for the first game. Stub-nose and Half-ear winked at each other and for a moment I thought they were cheating.
"I'm out." It was Half-ear.
"Hell, you give up too easy, Runner."
"I ain't lucky like you, Rove."
"I ain't lucky. Just sure of myself." The stub-nosed man named Rove looked at Jedidiah, wheezing hard. "I'm gonna go all the way on this one, son. You sure you wanna stay in?"
Jed squinted his already beady eyes and pushed his hat farther and farther back and chuckled out loud. "Do what you want, old man. I'm ready for you."
"I got a horse outside says you're bluffing."
"How bout that? A horse? You betting me a horse?" Jed grinned. "Fine. A horse for a horse."
"I'm all in myself," I said but I might as well have not spoken.
"I got a horse outside myself." This time I whispered since I was lying. I had no horse and neither did Jed but somehow his lies were more convincing than mine.
"You're bluffing." Jed singled out a piece of straw from his shirt pocket and chewed.
"Well, how bout I show you mine if you show me yours?" Rove winked at Jed.
"How bout you go first, old man."
"Ain't you a gentleman? Somebody sure taught you some good manners, son."
Rove laid his cards down and showed three kings. "How do you like that?"
Jedidah Jones fanned out five cards. He was showing three aces. The stub-nosed man got up at high speed and I cringed until I saw him retrieve a leather pouch from his back pocket and slam it on the table.
"Take it. It's all I got. But dammit, son, don't take my horse. I need my horse. You a patriot, ain't you?"
"On who I'm being a patriot for."
"General Sam Houston, that's who. I cain't go into battle for the General holding nothin but my dick. I need my horse, son."
He sat back down and fingered his six-shooter, pointing the barrel at my cousin. I felt myself go red but my dark skin's color hid my flushed cheeks and my long, crimped hair fell forward, hiding my face. My hands shook and I secured them by laying one on top of the other and fanned my cards wide across the table. The man named Rove poked his pink nose stub with his gun barrel as if to scratch what wasn't there and then he peeled off fat brownish scabs and let the skin fall on the table near my cards. He didn't see my full house. Three queens and two jacks. No one looked at my hand or at me but they sure gawked at each other.
Under the table, I kicked my cousin but he was distracted because a gun had been aimed at his head, forcing him to rush a decision that he clearly preferred to mull over. This man's horse was worth a lot more than a leather pouch of coins, which would be valued at almost nothing this time next month if Sam Houston whupped Santa Anna, and all were keen for that lesson to be consummated. But if Jedidiah accepted the coins, he would dodge the prospect of this stub-nosed man stalking him to steal back his horse. Or worse. Jed snatched the leather pouch, turned it upside down and dumped Spanish hammered dollars on the table. He stood, pocketed a pile and buried the pouch in his back pocket.
"I'll take both," said Jed.
"Why, you little sonovabitch."
"Thank you kindly for the game, boys. I'd like my horse if you don't mind."
"You little sonovabitch. You'll regret this."
"Maybe. Maybe not." Jed grinned wide and self-assured.
"The coins will do just fine," said my papi. "Keep your horse, Rove."
Jed's grin did not diminish and that's when I realized how much the boy loved to bluff, even after the game was over. He headed for the door with my father by his side and the gambling men all followed.
I sat in my place. That no one had bothered to look at my full house was expected and yet still I wanted more from my cousin. But expecting more from Jedidiah Jones was like hoping for the devil to change his wicked ways and I have to admit, at that time when Jed and I were young I thought he had it in him to transcend the evil that was all around us and growing to be sure. More than once I plainly realized there was no wisdom in my weakness for Jed.
"Get on out of here, sweet thing." The bartender didn't bother to look at me when he spoke. "We don't want no trouble. Go on with your pappy. Girls don't belong in here. Now get."
I slipped my winning hand inside my sleeve, got up and skipped through the swinging doors and saw my father with stub-nosed Rove, who poked papi's chest and lectured something I couldn't hear.
Except for those gambling boys, the town was quite nearly emptied of white folks, but even so I was not surprised when Miss Elsie popped her head out from under a wagon as if to check the tension of the wheels. Jed hovered over her and his voice sounded loud and frustrated.
"Mamma, I'm telling you, it ain't safe."
