Wispy hair stuck out from under the burlap hood, waving in the wind as the crone hobbled toward Jeremy. The highway pavement was warm in the sun despite the chill in the wind and it seeped up through his boots to warm his feet even as he huddled inside his coat, his scarf and gloves, for heat. The old woman though, she just kept on coming at such a leisurely pace that one might assume she was on a mild afternoon stroll on a summer’s eve.
“Excuse me,” he called out to her. No answer. Jeremy raised his arm, a shiver running down to his shoulder. “Pardon me, miss? My car broke down about a mile back behind me.” She still refused to reply. “Ma’am, I just need to know how close the nearest town is.” The woman kept on walking, headed straight for him, but still did not direct so much as a peep to him. He sighed, lowered his shivering arm, and continued forward. As she drew nearer, her long walking stick taping in the dust of the road’s shoulder, he heard her singing to herself.
Yo esta bien un tiempo
Volviendo a sonreír
Luego anoche tevi
Y el saludo de tu voz
“Christ,” he thought, “she’s a whackadoo.” Her crisp voice on the sailed to him on the wind, the haunting song chilling him deeper. His bones grated in the cold now, frozen with the melody. Pulling his coat tighter around him he determined it best to just continue on without acknowledging her. Methodic and off-beat with her singing, the stick tapped in the dirt. As his head hung he heard her words coming to him again.
Y hable muy bien
Y tu sin saber
Que he estado
Llorando por tu amor
Llorando por tu amor
Familiarity in those words. Jeremy’s ears pricked up at them. They were from a song, something he had heard once before. In college perhaps, or when he had visited LA. “Yes,” he thought, “that’s the song Maria sang at that weirdo nightclub.” Maria, an ex-girlfriend from his early twenties, had been an avant-garde performer in a nightclub in Los Angeles when he had met her. On a semester off from school he had gone out to work, living with his Uncle Teddy at a car wash. The girl had been someone he had seen perform, had sung this song and had this whole non-reality routine. It had been hammy, but stunning enough that he had felt compelled to send her a note after the show. That decision had led to the most wondrous and exhausting two years of his life, culminating in the ugliest breakup he had endured to date.
Luego detu dios
Senti todo mi dolor
Sola y llorando, llorando, llorando
She was nearly on him now, right in front of him. He held up his hand, took the wrinkled old woman by the shoulder. Silence fell on the plains, the howl of the wind itself diminishing. The woman was burning up, physically burning into his hand, and he yanked back. “Sheezus,” he muttered. The crone gasped, lurching back. She peered at him warily from under the hood of her shawl, gray and thinned hair dancing around her face like television static. “What the hell?” he whimpered. He looked at his hand and a lump rose in his throat. The skin was puckered now, welts appearing. The burning old woman had actually burnt him. “What do you have under all those clothes,” he asked, “hot lead?”
He began unwrapping his scarf from around his head and neck, the wind biting into his cheeks and his ears starting to sting, in order to wrap his hand up with it. The cold had been bad enough, the stinging breeze on the burn was already nigh-on unbearable. The old woman still examined him, leaned closer to get a better look at him. She was leathery, wrinkled and ancient. Out here, in all of her bundles, it was hard to exactly calculate his age but her face looked like it was in its seventies at the least. “Ma’am,” he asked, “are you okay? What are you doing wandering around out here?” She leaned forward, touched his face. There was a stinging sensation from her fingers but he did not dare move, concern over her behavior petrifying him.
“Jeremy, mi amor,” she said, “¿Cómo estás aquí?”
He leapt at this. “Jeremy, yes,” he exclaimed, “that’s my name. How do you know me?”
Taking a piece of his hair in her fingers, she twisted it around her fingers, feeling it. The heat from her singed away the lock of hair and she held it close to her face, smelling it as the tuft burned away. “¿Como estas vivo?”
“Ma’am, please,” he pleaded, “tell me you speak some English. My Spanish is rusty.”
Tears leapt to her eyes and she leaned forward to embrace him. The heat she gave off was stifling and within instants he could barely breathe. “¿Dónde estoy? ¿Qué me está pasando?”
Jeremy rolled his eyes in frustration. “Ma’am, look, como se dice town?” he asked. “Town, you know. Cuidadano?”
She gasped once more and began to weep in earnesty. She put a hand to his face and held it there, the heat from her softening and only slightly burning. At the least they were helping with just how cold he was. “Look, lady, I don’t know what you’re on about. Are you ok?
She wept openly now, her eyes as full as his with tears. They were in the middle of each other’s’ way and unwilling to budge until they had figured this out. At least that was what his friend had told him. The boys gave him plenty of advice but one thing that had gotten him along quite well in life was their cardinal rule – don’t let anyone sympathize you into something you can’t handle. One of the boys even liked to joke that it was that line of thinking he should have applied rather than becoming a father.
Jeremy reached up with his wrapped hand, touched her face in return. The woman’s face was old, broken and tattered and yet he felt like he needed to be right there, at that moment. It was that for him now.
“Ma’am, I’m starved. Do you have any food, anything at all?” he asked her, trying to get conversation rolling so he could once more ask about the town. The woman flinched from his touch at this, rolled herself away from his fingers.
“Me estoy volviendo loco” she muttered. The woman grabbed a piece of jewelry around her neck ,feeling it. The diamond in white-gold at her throat was glinting in the light. It looked just like one he had given to Maria, nearly five years previously.
“Jeremy,” she said, “Que nos paso?”
“Look lady,” he growled, “I don’t know what you’re saying and I’m done with this.” He moved on passed her, bumping her with his shoulder on the way by. He turned to see the expression on her face, expecting anger or confusion but instead seeing pain and sorrow. She was still crying, the tears streaming down her face. Then she sighed, turned around, and began walking on in the direction she had originally been heading. She took her singing back up, the words think with the choke of her weeping. He could hear the tears in every word.
No es facil de entender
Que al verte otra vez
Yo este llorando
Jeremy continued on, her song fading with the howl around him. The further he got the worse it all seemed, and he began to grow tired from walking straight into a head-wind like this one. Up ahead of him, he could hear a rhythmic tapping. The sound of a walking stick. He continued on.
He worried about his car, not too far back. He had been trapped and still felt so, but strangely did not even want to get his car towed yet. Right now all he wanted was a hot bath, a warm meal, and to be left alone in it. The tapping from ahead came closer and he turned, looking behind him. There was no one there. Jeremy was alone on the road. He could see his car, though. “Why did I think I’d gotten further than this?” he thought to himself. He meandered on up the highway, hearing the tapping of the stick. A large figure, with wispy grey hair billowing out from under her hood.
“Maybe she’ll help me,” Jeremy thought to himself. On the wind he heard an odd singing, like something out of a movie or something. He listened to the lyrics, billowing toward him on the wind, and desperately hoped the individual would help him.
Tu amor se llevo
Todo mi corazon
Y quedo llorando, llorando, llorando, llorando
Por tu amor
When had he last heard these words? They seemed so familiar. He thought back. Maria, that was it. Maria had explained them, the night he had met her. Sitting in her dressing room, removing her makeup in the post-show, she had explained to him the significance of the song. “It means ‘crying’ in Spanish,” she explained. “You know, the word ‘llorando?”