Spring 2010, Volume 8

Fiction by John Paul Jaramillo


When the pregnant girl dropped in the car, pushed in the lighter and finally lit her Kool, I had no reason to believe anything on the Chevy’s dash to be in working order. I asked her, “Can’t be good for the baby?”

“What?” she said. She was chewing gum, dark clouds spilling from her nostrils and she was cradling her cigarette above her head. “The fuck put me out so I got to walk.”

After the first ten blocks, out past Union Avenue, I still had no clue where we were headed.

“This is one of Luis’ rides,” she said.

“I bought it.”

“He’s been working on it.”

“Don’t worry. I’m takin’ care of it,” I said. On the bench seat, our bodies sat close, and we might as well have been holding one another.

“Where’s he been?” Her feet kicked loose of white Keds, pushing them up against the book bag.

“New Mexico.”

She laughed at my haircut, my excuse for a short sleeved shirt and tie. “Hey, you work at a bank or something?”

“A bank? What do you mean?” 

“The tie.”

“No, I got a interview,” I told her. “I gotta wear a tie.”

“Oh. Looks like you work in a bank someplace,” she said. “You sure you’re not in a bank someplace?”

“No,” I told her.

We drove for a long time until we reached her Abuelita’s on the east side of town. The house was sandwiched between a sectional home and the entrance to a littered alley. One dead-looking tree was planted out in front with a primer-colored ’87 Ford Tempo parked underneath.

“I thought about chasing the fuck,” she explained. She stepped out of the lowered car onto her street. “I thought about it.”

I studied the way she lit another cigarette, watching her lips while she spoke.

“Always talked about Denver, jobs out there and shit, but nothing ever real, you know. My Abuelita says he has to marry me. Has to prove our love in front of God.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say to this. She was on her second cigarette. The light of late afternoon was shifting and a sudden dizziness hit me.

“You got a lot of tattoos,” the pregnant girl said. “They hurt you?”

“Sometimes they ache.” I lifted up my forearms as evidence.

“No, when you got’em,” she said. “When they were needlin you.”

“I was in the Army at the time and drinking.”

“You can’t get a tattoo when you’re drunk.”

“I was drinking,” I told her. “I wasn’t drunk.”

“Oh, you don’t remember the pain though, uh?”

“It was a mistake,” I told her.

She nodded. “I got a small one.” She slipped the straps to her jean dress and her bra down over her left shoulder, revealing a small set of initials. It looked like a prison tattoo, thick and blue.

“His initials?” I asked her.

“Of course. But, you know, BS. Like bullshit, right?” She leaned her head deeper and looked over her shoulder, pushing her red-streaked hair out of the way. “Jesus himself can see it.”

“You didn’t even say your name yet,” I finally said.

A dog was barking down the block. and I was just about to pop the column shifter into drive when she slammed my passenger door. “Angie.”

The small house consisted of the Abuelita’s bedroom and bathroom around a small kitchenette. The room was filled with crucifixes and statues. A banner measuring three feet across hung in the living room, just above the television and, intimidating as hell. “Estandarte,” Angie explained me. “It used to be my Abuelito’s.” I got a better look at it as Angie and the Abuelita conjured sweet smells in the kitchen. A sculpture, ornate and made of wood, took up what was left of the living room. A deep, red, decorated Jesus with a thin frame and crowned head. His face sorrowful and hurt. A deep crack ran down his face opening wider around his chest, an imperfection in the wood. The sculpture looked as if it might jump off the wall, at any moment, to judge the living and the dead and focusing in on me.

But the Abuelita took a liking to me right away. She was hunched over an aluminum walker and paced around the kitchen, complaining about what a shabby job Angie had done cleaning the sink and counter. Her voice rang in Spanish and jumped an octave as she explained the proper way for her plates to be stacked in the cupboards. When Angie introduced me as a friend of Luis’, I watched the old woman, gauging her reaction.

“Name?” she asked. “Quick, boy. What’s your name?” She communicated in a senile mix of English and Spanish, mostly Spanish.

“Relles Ortiz,” I told her.

“Where are your people from?”

“San Luis.”

“Valley people, uh. You an onion farmer? You work?”

“I work,” I said.

“Relles, are you Catholic?” She laughed. “¿Habla?”

I looked for Angie. I noticed that the woman’s hair was thin and balding, dark flesh exposed through dirty silver strands.

“Ahh,” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands. “Goddamm kids today! Goddamm kids don’t know their own language!”

Angie translated before we sat down for dinner at the card table and apologized. As I ate, the old woman exchanged her cigar for a small pipe, and the room filled with a pungent, cherry tobacco smell.

“Disgraciado,” the old woman said.

“Not this one, Abuelita. He saved me,” Angie said serving me a plate. “I would have had to walk.”

“Women should be with the fathers of their babies.” The Abuelita argued with no one in particular over large plates of fried potatoes and red chili. “People had religion,” the old woman continued. “But today,” she said, shaking her head, “they have no God.”

