Before the Mike
What most of us need is more horse power and less exhaust.
"'Open Mike' time," Óscar intones. Chairs scrape and the clientele turn to face the far side of the room, where a flat raised area she had not noticed before boasts a mike in an adjustable stand.
The front door opens, revealing long saguaro shadows stretching across disparate vehicles. A huge man with the popular sort of worldly-wise good looks enters, dressed in a cowboy shirt, faded jeans, and alligator skin boots, holding what had to be at least a 12-gallon Stetson in his hand.
"'Bout time you showed yer ugly puss in here."
"Well, if it ain't our Lord and Master, Tex!"
"Look what the cat dragged in, 'n all dandified, too!"
"'Lo, everyone. Did I miss anything?" Tex doffs his ten-gallon hat.
"I had to shy that snaky drunk, Tomás, back onto the res. Uppity Injun. Loiterin' around town like he owned it." laces the fingers of one hand through the other and cracks his knuckles suggestively, preening as he basks in the approval of his groupies.
As his eyes adjust to the dark interior, he scans the seated patrons, lighting on the sheriff and the only female in the whole place.
"'Lo, Mickey," he says, giving the sheriff a passing glance, then spearing Despina with his piercing eyes.
"Wahll, now, what's the local law drug in here? If it ain't a fee-male. Relative of your'en, Mickey?" he juts out one hip in a provocative manner that accentuates his physique, expanding his chest. A leering smile directed her way causes her to drop her eyes modestly.
A lady-killer for sure! she thinks, contemplating the dirty sawdust-covered planks before her.
An electronic click announces that the mike is live, precluding any possible answer the sheriff might have made. Looking up, she sees a slender, swarthy skinned, slight bodied man who is quite good-looking has approached the mike.
Tall, dark, and handsome... well, two out of three's not bad.
"Let's hear a song, Frank."
Positioning his guitar, Frank sings, "Out in the west Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl;
Nighttime would find me in Rosa's Cantina
I was in love, but in vain, I could tell...." in a very professional-sounding voice.
She keeps track of the progress of the lurid sunset as the front door opens repeatedly, admitting couples. Whites, Indians, mestizos, miscellaneous Hispanic-looking folk, mostly with dark hair, eyes, and skin, fill the smaller circular tables that surround the raised area. Several brave souls venture out onto the cleared area behind the mike, dancing inexpertly, but enthusiastically, to the music.
"...I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle;
I feel the bullet go deep in my chest;
From out of nowhere, Felita has found me...;
Cradled by two loving arms that I'll die for;
One little kiss, and Felita, 'Good-bye.'"
A furious guitar riff, and he bows, leaving the "stage" by stepping straight off the raised edge, which is only one step high, arms upraised as if to gather in the sounds of wildly enthusiastic clapping, catcalls and rowdy whistles, interspersed with gritas, the regional yells that have infiltrated the USA's borders from the south with the advent of the immigrants.
Immediately, a Mariachi band forms up behind him, dashing into a rollicking ranchero that gets every couple on its feet. The fiddle player is especially expert, but the fellow on the large guitar, the guitarón, is also quite good. He is the lead singer, harmonizing with a fellow on the charango, the miniature guitar, the fiddler, and a trumpet player between his bursts of high pitched, triple-tongued, staccato notes.
The teacher is startled to feel someone tapping her on the shoulder. Turning, her eyes align themselves with Tex's ostentatiously large belt buckle. She slowly raises her head until she is looking him in his florid face.
"Howdy, ma'am. I'm Tex Johnson, the owner of the Bar J. You probably passed my place if you came through Flagstaff," he drawls, fishing for information.
Umm. My fame seems to have preceded me. The bad grammar he used to talk to his friends when he first entered has fled as he addresses me. He now obviously knows I am the new Reservation teacher.
"Mr. Johnson. How do you do?" She unwillingly offers her hand for him to shake. He grasps her hand firmly, using it to pull her abruptly from her seat and into his arms.
"May I have this dance?" he whispers in her ear as he tries to pull her tightly against his barrel-like chest.
Desperately trying to extricate herself, she flounders, "I don't dance with strange men."
