noise. Even Paquita, the cow Guillermina Belmares was responsible for as manager of the
mercado, had mistakenly found its way into the
mix, ushered along by the barking of Bernardo,
the town’s dog, after happening by this circus
and wanting to join in.
The lawyer, Ubaldo Dos Santos, who professed no sinning, had to agree that Sr. O bested
him at Lent. And Sra. Dos Santos, his sister-in-law, who ran the boarding house, raised her
glass of agua de manzana to Sr. O at Rosa Laura’s restaurant one night.
Oswaldo wished he could tell his parents
about all this but they had died many years ago
by now. He shared the news anyway at the tasteful gravesites arranged for by Sr. Jaramillo, the
The other person Oswaldo wanted to fill in
also had passed away long ago: Maricela Blan-co, Padre Nacho’s clerk, who, though she didn’t
mean it, sort of laughed at his baptism, as Sr. O
Oswaldo had not taken up cursing. He didn’t
have the stomach for it. But that didn’t stop others. After a week of things mounting up, there
was no getting around his house and its treasures. “What the hell!” said a startled Doña Clotilde, the new postmistress, when she walked by.
She couldn’t help herself, but nobody heard. She
looked around to be sure, crossed herself, and
surveyed the house again.
Just then, Señora Jauregui, the aged widow
who weighed nothing, came by and threw her
hands up to her face.
“Madre de Dios,” she gasped.
“Yes, that’s just what I was saying,” said
When Oswaldo stuck his head out to see what
the fuss was about, he had to crane his neck over
the deposited bounty. He couldn’t keep up with
things. Today, bottles of Coke stuck out like
horns from a big pumpkin. It also featured two
eyes made of prunes that had dropped from a
bag and a mouth made from a wriggling worm
that had beaten Oswaldo to this dinner.
The two women were already walking backward, away from the apparition. Oswaldo sticking his head out from between its horns made
“It’s the devil!” shouted Señora Jauregui in
“It better be,” said Doña Clotilde.
Pretty soon Sr. O had so much stuff, mounded and bundled and piled, that he had to build a
fence, and then a second fence, but the profusion
still spilled out beyond his yard.
Things got a little scary when a determined
Chucho Reyes, the baker’s helper, tried to steal
something, but it turned out that the small
stove had belonged to him to start with, so no-
body was sure what to do. Townspeople who
caught him dragging it down the street de-
manded an arrest. But Officer Maldonado dis-
covered upon investigation that the well-mean-
ing soul simply got carried away in the hoopla
of giving up and needed the appliance after all.
When Chucho Reyes replaced the stove with a
painted breadbox, the matter was quietly
dropped. The outcome met the approval of
Padre Nacho, who had been asked to intervene
by Oswaldo even though everyone knew the
priest had no had no jurisdiction here. Nobody
mentioned the stolen stove again.
Except Padre Nacho. With everyone so interested in Lent, he had them where he wanted. Or
did he? People dragged themselves to church,
but rushed over to Sr. O’s at word of something
new being left.
That’s when things changed, altogether.
In place of a sermon, every Sunday Padre
Nacho decided to read the newspaper aloud. Besides big people like the doctor and lawyer and
mayor, the priest, or rather the church, was the
only one who could afford a subscription, or
who bothered to subscribe, anyway, so almost
everyone depended on him most of all for details regarding the world. The radio worked
well, and gave the town its immediate and loud
news. But the newspaper, as read by Padre
Nacho, gave meaning to current events. A well-enunciated and or a crucial therefore — these nuances made all the difference.
He had tried sermons for decades, but there
wasn’t much to be said for their success. Then
again, since it was a nice town, some credit was
due, Dr. Bartolomeo would philosophize, soothing the priest in one way but not in others. The
stifled yawning and polite smiling, the occasional snoring, and the elbows into the rib cages
made the parishioners look gruesome to Padre
Nacho. Like a horror movie, he told Oswaldo
on afternoons when Sr. O helped out at the
church as Lent wound down.
