Jackson puffed gently at his cheap cigar, his feet up on a worn wooden table, his butt down in the smooth basin of a rocker. Back and forth the great old construction swayed gently, and the whole thing seemed quite pleasant. Hat thrown back, revealing silvering hair, and belt loosened up a notch farther than it would have been on anyone else's business day, he was the image of quiet peace. Left to his own devices, he would have sat about all day for his entire life, but the Lord and his wife, the former bless the latter, would never allow it. Happy that they wouldn't yet again, he stood, crushed out the remaining flame on the burning nub of tobacco, adjusted his hat, and, propping his arms up on his waist, walked gently down the porch onto the dusty ground below. Dawn was just breaking.
The Mexican morning was never a reluctant one. The sun would rise, slowly, as was the Southern manner, over the far distant red cliffs, the cacti would change from night-gray to day-green and the animals, both wild and tamed, would come alive with the loving heat. The white sand would remain, as a permanent fresh-fallen snow, a fact of life in Jackson's world. Quietly, he picked up one of his waxen ropes off of the porch, and walked over to the stable, stretching his legs. Inside, the sounds of horses just rising could be heard. The great door, which had not aged as well as the man who opened it, slid aside with a groan, bringing a smile, and a greeting series of wickers and purrs from the horses. Old Jackson stood still for only a moment, and then reached for his chaps. The scarred, cracked leather, so long molded to his legs, still slipped on comfortably, and the worn buckle showed no signs of giving way in the near future.
Next came the spurs. A gift from his friend, Fernando, they fit better than a good glove on his size twelve boots, and the straps, beautifully adorned with intricate, if faded, Apache leather work. Adjusting his hat again, he found the saddle, an old Southern khack and a faded Mexican blanket, grabbed a drought-horse bit and reigns and the works, and stepped over to Red, the old mare. She looked at him with dark eyes, and breathed deeply. Still limber enough from a life of work, Jack slipped over her stall gate, and saddled her up, quickly. They walked back out into the breaking dawn together, man and horse. The men where coming from the bunkhouse, rubbing their eyes, talking in hushed voices, coming with their saddles and spurs and ropes as he had. There was another day ahead.
For Jackson, it was a life of work, and a life of leisure. He had moved to Mexico when he was fifteen, on the run from his parents more than anyone else, a couple of hard-line Panhandlers determined to make an honest man out of their son. He regretted not going back to see them. All of his family had since passed, as far as he knew, all four of his brothers and both of his sisters. A shame he had never gotten the chance to know them as well as he would have liked. But he lived a good life, now. He pulled gloves from his pants pocket, and tucked them over his hand, hiding a gold wedding ring. “Allie” was a good woman. The cattle where bunched together, at least, the biggest herd was. Two hundred Texas long horns, waking up under a great oak, was a sight to make any rancher proud of his heard, and Jackson was no exception. And the boys where coming now, riding tall, talking loud, their hats made for work.
Weather had said storm was coming. Always did this time of year, late September and such. Storms coming in from the Atlantic, through Matamoros. Quietly, Jackson watched as his hands rode past, whistling to the great herd. They would need to merge them with the smaller herds, bring them home before the storm. Loosing cows to bad weather was a mistake that Jackson had made often, no matter how well he prepared. Wolves where bad in Mexico too. That was a rancher's life, though. A life he had chosen, not one that he had been saddled with. The sun was higher now, and Jackson felt the Mexican morning warm his skin through a very well worn denim shirt. The hands where moving the cattle now, but Jackson just sat on the ridge, watching with a small smile. Then he followed. Down the slope, kicking up a gentle sand trail. The cows where moving.
When he got home that night, he found “Allie” in the kitchen, cooking chicken. Quietly, he sat down behind the old table, in his chair he had made himself, leaning back on the old wool blanket that had adorned it since it had been born. Smiling, his wife brought him his food, brought herself her own, and sat across from him.
“I got a phone call today.” She said, taking a bite of chicken.
“Yeah? Who from?” Jackson did the same.
“I ain't got any nieces.”
“She said she was.”
“Don't mean she is.”
“She's coming to see you.”
