People of the Mist 18

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11:00 AM

            … hard baked loaves of stone … hot cobbles beneath the feet … the burning street forced upwards through the shoe leather to scorch the feet … the sun’s orb an irresistible hammer beating the strength out of the sweating body … the heart sucked dry … the lungs shriveled … a man dehydrated … already dried up by the baths … from the inside out …

Everything seemed different to his distorted vision. Translucent people, pale ghosts of themselves, passed before him and wandered across the street, shadows in a dream cast against a cave wall. Tim walked to the central square and entered the cathedral through the same carved glass doors in which he had seen his father’s image, but his father was no longer there. Wary of flames and flickering candles, Tim stood in the dust-laden beam of sunlight that fell from a stained glass window high in the roof.

Wave after wave of colored light broke across his face and played fragmented games upon his hands. He inhaled sunshine and felt the sea-surge of a body being reborn. A new man, he emerged from darkness into light, a spiritual being, neither of this world nor yet of the next. The colored light danced its chiaro-oscuro upon the surrounding walls and he felt soft sunlight flooding into him.

            … inside massive stone walls … candles … crucifixes … paintings of saints … statues … carved wooden images … outside in the sunlight … alebrijes … staring eyes … wagging tails …  protruding tongues … their spirits breaking through the wood … turning from darkness into light … within the man’s head … once open doors slowly closing …  keys no longer turning in locks … unwound clocks no longer ticking … cobwebs gathering in forgotten rooms … flowers on the altars… nochebuenas with their single and double petals … crimson and cream … cempasúchiles … marigolds lighting  a golden walkway to guide the dead … loved ones returning to visit the living …

Standing in the cathedral, drenched in a rainbow shower of light, Tim’s mind drifted in and out of sun and clouds. All around him he saw secret worlds opening like oysters before his eyes. Flames through the candles made hard, crisp sounds, hissing and sharp, like the inside of an apple when strong teeth penetrate the outer skin. Candlelight brought an unexpected peace as its yellow bees’ wax light wandered over the altar.

Tim went to the chapel dedicated to La Virgen de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca. A girl knelt in front of the altar with a basket of flowers upon her head. With a click, wheels turned in his head and Tim realized that he had seen her that morning in the square in front of St. James. He didn’t want to disturb her prayers, so he tiptoed to the far side of the altar rail and started to kneel. As he did, the flower girl turned her head towards him.

Señor: I am so glad you have come. Please, I need your help.”

“My help?” Tim stood up and moved towards her. “Of course, what do you want me to do?”

“These flowers, I must place them on the altar. But the basket is caught in my hair. I cannot remove it. Could you …?”

“I saw you with a boy, this morning outside St. James, didn’t I?”

“Perhaps. My cousin walked with me until he slipped on the cobbles and could walk no more. He would have helped. Now there is nobody.”

“I’ll help. What must I do?”

“Take the weight of the basket and try to see where my hair is caught. You must untangle it, if you can. Then I can place the flowers on the altar as I have vowed.”

She knelt, motionless, an animal frozen in a trap. Tim lifted the basket and its weight shocked him: the stones within must have weighed at least twenty pound. As he lifted the basket, she winced and he saw where her hair had caught in the basket’s wickerwork.

“Can you hold the basket now?” he asked her.

She raised her hands and held it aloft. As she did so, Tim began to untangle her hair from the weave, a slow, difficult task. At last, the basket came free and the girl’s black hair fell smoothly into place.

“I hope I didn’t hurt you when I pulled your hair free.”

‘”Thank you and no, it didn’t hurt,” She took the basket in her hands and he opened the altar rail for her. She mounted the steps and placed the basket of flowers on the altar at the feet of La Virgen de la Soledad.

“There,” she bowed her head, crossed herself, and muttered a prayer. “My father will get better now.”

The girl returned through the altar rail and she and Tim knelt side by side in front of Oaxaca’s patroness.

“They say she will answer your prayers,” the flower girl looked weary and distressed. “She has worked many miracles for those who have walked the road. My cousin walked with me for a bit, but he was in great pain, so I sent him home.”

“Surely you could have finished the pilgrimage another day?”

