You can wake up in a Tijuana jail,
feeling like your life has just become
a bad country song, and look around you
at the half-dozen other young men
in the cell with you, most of them
still asleep but one sitting against the wall,
his eyes on you as you sit up,
flexing your hands and rolling your neck,
stiff from sleeping on the floor,
your head splitting and your mouth
tasting like your own asshole,
and honestly have no idea why you are there.
Sure, you probably drank a lot the night before -
assuming, that is, that you've only been in here
one night -
but what the hell did you do to wind up in
a Mexican jail, a circumstance so ridiculous
as to border on parody?
If anyone had told you that at some point
in your life, you would wake up
"in a Mexican jail", it would have been
a joke. But there's certainly no denying
that the wheels of south-of-the-border
jurisprudence have rolled right over you.
You're in a Mexican jail. A gringo,
with the shredded stomach muscles that are
the telltale sign of having puked everything in
your guts out until you were bringing up
Were you able to dream, when you were passed out
on the cold cement floor? Were you able to think
of anyone? Sit up in your civilian clothes
and let the cell swim around you.
It feels too late to live within your own heart.
What would they say about you, if they
could see you now?
And yes, when you stand up you feel a
wrecking ball swinging inside your skull,
but you're not going to just sit there all day, are you?
No. You're going to get up and get the hell out
of there and go back to wherever it is you come from
and never return here. So what if the floor
rushes up to meet your face when you try to stand?
So what if you taste the hot metal of your own blood?
So what if gentle hands take hold of you and wash your
disgusting face with a piece of ripped t-shirt dipped
in water from a plastic bowl that every man in the cell
is supposed to share? You can open your blue eyes
and look into brown ones and think,
Among individuals as among nations, respect for the rights of others
And don't we all have the right not to bleed from the face
onto the floor of a strange place, no matter what you've done?
And don't we all have the right, or perhaps the duty,
to clean the faces of the stranger, no matter if they deserve it or not?
You can say, in your own words, I don't understand what you're saying,
and you can watch his lips move and hear his voice, soft and furtive,
as though he doesn't want anyone to know what he's doing,
and even though it's true you don't understand
are there not things that can be spoken without words?
If it was Maundy Thursday, you could wash his feet in return
but that would make you Christ, wouldn't it? And He never
got arrested with his dick out behind a border town bar.
You fall in love for ten-second stretches, as long as someone
is good to you. What drove you down to Mexico anyway but
the hope that you could string together a series of ten-seconds?
A night's worth? You went to Spain once and pissed on the
statue of Franco in a small-town square and got your head
bashed in by the local cop. You simply don't learn, do you?
The law exists to teach lessons to those of us
who refuse to learn.
Are you, after all, a bad person?
Or do you just do bad things so you can wake up
in the Byzantium of possibility?
One Last Score
I’m still not sure what went wrong; in fact, I don’t remember much about last night at all. I’d like to blame God, or fate, or just bad damn luck; but I reckon the fault might lie somewheres closer to home.
The train from Guaymas to Nogales was supposedly carryin’ a shipment of gold—a tribute from the new Mexican Republic to the Governor of Arizona, or some such political nonsense. Me and the boys, hell we didn’t care about nothin’ but gettin' our hands on all that loot, and high-tailin' it south. We planned on sittin’ on some sunny beach where the gold could be spent, the margaritas was sweet, and the senoritas was plentiful.
Bart Jonas and his cousin Dillon got the schedule off'n a Southern Pacific station master over at Tombstone, before they shot him and left his body for the buzzards. The train was supposedly bein’ guarded by a dozen rurales and at least one Mexican Federale, travelin’ north with the gold. From what the boys heard, the third passenger car was actually converted to an armored transport for the safe.
The problems started when we derailed the damn train. Jim Bernard was our powder monkey, and he’d blown the tracks just north of Cibuta. The train derailed alright, but it was goin' faster than we thought, and it piled up end-over-end out there in the desert, among the sage and saguaros.
The Federale was killed outright, but the rurales turned out to be trained soldiers from the Mexican army, and they was a tough bunch of bastards. After a gunfight that seemed to last forever, me and Bart was the only two left standin’. Dillon and old Jim were layin’ dead in the dirt, and all the Mexicans was either shot or they run off.
