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Based on a true incident, this story suggests that if your dream is taken from you, perhaps you can help somebody else have theirs.
Jackson squinted into the darkness. He wasn’t used to the farm roads and the country routes that served as thoroughfares out here. He was from the city… a city way up north, in another state, where there was always light. And one could drive at twice the speed. He wasn’t used to having to use his bright beams, either, and he kept forgetting to switch them on, and then to switch them off when another vehicle was approaching.
But here he was. After the separation from his wife, he had figured he could go anywhere… he might as well. He couldn’t seem to find any way to reconcile. The two of them were stubborn, and he winced to himself as he realized that being right and having his way had been more important. "Well, damn it," he thought, "she didn’t try either." No, being right and having one’s way was more important for the two of them.
From the company in Minneapolis, he transferred to a large town in Texas. The business was in sales, maintenance, and repair of well equipment... pumps, parts, and accessories. Out here in the rural areas, when a well or a pump broke down, you had to deal with it as fast as possible. Ordinarily, he would have someone on call to send over. But that someone was on vacation, so here he was. Well, the job was done, and at least he was on his way home now.
His wife had done the same thing as he. She was in the "helping professions," a very accomplished social worker. And she had accepted a position out in northern California, working with the migrants that worked the fields. He chuckled to himself… she was out in the boondocks too. But the levity didn’t last. He missed her.
After another nonsensical stop at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, he started to reach over to the radio button, and he momentarily let the car drift right. Suddenly, there was a figure directly in front, and he quickly swerved back. The heat of the moment made him almost lose control. The car zigzagged for several yards until he got it back under restraint, and he stopped.
He looked in the rearview mirror, but that was useless. It was pitch black out there. So, he threw it in reverse and carefully backed up. He kept looking for the figure. He was pretty sure it had been a person. "What the hell would somebody be doing, walking out here in the middle of the night?" he thought.
Not seeing anyone, he had backed the car all the way back to the intersection. But he knew that the near encounter had occurred farther up, because he had already picked up enough speed to almost lose it. "Well, at least now, I’ll have the headlights to help me look."
He put the car in drive, and suddenly, there was someone right there at the passenger door. He lowered the automatic window. “Hey, mister, are you alright? I sure didn’t mean to run you down… it’s dark out here… I was reaching for the radio…” He felt bad and he was shaken up.
The man spoke, “Okay… I’m okay.” He was carrying a strange looking case. It wasn’t a valise.
“Well, do you need a ride?” It was a silly question, he thought, but what else does one say?
When the man opened the door, the dome light showed his face a little better. Past his frame, out there in the ditch, Jackson noticed a little cross in the dirt, with some artificial flowers, weathered and fading. He’d seen this kind of thing before, so he didn’t give it any thought. It was one of those little shrines that people put up in places where there might have been an accident, and someone had been killed. You see them everywhere.
He was a young Mexican-American… kind of a good-looking kid, Jackson thought… and he was dressed up nicely… very much out of place. He placed the strange looking case in the back seat, climbed in, and secured the seat belt. “Thank you, sir… thank you very much.”
“Oh, hell, son, it’s my pleasure. Least I could do. Boy, I’m sure glad I didn’t hit you. Nice to have company out here.” He pressed on the gas, and they took off. “Hey, I’m headed all the way to Alicia, so I hope that’ll help you out.”
“Oh, no… I go to Violeta (Vee-oh-lé-tah)… about half of the way.” The kid definitely had an accent… more than that, actually. There was something sort of nostalgic about him.
That didn’t bother Jackson. In fact, he rather liked it. “Violeta, that’s kind of a hole in the wall, isn’t it? Well, you’re in luck. By the way, my name’s Jackson.” He put his hand out.
“Oh… I am Ismaél.” He chuckled lightly as they shook hands, and he nodded, grinning, “… a hole in the wall. You blink… you miss it.”
“Ismaél. Well, that’s a real fine name … and one I can say. Heh-heh. Say, if you don’t mind my asking, what is that?” He moved his head to indicate the back seat. “You’re not using that for a suitcase, are you?”
Ismaél took a few seconds to process the language. Then, he sort of lit up. “Oh, no. Is my acordeón. How you say… accordion?”
It will be alright.
“An accordion? Well, I’ll be danged. Hey, I’m learning a little Spanish here, ain’t I?” A minute went by, and Jackson watched the road. He remembered he had been about to turn on the radio, when he nearly ran into this kid. “You wouldn’t want to play something, would you?” He glanced over and grinned.
Ismaél looked back uncertainly, “Play something… now? Oh, sure… but… I play Mexican… is all I know…”
Jackson could tell the kid was a little shy about it. “Hell, that’s okay with me, son. Music is music. I bet it’ll sound better than anything on the radio right now. I’d love to hear something… unless you’d rather not…”
That was all Ismaél needed. He undid the seat belt and twisted around to get the instrument. Jackson could see that was going to be awkward, so he slowed down. And then he stopped altogether, so the kid could get out and use the rear door. He could tell the kid took good care of his instrument, and he admired that. It appeared to be a beautiful accordion, all shiny and fitted with mother-of-pearl décor all over.
Ismaél closed the case, got back in, and secured the seat belt. He looked ahead to the road, lost in thought, and Jackson drove on. At first, the kid just played some leads, as if he was warming up or just not sure what to play. Regardless, it was pleasant. Jackson was thoroughly enjoying it.
Then, without breaking or changing pace or anything, Ismaél started singing, soft and longingly, “Despierta, dulce amor de mi vida… despierta, si te encuentras dormida…” (Wake up, sweet love of my life… wake up if you find yourself asleep…) It was an old Mexican love song. His voice was clear and pure and full of sentiment.
