From the Outside Looking In
The little dark-haired boy lay quietly beneath the wood boardwalk outside the saloon. At midday the saloon was eerily quiet, giving the young boy a place of refuge while he watched the general store across the street. The boy was not much different looking than the other children running barefoot through the streets of the sleepy little town that wasn’t even big enough to warrant a name. His too-long black hair hung down across vivid blue eyes that were the only thing that marked him for what he was. A half-breed. With a Mexican mother and a gringo father, the little boy found that life had dealt him a bad hand, and he had the bruises to show for it. However, at the moment all the boy was thinking of was something to fill his empty stomach.
His eyes watched hungrily as Senor Alvarez carried out a large wooden tray of fruit and vegetables to a table sitting in front of the store. The boy shivered in anticipation and licked his lips as he watched a red apple fall off the edge of the tray and roll across the wooden sidewalk. It landed in the dirt in front of the hitching post with a puff of dust floating up around it.
The small body fairly twitched with the need to move, but the little boy continued to observe the storeowner for several long minutes to see if he would retrieve the fallen apple. When the old man turned and walked back into the store, the boy scrambled out from beneath the walkway and streaked across the wagon-wheel rutted street, leaping lithely over the deeps ruts like an agile deer.
Snatching up the apple, he raced away, his teeth already sinking into the tender red skin of the apple as he ran.
“STOP! THEIF!” Came Senor Alvarez’s shout as the boy reached the veritable safety of the alleyway between a clothing store and the livery stable.
Diving beneath the corral fencing, the boy quickly hid himself amidst the shifting bodies of the horses there. Dust rose into the air from the restless hooves and the boy quickly clamped a hand over his nose and mouth to cover a resulting sneeze.
Several men walked past the corral talking amongst themselves as they half-heartedly searched for the boy.
With his long, dark hair covering his telltale eyes, the small boy shifted easily with the horses as they began to settle down. Several of the horses dropped their heads back toward the ground to resume their interrupted snooze in the midday sun.
Nudging aside a blue roan who had taken an interest in his lunch, the boy quickly gobbled down the rest of the apple, leaving only the bare bones of the core. This he gave to the horse, smiling broadly when the long whiskers of the horse’s chin tickled his palm.
Giving the roan’s ears a scratch, the boy stood on his tiptoes and stretched up to peer over the horse’s neck to see if his pursuers were gone. The alley was empty and the boy sighed with relief as he gave the roan one last pat before threading his way through the dozing horses. Slipping through the fence, he trotted off down the street toward the place that was home for the time being.
Slowing his uneasy steps, the boy stopped about twenty feet from the back porch, apprehension evident in his tense shoulders and blue eyes as he saw his mother’s sign for him to stay away.
The red handkerchief tied to the doorknob fluttered in the sultry breeze that stirred up dust devils from the hard-packed dirt at his feet. With slumped shoulders, the boy moved to sit beneath the shade of a saguaro cactus, drawing his scrawny legs up against his too-thin chest. Wrapping his skinny arms around his legs, he dropped his chin down onto his knees and closed his eyes as he kept vigil over the small house on the outskirts of town.
Three hot hours later, the back door opened and a tall, blond-headed man sauntered out onto the small porch. Ducking his head to settle his hat atop the blond hair, the man’s gray eyes automatically swept his surroundings, coming to a sudden stop upon the small boy watching him warily from beneath a tall cactus.
“What’re you doin’ watchin’ me, boy?” The man growled angrily as he stepped off the porch, his footfall creating a resulting puff of brown dust from the ground. The boy’s blue eyes watched him, not a sign of fear, or any emotion for that fact, in them.
“Nada, senor,” the boy answered softly as he quickly dropped his eyes to stare at the ground beneath his drawn up feet. He had learned quickly over his short years to keep his eyes averted and his answers respectful, even though he hated the men who “visited” his mother on a daily basis.
“And you’d better not, either,” the man snarled as he dismissed the boy from his mind. Pivoting on his heel, the man stalked away, hitching up his pants as he left.
Climbing to his feet, the boy walked slowly toward the back door, untying the handkerchief as he turned the doorknob.
“Mama?” He called out quietly, his eyes taking in the disorder in the small kitchen. Releasing a sigh, he walked over to the basin he used as a sink and began pumping water into it in order to wash the dishes strewn about the room.
“Juanito? Come here, now.”
Dropping the handle of the pump, he quickly whirled around to face his mother, wondering almost fearfully if she would be drunk already this day. What he saw nearly sent him to his knees.
“Mama?” He whispered, even as his trembling legs swiftly carried him across the room to his mother’s side. Wrapping his thin arms around her slender waist, Juanito buried his head against her chest as he fought back the tears that filled his eyes at his mother’s condition.
“I will kill him,” the trembling little voice said.
“No, chico. Do not think such things. It is merely a bruise and it will go away soon enough,” his mother chastised. “Besides, you are only a little boy. The man would kill you first.”
“No, mama. I am strong and I will steal a gun and shoot him dead!” Juanito wrenched himself out of his mother’s arms and darted out of the room.
“JUANITO! Come here!” When her son didn’t stop his headlong flight across the living room toward their bedroom, Maria sighed heavily and placed a shaking hand against another unseen bruise on her side as she followed her young son.
Standing in the doorway to the only bedroom in the tiny house, Maria watched Juanito as he frantically searched through the small chest that held his and his mother’s clothes.
“You won’t find it there, Juanito,” she said wearily as she walked into the room and sat down on the rumpled bed. Smoothing one hand over the wrinkled quilt, she almost gasped when her son turned angry blue eyes on her accusingly.
“What did you do? Sell it for whisky?” He gritted out, his small hands curling into fists at his side in his fury. “It was mine! I found it.”
