Madewell Brown walked into the village on a hot, dry day in 1946. A solitary black man with one arm longer than the other, he had never found a place for himself. Never, that is, until he had painted his own history on the interior walls of his adobe house in Guadalupe.
Fifty years later, Will Sawyer’s truck runs out of gas, and as he walks that same long road back into town he knows it’s best to keep his eyes on the ground. But he doesn’t understand the town’s long history of displacement or the difficulty of truly fitting in there, until he hears the story of the dead girl found hanging from Las Manos Bridge.
In Perdido, Rick Collignon returns to the same magical village he first introduced in The Journal of Antonio Montoya.
In Perdido, Collignon returns to the same magical town he first introduced in The Journal of Antonio Montoya. Once again mixing present and past, living and dead, he delivers a forthright and unflinching examination of race, belonging, and identity. With this novel, Collignon shows that a powerful new voice in American fiction has arrived.
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About the Author
Rick Colligan has been a roofer for 20 years. He lives with his family in the mountains north of Questa, New Mexico.
Read an Excerpt
One winter, will Sawyerfound buried in his wall the carved figure of a Lady. He found her by accident. He was driving a nail into the adobe wall beside the kitchen stove when the head of the hammer broke through the thin layer of mud into air. The hole she stood in was not much larger than she, narrow and a little over a foot high. She was coated with dust and mud and woven with spiderwebs as if tied in place. Her hands came together at her chest; her eyes looked straight ahead. Her mouth was full and without a smile. The base she stood upon was a piece of flat cottonwood. Much of the paint on her gown and on the robe that fell from her head to her feet had peeled away. Will didn't know who had hidden her in the wall, only that she had stood there for a long time.
He never told anyone about her, not Felipe, not even Lisa, and on days like this one he would take her from her hiding place and stand her on the kitchen table. They would stay there together without talking, or at least she wouldn't, and look out the open door. Today, all they could see was rain and the clouds hanging low on the foothills.Will had left early that morning with Felipe, an hour or so before dawn, rain falling so softly that they both thought it wouldn't keep up much past sunrise. Felipe drove, their tools in the box in the bed of the pickup, the ladders vibrating on the rack above the cab. The radio was tuned to a Spanish station, and the reception was so poor that to Will it sounded as though the voices came from another world.
They drove through Guadalupe, heading north. Most of the houses were still dark, and this early there wasn't evena sign of life in Felix's Cafe. The narrow, two-lane highway was empty except for the occasional trucker hauling hay and dragging clouds of vapor in his wake. The rain seemed to be falling harder.
"This might be a bad idea," Felipe said.
Will leaned forward and wiped the fog off the windshield. "How can you even see?" he said. "Maybe if you put on the wipers, we won't hit a cow." Felipe grunted and hit the switch, and the wipers clacked back and forth. "All we got to do," Will went on, "is get some measurements."
"This was your stupid idea to take a job so far away."
"It won't take long," Will said. "We'll give her a price and come home."
"It's a five-hour drive," Felipe said. "Besides, who's going to crawl around her roof in the rain?"
"You think it'll rain all day?"
"It rained all night," Felipe said, as if that had something to do with now. "Even if it doesn't, the roof'll be slick."
Twenty miles north, they turned east onto a gravel road that would take them across the valley and over the Rio Grande. From the river, they still had another good hour of driving. Will leaned back low in the seat and lit a cigarette. He cracked open the window and watched the draft pull the smoke from the cab. He thought that since coming to New Mexico, he had spent half his life in the cab of a truck.
Felipe took his eyes off the road. He could see that Will's head moved with the motion of the truck and that his eyes were closed. "When we get to the bridge," he said, "if it's still raining, we're turning back."
"I'd hate to have to do this again tomorrow," Will said, his eyes still shut.
Felipe grunted and looked back at the road. It was raining harder. "Don't think you're going to sleep on this ride either, jodido," he said.
They had worked together for nine years. For a little while, at the beginning, they had been polite and careful with each other. But now, after so long, it seemed that all they did was argue like viejas. Felipe knew that this was not his doing and wondered how someone as even-tempered as he had come to have two wives who each took a great deal of pleasure in telling him what to do.
"You know why this lady wants a price?" he said. "So she can get her brother or her tio or some other relative to do it for less."