Jackson was absolutely enraptured. To him, this was almost like an opera. Not that he cared for opera, but it was just that the music moved him so. It was unlike anything he had ever heard. This kid was good, damn good… and an accordion, no less… who would have thought?
When Ismaél finished the song, there was a long moment of silence. Jackson glanced over finally and said, “Damn, kid, that was really something. You do this for a living? I mean, you got a band … what’s your story?” They were coming up to Violeta now.
Ismaél smiled. “Thank you, sir. Yes, there is a band … a conjunto. I go now to play with them… at a dance. And I will see my girl there… Rosita. I will ask her to marry me.” His eyes were full of sparkle, and he had a huge grin on his face.
Jackson gave a laugh, “You don’t say! Well, that’s really good. Hell, you sing that song for her and she’ll say yes! Well, here’s Violeta… where you wanna go?”
“Oh, this is okay, here. I can walk.”
“The hell, you say… hole in the wall, remember? I’ll take where you gotta be, son. Hell, you earned it.”
So, Ismaél motioned where to turn. “You are married?”
“Well, yeah, I am… but I’m separated. We’ve had some problems, you know?”
Ismaél motioned another turn, and then he pointed at a dark building. “It is here.”
Jackson pulled up in front, but something didn’t seem right. The building was some kind of dance hall alright, albeit rather smallish, but it appeared to be closed. In fact, it looked somewhat abandoned. There were weeds all around and not a single light on. “Are you sure you got the right place, son? This doesn’t even look like it’s been used in a while.”
Ismaél was already out of the car, and he was getting at the case in the rear, “Oh, yes , yes. I thank you very much. He had put his instrument back in its case, and he was ready to walk away. Then, he gave Jackson a very serious look and said, “You will talk to your wife. She will talk to you. You make it up, how you say? It will be all right.” And he walked off towards the back of the building, presumably to some back entrance, and disappeared in the darkness.
Jackson sat there for a moment, puzzled. Not a single light came on. It occurred to him then that it was rather late, kind of late to be starting a dance. But the kid was gone. He drove off slowly, in wonder, and made his way back to the main road.
At the edge of town, he spotted a station with a convenience store, and he pulled in. He didn’t need any gas, but he figured he could use a cup of coffee. As he was paying at the till, he looked up at the attendant, a lanky fellow in his 50’s, maybe. “Say,” Jackson said, “You know anything about that little dance hall?” He pointed in the direction, “It’s just a few blocks, over that way?”
The guy sort of snorted, “Yeah, that old barn? It’s probably ready to collapse. Why you asking?”
“Well, I just dropped off a young fellow over there. He said there was going to be a dance. He even had an accordion with him.”
The man gave him a really strange look. “You don’t sa-ay?” he said in an odd stretched out way, and he rubbed his chin pensively. “Well, there ain’t no dance going on over there. That place has been shut down for a couple of years at least.” He scratched his head, got a cigarette from under the counter, and he started to come out from behind it. “Why don’t we step outside, so I can light this up?”
Jackson was really confused now, so he wanted to hear what this guy had to say. The man lit his cigarette and stared at the pavement for a moment. “So, it’s really true, what people say? I’ve only heard the Mexican folk talk about it, so I never paid it much mind. Figured it was just rumors… superstitions… you know.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That kid was killed out there on the road… been a few years now.”
“What are you talking about? I just gave him a ride and dropped him off. Hell, he played some music for me in the car! Are we talking about the same kid? Ismaél?"
“Ishmael, yeah, that’s him. Some of the Mexican folk around here say the same thing… I just never believed it. You’re the first white man that ever came in with the story.” He took a long drag and let it out, as he gazed down the road.
“The story goes that he was on his way here from Manzanilla. There was going to be a dance that night, and he was going to meet his girlfriend there, and he was going to propose. It was raining pretty bad, and he had an accident out there somewhere… out by the gravel yard intersection I think it was.
Well, he started walking… but then, somebody came along and ran him down… killed the poor guy. He’s been showing up to unsuspecting motorists ever since.”
Jackson got a chill and a prickly sensation all over the back of his neck. “I… picked up a ghost?”
“Yep. The girl was pretty broke up, I guess. I think I heard she moved out to California someplace, and then she died of a broken heart. I don’t know… it’s just talk, I reckon.” Another customer had just walked in the store, so the man excused himself and left Jackson there, dumfounded.
He finally got in his car and drove off. He was shaken up again, maybe more than before. He was feeling uncertain about so many things, and he kept hearing that beautiful voice and that soulful music in his head. His cell phone rang. It was his wife!
“Jill, honey, this is a surprise.”
The voice on the other end was a little trembly. “Jackson? We need to talk… I think I’m ready to get back together with you. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make our marriage work… because I love you… and that matters more than anything.”
“Oh, baby, you don’t know how good it is to hear you say that. But what brought this on?”
“I don’t know if I can explain it. I was just driving along, and suddenly there was a strange young woman in the car. I mean, she just showed up from out of nowhere! Scared the bejeebies out of me. I almost had an accident!
“She said her name was Rosita… and love matters more than anything… and… oh, I don’t know, Jackson… I think she was an angel… and I think we need to try…”
Jackson could hear her crying. “It’ll be alright, honey… it’s gonna be alright.” After a little more talk and some tentative arrangements, they disconnected. Jackson kept hearing that song. A line from it kept turning in his head, "despierta, dulce amor de mi vida." He had no idea what it meant or why it stuck out so clearly, but he knew he was going to have to look it up.
r. nuñez, 6/2014