“Juanito, it would only have brought us trouble, and more of that we do not need.” Falling back onto the bed, Maria stared up at the ceiling. “Be a good boy and fix your mama something to eat.”
His entire body quivered with anger as Juanito glared at his mother. “Get it yourself,” he snarled as he ran out of the room and out of the house without another word.
“Hola, Juanito! Can you play?” Thomas was standing down the street, a long, thick stick in his hand as he slapped at a large stone nearby. The smooth stone rolled a few feet toward Juanito, who quickly fell into the game. Grabbing up another long stick, Juanito and Thomas began batting the stone back and forth to each other. Soon other boys joined them and the cheerful noise they made caused the adults walking by to smile. Until they saw who was playing in the midst of their children.
“THOMAS! Come home right now. It is siesta time,” Thomas’ mother called out. Then, one by one the other children’s parents called their children home, leaving Juanito standing in the dusty street all alone. Dropping his stick to the ground, the young boy turned and disappeared into the chaparral on the edge of town.
Sinking down onto his haunches, Juanito fought against the tears that burned in his eyes. No matter where he and his mother moved, the results were always the same. No one wanted their children to play with him, a mestizo, a half-breed.
Picking up a rock by his feet, Juanito stood and threw it as hard as he could. Unfortunately his aim was too good and the tinkling of glass from the area of the general store could be heard. Swiftly racing toward home, Juanito knew that he was in big trouble this time.
Somehow Senor Alvarez beat him home. Skidding to a stop in the yard, Juanito almost stumbled to his knees when he saw the shopkeeper gesturing angrily toward his store. Though Juanito couldn’t hear the man’s words, he could see the anger on the man’s face and he quickly turned to beat a hasty retreat until Senor Alvarez was gone.
Wandering through town, Juanito saw Pedro, a boy near Juanito’s own age, walk into his home. From where Juanito stood, he could hear Pedro’s mother calling to him in a welcoming voice and it made Juanito sad to think that he’d done yet another thing to make his own mother angry at him. Walking over to the front porch of Pedro’s home, Juanito quietly dropped to his knees before the opened window there and peered over the window sill. Inside the house he could see Pedro’s mother kneading dough and his nose could detect the heady scent of frying pan bread and his empty stomach growled so loudly that Juanito was afraid that the woman had heard him when she turned toward the front of the house, her skirts swaying with the movement.
“Pedro, chico, wash your face and hands and then set the table, por favor,” she said sweetly as she leaned down to gently kiss the top of Pedro’s sweaty head with a loving smile. “You will need a bath tonight!”
Complaining half-heartedly at the idea of having to bathe in the middle of the week, Pedro nonetheless did as he was told and quickly washed his face and hands as Juanito watched the interplay between mother and son hungrily.
Suddenly he felt a glancing blow against the side of his head, sending his face crashing against the window sill. The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth and, stunned, it took him a second to react to the blow. Pushing away from the window he only had time to get one foot beneath him in preparation to standing when a boot connected with his right hip and he fell to the wooden planks of the porch. Rolling off the porch from the momentum of the painful kick, Juanito hit the ground running, his right hip and leg sending screaming signals to his brain that he had to find shelter and quickly before the leg gave out on him.
“YA BETTER RUN, BREED!”
A rock hit him in the middle of the back and Juanito begged for more speed from his injured leg as he raced out of the blond-headed man’s range and slipped down an alleyway in his bid for freedom.
Unbidden tears burned the back of his eyes, but he refused to allow them free rein as he shot up the steps leading to the back porch of his little house. Wrenching the door open, he was halfway across the living room before he realized that the red handkerchief had been tied on the doorknob. Unable to stop his frenzied flight across the room, Juanito practically fell into the bedroom as he tried to change directions and go back outside.
As soon as he cleared the bedroom doorway, however, the sight in the bed paralyzed him in place and he couldn’t have moved, much less close his eyes, if his life depended on it.
Angry curses came from the bed and suddenly Senor Alvarez stood before the young boy in all his naked glory and the resounding slap across Juanito’s face was what brought the boy out of his shock. He staggered back into the doorframe, his blue eyes staring in wide-eyed horror at his mother lying so still on the bed. Before he could register the fact that Senor Alvarez was talking to him, Juanito felt the man’s hands wrapping around his neck and squeezing tight.
Like a cornered animal, the little boy fought the skinny man with all he was worth and though Juanito was small, he was wiry. Breaking out of Senor Alvarez’s hold, Juanito shot a last glance at his mother’s limp, naked body and the blood pouring from the knife wound across her slender throat. Juanito turned and ran as fast as he could out the open front door.
With only the clothes he was wearing, Juanito found himself shivering in the evening chill as he hid himself from those who had been sent to find him and bring him in. Hugging his bony legs to his chest with briar-scratched arms, Juanito’s young brain tried to comprehend what had happened and what he was to do. He knew in his little heart that his mother was gone and that he had nowhere to go now. For a very brief moment he thought of the man who was his father and considered trying to find the man, but then he recalled what his mother had practically drilled into his head from the time he could first remember; Juanito’s father hated them. He had thrown Juanito and his mother off of his great ranchero when Juanito was just a baby, so the boy was certain that he wouldn’t want his son now.
Burning hatred for the father he didn’t remember had kept the young boy warm on cold winter nights when Juanito’s mother was entertaining one of her “Friends” and the boy was sequestered outside for most of the night. Hatred kept him warm, and the thought that one day Juanito would confront the man and tell him exactly what he thought of him, right before he put a bullet between Murdoch Lancer’s eyes.
To be continued in: From the Inside, Looking out
Created May 8, 2007
Constructive criticism welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org