"I've introduced myself."
"Cat got your tongue?"
Inanely, she points to the hat on the table. "Muuumm. Tex? Texas? Hummm... Ten-gallon hats were probably invented in Texas. They're highly overrated. I've heard that Stetson is being sued for false advertising."
"Those purportedly only hold three quarts." As she talks, she struggles to withdraw.
He does not release her. Instead, he propels her toward the dance floor, lifting her lightly onto the platform, and guiding her expertly around there, easily the smoothest dancer on the floor.
Rigidly, she holds herself at arm's length, elbows braced open.
As her body is manipulated to the right and then the left, she fumes. She glowers angrily straight ahead at his chest. The instant the music stops, she tears herself away from him and stomps back to the table, pouring herself another glassful.
"The nerve! He didn't even wait for my answer!"
Another huge guffaw gushes forth from the sheriff. "I doubt any woman has EVER turned him down," his eyes alight with a mischievous twinkle.
She has no sooner sat down than Frank presents himself.
Politely, he proffers his hand to shake. "Howdy, Miss. Did I hear the sheriff say you're going to be teaching at the Stone Circles Reservation this summer?" His black eyes and dark hair contrast becomingly with the extreme white of his shirt.
Rising, she gracefully smiles as she takes his hand. "Yes. I apologize for being a bit late. I didn't expect Baby Blue Ram to overheat in the desert as he did. I'm so sorry to keep you waiting."
"Baby Blue Ram?"
Another chortle escapes from the sheriff, who is wiping his eyes, which seem to have mysteriously acquired tears.
How disconcerting. Whatever could be wrong?
"My aging and dilapidated powder blue pickup truck. Your letters failed to mention what an accomplisher singer you are."
The sheriff muffles yet another guffaw.
A puzzled look appears on Frank's handsome face. "Beg pardon? Letters?"
"Aren't you the Native American, err, Indian here to meet me and guide me to the house I'll be staying in on the reservation?"
First consternation, then a tinge of pure anger, crosses his face as she reaches the end of her sentence and lets her voice trail off in confusion.
Something is terribly wrong!
"I am Francisco Pedro Onida de Castilla la Vieja, NOT an Injun!" Frank says loudly and deliberately. "My family have been here since 1698, and hold an acreage second only to Tex's, which, I believe, one of his wife's great, great grandfathers won in a poker game from one of my less illustrative ancestors. Originally, most of northwestern New Mexico and part of northeastern Arizona were controlled by my family."
Instinctively, she pulls her hand away at his outbreak. "Oh, pardon me! I didn't mean to offend you. Castilla la Vieja, as in the Old Castle region of central Spain?"
"Yes," he states proudly, as he draws himself up to his full height.
He really is quite a magnificent specimen of the Spanish dandy. "I guess I'm not real astute at telling Native Americans from Mexicans from Spaniards. If they aren't blue or hazel eyed blonds, red heads, or at least light brunettes, I tend to get confused." She feels the heat of her embarrassment flushing her face.
What a horrid situation . And that PIG sitting there as if I were a stand-up comedienne doing a routine deliberately designed to dissipate the boredom of his shift. I value a good sense of humor as much as the next person, but ... then there're always the limits of good taste to consider.
She moves resignedly toward the dance floor in response to the pressure of his hand against the small of her back, again dancing badly, and very stiffly, at arm's length from him. When the dance is over, she again flees to the sanctuary of her table, gulping another glass of water.
You could've warned me," she hisses accusingly at the sheriff.
"Well, I might've, if I'd known you came in here to be picked up by a NATIVE AMERICAN, not just picked up in general.
Ouch! He thinks I rejected him, the most eligible of the bunch! No wonder he's laughing at my expense...
"I warned you not to call people that!"
Her planned fiery retort is cut short by the appearance of one of the Mariachi band members. She rises to greet him, not willing to be at a disadvantage height-wise while meeting yet another of the locals.
"Señorita, soy Eugenio Enrique Aguila de las Sierras."
"Encantada. Soy Despina MacKenzie." She unconsciously shifts into school-learned Spanish in response to his accented introduction. "May I call you Genio?"
