Saint Carlos

Carlos Garcia, a Mercy native, started working for the Mercy postal service when he was twenty-seven, just three months after coming home from an eight-year stint in the Army.

Carlos is forty-nine now, and for all his twenty-two years with the postal service he’s been delivering mail to remote parts of the zip code. A year from now, when Sylvia Rodriguez retires, Carlos will no longer drive the pot-holed country roads and he’ll be working in the Mercy post office where they always need someone bi-lingual on hand.


This morning, an overcast day in late October, Carlos drives up the quarter-mile dirt track to Andrea Kessler’s house to spare her the trip down to her mailbox on Road 12, and he finds Andrea sitting amidst her rose bushes with her legs out in front of her and her long white hair tangled in the thorny branches.

“Thank God you came up to the house today,” she says, smiling wanly at Carlos. “I was pruning my roses when I fell and twisted my ankle and broke my wrist. Heard it snap. I’m in pretty bad pain. I left my phone in the house, so I couldn’t call Joey or 9-1-1. If you hadn’t come up today I’d be sitting here until Joey gets home after dark.”

“You want me to take you to the hospital?” asks Carlos, assessing the situation – a large woman needing to be lifted out of a tangle of rose bushes and helped up seven stairs into her house, or into the jeep full of mail and packages and Carlos’s big malamute Pequeño.

“No Carlos,” says Andrea, shaking her head. “Joey can take me to the ER when he gets home. If you could just help me into the house and get some ice on my ankle, I’ll be okay until Joey gets home.”

“No problem,” says Carlos, deciding his best bet is to get behind Andrea to lift her into a standing position. “Would you mind if I cut away some of your rose bushes to get a better angle for lifting you?”

“Whatever you need to do,” says Andrea, grimacing at the pain in her wrist. “Thank God you’re so strong. I’m ashamed how much I weigh now.”

“Don’t be ashamed. You’re fine,” says Carlos, signaling Pequeño it’s okay to get out of the jeep. “Any idea where your clippers got to?”

“I flung them that-a-way when I started to fall,” she says, pointing with her unbroken hand. “So I wouldn’t stab myself.”

“Good thinking,” says Carlos, going in search of the clippers.


When Carlos has Andrea settled on her sofa with a bag of ice on her ankle and she’s taken a couple pain pills, he feels her pulse and is assured by her steady heartbeat that she’ll be okay until her son gets home.

“Thank you, Carlos,” she says, starting to cry. “How’d you get so strong anyway? You lifted me like I was nothing.”

“I got bullied at school for being little,” he says, wishing he didn’t have to leave. “So in Third Grade I started lifting weights and I’ve been lifting ever since.”

“I should have done that,” says Andrea, sniffling. “I got bullied, too, for being chubby.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you,” says Carlos, solemnly. “Our son and daughter also got bullied, so the summer before Tito started Third Grade and Julia started Second we got them going to Nakamoto’s karate dojo. Once they knew how to defend themselves, nobody messed with them anymore. Made them more confident, too, taught them discipline and respect for their teachers. Hey I gotta go, Andrea. I’ll leave you my phone number if you need help before Joey gets home.”

“The pain pills are kicking in now,” says Andrea, closing her eyes. “You’re a saint, Carlos.”


A mile further along curvy Road 12, Carlos and Pequeño come to the four mailboxes at the bottom of Big Meadow Drive, a mile-long dirt track that climbs up and over a steep rise to a large meadow shared by four households. Carlos won’t drive up this road during the rainy season – too muddy or icy – but today the road is dry and he has several packages for folks who live at the meadow.

He switches into four-wheel drive and heads up the narrow road – Pequeño barking excitedly because his sweetheart Miranda, a beautiful Husky, lives at the meadow.

“Paciencia Pequeño,” says Carlos, smiling at his pal. “We’ll be there soon.”


As they come around a sharp curve, Carlos slams on his brakes to keep from crashing into an enormous boulder blocking the road; and on the other side of the boulder are three people who were on their way to town and can’t get out.

Carlos sets the parking brake, turns off his engine, and climbs out to see what might be done to remove the huge round boulder that is nearly as tall as he.

The three people are Jan Carlton, Jan’s ten-year-old daughter Gina, and Bob Fitzroy.

“Must have just happened,” says Jan, a buxom brunette in her forties. “We walked down to the mailboxes an hour ago to put letters out for you, and the road was clear then.”

“We called Arno Gibs,” says Bob, a burly redhead in his seventies. “He said he might be able to get a bulldozer up here this afternoon, but probably not until tomorrow. ”

“So we’re stuck,” says Jan, glaring at the massive rock. “And we’ll miss ten-percent-off day at Walker’s.”

“We’re completely out of fruit and cheese and peanut butter,” says Gina, pouting. “And Miranda’s almost out of dog food, too.”

Carlos walks around the huge boulder to where he can look down the slope descending some fifty feet to Big Meadow Creek, which is just a trickle this time of year.

“If we push it over the edge here,” says Carlo, resting a hand on the mighty orb, “it should stop somewhere in the creek bed before it gets down to Road 12.” He laughs. “We hope.”  

“This thing weighs more than a car,” says Bob, frowning dubiously. “How we gonna push it without a bulldozer?”

“You’d be surprised how strong a bunch of people can be,” says Carlos, grinning at Bob. “Who else is home at the meadow?”

“Tammy and Tom,” says Jan, frowning dubiously, too. “Phil’s in San Francisco, and Joan and Guy are in Toronto. Their daughter just had a baby.”

