“Let me warm that,” Doña Clotilde said, just at the same moment he thought about it being cold, as if she knew just what he
was thinking. Florencio Maldonado could tell that Doña Clotilde
knew how a kitchen worked, and how all the things in it should
behave. She was like his own mother that way.
He protested her o=er to bring some more co=ee, but not
much. Before he could say anything further, she got up and
brought the pot of co=ee to the table, poured him some, and
waited for the steam to rise.
“I think it’s still hot,” she said, but waited for the steam to be
sure. In this still-cold morning kitchen, the steam showed itself
quickly. “Little swords in the co=ee, too,” she said, as they both
looked at the rising vapor, which had a swirl and a jerk of its own
as it lifted itself from the cup but in its movement remembered
the jarring addition of more co=ee. “Little swords, or me getting
up out of bed, fighting with the covers,” she said. “A little bit of
fight, anyway. It looks like courage, don’t you think? That’s why
I like to drink co=ee in the morning. It gives me something.”
He laughed a little, seeing clearly what she meant in the un-
settled rising of the steam, the co=ee itself still moving a little
in his cup. Co=ee had always been simply co=ee for him. The
stronger the better.
“I SMELL MY VILLAGE in that cup. It’s something from a long
time ago.” Doña Clotilde said these words aloud, and they startled her. She didn’t intend to say this to the o;cer, this little boy,
Florencio, trying to look so grown up. Her village was far away
from her now. He wouldn’t understand.
But Florencio Maldonado did understand. He had come from
a small place, too, though he was very young when his family left
to come here, to come north. It was really his parents who had
come from that place, but he had heard about it often enough.
Our village, they used to say. And he remembered.
“I know what you mean, Señora Torres,” said Florencio.
“Please, call me Clotilde,” she said to him right away. “You’ve
known me since you first came here.”
“Doña Clotilde, then.” Florencio Maldonado nodded his head.
That was certainly true — their families had known each other for
many years. They had lived on opposite sides of town, but that
didn’t mean much in a place this size, even if it thought of itself
as big, certainly bigger than a village. People just knew people.
And if they didn’t know somebody, chances were excellent that
they knew about them. One could know all sorts of things about
a person without ever having actually met face to face. So much
police work operated that way.
The co=ee was good. But now Florencio had to take a breath
and get on with things. It was taking that breath that always
turned him back into Sergeant Maldonado.
art l Laura Megroz
“Well, we should get down to business, shouldn’t we?” said
Doña Clotilde, faster than Florencio could say it. She could see
the fullness of the breath he took, and understood perhaps even
better than he what taking a breath like that meant. It was just
as well. She had been about to do the same thing, to take a deep
breath herself. She was in no mood to dawdle, either. This was
not about co=ee and small villages, after all.
On the other hand, Clotilde was not anxious to explain her
situation to Sergeant Maldonado, this child. He looked like a
man, but she had known him for too long. Where would she
start? How much would she tell him?
Sergeant Maldonado took out his notebook and a pencil,
about to ask her what had happened.
That’s how it is, isn’t it, thought Clotilde. A notebook and a
pencil. If he had been her, she would have taken out a frying pan
and some butter and asked, where’s the chicken They simply had
di=erent ways of looking at the world.
SHE HAD ALREADY told him about the regular part of the morning, how everything was like it always was, and how she did everything she always did. Clotilde was thankful he had not rushed
her, and the co=ee was a nice distraction. But now, it was time.
“I’ll tell you about the second thing first, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course, whatever you’d like,” said Sergeant Maldonado.
“Any order, as long as it’s an order of some sort, will be fine,”
he added, pleased with himself to sound so wise, and to have
thought of it just like that. He would try to remember this re-
mark. It would be helpful to him in other cases as well. A simple
statement, but useful — he liked those things best of all.
Clotilde could see the flicker of satisfaction that he felt, and
could appreciate it. He sounded like such a fine policeman. He
was a good boy.
“I’ve lost my husband,” began Clotilde. This time it was her
turn to take a deep breath and be serious. “The dogs are gone,
too. The house needs repairs, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’ve lost
so much, and it doesn’t stop.”
Sergeant Maldonado looked down, not straight at her. He wa-
vered in his policeman sensibility, and for a moment went back
to being Florencio.
“But that’s not a crime, not exactly, is it? I mean, you know
what I mean,” said Florencio.
“No, no, I was just saying, losing so much. It makes losing
something small seem so meaningless.”
“Not at all, Doña Clotilde. Did someone take something from
you?” So that was it, thought Sergeant Maldonado. Someone
stole something from her. Well, they would hear from him, she
could count on that. “What was it? Tell me what happened.”
To ask an old lady what happened, that’s a big mistake, unless