Is this the man? she mouths to the sheriff over Genio's shoulder as she offers her hand to shake, then boldly meets his eyes, seeing in them that he did not understand her last remark.
Receiving no signal from the sheriff, she begins to explain why she is here, just in case HE is the man she is supposed to meet. "Soy la maestra nueva para los niños de la resevación."
"Con permiso, permíteme bailar con Ud."
Dance again? Maybe I can get him to sit and chat a bit before I plunge in and make even more of a fool of myself. I'm ashamed to admit that I even CARE what this lawman thinks!
"Ahorita estoy un poquito cansada. Necesito descansar para unos pocos minutos. Siéntese aquí y hable con nosotros." She indicates a chair across from the sheriff.
Without being asked, Óscar brings another glass and a new pitcher of water.
"Tengo un ranchito cerca del río, la hacienda originalmente de John William Quantico."
"The river? John Quantico? The man who hired me?"
Seeing that the name strikes a bell with her, the sheriff fills in, "No. Another man with that same name. He was a local philanthropist who worked his entire life as an Indian agent, one of the best we've ever been blessed with."
"Then is THIS the man I'm supposed to meet?" She smiles reassuringly to Genio, whose head has been turning back and forth as if he were on the sidelines of a tennis match.
"No. Not even close."
"John was a much-loved champion of the underdog. Several Native American children bear his name out of respect. The bottom ground he owned along the edge of the reservation has irrigation rights to the river."
She and Genio head to the dance floor at the conclusion of the sheriff's oration. By the time an hour has passed, she has danced with every unattached male in the now-full tavern with the exception of the bartender, her safely passed out dead drunk ex boyfriend, and the sheriff. She and the sheriff are on their fourth pitcher.
Suddenly, when she returns from her third or fourth trip to the rest room, Eugenio is again at her side.
"Oh, no, Genio, no puedo bailar más. Estoy rendida de cansancio."
Pleading tiredness is not an act, this time.
Executing a polite half bow, Eugenio smiles at her, eyes twinkling. "Está bien. Puede cantar una canción en español con nosotros?"
Despina’s eyes widen. "¿Qué, qué?" One hand flies to her mouth, covering it. "Me? Sing? In front of the mike?" She leans slightly forward.
She darts her eyes toward the sheriff, seeking guidance. "He wants me to sing a song with them."
"Nobody'll care if you can carry a tune, or not. It's just a neighborly gesture. If you can stand to do it, I'd highly recommend it."
Twirling a curl around her finger, she looks down briefly. "I accede to your superior knowledge of the locals and their expectations."
Approaching the mike with trepidation, she announces, "La Paloma Blanca". She gets too close, and draws a horrid screech from it, backs off and finds a good range.
"Yo soy tu paloma blanca,
Tú eres mi pichon azul.
Aremame un barquito....
Wildly enthusiastic clappings greet the termination of her rendition of the Spanish love song The White Dove. As she weaves her way through the throng to her table, she feels a flush of pleasure climb up her face.
"Hidden talents, I see," quips the sheriff, eying her even more appreciatively than previously.
"Not really. I've never sung in any place more challenging than a church choir or the shower." She slowly raises her hazel eyes to meet the sheriff's azure ones.
Last updated 1/3/16 Standardized top links; 12/29/15 Switched links; 12/11/15 added second space after end punctuation; 1/25/15 corrected good-looking; 3/8/10 Corrected ten-gallon twice. Changed Despina's eye color to hazel to match the journal description. 2/5/10 Changed the passed out drunk to her safely passed out dead drunk ex (sydneydaile) 12/18/09 Added tells. 12/25/08 ‘Open Mike’ added punctuation - 11/5/08 changed snaky, drunk Tomás back to drunk, Tomás,; changed fingers of one had to fingers of one hand; italicized a rollicking ranchero; changed must have been invented to were probably invented; changed she is fuming to she fumes; 8/3/08 - changed hazel to azure; (7/7/08 - disparate vehicles; Mariachi band members. 8/1/04.)
Word Count: 2215
Sunday, August 26th, 2001 11:45 pm (pandemo)