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EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS / Loretta Collins Hornitos, California for Kevin Sometimes I took the drive alone, past the burned flour and woolen mUls near Lake McSwain. In the summer the ranch women of Agua Fría, Indian Gulch, watch the sky for fire planes banking out of Fresno, away from the high Sierras. Days after the grass fires have gone out, the blackened foothiUs smoulder near the road's edge. I was amazed by the burnline, so close to ranch houses, where women still hung wet bedding on the clotheslines. Sometimes, hugging my car around abrupt bends, the window down, the sweet, burnt wind whipping my hair, I wanted to be a ranch woman, leaning her face against the veranda screen, the bright unstoppable fire, a fermata, holding her Ufe, kindling the one memory that flares briefly for her then: a late night kitchen, a yeUow table she sits at with spiced tea, the dark rain beating at the window pane. Is that all she can wish for, rain? She watches the red fire curl over the berm of the trenches, her husband's last attempt to stop the flames. Her baby wakes now in its bassinet. And this can't happen. The ranch woman packs up the pickup. She gets out. Kevin, this time I wanted to take you with me, to see the winding procession of candles, 262 · The Missouri Review the lit faces climbing the hUl, Francisco's grave, as if it could have meaning for you. In this photograph, you stand by an hornito on the hiU; hornitos, for "little ovens," the dark adobe graves. You hold the candle so close to your face. The fine incisions high on your buttocks stUl bleed and hurt. I can't touch you, slip my hand into the hoUow of your back, the way I want to. It wUl be two days before your surgeon caUs to say the word we each think quietly to ourselves that day: Leukemia. Like a chant, like AUeluia. We gathered our candles when the Ught fell, climbed with the others. A cedar fence post marked Francisco's grave. I put my candle on it. I wanted to tell you about him then, but the Spanish mass, prayers for Doña Calendaría, drifted toward the goat fields. I watched each face take on its own quiet light. When I was five years old, my parents brought me to Hornitos nearly every Sunday. Francisco Salazar ran the JaU museum, a one-ceUed granite block. It held a few joss sticks, a "Burning Judas" doU, a lynching rope. I remember touching Francisco's white trimmed beard, wearing his prospector's hat. He told me about Rose Martinez' Fandango Hall, all underground, with wagon wheel lanterns, an entrance to Joaquin Murietta's secret cave. Francisco saw Murietta's head, pickled in whiskey in a jar in San Francisco, right before the 1906 fire. The face was bloated and the long hair swirled against the glass. I always begged Francisco for the story of la Patricia, a dance hall girl known as Shoo-Fly, a song she sang at the fandango hall. She had a daughter, who at just my age, Loretta Collins The Missouri Review · 263 died in a fever. The daughter lay in a hornito on the hiU. Shoo-Fly saved fandango tips for a better grave, one dynamited into the rockbed. She opened the hornito herself, prying out bricks. Her daughter's smaU bones crumbled in her hands. The next day, in the town plaza, Shoo-Fly set herself on fire and danced herself to death. I wanted to tell you these things, Kevin. But it was quiet, and we stood with los muertos. I didn't know then how the disease would require its own Utany of rage; how your quiet sentence, "Loretta, I don't want to die," would become the one cruel motto of our Uves. How in the night you would take out that rage, first on objects. How I would sweep glass, plaster sheetrock, calm alarmed neighbors, and then, finaUy, lock my son and myself in his room. Did I think a woman couldn't leave a dying...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 162-171
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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