The sky became gray, light enough now that they could see the flatness of the land stretched out between the two mountain ranges, the Sangre de Cristos behind them and to the west the low, barren hills of the San Juans. They drove by some old fence lines and a ruin that was no more than a stone foundation and a pile of rocks that had once been a chimney. Felipe wondered why anyone would choose to live out here, where winter was too long and the wind always blew and nothing grew but sagebrush and sparse grass cropped short by generations of cattle. The road was beginning to rise gradually, and Felipe knew that just over the next hill it would dip down to the river. "Finally," he thought.
Las Manos Bridge spanned maybe eighty feet of river. The Rio Grande hadn't gouged out the terrain here as it had farther south but flowed slow and steady. The bridge was built with heavy steel trestles above and below, the roadway lined with thick planks that jarred loose when a vehicle passed over them. The trestles were dripping with rain; the steel was dull black.
Felipe stopped the truck in the middle of the bridge and shut off the engine. Will could see that Felipe's eyes were bloodshot. From driving, from not enough sleep, from too many beers the night before, he didn't know.
"What do you think?" Felipe asked.
"I think you were right," Will said. "This is a bad idea."
"Now you say that. We can go on if you want."
Will shook his head. "You want to stay here and talk about this, don't you?"
Felipe grinned and then leaned against the truck door, pushing it open. "Eee," he said, "it's probably a sunny day in Guadalupe. The rain sitting out here." He climbed out of the pickup, walked to the edge of the bridge, and began urinating in the river. Out the driver's door past Felipe, Will could see that the river was running high and muddy, rain spitting against the surface. Felipe said something to him in Spanish that he didn't catch.
"My father's neighbor calls this place puente de la nina," Felipe said then, "and he says if you want to fish in the river, fish somewhere else."
Will shook his head and smiled. "I didn't get that," he said.
Once, for two weeks, Felipe had refused to speak anything but Spanish to Will. Both thought this would be a good idea, as Will would thus learn a language spoken by everyone, but after the two weeks had passed, Felipe gave up in frustration. While it was true Will learned the words quickly, it was also true that when he spoke, his speech was so slow and out of cadence that Felipe would close his eyes and smile with feigned patience, wishing his friend would shut up and speak English. He thought there must be a part of Will's brain either underdeveloped or missing altogether.
"I will never understand," Felipe said, "how anyone could be here so long and know so little. Nina is girl, a young girl, but what my father's neighbor means it to be is 'dead girl.'" He zipped up his pants, came back to the truck, and leaned against the cab. His hair was black andwet with rain. His face was a little puffy but clean shaven and deep brown now from the summer.
"Puente is bridge," he went on. "Bridge of the dead girl. Puente de la nina. He found a dead girl, a gringa, out here hanging from one of the beams. So he named this place after her."
Will got out of the pickup and faced Felipe across the hood. The rain was falling heavily enough that he could feel it through his shirt. He looked up at the dark trestles.
"Some white girl hung herself out here?" he said.
Felipe shrugged. "That's what I heard."
Will looked back at him. "Damn," he said. "What a place for her to be. So when did this happen? Yesterday or a long time ago?"
Felipe grimaced and blew air out of his mouth. "Twenty, twenty-five years ago, I think. Maybe a little longer. I was still in school. I forget how old."
"I never heard this story. I've been here a long time, but I never heard this story."
Felipe pushed himself off the side of the pickup. "So?" he said. "You think you should know the whole history of a place after just a few years? Besides, it's just a story, Will. Don't worry about it."
"I'm not worried about it," Will said. "It's just that there's nothing out here." He looked past Felipe. On the west side of the river, the earth was churned up where cattle had come to drink, the river beginning to cut into the clumps of mud, rising with the rain. Beyond that there wasn't much to see. Flat land with sagebrush and a sky that sat low with clouds. He looked up again at the trestles dripping with rain and thought that if he were to dose his eyes, he would almost see her.
Felipe straightened up and moved his shoulders back and forth. He ran a hand through his hair, squeezing out the rain so it dripped down the back of his shirt. He shivered and thought that he did not need to catch a cold in July. "It was a long time ago, Will," he said. "Come on, let's get out of here and go home."
They drove back the way they had come. Felipe dropped Will off at his house and then went home. He hoped his children were still asleep and that his wife, Elena, was still in bed and would be happy to see him. Will took the Lady out of the wall and spent the day with her, staring at the rain and thinking about a gringa hanging by herself from Las Manos Bridge.
