Word count 2,950
May 14, 1859
The usually quiet Mexican town of Matamoras came alive in May to celebrate the arrival of Spring and the beginning of new life. The celebration would last for two weeks, and during that time, the streets were filled with music, dancing, delicious foods, and colorful crafts made by the ladies of the nearby villages. Men and women danced, children played, and a special area was set aside for the children where they could watch animal and puppet shows while their parents went about perusing the various markets that adorned the cheerful town.
Enjoying and partaking in the festivities was a beautiful Mexican woman. Beautiful could not describe her; she was absolutely breathtaking. She had just turned 32. She was petite, no more than 5’4”, and weighed less than 100 pounds. Her tiny waist was accented by a large, brightly colored ribbon, which matched her colorful skirt, and her dark skin brought out the white peasant top she wore. A red flower adorned her long, silky black hair that flowed down her tiny, straight back, and her large brown eyes and bright smile lit up her small, narrow face. Large hoop earrings dangled from her delicate ears.
Men and women were mesmerized by her. Young girls wanted to look just like her, when they grew up. Older women thought back to the days of their youth. Older men could only dream. And the young men. . . . .
They were the worst. The wanted her, and knew they could get her, for a price. They whistled and called out to her, taunting her to come their way.
But the beautiful woman wasn’t interested. She had her man at her side, tightly holding his hand. His name was Johnny. And he was her son.
Maria Lancer was fiercely proud of her son, Johnny Lancer. Though only 12, he was already as handsome as she was beautiful, and she was able to look beyond the youthful awkwardness of pre-adolescence and see the young man that had yet to emerge.
Johnny was small for his age, but Maria knew he would grow within the year. And there was so much of her beauty in him. An olive-colored complexion, thick, soft, black hair, and a bright smile that his face still had to grow into. From a distance, Johnny Lancer looked like any other Mexican child. But close up, one could tell he was different. One just had to look into his eyes. . . .
The eyes of Johnny Lancer.
That’s what made him different. And ridiculed. They were blue–sapphire to be exact, and were accented by long, dark eyelashes, just like his mother’s. But the eyes were from his father. The Gringo. Which made the son of Maria Lancer half white, half Mexican. A half-breed to be exact.
But in the eyes of Maria, her little boy was perfect. She loved him with all her heart and soul, and the love the child felt for his mother was two-fold.
Their life had not been easy. It should have been, but Maria had made a tragic mistake when Johnny was two. She left her Gringo husband for another man. She thought it was the right thing to do, but it didn’t take her long to realize she was wrong. But she couldn’t go back to him. She thought the Gringo would gain custody of their son, and she couldn’t bear the thought of living without her blue-eyed whirlwind.
So she stayed away. She went from town to town, changing their names, so her husband couldn’t find them. Find him. . . Find Johnny.
As he became older, the little boy asked about his papa. He knew he was alive, and he would ask where he was, what his name was, why he wasn’t with them. Maria couldn’t tell her son the truth, that she had cheated on his papa and left him for another man. So she lied. She told him his papa didn’t want them, want him, because he was half-white. She never used that word to describe her child.
So Johnny Lancer was told a lie that festered through the years and grew into nothing but hate and disgust for the man who was his father.
If only the child had been told the truth. . . . . . .
They sauntered into Matamoras just after the celebrations had begun. Maria had spent time there as a child, and came upon Senor Rodriguez and his wife, Marguerite. They had known Maria since childhood, and readily welcomed her and her young son into their home.
The Senor and his wife had a small market set up in town where they would stay during the festivities, so Maria and Johnny were invited to stay in their home.
The house was small, and not fancy at all. It had mud floors and walls and hardly any furniture. But it had a roof. And it was cool in the day and cozy at night, and the Senora Rodriguez ensured that the house was a pleasant place for her and her husband.
But to Johnny, the house was a palace. He had a clean bed to sleep in. With blankets. And a pillow. The Senora kept her kitchen well stocked, so every morning, before leaving for town, Maria made breakfast for Johnny and herself. And through the kindness of the Senor and his wife, Maria and her son were ensured supper at the festival, so for the first time that he could remember, Johnny had a full stomach when he went to sleep.
But what was most important to the little boy was that he and his mother were together. Without anyone else. None of her men were around to bother him. To bother her.
