Jangle Around,

Chapter X, Littoral

 

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CHAPTER VIII




Linda bought a micro-bus as a pourboire to prudence. It would go well on moderately rough roads, save gasoline, hold a lot of Linda's things, Lion's rocks, Lynette's dresses. Duncan complained that it wouldn't go over 60 miles an hour, but Linda explained that they wouldn't have much of a chance to do that kind of driving anyway. She thought that it would be roomier for the kids than a sedan, but it turned out stuffy and confining because they were less inclined to stop, get out, and stretch.


The continuous city that now expands from Santa Barbara to Ensenada lays bitterness on the heart of anyone who has grown up there, or who loves nature, or cares for being alone. This metropolis is not without its charms, its quaintness, its thrilling people, but pink plaster dries the character more than the aridness of Santa Monica populated mostly then by fortyish divorcees who lived on whiskey and cottage cheese. Venice, an architectural horror too awful to be believed where little old ladies sunned themselves year around wrapped in heavy dark coats, opaque stockings, huge floppy shoes, and the Sunday New York Times, muttering to one another in Yiddish while teenagers dressed in the styles of last year's queers chuckled over pot in the pizza parlor. In San Pedro the ships are from the world, and the longshoremen are like any other American port, but one block from the quays are the pink stuccos displayed with colored lights, copied from Santa Monica. Manhattan beach, chamber-of-commerce-Spanish where the bus to the bullfight met every Sunday morning almost at dawn, and the tourists stare at the chain-link fence around Tyrone Glamour's estate. Long Beach, where of a population of 120,000, 41,000 were from Iowa. Every part of the heartland had chosen its own stretch of beach to plague, Ohio-Laguna, North Dakota-San Clemente, Texas-Del Mar.


Almost all these locations had a share of physical reality that hangs like crystal icons in the memories of those who saw it. The halved sun immersing itself orange in the blue water, shining on the flat wet beaches while night creeps down the cliffs behind. The canyons where finely painted flowers hide in the shadows of sandstone. But the freeways ate it away; the pink stuccos ate it. In La Jolla the Sunday painters, with the persistence and determination of muscular incompetence cast it up half digested on canvas. Near San Juan Capistrano the Civil Defense escape routes from San Diego and from Los Angeles met head-on in a spot that was often a traffic jam on an ordinary Sunday afternoons.


San Diego County, Lion informed them, is known throughout the world as a source both of strange animals, minerals, and plants. A pine tree grows there that is found nowhere else, three species of rats, and seventeen varieties of minerals that occur uniquely.


Lion made them leave the freeway and drive behind the city to a little canyon at the end of a dirt road, with one shack overlooking them from above. Here they had a picnic lunch of hamburgers and malts in paper cups from Mel's on the highway. Bobby played in. the sand and rocks; he still had the early childhood ability just to play, not needing equipment or companions, which Duncan envied. Lion led Duncan among the rocks. The canyon has since been filled with garbage and a mall squats where once they looked up to open sky.


Lynette was sad and sullen, as she had been since the trip was planned. She had been looking forward to football games and dances at Santa Monica High in the fall. Her mother thought the time was ripe for a heart to heart, as if the strangely significant, half-tropical landscape finally set them apart in a place where they might consider her past and future life. Her mother told her that she was going to have an experience that would be in her storehouse of memories for the rest of her life, a special part of herself and a source of envy to others. She touched lightly on the embarrassment about the divorce, which would be avoided. She was trying hard to translate her values into the vocabulary of a teenager. Lynette nodded agreement, but remained sullen and withdrawn. Lion and Duncan came back with two new minerals, one a demorite and the other a white crystal flushed with pink and veined with something that looked like metallic gold, but which Lion said was pyrite. Duncan was always surprised at the boy's competence; he knew little tricks of where to look and how to clean and had not for a moment entertained a child's fantasy of having found a lost gold mine. Indeed he had seemed a little angered by Duncan's suggesting that Duncan had talked with Martin about minerals in what now seemed the old days, but Lion's experience here was so different, so much less a topic of thought, so very much a medium of action.


