Pinched with Butter
Wills and I were holidaying
in the mountains of Mexico, and I was living as if in a dream, imagining
that away from everything we knew that I could act without consequence,
as if I were on the verge of another life and didn’t share my life with
Wills. Would the portent of remorse stop me before it was too late? For
a few days I didn’t know or care. I was living in another country with
a book and a man, in love with the writer’s story and not my own.
The writer was Italo Calvino.
The story was “Under the Jaguar Sun”. We were there, under that sun, in
1991. I was imagining Calvino: the narrator seemed very much like the author
might have been himself. I read the story as if it were autobiographical,
making the mistake of believing it had been lived and could be again. On
reading it before arriving in Mexico (the book picked out in a hurry and
read on the plane), I was immediately inspired, and imagined that Wills
and I could spend our time similarly to Calvino’s couple.
A good half of his story
is set in Oaxaca (his opening line -- “Oaxaca is pronounced “Wahaka.”),
a small city situated in the dry mountains north of the famed Mayan jungles,
north of the Chiapas peasant revolt. As it happened, we were headed there
This is everything that I
thought I wanted of our holiday there, with “Under the Jaguar Sun” my guide:
to eat the “haute cuisine” of the region as his couple had beginning with
a stay at the grand “Le Hotel Presidente” where, like Calvino’s couple,
we would contemplate the meaning of the antique painting of two lovers,
a nun and a priest, and like them too, recover some of the passion that
we had lost together.
It was no small sum to want
to forget my troubles and have both of us live beyond the old cares that
we were familiar with. And it wasn’t to be. We walked through the portentous,
tall doors kept from the original convent, through to reception, a tiled,
cool room where Wills made the inquiries of Le Hotel Presidente. The fellow
behind the desk spoke in English, immediately transposing the pesos into
American dollars. With some shock I looked behind him to the hotel’s brass
name plaque. Calvino’s story had been written nine years earlier, and now
the most expensive and historic hotel in Oaxaca had changed its name. Having
been taken over by the American chain it was called Le Hotel Stouffer Presidente.
The pesos spoke clearly enough: we couldn’t afford to stay there.
* * *
This didn’t bother Wills.
He wasn’t interested in the Calvino story or in shadowing it. He preferred
his “Frommer’s” -- practical advice for the budget conscious traveller.
In Mexico Wills was all talked-out.
He was feeling exhausted, fragile even. We’d reached a hiatus in our marriage.
(Yes, our last impulse had been to marry: that had slowed the pace down
considerably). A kind of rest period that felt like our emotions were in
abeyance had settled in, our passion put aside. He’d always wanted me,
but now it was slower between us. He was quiet with me, though less troubled
about it than I, more willing to consider our life companionable. We cuddled,
but the thought of sex made us both a little anxious. I hadn’t felt nutty,
furious, soft and doe-eyed or hanging-out for sex with Wills for some time.
Hope had been important before,
now it was forgotten. A resolve had formed itself within me not to want
more. Was this contentment? It certainly wasn’t as dramatic as happiness.
Was it harmony perhaps? I hadn’t even been searching for that... At thirty
five, trying to get pregnant with Wills’ old sperm and my sorry tubes,
I wasn’t content. When I could last remember feeling anything much, I had
So you see the trouble was
not all mine, but ours to share: waiting for that spark of new life to
ignite joy again. We had been trying to have a baby for years.
* * *
In Mexico Wills was in the
mood to do and see everything, but frugally. He was notionally paying for
my share of Mexico from his Sydney law practice, while I put aside money
from my tiny classical CD store for our baby/IVF program/overseas adoption,
whatever was to come first. While Wills was in the mood to be guided by
our Frommer’s, I was in the mood to be led by fiction. Where Frommer’s
offered “detailed maps”, Calvino described in beautiful terms the painting
found in Le Hotel Presidente. I wanted to do it the way the “Calvinos”
had done it. Saying this to Wills he laughed and said, “That’s impossible,”
not taking me seriously. He didn’t want to play the game with me, and it
needed us both.