We found the safe layin’ on its side, all banged up and dented. What with Jim bein’ dead and all, it took over an hour for Bart to finally blast the hinges off of it, and he almost lost his left hand in the process. Once it was opened, it turned out the safe was stuffed plumb near full of 50 peso gold coins. We loaded our bags and dragged 'em back to the horses we’d left tied-off out in the hills; we mounted up and rode as hard as we could for the coast.
That was day before yesterday.
We rode them horses damn near into the dirt, and finally finished up in a little seaside fishin’ town as the sun was comin’ up. We found us an empty barn, and racked out.
Bart woke me near sundown, and we found our way to a little cantina near the wharf.
Wasn’t hardly nobody there, 'cept a grizzled old barkeep, and an ugly painted-up senora who didn’t speak no English. I told Bart he should just pay with some of the copper pennies we had been savin’ but he had to go and be a big shot. He flipped one of them big gold coins on the bar, and the keep’s eyes damn near jumped outta his head. We each grabbed a bottle of tequila and made our way over to the table where the whore was keepin’ house. I do recall she got a little prettier with each drink, but that’s about all I remember.
All I'd wanted was to head south, get my feet up, and live like a king, or at least a landed gentleman. That was before I woke up in this damn cell. Now my head is poundin’ and I’m alone in this dirty cage. I looked out the barred window a while ago, and I saw someone hanging by the neck from a scaffold. I think it’s Bart, but I can’t tell for sure.
I hope, if they’re comin’ for me next, they at least get a fresh rope.
A Time to Pray
It was church bells that roused me when nothing else could have. A cacophony of potted bronze. Clamorous machines engineered through the centuries to do naught but direct the highest possible volume of sound downward, down to where the sinners live, work and sleep, and to wake those sinners UP. The bells did their work on this day. One hundred bells clamoring for notice atop one hundred churches. Bells hung by a pious people in a pious city, people who would surely one day, if there is a god, walk that golden road to meet Him. The bells were a not so subtle reminder that today was Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day and time to wake, to stop working, and to accept the invitation to God’s house. It was the day set aside from living so that one might prepare his soul for dying. My soul had little preparation, but was ready yet... almost eager.
The pew was hard. It was of a dark wood, mahogany maybe, polished smooth by two centuries of cotton and wool rising and sitting only to rise again to sit and rise forever. Those polishing the pews spent their lives in this town, listening to these bells, worshipping the Catholic God whom they had inherited down from Ferdinand and Isabella, worshipping from these polished pews, or from ones like them, amongst this congregation, or ones like it, congregations that knew their individual parts and protected them, and loved them. Congregations that are ever changing as parts die and parts are born, but congregations that are somehow still always the same.
Upon the pew, beside my head, is a pile of bloody vomit, bile mostly, as food is a waste, serving only to neutralize that which really matters. The vomit emits a familiar smell of disgust that clings to me forever like spray paint clings to a freight car, tacky, tasteless and rude to the senses. Dried blood cakes my face and shirt. My own blood. Blood freed from me, perhaps, by a member of this very congregation, by one of it‘s parts. Blood that might be washed from me with tender fingers by that same man’s mother, or sister, but not his wife. A man who would do such as this to another man would not have a wife, not for long, not even a Catholic one. Of course, I could not recall the beating, and it may have been deserved. I am not usually a nice drunk, as the alcohol only softens angry nerves for a short while before it pokes them with its needles.
My groin is also sticky wet. Like the rest of me, it too reeks repulsively, my pants clinging coldly to the tingling skin of my inner thighs. My breathing is jagged, my chest heaving, but I can smell them through the fear... the urine, the vomit, and the church. The church has its own scent, a scent of timelessness. Its odor mixes unnaturally with mine in the warm, dusty air. The dust wafts in streams of brightly colored sunlight above me, blue dust, red dust, and gold as it floats across stained glass prisms. The dust swirls ’round me like the smells and the ringing bells, everything swirling, everything sickening.
