hear what needed to be heard. In those moments, one supposed,
nobody would be surprised if she were dreaming of being a horse.
But she said no such thing, and stayed where she was, every time.
How this all started, even Doña Clotilde could not say. It may,
in fact, have started with her, shushing Paquita when she first
arrived, calming her, pleading with her not to make any noise.
And she had listened. That was perhaps the beginning of everything, the story Clotilde herself told Paquita that first night, all
those years ago.
“Yes, yes, I know about Paquita. Well, the Paquita I know,
that’s what I know. I don’t understand about another cow. I’m
not sure what you mean, Doña Clotilde.”
“Would you like some more co=ee?” she o=ered, to make the
story as plain as anything, regular, as easy as saying yes to a next
cup of café con leche, which everyone loves. It was the best plan
she could come up with.
“I WAS A YOUNG WIDOW —I don’t know if you knew that. I
was young, and my life was happy, and then, you didn’t know
him, but my husband died. Don Miguel. It was simple, nothing
complicated. Miguel was older than I was, and he just died, a
heart attack in his sleep, and that was the end of it, his life and
mine, over in the failing of a single heartbeat. I took it very hard,
but in time things got slowly better. It’s an old story. I loved him
very much, which always makes things harder. Love should make
things easier, but it doesn’t work that way.” Doña Clotilde got this
all out quickly, and Sergeant Maldonado started by taking notes,
but then just listened.
“After some time went by, a year maybe, after all the pésames,
the I’m sorries, after all the food baskets and invitations to dinner,
after the flowers and all the o=ers of help around the house with
this and that, after all that, things began to run out.”
“You mean the money?” asked Sergeant Maldonado.
“The money, things in good repair, the future. It all began to
simply run out.”
“Ah,” said the sergeant, and nodded his head.
“Cayetano and Miguel and I were all friends since childhood,”
said Clotilde, and Cayetano used to spend time over here when
he was on this side of his rancho. Their place is so big, now, that
it took a lot of time for Cayetano to look over all his land and do
the work that each part of it required.”
“It is a big place. I have gotten lost there myself, in the or-
chards picking fruit. Keeping things in order all over that place
must be a big job.”
Doña Clotilde nodded her agreement. “I look around my own
kitchen and understand that—each corner here needs some-
thing in just the same way, a spoon needing to be put away, a
spot of something spilled on the floor needing to be wiped up,
the broom needing to be returned to its place behind the door.
It never stops.”
“Never,” added Sergeant Maldonado.
“There is a hill in between his land and ours, and Cayetano
would always take the time and trouble to make that ride over
here to visit. It was very nice of him. Sometimes, Miguel was
in town, at work, and it was just the two of us. We would have
co=ee and talk about things, and I would tease him about how
he was don Cayetano now. And we would talk about his family,
and his love for the world. That was always the curious thing
to me—Cayetano, you’ll find this out when you speak to him,
Cayetano was made for this place. All these small hills, all this
heat, all this work, it’s all him. They are not separate things. They
are all him.”
Sergeant Maldonado nodded. Everyone knew that about Cay-
etano Belmares. He was always at work.
“Well, after Miguel passed away, Cayetano kept visiting, and
he could see that I was nearing the end of what I could do for
myself. Miguel had left me a little bit of money, or rather, he had
left it in our jar in the kitchen, our emergency money, but that
was all. His work gave us enough money to live on, but not much
more. Like everybody. Like your own family, Florencio.”
“That’s when Cayetano o=ered to do something, but I said no,
it was asking too much. He laughed it o=, and said he knew just
what would work. It’s hard to argue with him when he sees how
to fix something.”
“WE WERE FRIENDS, it’s true, but even so, giving — lending — a
cow. It was his idea. He would lend me the cow and he would say
to his wife, to his cowhands, that it was lost, that it had somehow
wandered, but that he would find it, that he would look for it,
that this and that and another thing — and somewhere in the gray
of so many words and weeks it would be all right. His wife and
the workers must have missed the cow terribly, but I couldn’t
think about that. Cayetano said he would take care of things for
the time the cow was gone. I listened to him, and I believed it.
I was crazy with myself, with what I was going to do and how I
was going to live. I would have done anything,” said Clotilde, and
stopped for a moment.