“My Abuelita’s husband used to be religious,” Angie apologized. “She thinks we all have to be crazy for Jesus.”

“It’s in you,” the Abuelita interrupted. She was still huffing on the pipe.

“What does she mean? In you?” I asked.

“My Abuelito used to be Penitente.”

“What?” My mouth was filled with tortilla. I hadn’t eaten anything home cooked in over six months.

“Eh?” the old woman jumped, a slight spasm.

“He asked you what is Pentitente, Abuelita?” Angie said, louder.

“Good men,” the Abuelita said. “That’s what they were.”

I gave Angie a perplexed look. I didn’t stop eating, though.

“You like the food, eh?” The old woman pointed at my plate.

“Very good,” I said, taking another large mouthful of mashed beans and red chili.

“They were an order of men in New Mexico. Men who worked in the mines there,” she explained. “They’d get together during Lenten—“

“During what?”

“They got together during Easter-time and would perform ceremonies.”

“What kind of ceremonies?” I asked.

“Penance,” the old woman said. She hadn’t touched a thing on her plate. She just sat and attended to her pipe.

“Nobody really knows,” Angie continued. “They would stay out on the llano for weeks. Read scripture and give each other penance.”

“Penance,” the old woman repeated.

“They say that they would make each other suffer, you know, for their sins or faith or whatever.” She shrugged. “I guess you gotta believe in that shit. Be Catholic,” she said, smiling at me.

“Jesus,” I said.

“Yes,” the old woman added in English.

“Crazy,” Angie observed, making slow circles around her ear with a fork. “That’s where the crucifix came from. In the living room. They had’em up in the moradas.”

“Good men,” the old woman repeated.

“Crazy,” Angie said. “That’s why I’m not Catholic anymore.”

“They never left me when I was pregnant,” the old woman said.

Angie didn’t say another word and was quiet until I helped her with the dishes. She apologized again for her Abuelita. “She just wants me to leave,” Angie told me. “She wants me follow after Benito no matter what. Chase him around. You know how it is.” She explained how Benito had become close to the old woman. Angie explained how the old woman liked Benito at first because he threw out the garbage, fixed up her Tempo. The Abuelita even went so far as to say it was good to have a man around the house.

“What’s keeping you from leaving?” I asked her.

“He’s a fuck.” After further probing and a few more cigarettes, I learned that the fuck had been in and out of the Youth Offender System in Colorado City since the age of sixteen. That road began with a few minor offenses ranging from siphoning gasoline, to selling his mother’s jewelry. Later he stole some parts for a few customizations, which is where Luis probably met him. Benito had passed from that life, though, after he met Angie. Things were working until one day in January when his brother Lloyd bought a truck, and Benito decided to make the move. Angie tried to stop him, but Benito was drinking beer and took a baseball bat to her. Benito didn’t leave a letter or a phone message. He decided it would be best just to leave after the beating. “It didn’t hurt that much, but no fuck of a man is going to do that to me, father or no father,” Angie declared, shaking her head. “He never really had a problem because of leaving the baby, you know.”


The walls leading down to her bedroom were wood paneling, and the stacked mattresses that made up her bed rested on a concrete floor. One simple dresser appeared in the windowless, dank room.

Angie sat on the bed and lit a cigarette. “Talk to me, I’m bored,” she said. “Tell me something.” 


“I don’t know. Something. Tell me about the Army.”

“How can you live down here?” I asked, staring up at the single exposed bulb that was the basement’s only light.

“You can get used to all kinds of things,” Angie said. “You travel much, like in the commercials?”

“I’ve been overseas a couple of times.”

“I haven’t been out of Colorado,” Angie said. “Well my mother went to Hawaii once to meet my father at a naval base but that was about it. I was like five or six, I think. Very little and don’t remember nothing. I think I was in Alabama once too. I’ve seen pictures. Where were you?”

“Macedonia,” I said. “In the mud.”

“In the mud?”

“Sometimes in trucks and in barracks, but most of the time during foot patrols we slept in mud.”


“Learn to function in the mud. Eat and shit in the mud. Learn to stomach all kinds of awful things.”

“What things?”

“Little things. Like sleeping in a squat. We had sleeping bags. But you can’t do that. You get more sleep if you sit up in your poncho up against your pack or a tree. Got to get used to it. Only thing you can do.”

“Sounds pretty sick.”

“You can get used to all kinds of things,” I said, smiling, following the cracks in the unfinished ceiling. “You see your father ever?” I said.

She looked straight at me. “What the hell do I want to see him for?“

“Sorry,” I said.

“What about you?” Angie asked.

“I got a daughter in California. She’s five.”

“Why aren’t you out there?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I got stationed here in Fort Carson and just never went back.”

“What’s her name?”

It had been a while since I had mouthed the words. “Loretta.”