“Oh, no, señor, it must be completed between the hours of six and twelve. My cousin should have helped, but I did it on my own. Señor, I must go now. It is time for me to change. I have completed my pilgrimage and now there is work for me to do.”

“Perhaps I can walk with you a little way?”

“Oh no, señor, that wouldn’t be right. I must go alone. But thank you.”

Tired, but full of grace, she got to her feet and walked backwards, away from the altar, not taking her eyes off the Virgin’s face. When she got to the chapel’s entrance she turned and left.

Tim knelt there in silence and thought of the strange things that seemed to happen in Oaxacan churches. Last Sunday he had gone to mass in La Consolación. The lady in front of him had opened her blouse and offered her breast to her youngest child who sucked there, greedily, throughout the service. The old man at the back held a roll-your-own smoke in the palm of his hand and closed his eyes in ecstasy as he inhaled the drug. Three dogs, tongues lolling, were pursuing a bitch in heat and she came into the church for sanctuary. The dogs chased her up and down the aisles as the high priest doggedly murmured the blessings that uplifted the hearts of the faithful: a bored acolyte passed the anointing oil and presented the sacred wine to the priest. Flowers and candles adorned the altar. When the old man from the back of the church stubbed out his smoke and knelt for communion, night breath lay whisky thick on the high priest’s tongue.

La Virgen de la Soledad stood tall on the altar wearing a black kirtle. Silver stars and planets swam through the dark night of the velvet that flowed down from her waist. Beside her, a young man with open, staring eyes hung from a rough, wooden cross. He recognized Tim and called him by his baptismal name, but Tim no longer knew how to answer. The young man had the jewel eyes of a flayed Mexican god, living forever, and never quite dead. Black blood flowed down the carved face and formed a river of coal dust waxed with carmine. The heavy smell of incense mingled with the smoke from the candles and transported Tim to an internal world in which time rolled on and on and lost all meaning.

… impressions … a nose here … a pair of eyes there … long black hair … a tree swaying to the music … a nose wrinkled in disdain … a black bible banged on a wooden table … a thin girl … a Cubist nightmare of female body parts … multiple pin balls released in a rush by an errant slot machine … light falling from high windows … stained glass … reds … blues … greens … smoke from a candle twisting in the air …

People of the Mist 17

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9:30 AM                    

… where Alonso waited for them.

“Good morning,” Alonso limped towards them.

“Still hurting, I see,” El Brujo placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder and Alonso grimaced. “But don’t worry, it won’t be long now.”

“That’s easy to say. You’re not the one who’s suffering.”

“Not visibly, no; but underneath the surface I am a volcano, about to boil over,” El Brujo sighed and turned towards Tim. “Are you ready?”

“I suppose so. But I’ve brought nothing with me.”

“Don’t worry. Everything will be provided.”

They walked into the bath house and the attendant behind the desk greeted them.

“A new friend,” said El Brujo, pointing to Tim. “He’s on my account. And he’ll want a massage.”

The attendant gathered soap and towels, then signaled for them to enter the baths.

“Follow me,” said Alonso. He limped forward and Tim walked after him.

“Tonight,” El Brujo whispered to the attendant as soon as they had gone.

“You’re not thinking of …” the attendant raised his eyebrows.

“I’m not thinking of anything yet,” El Brujo silenced him with a gesture. “Here, take these herbs and add them to the herbal mixture in the baths, will you?” El Brujo passed a small packet to the attendant. “And don’t let us be disturbed. As for tonight … I think we’re running out of time … who knows?”

“I’ll close the doors when you’ve gone in,” the attendant smiled. “Nobody will disturb you.”

“Thank you, my friend,” El Brujo shook the attendant’s outstretched hand and followed the others into the Baths.

Tim undressed and folded his clothes with care. Then he forced his watch, his wallet, and the medallion into the toe of his left shoe. Clad only in the paper-thin, skimpy towel and grasping his bar of soap, he opened the door of the cubicle and stepped out into the unknown.

He looked down and saw a line of painted footprints and a hand that pointed … just like the codices he thought … and followed the footprints to a door from which steam leaked. He opened it and stepped into a room as warm as a greenhouse that smelled of herbs and flowers. A thick steam circulated and Tim thought of cool summer tides rising over sun-warmed sands. Indistinct figures floated through the mist and one of these lurched towards him.

