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2

In Benson, Ruben Vega had to find the right church first, St. John the Apostle, then had to lie to the priest to get him to come from the priest house to the church to hear his Confession.

Kneeling at the small window in the darkness of the confessional, Ruben Vega said, Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It has beenthirty-seven years since my last confession.

The old priest groaned, head lowered, pinching the bridge of his nose with his eyes closed.

Since then I have fornicated with many womenmaybe eight hundred. No, not that many, considering my work. Maybe six hundred only.

Do you mean bad women or good women? the priest asked.

They are all good, Father, Ruben Vega said. Let me think, I stole aboutI don't know, twenty-thousand head of beeves, but only in that time maybe fifty horses. He paused for perhaps a full minute.

Go on.

I'm thinking.

Have you committed murder?

No.

All the stealing you've done-you've never killed anyone?

Yes, of course, but it was not to commit murder. You understand the distinction? Not to kill someone, to take a life; but only to save my own.

The priest was silent, perhaps deciding if he should go further into this question of murder. Finally he said, Have you made restitution?

For what?

For all you've stolen. I can't give you absolution unless you make an attempt to repay those you've harmed or injured.

Jesus, Ruben Vega thought. He said, Look, that's done. I don't steal no more. But I can't pay back twenty thousand cows. How in the name of Christ can I do that? Oh- He paused. And I told a lie. I'm not dying. But, listen, man, somebody is going to, Ruben Vega said, his face close to the screen that covered the little window, if I don't get absolution for my sins.

He had forgotten how difficult they could make it when you wanted to unburden yourself. But now he was a new person, aware of his spurs making a clear, clean ching-ing sound as he walked out of the empty church-leaving thirty-seven years with the old man in the confessional-going to the depot now to buy a ticket on the El Paso& Southwestern, ride to Douglas, cross the border and go home.

He hung around the yards watching the freight cars being switched to different tracks, smelling the coal smoke, hearing the harsh sound of the cars banging together and the wail of the whistle as an eastbound train headed out for Ochoa and the climb through Dragoon Pass. He wanted to remain outside tonight in the fresh air rather than go to a hotel in Benson; so he camped by the river and watched the young boys laughing and splashing each other, trying to catch minnows. With dark, mosquitoes came. They drove him crazy. Then it began to rain, a light, steady drizzle, and Ruben Vega said to himself: What are you doing here? He bought a bottle of mescal and for ten of the sixty dollars in his pocket he spent the night in a whorehouse with a plump, dark-haired girl named Rosa who thought he was very witty and laughed at everything he said when he wasn't being serious. Though some of the wittiest things he said seriously and they passed over her. That was all right. He gave her a dollar tip. In the morning Ruben Vega cashed in his ticket for the El Paso& Southwestern, mounted his horse and rode back toward the Rincon Mountains standing cleanly defined in the sunlight.


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