eyebrow. While everybody liked to listen to Father Gagnon speak
because of his strong accent, which came from somewhere nobody could quite remember, they did not equally like to hear him
speaking directly to them.
So, depending on what a person needed to say, some Saturdays had a line of people outside the confessional, and some
days—it needed not be a Saturday, as Paquita did not keep a
schedule in the same way that Father Gagnon did—a line of
sorts formed behind Clotilde Torres’s house. For the first few
years, Doña Clotilde and the visitors ignored each other. But as
time wore on, she started to invite people in, and made co=ee
and tea and had some small cookies always at the ready.
For this kindness, she would find mysterious packages at her
doorstep, cookies and replenished co=ee and sometimes food,
whole dinners even, with notes on how to heat this or that, or
how to refrigerate it properly. Sometimes she found money. Any
given item wasn’t much, but at the end of a month, things added
up. In recent years, in fact, “added up” was an understatement. It
was how Clotilde Torres made her way in the world.
But there was more to this story, and that was what was going
to be di;cult.
She looked at Sergeant Maldonado.
“SOMEONE STOLE PAQUITA?” asked Sergeant Maldonado,
again, and it was clear that he was surprised. Any other cow, that
would be one thing. But Paquita?
“You know about Paquita, then?” asked Doña Clotilde.
“Oh, well, you know, I’ve heard things.” Sergeant Maldonado
moved around uncomfortably in his chair, looking stern but not
directly at her, keeping his eyes on his notebook.
“She’s just a cow, a cow that I’ve had for many years, though
that may surprise people. But who doesn’t have a cow, really?”
she asked. It was common enough. Not everybody went to the
mercado to buy everything. Some people still lived in the old way,
trying to make everything they needed.
Sergeant Maldonado was still sure that she was going to tell
him about some other cow, even though he had never seen another one in the field behind her house. Paquita—that was ridiculous. Nobody would steal Paquita. Nobody. And for what?
“Well, that’s the one thing, of course. Somebody seems to
have stolen her. But the other thing I need to tell you, well. Flor-
encio, you’re a big boy now.”
He looked up.
“Well, you’re going to ask me about Paquita, I know. But you
have to help me with this, I think. The thing is, Paquita was not,
may not, was not exactly mine to begin with.”
Sergeant Maldonado looked up, again.
“You may still have another search for a cow somewhere in
your records, I don’t know,” said Doña Clotilde. She tried to be
matter-of-fact, even as she revealed something of her darkest se-
cret. But she knew enough about cattle to understand that there
were papers involved, and brands, and that sort of thing. She was
not an expert, but she knew that much. Everybody knew where
cattle came from, which cows and bulls were related to what par-
ticular cow and bull parents— that sort of thing. Clotilde Torres
had always lived in fear that somebody, somewhere, kept meticu-
lous notes on these kinds of things. A missing cow, especially a
milk cow, would be big news in a small town. And perhaps in a
neighboring small town, as well. Or on someone’s rancho. She
knew that. Very big news.
PAQUITA CARRIED EVERYBODY’S SECRETS with her, so the
necessity of finding her right away was clear enough to Sergeant
Maldonado. It was not as if the cow could speak, of course, but
the weight of all those stories, that meant something. People
could point at Paquita and say, there they are.
For some, she was a sorrow-eater, taking the hardest stories
in and keeping them safe. That sadness would have eaten up
other people—and it needed tending, which Paquita did very
well. Those eyes said that she understood, and that they could
leave this or that baby with her, which is to say, this or that baby’s
death. It was not fair to Paquita, but those who left her with these
stories could not have gone forward otherwise. They needed to
be understood. The sound Paquita sometimes made, that lowing
that filled the air with its surprising volume and low tone, that
sound was her record-keeping.
And for others it was love, so much about love. Who else
would have the patience to listen? It was so often unrequited love,
but no less painful or thrilling or hopeful. It was this love mixed
into her among the other stories that gave Paquita the strength
to stand. The love stories — and there were so many kinds, and
even the stories of the babies were love stories — these gave her
the belly that she carried, and about which she did not complain.
She simply opened her eyes all the wider and took in whatever
And there was more, though nobody dared think about it.
There were other kinds of stories in the world, stories that were
perhaps not so much about love. She carried these, too, with no
more complaint, though she would shift her weight from time
to time in response to the heaviness of standing in one place to