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Jack Smith

It's crystal clear Gomez is in a class by himself, but he can't solve the case of the missing glasses

July 18, 1985|JACK SMITH

When we reach Gomez's store, at the mouth of the Santo Tomas River, our journey is done. It is only a mile from there across the marine terrace to our house, which stands on a high bluff above the bay.

We always stop at the store to have a cold beer and catch up on the local gossip and find out whether there is any water in the reservoir up on the hill, which serves our house.

I did not expect to find Gomez there. He would have been there for the holiday weekend, I supposed, but then would have gone back that morning to his home in Tijuana.

Romulo Gomez is the man from whom we leased our land some 18 years ago, and who built our house. He is the man on whom everything depends, so that, in La Bocana at least, it is sometimes not clear whether one's supplications should be to God or to Gomez.

The door to the store was open. It was much like the old store, only larger, with a long counter at the back, stores of tinned goods on shelves, big refrigerators for soft drinks and beer, and stacks of Tecate in cartons. At the back a door opened into the kitchen.

No one was in the store. I called out, "Is anybody here?"

A small girl came out of the kitchen. I guessed her to be about 10; probably the daughter of Gomez's son, Pepe.

I asked if she could get me a beer, and she got a cold Tecate out of the refrigerator and handed it up to me on the counter.

"Is your father here?" I asked.

"Momento," she said, and retreated into the kitchen.

When we had first driven that hard road, so many years ago, and stopped in the old store, a small girl had been sweeping the floor.

She, too, had said 'Momento," and gone into the kitchen, and in a moment a man came out and said "Buenos dias."

"Buenos dias," I had said. "Do you happen to know of a man named Gomez, who has some land to lease?"

"I am Gomez," he said, and our long, exasperating, warm and rewarding relationship had begun.

This time the same man walked out. "Buenas dias," he said.

"Gomez!" I said, and added, sincerely, "I am glad to see you."

Gomez now is 74; but he is still a handsome man, with a round, light tan face and deep laugh wrinkles around his mouth and eyes. He wore, as usual, a billed American advertising cap.

We exchanged news and amenities and I asked him, finally, whether there was any water.

"Of course there is water," he said, looking at me almost reproachfully, as if I had asked whether there was any air.

He said he would follow us to the house to see that everything was all right.

We opened the house and found that there was no butane in the tank. When Gomez arrived we tried the water. It flowed.

Gomez beamed: "You see, there is plenty of water."

"There is no butane," I said.

We discussed the emptiness of the butane tank. Our last house guests had bought a tank themselves. They could not possibly have used it all in their short stay. Where had it gone? The missing butane was one of the several mysteries that were to confront us.

A note on the bar top advised us that our last tenants had left four baited mousetraps in the locations noted. Before we could find them my wife's dog, Fluff, the would-be Yorkie, had sprung two of them, much to her astonishment.

Gomez went to get a tank of butane.

In the meantime my wife discovered that the bathroom cabinet top, which had been of stones from the seashore cast in plastic, was now of yellow tile, and the basin leaked. Even more dismaying, she discovered that the cabinet had been set fire to and severely burned.

When Gomez returned he connected the butane tank and lighted the refrigerator and the water heater and tried to fix the leak. As for the fire, he professed ignorance as to its origin, but said it had evidently been started by a candle left burning on the plastic top. That, he explained, was why he had had the cabinet top restored in yellow tile.

When Gomez left he promised to send a man to fix the leak, and indeed, on the following day, a man came. He worked for an hour or so on the basin pipes and then left with a word. "Bueno," he said, meaning the basin.

I took a count of our glassware. We had once had a set of eight long-stemmed Yugoslavian wine glasses. Now there were only three. We had also had a set of 10 elegant, long-stemmed, cut-crystal wine glasses that had belonged to my mother--the only thing left of hers that I own. Now there were five. My wife remembered that I had broken one myself, evidently when I had drunk from it too much. It is the sort of thing that wives remember. But the loss of the other nine glasses remained a mystery.

I do not believe in ghosts, but sometimes I think our house is haunted.

In 24 hours we didn't care. We ate and read and slept and looked out the windows at the bay, watching the pelicans sweeping low across the water like World War II dive bombers. We got used to the telephone not ringing.

We surrendered ourselves to entropy.

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