“Señora Jauregui is so goodhearted. But
when she starts to lean over from falling asleep,
it’s something to see,” he would say about the
aged widow who weighed nothing. “Or Doña
Clotilde,” the new postmistress, he would shake
his head. “When she takes a deep breath and
knits her eyebrows and bites the insides of her
mouth, her eyes bulge out so much from concentration that she looks like a bull picking out
the red cape.” The men would laugh, but the vision unsettled them.
“You should try something different, you
know, on Sundays,” said Oswaldo one afternoon
late in Lent as they scraped wax from the altar
candleholders in between snacking on one of
Don Lázaro’s pretzels. “Tell them things they
“But my son, I tell the stories of God.”
“And it’s a good thing, of course. But even I
know those stories, sir, father, sir,” said Oswal-
do. “And you tell them over and over. I like
them, to be sure.” Here he made the Sign of the
Cross, quickly. “But, forgive me, father, don’t
you think, well, something new, something new
The priest said nothing, but nodded his head.
The next Sunday Padre Nacho began his ser-
mon by pulling out the newspaper from the
shelf on the lectern. He put his glasses on, and
his elbows up, folding the paper first one way,
then another, until he got it straight, with the
front page under his scrutiny.
The editions found their way to him in bundles of several days, as the circulation department would not deliver them every day just for
the likes of him. On this Sunday, he found himself talking about last Tuesday, although nobody
seemed to notice or mind.
The tenor of his stories, however, was everything. George VI had died and his daughter became the queen, Elizabeth II. The NATO conference had approved a European army. The
AEC — whoever or whatever that was — had
announced “satisfactory” experiments in hydro-gen-weapons research. Eyewitnesses told of
blasts near Enewetak. He wanted to ask if anyone knew where Enewetak was, like maybe Gabriela, the straight-A student and high school
senior class president, but thought the better of it.
That week, Oswaldo continued to reap the
benefits of everyone’s Lent, but the donations
tapered off, which didn’t bother him, given all
he had to curate.
The next Sunday, Palm Sunday, which was
when some townspeople liked to debut their
new footwear from Hermanos Celaya shoemaker’s shop, Padre Nacho announced that Albert Schweitzer had won the Nobel Peace Prize
and that he did his medical missionary work in
French Equatorial Africa. Padre Nacho saying
he was a good man made people remember
After Padre Nacho got started with these new
Sundays, everybody began to listen and put
Lent, about over, back into proportion. Everything was righted by Good Friday. Or it could
have been Easter Sunday. But it was one of the
two, the townspeople agreed, because both
made sense, and that was good enough — even
for the priest. And for Sr. O because he got to
keep all that had made its way to him.
The church put the world into context. Or,
wondered Dr. Bartolomeo, raising his index
finger since he also was the town’s philosopher, was it the other way around? The
townspeople couldn’t decide and didn’t care.
Besides, they came to realize they liked both
answers here, too. Everybody being right sat
well with the town.
Oswaldo sat in the front pew, every time. He
had the leisure to be there, and to keep helping,
since now, as things turned out, he was one of
the richest people in town. But he would have
been there anyway. A good story, after all, is a
good story, and gives up nothing.
Alberto Ríos, a Regents’ Professor
of English and the Katharine C. Turner
Distinguished Chair at Arizona State
University, has published three collections
of stories: The Curtain of Trees (University
of New Mexico Press, 1999), Pig Cookies
and Other Stories (Chronicle Books, 1995),
and The Iguana Killer (Blue Moon and Confluence Press, 1984).
He also has published two chapbooks and eight books of
poetry and a memoir. Ríos has won numerous awards across
writing genres, including being named the inaugural poet
laureate for the state of Arizona last summer. He earned a
B.A. in English, a B.A. in psychology, and an M.F.A. in creative
writing at University of Arizona. Email Ríos at email@example.com.