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Buena Suerte

Albertson’s supermarket at De Vargas Mall in Santa Fe. Bright lights illuminate rows and rows of shelves of neatly stacked, eye-catching goods. People wander the store pushing large carts, filling them with things they need or might need or don’t need but simply want: chocolate bars, potato chips, ice cream, wine.

A svelte matron in a red suede coat and a furry black hat, her face perfectly smooth, her nails manicured, pushes her cart briskly down the aisles, tossing things into it without much hesitation—French cheese, gluten-free bread, imported butter, extra virgin olive oil, several organic avocadoes, dried morels. As she rounds the corner at aisle eighteen—“Canned Vegetables, Beans & Rice, Ethnic Food, Canned Fruit”—she stops suddenly.

A grizzled old man in clean but tattered clothes is on his knees in front of the votive candles next to the Mexican food. Holding his battered straw hat in his cracked, weathered hands, his head bowed, he moves his lips in silent supplication to the tall, wax-filled glass cylinders decorated with religious imagery.

Close by, a younger man is also on his knees. What’s going on here? she wonders. But then she sees he’s slapping labels on bottles of salsa with a pricing gun. Further down the same aisle, a mother barely out of her teens trails three toddlers who babble in Spanish while clambering in and out of her shopping cart. She compares prices on several brands of refried beans.

The matron looks at the candles. She has been in Santa Fe long enough to recognize the Virgin of Guadalupe, of course, but although she spent a dozen years in Catholic girls’ schools in Green Bay, she is unfamiliar with many of the images depicted: San Cayetano, San Camilo de Lélis, La Mano Poderosa, Marيa Félix y Pedro Infante, Changَ, the Reversing Candle. And Jesus! Who’s the bearded female saint nailed to a cross? And the little guy in a lace-trimmed dress sitting on a chair holding a staff?

As she whirls her cart around to leave the aisle, the old man crosses himself many times and kisses the cross formed by his thumb and index finger.

When she wheels her hummocky load into a checkout lane, she sees the old man in front of her. His hat is on his head now. Little red woolen balls that dangle from its brim sway as he pulls a wrinkled gray plastic bag of coins and rumpled bills out of his pocket and dumps the contents on the counter. The cashier helps him count out the money, then exchanges the coins and bills for two lottery tickets. “Buena suerte, Don Lorenzo!” she says. “Good luck! Hope you win big!”

He smiles, tips his hat to her, and shuffles out the door.

The matron unloads her groceries on the belt that moves toward the cash register.

“Did you find everything OK?” the checkout girl asks.

“Yes, thank you,” she replies. “Oh, and I’ll take two lottery tickets. The same kind that old gentleman bought. I bet he has celestial connections.”