Author’s Note: I changed his name to Philiberto for this story from a work in progress with the working title, “New Mexico Notes by a California Girl.”
Hummingbirds flashed their iridescent feathers in the sun as they vied for space at the sweetened water fonts hung near the patio table. Spouse brought out a fresh brewed pot of coffee. “Sure you don’t want to it’s a warm sweater?” he asked. “It’s not all that warm out here.”
“I’m fine. I’ve worn enough sweaters and coats for the last few months to last me a lifetime. Sixty-degrees in April is darn balmy,” I said.
The Rio Embudo ran hard as the late spring snows joined in the annual runoff. It’s roar was loud but soothing. We sipped our coffee and shared the spring symphony of hummingbirds, robins, chickadees and the river.
Suddenly, a jolt of discordant noise rumbled down the driveway. In his decades old Chevy pickup, Philiberto Santos held on to the wheel, bouncing up and down as the truck hit every bump in the driveway. We held our breath. We prayed that this tiny, elderly man, with his long white hair flying out the window, could make his ancient chipped, black heep come to a stop before it hit us.
“Buenas dias, bro,” Philiberto greeted as the truck slid to a stop inches from the garden gate. “Como sta?” he asked.
Spouse released his breath, rose and greeted the diminutive man who was shirtless but covered in overalls. “I’m doing good, Phil. Yourself?”
“Bien Muy bien, well except for my hand, and he displayed his thin wrist wrapped multiple times with silver duct tape.
“Oh Phil what happened there?” I asked.
Those diablos! The coyotes! They came into my yard after my chickens. I went after them, but I fell and broke my wrist. The coyotes got my rooster.”
“Did you see a doctor?” I asked.
“Eeeee. No way. They want my money.” He looked at the tape-wrapped wrist. “You know there’s a good curandera in the village, but she’s old like me. Well, anyway, she gave me her remedios and I wrapped the bone straight with this duct tape. It will be like new before you know it.” He adjusted his Dallas Cowboys insignia baseball cap. “Hey you’ve got more than one rooster, don’t you? At least I think I heard two different roosters in your yard.”
“Yeah. What one of the hens we bought turned out to be a rooster. He’s one rooster too many Can you use him?, Spouse offered.
“Well, my nephew up there in Taos, he runs that river rafting company. I gave him one of my goats last fall for a barbecue so he said that he set me up for a ride down the Rio. I didn’t tell him I can’t swim. I was thinking if you gave me that extra rooster, my nephew will take you down the Rio on one of his boats. Sounds good, no?”
“Bueno. It’s a deal,” Spouse agreed.
“OK! I’ll tell my nephew to call you, no?” Philiberto looked out into my young garden, walked inside and pulled a clump of weeds. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. His broad smile cracked his browned leather skin—leathery, he said one day, from working as a carpenter in the California sun for 40 some odd years.
“A noxious weed.” I said,
Holding the weed like a trophy, Phil said, “Oh, no, hita! It’s purslane. Yeah, it’s good. My abuela used to dry it and put it in her winter stews. I ‘m going to take this and throw it in a hot skillet with some bacon fat garlic and salt. Eee, it’s good.”
Phil and Spouse caught the rooster, wrapped its legs in some rope. It squawked like a pig at slaughter as Spouse put it on the Walmart covered front seat of Phil’s old truck.
Phil pulled the choke, the truck coughed and fumed, until he got the engine clattering like a snare drum. He looked at Spouse. “You’re good people, bro.” He rubbed his chin, made another giant grin, and asked, “Bro, have you seen any movie stars down there in Santa Fe?”
Word got out that Shirley McLain and Gene Hackman were seen in our shop.
“Not lately, Phil.”
“When you do, bro, tell them your handsome neighbor would be good in the movies. Hey, que no?”
“You got it, Phil.,” Spouse promised with a wink.
Phil shifted the truck in reverse. We crossed our fingers in hope that his exit wouldn’t take out the new plum trees we planted the week before.