Already, on realising that
we wouldn’t be staying at our leisure at “Stouffers”, I felt a resentment
rising that spilt itself over Wills. I tried to convince him otherwise.
“Imagine lying snuggled up
in one of the old wooden beds here,” I argued in a whisper a few feet from
the reception desk, “between thick cotton sheets. Above us a Madonna, perhaps
even a small black Jesus.”
“We have to go to church
for a black Jesus,” said Wills. “We simply can’t afford to stay here.”
“At least take a walk around,
or have a drink at the bar. There’s a painting I want to see,” I said.
Wills put our bags temporarily to one side. Through another doorway I found
the painting that Calvino’s couple had earlier looked upon.
An abbess stood beside a
priest. They had been lovers many centuries ago. Her body was just the
slightest bit turned towards his. Her face surrounded by its wimple was
plain, but luminous even through the grime of centuries. The priest’s gaze
was steady and unabashed. The painting was dark and light, sombre and exhalted.
I tried to find the look of the nun’s love, the whisper of breath leaving
her body, the sigh of love, but the look was elusive. My Spanish was a
little better than Wills’, but I did not need to clumsily translate the
inscription which filled the bottom half of the image, as Calvino had translated
their love perfectly, before us: “...when the priest came to die, the abbess,
twenty years younger, in the space of a single day fell ill and literally
expired of love (the word blazed with a truth in which all meanings converge)...”
I hesitated. Her childless
love intimidated me. Or was it her childless death that frightened me?
Perhaps I should have communicated this to Wills and found the reassurance
that the best lovers can offer. Instead I glumly recalled that it was at
this point that Calvino’s narrator believes he understands his wife Olivia’s
turn of thought without a word spoken. I didn’t consider for a moment that
Wills was sharing my memory of the story. He had read it only once, and
anyway he was not a Calvino aficionado.
We turned away but did not
go on to eat chiles en nogada in the abbess’s restaurant as Olivia
and her husband had. We hailed a cab and asked for a tour of six hotels
that we’d picked out in Frommer’s. At each stop Wills or myself leapt out
and inspected the rooms, while on the way we took in the town. Out in the
suburbs, a mile from the center of town and cheaper because of this, the
Casa de Huéspedes Arnel was more comfortable than my hurried inspection
first revealed. In the center of the hotel’s U there was a lush garden
of palms. In the morning the hotel cats ran from the womens’ hoses which
dowsed the miniature jungle, while the caged parrots danced beneath the
sprinkles of water. At breakfast, which Wills and I ate outside, the courtyard
was damp and cool. Later, on asking I discovered that the wife was Mayan,
and it was she who had brought the parrots and planted the garden of vines
By climbing the iron stairs
to a rooftop laundry area I looked down into the garden where Wills was
reading his Frommer’s, then out across the city to the mango and cactus
plantations, and in other directions, towards the pyramids of Monte Albán
and Mitla. Feeling the light breeze on my neck, but glad to be alone when
I could have been breezily brushing my lips over Wills, it didn’t occur
to me that the “Calvinos” had missed this view and the intimacy of the
woman’s garden of earthly delights. Perhaps I should have dwelt on my advantages
In Calvino’s story the couple
have enjoyed a companionable celibacy for some time. Through the exploration
of the cuisine they rekindle their passion. The ruined city of Monte Albán
features, for it is here that Olivia draws out a connection between the
subtleties of the food they have been eating and the violent history of
conquest and religion. She asks her guide what happened to the flesh of
the men and women who were sacrificed to the Zapotec and Miztec gods. The
guide prefers not to answer, or perhaps doesn’t know. The narrator and
Olivia then speak with their more effusive friend Salustiano, and between
them the three hint at the origins of some of the more complicated tastes
in Mexican cooking. For instance the mole sauce, an intricate mixture of
chiles, spices and chocolate might have been created to hide or enhance
the flavour of human flesh. Calvino’s narrator imagines at one meal that
he is being eaten by Olivia. Her teeth are as fine as her sensibilities.
During the meal he watches her teeth rather than her eyes, imagining himself
chewed and torn between them; such is the flavour of the story.
