Authors: Jo-Ann Mapson
To Sheryl Ann Simpson,
best friend ever
There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Every house has a story to tell and, over time, will make whoever lives there a character. What happens inside the walls eventually finds its way into the plaster, hardening into the marrow of time. Paint it, remodel it, or set it on fire, but no one can take away its history. At night when the house creaks, tell yourself that's “settling.” When the wind blows hard, and the house shudders like an earthquake, say, “Foundations shift.” It all comes down to earth and straw, and in time of drought or deluge, a dwelling will crumble. With it go a few stories.
In 1690, the space this realtor woman is calling “the master bedroom” was a field where Indians grew corn. A century later, the “great room” was a stable for horses. One night, a Spaniard drank too much mezcal, stole one of those horses, and rode it up the dirt road that is now paved and lined with art galleries. It is said that mezcal came about when a bolt of lightning struck a maguey plant, and as such is called “the nectar of the gods.” It's also called
, firewater, and responsible for many a deed that seemed brave at the time and stupid the next morning.
The horse thief galloped that gelding up the steps into what is now called El Farol, the bar the
New York Times
now rates as one
of the best in the world. The oldest bar in Santa Fe, they call it, and he demanded more drink.
They know nothing of age.
I watch this woman with the realtor by her side, going from room to room, heedless of the mouse that scurries across the kitchen floor into the cabinet where its babies wait. I pop open a cabinet, but do they notice? They see what they want to see, a room to fill with material treasures, loved ones, and ample food. They don't see a nursery for the baby that will surprise them, or expect the grief that arrives over time, or sometimes in a single moment. They smell piÃ±on fires in the kiva fireplace, not the burning of the bird's nest in its flue. Underneath the foundation sherds of bone china tell the story of my life, and so many others, but will likely remain untouched.
Just look at her face. She's imagining new glass in the windows will make everything clear, and that homemade curtains will shut out the unpleasant. A silk pillow for her head, new dishes on a shelf, touches that change things just enough to make it hers. Already she's in love, and what I know of love is this: It can fill a house, and change it into a home. A home can make people happy, for a while. But love has its betrayal and misunderstandings and eventual ends, and they're just as potent.
This house has been sold over and over again, yet never truly owned by anyone but me. People come and go, parting with massive amounts of money for their name on a paper deed. In no time they are on the move again, wanting more, or different, enough never being enough, or perhaps wanting less, having bitten off more than they can chew.
Ah, well. Who knows what might happen when they move in?
Outside, the wintry wind blusters through the cottonwood trees. Beneath the clay soil the forsythia is hard at work, because in a few months' time, its nature is to bloom a furious yellow, promising spring. The wisteria that came all the way from China hangs on to the trellis, hoping for sun and nitrogen and its roots to be tenderly attended. Last spring the hollyhocks flourished, and the albino hummingbird gorged herself on red flowers, raising twins, also white.
The truth is, there is no time here. There is only this moment, which becomes history the second it passes, and leads to the next moment, which is both a miracle and a curse, when you're a ghost.
Glory Vigil knew that she had fallen in love with the crumbling hundred-year-old Pueblo-style adobe on a tree-lined street across from the Santa Fe River the moment she laid eyes on it. The picture window was cracked. A dead peach tree stood in the courtyard like a forgotten scarecrow. What little yard that wasn't covered by snow needed attention.
When Glory lost her husband Dan after twenty years of marriage, she thought life was over for her, especially in the love department. She was too busy paying the bills to think about the future. Yet here she was now, married to Joseph Vigil, mother to their adopted daughter, Juniper, and moved from her native California to New Mexico. After three months at Joseph's parents' farm, not to mention ten pounds courtesy of Mama Vigil's meals, they needed their own place. The moment Jenny the realtor turned the key into the
-studded mesquite door of 103 Colibri Road, she began to use words like
. Code, Glory knew, for a major fixer-upper. Yet the viga ceilings and arched doorways leading from room to room called to her.
“Who used to live here?” she asked the realtor, whose family had lived in Santa Fe for twelve generations.
“It's been a rental for years. The current owners live in L.A. They're no longer interested in being landlords.”
Glory ran her hand across a plaster wall and watched flakes rain down.
“Wiggle room on the asking price,” Jenny said, “unless you think it's too much. I have two other houses to show you.”
Glory thought of Joseph's bad back. Her husband was a proud Spanish-Indian man and liked repairing things, even though he couldn't really manage alone. “I'd like to see the rest of it.”
The first closet she opened was painted a coral pink and turned into a library. Wooden shelves were just wide enough for some old Donald Hamilton paperbacks, their lurid covers chipped and coming loose from the binding. Cowboys and outlaws and Cold War spiesâa way of life long gone and never as romantic as portrayed, but people kept reading them. The first bedroom was on the small side, big enough for a twin bed, though a little stuffy. Jenny cranked open the window and a faint, flowery scent Glory couldn't name drifted in.