The transition from America to Mexico is not swift. Just south of San Diego proper begin the wretched huts of Northwestern Mexico, built of the rag tags and bob-tails of industrial civilization, packed together on the utterly dry earth, like the flood from centuries old dry muddy river bottom. The sides of packing crates, old planks nailed into panels leaned together, adobe, parts of cars. Inside them huddle thin, black-eyed folk looking out at those who are successful in a way they can envy but not understand Duncan saw the huts at first only at a distance between the hotdog stands and the boating supply stores, but gradually they crept toward the road, spreading out to make smudge of desperate poverty in the middle of the natural landscape of cheap prosperity. They came to the border in the later afternoon. Duncan wanted to press on into new country, but Lynette begged suddenly and pathetically to stay on this side this one more night and go to a movie, so they put up at the National Motel


In the bright morning light downtown Tijuana looked like the cheap entertainment district of any city, but on the inland side the junk huts, which had been lakes, were now becoming a marsh. When they came over the hill going out of town, they spread around them to the horizon, blending colorlessly into the tan earth, as if dipped in the dust like a barnyard chicken ruffling its feathers. Linda's heart stopped for the terrible bleakness of it, the bleakness both of hopeless lives and of what this their alien way meant to her as a personal threat. Duncan was repelled to think that the unformed, mysterious attraction should have such a shabby exterior. He felt a longing, a longing for an act of escape, like the sailor from Des Moines who goes to a border town looking for the little boy who will say, "$2O, y seéster, she's a virgin." Nothing so simple would satisfy Duncan; nothing simple satisfies the sailor either, but they both go on looking.


"Can't something be done for them?" cried Lynette.


Driving along the northwest coast of the Gulf of California they found out. At the very top of the gulf there is water from the Colorado, and in the warm dust haze you can see olives and even grapevines growing on the hillsides of large blocks of land, some owned by the rich, some owned by monasteries. The rich ride in Cadillacs; the monks wear rough cloth and toll their bells before dawn, the new tyranny and the old.


After a couple of hours driving south they came to a land where the sun shines but it does not rain. Hot in the summer, mild in the winter, like orange country, but the soil, capable of bearing fruit, lies on its back, its face always blowing to dust even by the light winds. There is a dustiness and a same brown to everything; not the overwhelming dust of the American middle-west, for that is rich country gone bad, but a blank, pervasive little dust that does not even have the strength to drift but only to settle. It uncomfortable country they drove through so they went on eating sandwiches inside the micro-bus. Linda knew somewhere up in the hills were Indians who spoke the same soft gentle language that her mother understood. When twilight came they were still in this land under a spell of desiccation. It was more stricken and unworldly in the fading sun.


They had resolved before starting not to drive at night because the roads were unreliable in Mexico, Linda said, and help unlikely in case of accident. When twilight was falling they had not seen another vehicle since broad daylight.


Duncan suggested they stop and make camp by the road before it was dark. The road was straight, but a series of ridges and washed out gullies rose on their left to broken and rugged country whereas on the right stretched a flat plain towards mountains visible on the map but invisible over the horizon. On the top of one the ridges they saw a building of some kind silhouetted against the lavender side of the evening sky, about a mile from the road. Here they stopped. Through field glasses the building had the square look of government agency architecture and the ragged look of abandonment. Below it the pathways were inky blacks in the shadow of the ridge. Duncan wondered what it had been built as a fortress against. Lion made a small fire from paper in the microbus and a few bits of dried bush, but the pickings were scarce, and the flame could not be kept up through the night. They heated and ate canned vegetables and stew. When the sky was dark behind the building, they could see a warm glow of light in its windows through the glasses. Linda was for leaving well enough alone, but Duncan and Lion wanted to investigate, Duncan for shelter, Lion for intellectual curiosity. Duncan insisted Linda come along because only she could speak the language, Lynette would not be left alone, and Linda would not leave Bobby behind, so they all ended up climbing. With a flashlight they found an easy enough soft-footed trail. The air was warm, dry, and still. When they cane to the flat space around the building they saw with some disappointment that the light was the attractive but unstable glow of candle-light. Linda went to the door and knocked, even though the roof and part of the wall in front had fallen. There was no answer. Lion walked to the side to peer in one of the eyeless windows, Lynette stealing close to him. She let out a silvery, insulted and frightened scream. Duncan and Linda walked over to them. Inside the room among the fallen walls was a single worn table, and on the table stretched a corpse with candles head and foot.


It was an old Indian, wearing a gay serape, red, black, and yellow, thin immaculate white cotton pants and no shoes. There were no signs of either attendants or religious ceremony. Lynette was crying. "The Mexicans are more open about death than we are, darling," her mother told her. Bobby stood close to them. Lion stood by the window watching Duncan who had climbed in. He looked closely at the dead. His face was weathered and grizzly bearded so Duncan could not really tell his age but that he was not young. Up close he smelled ghastly. The room was absolutely bare, but dusty only near the walls as if the dust around the table had been walked away. Duncan called out, but only Linda answered quietly, "Please, don't." Duncan noticed that the feet of the dead man were hard and brown, unacquainted with shoes. "Let's go, Duncan," she said.