"It ain't up to you to tell me what I can and can't do, Jed." Miss Elsie rose up from her haunches and her skirt fell down around her knees. She saw me and shouted out to me.
"Get on over here, girl, and give me a hug. I ain't seen you for some time. You're looking more and more like a full-growed woman."
Miss Elise pulled me to her bosom and I smelled her rose water perfume, so pungent and sweet I wanted to flee for fear someone might suspect how much I liked being buried at her chest. But it was Melina, one of Miss Elsie's girls, who made my head spin in ways it shouldn't for another girl even when I did my level best to ignore her. Melina was such a sweet thing. Ever since she had arrived at Miss Elsie's saloon at only thirteen years old after being abandoned by her father, the girl stayed close to Miss Elsie's side. And if Melina was like an adopted daughter, Jed was Miss Elsie's adopted son, which made for a peculiar relationship between the two, who did not consider each other family relations.
"You look more like your mammy every day." Miss Elsie slapped my backside and I felt myself grow red. "Got the same wide hips growing back there too." From the corner of my eye, I saw that Jed was enjoying the comedy of my womanhood but his brow was furrowed in his concern for Miss Elsie.
"You don't got to be so stubborn, Mamma. I'm telling you, it ain't safe with Santa Anna in the vicinity."
"And I'm telling you, I got to get back to Bexar. That ole sonovabitch General ain't gonna strike twice in the same place." She winked at me. "Life's too short to run and I ain't about to start now."
"Let me fix your hair for you, Micaela." It was Melina and as she spoke she stroked my curls and untied the grimy twine that fastened my hair.
I pulled back and regretted my panic immediately.
"I won't hurt you. I promise," said Melina. "You just need a trim and maybe some bangs to show off those pretty gold eyes of yours."
Jed laughed out loud and Miss Elsie finally butted in.
"I reckon she likes to hide behind those long curls. Leave her be, Melina."
"Yeah, leave her be, Melina. She belongs in that old ugly pigtail of hers," said Jed.
Melina and Jed strolled off together and whispered in a manner that made my gut hurt. His back faced me and every now and then she would glance toward Miss Elsie and me.
"How's your mammy, Micaela?" said Miss Elsie.
"Don't give her no trouble, you hear me? Times are hard right now and a woman like her has got enough trouble to tend to."
"Tell her to come visit me in Bexar. Things ain't so bad as everbody says. Hell, we'll survive and so will she. You tell her that."
"Melina, leave my boy alone and let's git. We got to git back to town sometime before next year. I hear Santa Anna's on the prowl." She winked at me again, I thought mostly to mock Jed.
"Jed, you stay out of trouble, you hear me?" Miss Elsie wagged her finger at him.
Jedidiah chewed on his straw as he watched Melina's backside.
"Did you hear me, son?" She repeated herself louder.
"I hear you, Mamma, I hear you. Dang, can't a man get some peace and quiet in his life?"
"You ain't a full-growed man yet. Don't go getting big britches."
Miss Elsie waved at me and then climbed up on her wagon with Melina at her side. They rode off, Miss Elsie at the reins.
I lagged behind Jed and we loaded the wagon with a single sack of flour and a few other items for the farm. He sat himself down on the wagon's seat and I hopped up beside him.
"Take a look." I fanned out my cards again.
"A good hand," he said.
"But I won. That's my money in your pocket."
He laughed. "Just try to take it, cousin."
"How about you give it to me?"
My father mounted his horse and leaning forearms on the pommel, signaled with his chin to Jed, who picked up the reins and clicked his tongue but our mule wouldn't budge. He smacked the reins down against the animal and clicked his tongue louder. The mule picked up its front right leg and set it down again. I pulled my hair back and tied it with the same grimy string, then hopped down and heaved on the mule's mane in a tug-of-war until the animal retracted his stubborn ways momentarily and plodded beside the horse.
