The vacation had begun and
my family was so excited. The truth is that we'd always gotten by with so
little. My sister went to buy a second-hand bathing suit, 20 pesos and the
menstrual stains could be seen from both sides of the material. My brother put
a bottle of coconut oil in his bag. On the way from the city to the beach the
oil spilled onto his t-shirts which became as stiff as cardboard. My father has
a big belly. I've seen the disparaging way some people look at him when he's
walking along the beach wearing only a bathing suit. Before we left for the
beach, he was repairing his old car. He'd bought tires and changed some old
motor parts. Two months ago, he'd used his bureaucratic savings to buy the car
from a used car lot. He'd never had a car before. On the highway, the car broke
down twice, but my father never lost faith. He smiled as if nothing had
happened. Actually, he wanted to hide from us, his children, that he was just a
poor devil hoping to forget his activity behind a desk. He turned up the volume
of the radio and stammered along with the lyrics. All of the songs spoke of
love, disloyalties, sorrows. It was music for failed people. My mother had no
will of her own. She sat in the seat like an old mannequin. She had put an
image of a saint of her devotion on the rear view mirror. My mother had never
been happy. Her blouse had tiny Clarisol stains and her hands, smelling of
cheap cream, caressed us from time to time.
We rented a room for 40 pesos a day. It had a big bed
that took up most of the room and a cot that folded into the wall. A cockroach
came out of a hole near some electric light cables and, while crossing the
ceiling, stopped on a water stain before continuing on its journey. To save as
much money as possible, my mother had gone to the port market to buy groceries,
so we ate inside the hotel. For the rest of the day, the room smelled of
avocado and tortilla.
The ocean was dirty. The waves brought in cardboard
plates, beer bottles, and other trash. In the sand, my father invented some
stupid game which only my sister wouldplay with him. It wasn't because she thought it was fun but because it
let her show her butt to the bathers. "I'm poor, but I'm good." This
is the philosophy of all the teenagers who live in Moctezuma or Portales.
When my father became excited watching one of the teenage girls, he would
invent some excuse and he'd take my mother by the arm and head off to the
hotel. When we three children would return, the room no longer smelled just of
avocado and tortilla but also of other disagreeable odors. The damp sheet lying
on the bed let us see the dotted mattress with tiny oxide stains.
We only stayed three days because the money ran out. We
had just enough left to fill a tank of gas. Back at home, everything returned
to normal. On Monday, classes started. My brother will be like my father, and
my sister will live a life like my mother's. As soon as I can, I'll run away
I got home at the same time as usual. The
furniture in the same place, the smell from the kitchen, the light from the
lamp: how many times had I opened the door on this same scene? A thousand? A
hundred thousand times? How many times had I dropped myself onto the sofa,
hugging my briefcase to my chest, and slept until her voice woke me, and the
smell of boiled asparagus from the kitchen became more intense?
We would eat dinner in silence because she
didn’t like to speak with her mouth full. She had learned that from her mother:
don’t speak if you have food in your mouth.
“Don't worry, I won't tell anybody you speak
with your mouth full,” I told her, even though irony wasn’t really my style.
“I couldn’t go to school, remember that. The
only education I have is the one my mother gave me.”
“You're always so quiet,” I reproached her.
That wasn't the only advice she had inherited from her mother. There were also
notions about chewing slowly. If you were going to send a piece of meat down
your throat, it had better be very well masticated.
“God didn’t give us teeth and molars for
nothing,” said my wife.
“The stomach can digest anything, no matter
how tough it is,” I added, satisfied at having a topic for conversation and the
possibility of talking during dinner. A man needs to talk with his woman, it
doesn't matter what about.
Before going to bed I looked through my
mail. How many people had my name and address? I was wondering, because over
the last few months, a great deal of advertising circulars addressed to me had
been showing up in the mail.
“All this junk with your name on it has been
pouring in,” my wife said, as if she were reading my mind. Her slim body seemed
to melt as she slipped under the covers. She looked so harmless.
“I don't agree. If they send me their ads,
it's because they know I’m someone with buying power. They wouldn’t send these
things to just anyone.”
“Who are they?”
she asked me. My body felt hard and heavy, like a rock. I wanted to rest, get
under the covers and feel the warmth of my woman.
“I don't know who they are, but they know
very well who I am,” I answered.
“No, they don't. All you are to them is a
name and an address,” she said. I guessed her mother had also taught her to say
these kind of things. For a moment I hated her mother.
“Yes, but behind that name and that address,
there is only one person: me.”
“Well, then there are lots of people like
you, hundreds, thousands.”
My new shoes already looked old. Why did
these kinds of things happen to me? Everything became so old as soon as I
We didn’t speak for several minutes. I was
sitting on the edge of the bed with my back to her.
“Do you really believe that, what you said?”
I asked her.
“What? Do I believe what?”