I knew it was you,” the figure drew closer. “Come and join us.” Alonso took Tim by the arm and presented him. “Here he is.”

El Brujo, stripped naked, with his long black hair hanging dank below his shoulders, loomed out of the steam and embraced Tim.

“How do you feel?”

“I’m okay, I guess.”

“In here we are all the same,” El Brujo proclaimed. “There are no secrets. We are as naked in body and soul as we were when we abandoned our mother’s body.”

… soft warm air … moving delicate fingers of scented mist over the belly … floating on air … drifting across the room …the return to a surrogate womb cradled in an ocean of amniotic fluid … steam and herbs filling the lungs … reaching relaxing tendrils deep into heart and chest …

In what seemed another life, a door opened in the herbal mist and a man stepped through.

“Who wanted a massage?” he called.

“This one,” said El Brujo, pointing at Tim. “Here, grab your towel and your soap, and off you go,” El Brujo pushed Tim towards the masseur who led him out of the darkness into a brightly lit wide-awake room. The masseur, squat, dark-skinned, and scarred, looked like a judoka from the old school built for close in body-work. He pointed to the hooks on the wall and Tim hung his towel on one of them.

“Soap,” the masseur had the voice of a parade ground sergeant major and Tim snapped to attention and handed him the bar of soap. Then the masseur pointed to the marble slab in the middle of the room and Tim climbed on to the slab and lay there face down. The masseur began by soaping Tim’s body; then using the tips of his fingers, he moved across his back, digging in deep at any sign of resistance. Next came a series of karate chops and the remaining hardness in Tim’s body started to break down. The masseur hummed as he moved and drove each note home with a pounding that made his patient feel that he was the piano and the masseur was the maestro, rippling the keyboard with manipulative fingers.

This is what Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony must feel like, in the Liszt transcription, Tim mused, as the pounding accelerated and he was swept away, a rudderless ship on a stormy sea of carnal music.

“There, you’re done,” the masseur made one last sweeping movement across Tim’s body and moved away from the massage table. “Stay as long as you want and get up in your own time. There’s no hurry. I’ll tell El Brujo you’re on your way.”

Suspended in space, somewhere between earth and heaven, Tim lay motionless on the slab as images flashed through his mind.

… a face from the crowd … lighting up in sudden recognition … a man in a blue suit lying in a coffin … hands folded on his chest … eyes closed … a woman … somewhere … running … with a baby in her arms … snow falls like interference on an old black and white television set … a bridge now … and a river … snow falling into the river … a young girl … three old women … two standing between her and the river … one holding out her hands … the child transferred from young hands to old … the young girl … tears streaking her face … her face as cold as stone … as hard as obsidian … the young girl … an arm waves above the waters … the dark closes in … close up of a snake skin … slither marks in the dust where the snake has slipped away …

Tim tumbled down from a high blue sky and returned to the normal world. After a little while, still dizzy and dreaming, he got to his feet, stumbling and disorientated. Then his sense of balance returned and he walked out through the door and back into the steam room.

“Now it’s time to meditate and dream,” El Brujo greeted him. “Here, this slab is reserved for you. Don’t worry. We won’t be disturbed. There’s only you, me, and Alonso.”

Tim climbed onto the slab and lay on his back. Herbs, magic, mists and healing powers: they wafted their way through his lungs, filling him with a strange and languid lassitude. The lower half of his body unwound and the knots in the muscles untied themselves one by one. He felt as if his body no longer belonged to him.

“Now,” El Brujo lowered his voice until it was scarcely more than a whisper. “Just lie there, without moving. Try to empty your mind of all thoughts and feelings. Just imagine the herbal mist filling your whole body with the lightness of clouds.”

Tim did as he was told and felt himself filling with a peace that he hadn’t felt in years. Weight fell away from his body, and light, he wanted to float away on the air to be dissolved into streamers of mist.