We rode serene and as we reached the outlying acres of my papi's land, I tried to set my mind to rest that the fate of our home would not be threatened by any imminent war. At dusk the ranch and the land that my father had inherited appeared transparent and vast through the clearing. Eleven sitios. Nearly forty-nine thousand acres. A lot of land for a young boy whose people had inched their way up the valley two centuries prior, moving slowly at first from the central valley, then north each time they shifted, each time farther north to prairies, crossing rivers and streams. Monclova had been home for a while but two hundred years felt like plenty of time, so they picked up and moved north again, crossing el río Bravo, traveled some more and stopped and settled in for what they thought would be another two hundred. They came in groups, my papi said. Tlascaltecas and Otomí with the Spanish and the Spanish Moors with the Mexicans and the Mexicans with Apache and Comanche mixing into a brown race journeying through land expansive with bloodred horizons until they stopped and looked around and settled into what was already in our blood. Movement. Settlement and movement. Back and forth our ancestors trekked rivers and streams blending and interbreeding with tribes and making families and villages in deserts, plains and groves. Tribes of families and villages of mud huts sank into the landscape where buried vessels and bones became soil and clay. I felt proud to be a part of that ancestry, convinced that one day it would all be mine and Jed's provided he stopped gambling.
It was late when we arrived at the ranch and I could already sense Walker Stephens hanging back in a corner of the barn. Darkness shrouded his face but his bare feet stuck out with veins so blue we did not miss seeing him swinging a kerosene lamp back and forth.
"What the heck are you doing, Walker? Come on out and put my horse away." My father addressed him harshly but never meant it that way.
"I ain't your slave. Get that damn boy of yours to help you."
"What the heck is burning you up?"
"How long you been gone?"
"Well now, Walker, I got myself a wife for that kind of nagging."
"You bring my hoes?"
"In the wagon."
Walker gathered three farm hoes, nuzzled them under his arm, then picked up his boots and scuttled in his bare, blue-veined feet out of the barn. Jedidiah and I raised eyebrows at each other thinking the same thing: "There goes one nasty sonovabitch."
"Walker? Where you going? Get on back here." Papi yelled but Walker was far beyond hearing him.
"One of you go and fetch him."
"I ain't going after him," said Jed. "Man hates me."
"Put this horse away for me, Micaela. Jed, let's see what's aching your papi "
"He ain't my papi."
"Fine." My father dusted his pants with his hat. "Feed that mule. And take that sorry sack of flour to your Tía Ursula. Tell her it's the best we could do."
He ran out of the barn after Walker, who was already slogging in his bare feet to his hut about a mile down the road.
"Tío is too dang loyal," said Jed.
"Can't say the same for Walker." I brushed my father's horse and glanced at my cousin sideways. "Or his son."
Jedidiah dropped a bucket of water intended for the mule and the creature bayed.
"Now look here, Micaela. Nobody invited you to play in that game. You got yourself a winning hand that nobody was gonna listen to 'cause you're nothing but a girl. You got that? Now learn your place."
I pitched the brush heavy and direct at his face and it thumped his nose firm. He bent over, face in his hands to catch the blood running from his nostrils and I was glad to see him in some of the anguish I'd already been feeling. Heaving the flimsy sack of flour for my mother on my shoulder, I darted out of the barn and into the house.
Jed and I were the kind of cousins with a history so thick and wide that it was destined to bind us in ways we never wanted and yet there it was. A past coming upon us like birthdays we were eager for when young but once older they became like a burden. The next generation would take on the weight of a past begun not with us as cousins but long before we were born and that weight endured into the next generation who would pick it up, measure it and say to each other, These are lies, all lies. Where's my real legacy? But they too realized there's no running from or evading, there's no stopping it or getting away because the burden of inheritance will follow them as it did us into the next and the next and the next generation. Jedidiah and I had inherited every possible birthmark, every familial trace that stained us as each other's. And days like today, when I looked in his eyes and saw my own hazel-brown color, I hated my cousin and I hated a destiny we were expected to carry out for the sake of a man we both loved, yet who himself was too loyal to see that the man pretending to be his friend was not a friend at all.
"¿Y tu papi?" My mother stood over the stove, stoking its fires with wood piled in the patio.
"Con el Walker." I pitched the flour sack against the wall of the kitchen.
She sighed at the sight of the puny sack and stirred a pot of chile with potatoes and venado.
"Siéntate a comer, Micaela."
