A high, tight table with a pair of wooden three-legged chairs with flat board backs, tucked into the farthest corner at the other end of the room-length bar, was unoccupied. Eddie and Rosalinda, glancing around the room, saw this location simultaneously and without words glided quietly together across the rough wooden floor littered with sawdust and crushed peanut shells leaving serpentine scrawl designs in their wake. A few shadowy customers at the bar took sideways glances at the pair, turned back to their drinks and nodded knowingly to each other with a smirk. Eddie took notice of these other patrons for the first time but paid them no attention. He and Rosalinda had not spoken since they had first greeted each other at the door. He hadn’t decided on his opening gambit.
The ceiling was uneven and gradually became lower towards the back end of the cantina, where anyone above average height would have to crouch to avoid scraping their heads on the rough stucco ceiling. This was Cisco’s Place, a private neighborhood dive, and it would not have been surprising to discover tufts of scalp and hair on the more jagged pieces of the ceiling.
Eddie pulled a chair away from the high pedestal table next to the mustard-colored wall, dragging two of its three legs, and farming a pair of furrows through the sawdust. A pattern of dancing, dark-umber sombreros with small furry balls, attached with thin strings along the rim of each hat, were stenciled every five inches in a repeating pattern just above table height along the wall. Not surprisingly, this visual chaos had caused the first owner, Cisco, to constantly field complaints from customers. They often claimed to him that this wall design made people uncomfortable, dizzy even, and most said this while totally discounting the fact that they had usually consumed copious amounts of tequila before voicing their complaints. Eddie had an opinion on the subject and he could easily understand the customer’s side. He viewed the gaudy pattern as unnecessary and hideous, but it did give Cisco’s Place its charm, such that it was.
“Good to see you again, Rosalinda, you are looking fine as ever,” Eddie paused with his hand softly caressing the back of her chair. He hoped he wasn’t being too forward too fast.
“Si, yes very much, Eddie,” Rosalinda cooed back.
Eddie looked at her and then to the chair he had pulled out from under the tall table, directing her to it with his eyes. Rosalinda smoothly hovered over and slowly descended onto the worn- smooth seat like a hummingbird landing in the sweet nectar of a beautiful flower.
She twisted slightly to the side and held up two slim fingers which prompted the bartender to nod back at her and pick up two rickey glasses which he plunged into a deep slate-grey metal tub of crushed ice. She turned back around to see Eddie taking the seat opposite her, he was as handsome as ever, she thought. She disregarded the sweat stains on his teal and midnight blue shirt with a snappy short round matching collar, which she didn’t like at all. He had shiny damp, black, oiled hair which was thrown from right to left up over his generous and broad head. She liked the way his hair hung long and low in the back, hiding that fashionably short round collar from a rear view. His eyebrows were placed low on his face, hooding his dark eyes, giving him an exotic look but at the same time, exposing an acre of forehead. Still, she thought him sweet beyond candy, seeing only what she wanted. Rosalinda was, is, and always has been, in love with Eddie, although this realization only recently came to her. She had always kept her distance, a relationship with him could have complications, and for this reason she never returned any of Eddie’s advances.
“Muy buena, Eddie, it is so good to see you. Thank you for coming. I am much indebted to you. Muchas gracias.” Rosalinda was making small movements from side to side, adjusting her posture on the tall chair.
Slightly flushed and feeling a bit humid from his recent adventure outside, Eddie turned his gaze from the room towards Rosalinda and those miraculously crystal-clear, deeply pooled, slate- green eyes that seemed to connect straight to the softly segmented parts of her inner self, like looking into her soul with a kaleidoscope. He fought to keep his composure.
“You knew I would. All you had to do was ask.” He looked at her face for a reaction, but dared not linger and stare. Truth was, her beauty intimidated him. “And, you know I didn’t bring RuhMoan with me. I left him back in the woods. He’s messed up, Rosa, I’m sorry to say.”