… wrapped in a cloud of unknowing … drifting in cotton wool… damp and grey … clammy … hot spots … cold pools … a ray of sunlight almost piercing the cloud … light fading … shadows … at the eye’s corner … half-glimpsed shapes … sounds … half heard … a grey sea on a cloudy day … movement … a dull glow … distant lava flowing warm from a subdued volcano … a wild beast slinking … chained within the mist … a kaleidoscope of colors … fists over the eyes … pressing …  two eyes … fierce … smoking … the stuff of nightmares … a cold hand seeking … eyes like gimlets … piercing the body … examining the soul … dragging the heart upwards into the mouth … figures walking a tightrope of tapestry thread … a life spun out … too distant to make out … knots and tangles … a skein of memory … shanks of thought … fire and blood … the mist stained …  a deep male voice … not now … not now … but soon … cold ice … hot fire … the slash of Huitzilopochtli’s obsidian knife …

            … the mists buck and twitch … an ancient movie with no soundtrack … a dusty road winds across a flat plain below a high mountain … a black figure … a man striding along the road …  four Golden Eagles circle … they spiral upwards in ever increasing circles … feathered stones cast in an aerial pond …

… a dust path … a man walking towards an old village … houses slumbering beneath the sun … cast shadows … open doors … villagers calling out to him as he passes through …

.. . an upright man young with no limp … the heart of the village … he sits below the central cross … flowers, pink roses play where Christ’s body should hang … time passes … three old women walk towards the man … they greet with an affectionate embrace …

… thunder clouds build … a bolt of lightning descends and strikes the cross … the cross splits in two halves … one half falls to the ground … lightning stabs like a spear … wounds the young man in the right thigh … plunges its electric sword deep into his flesh yet leaving no visible scar … the light fades swiftly … when it returns … mounds of rubble and dust … the young man limps away … one half of the broken cross lies heavy on his shoulder …

…two hands grip the mist and tear it apart … a painted face emerges … striations … alternate black and yellow bands … the wasp god … Tezcatlipoca bares his teeth …. a fierce all-devouring smile … teeth … sharp and filed … stars surround the god of the night sky … words celebrate the god of ancestral memory … he is the embodiment of change through conflict … discord … enmity … sorcery … strife … words flow effortless from his mouth … “I am he for whom you must die.”

            … this is the god of the smoking mirror and of the broken foot … his feet are shrouded in mist … an obsidian mirror hangs from his chest … snakes of smoke writhe within it … within the mirror is movement but no face and no future …

            … words and images lick at Tim’s chest like tongues of fire … smoke straggles up from where his chest hairs sizzle and burn and he knows that he is doomed … yet he still has something to do and some time to live … he stares into the smoking mirror and sees his own reflection… in his hand he holds his broken medallion and then he sees, suddenly, at the edge of his vision, the other half held in someone else’s hand … the other medallion swings like a pendulum poised to hypnotize …

            the image fades and Tim is left stranded in the darkness of the mis … an unspeakable hollowness fills him and he knows that something terrible and fierce has entered his life …        the mists thin to reveal a barren inner city landscape … snow streaks white lines against black clouds … three old women emerge from the darkness …one carries a bundle, wrapped in a blanket … she peels back the edge to reveal the tiny face of a new born child … the lady with the scissors snips the frail, thin thread of red wool that binds the infant’s wrist … the lady with the spindle spins a longer thread … the lady with the measuring rod measures it then twists the thread round and round the baby’s wrist … scissors snip it … fingers tie the loose ends into a bow …

            the lady with the spindle kisses the child then leaves it wrapped as well as she can in a cardboard box on a set of steps leading to a massive wooden door … she steps up to the door and tugs at the doorbell … lights appear … a nun opens the door and sees the cardboard box … her eyes open wide and her arms fling upwards as she discovers the child abandoned there on the doorstep … she puts her hand against her forehead and squints into the night … three sets of footsteps lead away from the door …  but nobody is there ….

            the scene changes … a river and a bridge … a young girl poised on the parapet … she flings herself into the water and disappears into the night … snow continues to swirl … a set of footsteps leads to the bridge … but none return …

“Come back to us when you are ready,” El Brujo’s voice penetrated the illusion. “Take your time. Sit up slowly, then get up when you are done.”

