Several authors are coming out with stories based on three songs by Marty Robbins: El Paso, Faleena and El Paso City. The story titles will be: "El Paso - author's name" e.g. "El Paso — Jake Rivers"
This is a follow on to our first "invitational" in the fall of 2006 with entries based on the Statler Brother's song, "This Bed of Rose's." If there is continuing support we might make this a regularly semi-annual event.
Thanks to Copperbutterfly for her editing work.
It was a hard country, this central part of the relatively new state of New Mexico. The terrain was rough, hilly, cut from centuries of flash floods and baking sun. Vegetation was sparse, filled with cacti, saw grass, and creosote brush. The few trees that grew in areas where their roots could find any moisture at all were mostly mesquite, scrawny little trees that provided little shade and only crooked little branches coated with hard inch-long thorns, or scraggly little crooked juniper trees.
Yet it seemed like the land of promise to 'Nando Gonzalez and his wife, Reena. Both of them had come from large families of poor Mexican dirt farmers who tried to scratch out a living in the arid sands of the state of Chihuahua. At least here they were able to stake out land of their own, to put down roots for a family of their own, rather than share everything with so many other family members. Here was a chance at independence for the young couple, something that Mexico did not offer them.
With little in the way of natural resources for building, 'Nando had dug into the hard dirt, excavating a space large enough to create a two-room dugout house, with a thatched room covered with layers of dirt to take advantage of the lower temperatures below the surface of the scorched earth.
In the meantime, Reena had hacked out a little space for a garden so that she could grow some vegetables for their meals. As she carefully planted seeds brought with loving care from their former home, Reena drew and carried water from their well and nurtured the seeds.
Their water source started out as a seep from a rocky outcrop behind the dugout; 'Nando had carefully dug out a well a few feet from the seep, having to excavate nearly 25 feet before he hit a fairly steady stream of cool water. It took days of tortous work to prepare a concrete-like mixture and lower it bucket by bucket while he packed the walls of the well to keep it from caving in.
That first year, most of their food came from the results of 'Nando's hunting trips into the surrounding area. He felt lucky when he found the occasional white-tailed deer and brought it back for Reena to smoke. More often than not, the fare consisted of one of the areas abundant jack rabbits, tough but life-sustaining.
It was a tough life but not without its rewards. 'Nando and Reena both felt a deep sense of accomplishment in making their own way and that only deepened their love for each other. Tired from the day-after-day backbreaking work that lasted from sunup to sundown, they still found time for each other in the evening hours. So it was no surprise to either of them when, in the early fall of their first year together, Reena informed 'Nando that she was with child.
The following June on a night filled with lightning and desert thunder, Reena delivered their first child, a beautiful baby girl that they agreed to call Faleena. She was the apple of her daddy's eye and the love child of her parents' union. As it turned out, Faleena was just the first of a large family; she would have four brothers and three sisters in the next fourteen years.
Even as a toddler, Faleena became used to the hard life of her parents. She went with her mother to tend to the crops during the growing season. Her mother taught her how to carefully distribute the precious seeds into the rows behind her hoe as she worked the dry soil. 'Nando provided Faleena with a double-bladed hoe of her own when she was only half as tall as the hoe handle; yet she learned to wield it well enough to keep the weeds down around the young plants.
Faleena was put in charge of the scrawny chickens, providing feed to supplement what they could scrounge from the countryside as well as gathering eggs every morning. It didn't take but one accident with the egg basket for her to learn to be careful lest she and her family go hungry when the eggs spilled on the ground.
When 'Nando brought home a deer from a successful hunt or butchered the occasional longhorn, Faleena learned how to tan the hides, scraping them free of the excess meat and fat, working the hide into soft leather that she then watched her mother fashion into clothes for family members. Perhaps hardest of all was cutting the meat into strips and jerking it to keep it from spoiling.
Late summers and early falls were filled with harvesting corn and beans. The corn had to be shucked and silked, then dried so that the kernels could be scraped from the cobs and stored for the winter; Reena would later grind the corn into meal for tortillas. The beans were shelled and dried and became the basic staple of the family's diet. Every one of the little ones learned how to help with these chores as soon as they could hold bean pods.
Generally every third winter, when the harvest was in and work slackened off somewhat, 'Nando and Reena packed their little ones into an old buckboard wagon hitched behind a pair of mules and headed south through the sprawl of El Paso, across the Rio Grande, through Tiajuana and into Chihuahua to visit their respective families. It was always fun for all of the family to spend time with their relatives but, for Faleena, the big attraction was the city of El Paso. She had never seen so many people, wearing such bright clothing.
Riding through the streets of town, they could hear the sound of music from the plethora of saloons and raucous laughter from the inhabitants, both male and female. Shops abounded like she had never, ever pictured could exist anywhere. People walked on boardwalks all over town as if they never had work to do. Instead of scrambling everyday to make a living like Faleena's family did, those people seemed to be happy and without a care in the world. On the trip during her twelfth year, Faleena vowed that one day she would be just like them.
Yet nothing seemed to ever change. As hard as they worked, nothing ever got easier. Each year, 'Nando and Reena cleared a little more land for planting, digging the stubborn cacti out with hoes and axes, sometimes using the mules to pull the wiry mesquite tree roots from the ground. Yet every time they cleared more land and planted it, another baby came along to demand even more food for survival.
