ISABELLA RODRIGUEZ Hernandez had been cooking all day in preparation for Dia de los Muertos and her first born son’s return home, however brief.
She’d prepared her famous spicy red pozole, crispy mojarra frita, arroz rojo, esquites, a labor intensive mole poblano, and Juan’s favorite desserts, a beautiful caramel flan and cocadas. It was a meal worthy of any wedding feast, farewell party, or Dia de los Muertos celebration.
She’d invited old man Samuel from next door. He had to be invited. They had been neighbors for more years than she wanted to count. She’d been pretty in those days, back when she and the children had first moved into the house. As a retired General Brigadier of the Ejército Mexicano, Samuel had been unafraid to offer her the hand of friendship and repudiation from the neighbors when it was found out who had given her money for the house and Juan’s education. Plus, at the age of seventy, Samuel still carried a gun. And he was a crack shot.
And of course, she’d also invited Father Mathias from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. He’d bless the food and Juan’s marriage. Perhaps, if she tipped him vigorously, he’d say a prayer in hopes of future grandchildren. More importantly, the Good Father never went anywhere, these days, without his bodyguards.
She’d invited at least twenty other people, plenty of witnesses so there’d be no trouble, she prayed. Word of Juan’s return, with a White American bride in tow, would surely have reached Jesús Mendoza, Don Manuel’s First Lieutenant of the Los Oscuros by now. Isabella was certain he’d make an appearance at the party, tonight, armed with a pandilla de matones (gang of thugs).
How could Juan have been so foolish and thoughtless? Surely, he had not sacrificed himself for the love of the woman who lay sleeping in his old bedroom. There had to be more to his marriage than he’d admitted and she was determined to get to the truth, one way or the other.
Later that afternoon after Juan and his brothers had left to plan a route for tonight, Isabella knocked on Juan’s bedroom door.
Eleanor rolled over and sat up with a start when she saw Isabella enter the room.
“Did you sleep well, Eleanor,” Isabella asked, setting a tray containing a cup of spicy sweet hot chocolate and a buttered croissant down on the nightstand.
Eleanor, using her elbows, pushed herself up to a sitting position, in the bed, and adjusted the bedcovers so that they covered her lower half.
“What time is it?”
“Well you should ask, Eleanor. You have slept most of the day. It is late. And I need a word. If I may?”
Confused, Eleanor nodded her approval for her mother-in-law to have a seat.
“How did you learn to speak English so quickly? I heard Juan and he spoke only Spanish to you.”
“Many people, other than Americans, speak more than one language, my dear. But that is not what I wish to talk with you about.”
“If it’s the sleeping. It’s just that I was exhausted from the whole mess with Willow, the trial, being arrested, and then being deported with no warning, having to walk across that horrible bridge with all those filthy people, and then having to run for our lives.”
Isabella, a fast witted woman from whom Juan had inherited his smarts, decided she should encourage Eleanor to talk.
“Please, Eleanor, tell me what happened. All of it. I want to know what my son has endured.”
“How much has Juan told you?” Eleanor asked.
“You know men. They think that their mothers are virgins too delicate to stand hearing the dirty details,” smiled Isabella.
Eleanor pondered her mother-in-law for a few minutes considering how much she should share. Definitely, not the whole truth. Nothing about the pictures.
“Someone ratted us out to the Feds because they knew that I had married Juan so that he’d qualify for a green card.”
“Why do you think such a thing?”
“Because, when we went to apply for a change in your son’s status, we were arrested, spent three days in jail without being given a phone call, forced before a judge for a phony trial, and put on a plane for Mexico.”
“Who do you think told? Was it perhaps this Willow, you mentioned?”
Eleanor realized she’d put her foot squarely into Juan’s business and had said way too much.
“I don’t know. It could have been anyone,” Eleanor answered taking a sip of the hot chocolate. “Oooh, it’s hot!”
“Yes, of course.”
“No. I mean it’s hot,” Eleanor explained by fanning her tongue.
“Tell me of this woman, Willow. Was she the woman my son made this great sacrifice for?”
Eleanor wasn’t sure what to do.
“Did he love her? Was she worthy of him?
Eleanor felt cornered. She needed to make Juan and Willow’s affair sound less than it was.
“They were such good friends, I’m surprised he’s never mentioned her.”
“I am not,” replied Isabella, looking very stern. Her sweet demeanor had disappeared like the steam coming up from the cup of hot chocolate.
“So who is she?”
“Her name is Willow Meyers and your son loves her, at least I think he does since he married me trying to stay in the United States to be near her.”
“And you tried to help them by marrying him.”
“Why didn’t this Willow person marry my son, Juan?”
“Because she’s already married,” Eleanor admitted.
“Yes. I feared such a thing.”
“If it’s any consolation, I think your son is a good man. He just got mixed up with the wrong woman. We both did.”
Satisfied, Isabella decided to share her information with Eleanor.
“Eleanor, there’s a man coming to the house, tonight, possibly to kill my son. And I need your help to save his life. It is imperative that you do what I say.”