“Our Lady of the Snows roaring through the Holy Land in the last tear of his grandfather’s life …”
Thirty years and four days old.
In love with two women, neither of whom he’d touched—one he’d never said more than hello to—and had no hope of touching.
Basilio thought he knew obsession, mooning the days away over the girl across the alley; believed himself a veteran of hand-to-hand combat until Nieves showed up on Macon Street with her cracked leather suitcase, her white blouse buttoned at the wrist in the heat of summer.
“This is just a lollipop,” laughed Footlong Franks when Basilio explained his predicament inside the old barbershop the poet owned on Regester Street. “Something’s hiding for you down the line that will make this look like nothing!”
If anyone knew the obsessions of mind, body and soul, it was Footlong, a charmer who’d done time in the Kokoschka doll works, finger painting for young adults and the Becky Bafford Haunted House of Love.
Basilio made a sketch of Footlong’s profile on scrap paper while the older Lothario held court, plastic lighter in one hand, constant cigarette in the other. Shoving the image in his back pocket, Basilio headed for the door as Footlong asked: “What’s the name of the girl who lives across the alley?”
Basilio hadn’t painted a stroke in the 96 hours since Nieves showed up, the quick sketch of Footlong nothing more than a doodle that disintegrated in the wash.
[In the beginning, which was brief, Nieves did Grandpop’s laundry and was happy to throw in a thing or two of Basilio’s if it was laying around at the back of the basement near the oil-burning furnace. He tried to be casual, tossing a Freddie King t-shirt into the dirty pile as she dropped dish towels into the machine.]
The first thing Nieves did at the house was hang a huge map of the United States above her bed upstairs, the kind teachers put up at the front of the classroom. She slept in Grandmom and Grandpop’s old room.
Before Nieves, Basilio had warned more than a few women He’d warned a few women not to go nuts on Macon Street.
Meet me in the park and tell me about it, he’d said. Cry your eyes out and scare the pigeons.
But don’t bring it to Grandpop’s.
Basilio snuck into the room, the one scented with Noxzema and 5&10 cent store perfume when Grandmom was still alive, that for a decade smelled of mothballs, the old Spaniard sleeping on a cot downstairs after his wife’s death.
He peeked in while Nieves and Grandpop talked in the kitchen, stared at the map pinned to the wall and wondered how long the pink of Maryland would give way to the yellow of California or the green of Georgia.
“I’ve been to more funerals for people I know than my grandparents have,” she told Grandpop as Basilio left the bedroom to take his position at the window that looked out over the alley.
Grandpop reached for the carafe of wine. Nieves put her hand on his arm.
“No,” she said. “It’s true.”
Grandpop took the cork from the bottle and sniffed; a small and quick twitch of the face - like a cat – that indicated he was thinking.
Pouring a small glass of wine for each of them, he said: “You just ain’t-a kidding.”