“Becky’s canning tomatoes,” says Bob, grimacing at the boulder. “But she pulled a hamstring doing yoga yesterday so she can’t help.”

“Run get Tammy and Tom,” says Carlos to Gina. “Take Pequeño with you.”

So while Gina and Pequeño run up to the meadow, Carlos tells Jan and Bob about Andrea breaking her wrist and waiting for Joey to take her to the ER.

“I’d take her if we could get out of here,” says Bob, wincing, “except she and Becky aren’t talking to each other anymore, so…” He shrugs and falls silent.

“We went to the ER a couple months ago when Phil slashed his leg chopping kindling,” says Jan with a heavy sigh. “Waited seven hours to see a doctor. Nurse had to give Phil painkillers in the waiting room. That place is a nightmare.”

“Anything thrilling going on in town?” asks Bob, changing the subject.

“Ricardo’s playing at Big Goose tonight,” says Carlos, smiling. “My wife and I love his music. He’s amazing. And they’re painting the bank.”

“Don’t tell me,” says Jan, rolling her eyes. “White?”

“No, like a rainbow,” says Carlos, laughing. “Yes. White.”

Now Gina returns with Tammy, a sturdy woman in her fifties, Tom, a gangly fellow in his sixties, Pequeño, and Miranda the beautiful Husky.

“Okay,” says Carlos, positioning himself where he can push against the heart of the stone, “Tom and Tammy, you stand on either side of me, Bob stand next to Tom, Jan next to Tammy, Gina next to Jan. We’re gonna push this big rock into the ravine. Okay? Get your feet set so they won’t slip as you push, and make sure the palms of your hands are pressing against the rock. On my count of three we’ll push with all our might and don’t stop pushing even if it feels like nothing is happening.”

“Impossible,” says Tom, shaking his head. “This thing weighs tons.”

“I believe we can do this,” says Carlos, winking at Tom. “Let’s try.”

So when everyone is in place with the palms of their hands pressing against the boulder, Carlos counts “One, two, three,” and with surprising ease they roll the massive stone over the edge and watch it rumble down through the dry underbrush to land in the creek with a resounding crash.

“We did it! We did it!” shouts Gina, jumping up and down.

“I can’t believe it,” says Tom, gazing in awe at Carlos. “It was like it wanted to go over the edge.”

“I think that was mostly you, Carlos,” says Bob, exultant and red in the face.

“That was all of us,” says Carlos, though he knows he supplied most of the power.

“Why didn’t I film that?” says Tammy, smacking her forehead. “Would have gone viral for sure.”


That night, Carlos and his wife Ophelia go to Big Goose for beer and fish & chips and to listen to their friend Ricardo play piano, his dreamy jazz the perfect soundtrack for Carlos remembering the miracle that changed the course of his life.


In the summer between Second and Third Grade, a family from Sweden, the Gustafsons, moved into the house across the street from the Garcias, and Carlos’s mother had Carlos and his sister Maria take the Gustafsons a lemon cake to welcome them to the neighborhood.

A big boy with long brown hair answered the door. Carlos guessed this boy would be starting Fifth or Sixth Grade, but he turned out to be exactly Carlos’s age, their birthdays three days apart. This was Lars, and for the rest of the summer he and Carlos were inseparable.

Then came the first day of school. Lars and Carlos walked across town to Mercy Elementary with their sisters Maria and Neta, and Carlos was sure Lars would join the gang of big boys who bullied Carlos.

But at recess when big Sam Schneider came up to Carlos and punched him hard in the shoulder, Lars slugged Sam in the forehead with such force that Sam collapsed in a heap and was so still Carlos thought he might be dead.

No one ever bullied Carlos again until Lars moved back to Sweden the summer after Sixth Grade.

Then at recess on the first day of Seventh Grade, Carlos was playing soccer with a bunch of other kids when Sam Schneider, who outweighed Carlos by sixty pounds, and his buddy Happy Thompson, a huge Eighth Grader, came to hurt Carlos.

“Lars is gone, punk,” said Sam, striding toward Carlos. “You’re dead.”

Rather than flee, Carlos assumed the stance for sparring at Nakamoto’s dojo.

“Little turd thinks he’s Bruce Lee,” said Happy, coming at Carlos, too.

When they got close, Carlos unleashed a barrage of lightning-fast kicks and punches that brought Sam and Happy to their knees; and he would have kicked them again had they not, in the presence of a hundred witnesses, begged Carlos to spare them.


Ricardo finishes a tune, the audience applauds, and he begins another that takes Carlos back to his last year in the Army when he was stationed in Germany.

While lifting weights in the gym one evening, he had a vivid recollection of lifting weights with Lars in the Gustafson’s garage every morning and every afternoon for the four years Lars lived in Mercy. And then he remembered it was the Gustafsons who paid for him to take karate lessons with Lars at Nakamoto’s dojo because Carlos’s mother couldn’t afford the lessons.

These memories inspired Carlos to look up Lars’ phone number in Sweden and call him, and Lars invited Carlos to come visit him in Halmstad where he was completing a residency in Pediatrics.

So Carlos took trains from the Army base in Munster to Grenaa in Denmark, and from there he caught a ferry to Halmstad in Sweden where Lars was waiting for him at the port.

When they saw each other from afar, not having seen each other since they were eleven-years-old, they called each other’s name in the very same moment.


Mystery Music Box from Todd’s album Mystery Inventions.