When it was just Maria and Johnny, the little boy’s world was good. Maria would teach her son to read and write in English, as best she could, as well as her native language. She would read and explain the Bible to him. She would read him stories and fairy tales. They would spend hours drawing; her passion was horses and she taught him to draw horses in various stages of action. And she would sing him to sleep. Her soft, lulling voice made Johnny Lancer feel safe and secure, no matter what their circumstances.
Then it would happen. She would meet a man. Her beauty was so intoxicating men would practically kill to be with her. To claim her as theirs. And for some unknown reason, she would let them, and the man, whoever he was, would become the most important thing in her life. Even more important than her son.
She would tell the small boy to ‘go find something to do,’ and ‘not to come home for a few days.’ So after ‘finding something to do’ that a boy his age shouldn’t even know about, and after a few days of begging for food and sleeping in back alleys, he would return home. Sometimes, she would be alone, abandoned and beaten by the man who wanted her so desperately only a few days before. And he would comfort his mother. Dry her tears and clean up her cuts.
And sometimes, she would still be with the man. In the throngs of lust. Johnny would hear the sounds. The sounds he would learn were not the sounds of two people in love who cared about one another; but rather, the sounds of two people satisfying their sexual hunger through each other.
Eventually, her sexual hunger would cease and she would come to her senses, and realize she was neglecting her son; that he needed her. She would ask the man to leave. And he would, disgusted with the fact that the Mexican whore would prefer some half-breed snotty-nosed brat to him.
Then mother and son would be on the run again. She would change their names so they couldn’t be tracked down, so her men wouldn’t find them. For she knew they were no good. And as much as they had used her, she, in turn, had used them, until her unnatural sexual desire was cooled, and she could return to being the truly loving mother that deep inside her, she was.
Her last man was different, though. Francisco Raul deHernandez was not to be taken lightly. Any woman he wanted he would have. For he was dark and handsome, charming, and when his luck was good, rich as well. And one look at a beautiful woman with his dark, soulful eyes ensured that the woman would be his. . .for as long as he wanted.
Maria Lancer was such a woman. When he spied her a month earlier, he, like all men, was awestruck. She was absolutely the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. He wanted her; he turned on his charm, looked at her with his eyes, and the beautiful young mother was his.
For a week, they holed up in a cheap, roach-infested hotel room and fueled their desires. They drank, they lusted after each other, and Maria forgot about everything and everybody around her, including a little boy with blue eyes who cried for his mother to come home.
Then, exhausted from the week of lust and drink, Maria remembered her child. Her sweet, innocent, blue-eyed little boy, who was happiest when he was with his mother. And she with him.
So she told Francisco she had to leave. Her child needed her.
“Child? You didn’t tell me you had a kid,” he bellowed. “No whore leaves me until I say so. And definitely not for any kid!” And he began to beat her. And kick her. So she lusted after him. And got him drunk. And as he lay in a drunken stupor, Maria, bloodied and beaten, ran away from Francisco and found her son.
Johnny had been left on his own for a week, and while she was gone, became ill from the garbage he made himself eat in order to survive. He was scared; he needed his mother.
She grabbed him, and together, they ran to the outskirts of Matamoras. She found an abandoned shack, and there, her 12-year old son, sick himself, took care of his mother. He cleaned her cuts and took care of her bruises. He found a way to make hot tea and broth to feed to her, while she laid there and let him take care of her. And as sick as he was, he forced himself to get well. He needed to take care of his mother.
But who would take care of Johnny?
A month later, mother and son had recovered. Maria’s beauty and vitality began to return, and Johnny was able to stand on his feet without the feeling of nausea overcoming his little stomach.
“Today, my son, we are going to Matamoras. The celebrations are going on, and the town will be crowded. I know people there that can help us. Give us shelter and food,” she proudly announced to Johnny.
“And your name, for now, is Madrid. Juanito Madrid. And I am Maria Madrid. Remember that name, yes, nino?”
“Si, Mama,” Johnny replied. For once, he liked the name she had chosen for them. He thought it sounded good, and it was easy for him to remember. He could not realize that name would be with him for a long time. . . . . . . .
And so, on this day in Matamoras, as mother and son walked through the celebration-filled streets, Johnny was happy.
He spied the puppet show given by a Mexican traveling show group. Deep down, he wanted to see it; to hear the magical stories the colorful puppets told through the talents of the puppeteers. But he laughed it off. After all, he was 12 years old, practically a man. What nonsense a puppet show was.
But his mother knew. “Juanito, I would love to see the puppet show. I haven’t seen one since I was about your age. Sometimes, you never outgrow the small pleasures of life,” she told him.