“That there are thousands of people like
“No, of course not,” she said. I got under
the covers without getting undressed. I didn't feel sad, but I found it
impossible not to cry. Without noticing my tears, she moved closer to me, she
held me, she gave me her woman's warmth.
Translation by Yolanda Martínez and Matt
I walk more than six blocks before arriving
at a door with a rusty number 9 that is about to fall to the ground. I ring the
bell and wait. I feel my stomach opening and leaking a bitter liquid over my
guts. I’m going to hand 2 grams of cocaine to a man that I've never seen in my
life. The only thing I know is that his name is Arturo and that he’s supposed
to give me 400 pesos. Fifteen percent of that money will be for me. While I'm
waiting I notice that some swallows have built a nest very near the number
nine. A baby swallow is stretching out its neck and opening its beak, an
immense cavity. I'm thinking about sticking my pinky inside it and touching its
throat when the door opens and a barefoot man appears from behind it. I could
swear that his hair is dyed. He invites me inside where another man is waiting,
sitting on an antique chair. He smiles at me and makes a signal inviting me to
sit in another chair, this one not an antique. I don't know which one’s Arturo,
but my guess is that he’s the one in bare feet. I confirm this when he tells me
that before paying me, they’re going to try the coke. It’s not that they don't
trust me, but this way it will be better for everybody. I don't have any
objection. Nobody gave me instructions to say yes or no. I’m just supposed to
charge 400 pesos, and from that amount I get to keep 15 percent.
The one who is not Arturo takes a picture
from the wall and forms two white lines on the glass. The head of a dead deer
sticks out of another wall. I move over to the head and caress its hide. Its
eyes look like Elizabeth Taylor's. Beside the deer there’s a plate that says.
“Hunted in Canada by Dr. Arturo Jiménez”. I imagine the deer running along a
hillside covered with snow. I listen to them. They are panting and kissing each
other. The one who is not Arturo is sitting on the lap of the one who is
Arturo. They’re fags. I ask them if they can pay me, but the one who is not
Arturo gets down on his knees and starts to suck the other one off, right in
front of me. I turn and stand face to face with the deer again, only now I find
it impossible to imagine the deer running in the snow. After a few minutes,
Arturo touches my back. He is about my height and has wrinkles on his forehead.
“400 pesos for the coke and 50 for you, for putting up with us”, he says. If
I’m calculating correctly, fifty pesos plus the fifteen percent should be a bit
more than 100. If I save enough, one day I'll be able to go to Canada and hunt
deer. That's what I'll do when I turn 18: I'll go to Canada, buy a rifle, and
Translation by Yolanda M. Guadarrama and
Matt Madden, 2000.
She was standing next to a poster which said
Conserve water, it’s for everyone’s good.
She was wearing a beet-red dress and impeccable patent leather high-heeled
shoes. Her hair was black, almost plastic, cut by well-sharpened scissors. She
was as pale as a whore from the Caucasus or, if you like, as white as oatmeal
or bull’s semen. “A white woman for this black and stupid night,” I thought.
The street baptized with the name of a saint, the narrow sidewalk, and, from
the depths of the sewers, the smell of urine and rat’s blood, excrement and
Wizard air freshener. She stood with her chin raised, her head back against the
wall, gazing distractedly at a poster with enormous letters in helvetica:
“There are no obstacles, only bad decisions.” I stopped, my balls were on fire,
maybe because it had been months since I had brought a stranger home to cover
with my dirty sheets, full of mustard and orange soda stains, spattered with
drops of blood and squirts of fountain pen ink. I approached her, mysteriously,
as if I were clutching a knife in my hand, only to pull out not a gleaming,
sharp blade, but rather some raspberry candies which also shone a brilliant
red. I offered them to her.
I put the key in the keyhole, blindly, since
my eyes were elsewhere, and my lips were plastered to her nipple, as hard as a
dried hazelnut. “Wait ‘til we get inside, papito,”
she said, and her little daddy obeyed, pushing open the pine door which smelled
of age and varnish, flicking on the 50-watt bulb, and inviting her into the
apartment with no carpeting, no sink in the bathroom, no closet with broken
doors, no aquarium full of bulge-eyed fish, no Hershey’s wrappers strewn on the
bathroom carpet. And she came in, as ugly as she was in reality, exposed by the
vile, yellowish fatality of the light bulb, with her bad haircut and her
worn-out shoes, and her nails painted a miserable orange and her skin toasted
to the color of a corn tortilla, and her vagina, clean and pink like her dress
with the cigarette burn on the décolletage. “How much do you charge to make
dinner?” “Nothing,” she answered and set about preparing two fried eggs, oozing
oil, and warmed up some Bimbo bread on the griddle and squeezed the ketchup
bottle as if she were gripping a huge cock, trying to work out the last drop of
We brushed our teeth with the same frayed
brush and gargled Listerine and showed each other our tongues the way two
people who are about to beat the shit out of each other show off fists adorned
with rings and scarred bones and bruised knuckles. But the truth is we were
completely exhausted, myself because of work, my hand sore from constantly
stamping the bottom left corner of hundreds of invoices, and because of taking
the subway all the way to Atzcapotzalco to collect a debt and coming back and
waiting around for some asshole manager to get the notion to tell me, “go home
now so you can come in early tomorrow.” And she was on the verge of falling
asleep, bothered by the purple blossom on the side of her ass. “A fucking dog
bit me,” she lied, because in fact she had already been screwed three times,
three bad decisions she had made trying to overcome the obstacle, the great
obstacle. “I’m your good decision, my little whore,” I told her, but she
couldn’t hear me, she was asleep, filling my throat with the smell of
Listerine, nestling a knee in my testicles, which had been throbbing a few
hours earlier but which were now cold like two bruised meatballs recently taken
out of the refrigerator.
