In honor of Halloween and Día de los Muertos, I want to offer something a little different. Here is a little cuento de fantasma that I wrote a few years ago and that first appeared in the anthology, Nemeton: A Fables Anthology (Silver Lake Publishing, 2000), and then was is featured in my short-story collection, Devil Talk: Stories (Bilingual Press, 2004). Enjoy.
Señor Sanchez lived a rather nice life in our little pueblo of Dos Cuentos. He sat most days in the Plaza, by the statue of our pueblo’s founder, Don Antonio Segoviano, and waited, eyes closed, lips pursed in a constant little hum, with his dog Chucho panting by his side. You see, people came to him to hear him talk. They paid a few pesos, dropping them noisily into an empty Maxwell House tin that sat between Señor Sanchez and Chucho. With each clank of the heavy coins, Chucho’s ratty little ears would pop up, frisky and alert, and Señor Sanchez would smile as he leaned back into the weather-beaten fold-out chair. He held his elegant, unusually small hands draped over the brass head of his cane, and he laughed with the same question: “What is it you want to hear?”
And the customers would tell him.
“A sad story,” said Señora Cruz, a widow for these last ten years.
“A very funny joke,” offered our priest, Padre Olivares. And he tipped his shaggy head into Señor Sanchez. “One I can tell in my sermon next Sunday,” he smiled.
“Will I ever find a wife?” asked poor, fat Simón, the carpenter.
One day, the Mayor visited Señor Sanchez. I sat not far away, at the Bar Americano, drinking my usual lunch of two (or perhaps three) bottles of Tecate beer, and I listened to what the great man wanted. No noise came from the Maxwell House tin: the Mayor dropped a nice, fat wad of paper bills into the till. The sun hit my face, hard and true, and I put my cool bottle down with a little clink and waited for Señor Sanchez to ask his usual question. But he did not. What did he do? He smiled. That is all. And Chucho slept. The Mayor stood, frozen, for a moment or two. And then he spoke.
“Speak to me as my son would,” he said. “If he were still alive.”
My heart beat hard in my throat. The whole pueblo knew of the horrible tragedy of Mario’s death in April, three months ago. It had rained so hard for six days. No one ventured out. Finally, on a Sunday, in the afternoon on the sixth day, the sun peeked out from behind the dark clouds. Some of us went out to inspect the roads and it’s there that we found him, head deep in muddy water, by the side of Calle Verdad. Mario’s body was so bloated we assumed that he had been dead for several days. And, of course, it was clearly an accident. The Mayor fell into a dark sadness at the loss of his only child.
So, on that day the Mayor went to Señor Sanchez, I tried to listen. He smiled at the Mayor and then I saw his lips move slowly. I strained and strained but could not discern a word. Señor Sanchez’s thin, almost blue lips stopped as fast as they had started. The Mayor jumped back as if a large, brutal man had struck him in the chest. And for a moment, the birds did not sing, and the wind did not blow. I glanced at my watch and noted that the Mayor did not move for a full three minutes! Finally, the Mayor straightened himself, brushed off non-existent dust from his fine, blue suit, bowed, slowly and elegantly, and turned on his heel. Within a few seconds, he was out of view.
The odd thing was what happened afterward. When the Mayor left the Plaza, Señor Sanchez sighed and shook his head. Slowly he stood, folded his chair, patted Chucho’s head, and wandered off. Chucho, for some odd reason, stayed put. As he walked away, Señor Sanchez turned, ever so slowly, and caught my eye. In my embarrassment, I waved and then turned to my newspaper. He disappeared within a few moments.
Señor Sanchez never came to the Plaza after that. A month later, we learned that he had died in his bed. Padre Olivares said that he lived to be one hundred and twenty-five, according to the Church’s baptism records. And, according to some of the older citizens, Señor Sanchez had been talking, in the Plaza, since he was twenty years old. That is a long time to be speaking. No?