Telesfor Ruiz, Will Sawyer's only neighbor, died in his bed of old age just a year after Will came to Guadalupe. Telesfor lived in the adobe his father had built, a couple of hundred yards from Will's house. After Telesfor's death, his relatives, who no longer lived in Guadalupe, came and buried him. They emptied his house and his sheds, hauling away even the old man's cookstove. They sold his sheep and three head of cattle to the Medina family. Then they boarded up the two small windows in the house, nailed shut the door, and went back to where they had come from. Will never knew what happenedto Telesfor's dog, which was small and twisted with age and no longer barked at anything.
The first time Will met Telesfor, he had been in Guadalupe only a few weeks and knew no one. He had spent that time alone, working on his house and wondering what he was doing in a place where people looked at you as if you weren't there and almost always spoke in a language in which all the words sounded alike. One afternoon, he had walked to Telesfor's house and found the old man sitting on a stool beneath his portal. Telesfor invited him inside for coffee, and they sat awkwardly at the kitchen table for a long time. Finally, as if from nowhere, Telesfor told him that one winter when he was a small boy, the snowfall had been so heavy that all of the roofs in Guadalupe collapsed on the same night. When he woke, he said, there was mud and water in his bed and he could not feel his feet. All he could see above him was falling snow and stars.
When Will walked back home that day, it was sunset, the sky streaked red. The color fell on the mountains and on the sagebrush. In Will's mind was the picture of small boys trapped under mud and snow. He had never heard such a story, and he thought that beneath the village he could see with his eyes was something else. He thought that maybe the next day, after he made sure the roof on his house was sound enough to hold the weight of snow, he would walk back to his neighbor's house.
Across the creek and not far from Telesfor and Will's places was a baseball field with high weeds in the outfield and stones mixed with dirt in the infield. Once each week, the field would be ringed with vehicles and there would be a game, always between the same two teams. For a long time, the noise of engines and of men who had drunk one beer too many bothered Will. But after a while, he got to like it. He liked hearing the kids rushing through the cottonwoods along the creek and the voices of the women calling out to them. Finally, he walked over one night and borrowed a glove and saw what it was like to have a ball fly so far and then fall into his hand.
But Will didn't feel like playing baseball tonight. He felt tired after doing nothing all day but taking a long drive in the rain with Felipe. The clouds had moved out by late afternoon, and the sun had come out in a haze of mist. By then, Will was sitting in a chair against the south side of his house watching the sky grow dark. The voices at the field had quieted down, other than an occasional yell, and he could hear truck engines revving and pulling out.
It was nearly dark when Felipe drove over. His truck pulled into the drive and hit the ruts hard, headlights shooting everywhere. Felipe pulled up and parked alongside the house.
"So," he said, one arm hanging out the open truck window. "I thought you'd be over at the field."
"I didn't make it." Will pushed out of the chair and went over to the pickup. "Who won?"
"I don't know," Felipe said. "I don't keep score. Your girlfriend was there."
"Yes, Lisa. How many girlfriends do you have? She asked me where you were. Then she stayed for a little while and left."
Will let out a long breath of air. "I guess I should have walked over," he said.
Before Will, Lisa had been with a friend of Felipe's named Pablo Padilla. On his head the day after he stopped seeing Lisa was a large bandage. Pablo told everyone that he had fallen off his roof and landed in the woodpile, but the story Felipe heard from Elena was that Pablo had called Lisa something he shouldn't have, and when he turned away to drink from his beer, she hit him with a board. Felipe tapped his fingers against the side of the pickup. He thought that if he had a girlfriend like Lisa Segura, it would be dangerous to let her sit by herself at a baseball game and grow angry. He also thought that if Will wasn't smart enough to know this, why should he tell him?
"What time do you want to leave in the morning?" Felipe asked, smiling a little.
"The job's off," Will said. "I called the woman after you dropped me off and gave her a guess over the phone. She said she didn't think it would be that much and since her brother put on shingles once, maybe she'd let him do it."
Felipe grunted. "I told you," he said.
"I'm going to go see Lisa in the morning. After that, maybe I'll come by your house. If you're not doing anything, we could see your father's neighbor." It was dark now. Will could just see Felipe's face through the shadows inside the cab.
"The girl on the bridge," Felipe said. "I should be careful what I say to you."
"It's a good story, Felipe," Will said. "I just want to hear the end of it."
THE QUICKENINGPAPER CHASE PRESS
TODAY'S TRENDS, TOMORROW'S WORLD
By Art Bell
Copyright © 1997 Art Bell.All rights reserved.
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