I try to rise, but cannot. I try my body, my arms, and my legs. The efforts trigger one last spasm. The bile heaves from below, filling my mouth and nostrils. With an instinctive sense of preservation my body coughs, willing the nastiness away, but the coughing only opens the trachea, allowing it to suck the acidic bile inside, where it cannot be. Thus begins the chain reaction of cough, inhale bile, cough and inhale again...
The doors open, letting the townsfolk in. They take pause at the surprise waiting upon the pew. They look with horror at the drowning man, even as he looks at them through his own terror filled eyes. He sees them, a dark-haired, dark-eyed and dark-skinned people, for all the world like impoverished angels. They whisper in a tongue of angels. They whisper prayers for me, a stranger, the women clinging to their rosaries, the men clasping gnarled hands.
The darkness creeps in. The angels fade. The Golden Road lays there before me. At its end waits an unknown God, a God who dose not know my voice, as it is a voice that has never known prayer. It is time now to walk that road. It is time now to test His mercy.
The only reason he will meet with me, he says, is that his life is over. Estoy muerto pero no me acuesto, is how he puts it. I am dead but I won’t lie down.
I sit on a bench outside the Plaza Benito Juárez in Puerto Peñasco, a one-time fishing village now converted to a shabby resort where students from American universities spend spring break drinking and having sex. This is the location texted to my phone an hour ago. He lives and moves in secret. Though we have spoken on the phone many times, I have never met him.
I wonder what he will look like, scan the faces in the crowd over the fold of my newspaper. The hot air is greasy with the smoke of the food trucks parked in a long row by the gate. Volkswagen taxis rattle down the cobbles, engines braying like geese as they tear around the corners.
And then he is sitting on the bench next to me. He sets down a paper bag between us, gets up and is gone before I get a good look at him.
In the bag is a key to a room at the Casa Bonita Motel on the bay. There is a note. Written in block letters is the time when we will meet face-to-face, 11pm.
I arrive at 10:30, but he is already waiting for me. He does not look as I remember, though I saw him just this morning. For a moment I wonder if it is the indeed the same man. My doubts vanish as soon as he speaks, for the voice is the same as on the telephone. It is a soft voice, yet his precise pronunciation gives it an unnatural force, like a steel spike driven into concrete.
“Before I begin,” he says, “I must tell you something. What I give you are tales of evil, the deepest evil with no redemption in them. Your face says that you wonder why I wish to tell them to you. I have only what you will think an unsatisfactory answer: that time heals everything except lies. The truth is often ugly, often evil. Yet it is the truth and must be heard if it to be healed. Do you still wish to hear it?”
His pupils are so dilated that his eyes look black, the corona of iris so thin I cannot tell its color. This blackness is like an open grave. I shudder with an urge to flee, to close the door behind me, drive to the airport and forget all of this. Yet the eyes compel me.
“Yes,” I hear myself saying. “Tell me.”
From somewhere he produces a bottle of handblown glass, tiny bubbles trapped in its sides. He swiftly gets up and takes a pair of the motel glasses, tearing the paper covers with his blunt fingers. He pours each glass half-full of a murky amber liquid.
He hands one to me, holds up his own.
“To truth,” he says with dark solemnity. We drain the glasses and I feel the fire of raw mezcal spreading through me like ripples in a pond. He refills my glass, then sits back in the motel chair.
“I cannot say how I came to this profession,” he says. “It was not a decision I made all at once. My family came from central Mexico, a place so poor as to defy description. We came north, to the border. My mother and father went to the maquilas to work fifteen, eighteen hours, six days a week. We children were left on our own. In Ciudad Juárez I went to school. I was a good student, learned English and algebra. I dreamed of going to university to become a poet like Lorca or José Martí. When I was sixteen, a man offered us fifty US dollars to drive a car across the bridge into El Paso, leave the car and walk away. It was more money than my father made in week of work. For a year I did this, but no more. I never asked what was in the cars.”
He sips from his glass, then drains it. He motions for me to do the same.
“Drink. We must stay even to take this journey together.”
I drink, the room growing dim at the edges as he refills my glass. The mezcal tastes like the smoke of a desert fire burning far away, beyond the horizon.