His face lit up as they walked over and took a seat in the front row of the stage. If its all right for mama, its all right for me, Johnny thought. Maria looked at him with pride and love, as his blue eyes sparkled and the laugh came deep from his tummy as he enjoyed this simple little pleasure.
And she wondered why she did what she did when it came to men. . . . .
Johnny enjoyed the magical puppet show, and Maria surprised him with a peppermint stick she had bought. They had a wonderful dinner with the Senor and Senora Rodriguez, and then made the pleasant walk back to the Rodriguez home.
Johnny needed a bath, and Maria ensured he had one. She secretly cried when he told her, “Mama, please go. I ain’t no baby no more. I need my privacy!” My baby’s growing up, she smiled, as she remembered the baby she bathed so lovingly.
At bedtime, mother and son told tall tales, each trying to outdo the other. They laughed. They quietly sang. And the little boy braided his mother’s long, beautiful hair. And as he snuggled into the comfortable bed, his mother reached over and kissed him good-night.
Twelve-year old Johnny Lancer went to sleep happy that night. And content. He felt safe. And loved.
But what the little boy couldn’t realize was that this feeling he had, this feeling of childhood bliss, would have to last. For in 24 hours, his world would be turned upside down. Forever.
For tomorrow evening, between the rising and setting of the warm Mexican sun, three people would be dead.
Francisco Raul deHernandez had found Maria Lancer and her half-breed. And he was enraged that she would leave him because of a child—a half-breed no less. He had watched them the past several days, eyeing their every move, and spying on their friendship with the Rodriguez’. He befriended the elderly couple; he knew they would not be home for several days. So he devised his plan. And the time was right.
He came upon the young mother and her son mid-morning, after they had finished breakfast and were headed to the festival’s closing day. He humiliated Maria in front of her son, whom he chained to a tree to ensure the child could not escape.
It was a long, hot day as he terrorized both mother and son, and Maria pleaded to let the boy go. He had done nothing. She would do whatever he wanted. But Francisco would not be swayed.
Finally, at day’s end, he unchained Johnny and told Maria to watch. He would kill her; but not before she saw her half-breed die before her. And in one last showing of her love, Maria Lancer jumped in front of her son, and took the bullet that was meant for him, screaming out in her dying breath to “Run Juanito! Run!”
Francisco had finished one-half of his despicable plan. He had murdered the woman who rejected him, over a half-breed no less. One person was dead. The half-breed was next.
The gun was raised toward the child. But all of a sudden, something happened.
The child found his voice, and the voice that spoke to his mother’s murderer was deep. And cold.
“You killed my mother, you bastard. You take one step toward me, and you’re dead,” came the calm, cool, voice.
Then came the laugh. And the taunting. And the struggle for the gun. Suddenly, the gun was in the boy’s hand, aiming, and firing, in self-defense.
Francisco Raul deHernandez was the second person to die that night.
Johnny Lancer stood there frozen. Horrified. His mind shut down. Everything shut down. He couldn’t breathe, or scream, or think. The horror of his mother dying so violently before his very eyes traumatized him. And he was unable to stop it.
And Johnny Lancer was the third person to die that night. . . . . . .
But not the physical Johnny Lancer. His body would continue to grow and mature, to eat, to sleep, to breathe. . . .To exist.
But the most important part of Johnny Lancer had died. His innocence. . .
The death of his innocence. . . .
Johnny Lancer’s innocence died with his mother.
And at that instant, Johnny Madrid was born. . . . . . . . . . .
His innocence was dead, but the heart and soul of the young boy were strong, and although badly broken, would not die. Only sleep. Johnny Madrid would live long enough for the boy to grow into a man; to protect his sleeping heart and soul from the sadness and pain he would endure.
And when the heart and soul of the young man were given the chance to awaken, Johnny Madrid would slip deeply into the young man’s being, appearing only when the need arose to protect the kind, gentle heart and soul of the child-man.
It would be 10 years before Johnny Lancer would re-emerge, and in the unlikeliest of places.
For he would finally be found by his Gringo Father and be brought home, where he always should have been. And he would learn the love was always there for him, in his father’s heart. And his father’s soul.
Johnny Lancer’s innocence was gone forever. . . . .
But his heart and soul would be reawakened through the gruff love of his Gringo Father. Murdoch Lancer.
And Johnny Lancer would live, and love, once again. . .
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