They talked little scrambling down the hill. Lion speculated a little about Indian tribes and primitive burial customs, but no one else felt that there was anything speakable. Bobby seemed frightened out of playfulness for the first time that Linda could remember since the rages of his second year. Linda and Duncan found that they had both been drawn out in sympathy for the small, weathered man now finally dead without anyone to stand with him. They felt him to be sad and lonely, and so felt sad and lonely themselves. Lynette woke up and cried from time to time all night. Occasional trucks roared by like small storms on the road. In the morning they were up with the dawn. Over coffee Lion asked to go back to see if anyone had come, but Lynette began to cry again. They drove off in the gray light.


In the early afternoon they began to come to country where vegetation grew, mostly cactuses in every increasing array of shapes and sizes, then to occasional cultivated fields, and an occasional hut. Later they came to Hermosillo, but pressed through as if they wanted to put a charm of cities between themselves and open, empty death. They came to the outskirts of Guaymas in the next twilight where they found the brilliant new "Motel Nacional." The manager spoke English and seemed more American than many Americans. They registered as man and wife under her name and got the kids a room by themselves. There were telephones and television in every room, but Duncan did not want to phone anyone. Duncan had hoped, like so many travelers, to find a civilization simpler, more homogeneous and more continuous than his own, where plain-hearted folk went about their daily work with no other purpose than being themselves, but so far he bad found only a stark country like the entrance trail to a fairy land, which seemed to him a gaudy imitation of the least attractive parts of his home. Purgation by deprivation was followed by purgation by satire. He collapsed into sleep on the immaculate sheets to the sound of American popular singers on the radio.


Duncan awoke in the first clear light he lay restless beside Linda who was sleeping on her stomach her face into the pillow, her gray-threaded hair fanning her face like the casual hair of a sleeping child, but her skin looked older, more rough, more flaccid, more wrinkled than when she was awake and in motion. She always looked more her age in the repose of sleep, as if sleep allowed her years and cares to roost. It was only in animation that she slipped into timeless non-youth. It was her movements. Duncan got up and walked around outside. Off the grounds of the hotel it was a poor neighborhood of small farms, an acre or so of beans or corn; the men were already in the field. Duncan was wearing white ducks and an old tee-shirt, with no shoes. Not turista, so the women in the doorways looked at him with only dull astonishment while they threw grain to the chickens.


Duncan went up to one, took some coins out of his pocket, and pointed to some carrots growing in front of the house. He had only American money and half expected them to despise it, but he was disappointed. They accepted a quarter for a bunch of about half a dozen small young carrots. He began to eat one as he walked along. This was more like it, he thought to himself.


After about an hour he came back and found Linda still in bed but awake. He thought she would want him to come under the sheet and make love with her, but it seemed somehow a wrong thing to do in transit, as if they should wait till they got to Cuculán as some sort of ceremonial abstention before their own new life. He encouraged her to get up so they could get an early start. In the coffee room Linda, Lion, and Bobby ate luscious rellenos and tortillas, somewhat to the surprise of the waitress. Lynette ate ham and eggs, Duncan coffee and a sweet roll. The waitress spoke little English and Linda addressed their needs to her in Spanish.


Now they were driving through more humane country, small and large farms, some cattle and goats. There were no fences beside the highway and after awhile they saw the broken body of a cow bloating by the roadside. Linda explained that by law in Mexico the government paid for cattle stuck by cars or trucks, and paid more than the going price. Hence it was in the farmers' interest to let the cattle wander onto the road and be killed. She pointed out the cattle guards like catchers masks fashioned out of steel pipe on the front of trucks.


The road followed the base of the foothills, on the inland edge of the littoral, for the most part out of sight of the water. From rises the land to the west looked green, but the mountains to the east were stark and brown. By this time they had run out of packed American sandwiches and stopped to buy fruit and tacos, mostly lumps of potatoes, in a small town.


Late in the day they turned off towards the water and drove into Topolobampo to stay the night. There for the first time they stayed in a culturally Mexican hotel. Duncan thought it the oldest building de had ever seen, whitewashed adobe, with dark wooden fancy work holding up the banisters and high-backed, highly carved wooden chairs looking utterly un-Anglo-Saxon standing dark and alone against white walls. The atmosphere in the twilight was dark and still. The manager was very Mexican with a brown face, almost an Irish nose, and bristly little mustache. He filled the names in the guest book with immense and somewhat sad seriousness, as if he were in charge of life and death at the court of a rather unimportant tyrant. The waiters in the dining room, with silver and white cloth, were Indians, who spoke a soft, sweet Spanish. With chocolate came in inevitable singers with their high voices and sad songs, one with a huge bass guitar. Duncan liked them. He felt that if the world were dying they would sing on outside the sickroom, and everyone would be filled with sadness, not for the passing of life, but from sweet, self-pity. The romantic setting heartened Lynette a little, Bobby and Lion were very restless from days in the car, and after dinner they all walked on the beach and listened to the sound of the small surf, like the shallow breathing of a sick world.


