Francisca Verdugo needs to go to Food City. I’m a few minutes early, so I sit in my cab and wait for her to come out. The sun shines down on the big square old folks’ building like a penitentiary, the windows sparkling like antique diamonds.

Suddenly from out of one of those first-floor windows jumps a little Chihuahua dog that sprints away like a jail-breaker. An old Mexican lady leans out the window screeches, “Pedro! Pedro!” Then she falls out onto the ground like a sack of beans. She’s completely naked, like some wrinkled Latina Eve. She stands up and shuffles after Pedro, but in a couple seconds, she slumps to the ground again.

I get out of the cab and run over to her. She’s broken her arm, but is taking it well, smiling. She’s drunk, her old naked body hunched there in the hot gravel.

I take off my shirt, but it barely covers her.

“Pedro!” she yells.

“Pedro!” I yell.

Pedro doesn’t give a shit.

I dial 911 for an ambulance, lift my nose to the air. Black smoke spirals out her window.

She left a cigarette burning and it caught something. I imagine her dancing around in her lonely room, dreaming about her younger days, pirouetting on her brown, dusty, calloused feet, drinking tequila and smoking cigarettes at age 83, singing forgotten Mexican songs.

I call 911 again and tell them to send a fire truck too.

The old lady looks at me, all of her youth gone except for her long black hair and insatiable Indian spirit.

“Que guapo!” she says, flirting with me with her shriveled broken arm. Then she looks around again and calls: “Pedro!”

Pedro squats to take a crap next to the only tree around.

The smoke pours out heavy now. Everything must be dried out and ready to burn in there.

I see Francisca Verdugo come out the front doors with her aluminum walker. She looks at me and frowns. I hear the sirens as the old lady clings to me.

“Ayudame, good-looking,” she says.

When the ambulance gets there, all the men jump out, macho in their uniforms. One of them hustles over and covers her with a blanket. She forgets all about me.

Then the firefighters arrive like storm troopers.

“Que guapos bomberos!” she says from her stretcher.

I walk over to Francisca, putting my shirt back on.

“Lista, Francisca?” I say. “Ready to go?”

“Who’s that?” she says. “Is that Marisol? She’s drunk again! Que borracha, she’s gonna kill us all!”

Smoke barrels up out of the window. Firefighters unroll hoses. Old folks begin to file out with canes and walkers and in wheelchairs.

Francisca and I get in the cab. What are we gonna do: stand around gawking, try to take some lesson from this or draw some meaning? Francisca needs lettuce, chiles, tomatoes, carne, tortillas, I need money, and time’s burning up.

As I’m pulling away, I see Pedro zig-zagging through it all, like a streaker on the seventh day of the World Series.

***

For all installments from 6 to 6, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Traveling Mercies
  2. Next Time, Take Skyline
  3. Suicide Lane
  4. Morenci in My Rear-View Mirror
  5. A Spiritual Adventure
  6. Sonja’s Ring
  7. A Pair to Draw To