Suddenly Angie was leaning towards me, touching me with her perfect hands and kissing the side of my face. Then our lips touched, and my stomach moved. She swept over my neck and shoulder to pull off my tie and shirt. The dress she was wearing came off over her head. I quickly learned her contours, her legs and thighs. I followed birthmarks and pock scars with my bitten fingernails. I followed them, mutely tasting the memory of my wife. I was pretty passionate. The marks turned into flower tattoos down to the small of her back, and in my head I connected them, filling in the blanks down to her waist and thighs. She lifted a bit to help me maneuver under her. Our bellies were somewhat mismatched, groin to groin. I wondered out loud if this was safe, and she giggled. “Jesus, Relles,” she said. “I’m pregnant, not dead.”


That first night, Angie prayed with glow-in-the-dark Rosary beads hanging on her bed post. I thought she was asleep, yet she pulled herself out of bed, in the small, sleepless hours around two or three in the morning. Naked, she kneeled. Her hands clasped tightly, and I thought I heard her whispering. It was too dark for me to tell for sure. I pretended to be asleep.

Over crumpled sheets, Angie was sitting Indian-style on the bed, busy tracing the small tattoos on my forearms and the Navajo tribal patterns that made up the purple sleeves. “I feel comfortable with you, Relles,” she said in an amorous murmur, biting her lower lip. “Can I show you something?”


“You won’t freak?” she asked, hunching forward, elbows between her legs.

“That depends, I guess,” I said. “On what you show me, I mean.”

She pulled the comforter from her bed and pulled the yellow sunflower print around her large belly and thin frame, exposing her small breasts for a long minute. I waited while she moved to the dresser catty-corner from the bed. The antiqued top was full of knick-knacks and picture frames with unfamiliar faces. A large wooden box sat covered with a lace doily, neatly to one edge of the dresser. She moved a black and white picture of her Abuelita and Abuelito on their wedding day to get to the large case.

She dropped the box on my lap, the weight heavy and awkward, taking me by surprise. I sat confused as I flipped the metal binding that held it shut to find the shiny contents. In the box rested a large weapon, a nickel-plated revolver. Inside the case was a plush red and looked specially made for the piece, fourteen rounds points-up in the box. The gun was a large caliber with a black ergonomic-styled grip.

“It was my father’s,” she said. “He used to be a Sheriff’s Deputy in Huerfano County. Abuelita didn’t want me to have it. She hates these things, but my mom gave it to me after the fuck came at me.”

I had never held a handgun with the weight of this one, like getting hold of a train rail.

“Can you fire it?” I asked.

“Hell yeah. I’m registered.” She smiled, pushing aside the wild, red mass that was her hair.

“It’s huge.”

“Well, it’s a lot smaller than like in the movies, but it’s just as effective. The fuck and his brothers won’t mess with me again, you know. As long as I have this.”

“You’re hard, no?” I said giving the piece back to her.

“Yeah,” she answered.

As the sun began to fill the room I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. With the gun between us I held her, and we lay there reliant on one another’s bodies.


I was wide awake when the fuck arrived. It was Sunday morning and I’d made some coffee. Angie was still asleep.

“Open the door, Angelita!” the fuck screamed. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” he repeated.

“Goddamm boys are no good for anything,” the Abuelita said, frozen. It was almost a whisper.

Benito was young and red-eyed. I thought the acne scarred face belonged to Luis or my brother. He was not wearing a shirt, just a simple pair of faded jeans. Broad shoulders, large and round.

“And what kind of fuck are you?” he yelled through the dirty glass. Maybe he didn’t know me by name, but he knew what was happening in this old house, and in that small basement.

“I’m a friend of Angie’s,” I replied.

“You’re a thief!” he snarled. “Come on, thief! Open the goddamm door!”

I pulled the chain from the door and put my bare feet out onto the porch. The blood ran faster through my head.

The Abuelita and Angie were behind me as I rushed out onto the porch. I don’t remember why I went out there. I saw four glaring characters, Benito and his crew. Each one looked as young and tired as the next. They punched at me. Benito dragged me farther by the arm into the open space of the concrete porch. He crushed at my head and chest. My knees buckled and I stutter-stepped backwards. They clawed at me, kicking at me in fragmented movements at my back. They pushed my face down into the concrete. There was nothing stopping them from killing me.

I couldn’t see the whole goodbye because the blood and snot had smeared on my face and started to harden in the late morning sun. I sat on the ground like a fool, and didn’t dare move. I thought I might break. I do remember Benito leaning on the horn for Angie to come as she hugged her Abuelita.

Later, the old woman helped me lean into the stucco wall to catch my balance, holding my arm until I could stand. “It’s funny,” the Penitente’s wife said, “how God wants you,” and the rest stands as something that has taken me years to translate, “and then He don’t.”


BIO:  I stole my MFA degree in creative writing from Oregon State University in 2004 and currently I am an Associate Professor in Arts and Humanities at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois where I also teach writing and literature. Some of my stories have been featured in the Acentos Review, Antique Children Arts Journal and the Copper Nickel Review.