In the morning they all ate sweet rolls and coffee, then went struggling up a dirt road between small, neat, white-walled houses to look at the bay. There were no quays to hide the beach, no ribbons of railway to hide the dunes, only few fishing boats drawn up against the sand. The bay lay round and blue against the white, unlittered sand, with the, green hills sloping, down, and the city clustered against it at one part of the curve, with clumps and scattered houses beyond, like insects dancing against a fruit.


Back on the main highway the country seemed suddenly to have turned nutrient, almost lush. The impression of the clumps of trees at a distance was like clumps of oaks, but when they were close beside the road they could see that they were unfamiliar, broad-leafed trees interspersed with cactuses. Lion explained that cactuses grew in all warm climates in Mexico and identified the broad-leafed tree. Stately palms stood alone or in rows from place to place like watching giants. Here, too, for the first time they saw great fields that spread to the horizon homogeneously like the vast corporate farms of the California interior, cotton, and then toward evening a great stand of sugar cane. Bobby wanted to stop and pick some, but Linda told him that the Mexican farmers were very strict about stealing from their land, and to Duncan remarked that they might very well get shot. Duncan had been lulled into a beneficent cheeriness by the warm, still day and the richer landscape, but he thought self-pityingly of poor braceros dying for a taste of sweet and fell into a depression not much unlike her cheerfulness. At noon they stopped and ate a kind of fruit paste with, recklessly, fresh milk at a roadside stand


Long driving together in the slow, cloistered van wore on them more and more through the day. Bobby was becoming restless and petulant. Lion, who had been reading books about Mexican minerals, was staring sullenly out the window. Lynette had gone through her supply of fashion magazines already and had chewed her lip to a scar. At first Duncan had driven mostly while Linda alternately relaxed, placated the children or fallen into silent, fearful broods about the threats of strangeness, but as time passed she drove more because when she was steering she felt she was doing something positive and in control, rather than passively drifting towards dissolution in the old, terrible way. Moreover Duncan really was better with the kids than she. In the afternoon they came to a little town that had grown up at the intersection of the road with the railway. It was the first railway they had seen. In their induced and mutual ennui, they began to exchange roles.


"Let's stop here for a while," said Lynette. It was the first time she had shown sufficient tolerance of a foreign country to want to stand still in it.


"Aw, it's a stupid place," Bobby said, who was usually game to get out of the microbus for anything. Linda looked at Lion, but he remained obstinately silent. "What'cha think, Champ?" Duncan said to him.


"I ain't no champ," Lion said.


"Let's stop," Linda said brightly. Her brightness seemed horribly forced to Duncan, and the children's contradictions with themselves and each other seemed impossible to handle. When the microbus stopped Duncan, who was feeling a bit of diarrhea; simply got out and started walking up the right-of-way without saying anything. After he'd shit in the bushes he decided that everything would be all right when they got there and turned back. While he was gone Linda had brought out oranges for Bobby and Lion. Lynette stayed in the van, trying out a hairdo from a magazine in the rear-view mirror. Linda knew that Duncan was somehow pressed and felt that she had failed him. When she saw him coming back she could make out the little smile on his face again. She still always mistook that smile for pleasure. She wanted to tell him everything was all right, to pat him on the head, but she could never bring herself to do that sort of thing with him. It would be admitting to him and to herself that he was a bundle of faults and needs as Wes had been, and had to be supported and apologized for. But she had never patted Wes either.


Mazatlán was more like an American city than any they had yet seen. They drove in near sunset. Like San Francisco it spread down from a peninsula. The quays and the railway thread along the waterside like the roots of a pot-bound plant. The factories and warehouses differ from those in any Western European country only in their thick walls, some of them whitewashed adobe. They stayed in the Motel Imperial, with TV in the evening and café con leche and pan dulce in the morning.


For a while the next day they drove in steadily more tropical lowland, hot and wet, already unpleasant by nine. They were no longer attracted by the contrast with the dusty, arid plain of Chiuaua and did not stop. Lion pointed out when they passed as sign that they were entering the "Marismas Nacionales" - the National Swaps, home, he explained, of a cactus uniquely adapted to living in brackish water and the largest mangrove forest on the west coast of North America. Here the wide, two-lane road was on a grading with low swamp on each side and beyond that mangrove standing in still waterways. The sea must be in the distance of their right. The vegetation looked windswept although the air was humid and still, smelling of salt and rot. Suddenly had to stop behind a line of cars filling their lane. The line stretched onward into the distance ahead of them. Linda got out and talked with the drivers stopt ahead of them. She learned that waves from an offshore hurricane had washed out the road a few miles ahead. The army had built a temporary right of way at the breach and was letting cars though in batches one way. Soon cars and trucks began piling up behind them.


