Feeding a Dying Dragon (Mexico D.F.)

Sometimes you see something that never leaves your mind.  Such an event happened in my twenties while in Mexico City visiting family.  Here is a short story I wrote about what I saw.

As your taxi idles at a traffic light on a busy street in Mexico City, a man with sharp cheekbones and a hawk’s-beak nose appears out of nowhere.  He stands next to the driver’s front tire and leans across the hood.  He is holding a smoldering rag wrapped around a broken broomstick.  In it, you can see a  small flame flicking in the faint wind.  You lean forward to get a better look.  Drops of sweat drip from the man onto the car hood.  There is a heaviness as they fall away from his body.  You watch him take in a long, deep breath, then inhale the fumes from the kerosene soaked rag.  You half expect what happens next, but when it does, it takes your breath away.  In one instant, the man belches out a blue-orange flame that flashes across the hood of the taxi.  Then, he draws it back in like a medieval dragon and, with eyes that remind you of a reptile, peers under the maze of stickers that cover the top of the windshield.  His bloodshot eyes make your white eyes sting.  You look away.  You know that you are looking at a dying man.  Your hands shake as you fumble for your purse.  You push a wad of pesos into his extended hand.  For the first time, you notice that he has no eyebrows.

The light turns green and the taxi driver throws the car into drive.  You turn and watch the fire-eater.  You can almost hear the death rattle in his chest as he steps back to the curb.

That afternoon, I told a cousin who is a doctor about what I had seen.  She told me that they come into the emergency room often.  “They usually don’t make past their mid-twenties.”

I will never forget that man’s face or how sorrowful I felt as we drove away.  -Elizabeth

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

It seemed like a good idea, taking the Copper Canyon Train to Chihuahua.  The brochure said it had a glass-topped roof. I imagined myself watching the splendid gorges while sipping rice water in clay mugs.

The train was overbooked and I felt lucky to find a seat. An elderly woman, with hips that spilled over onto my seat, ate raw radishes and grilled onions. ChicharronesShe offered me crispy Chicharrónes with fried hair that glistened in the sunlight. I declined. She looked offended, heaved a sigh and her hips multiplied by a factor of ten. She had been holding back.

I tried to imagine being somewhere else, but it wouldn’t work. I got up and looked for the glass roof. My body moved between the swaying cars like a drunken crab. I asked about the glass roof. No one had seen it.

I started regretting giving up my seat. Where was this stupid glass roof.

Then I saw a man greedily sprawled out on four seats, one arm tucked under his head like a pillow. I approached the man and demanded he sit up like everyone else. Looking around at no one in particular, I yelled, “He’s taking up four seats”.

A woman leaned forward and placed her hand on my shoulder with the grip of a rock climber. Her eyes were so far apart that it was hard to stay put on just one. Maybe nature had made room for three, but somewhere in the womb, the Cyclops eye had been forgotten. I heard her say, “Leave him be. The poor soul fell over dead half way across the canyon.”

At that moment, not being able to look this woman directly in the eye was a blessing. All I could think was I had just yelled at a dead man. Someone needed to give me a hat with “jerk” written across the front.

I never found the glass roof that day and I don’t recall much about the train ride after my encounter with the dead guy. I do remember that I never found a seat again but, at that point, I didn’t think I deserved one.

Note to Reader:  Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) is located in the southwestern corner of the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico.  It is larger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona and deeper in some areas.  The canyons were formed by six rivers which drain into the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara (a part of the Sierra Madre Occidental.)

Parque de Juarez, San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico


San Miguel de Allende is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When I decided to go to school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I made a list of all the things I thought I needed to bring with me. After two weeks here, I have learned that I should have left behind my alarm clock. Sleeping past 7 a.m. is only for the infirmed, and definitely for the hard of hearing. At that time of morning, the town’s marching band winds its way through the cobblestone streets. Some mornings, I lean out my bedroom window and watch them as they approach from the far end of my street. They look like little toy soldiers in oversized uniforms. I think every band member has been given a different exercise to practice. They couldn’t possibly be on the same note, much less the same melody. Their chaotic symphony makes me remember the time my ex-sister-in-law talked me into going to church with her. She failed to mention that it was a charismatic congregation. It was during a hymn that I first realized people seemed to be singing different lyrics. The place sounded more like a packed control room for United Nations interpreters than a church. Even remembering the scene now, I recall some degree of monotony in their voices. However, the music coming from this ragtag-marching army of musicians can be described as inextricably painful and, oddly enough, charming.

The entire town has been delegated a national monument by Mexico as well as being a UNESCO Heritage Site, which insures the preservation of the Spanish Colonial architecture that abounds here. My mother, Carmen was born in this country, but I am not a native. To my Mexican family, I am the Gringa. I have come here to study Spanish and art for six weeks. Afterwards, my husband will join me in Ixtapa, on the Pacific Coast for a vacation, but that is still several weeks away.

Each morning, I walk to school by way of the Parque de Juarez. An abundance of towering trees and vegetation make this place cool and shady. The heart of the park is a tall fountain, its waters emerald with tarnished centavos and spent wishes.  I can’t see it, but the constant, steady motion of life is thick in the air. I become like a child again. I breathe in the scent of wet clay and remember how, as children, we happily acquired grass stains and soiled-stained knees.

San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende

This lovely oasis would be a jungle if it weren’t for the battalion of gardeners who lovingly prune away with their crude scissors. These colorfully dressed workers seem very exotic to me, singing their songs in the morning as they haul off the corpses left from the rubber plants that grow like trees, the fallen orange mimosa blossoms and the decomposed boungavilla flowers. These men with their small, uncovered hands work quietly as if in a chapel. At intervals, they stop, and with their hands on their hips, lovingly inspect their sanctuary from every different angle. With a whisk broom, they might cart away a few forgotten leaves or create a pattern in the dirt. Nothing they carry in their pouches comes from Sears and I’ll bet they have never heard of Miracle Grow. I think of my power edger, my weed whacker, and my blower, Martha Stewart, and all my garden catalogs. I think of all the noise I create when I garden and then I think of how quiet it is here in this haven. There is something so unabashedly simple about it all that the memory of wet clay when I was a kid comes to mind again…and then I realize that as a child I played closer to the soil and that is why I keep thinking about how it smells. Continue reading