Tim got to his feet. The mist seemed thicker now, and heavier. Memories of all he had seen tumbled through his mind as he tried to maintain his hold on reality.

“Whatever you saw belongs to you and is yours and yours alone,” El Brujo snapped his fingers and Tim shuddered. “Treasure it. Interpret it as you will. The more you perform this exercise, the clearer the visions will become and the more they will speak to you. We cannot live in those lands but we can visit them at will. When we are skilled enough, we can interpret their meaning. Until then, the visions are just signposts.”

“How long was I dreaming?”

“What makes you think you were dreaming? Time has no meaning in the other land. Objective time, the time that runs by in the real world, rarely changes. But the subjective time of the mist is different for each one of us,” El Brujo had a dreamy expression on his face. “Sometimes, it feels as though it can last for years.”

“I’ll see you tonight then?” Alonso turned towards El Brujo.

“Tonight it is.”

“And I’ll see you this afternoon,” Tim said to Alonso. “We’re going to Mitla this afternoon, aren’t we?”

“That’s partly why I’m here,” Alonso looked troubled and, eyebrows drawn together in a frown, he weighed his words with care. “I’m sorry, I can’t make it this afternoon. I’ll send one of my assistants around in the car. Don’t worry, whoever I send will know as much as I do, if not more. And I’ll be there this evening. Don’t forget, then,” Alonso patted Tim on the arm. “1:00 pm sharp, at your apartment. Just wait outside the front gate and someone will drive by and pick you up.”

“How will I know which car it is?”

“Don’t worry. It’ll be an official car and I’ll tell them to honk the horn. Come along now.”

The three men left the steam room together. Behind them, the mists gathered into little groups that vibrated with energy and life.

People of the Mist 15

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9:00 AM

Back in the apartment, Tim opened the bottle of mescal and poured a large shot into a glass. He gulped it down and the mescal burned as it rushed down his throat and into his gut. It relaxed him and he felt less haunted. Its swift invasion of his brain left him stunned for a moment and he sat down at the table, picked up his medallion and held it in his hands.

…  papier-mâché figures sway in the square … a cacophony of traditional music … massed village bands … the rhythm of rising rockets thumping into the air … dancing trees flap miniature limbs in time to the music … eyes flash from the trees’ waistbands … dryads and satyrs cavort carved and painted …  liquid motes of fiery tunes float in the air … music visible and almost tactile for a moment or two … stamping feet … stilt dancers … the music stops … young children … boys and girls … emerging from the trees … live dryads bark-skinned brown-eyed … a nymph walks over eyes open in invitation …

Tim’s mind clicked back into gear. Of course, that’s where he had seen the girl from the paper kiosk: she had been dancing in a papier-mâché tree, in the zócalo, and when the music stopped,  she invited him to join her in her tree.

            Colibrí, the tiny bird with the warrior’s soul, whirrs its wings … twin windmills, sun-dog ear-rings, draw circles round a suddenly-clouded sun … a flock of tiny feathered angels as bright as postage stamps sit in the trees in the courtyard to raise their voices in their afterlife of praise …

Tim checked his watch: if he wanted to visit the baths, it was time to get going. He got up from the table, slipped his medallion around his neck, walked out of his apartment and closed the door behind him.

Ketch Up …

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Ketch-Up …

I guess it’s going to be one of those Ketch-Up / cat’s up / catch up days. They’ve closed the schools and the little man with the weather map has pointed to everything on the gloomy grey and dark blue thunder side: rain, snow, icy rain, ice pellets, slush, sleet … it’s all headed straight for me. It’s not what I voted for when I went to bed last night. Guess it’s one of those alternate facts of life.

Never mind. “I’ll make it a true, daily double, Ketch-Up Category, Alex.”

Log fire, easy chair, great book … I’m going to finish reading Margaret Sorick’s Tainted Money, the fourth novel in her Buck’s County series … I read the other three: took me less than a day each and this one is going down just as fast. Ketch-Up? The pages are smoking as I turn them over. I’m on my computer break now, giving my eyes a rest. Then it’s “snap the cartoons” time, possibly “post a cartoon”, followed by lunch.