Every fifteen minutes or half an hour a spasm of motion would work back to them and they could start up and drive 25 or fifty feet. They gradually entered a roadside community. Vendors had appeared, though no dwellings were in sight, selling soft drinks, tacos, pan dulce, beer and the like. The Mexican army appeared: sullen teen-agers with rifles and drab uniforms with their caps puled over their foreheads. By evening they had not reached the breach and word came back to them that no more cars were being let though until light. They camped out with others as they had done in the desert. In the dark the air was still humid and threw off a salty, rotted smell. They bought tacos, which here consisted of soft tortillas filled with hot sauce, potatoes, and unidentifiable, stringy meat. Lynette would not eat them. Some people two or three cars ahead built a fire and the sound of guitars called out plaintive Mexican popular songs. After discussing it with Lynnette and the others, Linda and Duncan went down and sat by the fire with the music. Linda was afraid they would be shunned, but Duncan smiled with confidence and they were accepted with a few odd looks. Duncan felt great sitting by this fire in this strange land and place, protected by his girl, half-invisible in the flickering light. Linda was not so comfortable. She had the Northern European distaste of the tropics and felt that if they had continued on the tropical coast they would have come to a place where slimy disease-bearing spiders would wriggle through your mosquito netting at night. Duncan on the other hand imagined vaguely polychrome flowers and bare-breasted girls out of South Pacific. He was more adventurous than Linda was because, like most adventurers, at bottom he had nothing to lose back home. There were no mosquitoes in this salt marsh, no flowers, no bare breasts.


They reached the washout about mid morning. Two hefty bulldozers and a big steam shovel were constantly rebuilding the temporary grade, which was made out of sand. From time to time a camouflaged helicopter passed noisily overheard. They were letting cars through in batches of six, first one way and then other stopping occasionally to repair new erosion. When they crossed Duncan had the feeling sand was scurrying away under their very wheels.


When they turned towards the mountains Linda was glad. As they rose they came first to wide, plowed fields, then to rolling hills with clusters of familiar big cactus and underbrush, and finally to winding among slopes sprinkled more and more with trees that Lion could not identify by variety, but were surely pines. Mountains looked alike to him. Duncan watched less and less out of the micro-bus as the feeling of traveling through fairy tale land, hitherto learned only from books like Martin's history, faded. He asked Lynette to tell him about Liz Taylor and Eddie Fisher, but she replied that they were both too stupid to talk about. Lion had taken up whittling, something of a feat on the rough road, and spent his time carving a wooden crystal. As ridges turned to valleys and valleys to higher ridges, all passed into sullen silence.


Despite having to stop a couple of time to let the micro-bus cool off, a little after noon they came to the mountain town of Tepic, with fresh, thin, piney air. They saw a long line of heavy trucks parked beside the road. Linda learned from the waiter that the police were holding truck traffic in Tepic until the repair in the marshes was more secure.


In the afternoon gay-hearted Bobby who could find anything amusing told everyone that he wanted his tennis ball. Linda said that she thought the tennis ball was in a trunk that was on the baggage carrier. Bobby said he wanted it anyway. Duncan said he would crawl onto the back and help Bobby look, where they crawled over one another. Finally Duncan said he guessed he couldn't find it either. Bobby said he wanted it anyway. Duncan pointed out with his little defensive smile that it would be pretty hard to play ball in the van anyway.


"I can bounce it against the windows!" he said.


"Geez, you're stupid," said Lion, who had refused to join in.


"You're a stupid old pimple head, that's what you are," Bobby replied.


"That's not fair!" Lion yelled.


Bobby began to pummel his back with his fists, and in a moment they were locked in one another's hateful arms, Bobby crying and screaming names, Lion grimly silent. Duncan was for letting them work off their energy, and sat on his hands.


"Oh, for God's sake, stop them," Linda said, unable to see what was going on from the driver's seat.


Then Lynette said, "Oh, kids, we're all tired and bored and sick of the trip." She put a hand gently on each of their shoulders. "It's not so bad, and it'll all be over soon; let's make a truce, huh? For me?" The boys stopped fighting at her gentle tugging on their tee shirts, and Bobby crept up and sat on her lap in the front seat. Both Linda and Lynette were pleased with themselves. Lynette, who had been gradually feeling more and more guilty towards her mother for the bad temper she had been showing, had seized her opportunity and made amends. Linda felt that her daughter was showing signs of growing up right, despite her bourgeois father and the tension of the divorce, and her own liaison with Duncan. But the latter felt uncomfortable and even resentful; he felt the peace was a false peace, that it really left them more tense than before, that they should have been left to fight, hell, kill one another.