“The Juárez police recruited some of us. We were paid two hundred pesos a month, plus bonuses. Weekends were long parties with drugs and liquor and whores. When I was eighteen, they sent me to train with the FBI, where I learned how to use weapons, to surveil, to command a squad of men. I came back to Mexico and was put in charge of a kidnapping unit. Our job was to prevent kidnappings, but what we really did was to kidnap the victims ourselves, hold them for a while, and then give them to another unit to be killed. This took less time than guarding the victim while waiting for the ransom. Sometimes we would be told where the body was hidden and pretend to discover it. Other times, the victim would never be found. ” He lights a cigarette, sips from his glass. “This was back in the days when things made sense.”
He tells me that in 1997 the head of the Juárez cartel was assassinated. The payments to the FBI stopped. The structure disintegrated and the units were left on their own, every man for himself. He calls it the time of chaos.
“In the days when things were organized, we had to buy all our personal drugs in El Paso,” he says. “The cartel had warehouses of cocaine on the Mexican side of the border, but to slit open a kilo was a death sentence. We all respected the rule, laughing at the irony. After the assassination of El Jefé, there were no such rules. It was only about survival. There was much death, many killings. Skilled men such as myself were in high demand. I did not decide to become a sicario. There was never a choice. It was a new world, and I became a new man to live in it. Such a world which Satan might devise, a world where only the most corrupt and evil men would prevail. Fear was the message, written by us in blood.
“A man arose in the organization, a man of bottomless cruelty, of endless evil. He became the boss of Ciudád Juárez. No one could match him for ruthlessness. There was no evil he would not engage in, no degree of savagery he would not employ. I will give you two examples. Once, there was a rumor that one of his lieutenants wanted to make a move, to acquire territory for himself. A rumor, no more. This lieutenant had a large family. Men were sent to this lieutenant’s house. They took his youngest, a baby girl of three months, and put her in a pot on a stove. In front of the entire family they boiled the baby alive. It took two hours for the child to die. As we left, the boss told the lieutenant that he would force the family to eat the next child he killed. Another time did not like a story printed in the Juárez newspaper. One night he sent men to their offices. They captured the entire staff and hung them by their ankles in a public park, slitting their throats and pulling their tongues through the gashes. The bodies hung for ten days because nobody would dare take them down. A cloud of birds descended upon them every dawn, departing at sundown. When the last body fell, they were all removed by night and buried in secret. These are but two examples I have seen with my own eyes.”
As he talks I can see the town square drenched with blood. I recall seeing photos of the charred remains of judges and police officers with burned tires around their necks. I can smell the singed flesh, hear their screams as they burn to death.
As I sit in this anonymous motel room, I am afraid. “How many?” I hear myself ask, my voice far away.
“How many have I killed?” His tone is flat. “It is bad luck to count. Three hundred? Five hundred? Most were taken in the night, bound and gagged and driven to the desert. These were killed cleanly and put into holes. To their families, they simply vanished.”
“Did you ever ask why?”
He stares at me, the black eyes like holes in the night sky. “I knew why. As I know now why I am telling you this. It is truth, and as such must be heard.”
He fills our glasses again. I drink automatically, finish in one gulp. My stomach tightens into a fist, and the world swims around me.
“I am a dead man now,” he says, lighting another cigarette. "Estoy muerto pero no me acuesto. They have given the green light so anyone can kill me on sight and receive a generous bounty. How much? And who pays it? It is not for me to say. Twenty thousand dollars, fifty thousand, a hundred? There is no agency or headquarters. No recourse for clemency or appeal. It is an event that will happen. I am like a coin whose fate was written the moment it was struck. One side heads, the other, tails. This coin is passed from hand to hand and wears thinner with each transaction. One time it is used to purchase medicine for saving a life; another time, for a knife that takes one. Highest of all its callings is when the coin is used to turn fate itself, tossed in the air to make a decision. Whether the decision is important or trivial is beside the point. The coin itself has no agency in the decision. It is a catalyst, causing the reaction without taking part in it.”