I sat at the kitchen's worktable where at one time only the cooks and hired help ate their dinner but those times were long past. Now the family sat in the kitchen for the comfort of warm fires and spices from my mother's cooking. Jed straggled through the door, bloodied rag hiding all but his eyes, and sat across from me. I refused to acknowledge him because he only wanted to gloat the way someone does when they think they have the upper hand because you did something bad to them and they deserve to get you back when you're not looking. If I turned my back, he would get me because he always did.
My mother placed a bowl of chile stew in front of him and it spilled over with chunks of meat. She grabbed his bloody rag and handed him a clean washcloth.
"When are you two going to learn that family is family?" She looked at me accusingly and left him to his self-satisfied innocence.
Behind her back, he beamed at yet another victory and I hissed through my teeth and took a bite of gristle in my bowl.
Jed slurped crude and loud then reached into his back pocket for his leather pouch and spilled coins on the table.
She pocketed the coins and Jed stuffed the empty bag in his back pocket, grinning his usual goofy grin, the one that drove me crazy because days like today I hated the dim-witted idiot for breathing.
"I'm going to bed." I wiped my mouth clean with the back of my hand and marched out of the kitchen.
On the day I was born my father said I puckered my lips into an O and whistled into his face to greet him. He laughed, kissed my mother's cheek and announced, "She's mine all right." Growing up, I had curly hair and a dimpled chin that resembled his and although my disposition was a child's, I adopted his moods, laughing when he laughed, giving orders as he would and never crying since he wouldn't. I became the reason for my parents' battles. No matter how much they argued, what was clear to one was not to the other. My father could not comprehend what my mother had deciphered since I was old enough to convey my preferences saying out loud in as many different ways as she could without saying what she really meant.
"Agustín. Mira a tu hija," and my mother pointed to the patio where I messed about. "Es un machito."
"She'll grow out of it."
He looked out the window and saw what my mother saw but he did not recognize its meaning. I was a girl with no interest or inclination for propriety or clean habits. In overalls I squatted in mud and teased both cat and mouse, dangling the one by its tail in front of the other while the larger one batted at the one boxing for its freedom. The sight made him smile but my mother glimpsed my future long before I ever could and divined that I would never marry.
It was spring and I was long past fifteen, having turned eighteen the previous fall making me an old maid by most opinions, but it was the way my father treated me that may have confused us both. I was more like a son and less of a daughter but his propensity for proper rituals and tradition often plagued his common sense. I think there was a moment when he would have taken me with him into battle but humiliation at the Alamo coerced him to decide otherwise.
He had avoided going to Bexar, having heard of the carnage at the Alamo mission and undecided as to what he would do upon encountering destruction. But on Sunday morning, the day after the poker game, he woke me before dawn and handed me one of his prized firearms. It was a rifle decorated with silver filigree twisted into his initials, AC. He knew it was my favorite of his collection and I wondered why he was spoiling me so early in the morning. He wouldn't say even if I asked.
I didn't know if he had told my mother I was to go on the road with him and I suspected he had not, given our speedy departure. In darkness, we set out on horses that he packed for a brief journey. Bexar was a long day's ride if you tendered the horses with a chance to rest but if you raced them, you arrived long before Miss Elsie's saloon got rowdy and that was before suppertime.
My father was not one to talk much but when he did, he cussed you out, bossed you or spoiled you. I never knew which of those temperaments would emerge so I usually waited until he gave me a clue of some sort. The sun barely peeked through brightening clouds when he finally addressed the day.
"You're riding better than you used to."
"I am?" I was pleased he was in a spoiling mood.
"Is that good?" I guess I wanted to hear more compliments and thought it was a good time to pursue them.
"I didn't say good, I said better. You're riding better. Didn't you hear me or do I got to repeat myself?"
"I heard." I would have preferred silence to his irritation and I got my wish because we rode hushed for another three hours if not more. The sun's heat inflicted a humidity that made me drip so much sweat I thought I might as well be bathing in hot springs. I took off my hat to cool off.
"You'll be wanting to put that back on," he ordered.
I felt his gaze on me and it made me nervous. I stayed quiet then heard him laugh out loud.
"You look more and more like your mamá," he said.
I wanted to ask if that was a good thing but refrained.
"Micaela, ain't you asking me what's in Bexar?"
I wondered if this was a trick.
"Go on. Ask me."
"Why are we going to Bexar, papi?"