It was a soggy November day, with temperatures in the thirties, but the thick adobe walls kept the interior at a comfortable seventy degrees. In the second bedroom, not as large as the first, Glory felt a chill and pulled her scarf up her neck.
“North facing,” Jenny the realtor explained, pointing out the kiva fireplace, assuring her that winter nights would be cozy with a fire burning.
“My daughter might like this.”
“Or it would make a good office.”
The hall bathroom was big enough for a claw-foot tub, but the bathroom attached to the master bedroom was tiny, with a narrow shower stall. The chipped sink was rust stained and the faucet was dripping. How much time did a person spend in a bathroom, really? Glory pictured the king-sized bed facing the old window, leaving plenty of room for a dresser, reading chair, and dog beds. The kitchen was so old it reminded Glory of the pink metal toy stove she and her sister Halle had played with as children. “This might be a deal breaker,” Glory said. “My husband loves to cook, and he makes quite a mess while he does it. I don't think this kitchen is big enough for all his copper pots.”
Jenny the realtor smiled. “Knock out this non-load-bearing wall and you can fit state-of-the-art appliances in here.” Behind her, the cupboard door popped open, seemingly all on its own.
“What caused that?” Glory asked.
Jenny laughed and pushed it closed. “Any house this old has a ghost or two,” she joked. When Glory turned the kitchen faucet on and then off, the plumbing let out a creaky groan. Jenny said, “Probably just a matter of replacing a washer.” She opened the French door that led outside onto the portal, Spanish for patio. “I saved the best for last. What do you think?”
Glory thought she had stepped back in time to an era when water was raised from a well by a bucket. Above her, wisteria vines wove so thickly through the vigas that they made a roof. Here and there a dried blue or purple plume remained, giving off a faint scent of rain-drenched violets, even in winter. She recognized the smell from the first bedroom's window and imagined the place in summer, when everything was in bloom. The portal's supporting posts were hand-carved in a spiral design. Corbels blended seamlessly into the lattice roof. Against the wall of
the house was an authentic outdoor Spanish kitchen, with open shelves for storing cooking pots and hooks from which to hang spoons, ladles, and whisks. There was a wood-fired stove with iron doors that looked hand-forged. Next to the stove was a sink chiseled out of a single piece of granite that probably weighed a thousand pounds. Its rough edges had rounded with use over time.
Glory imagined an old woman standing there, adding well water to masa, patting out tortillas in short order. But the part of the kitchen Joseph would fall in love with was the beehive oven. The exterior had been covered with mosaic tiles of gold, blue, and red, making it look Moorish. Since they'd married, Joseph had begun writing a cookbook, re-creating his
's recipes so that Glory and Juniper could learn authentic New Mexican cuisine. He would fall in love with this oven just the way she'd fallen in love with the house. Glory happily shivered in the cold. “You were right, Jenny,” she said. “This is the one.”
Jenny smiled. Since she represented both buyer and seller, she would make a killer commission on 103 Colibri Road, and thank goodness, because whether anyone else noticed or not, realtors could see that the bottom was beginning to fall out of the market. Already houses she might have sold in a weekend were sitting on the market for six to eight months.
“By law I'm required to point out that the roof will need replacing within the next five years. The master-bath toilet runs, and wasting water in Santa Fe is practically a felony. The fridge and the two-burner stove aren't Energy Star rated. They'll run you a thousand or so each to replace.”
All her life Glory had worried about money. When she lived in California, she'd sold eggs to the cooperative market, baked cakes to sell, and catered weddings; she'd even worked at Target
for minimum wage and maximum sore feet. When she and Joseph decided to marry, she'd leased her California ranch, Solomon's Oak, to Gary Smith, one of her former foster sons, on a lease-to-buy option. Though she'd formally adopted Juniper, Glory had no children to inherit the property, and Juniper had no plans to farm. It needed a family. When Gary converted the lease to a sale, it gave her the money to put down on the Santa Fe house, so it would belong to both Joseph and her equally, and that was important to her. And she had fallen as madly in love with 103 Colibri Road as she had with her new husband. But longtime habits are hard to break, so her tendency to justify big purchases kicked in.
The house was a short walk from the historic Plaza, which hosted free concerts, Spanish and Indian Market, and museums she never grew tired of visiting.
There was room enough for Juniper, who was starting college, to come home on weekends, and there was a guest room for her mother to visit.
The run-down state of the house made it affordable. Well, almost affordable. She'd have to get a job, but she liked working.
“Is that a garage?” Glory said, pointing to yet another crumbling structure at the end of the garden.