It is not until near the
end when he consumes Olivia’s “whole fragrance” while eating a dish of
aromatic meatballs called gorditas pellizcadas con manteca -- “plump
girls pinched with butter”-- that his, then their, passion is rekindled.
They return to their room that night (no longer at Stouffers, for they
have moved on south to the Mayan jungles). They have together a night of
loving as “inspired” as any that has “blessed the finest moments of our
The narrator says it is the
name “gorditas pellizcadas con manteca” that he was “especially savouring
and assimilating and possessing”. I held on to this, rereading it again
beneath the hotel palms, savouring every word of it, in love with the story,
the author and the fleshy meatballs. Wills was packing our bags for an
expedition to the town of Zachilla. We were taking our camera and the Frommer’s,
but as with other days we’d eat the local food.
We ate often (against Frommer’s
advice) from market and street stalls, and at the cafes that surrounded
the zócolo. We walked, we rode busses, we ate food as we found it.
Around the Casa de Arnel to the zócalo, the town square, we explored
side streets and found homely comida familias, family restaurants that
served limited menus. But the food was not as deliciously “secretive” as
in Calvino’s descriptions. I had no idea where the “Calvinos” had
eaten, other than one meal that was by implication eaten at Stouffers.
To treat us both, Wills suggested we have a meal there, but the menu didn’t
include chiles en nogada, the first dish mentioned by name in the story.
Instead, the menu reflected the change in ownership, and we were both disappointed.
Walking through Oaxaca’s
city market a vendor offered us grasshoppers the size of a small dried
chile. They looked hot but tasted remarkably like a sun-dried tomato. That
evening we bought candied fruit and vegetables, a lime stuffed with sticky
coconut, and sweet thick wedges of sugared pumpkin. Wills sought out the
sweetest varieties. His lips glittered with sugar. During our kiss the
long awaited passion was felt between us, until the sugar dissolved, and
by the time we returned to the Casa de Arnel, the kiss had settled back
The resentments of those
in love can spoil the lovliest of moments. For even as I held Wills, my
own glazed fruit, and savoured our low-life, I did resent Calvino’s couple
their experience. There was nothing more that they hungered for, nothing
undone at the end.
* * *
We were a half hour away
by bus from Oaxaca in the town of Zachilla, inspecting the wood market,
a dusty spread of sticks and bundled branches, planks and logs. We dawdled
on, allowing ourselves to get a little lost, and found a place without
a sign, just a wide verandah and outdoor tables to eat at. A few goats
were tethered by the gate. There was simply the plate of the day, no menu.
It was a grizzly dish which prompted us to order tequilla and beer: pig’s
feet, barbequed sheep’s balls, tongue and some chops. The balls were black,
the skin above the sack a dark twist a little like hand-spun sugar or glass,
and they looked just as hard.
“I believe it is possible,”
I said to Wills looking at my plate, thinking of Calvino’s “discovery”
of the cuisine of human sacrifice. His food had been camoflaged with spices
and sauces. Our dish was brutishly unadorned.
“That it’s possible to eat
these bollocks?” asked Wills. “How many lambs,” he said carefully, as though
“lambs” were too tender, too vulnerable to say briskly, “might this animal
have fathered if it hadn’t been castrated?”
“Don’t they put one male
in with dozens of females? They’re polygamous like Mormons and Papua New
“I was thinking,” he said,
returning us to ourselves, “that you were thinking about my balls.”
“I don’t know what to think
anymore about husbandry.” I followed him with a gulp of tequilla and then
some beer. “Yours look a lot fresher actually.” We held each others eyes
and giggled about our “problem”, then looked at each other sadly, a rare
moment of camaraderie on this holiday. Our lovemaking had become so listless,
and it seemed that when the sex had waned so had our daytime intimacies.
I made an effort to smile cheerfully. “Come on, let’s eat up.”
We took up our forks, stabbing
a ball each in unison. Fork in one hand, we sucked on our lime and
salt, downed a mouthful of tequila and bit...
