THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION raged. Alejandro fled to Texas. He drank tequila. He bemoaned the fact that tequila, once cheap, now cost dearly. He became a citizen in a land in which he was a stranger, but what else can a stranger do? He worked as a vaquero, a cerquero, and a cocinero before ending up as a papalotero. Though he spoke perfect English, Alejandro didn’t like for you to say he was a cowboy. Or a fence builder. Or a ranch cook. Or a windmill maker. The force of words, he said, is stronger than wind that blow the blades of windmills he built. Not the huge wind turbines of today that cut the Texas landscape like some H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds invasion. No. He built and repaired wind-powered water pumps that lift water from deep water tables for livestock and irrigation. Alejandro became fluent in English in West Texas because most ranchers and farmers won’t do business in Spanish or TexMex. He learned English to work as a windmill man. Or the word he preferred, papalotero, which means a person who flies kites. But Alejandro preferred the flow of Latinate sounds, like water from deep underground. He read Don Quixote aloud almost every night to hear Cervantes’ voice flow like words of clear water, palabras de agua clara. “The English does not say what I mean,” he said to some of his descendants who did not speak Spanish. “The English makes me like a ghost. It does not show the brightness I see in my mind.” Alejandro married a woman in 1925. Their love affair raged for 67 years like a tequila-fueled explosion without any help from the bards or Euripides. Every sunset, he raised a shot of tequila and weeps without shame she is gone. “She tormented me for so long,” he said. “How she made me ache. How she’d sniff at me, snort, shake her head, slap my face. She torments me still. I love her so much.” When the tortures burned too much, Alejandro retreated to the remote platform of a windmill, or as he said, papalote. He worked on the gears that transferred the energy of the whirling blades to the sucker rods. He broke out the rusted plug to change the oil in the sump. When he finished a job, he’d stare at miles of mesquite under stark West Texas sky while sipping tequila for a shining buzz. Once he forgot to lock the blades. The tail hit him. He caught an exposed bolt by his hand and hung for what seemed an eternity as the blood dripped down his arm. “That’s when I discovered what a cage of bones and muscle this body is,” he said. “Bright, bright minds trapped inside these cages of pain and fear. Yet I feared my woman more. The way she was marked with light. Light reflected from windmill blades and windows and watches and plates and eyeglasses and horse harnesses on her. Always lights touching her even when it was cloudy even when it was dark. The lights followed her.” Alejandro liked to scare his grandchildren with his papalotero stories. Once he was surprised by a freak hail storm. A large hailstone knocked him senseless. He woke hanging by a shoe caught in the rotor. His ankle was broken. “I’m so glad I tied my shoes tight that day,” he’d say. He limped til he died. There was the time he bumped a hidden wasp nest, enduring stings of fire sixty feet high on the windmill, trying not to fall as the pequeños demonios swarmed him. But he swore he dreaded his wife’s tongue if she saw the stings. He tried to hide them with mud and dust, “but she saw through my disguise. Her words swarmed me with needles far worse than the stingers. The Man of La Mancha was never beset like me.” Then he’d pretend to sting the kids, and they screamed, ran. “He was so crazy he was sure no author invented him. I am so sane I’m sure God wrote me as scripture.” The day he died, Alejandro bemoaned his love’s death seventeen years before as he did every day to any of the 93 grandkids, great-grandchildren and so on who would listen. “I don’t know what is worse,” he always said. “The daily sting of her presence I endured when she was alive or the daily sting of her absence. Ya basta. Enough is enough.” On his last day, he limped slow to his wife’s grave near a windmill he erected seventy years before. He was 103. We spread a horse blanket on the ground. He sat down and motioned us close. He sipped his tequila. “I tell you a secret how I stayed cool in the desert. I would drink tequila as I worked. Sip all day. When I burned on the windmill, I believed the desert was a frozen sea. Sometimes I would get chills and my teeth would chatter. Sometimes, I’d climb down and take an axe to the frozen sea to get water for my thirst. Then I’d remember. I’d remember and become warm again.” Then Alejandro asked for another tequila shot, not the mixto kind, but the aguave, with a side of sangrita. A granddaughter ran to the house, came back with the drink. He drank it, smiled, then his eyes were wet. “Will I see her again? You read any book. You may read all books. You cannot say. To say I will is madness. To say I won’t is madness. Oh what a brightness is the mind. The English doesn’t have the words. You cannot say.” He lay back on the blanket, stared at the creaking windmill blades. One of his hands lay on his wife’s tomb-rock. His other hand held his drink. He spent the rest of the day in silence. When sunset split the sky into the golden hues of an aged tequila, he was gone. — J. ALAN NELSON
J. Alan Nelson, a writer and actor, has work published or forthcoming in many literary journals. He has received nominations for Best of Net poetry and Best Microfiction. He also played the lead in the viral video “Does This Cake Make Me Look Gay?” and the verbose “Silent Al” in the Emmy-winning SXSWestworld. He lives in Waco, Texas.