"Now then, I didn't say to ask why, did I?"
I could see that he had no intention of sharing his true purpose in San Antonio de Béxar so I entertained myself by exploring from my saddle the new path we trekked. We rode far north of Victoria along the Guadalupe River and just south of Gonzales we crossed unfamiliar oak orchards until I caught sight of the part of the San Antonio River that I usually rode when mamá and I traveled by wagon to Bexar. The route seemed longer than the one I was accustomed to but I decided not to question my father on his choice to take us farther north than I thought necessary.
We did not race our horses, putting our arrival time long past midnight. The streets were shadowy with the half-moon shining bright through trees and the stench of death was surely in the air. Less than a week had passed since the battle at the mission and with the siege in Bexar concluded, we dismounted our horses without hesitation or fear.
He led our horses to the town stable and after setting them right with a young boy who fed and brushed the tired creatures, my papi and I staggered bone tired into Miss Elsie's saloon. One dim candle shone from the table where Miss Elsie busied herself counting coins. My father grabbed a bottle of whiskey from the bar and sat himself down next to Miss Elsie and then ordered me to get myself a glass of milk and a piece of pie from the back room where Miss Elsie stocked provisions.
"I only got goat's milk, darlin, but there's peach pie and cheese in there. Bring some for your pappy too," she said. All the while she did not glance up from her tally.
It was pitch-dark in the back so I picked up the candle to light my way and left the two with only a slice of moon shining through the doors of the saloon. From the back room, I heard their whispers and it wasn't until I was almost completely in front of them that I heard my father teasing Miss Elsie.
"You're still a good-looking woman, Elsie."
"Shut on up, Agustín. Your daughter is here."
"She probably agrees with me." He continued to stare at Miss Elsie through the moonlight and I had to agree but only to myself that the light softened the weariness on her face and she resembled herself in younger years.
"How come you and me never got together?"
"Now you're talking nonsense, Agustín. I don't like that kind of talk and you know it."
"I'm paying you a compliment, woman."
"That ain't no compliment, that's a nuisance. I gotta put up with enough of that in this place. Got plenty of girls upstairs if that's what you want but I can tell you right now, Ursula ain't gonna like it none."
"Ursula stopped caring long time ago."
"You wanna tell me why that is, Agustín? One too many visits to places like this is one reason, I can tell you that." She took the pie from my hands and placed a heaping portion in front of my father. "Here's something you can handle. And don't be talking like that in front of your daughter. She don't need no ideas."
"Hell, you're the one confessing my life to her." He picked up the pie and bit off a mouthful. "I ain't that kind of man anyway. I been good to Ursula."
"Yeah, yeah, you been good. All you men who come into my place, you been good to your wives."
"Okay, okay, woman. Leave me be. I been riding all day and all night and this is the kind of reception I get." He finished his pie.
"I fed you and there's your drink. What else will you be wanting?"
"How do you know I'd be wanting something else?"
"You're here, ain't ya? Fess up. I ain't got all night."
"I got business with a boy named Rove. Said he'd meet me here. You seen him? Ole ugly fellow. Long, lanky. Got a stub for a nose."
"Ain't seen him and I don't care to see him. He's trouble."
"Elsie, who ain't trouble or in trouble these days?"
"Well now, Agustín, you need me to point out the difference in your reckoning?"
"I do not."
"A man like Rove may get himself into trouble but it don't likely matter since he brings bigger trouble with him, wherever he goes. And you know what that means?"
"I guess you're going to tell me."
"Means folks run from him."
"You sure think you know a lot, Elsie."
"I know what I know, Agustín. You best watch yourself. It's all I'm saying."
"Fine by me." He saluted her and headed up the stairs to one of the spare rooms Miss Elsie saved for family and other acquaintances.
I was permitted to sleep in her room on her bed, having done so since I was a little girl but now that I was older, the prospect made me uneasy. She was immune to my agitation and wrapped her arm around me and blew out the candle.
"My sweet baby girl, Micaela. Sleep tight," she said. And before I knew it her snores were so deafening I had to place my hands over my ears hoping to fall asleep before morning.