We had had our “parts” studied
medically and had talked about this endlessly: neither of us were wonderfully
fit for reproduction, and Wills even less than I as it turned out in the
sperm count. This holiday was supposed to be helping him recuperate from
years of over-work and too much sugar. Our doctor wanted his sperm to return
swimming faster and further. It was hard to hope for a baby and enjoy lovemaking.
The early days of trying to conceive when there’d been the thrill of the
chase were long gone, and sex had become so purposeful as to now be joyless.
“They’re not so strange,”
said Wills, “quite ordinary really.”
The flavour was a little
rich but having been barbecued it was not, after all our apprehensions,
“I wonder what they are called,”
I said, thinking of those other meatballs, the gorditas pillizcadas
con manteca, the plump girls pinched with butter. That dish had sounded
Wills looked away towards
the daughter of the family, a girl of maybe twenty. She was near the kitchen
door filling water jugs. We were down the dusty verandah a way. The young
woman was petite and her long braided hair jet black. I guessed that there
was no Spanish in her blood, for she looked to my Pacific eyes almost Asian
with her flat cheek bones and black titled eyes.
“She’s beautiful isn’t she,”
I said, “and will probably have lots of babies. She looks a lot fitter
for reproduction than me.”
“So many people around here
are,” he said. “Beautiful, I mean.” With a glance he acknowledged that
he’d half set that up.
“In the Calvino story,” I
began, about to tell Wills about the meatballs and wondering if I could
ask the girl what the dish was called. Though maybe it didn’t have a name.
Wills interrupted. “Eat up!”
He picked up a sheep’s ball and handed it to me, taking one for himself.
“If we can eat prawns, we
can eat grass-hoppers, we can eat scrotum.”
“Scrotum’s too medical, and
is a different kettle of fish. Not an insect,” he said, taking another
“Whatever. We shouldn’t talk
about this stuff, we just argue,” I said, pushing my plate away. “We shouldn’t
talk about our hopes and desires we just argue.” Saying this I felt utterly
flat and despondent.
“We’re not arguing, we’re
Now a strapping young man
was sweeping the verandah. “Time to leave,” I said.
We were drunk and grumpy.
The sun on the walk back to the bus stop was low, but strong. It seemed
to slow us down when really it was Wills who was slow while I paced myself
to him impatiently. I just wanted to get on that bus and slump.
“I feel worse than drunk,”
he said. “A lot worse. I’m having stomach pains. They started this morning,
but I thought they’d pass.”
“Then why did you eat that
meal? You should have told me.”
He did look a little grey,
though while I felt concerned my heart didn’t go out to him. I wasn’t giving
him my heart, but keeping it for myself, where, I see now, it was not used.
I resisted sympathy and said something pragmatic like, “We’ll be on the
bus soon and then home.”
By the time we got back to
our hotel room Wills was white and withdrawn. He went straight to bed.
Soon it was clear that he had a very high temperature. He sweated, and
was hot and red across his forehead, hot and then cold all over. The illness
worsened by the hour. He was running to the bathroom. We should have been
more careful at those street stalls, I thought. I filled the jug beside
our bed with boiled water, wiped his face and hands with cool water, and
retreated outside to write letters beneath the palms. I didn’t mention
his illness in my letters. As twilight turned to night I wondered what
I should eat for dinner, as on every other night we had gone into town
together. I walked to the nearest cafe and came back with my dinner and
bottled fruit juices for Wills. He was sleeping then waking and shitting,
dreaming and asking for water which he was too exhausted to do more than
sip at. I slept fitfully beside him, keeping my distance as he was dank
with sweat. He wasn’t going to be returning home fit and healthy after
The next day was the same.
I breakfasted alone. I wrote in my diary over a coffee, making a note of
the “grippe” that he had contracted. He had soaked through all his t-shirts.
Rather than take the long walk to the laundromat, I hand-washed his clothes
on the roof top laundry. I felt very peaceful and detached up there, pegging
the sodden shirts on the string line with the vast plains and grey green
mountains around me, visible through the gaps between the clothes. The
mountains were very still while the shirts idled in the breeze. I felt
refreshingly alone and undistracted. I hung around the hotel all day, happy
to do so while Wills slept. The next day was the same.
