Tuesday, October 24, 2017

brows held high


On a starry and humid night, I found myself sitting across the street from Hotel Cesar on Revu sipping coffee at Praga café. A slight breeze rustled through the towering palm trees. Even at this hour, half past eleven, the boulevard was teeming with pedestrians and cars. Lights flash across my face and the thumpthumpthump of half empty discos echo out into a debaucherous sky.
Being the sole gringo amid perhaps four or five other individuals on the outside patio, I am bombarded by various panhandlers making their final rounds before returning to sleep or dope up in their warrens. Kids beg for pesos, teenagers and the elderly beg to shine my shoes, roving mariachi bands beg to play La Bamba (I hate that song), old women beg to sale flowers. I sit behind my dark shades with the look of a poker dealer. They all move on. I sip my coffee. Order a third or fourth from the far too attractive mesero. Light a cigarette and unleash a vast grey plume up into that unrelenting Tijuana sky.
Popping electricity and the lights go dim for a second. I shiver as if someone vile and distasteful was staring at me. The lights return to normal.
“You’re the new writer, aren’t you? You just arrived?”
I turn to my left and notice a tall, thin young man of about twenty-three or five sitting adjacent me. He wore a pressed blue summer shirt with tan skinny jeans ending in black and white sneakers. His head was square and the jet black hair trimmed short on the back and sides, slicked back on the top. Thick, straight eyebrows and small nose with flared nostrils. He sported a full goatee around pert, thick lips, yet his eyes were hidden behind a pair of cheap four peso sun glasses. A long, veiny brown hand clutched a coagulating latte.
I removed my glasses. I felt slightly dizzy, like an instance of sudden vertigo. Sitting up from my casual slouch, I attempted to play it cool and answered, “A few days ago. I currently just write reports, though. Not exactly writing, is it?”
"Reports?" He smiled a row of small, white teeth. “Who do you report to?”
“Oh…uhm, it’s not always clear…” I mumbled.
“That comes across like writing to me. Did you move to Tijuana for the boys?”
I was somewhat irritated by this blatant inquisition. Took a sip of coffee, a drag on my cigarette, “No, I didn’t.”
“Really? Well, that was quite a hot threesome I saw you with in the Plaza the other night. They’re very cheap and really a lot of fun.”
My head began to ache. He seemed to fade in and out of focus while the cafe itself remained as clear as glycerin. Casually pushing my hat back, with head tilted down, I slowly massaged the dull throbbing in my forehead. I chuckled, “Oh, you saw that? Are you supposed to pay them?”
“You’ll pay them, don’t worry. A missing lighter here, a few borrowed dollars there. It’s all very equitable.” He drew out the end of his sentence with sinister sexual ambiguity.
I felt as if I was falling through bottomless darkness. I became short of breath and began to perspire. Was it another anxiety attack? I had been enduring them so much of late. They were becoming harder to control. When one escalates in public, to save face, my first thought is to return to my room and ride it out.
“I need to go.” I stated abruptly and rose.
“Where are you going?” He asked.
Gravity felt off. My legs were sluggish as around me the streets buckled and contorted in tiny soundless vibrations. The clients and pedestrians around me, who earlier seemed passive and relaxed, now became brutal and vicious.
“Home.” I mumbled. “To write my reports…”
Without another word, I quickly darted around the corner and down the broken concrete steps to the corner of 5th and Madero and the safety of my darkened room.
Later, I sat in the cool darkness of my guesthouse room writing a short piece for a friend's magazine. Across the illuminated laptop screen words moved around on the page of their own accord. They writhed and swelled like glistening leeches. I removed my hands off the laptop keys and it continued to work without me. As the Hewlett-Packard pounded away, not non-stop automatic, but with a human rhythm, complete with thoughtful pauses, I leaned back against the wall and nodded off to the dreamy, comforting sound of the keyboard’s clicking.
click-clickity-click...I closed my eyes. Pictures streamed by. The pictures in my mind are out of control, black and white, without emotion, the deadness lying in the body like a viscous, thick medium. I am back in El Paso, Texas. In the backyard of Juan Holguin. It is spring and the desert air is clean and warm. We stood in the dusty, oxidized sand of a fenced in yard, scraggly yellow grass clung to the fence post. Huge, puffy clouds languidly drift in that too-bright China blue Texan sky. Juan was repairing the car engine of that old beat up Ford. His pride and joy. I watch him. My heart swells. It had been what? Ten, fifteen years? The last person I had loved. Truly loved in every sense of the word. An emotion that, now, seems utterly alien to me.
His handsome face looks up out at me from under the hood. Smiling, he says something I couldn’t hear. A wave of overwhelming sadness crashes over me…click-clickety-click
I hear the toilet flush. I freeze. Someone steps out of the WC and into the guestroom half shrouded in shadows. It is the young man from the café.
I stand up, “What are you doing here?”
“I had to use the toilet.” He stated nonchalantly, as if he’d been in the room all along.
“I locked the door.”
He stepped out of the shadows. Phantom tendrils reach out toward me, feeling for a point on which to fasten. “I have many friends in Tijuana. A friend is a key that will open any locked door.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I could be your friend.”
I stood immobile. My mind whirled and crashed into a pit of despair. The faint hissing of voices sounding like mumblings down a windy street. I asked in a dead tone, “Did Control send you?”
His chest touched mine. I seemed to be paralyzed. He began to slowly caress the back of my neck. I turned to face him to protest. As if some arcane ritual, he shook some pink crystalline powder onto his fingertips from a hollow, iguana-shaped pendant which I notice for the first time. He casually licks me on the side of the throat, then works the powder onto the wet spot.
His breathing mounted as he whispered, “It was you, you who called me. I knew you needed me.”
“That’s not true.”
The powder dissolved instantly, seemingly to soak into my neck, creating a messy purple and yellow bruise as it passed into the bloodstream. He then kisses me full on the mouth. I fight it for a second, then kiss him back. We get into it hot and heavy. The sound of our passion mixes with the sound of arching electricity as the dim lamp on the end table flickers and goes out.
…the sound of crickets in a silent, cold morning. I awaken in my bed among rumpled sheets. I am alone. I shower, dress, and head out for coffee.


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