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HOLIDAY IN OAXACA



I lift the flap of scalp, black as liver in the flashlight. I press it back
in place. More or less. I stanch jets of blood--throbs of my own shrillness
reddened, liquefied by mushrooms in a jungle omelette three days eaten.
I press, feel bits of tar and gravel underneath, sneer the edges of my
teeth crosswise. I deflect the maniac traffic with my free hand. My
flashlight dies. A VW barely misses us, the first of many.
He’s tiny, not too heavy for me to lift. It’s just that Death is too wet
and repulsive to sling over my shoulder. Possible internal bleeding,
possible spine fracture, I quibble, justify myself aloud into the sounds of
motors and horns.
“Debes quedarte aqui, muchacho,” I shout into his ear.
Deber or poder? Does this construction need a preposition? Do reflexive
infinitives take le or se? Are there any actual Mexicans squatting in the
weeds nearby?
From out of the shadows come American voices.
“Jesus Christ. Is this intense?”
“Tell me about it.”
“It’s like there’s this person, you know? And he’s just sort of laying out
in the middle of the road.”
“What can I say?”
“Really.”
Apply direct pressure.
Chingalamadre chingalamadre chingalamadre, he keeps telling the asphalt. He
blows red gravelly bubbles.
I once touched my infant nephew here, like this. I wanted to feel where the
bones were still discrete. My big sister murmured, “Don’t be afraid, silly.
Press a little. You can feel his little brain talking up at you.”
He used to crumple to the beach, asleep, sort of. The paper-white Danes and
Belgians would mince around him. He was so small and scummy that even the
federales from the helicopter didn’t bother to fuck with him. Not so much as
a jolt in the ribs with an automatic weapon as they scanned the beach for
Russian submarines and dead tortugas among the boats full of dead sharks,
actually paying more attention to the pale cracks in the butts of the
European girls.
He followed me down from the mountains three days ago, trying to cackle
like Peter Lorre each time I snapped thorn branches back in his eyes. I
wanted to get rid of him. He gave me the crawling willies, reminded me of
myself.
The old women up there can toothlessly size up these neurotic gringos. At a
glance the hags can know: Yes, his puta fea. just left for Vallarta with a
short-legged surf-god. So they feed him one too many plates of juevos del
muerte and send him back down to Escondido to entertain their sons and
cousins, the fishermen. With his idiot stumble, his wide blank tragic eyes,
his horse-whinny at nothing, his inability to remember his own nationality
(constantly switching accents and pidgin languages like a TV clown), with
his sudden psilocybin sweats, cold and acid, he serves as a walking
advertisement for the mushroom omelette huts up in the jungle.
“Panthers,” he mumbles, sometimes, and points back inland and shudders. And
later that afternoon you can see parties of youths from three or four
continents machete-ing up the hill, salivating in spite of themselves. Now
for the real Mexico, they say to themselves.
“Is there anybody I can call?” I asked him outside the Larga Distancia hut,
mostly to entertain a troop of German law students who had been following
along behind him, mocking him with superior screwball eyes. “Whom should I
call, mein Liebchen?” I asked.
“Amerika,” he bubbled. He had a German accent then.
Now a Mexican accent.
Chingalamadre chingalamadre chingalamadre he keeps telling the asphalt.
The ambulance, when it finally comes, is like a Good Humor wagon. Flimsy,
with that same sort of pink-striped awning, flapping in the sea breeze, like
loose scalp matter. The driver and the attendant step out, light cigarettes,
take a moment to eye my flashlight enviously.
Chrome.
And I know he is a dead man.
“El va a vivir? Vivire?” I ask, wondering how (or whether) to form the
future with an IR verb, or where, if at all, to put the pronoun. Authentic
native idiom? Or, fuck me, am I talking CIA Spanish?

There was a little black dog at Escondido that had been hit by a car, but
neglected to die. For three days it moaned and nodded its head and twitched
its crumpled pelvis among the marijuana plants outside the tents of the
Europeans, where the seeds from tossed roaches had sprouted. For three days
it chewed at the red edges of the hole in its back, trying to close itself
up. For three days it somehow avoided becoming lunch for the vicious packs
of tourists’ dogs--the huge purebred Saint Bernards and French poodles and
Dalmatians that band together at Escondido for a holiday fling at being
tropical predators before the portable cage and the long pressurized flight
back to civilization and parquet living room floors and nasty mauling
neighbor children.
Finally, on the third night, a young federale sawed the little black dog
lengthwise with his M-16.
“Rabido,” he shouted at the brown children who gathered to worry the
carcass in the sand. “Rabido,” he shouted again, and backed his jeep into
the surf, cursed, “Chingaste,” lurched up onto the highway and bashed into
something that bounced. Something scummy and smaller than a wild burro.
Labrador retriever, maybe.
A living disc of gnats settles onto the single mosquito bite that I have
carefully scratched the top from. Guaranteed tropical infection, a souvenir
to show my close friends. I don’t know why I lifted his passport. They’re
impossible to sell anymore.

  Tom Bradley

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