The ancient three-bladed fan behind him, mounted head high on the wall sans a protective safety cage, sent rhythmic puffs of air towards her, tossing the tips of her shoulder length black hair back and forth one way, then the other as it mechanically rotated on its axis, catching at each end of its travel with an unsettling grinding noise before starting out on the opposite sweep. Her hair responding to the wisps of intermittent breezes, he thought, was marvelous to watch and sensuous in a way only a man who has dreamed of being intimately involved with a woman could know. The general direction of the fan prevented him from taking in that highly personal jasmine smell of her soft caramel brown skin, particularly concentrated at the nape of her slender neck. A memory he recalled vividly and loved so thoroughly, and missed it with a longing ache much like an amputee misses a newly severed limb. The table immediately down wind was so enthralled by this surprisingly exotic scent, however, the men there felt compelled to remark whenever the fan broadcast the scent their way, irritating Eddie.
Of course, one tends to remember only the good things on occasions such as this, but the not- so-good things were now starting to creep back into Eddie’s memory. Past episodes of love, he remembered, did not always go so well; there’s that still-sensitive scar on the side of his neck that the barber still finds with his electric clippers everytime without fail. The knee he twisted that time he was stupid with drink and she helped him down the long, winding stairs with a high kick to the small of his back. The knockdown, drag-out, verbal battles over trivial matters such as the way Eddie would look at his neighbor’s shapely wife, which always escalated into either blood or passion. Maybe he just loved too hard, too much, like a drunk loves his hooch and was powerless to stop even though he knew, and everyone else around him knew, that it was killing him. And like an addiction, whenever love presented itself, he could never turn her down.
Cisco’s Place was starting to fill with an assortment of customers now that it was late afternoon and people needed to wash away the dust and heat of the day’s activities, be it work or leisure. Cisco’s was illegal in that Pedro had no license to operate a cantina or serve drinks, never mind the card game in back behind the heavy ceiling-to-floor purple velour curtains just behind and to the other side of the bar, where Palo Pedro had won this place from Cisco on a disputed game of high-stakes deadman’s poker with the infamous hand of aces and eights. That story was just for public consumption, however, as it never went down that way, not even close. Only a few people knew the truth, they were there when it happened, and it wasn’t in their best interest to have the truth see its way clear into the light of day.
Note: Cisco’s was an illegal enterprise only in the eyes of the law here in Amarillo, Texas, for arrangements have been made, you see, with the right people in the right places. Often, these arrangements included various sums of money, whatever amounts their protectors thought they could press for, other times transactions between the parties might include certain commodities, as it were, narcotics, jewelry, companionship, etc. Consequently, Cisco’s Place operated with impunity.
Palo Pedro was a happy man, always smiling, greeting everyone who entered with a grin, eagerly pointing to empty places for them to settle into when they would arrive. His face, although jovial, often times much too jovial, made him appear not as friendly as you might
imagine, but rather simple, like he was touched in the head, like a rubber-room resident at the local loco lounge. Those who knew him knew not to push Palo Pedro, certainly not like Cisco did. That was the legend that protected Palo Pedro. Most here in the cantina knew the story, and pity to those who didn’t, for this was valuable, even vital, some say critical, information to have. As the old folks are fond of saying, Palo Pedro’s reputation preceded him.
Only Rosalinda knew the true story between Cisco and Palo Pedro, and she certainly wasn’t letting that cat out of the bag. She would prefer people think what they wanted, all those wild stories about high-stakes card games and deadman’s poker hands, it was far better for her that they didn’t know the real facts. Even Palo Pedro, in all his ego-driven superiority, did not know all the details of that fateful night, and he was there! The truth to Rosalinda, in this case, was truly worth the risk.
Eddie looked up. Palo Pedro himself was grinning his way across the floor, two rickey glasses filled to the brim with amber rum, a squeezed lime wedged into a splash of orange juice poured over crushed ice with a twist of fresh mint leaf. The drinks were on a small circular tray held high above his head. Here he came, twisting sideways through the patrons who were gathering in groups, headed directly to their table tucked away in the corner, to serve them the drinks Rosalinda had ordered.
A brief tremor of terror rippled through his body. Brace yourself, Eddie reminded his increasingly nervous brain, stay calm, be confident. Palo Pedro was closing fast, smiling like the cheshire cat. Eddie scolded himself. Steady now, act like you don’t give a rat’s ass about that thing that happened. That unresolved incident between he and Pedro that occurred some time ago, down in Corpus Christi. That thing they never did get straightened out.