The wind is just starting to move the trees. Oh-oh, or do I mean eau-eau … I live in Canada’s eau-nly officially bilingual province / province bilingue … and now it’s starting to rain. I can hear the pitter patter of pellets of pluie against the fly-screens I forgot to take down last fall … oh-eau … last automne …   I guess if we had a shipping line as well as an air line we’d call it Eau Canada.

I think I’d better get off this new medication.

 

People of the Mist 12

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8:15 AM

Tim fingered the slight stubble on his chin then stepped into the bathroom to shave.  He looked at himself in the mirror: brown eyes stared back at him. What am I doing here? What will become of me? He shrugged and raised his eyebrows. The face in the mirror did not give an answer. He covered that face with a white mask of soap and carved intricate patterns with the razor.

… painted masks … death masks … the masks the priests wear in the codices … the prisoner struggling … not yet fully understanding his fate … around him … animal masks … priest masks … the jaguar cult of the regiments … they strip him down … paint his body … arm him with flowers … place him on a pedestal … from there he will dance his last dance … fight his last fight .. his destiny … to die showing no fear … he strikes first with the flower … his opponents strike back … one by one … with their obsidian knives … each wound a flesh wound on legs and thighs … the heart pounds … the blood flows .. faster and faster … more flowers … more knives … more blood … until almost bloodless the prisoner weakens and stumbles … rough arms seize him by the arms and legs … they carry him to the sacrificial stone … bend him over it … chest exposed … and tear the humping heart from the cavity they carve in his chest … the severed arms and legs bounce down the temple steps to the waiting crowds … tomorrow his spirit will return as a hummingbird … and dance around the sun … for now his torn heart sizzles in the sacrificial fire … a horse’s head … teeth bared … grins from the temple walls …

Tim’s razor, held like a flower, slipped and he gashed his lip. The slow blood seeped through the soap streaking his mask with faint shades of pink. He shivered and stared at his reflection in the mirror. A very plain face with a nose a little bit larger and more hooked than it ought to be stared back at him. He thought of his nose as the prow of a ship or a bird’s beak: an eagle perhaps. His nose was very much like that of the man who died in the flower dance. In spite of the warmth in the room, he shivered again.

It was time for his daily exercises so he left his apartment and ascended the corkscrew staircase with its iron steps that rose to the roof garden. Here, in the Recinto de San Francisco, a little corner dedicated to the saint, two Canadians who dwelt in the apartment had placed a statue of St. Francis next to a tiny bird bath which they filled every morning with water. They had also planted flowers and bit by bit, the azotea had become a regular roof garden with a wilderness of blossom caged and captive in pots and urns. Tim stood amidst the flowers balancing on one leg in a figure called the Stork or the Crane. He looked towards the eastern horizon. The sun was well up now, but it wasn’t hot yet. The fierce heat would come later. He maintained his balance and listened to the traffic sounds in the street below. The exhaust fumes of the buses rose up and made his nostrils twitch. The water seller had already started his rounds. His cries of “¡Peragua! ¡Super Agua!” rang out as he cycled along.

… ruined temples … green grass molded into humps and lumps… tumuli … tumors waiting to be cut open and their secrets laid bare … a tomb open-mouthed … yawning at the sun … light floods in … gold bracelets glint … painted pots cast shadows on the walls … ghosts flitter and flutter … two bright glowing eyes tecolote … the owl of death … staring eyes and crocodile jaws … Tlaloc … the death god … the guardian of the underworld … the gate keeper to the afterlife …

And what, Tim asked himself, comes to us in the afterlife? Henry, the evangelistic missionary, a male from the southern states of the USA, thinks he has a god-given right to tell us all what to do and how to do it. He hammers us with words of wisdom from what he calls the “good book” which he bangs and bashes as he quotes it in a deep rolling voice. I can’t be bothered to argue with this man who believes he holds authority over everyone’s spiritual welfare. So, while I may seem to obey him while he is present, I do not pay much attention to his words after he has gone. As for the unopened tombs that abound in the valley, well, I think they should leave them unopened. People who are dead and gone want to stay that way. They don’t want the treasure hunters breaking down the walls and stealing their treasures. And yet, the valley is full of ghosts who hang around restlessly while the authorities decide whether or not their earthly bodies will be exhumed. As I walk the streets at night, especially when it’s misty, shadows of the dearly departed loom before me. I can almost hear their footsteps on the cobbles and I mouth questions in their direction, only for them to vanish just as they are about to speak.