“She ain't my niece, Allie.” He put down his fork and knife, and reached for the drink she had brought him. Cold water. Very good, and, as he drank, he served himself first beans and then rice with a free hand. His stuccoed wall behind was draped with a wildly colored serape. “I'm sorry, I don't mean to snap, amor. I'm jes' tired is all. Now, what exactly did she say?”
“Said she was coming to visit, that's all. Said she was Jackson R. Rogers' niece, and that she wanted to see him.” “Allie” smiled at him, her dangly silver earrings gleaming against skin like milk and coffee. Jackson chewed slowly. “She said she'll be here in the morning.” Jackson stopped chewing.
“It's gonna' rain tomorrow. The boys jes' finished with the cattle. Spose' I might have time to run down to Juarez to see if someone's lookin' for me. Hate goin' these days, though. Folks don't act the same. It's a regular O.K. Corral” “Allie” nodded. “And I also spose' its possible, if not probable, least one a' my siblings had a kid...she say what her name was?”
“Alice.” “Allie” said. Jackson grunted. That was his grandmother's name. It was a possible connection at least.
“Well, I'll take Juan along, we'll go see what this is all 'bout.” He finished the jam glass of water, polished off his plate, and pulled a cold bottle out of the ancient refrigerator, grabbing one for “Allie” as well. He sat back down across from her, and smiled. They finished quietly, and went and sat down on their couch, books in hand, hands in hand. He loved her. When they finished reading, they went to bed.
The drive to Juarez was six hours, and Juan and Jackson bumped along in the front seat of an ancient Chevrolet. Forty years ago, getting it into Mexico had been no problem. Forty years later, he found it was nearly impossible to get it out. Ominous clouds roiled in the distance, but the sky was a gray-clear, and Jackson knew the cattle where safe. Juan turned up the radio, and then his cell phone rang, and so he turned down the radio, and answered, and talked to his wife. The ruck rumbled along, kicking up that same white sand. That was just part of a rancher's life, though, and Jackson didn't mind.
Juarez appeared around midday, and Juan and he pulled up to the Cielos. Jon played the piano, and Jackson would ask him if a niece had been asking after him. Word in Juarez traveled slowly to everyone's ear but Jon, he had found. The loose wooden doors swung open, and the cracked Lucchese's hit the floor all the way over to the piano, where the tall Honduran sat, humming as he idly tapped out rhythms. Jackson pulled up a chair.
“Mi sobrina está en la ciudad?” Jackson asked.
“Ella me preguntó. Le di su número de teléfono. Ella llamó a su mujer."
“Por qué están aquí, entonces?”
“Where is she?”
“Hotel Manana. Go ask. She'll be there.” Jackson nodded, and left two pesos on the piano as he walked off. Jon was a good man. Outside, the thunder rumbled. He would walk to Hotel Manana, and call Juan to bring the truck. It was just a short hike along the cracked pavement. The hotel was one of the nicer buildings in town, and most Americans would have picked it out. Jackson had slept in a shed his first night in Juarez, in 1971. Good times.
“Woman here named Alice askin' after me?” The clerk nodded as Jackson walked in in his faded hat. “Where did she go?” The clerk pointed outside. Just then, lightening crashed, and the rain began to come down. Murmuring to himself, Jackson walked out. And there she stood. Tiny gringo, holding up her umbrella against the rain, a vague sort of expression in her eyes.
“Uncle Jackson?” She asked, and the rain kept coming down.
“I spose' so. Here, come on in. I'll call the truck.” Jackson led her back into the hotel, and slipped his phone out, dialing Juan. “Lleva el camión aquí.” Juan afirmativo-ed, and hung up.
“So...um, I'm Stella's daughter.” The girl extended a hand. Stella was Jackson's youngest sister. Jackson shook the girls soft hand with his own, missing two fingers and rougher than bone. She smiled, and he did to. The girl really did look like Stella. Juan rolled up in the old truck, and they got in. “Before I forget, Stella thought you should have this.”
“Thought?” Jackson asked.
“She passed away last year.”
“Too bad. I'll miss her.”
“I'm Jackie, Jackson.” She handed him a velvet box. He opened it, and inside was a golden wedding ring. “It was your mother's.” Jackson held it up to the light. It was worn, tarnished and well-made. Perhaps he would give it to “Allie.” In the distance, a streak of lightning slashed the sky.
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