Juan del Llano couldn’t breathe. On this sunny late October day, the air inside the old adobe was just too funky. Meanwhile, at the other end of the room from where he sat to write, his wife was balancing her checkbook, a task he gave up twenty years ago after websites were invented because the bank was never wrong. Her muttered grumbling and bewilderment, though muted, rippled the mirror of the quiet lake inside his brain. There was nothing for it, Juan decided, but to go outside and play.
Winter was approaching, or so they said. The two northern New Mexico seasons being “partly thawed” and “frozen dead,” it was time to tidy up outside before his tools and other valued objects disappeared beneath the coming snow. It was time, but Juan was Juan: in a dozen years at this location, he’d already let the outside spigot freeze and break three times. Getting right to the heart of the matter then, and because the broom did not weigh much, he decided that sweeping the “patio” outside the front door was imperative and set to work.
The task involved removing the top loose layer of the hardpan clay. By sweeping up the sand and leaves, he’d have a base of rock-hard dirt, awesome to behold until it flooded from the runoff and became a bog. Grateful to be outside in the sun and free from the temptation to offer unwelcome accounting advice, he toiled patiently until the job was done, then sat down with a beer to survey his accomplishment.
The dead landlord’s patio chairs were in a new location—he’d moved them as he worked and hadn’t put them back—and Juan was jolted by the new perspective. Instead of the familiar mountain view, he now looked directly at the house: the old adobe, impossibly cheap “old Taos” rental they couldn’t live without, epitome of cozy wretchedness, emblem of imagined doom—except he liked the place this time, or was it gratitude?
The thing was, though, they’d done it, the entire Taos murder trip, yet both of them were still together, healthy, and the love danced in her eyes. Instead of keeping score, Juan was hungry to advance and knew they would. After all, the only truly stupid thing he’d ever done was be unhappy—crazy like the river rolling to the sea—and he wasn’t bitching now.