The Holy Tortilla
Excerpt from the short story: The Holy Tortilla
And then something else happened. The people who came to see the images above the tortilla, left with something extra, something misterioso, under their skin. They noticed that they were sleeping better, laughing deeper. Even people in a hurry walked at a slower pace, enjoying the road. They admired the small stubborn blooms, so visible now on what used to be ignored as weeds, and the dance of the butterflies, landing on overgrown sunflowers. Life in Alma Seca began to seem filled with music. Several viejitos set themselves up nearby with guitars, and people filing past would hear an old voice singingcon alma “No hay que llegar primero, pero hay que saber llega-ar” or sometimes “Celebrate Good Times, Come Own!!” in a Tex-Mex-accented rock dialect.
The family did not resent the constant flow of visitors. Instead they would often go outside and share lunches with them. Sometimes, the visitors brought fajitas and a little portable barbecue grill, and the aromas and sounds made the front yard feel like the Fiesta fairgrounds.
Through it all, the Virgen remained quiet, but active. It’s as if no sound was necessary from her mouth. People provided the sounds from inside their own dreams. Early one morning, when many were sleeping on the ground around her, pillowed by each other’s snores, a few of the early risers said they saw her wearing a little black vinyl fisherman’s cap like Selena’s, tuning in a boom box, and singing, toda cool, with an invisible microphone in her hands, “Cracklin’ Rose, you make me smile!” Chala, who knew Neil Diamond’s songs by heart, said the Virgin’s swinging shoulders and open mouth movements matched that line exactly, and that she herself couldn’t stop singing it all day long.
Lunchtime of that same day, people saw her holographic image walking, really SERIOUSLY walking, in big long strides and some comfortable chanclas, arms cocked in right angles, strutting so serious and so real that they moved aside to make room for her between them. When she got closer, a man and a woman appeared beside her in the vapors. She put an arm around each, and they walked together. La Mrs. Henderson, the school cafeteria lady, who’d come on the second day and never left since, said she was sure they were relatives, maybe the Virgin’s brother and sister! But then, Mrs. Henderson, sweet as she was, DID always think most Mexicans looked alike anyway.
The neighbor ladies started bringing their laundry baskets, so they could fold their clothes with everyone else, a little closer to the tortilla. And even their husbands joined in folding, and some strangers too. And the babies were all happier, because there were people all around to hold them y chulearles. No one needed play pens, and even the teenagers smiled more.
* * * *
But not everyone was happy about the tortilla. Local officials impressed with their job titles began to grumble. Didn’t people realize there were more important things in life than a holy tortilla?
The migra grumbled too. With so many devotos, the I.N.S. guys figured, there had to be some mojados around somewhere. People in the U.S. aren’t as religious as those in Mexico, they argued, people in Mexico are more religious about everything, even about tortillas. In addition, the story the Immigration and Naturalization Service got was that some woman standing in a cloud of vapors at some rancho was making gestures and not talking. That sounded like maybe she didn’t speak English and wasn’t a U.S. citizen, maybe even some involvement with some illegal substance that was being burned or smoked or inhaled! So they sent some agents to check it out. They didn’t think about there being any disadvantage to sending Silver Men-dez. He never called himself Silverio anymore and they were sure of his loyalties. “Just another one of us,” his supervisor said.
But when they got there, something was different right away. First off, nobody noticed them, nobody mumbled or shifted or high-tailed it out. They were too busy watching the tortilla. Pretty soon, all of the immigration guys were watching the tortilla too, and Silver had somehow worked himself into a front row seat, where he stayed for three days solid.
That’s when the sheriff decided he’d better check it out too. Or at least that’s what he told people. His wife said he was just looking for an excuse to go see it, like everyone else. Besides, he was always a pushover for a hot tortilla. . .