We sit in the motel room, the empty bottle between us. He looks now like an old man, hunched and beaten. It is as though he’s aged several decades during our conversation. When he looks up at me, I can see his eyes are brown and bloodshot, the black pupils reduced to pinpricks.
“I never knew the reason for the killings, just as I do not know the reason for my own death warrant. It has never been mine to know. Perhaps there is, in the end, nothing to know.”
When I awake the next morning, he is gone. So is the bottle, the ashtray, and any trace he was ever here. My head throbs as though it was split by a hatchet, my back twisted with cramp from sleeping hours in this uncomfortable chair. I stagger to the bathroom and kneel at the toilet, retching up the bitter dregs of the mezcal.
The memory of what he told me will never leave. I have crossed the bridge into a country I never wanted even to visit, a place where such evil not only exists but is commonplace.
A place where I will now dwell forever.
all great changes
are preceded by chaos
Stuffy air, heat spreading and attacking my body, a buzzing sound waking me up from a shallow sleep, my tongue permanently glued to the inside of my mouth. I lay on my stomach, feeling the rough covers under my skin, and a heavy moan escapes my throat. I hear someone breathing next to me and then a raspy laugh. My eyelids flutter and someone’s hand smacks me lightly against my bottom. I turn to my side and stare shocked at the man lying next to me. He’s relaxed and still smiling, apparently having the time of his life.
Who are you?
My voice is weak, and my mouth feels like a desert area.
Someone very close to you. Well, as much as two people can be after 18 hours, joined in the holy matrimony.
What? No, no, no... I don’t even know you.
Oh, but you do. See?
He moves his hand up and shows off a wedding band. Then he takes my hand and turns it around, so I can see a similar ring on my left hand.
What is going on around here?
I’m trying to process what I just heard from him, but my mind doesn’t seem to work right, unable to focus on any information.
Without getting into details, it’s quite simple love. Since last night things had changed dramatically and now you got a husband, and I’ve got myself a green card... or will have it soon. Just a matter of time and some paperwork. Everyone is happy, life is good, so just enjoy it.
He stares at me and his smile turns darker.
And don’t worry, we all behaved. The covers didn’t’ fly and the earth didn’t shake. You are just not a very big fan of clothes, then again, neither am I.
My eyes follow him as he casually gets up and disappears into the bathroom, the sound of water filling the remaining silence. His words ring loudly in my head, yet I don’t flinch, don’t run away. I just stare in surprise at the now closed door. Who the hell was this man? I know I should be panicking after waking up to a complete stranger that claims to be my husband, but all I can do is lay on this bed and feel confused. I sit up and cover my naked chest, feeling that I still have underwear on - well, at least that, I think as my eyes scan the surroundings. It’s definitely a motel, a cheap room fit for lost and deprived souls. The window is closed, and the humidity is unbearable, I yearn for a cold shower and a glass of ice water, almost seeing little drops slipping down the glass; the image so powerful that it makes my throat tighten. I start to cough, and the feeling of nausea hits me with force.
How much did we drink?
My voice seems barely audible, but he manages to hear me anyway since it’s the only sound in the room. I hear light footsteps in the thick carpet that covers the floor. I stare at his bare chest and a towel that doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination, yet it doesn’t seem to have much effect on me. The feeling of curiosity and confusion still the most dominant part, he notices my neutral reaction and gives me a funny look.
Well, y o u were definitely drinking. I just tagged along and had some fun as well.
My gaze lingers on him. He could have been right, lately, it has become a habit of mine, and I was wondering if I should start looking for help because the problem was there without any doubt. I sit up, cross my legs like a three-year-old in a nursery, and stare at him. Right now, I had bigger issues to look into; a husband for starters. I ask another question while still waiting for the fear of the unknown and the consequences of last night decisions, but nothing comes.
I put more pressure on my words.
Enough to wake up in Mexico with a wedding band on your pretty little finger.
He takes something from the nightstand and throws it on the bed. I pick it up and look at all the red lines marking names and numbers. It’s a map. I unfold it and see that someone drew a circle repeatedly over one place. Mexico.
