Big Chief

Big Chief Gas Station, New Mexico

Ningún Santuario Pt. 7

Chapter 3

Cuba, NM 1974

Arturo sat behind the shed crying, ignoring his mother’s repeated calls from the house. Whittling a crude face into a block of wood with his pocket knife, he tried to capture the features of the boy who had beaten him up in the schoolyard that afternoon while his classmates laughed and taunted him, shouting “Retard!” in unison before Mr. Hernandez arrived to break up the melee.

Intensely focused, he drew the nose out a bit longer and widened the eyes to enhance the Gringo characteristics of his tormentor’s countenance. Blowing the wood shavings from the block, he gave it a final inspection, set it down on his uncle’s discarded workbench and plunged the blade of his knife directly between the eyes.

“Hijo de puta.”

Leaving the knife protruding from the block of wood, he wiped his nose on his sleeve and emerged from behind the shed into the dusty backyard.



“Tiempo de es para la cena.”


A roadrunner skittered from the weeds bordering the neighbor’s yard and came to a stop just a few feet from where Arturo stood. It faced him while shifting from foot to foot and Arturo stood perfectly still so as not to frighten it away. Slowly, Arturo edged back to the rear of the shed and retrieved his knife. With silent steps, he resumed his position in front of the roadrunner, gripped the knife handle and hurled it at the bird, narrowly missing his target and sending it aloft with a violent flapping of wings.



“Entra ahora!”

He picked his knife up from the ground, folded the blade into the handle and trudged to the back door. Tomorrow, a young Gringo would meet his maker.


A solitary figure limped along the shoulder of US-550, a paper bag tucked under his arm. It was dusk. To the west, fiery red ribbons sliced through the darkening sky.

He spotted a sign in the distance bearing the image of an Indian chief in full head dress and quickened his pace until he reached the heavily graffitied husk of the former “last gas” stop in San Ysidro. Broken glass and used syringes crackled beneath his boots as he circumambulated the small building, intently scanning the littered ground. Behind the building, amidst a pile of old discarded oil cans and rags, his gray eyes fell upon the glint of a blade. He placed his bag on the ground and rummaged through the trash until the large machete revealed itself and a malicious smile spread across his weather beaten face. Grabbing the chipped and faded handle, he drew the machete from the garbage heap with a deliberately triumphant air like a dirty, menacing Lancelot.

After wiping a layer of crud from the blade on his shirtsleeve, he placed the machete into his paper bag and tucked it back under his arm. Limping back to the shoulder of the desolate highway, he disappeared into the starless night.


I had been court ordered to attend at least 4 A.A. meetings a week, so rather than enhance my misery by scoffing at the trite 12 step slogans with which I was perpetually bombarded, I opted to swallow my arrogance and give it a chance. Not that “turning my will and my life over to a higher power” was ever going to be a palatable means of maintaining sobriety, but some of the people I met in the rooms were more open-minded than I would have anticipated and my social circle needed some expansion. I had asked a guy named Jim to be my sponsor because he seemed to dispense of the cultish bullshit and the Bill W-isms when he shared, so I correctly anticipated a sort of preexisting kinship between us.

Shortly after my arrest, Marisa saved me the trouble of placing an awkward and uncomfortable phone call by breaking up with me in an e-mail. It was the sweetest thing she’d done in our entire three month relationship. I had no animosity towards her; she was nice, unassuming and had an innocent beauty about her, a curly red bob of hair framing her porcelain doll’s face. But Grace was right; I had no business wasting any more of her time when I knew damn well we were an awful fit. I always hated having to end relationships, even short and casual ones like this. I wondered if perhaps Marisa knew this and sent me the message as a way of sparing me the trouble. If so, it was a lovely thing for her to have done. And of course, I found myself pining for her all over again.

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