Last updateFri, 04 Mar 2016 12pm

A very young, adopted child learns  to handle a pistol while trying to deal with contemptuous adults

The “jefe” of the Curiel family took away the pistol twelve-year-old Lena Curiel was carrying.  Toño Curiel wasn’t surprised his adopted daughter had the weapon.  He wasn’t angry at her.  But he quietly swore at whoever gave the loaded weapon to her.  Lena wasn’t careless with firearms. She’d been taught to take care with weapons early on. But accidents happened.  Lena and her kin were brutal proof of that.

The child had not yet been named when her young mother “disappeared.” “Run off,” some gossips said. Toño and his wife had given the child the name Elena — Lena — Curiel not long after her mother disappeared. “Taken away,” other gossips swore.  No one knew. To make up for a harsh beginning,Toño Curiel and his wife, Maria, sent her to the nearest school — a single hard-used room — when she was three. 

It was the only school nearby. The school’s “Profe” — professor, was often drunk. He said Lena was a problem. She insisted on learning at a different pace than the one that “la escuela” ­— the Profe, and the other students — preferred. Her busy pace puzzled them. Some observers said Lena was showing off by reckless guessing. Others teased the profe, saying the motherless child was smarter than the teacher. He punished her for this. After a month of such treatment, Lena was studying alone. That prompted sharper comments. At that time Mexican females received little, if any, eduction. Three years if they luckily lived in a pueblo or a town.  Always less than males.      

For no apparent reason, Toño felt guilty for the young mother’s disappearance. Lena liked Toño, though not for because of any whiff of guilt. She just liked him. Lena would tell him anything. She told him all the jokes and gossip she heard. Asked him why people made fun of her mother’s disappearance. To offset unkind gossip, the two of them invented strange jokes. That was how he found she had the pistol.

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{access !public}To deal with that, Toño helped Lena saddle her horse, and they cut laterally across the Curiel ranch, heading for the ample protril — the horse pasture.  On the other side of the protril gate, Toño stopped, and took out the pistol.  “You think you need this sort of thing?”       

“Are you mad at me?” Lena asked. 

“No.  Mad at the one who gave it to you.  Careless.  Dumb.” 

“I begged for it,”  she told him.

That’s when he began giving her lessons in seriousness on how to shoot well. The wildest morning shots in the portril would hit nothing living. “We ought find jokes we can tell when we’re shooting,” she said.  

“No!” Toño said sharply.

“That distracts. In shooting you think of just one thing: shooting. It is not a game.”  

Then later, he joked of the prowess of Jalisco mountain campesinos.   Especially emphasizing how renown they were for their marksmanship.

One morning at the end of their practicing, he was indulging in a favorite exaggerated indulgence — glowingly bragging about how only Jalisco campesinos could turn boulder-strewn ridges, knolls and peaks into resuscitated fields, pastures, uncluttered byways.  The two of them laughed at this undisguised campesino boastfulness as a couple family horsemen joined to hear how a Jalisco campesino overcame a year of rain. He persuasively got St. Peter to plug a leaky corner in the Heavens.  

Lena said, “I heard that joking padre from Llano de Nopal say a long rush of tales is an imitation of the long breath of God.”

“Aye.” Toño  grinned.  “Odd things in he head.”

“Maria told me: ‘Watch men and women so you can feel what they are thinking, are secretly wanting to do’.” Maria, her adopted mother, tended to unravel things that puzzled the family, Lena realized.  Now, she’d squeezed her eyes tight, figured out that Maria was exactly the right partner for Toño .

Lena squinted at a man who said she showed off by recklessly guessing.  His eyes showed he still thought she remained an empty child.

“You think kind of like Maria,” Tono said.  

“But I get mixed up. I ask her many her things.  She helps.  It is still hard.” Then Lena watched the man who said she was empty. “Together, we all are a good.... What do older people call three people?”

Los tres juntos. A threesome.” 

“That’s us, no?”

Toño grinned.

In a quiet tone, she said, “This tricky faced man thinks I’m a lying child. He’s one of us?”

“Yes. You don’t like him because he sees you as a child.  Caught in your true age?”  A grin accompanied Tono’s teasing.

“No.  Because you, my jefe, cannot trust him. He does not like the truth.

“Ahhh,”  Tono said.  “You know this because he doesn’t see you as an adult at twelve?” 

Lena pondered if she should insult a family member, even if he was sneering at her.  “No.  Because he doesn’t want to be loyal.  And he has no doubt in the gossip that the woman he believes was my mother truly ran off.”

“Many are confused about that.”

“This one is happy in believing in that error.”  Lena looked into the clouds forming in the southern sky.”  She turned to the man.  “Is the coming storm going to bring a lot of rain, Señor?”

“Rain?” the man laughed. “There’s no rain there.  Another child’s dream, Jefe.”  He spoke not to her but to Tono.

The man’s contempt stiffened Lena’s spine. 

Perhaps she was wrong.  There was a lean string of clouds moving parallel to where they sat talking.  Lena pushed bare feet against her wooden stirrups, stretched her right arm as high as she could.

Several plump cold drops struck her neck.  

Toño  laughed.  “So you are a rain worker too, today.”  He turned to the man who was looking at Lena with black, blank eyes.

“Some children are muy precoz — very precocious -— today.{access public}

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