NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here.
12:03 p.m., Aug. 29, 2019 ~ Casa de Jesus, Coldwater, N.M.
“You know George is always messing with that engine,” Skinny said, taking a sip from a chipped white mug emblazoned with a green 4-H logo. “Cain’t leave well enou –” He froze mid-sentence.
Hank looked at him. “You sure that’s just coffee in that mug, Skinny? Can’t leave well enough – what?”
Skinny’s eyes were wild. “She’s back.”
“Who’s back?” Bill asked.
Brother Jerry and Jesus exchanged a look. “La Llorona,” Skinny whispered, trembling, his eyes wide. “She’s crying again.” He stared at Brother Jerry, setting down his mug. “Who was the last one? Frank’s wife? She heard her. And Sam before that, and them kids that went out partying here a coupla years ago and got run over by that train … and Grant Loucks.” Skinny looked around the table. He blinked. “Don’t none of you hear it, do you?”
“Dios,” Jesus whispered, crossing himself and pouring a shot of tequila.
The men looked at each other around the table.
“Shit, Skinny,” Hank offered. “Maybe it’s just the wind.”
Skinny ignored him. “Jerry, I think maybe we need to have a talk this afternoon. I ain’t a bad man, but I ain’t as good a man as I oughta be, either, and if she’s cryin’ for me, I think maybe that’s my cue to set some things straight while I can.”
Brother Jerry nodded, his face solemn. “Y-you’re a w-w-wise m-man, Sk-Sk-Skinny,” he said. The preacher finished his coffee and stood to leave. “You s-say your goodbyes, and I’ll m-meet you o-over at the ch-ch-ch-church in a f-f-few.”
Hank brushed a surreptitious tear from his cheek as Brother Jerry clapped Skinny on the shoulder on his way out.
“Thank you, Jerry,” Skinny said. He turned to the others. “You’ve been good friends. All of you. Even you, Hank, you old pain in the ass. I mean it. A man couldn’t ask for a better bunch of friends than you boys. I don’t know how long I’ve got. I know she’s callin’. Don’t you hold it against that little girl. You know she cain’t help knowin’ things, and I’m grateful to her for givin’ me a warning before it’s too late. Maybe she’s keepin’ an old man out of hell. Lettin’ him say his goodbyes. No, now, don’t you start the waterworks, you old fools. I’ve had 88 good years, and I cain’t ask for more’n’at.” He stood. “Jesus, keep that coffee warm for ’em.”
The men rose from their seats and embraced Skinny in turn. As the old man shuffled out of the bar, Hank squared his shoulders, snapped to attention, and saluted his old friend. Bill Swinney joined him, and Jesus set down the glass he was drying and followed suit, staring after him as the door opened and he stepped out into a sunny Coldwater afternoon.