Sweat runs down my back and between my breasts, as I still wait for the normal reactions I should have in this situation. Nothing. I imagine myself grabbing clothes from the floor and running away without ever looking back. Then I see myself screaming at him, punching him, and calling the police. In my head, I see him hit me, or throw me on the bed and silence me in so many ways; yet I do nothing.
As said, you weren’t the only one drinking, and it seems that we both got a taste for tequila and a strange sentiment for the desert scenery. It was meant to be, my darling, so take it how you want it. Call it a wild adventure or practicality, but here we are.
I need a shower.
I stand up on shaky legs and head for the bathroom, wrapped around in bad quality sheets.
Afraid I have the only remaining towel in these royal chambers.
The doors of the bathroom shut behind me and I grumble.
I’ll make do.
The only available option in this hell-hole was cold water but I take it with gratitude. Letting it flow over me until my brain starts to work properly. My eyes close as I try to remember the last night. The one thing that I was sure about, was that I had too much alcohol, and probably didn’t need that much reason to drink in the first place. Walking past a bar was a good enough reason as any other. I move my face to the shower head and against my better judgment, open my mouth and drink. Relief overtakes me as the water goes past my dried throat and lends in my stomach. I can almost imagine it filling my bones and all my nerves, hydrating every single cell in my body. I turn off the water and despite any logic; smile.
The funny thing was I didn’t even have a hangover, the thirst was more due to the excruciating heat than the liquor still moving in my veins. I step out and gaze into a small dirty mirror, looking closely at myself. Everything seemed fine from the first glance, nothing to prove that something really bad had happened to me. I put my underwear back on and cover myself loosely with the sheets; as I walk out my eyes move to him automatically. He is laying on the bed and watching the news. He’s wearing green shorts and a white t-shirt. I watch as he turns his head and looks up at me. Those eyes, they grab my attention instantly. The white t-shirt bringing out the deep blue in them, his face slightly crinkling up when he smiles at me. His thick, dark hair still wet from the shower. I finally feel the accelerated heartbeat that I was waiting for all this time.
Come on, sit down. I won’t bite; didn’t last night might not do it now as well.
I sit next to him and try to read something from his face. His smile widens.
I don’t think we have been properly introduced, not this time around anyway. I’m Kostas Callas.
He outstretches his hand and I take it; his skin is warm and the grip firm. I feel the sheets slipping, so I grab them with my other hand.
I’m Emily... wait, Callas now?
I ask just realizing the fact.
Yes, you were gracious enough to accept my last name, and I thank you for that. It’s good to know that some things stay the same in this crazy modern world.
This is insane.
I state simply and lean a bit closer to him without even noticing. He smells of something sweet and rich; I can’t place the smell, but it doesn’t matter.
Life is insane, so we are just following its rules here.
My eyes take in the room again and I frown.
Do you know where my clothes are?
I think for this weather your underwear will suffice.
As am I... they are probably under the bed, but some should still be in the hallway.
Yes, I think you aren’t a fan of heat waves and decided to start to get undressed still on your way. Don’t worry, the only things that you took off were your pants and your dignity.
Just the pants?
That’s the only thing that I ask as my life hasn’t been too perfect lately; a drinking problem causing the moral levels to drop. Then again, it was likely just me making a fool out of myself, nothing more. This was the first time that I brought a man with me and not just a big bill from the bar.
Is that all you want to know about your new husband?
Probably not, just let me find some clothes first, as I seem to still experience some leftovers of my dignity.
Thought so, that’s why I bought you this.
He reaches into some bag and hands me a simple, blue summer dress. I look at it and suddenly feel embarrassed, though I can’t exactly explain why.
You bought this for me?
I decided that my wife deserves something new.
My fingers trace against the delicate fabric and eyes tear up. This was ridiculous. You wake up next to a man that you never laid eyes on and that you are now married to... and this is what breaks you? A stupid dress? I ponder this while still touching the material when I feel his hand on mine.
Is something wrong? Because this is only temporary, and you will regain your freedom in just six months. I also assure you that the money will be transferred to your account, just not all at once. But you have my word for it, I always keep my promises.
I stare at him and feel that he means all of those words and that somehow, he is worth the trust. I put my other hand on his and ignore the slipping sheets. It’s not like he didn’t see it all last night.