A hummingbird appeared right in front of Tim who turned his arms, slowly, clockwise, with clenched fists, trying to keep his arms level, trying not to hunch his shoulders, breathing in rhythm: “In two, three, four, and out, two, three, four.”

The hummingbird also churned his wings, whirring away, his flight centered on Tim’s nose, almost between his eyes, as if he thought Tim was a flower or

… a sun god … the sun god … and this is my beloved son … in whom I am well pleased … and these are my warriors … and this also is my son … this poor man … stripped to the waist … hands tied around a column … the lash marks showing bright purple across his back … this poor man walking down the street … beaten by the police … high on mescal …


            A dog barked and dragged him from his day dreams. He finished his exercises, went back down to the apartment, and got ready to go out shopping.

People of the Mist 8

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7:35 AM

… the sound of dry cactus trickling through a rain stick imitating rain  as it falls from the clouds to strike the forest leaves … rain … steady and  heavy … from purple clouds … water fills the scorpion’s underground nest … Alacrán emerges and  knocks at the dreamer’s door … go away, says the dreamer … tail in air Alacrán minces down the balcony and onto the staircase … now his carcase dries on a stone in the sun … when the rain ends, black ants emerge to pick at Alacrán’s drowned body … they carry him in bite size chunks … up the thin crack in the apartment wall … back to their nests … life goes on … many are called … many are chosen to be victims or assassins … who knows who will be chosen … and for which role …

“Heal yourself,” cried the sánate bird, drawing his knife blade over the sun-warmed stone outside Tim’s window. The trees in the courtyard filled up with sparks of colour as their leaves lapped at his balcony. A butterfly, yellow and black, shook delicate wings, and dangled, at the end of his floral string. Soon the bird of paradise would close its eyes and go back to sleep. High in the sky, strung out like a line of washing in the early morning air, the temples of Monte Albán basked beneath the sun as they dreamed of their former glory. Cloud shadows walked across Tim’s wall. Tourists on an endless train from there to here to nowhere in particular, white clouds stared at Tim from a pastel sky.

Tim loved the sparrows. If he left the apartment door open, they would cease their squabbling and fly down to his balcony from the red-tiled roof of his neighbour’s house. Fearless, they would step through the opening to see if he would throw them some crumbs from his table. Sometimes, they would fly right in, perch next to him on the table, and pierce him with their inscrutable gaze.

Ah, would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as these sparrows see us, Tim used to think, for sparrows dwell among the blessed and it is written that not a single one shall fall

The sánate kept winding up the day with the whistle of his call and dogs barked on the azoteas and in the streets. A warm wind walked through the open door, ruffled Tim’s hair, and climbed out through the kitchen window with a last wave of the palm leaves. This was now his life: to sit here before an open book while black ants crawled their predatory letters across the page and tulips and carnations performed a slow dance in time with the sun’s rotation. Tropical fruit sulked in a basket on the table. The great wheel of the sun had risen over the rooftops and sparrows hopped, dogs barked, and the sánate dragged once more the long thin knife of his tinker’s cry across the sharpener’s grindstone as a rooster crowed his thick rich morning cocoa rico.

the breakfast orange lies racked on the plate …  juices flow like blood … a blood orange … rising like the sun from night’s mist … and now the orange … lifeless … a pale yellow robe spent and exhausted … fading in the sunlight … the wasted disc of a worn-out decadent moon … a lantern with its wasted light cast across a tabloid sky … a still life this orange … its life blood a sacrifice … thick rich golden liquid … as fierce and sweet as sunshine on a branch … 

Tim blinked, went into the kitchen, and looked for the mescal, but it had all gone. The absence of the yellow worm’s slithering crunch beneath his teeth was the ultimate sacrifice. He stood in the doorway, shivered in the sunshine, and mourned one more among his many losses.

