There’s nothing in this town but tourist traps, fancy restaurants, and art galleries with bronze sculptures of Native Americans on horseback. The problem is, they, the natives, don’t want us here. They have been marginalized to a small street market of silver and turquoise jewelry. The man stumbling down the side of the highway was holding a sign, but he was heading somewhere, so not marketing his poverty.
The woman in the grocery store parking lot, toddler in tow, was more direct as she approached me heading to my car. She was attractive if a bit disheveled. She reminded me of my dead sister, had she survived and fallen on hard times rather than hard rocks. As she unfolded her sign I was too embarrassed to read it or look her in the eye. The eyes of the homeless will haunt you. I watched her in the backup camera of my Mazda as I backed out of the space. She was circling the lot with diligence and intention. It made me wonder how she ended up thinking begging was her best option.
“This town will break you,” my sister would say. “The spirits are angry with us white people. And if you don’t have your shit together, this town will bring out your unfinished business.
One spring she began talking to horses. Living in the most beautiful tiny house near the Bosque River there was an old dappled mare who happily accepted apples and pleasantries from my sister. She tried to explain it to me when I came with my other sister and brother to see about family crisis management. But I could not attune to her wavelength, though I would say I was the poster child of mental illness for the family, like a mascot, really. She was certain if anyone could relate to her, it was me.
There was little hope in me cracking the code. The horse remained a horse to me despite my sister’s joyful engagement. The horse chewed the apple. Asked for another one. Walked off when my sister had no more offerings. What thoughts and ideas were exchanged between them was at a level I could not perceive. My illness was mostly depression and anger when I was in high school.
“I know this seems crazy,” she kept saying in between stroking his nose and whispering into his ear.
If you’re not part of the tourist business in this town you’re shit out of luck, it turns out. Minimum wage jobs are available in the service business. And if you’re not able to do that, you’d better have family money. My sister’s family money was running out. She was contemplating leaving this sacred land and returning to her hometown, where the rest of us lived. Even with my father’s death, she didn’t have enough money to live here for long without a robust cash flow. Her art wasn’t of the Southwestern variety. She wouldn’t have made a very good parking lot panhandler either.
Read more Short-Short Stories from John.