Alba the Carmelite is half-way to the final $136 monthly payment on a gun in layaway. I saw her yesterday, with a moon face reflecting inner peace.

'I'm calm, of course, because the die is cast.'

Now seventy-five, nut brown and no taller than a rifle, Alba was born in Nicaragua to a wealthy family with a chain of hardware stores and cotton plantations around the world. At nine Albacita announced that 'numbers were dancers in her head' so her father sent her with hats of coins into Managua's barrios to give to the poor. One day she made a side trip to a convent and asked to become a nun but the sister replied,'You're too young.' She instead went off to school in Pennsylvania to learn English, French and earn a CPA degree, returned to Nicaragua and asked to join a nunnery but was told, 'You must run the family business'. Shortly her father was murdered in Europe, and Alba gave away the family fortune whisking her mother to San Francisco, California to ask a convent to accept her but was scolded, 'Take care of your aging mother.' After a decade as a San Francisco CPA her mother passed and Alba trudged up the nunnery steps to implore, 'Now I may be a nun.' 'No, you are too old.' 'f you, sisters!' Alba yelled, stepped in a rust bucket Chevy van and drove south into the desert and Sand Valley, my home.

Except Alba is the toughest in the valley (population ten) because she lives without propane for heat or cooking, no electric, wind or solar, no vehicle… just a rattle camper and claptrap trailer turned over to twenty rescued cats and five dogs as the owner sleeps under the stars.

The desert property was a cool April 90F and strangely quiet yesterday. Alba padded up in blue slippers, white socks puffed with garlic to ward off rattlers, short brown dress hung like a burlap sack, fishnet for an air pocket between gray curls and a red baseball cap that reads, 'Cien Anos' (One Hundred Years). She removed one white mitten with her teeth like a cat and pulled the other black one off to hug me.

'One year ago the man took away all my friends, the animals.'


'Animal Control.'

'Where were you?'

'In jail.'

'For what?'

'Assault and battery  !'

The story slowly unwound. Animal Control drove into Sand Valley, wheeled onto Alba's forty acres of sand and cactus, raised a chin to her demand to leave and intoned, 'Get those dogs spayed or you go to jail.' 'You,' replied Alba tapping a long index fingernail once as high as she could reach on his chest, 'Can't arrest me because you're not a sheriff.' But he called the sheriff who cuffed her so hard that her wrists bled like J.sus all the way to El Centro.

She was incarcerated for ten days for assault and battery.

On the court date she dragged ankle and wrist chains clanging against a metal walker across the linoleum to a shocked judge. 'Call the public defender!' he cried. 'I'll defend her!' interjected the prosecutor. Alba rose to a full 4'8'' and overruled them all saying, 'I'll defend myself with the truth!'

'Take the chains off the lady!' ordered the judge. Alba rubbed the circulation back and presented her version.

'Case dismissed!' ruled the judge. 'Get her a ride home.'

In the ten days absence the Animal Control man had robbed the animals. He left three dead cats in a box in the trailer that Alba lifted out, crisp after one year, one at a time and placed gently in my lap. 'This is Richard the Lion hearted,' patting its skull as black hair scattered like confetti, 'This is Felipe,' as the tail vertebrae snapped and the calico with a fixed grin dropped next to the other, 'And this is poor Chaquita,' lifting a Persian by the scruff and spilling tears.

The old lady's new moon face relaxed as two fresh pups jumped up and down demanding attention, and Alba knows the man will return when they come of age to spay and the gun is out of layaway.


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