I must have slept more than I had thought possible since I awoke to an empty bed. I washed, dressed and ran downstairs assuming my father would be eating breakfast but he was not. Neither he nor Miss Elsie was in the saloon. I stepped outside and saw in daylight raw and clear what had been hidden in the night. Bodies heaped in muddy ditches and so much vile destruction I bent over and upchucked without fully capturing what I was enduring.
My father was not a holy man but in the distance he was on his knees as if to be praying. I approached slowly and saw he caressed a head, just a head with no body. I was further repulsed but more than anything troubled by my papi's reaction to the decaying skull in his arms and even more worrisome to me was my papi crying. He looked up at me and held out the skull as if a prized souvenir and I refused but fell to my knees in front of him and finally witnessed the spectacle that was before us. It was his brother. My Tío Lorenzo. The eyes had been gouged but the scar on his face was plain. I had known him all my life by his crescent scar. As a boy he himself had cut his cheek to show a big brother that he was as tough and mean as anybody. At least that was the story my Tío Lorenzo told me. Tears flowed down my face and I touched his branded cheek as if to solidify the memory of my uncle. Why he had been here at all was not such a mystery.
"I told him, mija. I warned him. Always the big shot, your tío."
We sat in mud with flies and other putrid pests in our midst and as much as I attempted to free my father from remnants of chaos that surrounded the Alamo mission, I could not. It was Miss Elsie who spotted us and lifted him from his knees and dragged him back to the saloon where she put him to bed and gave him whiskey to calm his choking tears.
I never found out the real reason we had gone to Bexar. My father never told me. I guess he stumbled upon his little brother when he stopped to survey trash and rubble at the Alamo and like so many who witness the wreckage of pointless wars, he too became immobilized by cadavers and bloodshed. Among that rubble, he hit upon his baby brother and never got to the business he came for. I'll never know for sure if that's how it happened and anyway, it didn't matter. What mattered was that another bad event was tied to an occurrence that entered our lives, evil and foreboding, and what I came to realize is that all the evil that ever happened to us was fixed to one man. Rove. If that stub-nosed sonovabitch had never walked into the saloon in El Pueblo, we would not have come to Bexar so soon after the battle of the Alamo and we would not have seen my uncle because he would have already perished into soil. We stayed a few more days to bury Tío Lorenzo, or the only part of him that remained to be buried, and I was grateful to Miss Elsie, who prevented me from losing my remaining sense of sanity since my papi disappeared from me in the way I had known him.
On our return to El Pueblo, my mother acted peculiar and although I suspected the reason, my father did what he always did and ignored her. She went about the house cooking and cleaning to keep her hands from strangling him, especially after I revealed the news of Tío Lorenzo. My father did not say a word about our journey and instead pursued another unsettling matter, one I hoped would never be revealed.
"El Viejo Barrera," my father said, "has he married again?"
"¿Por qué?" said my mother.
He left the kitchen without answering.
Every fall and spring, my papi traveled to the interior of Mexico to buy and trade what was unavailable in our far northern province of Coahuila y Tejas and it was then that I saw my mother become so lonely she began to invite El Viejo Barrera to visit more often than I would have liked. Dressed in clean, crisp, lacy shirts and polished black boots, he wooed my mother as he had when they were young before my father disrupted her needs making promises he could not render. With a shiny disposition El Viejo sweet-talked his way back into my mother's life bringing with him cabrito from his hacienda for nightly dinners and as they drank Mexican brandy my mother giggled and was made over into a young woman without worries of meager crops and a husband's put-on promises.
"I'm going to visit Barrera," said my father.
"Lorenzo is dead and you're visiting a man who isn't your friend?"
He squinted at my mother in a manner so disturbing I walked outside to avoid a confrontation but before I reached the edge of the patio, papi marched past me and joined Jed beneath a cottonwood tree. The two whispered and I heard every word but pretended I didn't. Lugging on my shoulder the rifle papi had given me, I peeked through the eyehole at my cousin who rolled un cigarrillo on top of his kneecap, brushed off lingering leaves and smoked, gazing up at the sky's slow-moving clouds.
I was envious that my father and cousin whispered secret pacts and as I watched Jed rise up and stand beside my father, I practiced my aim before setting my rifle down. I lingered lonely at the edge of the patio and thought, Fool—my cousin's a grinning fool, and I felt unease and turmoil in my gut over what was yet to come.