 

People of the Mist 4

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People of the Mist
6:30 AM

The wooden yoke of the solitary bell hanging in the tower of the church of St. James had broken long ago. The bell neither swung nor tolled when the priest pulled the rope. Every day, before morning mass, one of the altar boys climbed the tower steps, knelt beside the bell and beat it with a hammer. The bell rang out with sharp sounds that echoed the cry of a struck anvil in a hot forge where the farrier tends the horse’s hoofs. Twenty-four times the hammer struck the bell as the acolyte called the parishioners and encouraged them to come to early morning mass.

Tim visited the church from time to time, more out of curiosity than anything else. This morning, however, a sudden urge to visit washed over him. He knew that if he hurried he would get there on time, so he dressed and lumbered down to the courtyard.

Buenos días, señor,” Mario, the handyman, brush in hand, greeted him with the sunshine of a gold tooth winking among white teeth.

Buenos días, Mario.”

Señor, you’re up early. You must be going to mass. Please don’t forget it’s a pig day today.”

“I won’t forget,” Tim returned Mario’s smile and slipped out of the front gates and into the street.

Tim walked with care towards the church of St. James.  He looked down at the ground and tried to avoid the tree roots that pushed up between the paving stones on the sidewalk. The stones all lay at awkward angles and the roots crept upwards through the cracks, twisting towards the sun.

… thin clasping fingers … trying to trip the unwary … to pull them to the ground … to tug them into the darkness as they fall between the cracks in the paving stones … 

Outside the church door, two young people squatted on the ground in front of the local witchdoctor, El Brujo. The young man, eyes closed, threaded a cactus thorn through his lower lip. Dark blood oozed and, as it fell, El Brujo caught it in a little earthenware bowl. Beside him the young girl carried a flower-filled basket on her head. The aroma of the incense El Brujo burned on his fire tickled Tim’s nostrils.

… light are the flowers … heavy cruel stones lie beneath them and weigh the basket down … twelve girls in floral dresses stand outside the church of the Soledad… they pick up their baskets … place them on their heads … hand on hip one arm swinging free they wait for the high priest to bless them … then they start their pilgrimage … twelve girls … twelve churches … each will leave a floral tribute in a church … they will continue to the cathedral where each petitioner will frame a question as she waits for the blessing … and her lips will whisper the desired prayer  …  and perhaps it will be answered … but only if the young man sheds enough blood, if the young girl carries a heavy enough weight for long enough …

El Brujo looked at Tim and snapped his fingers. Tim shook his head as he broke away from the images that danced in his head. El Brujo closed his eyes and hummed a rhythmic chant. He was about to enter a trance. Tim shrugged his shoulders, walked past the group, and stopped at the church door, hesitant. Then he took a deep breath and tugged at the oaken door.

Darkness ruled inside the church and would do so until the sun’s first rays awoke the altar’s sleeping colors. Tim had missed the start of the service. He bowed his head, looked towards the altar, genuflected, made the sign of the cross, and knelt at the back of the church. He looked at the people in front of him as they concentrated on the gestures of the priest. He also searched for the man who resembled his father, but there was no sign of him.

The early morning dream world encouraged meditation. Tim watched and dreamed as the shadows crept across the walls. A single beam of sunshine descended and the sharp blade of its heliocentric sword shattered the chapel’s onyx altar into a thousand tiny chips of stained light. A young widow knelt at the altar rail. As the piercing light struck the altar, she turned and her face was a pallid lily truncated by the sun’s pearly light. The sun’s rays placed a halo upon her head. She stood up with her hand before her face as if she were blind then lurched towards the statue of St. James, the patron Saint of this church, of the Conquistadores, and of Spain. The morning service continued as she prayed before his statue.

… St. James the Moor-Slayer … he stands on the severed heads of the Moors he has killed … behind him hands tied behind their backs dusky skinned warriors march away into slavery … the widowed supplicant kneels … her eyes are level with those of the severed heads … she stares eyeball to eyeball at a decapitated Moor … visions of the Gate of Glory in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain … pilgrim after  pilgrim lays hands upon the Tree of Jesse and forces grasping fingers into the stone … generations of pilgrim palms burrowing their way into the granite …  the supplicant’s flesh clutches the statue’s stone hand … human veins clasp cold marble in search of comfort and an oh-so-elusive warmth …