I know, but my reaction, it’s... it’s just been a while since someone cared enough to do anything nice for me. I have been going through a rough patch and eventually managed to isolate everyone with the way I was acting. My family, my friends. And now here you are, making this simple gesture, something that I desperately needed and didn’t’ even realize it. You must think I’m crazy, but then again you already knew that when you chose me for your temporary wife.
I chose you because I knew you would be the right person for me. I felt like I could trust you. Don’t ask me how or why. Let’s just make best of this while it lasts.
My hand slips out of his. I get up and I slowly put on the dress, not saying anything or feeling ashamed. Just turning around and letting him zip it up.
You do realize that there is still so much to discuss before anything even starts to resemble normality?
Yes, but we have the time, six months should do just fine.
We step out of the room, passing the dark hallway and stepping out into the scorching sun. So much still had to be said, yet all this craziness didn’t stop me in my tracks, it made me wake up and start to run. Catching up with my life. Kostas being there by my side, carefully bringing us both back from the place that neither wanted to be, hopefully leaving the past behind.
And as the months passed, I learned more about him and decided to stay with him. Even if we met in the strangest circumstances and this marriage had absolutely no reason to work, it somehow did. I don’t know how to explain it, but my messy existence fell into place with him by my side. He was what I wanted.
A steady fire burning in my veins...*
*Kostas / Steady; stable.
Lost and Solita
When I opened my eyes there was no sun warming the left side of my face, No hungry cat pawing at my shoulder. The air conditioner wasn’t humming quietly in the corner of the room, and when I wiggled my toes the sheet was not carefully tucked under them. My eyes flickered into my eyelids as I cringed at the peeling paint of the cieling with words like "Pendejo" and "Chulay Cinco" scrawled across it. A sickening dread began to fill the pit of my stomach like gasoline to an empty tank. Sitting up too quickly, I whimpered at the nasusea that rushed through my limbs and desperately tried to recall the events of the previous night. My lungs scraped in chunks of spiced air, there was a bitterly acidic taste on my tongue that brougt the bile to my throat. To my left there was a lamp with a ripped shade, 4 mini bottles of Tequila, a ticket stub for a night club called La Reina and my passport.
De tu Amor
The angry Mexican sun sizzles the retina with hot tamale rays. Dry eyes scan the dry landscape beyond the structure’s lone window. Bloodshot and boozed up, I struggle to my feet with a guttural groan. My skull pounds with hangover drums and visions of a woman I once loved, the acidic brine of vomit and blood loitering on my tongue.
It’s some little adobe, hidden in the arid innards of the Sonoran Desert. I limp out of the bedroom and into the only other room. Sparse. Barren decor, no hanging frames, a single piece of furniture. Atop that otherwise empty table sits a milk bottle vase sprouting a single black rose.
The doorknob turns and even before the intruder reveals himself, I know why he’s here. The fury of woman scorned, he is, sent by my brown-eyed baby to stop my heart. His form is that of a dead-eyed assassin notorious for putting gringos in graves. He doesn’t flinch when the light hits him, illuminating that leather prune face battered by incessant sun and straight tequila nights.
He takes no pleasure in this. Stoic, he raises an antebellum Colt revolver and croaks, “De tu amor.” When he cocks his pistol, I hurl the vase in adrenaline-charged desperation. It crystal-shard shatters across his face, and he hits the deck. He gropes around blindly, finding only glass. I take the revolver and point it at his chest.
We both have holes in our hearts now. I run my fingers through his blue-black Navajo hair, comforting him as he leaves this world. He dies as he lived, in a cloud of pistol smoke. When I leave him, he is clutching that black rose for eternity.
The desert is quiet; there is no sign of a partner. This man’s only partner was Death. His horse is calm and needs no coaxing. Accustomed to carnage, she is content long as she rides with a renegade. I climb her near side, and we bareback book it out of there in a dusty clomp.
Saguaros and ocotillo rush by in a frenzied blur, the unfriendly flora reminding me of her, the way they carve scars with their razory spines. Soon, the Arizona border is nothing but a tired-eye memory. Tumbleweed roads eventually give way to civilization.
