ATTITUDES

“Rues? Your last name is Roo-ess?” The young white man sitting at the Elizabethtown restaurant table looked at the old black man quizzically. “You mean Ruiz? Roo-eez? You got some Spanish in you?”

The cook shook his head. “All I know’s what my mama tol’ me,” he said. “My daddy was a Frenchman visiting ’round in Alabama. He stayed at the Big House for three weeks and took a shine to my mama while he was there. When I was born, she give me his last name.”

“Your master let her do that?”

The black man studied the plate of food in his hands for a long minute. “After the war, we could choose what last name we wanted,” he said quietly. “I chose my daddy’s name.”

“That food sure looks good,” the white man said. He moved his knife and fork farther apart on the bare wooden table.

Louis Rues put the plate down and turned away. He shook his head. People are people, no matter where you go, he thought ruefully as he went back to his stove.

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

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CRISTO NACIO

“Why have a wife at all?” Joseph Herburger grumbled as he slammed out the door into Elizabethtown’s morning cold. “I still must feed myself.” He gripped his stone masonry tools in his mittened hands and scowled at the icy December wind. Dolores had been too busy with the children to prepare a hot meal. She seemed to forget where her first duty lay.

The irritation stayed with him all day, as he chipped out the headstone for a small child in the cemetery on the hill. When he was done, he gathered his tools and glanced eastward. Baldy Mountain loomed against a darkening sky. The sweet scent of burning Ponderosa pine drifted from cabin chimneys. Joseph shrugged, scowled, and stomped down the mud-frozen path toward home.

But as he opened the door, there was the smell of just-baked bread and the sound of Dolores laughing.

“Say it again, mamá!” little George demanded.

“Dijo el gallo: ¡Cocorocó! ¡Cristo nació!” Dolores said. She swung the baby in her arms to the rhythm of the words. “Said the cock, ¡Kokoroko! Christ is born!”

Georgie ran to his father. “¡Kokorokó!” he cried, flapping his arms. “I am a rooster! Cristo is born!”

Joseph laughed in spite of himself and scooped the child into his arms.

from Moreno Valley Sketches II

 

INEVITABLE AS CLOUDS

“Disaster seems as inevitable as clouds piling over those mountains and more rain with them,” she said drily. She jerked her chin toward the western horizon, where gray-lined white clouds towered above the rocky peaks.

“Rain isn’t necessarily a disaster,” he said mildly. “It’s water for the crops and cattle, recharge for the well.”

“I haven’t been out of this cabin for the last ten days,” she complained. “By the time I’m done with the morning chores, it’s raining again. You’re out and about, tending the cattle, seeing to the crops. I’m in the house getting the children decent and cleaning up after them.”

“The rain means you don’t have to haul water to the garden,” he pointed out. “The clouds are bringing it to you.”

She took a deep breath, as if gearing up for an argument, then let it out, letting the anger go with it. “I’m just feeling so cooped up,” she said. “I feel like a winter-bound chicken in the hen house.”

“Well, we could eat you and take you out of your misery,” he teased.

She laughed and shook her head. “I’ll certainly be glad when the monsoon season is over with.” She looked up at him, over her shoulder. “We will get a respite from this before winter sets in, won’t we?”

He chuckled, drew her to him, and silently watched the clouds moving his way.

Copyright Loretta Miles Tollefson 2017    

 

NAMING RIGHTS

“How old is Old Pete, anyhow?” Suzanna asked as she perched herself on a large granite rock and looked down at the valley with its long grass and meandering streams. She glanced at Gerald. “He doesn’t look much older than you.”

Gerald chuckled. “He’s been Old Pete as long as I’ve known him. They say Old Bill Williams started calling him that in ’26 when they were trapping with St. Vrain and his bunch north of the Gila. Pete was kinda harrassing Bill, wanting to know just how old he was. Finally, Old Bill got aggravated and started callin’ Pete ‘Old Pete.’” He grinned, plucked a piece of grass, and looked it over carefully. “And that’s what he’s been ever since.” Gerald put the grass stem in his mouth, bit down appreciatively, and chuckled again as he gazed at the green landscape below.

“Those mountain men are quite something,” Suzanna said.

“That they are,” he answered. “That they are.”

Copyright © 2016 Loretta Miles Tollefson

DARKER THAN A WOLF’S MOUTH

“No, don’t go out there now,” Maria said. “It is late and there is no moon. El es oscuro como boca de lobo.”

“How d’you know how dark it is inside a wolf’s mouth?” Alvin Little grumbled as he put on his boots. “Leave me be.” He paused again, listening. The sound came again, the rattle of sticks tumbling off the pile of kindling just outside the door. “I spent two hours yesterday cuttin’ that kindling and I’m damned if someone’s gonna go stealin’ it.”

“El noche es más mala que Judas,” she protested. “It is unsafe.”

He reached for the door latch, then turned to look at her. “More evil than who? Judas, you say? Where d’you get this stuff?”

He stopped on the sill and shook his head as he peered into the darkness. A pale sliver of moon and no starlight. Heavy clouds blanketing the sky. He chuckled. So this was what a wolf’s mouth looked like. He leaned forward and peered at the wood piled alongside the cabin. He could just see the once neatly stacked kindling. Sticks lay haphazardly at the foot of the pile, as if someone had tried to climb it. Alvin scowled and stepped into the yard to gather them up.

A slight scratching sound came from the wooden roof, but Alvin didn’t have time to do more than lift his head before the mountain lion was on top of him, or hear more than Maria’s single scream before the big cat’s teeth found his throat.

 

Copyright © Loretta Miles Tollefson 2017

DUCK HUNTING

The girl lifted her skirts away from her feet and eased toward the small brown-mottled duck on the creek bank. It was busily investigating a small marshy area where water had seeped past the bank. Alma wished she’d brought her bow and arrows, but she’d been sent out to collect greens, not meat.

The duck had its back to her. Alma eased forward and crouched, getting into position. Her right foot pressed her skirt into the mud, but she didn’t notice.

The duck turned slightly. Alma lunged forward. As her hands touched the bird’s smooth feathers, her foot ground into her skirt, yanking her off balance. The duck flew off with a panicked series of quacks and Alma pitched foward into the mud.

“Hell and damnation!” she said angrily. “I hate dresses!”

She got to her feet and looked down ruefully. Her mother was not going to be happy.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

from Moreno Valley Sketches

FOR SAFETY’S SAKE

As Suzanna rounded the cabin from the garden, she saw Gerald in the yard loading his pistol. Both of the children stood beside him, watching intently.

“What are you doing?” Suzanna asked.

“We’re learning to shoot!” Andrew said gleefully.

Suzanna frowned. “We?” she asked. She looked at Gerald. “Andrew’s one thing, but Alma doesn’t need–”

“But I’m the oldest,” Alma said.

“She’s unfeminine enough,” Suzanna said to Gerald. “Always out fishing when she should be inside with her needlework.”

A smile flitted across his face. “Out here, everyone should know how to shoot,” he said mildly. “For safety’s sake.”

“More reason to move someplace civilized.” She turned and stalked toward the house.

“Can I load it, Papa?” Alma asked.

“Me, too!” Andrew said.

Gerald crouched down to show them again how it was done.

from Moreno Valley Sketches II