Truth or Consequences
Tommy Mierzwinski

I t was one of Frank's favorite stories. He would tell it whenever he was with the guys, talking about women. He'd get this smirk on his face and speak in a throaty whisper, "The sweetest piece I ever had was in T or C, New Mexico. She was a 16-year-old Mescalero Apache." That trip to Truth or Consequences, when he was 22, was the only time, until today, that he'd ever left Boston. It burned bright in his memory.
The letter appeared on the day Frank buried his mother. He thought it was a condolence note. It began cautiously, "Please excuse me, if this letter does not concern you." Today, standing next to a cactus tipped with a slender, curved spine in the desert outside T or C, Frank wished that he was home. The letter continued, "Twenty years ago, my mother left the reservation with a friend for an evening in town." Frank felt strange in this place that he'd glorified for so many years. Somehow it looked smaller than he remembered, more closed in. This is a mistake, he said out loud to himself.
He ended up in T or C the first time after a fight with his father. Frank told his father that he hated him and his barber shop. He was going out West to work on a ranch. Cutting hair was a woman's job, Frank said. He drove three days straight to New Mexico. He stopped in T or C when he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. In a cafe, he met two girls with long, black hair from the reservation. His accent made them giggle. Frank bought a bottle of tequila and asked the girls if they knew of a motel nearby. The tall girl, Rita, stayed with him that night. The next morning, Frank promised Rita that he'd come to the reservation to get her after he found a job. He had no luck after three days so he headed back to Boston, without seeing Rita.
"She met a man from Boston, who she never forgot," the next line said. He closed the barber shop the week of the funeral. I need to get away, he told himself. "That man is my father," the young woman wrote.
Frank stood in the dark orange desert dirt waiting for his daughter in the appointed spot. Two hours, four hours, six hours went by. The yellow sun dropped slowly on the pink horizon. The last line of the letter had puzzled him. As he looked up and saw a buzzard circling above him, he felt his knees give way. "As the big black bird waits in the sky, I'll wait for you."

First published: October 31, 1998