Then entered terrain of rolling hills with what looked to Duncan like carefully tended field of very large century plants. Linda explained they were mayguey the plant pulque is made from. Duncan had drunk pulque, is a milky, slightly foamy and somewhat viscous beverage with a weird flavor, as a kind of test of bravery at parties and found a broad, orderly landscape devoted to its production strangely; surreal and abstract. In the twilight they emerged form this landscape into the edges of far-famed Guadalajara, heroine of song. With the sun lowering behind the mountains Linda felt the same thrill she had as a little girl when her return brought her to this enchanted city.


Guadalajara. Duncan remembered the singers in Guaymas winding out the tough threads of their voices merely to say right the name of this idealized, all whitewashed sootless city. You approach it through the mayguey fields, where everything is neat and right, and coming into the city everything is neat and orderly and at the same time spontaneous and part of the place like the rigid rows of mayguey. But Guadalajara is not abstract at all; there is nothing square or modern about it, though it seemed to Duncan as neat and clean as the Carnation Milk Building in Beverly Hills.


They stayed again in a Spanish-style hotel, this one larger and busier than the hotel in Guaymas. Their dollars went further as they drove further south. It was an old building, a really old building, Duncan thought. Linda, whose spirits had picked up so much by coming into Guadalajara that she was identifying a little with her Mexican background, told Duncan mischievously that it was probably built before his ancestors left Scotland. All the windows on the street, the balconies overlooking the courtyard, and railings and large swinging doors to the courtyard where they were serving dinner, were worked out in black ironwork more complex than Duncan had ever imagined, winding and twisting with lions and roses and masks, and fleur-de-lis at the defensive points, which had held off Indians and bandits for three hundred years.


When they were coming into the courtyard for dinner (Bobby swung on the rococo doors, and a waiter shooed him off), a fat pale man dining alone in English tweeds rose and bowed to Linda. "Mrs. Otis, I am honored to see you again after so many years. Mayor Huertado told me that our village would again be honored by a representative of your family." Then he took Linda' s hand and said, "Let me repeat my condolences on the death of your mother, a most cultured and remarkable lady, someone who added a touch of the wide world to my life and the life of our village, someone through whom we all gained values that I cannot recount, and whose loss would have taken too much from our community were we not made rich by our memories of her."


"Thank you," Linda said. She introduced him to Duncan and the children as Dr. Apretado, one of the most important men in Cuculán "But a weekend resident," he said with a, deprecatory wave of his hand. He had already asked the waiter move them to a larger table and ordered a bottle of Champaign "But an infrequent and, how shall I say it, unfaithful son of my native village." Then he said to Duncan, as if explaining to him the order of the universe in confidence, "My many duties to my patients, and to the state, keep me in the capitol most of the year, while the proper use of my gifts and education demands that I lecture on internal pathology at the university here in this beautiful city during the rainy season."


"I see," said Duncan, smiling for all he was worth.


Dr. Apretado praised Lynette for the loveliness she would add to the community rather desperately praised Lion for his wool sweater, not realizing that Lion was the closest thing to a kindred spirit in. the group, and chastened Bobby for playing with his food. "Not only an insult to your mother who expects your attention, but to yourself for lacking a sufficient sense of your own worth to maintain your own dignity."


Apretado scared Duncan to death. His excellent, almost exemplary English spoken with a distinct British accent ("I have had to visit London on several occasions for medical conferences in the service of my country."), his money and his aura of power and success, the way he treated Linda as if she were the countess of a neighboring domain ("You will find the Indians little changed –a little more mercenary, perhaps, but the same basic character."), the huge room filled with self-important people and set in an ambiance of excellence that seemed to stretch back to the court of Ferdinad and Isabella made Duncan feel stupid, outcast, and unable to cope, like the representative of the smallest county.


Linda told Apretado that Duncan was a law student: "Ah, Law," said Apretado, raising his finger and then his hand, "a profession I admire and respect, a profession of worth, a profession almost as old and with it as vital to the state as my own, a profession all Mexico respects, respects, if I may say so, without any reflection on you, respects with an almost exaggerated respect. But," leaning forward, "that will be advantageous for you." He almost leered, as if prestige were a belly dancer that could be bought.


Up in their room Linda was lying on the bed naked, her trim satin skin remaining an unshakable enchantment. Duncan, still in his trousers, sat on the edge, "Who was that son-of-a-bitch?" Linda shrugged calling attention to her graying hair that looked so strange atop her girlish body. "He's a doctor When I vas a little girl he came and bought up the second largest house and a good deal of land. He only comes for the weekend every two or three weeks. He's a bore, but we won't have to see him much."


"Who does he think I am?" asked irritably.


"I don't know," Linda mused.


