For C*** and H***
Bamboo blinds gentle the noonday, coastal sun. A Gulf breeze licks the south-east corner of Casa Ramico’s.
I take my usual table, nodding at the busboys who greet me deferentially. Eulalia brings me water and a menu. Her walk reminds me of Johnson grass in April. Her eyes remind me of huisache bloom mirrored in an unrippled tank at sundown on eight sections of Brewster County cattle land.
I order the daily special with onions and iced tea. A plate of hot corn chips and con queso materializes on my table. I reach for a bottle of green salsa redolent with freshly crushed cumin. The salsa has the purposeful kick of a single-shot four-ten. Remembering a field of whitewing near Crystal City a few years back, I irrigate the con queso with several generous squeezes of the salsa bottle.
Eulalia brings me sun-brewed tea with a wedge of lemon grown west of Mercedes. I tear the end off a pink envelope and sprinkle a powder of aspartame over the distilled ice cubes.
The speakers vibrate softly with the strains of a nortena. I take a deep draught of tangy tea and wink at Ramiro when he peers merrily from the kitchen. I know his abuelita is pounding the corn for my taco tortilla in the ancient family molcajete.
Three draughts later my special arrives. I knife a dollop of Country Crock onto a flour tortilla. I roll the tortilla into a tight cylinder, angling one end skyward, and dredge a load of refried beans onto the opposite tip. Chewing with closed eyes, I remember what Papa wrote while fishing off the Havana coast: “It was good.”
I turn to the enchilada swimming in a pool of homemade chili. Forked, it extrudes a golden lava of Longhorn cheese. I half it in three bites. Bedded on a mound of Spanish rice, the taco is a cornucopia of grass-fed beef and garden tomatoes. I spoon guacamole into the taco’s cleft. As it cracks between my teeth, a fallout of hand-picked lettuce hits the rice. The steamy revel of Toltec chilis and fresh coriander reminds me of the wetbacks who fried prickly pear over an open fire on Granddaddy’s ranch while I played mumbledypeg as a boy.
Eulalia comes to refresh my tea.
“You know what? I say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
The truth hits home. Eulalia’s eyes glisten for a moment.
“No, Ernesto, it doesn’t.”
(c) 2018 JMN.