By the time Faleena turned fourteen, she had already begun to dream of a life away from the rugged farm, a life like those people in El Paso lived — carefree and full of laughter. She dreamed of spending her time dancing and going from shop to shop to find everything she needed in life. Her dreams provided her the respite from reality that let her keep going from day to day.
At the same time, Faleena was well aware of changes in her body. Within the past year, her breasts had grown from little bumps to plump apples, not as large as her mother's but already more than she could hold in her tiny hands. Of course she had reached the age of monthly flows during her eleventh year, but now it seemed like she frequently had a sort of itch between her legs; she had found that she could relieve that itch herself with a hand in the right spot but... she wondered if it would be different with a boy/man... like she had seen her mother and father doing. Now she had developed a waist, with hips that flaired out distinctively, instead of the straight up-and-down boyish figure she had been used to.
In her fifteenth year, their trip back to visit relatives only served to cement Faleena's resolve to move to a better life in the city. They stopped to rest the mules, to have a meal at a real restaurant, and to spend the night before resuming their trip. With her mother's permission, she was allowed to walk the boardwalk and look into the shop windows.
She had not gone far before a cowboy walking in the opposite direction had tipped his hat and said, "Howdy, ma'am."
His face had a look of... lust? Faleena smiled at him and bowed slightly as they passed. As she continued looking in the windows, her mind was racing with the thought that the cowboy had thought her worthy of attention. She began to notice other people along the route, men in particular. Many of them looked at her with desire in their eyes. Faleena laughed inwardly at that thought and smiled back at them. By the time she returned to the circle of her family, her mind was filled with thoughts of fun and frolic; her feet seemed light and dancing, just barely touching the ground as she glided along.
After that, Faleena dreamed almost every night of living a fun, carefree life in the big city, with men staring at her in wonder... and desire. Her body began to react to the thoughts and dreams of men that wanted her. She seemed to have an itch within herself that she just could not satisfy. As time progressed, she came to know that it would never be satisfied by a life on the farm, caring for the chickens, working in the fields, chasing ornery cows. There just had to be something more wonderful out there in the wide world of the big city.
The week after her seventeenth birthday, Faleena finally concluded that she had to follow her dream. Tying her few belongings into a small bundle, she kissed her crying mother and sad father goodbye, hugged all her siblings and set out to find a way to Santa Fe, the closest large town which held promise of better things for her. It took her several weeks to complete the journey, having to stop several times along the way and work at a little cafe or helping out at one of the sparse ranches to earn meals and some meager wages.
Faleena was awed by the town square with it's big adobe Governor's Palace on one side and the various shops and stores around the other facing sides. And there were so many people! Even inside the square, vendors sold corn shuck-wrapped tamales from wash tubs to passers-by. Another sold tamales by the sackfull. Yet another offered sopapillas with fresh honey. It seemed that anything a person could want was available just by taking a short stroll around the huge square.
Carefully using the bit of money she'd saved from her last job as a ranch cook's helper, she purchased a meal and ate as she took in the sights of the sprawling town. As soon as she had finished, she began to canvas the possible employment prospects in town, mostly the small restaurants that dotted the square.
However it wasn't until she had gotten away from the square onto one of the roads that led south of town that she found an owner willing to hire her. The owner, a wizened gray-haired woman who spoke a mixture of Spanish and profane English, was gruff with her but offered to let her use an empty room upstairs for living quarters as part of her compensation in exchange for being a waitress and part-time cook.
Faleena settled into working at Nita's Cafe. Her assignment was to work the front, taking and delivering orders, except on the rare occasions when Nita took time off. On those few times, Faleena worked in the kitchen while one of Nita's young nieces took care of the front. However it didn't take long for the men of Santa Fe to learn that Nita had hired a beautiful young waitress. And it didn't hurt business that Faleena liked to flirt with the men, making pleasant talk with them, letting each one think that she might be his 'special' friend.
As time passed and she had time to visit the city before or after work, Faleena began to reflect on the town of Santa Fe, comparing it with her memories of El Paso from her family's trips to visit relatives. It was at those times that she came to realize that Santa Fe, while a far cry from the boredom of her parents' ranch, was still just a sleepy little town. It didn't have the numbers of people — nor the excitement — that a bigger city like El Paso held.
Just a year after arriving in Santa Fe, Faleena thanked Nita for her hospitality and kissed her goodbye before climbing onto a stage coach bound for the largest metropolis Faleena knew, El Paso. It was a long dusty, dry trip that took most of four days, with the three nights spent in uncomfortable, hot wayside inns. Yet when the stage pulled to a stop in El Paso, Faleena felt like she had come home. The laughter, the sounds of a tinny saloon piano, the sights of so many people all put her in a mood of anticipatory euphoria. Now she could live!
It didn't take long to find an inexpensive room at a boarding house but finding a job was more difficult. It took her three days before she found Rosa's Cantina in the outskirts of the city. The owner liked her outgoing personality, knew that men would like the looks of the young woman, and decided to take a chance on hiring her as a dancer to entertain her customers.
Although musicians — piano players and guitarists mostly — came and went with alarmingly frequency, there was always someone to play for her and Faleena was a hit with the men who frequented Rosa's place. She swirled around the floor, occasionally singing, always laughing, twirling her luscious body just out of reach of the many who longed to touch her.