It seemed to Duncan appalling, that Linda, that knowing, innocent, old-new-bride-mother of his could shrug off the important, entrenched, fearful fat man in tweeds as a bore, and her ability to do so seemed to open some gulf between them that only long lying and cuddling in the dark could close.


In the morning Apretado had gone before they rose. Over their chocolate and pan dulce Lynette again spoke up. "Mother," she said, "I know we have only a little longer to go, but the van is getting the kids down. If this is such a great place, let's stop and look it over for a day." Thus she acted grownup and held off their final commitment to the unfamiliar. Duncan was suddenly taken with the idea of this famous city, and with the idea of being conventional and touristy so he could say some day, "I have seen the cathedrals of Guadalajara in the rain." Linda had her own reasons for reluctance to go home. Lion and Bobby were glad to be out of the van, so they all went out to see the town.


They came out first into the plaza of the Palacio de Gobierno. Only here it was that Duncan remembered the lonely corpse in the deserted building in the desert and felt really for the first time that one foreign country was not merely a set of unfamiliar ways of doing what he had done all his life, like a code in which the old symbols were merely replaced in order by new symbols, but rather a new set of needs, means, motives, ways of history and of future, that foreignness did not become less the more he understood it, and that the more he looked, the more self-contradictions that defeated understanding and anomalies that hinted at treachery craved his attention. The big, white ornate government building stretched to the left and right as if standing fast against Charles V. Before it stood a row of carved wooden benches upon which Grandees might have rested, smoked, and preened themselves between the weatherings, but it was old women watching chickens scratch the cracks between the cobbles and smoking children selling tacos. Battered Chevrolets held together with wire rattled across the shaking by the horse-drawn cobblestones, threatening any moment to decompose into heaps and rust away to streaks across the seventeenth century white. The altar in the sixteenth century cathedral had been built in the inconceivably sentimental Catholic Italy of the late nineteenth century. From a distance the blunt-angular low relief and the weather-edged blocks of the church of Santa Monica (No pink stucco here.) looked for a moment like the Mayan temples in pictures, but when he came up close the first thing he saw was a lion rampant with an embroidered mane that looked like scales reaching for crown, a mane that might have come off a tomb in Sumer. In the next niche a figure of San Cristobal with a soft face centering round a mouth that seemed to suck on something, with a little mustache, and a cupid-child on his shoulder, like a queer dreaming in a Hollywood queer bar.


It was the doors that struck Duncan the most about the churches, the low relief columns, which seemed to have wrestled themselves into vines and grapes and birds and pure designs, with lions rampant and holy faces and the eagle with two heads.


Linda took them to the house of a famous painter who had been, she said with prim relish, a revolutionary. The house was a plain, three-story stucco that would have fit in in Beverly Hills. The paintings were inflated, brightly colored renditions of heroic workers and Indians, people Duncan could not imagine responding to him. They seemed to Duncan like cartoons, and he smiled though the visit as fast as he could.


The old houses drew Duncan. The outside walls of the old houses were plain, but they too had small windows squared over by battered iron, windows not to let anything in but to keep the unfamiliar out. It was in the courtyard of such a house that Duncan went to meditate. Instead of glass behind the bars were hard wood panels like a silver cupboard and in the hard wood panels squares carved, hinged from the inside, wide enough for a single face. Inside was a courtyard that the house made itself a thick wall around. Sitting on a carved bench in the courtyard Duncan thought of the houses in the developments East of Los Angeles where there had been orange groves, all lawns and flowers, awkward and exposed, like misformed children ripped out before their time. But in this courtyard was another world. Here in the bit of civilization that this house made there had been two kinds of blood: a white and a dark. A white blood featureless, facing the outside, a dream of its own sufficiency, and within a dark blood the color of carved wood, real, and because it was real, insufficient, inadequate, so that now tourists could come and sit where it had flowed and think their own, idle, empty, defensive dreaming thoughts in a courtyard utterly changed while the idle, empty, defensive white endured unchanged, unweathered, like the shell of a clam, the white only a defense, the carved wood only an art, the white thrown open now to the bandits from the north, the dark equally violated by provoking thoughts it was never meant to hear. It made him feel strange to think these thoughts; it made him feel weird and almost dizzy, the kinds of feeling in your mind that accompanies being sick to your stomach. The white blood of walls, the dark blood of wood, each none of his own. To steady himself he leaned forward and locked his fingers over his face, peeking at the flagstones of the courtyard between them as a child peeking at the reassuring adult world from a reassuring hiding place, peering through the frightening gap between them. Linda, who had gone on with the kids to another church, came in and put her hands on his shoulders, alert and purposeful.


"Is there anything wrong?'' she asked.