On the third day I went in
to town. His condition had not changed, though I had fed him some fruit
and toast. Members of the Cruz family had asked about him. “Wills es enfermar,“
I explained. Town was different alone, and I felt a little exhilarated.
I wandered deeper into the markets than before. I stood at a bus stop for
no reason other than to watch the passers-by, and resisted the affection
of a young American who introduced himself. I didn’t mention Wills, which
probably explained his enthusiasm. Back in the zócalo I had a coffee
near Stouffers and thought I’d go in again. I stood before the couple in
the painting. I could see them both looking heavenwards, in love with each
other and with Him. I wanted to look downwards with Wills, to the good
earth and our crawling baby.
The painting celebrated their
love and was in awe of her death. If the abbess hadn’t expired without
protest there would be no painting. The luminosity in their faces that
I’d seen earlier turned waxen, and the whole idea of her death struck me
I returned to Wills after
a couple of hours, but my presence seemed unnecessary, for having given
him a clean t-shirt, water and juice, there was little else for me to do.
I wondered if antibiotics would help. I had tried to discuss his condition
at the pharmacy when buying aspirin, but hadn’t had any success. He was
still running a temperature even with aspirin. I’d bought a thermometer
and looked at the readings: 102, 103, 104, 103. Wills himself had withdrawn
into his delirium. Sometimes he mumbled that he was having nightmares,
but couldn’t tell them to me, sinking back into sleep. He was unaware of
me when I slept beside him at night. The sheets turned grey and soft. I
considered asking for new ones.
On the fourth day I looked
again at my phrase book and wondered about doctors. It all seemed very
difficult, for how would I get one to the hotel? I had difficulties understanding
what was said to me over the phone. Face to face I was more confident.
Wills could barely walk to the bathroom, so how would I get him out? I
thought I’d leave it one more day and on an impulse, took the bus for a
second visit to Monte Albán.
I walked up through the ruins
of the elevated city, the remants of the buildings separated by great expanses
of dusty soil. I reached the highest pyramid and climbed to where it plateaued.
This was the site of Calvino’s questions, it was up here that the worshippers
had witnessed the human sacrifices, the gifts to the gods two thousand
Tipping my head back and
letting my skin bathe in the sunlight, I felt close to the sky. I felt
weightless that high, buoyant and alone. I closed my eyes and was losing
my bearings, recklessly unbalanced with my head back. Dizzy, I looked across
the huge plains that I had crossed earlier to reach the pyramids. I saw
a compact figure skimming across the plains away from these ruins and the
desolation of barbequed meat and human sacrifice, and away from Wills and
our childless love, for I did love Wills. Bitterness rose in me, as sharp
Calvino’s story ends at the
Mayan jungle temples of Palenque. His narrator climbs to the Temple of
the Sun, to the relief of the jaguar sun, to the Temple of the Foliated
Cross and the Temple of the Inscriptions. He is dizzy with the heat. He
climbs down “into the light of the jaguar sun -- into the sea of the green
sap of the leaves.“ The sun courses through us all, he writes, its solar
energy runs through our veins. The narrator and Olivia eat a meal after
the climb, and look at each other with the intensity of serpents. Calvino
goes further, to the sun itself, an astronaut amongst writers: “as we were
aware, in our turn, of being swallowed by the serpent that digests us all,
assimilated ceaselessly in the process of ingestion and digestion, in the
So too worked the sun upon
my un-hatted head at Monte Albán. I imagined Wills and I lying on
the stone, frolicking licentiously under the midday sun whose life-producing
rays would infuse our bodies. I was playing the part of the plump girls
pinched with butter while simultaneously Wills cavorted as the meatballs:
the dish spoke for both of us of our dreams of fertility and desire, of
passion leading to pregnancy. Under the sun on the hot rock, our blood
would strengthen, cells renewing and nerves rebuilding, hungry to form
Sick Wills. In the morning
he had taken a shower with my help. While he washed with the water streaming
down him, I’d stayed in case he fell. I rubbed his skin with a face washer
and soap to ease his aching limbs. His body was streaked with colour: fever
flamed red around his chest and loins, his cheeks and neck. He was much
thinner and stooped and looked very much older than his forty-one years.