She stayed and lived with me while I looked
after her dogbite and she made me spaghetti, sometimes with cream and sometimes
with tomato sauce and never with mustard, which is how I really liked it. What
she did do well was to suck me off while I closed my eyes and imagined the
Caucasian whore with the blue-black hair and impeccable shoes who I had picked
up on the corner of a street named after a saint. And to go on stamping and
signing invoices became a little less boring, because I knew that when I got
back to my apartment I would open the pine door and she would be there offering
me a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce, and her lips, swollen and red like a
bubble gum bubble on the verge of popping, and her now-scarred ass, and my
somewhat neater house, with no Corn Flakes sprinkled on the floor, no Rimbro
jockey-shorts hanging from the window lever, no urine stains on the toilet
bowl, no boxes of Cream of Wheat stacked in the oven, no porn mags stiff with
semen littering the bathroom floor. “In the end the whore became your servant,”
she told me a few months after we had gotten married in a civil ceremony since
we didn’t have enough money to jerk off Christ, nor enough for the clothes, and
as for the rice, we preferred to eat it with fried plantains, very green peas,
and well-cooked corn.
Now once again I walk the street where I
picked up my wife and mother of my two children, and I sigh when I see a young
thing with milky skin and big eyes who calls out to me and says: “why don’t we
get together, papito.” And, making a
fool of myself, I put my Samsonite briefcase on the ground so I can fumble
through my pockets while I look at those 16-year-old legs and those nipples
licking at the décolletage of her dress, and those little Chihuahua ears, and I
find a 200 peso bill which I show her, passing it between her legs and giving
her a weak bite on the shoulder. “It’s all I have,” I tell her, but she responds
tenderly, “It’s all I’m worth,” and we go to a hotel called Fabiola where they
never have hot water and there’s no music in stereo, no rugs, no
neatly-arranged clothes, no boxes of Cream of Wheat stacked in the cupboard, no
idiotic children yelling, no whores with scarred asses screaming at you for
money to buy diapers, to pay the electricity, the water, and the rent.
The first time I sang the national anthem I
was very young and stuck in an elementary school in Colonia Portales called
Pedro María Anaya in the mornings and Carlos A. Pereyra in the afternoons (the
custodian would simply flip over the metal sign that hung over the front
entrance). My teacher didn’t like the way I sang, she said I was an apathetic
child with bad posture and that she would have a talk with my parents: “ You
need to fill your lungs, stand up straight, throw yourself into it and scream “mexicanos al grito de guerra...” as if
you were really on the battlefield, as if there were a gringo in front of you
who wanted to take your house and your candy and...” the teacher harangued me
uselessly, since her most apathetic student just stood there with a bovine
stare lost in the distance. The years passed and when I reached the sixth grade
I was chosen to be part of the color guard; even hunched over I was among the
tallest in that neighborhood of midgets and fat kids, as ugly as I was I was
still among the most presentable in that neighborhood plagued with the
offspring of mestizo assholes. The
flagbearer was named Carmela and she had been chosen because she was the
prettiest and brightest girl in the school. More than one teacher used to
masturbate to the image of that girl with her flowing skirt and whore’s lips
carrying the venerable standard of our nation. Every morning, the color guard
would circle the courtyard while dozens of undernourished larvae sang the
national anthem. How can I ever forget those days? How can I forget Carmela
clutching that bronze pole in her little hands? How can I forget that afternoon
after class when we snuck into a bathroom and she pulled down her panties to
show me how the hair was growing on her pubis? Carmela, wherever you are, I’ll
never forget you. Later on, when I reached high school, the cretins once again
chose me to be part of the color guard, a distinction I turned down since I had
started getting sick of patriotic fanfare and because I found out that, on top
of everything, the color guard would be made up only of boys, moronic, gangling
kids, children—like me—of that neighborhood full of losers.
Today, so many years later, when I listen to
the anthem of our beautiful nation, I imagine Carmela dressed like a
schoolgirl, in her little checked skirt and her white panties, kissing me,
sucking me off, whispering angelic things to me while, in formation around the
courtyard, hundreds of patriotic children—a tamal
in their stomachs—sing a call-to-arms against the invaders.