He raised his face, smiled his little smile, though no one could see behind his fingers, and answered, "No," again separating them. She pressed him on to another church. A smooth figure of a saint stood on each side of the entrance with no hint of unchristian time we can understand, one a polished and calm saint Francis of Assisi, perfect except that he had no hands; the other Saint Philip Neri lacking one hand, but holding a skull in the other and softened by a delicate woolly lamb at his feet.


In the evening they went to another restaurant where other singers and margaritas lulled Duncan into pleasant rest. They sang about the city as if it were a land of dreams. No one had really enjoyed the day very much; the only one in the group with the real capacity to look at things was Lion, and he was not interested in human works. But they went to bed physically tired rather than merely frayed, and slept better than they had any night on the road. In the morning, they set out on the small, twisty road to Morelia. The roads were difficult, and they changed drivers every hour. In the evening they came to a pleasant valley with pine and fields, oak and alder too. Morelia rose on a hill with its modern suburbs at its feet like a twentieth-century chicken in the yard of the nineteenth. Another Spanish-style civic center with a silver-domed cathedral across the square from a government palacio. More priests and more Indians in the streets as if the ancient battle over Mexico, which had sunk beneath the surface in Guadalajara, were here closer to the skin. But they did not take time over this city and in the morning set out winding down through the hills toward Cuculán.


Late in the afternoon they came over a high pass spotted with small pine trees and thin soil, which in the north would have had snow on it. Before them a lake with a valley on one side and cliffs on the other. They came in at the lower, Southern end of the valley and at this end the space between the mountains was filled by a shallow lake, which stretched toward the shadow along the left, Western edge of the mountains. Linda pointed out Cuculán in the shadow of the mountains, four large buildings: the church, the mayor's residence, the Dr.'s, and her own, their own Duncan thought. To the right in the sunlight the rise of the land was more gradual, fading into low rolling hills. The lake was vague, placid, with reeds showing the contours of the soil beneath its surface and gradually fading into swamp and then to bog. The surface was as still as quicksilver, the water a little milky under the reflected colors of the sky. The whole valley was done in pastels, with the first lavender of evening tempered by the milky sky blue of the water, the soft green and yellow green of the moist floor of the valley, fading into the vagueness of blue distance ahead and on the far northeast and to the west the dry brown at the foot of the mountain.


Ahead of them the road, dirt now, descended by patient switchbacks and went left to the town. It was empty except for a breaking oxcart rounding down ahead of them. On the still lake only one black spot moved slowly away from the town. When they started down hill, the microbus for once dangerously quick, Duncan's spirits began to lift, and he began to feel more intensely the physical vitality of his friend. He squeezed her shoulder and turned around and grinned at the kids. He thought about jumping her bones, in their own bed, well almost their own anyway, and did a little dance along her thigh with his fingers, like a mouse or a rat. Linda was caught up in his spirit and wriggled and giggled and laughed deliciously all the way down, taking up some of his ebullient humor and telling by a thousand little things that she shared, sympathized, and amplified his expectation of physical joyous reunion and satisfaction.


When the road became the main street of Cuculán the sky was still light although the sun had set long ago for the town was in the shadow of the western peaks. Desire and anticipated pleasure warmed and lighted Duncan's heart.


Linda's house was on the far side of the plaza, where lights burned in the mayor's house, but the church was dark. In the dusk Duncan could see that a low whitewashed adobe wall surrounded about four acres of Linda's property on three sides; on the fourth side the lake lay still against a stone quay. The house itself was not in any recognizable Mexican style, but in some vague pueblo architecture with beams sticking out of the white-washed walls, and only individual rooms jutting above the ground floor. It was dark except for the soft glow of candle light from within. "It must be the caretaker," Linda explained and added that her mother had never had the house connected to the power line, though it was wired; she would go to work on it first thing in the morning. "But it's oil for tonight," she said, almost leering. Duncan agreed, smiling conspiratorially, and got out of the car to open the gate, which was not locked. Enjoying the strangeness he walked up the drive while she drove on in. Ahead he saw her get out, and the three children following her, huddled behind her, as if going towards some dangerous wizard land. He saw her open the door without knocking and enter, then heard her silvery scream, thin and fine like her legs. He began to run and when he reached the doorway he found a high wide entrance hail. In the center was a table, on the table the wax image of a woman as if in stage or circus makeup for some pageant, vivid rose cheeks and sky-blue eyelids. Indians in brightly colored serapes were seated around the table. Linda was standing in the doorway screaming at them in Spanish. Some were looking at her with fear, others with unfathomable indifference. Duncan stepped into an alcove by the side of the door, utterly unable to take any action, uncomprehending, frightened, stupefied, disappointed, frustrated. Lion stood by his mother; the other children had run into the dark.


 

CHAPTER XII