I thought, “What if he died here?” My next thought had been for our childlessness.
His penis looked all the more flaccid with the stoop of his shoulders and
his weary expression. I’d forgotten compassion over these days of his illness;
it hadn’t welled up in me but had actually diminished. The year of feeling
very little, the blandness of emotion I’d been experiencing disintegrated
in a moment, and as I handed him a towel I was furious with his weakness,
this ailment, his failed virility. I looked out the window, my eyes wet
with angry tears. Wills was too ill to notice. I thought of the six years
that separated us in age: he looked aged, I did not. I wanted to get away
from his sick body. He carried death in it.
Overhearing other tourists
at the ruins discussing where they were next headed it occurred to me to
simply leave. I considered what I had with me: my credit cards, a few travellers
cheques. As usual, my passport hung in a slim pouch beneath my shirt, though
I needn’t have brought it with Wills in the room. I could access my savings
via fax, perhaps my Phone Bank account would work. I had my camera, my
diary to write in over a coffee, and even Calvino’s book. Reflecting on
this, I realized I’d brought too much for a day’s outing - had I known
then? Perhaps I’d meet up with another young American. Perhaps we’d sleep
together. I might even fall pregnant. Unlikely with my history, but still...
I pushed the idea away, it wasn’t what I wanted.
The Cruz’s would look after
Wills surely. I quickly walked back down through the sandy soil to the
tourist stalls and the bus stop. There was a bus heading further south.
* * *
Just as on our trip into
Oaxaca, on the journey out through the mountains the trip was tricky. The
single lane road was littered with pot holes. Hair-pin bends were numerous.
Our driver wore leather gloves. His little Jesus’s and other icons of safe
passage dangled around the blue satin frieze at the top of the windshield.
(Early on the morning of New Year’s Day, we’d witnessed the blessing of
these busses for the new year’s journeys.) Road-side altars, pastel coloured
arbors with plastic flowers for the Madonna, testified (I assumed) to roadside
deaths. We passed peasants walking with baskets of produce, donkeys with
carts, children who waved. I recalled that in Calvino’s story they had
driven south in a comfortable private car with their friend Salustiano.
This recollection was the antithesis of my next memory: when we had driven
in to Oaxaca in a similarly rickety vehicle, I had been reading the news
of a bus in northern Mexico which had lost the road just before Christmas,
with many of the passengers killed.
I didn’t think of Wills,
or I did, but in furious denial. I staged a scene where the Cruz’s nursed
him back to health, and thought that the Consulate, if it came to that,
would see to his safe return, and that his traveller’s cheques were all
in order. I didn’t give a thought to the future, for life beyond the fantasy
The bus driver stopped at
a roadside food joint for lunch. After getting some rice and beans I sat
down, and found myself next to him. He was vigorously eating a large plate
of chicken and downing glasses of tequila with loud sucks of lime. I watched
horrified. He became more and more voluble, until turning away from a friend
who had been standing at the front of the bus near the door, on the lookout
for approaching traffic and straggling donkeys, he spoke to me in a fast
Spanish. A few words made sense. He was bragging about his driving prowess.
We were just past New Year and perhaps he thought the blessings were still
thick upon his bus. I saw death waving at me from around the next hair-pin
bend, and felt very frightened of returning to the vehicle with this drunkard.
I didn’t want to die in a bus crash, to die at all, and discovered with
a surge of desire for Wills that I was hopeful after all.
I offered the woman behind
the counter money to ring me a taxi back to Oaxaca. Having fled Wills,
I now desperately wanted to return to him. One imagined death (my own,
just then) awakened me with a start to the real possibility of another
-- Wills’. He was very sick! What had I been thinking of? Dream turned
to ordeal as we sped back narrowly missing donkeys and busses on the way,
soaring up hills in the old VW, witnessing huge vistas, then racing down
between the narrow streets of ragged villages. My feelings altered with
the altitude, flying between remorse and fear and hope that he wasn’t worse
than when I had left him. It was evening by the time of my return to the
Casa de Arnel. I had asked the taxi driver, whose English was good, if
he knew of a doctor. I found Wills lying in bed half-asleep.