There is a house, an industrial design of concrete coolness wedged in a craggy mountain crevice. Where the red rocks meet the muted gray there is a door. I know this is where I’ll find her.
She’s a mess. Black-bagged and pink-tinted eyes stare straight ahead. A semi-automatic handgun is pressed to her temple. She greets me with a sad little smile and releases the safety. “Hello,” she says as her manicured finger slides toward the trigger.
It came into my mind to run to a mirror. Any mirror. In my haste, I stubbed my toe so bad that I fell down on my knees from the pain. Down on the floor I began to stare at the lines in the parquet, studying them, like unsolved math, as if they could explain my predicament. Because truthfully, I don't even know if there is mirror in this place, because actually, I do not know where I am, but there's got to be a bano? And a bano's got to have a mirror, but what most frightens me is the reason I am looking for a mirror. If you had seen this episode of the Twilight Zone, the one where the guy looks in the mirror and he's not himself, he's a pig, that scenario is now my worst fear. Maybe I'm overreacting and maybe I'm not because my hands just told me when I woke up in these unfamiliar sheets, that my face is all puffy like chicharones, and why am I saying that word instead of pork rinds? And bano? Really? At least I was finally able to get up out of the bed before I fell, because when I first woke up I was lying there for what seemed like hours, but I'm unsure. Maybe it was minutes, or for all I know, maybe days? I'm so confused. Repeatedly, I opened my eyes, and all I wanted to do was close them again, fighting a blinding headache, a headache like I've never known but has been described to me as a hangover….but….I….don't…...drink…..so WTF?
Nice bathroom! With a marble shower bigger than my entire bathroom, and whew, a mirror, and it's as big too. The good news is, I am not a pig and maybe it's the lighting, but I actually look damn good, if I do say so myself. Younger. Thinner. In a tight lacey teddy? Me? Maybe it's my hands that are puffy. No. They look younger too, and my fingernails are painted red and I never wear nail polish. Am I tripping? Have I gone mad? Oddly, after seeing what I look like, who cares. Maybe it's my ego talking, but I'm liking what I see, feeling a bit pumped up, like I want to go out dancing, get back in the saddle. And my headache? What headache? Did I have a headache? Why was I looking for a mirror?
There is a little light squeezing through the thick curtains in the other room, so I am assuming they are hotel room darkening curtains, and I am in a hotel. Let's just walk over to the window, pull back the curtains and see what's out there! Blow me away! I am in Mexico! I know this place! The Grand Velas Riviera Maya! They've been playing their commercial every night on late night TV, with this exact incredible view! White sand. Blue-green surf. Private cabanas. Damn! How the hell did I get here? Should I really care how I got here? Hell no! Momma's goin swimmin….and dancin! But I better change out of this teddy thing first. Let's see what's in the closet…
"Margaret, Margaret wake up. You've been out here all night in front of the TV. You better get in the shower or you'll be late for work."
"Okay, okay, give me a sec. This nasty headache is still bothering me, but it's better than last night. Maybe I should call in sick and take it easy today."
"Whatever. I gotta go. Feel better, Hon. Do you want me to pick up anything on the way home?"
"Thanks. Yeah. Do you think you can pick me up some Tylenol. I've only got a few left, and….also, could you pick me up some of of those pork rinds I like? I've suddenly got this overwhelming craving for pork rinds.
Waking up in Mexico
One sip of tequila
Was all it took
And scattered memories
When I take a look
As I sit up
Brushing off the sand
Stuck to my face
With my hands
I feel the sun
Beating down on me
I open my eyes
Everything is blurry
As my eyes adjust
To the sites around
I hear waves
Where am I?
What is this place?
How did I get here?
My heart begins to race
Why am I not in my bed?
Instead I see a flag
Green, white, and red
Blowing in the wind
Starts to spin
I reach down
To find my phone
So I called up my friend
“Hey, I think I’m in Mexico!”
Written by Michele Del Russi
I wish I knew how I crossed oceans and landed here in the soft embrace of a fleeting encounter. Although, some things are better left a mystery.