“I have a taxi waiting outside
so that we can go and see a doctor.” He looked at me with relief. “Ah,”
I said, “you’re not delirious anymore.” I lent down to pull the sheets
back. He was pungent and familiar: smelly with black-grey bristles and
tousled hair. I lay down on the bed and held him close.
“Have this aspirin before
we go,” I said, giving him a glass of water and the pills, taking a couple
myself. My head was pounding.
“I don’t know that I can
walk that far.”
“Yes you can, the car’s just
outside. Lean on me.”
While we waited in the doctor’s
rooms I composed descriptive sentences in my notebook, mumbling them until
they sounded right. I wanted there to be no mistake as to the extent of
Wills’ illness, which I thought might now include “deshidratado” -- dehydration.
“What did you do today?”
he asked me while we waited.
“I went to Monte Albán
“It’s good you’ve had time
on your own.” Wills said this without rancour.
“Do you think so? Why is
“Oh...even sick I was glad
to be alone for a few days.” He trailed off, unable to concentrate. This
was only half of the answer.
In the taxi back via the
pharmacy where I collected numerous drugs for Wills’ desperate condition
I took up his question again, wanting to find an opportunity where I could
give him my “answer”, my confession.
“At Monte Albán I
thought of leaving you forever.”
“Ah. I thought of leaving
you too. I thought I might be going to die.”
“Oh how awful!” I said. “And
I even got on a bus, I thought of disappearing...” It was as if I’d put
my heart down on a stone tablet at Monte Albán, that I had been
ready to leave it there on a wish as willingly as had the Indians who competed
to sacrifice themselves.
Again Wills left what I had
just told him aside, as if he hadn’t heard. There were things he wanted
to tell me. “I thought you had been gone a long time, though I couldn’t
tell how long. I didn’t want to die. I found myself also thinking
of you, of having to leave you here alone if I were to die, and that we
hadn’t finished our holiday or finished many other things... That it wasn’t
our time yet.”
“What other things?” I asked.
“You know,” he sighed. “The
same thing as always. Children.”
I began to weep. Without
looking up I could feel by the cobbled and bumpy streets that the taxi
was nearing our hotel. I desperately wanted to be alone with Wills. He
had my hand firmly in his and was squeezing it, not just to reassure me,
but himself too. He needed to touch me. “It is all I have thought about
the whole holiday here,” I said, my head bowed. The truth of this filled
me, and Wills too. “All the time, no matter what we did... You should never
have eaten all that candied fruit, you were supposed to cut down.”
“Yes.” He ignored my foolish
reprimand. “That’s why I haven’t wanted to sleep with you. I just didn’t
want to have to hope for that any longer. A simple conception.”
“I so much want us to have
children. Us, Wills, us.” The taxi pulled up. The driver would have understood
all that we were saying, but I didn’t care. Perhaps he could bless us in
some mysterious way -- a Mexican miracle, all that faith, the ever-present
cycles of life and birth and death. That’s what Calvino had left aside:
birth, the beginnings of solar life. I helped Wills out of the car. Feeling
dizzy as he stood up he held on to me. I rang the bell at the solid gate
which was locked nightly with the dark. Invisible on the other side sat
a bent old man, the great-grandfather. I imagined him slowly getting up
out of his chair in the dark with his keys. I could hear the keys rattle,
and the lock turn.
I began to cry again. “Our
time may never come.”
Wills trembled with my weight
when I leant against him. We wouldn’t fall to the ground.
“No, it might not,” he said,
and I think that he too was weeping.
Jane Messer is the author
of Night by Night, a novel, and has edited two anthologies: Certifiable
Truths--stories of love and madness, and Bedlam--an anthology of
sleepless nights. She has published in a wide range of Australian
journals. She lives in Sydney.