Literatura en México

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Cinco Décadas de Cuento Mexicano. Antología. Perea, Pitman, Taylor, Tedeschi, Valenzuela

Coyote (English version)

Juan Villoro
Foto: El Mercurio

Juan Villoro

Hilda's friend, who had taken the fast train himself, waxed lyrical about leisure: they would cross the desert inch by inch, and hours later the horizon would no longer lie beyond the window but before their very faces, reddened reflections of the land where the peyote grows. Pedro thought him a moron, but this was confirmed too late, when they had already taken his advice.

In fact, the expedition had begun to lose its charm ever since Hilda had produced Alfredo. People who dress all in black are usually either withdrawn to the point of monomania, or else shameless exhibitionists. Alfredo gave the lie to both extremes. Everything about him eluded snap definitions: he wore a pony tail, he was a lawyer --international narcotics--and he took natural drugs.

�I�Il come up for the ride, but I'm not touching that stuff.�

His wife Julieta wrote plays that in Pedro�s opinion were immoderately successful. He had scorned every one of her offerings until they reached their three hundredth performance.

Pedro watched Clara�s happiness at the prospect of going to the valley with her best friend, and felt the intense echo of witnessing something good and yet irreparable. Clara�s enkindled eyes did not include him, and to taste something of her joy became a way of hurting himself. A memory pricked him with its far-off pleasure: Clara overwhelmed by their first encounter, open to the future and its promises, her life still intact.

The idea of taking the slow train was easily accepted: as pilgrims, they must choose the most arduous path. All the same, after half a day of sweltering it seemed a fatal choice. That was when Alfredo started talking about the express, Pedro cut him off by glaring. Hilda gnawed on her nails till they bled.

In the next village Alfredo got off to buy juice: six cellophane bags full of whitish water, which everyone drank regardless.

The train stopped beside an iron shack in the middle of nowhere. Two men climbed on, carrying high-calibre rifles.

Julieta had finished her juice: the slack bag was warming between her fingers. One of the men pointed at it, turning towards Sergio.

The canteen went from mouth to mouth, a smarting gulp of mezcal.

�Anything that moves,� the man said, jerking his thumb at the land where nothing, absolutely nothing, stirred.

It was obvious from Hilda�s dark glasses that it was going to be a peyote party.

Pedro was not the only one aware of Hilda�s Walkman. What could be more ludicrous than six spiritual tourists? They would no doubt get the worst of all this fraternizing, but as on so many unlikely occasions, it was Julieta who saved the day. Blowing her fringe aside, she enquired about gold-panners. One of the hunters pulled off his baseball cap and rubbed his scalp.

�No rivers around here,� the man said.

The hunters were headed for a canyon known as �Get out if you can�.

�Look.� And they proffered the telescopic rifle sights: rocks, very far away, air quivering in the notched circle.

�Hardly any.�

�That�ll be the day.�

They left as darkness was falling.

Pedro hadn�t said a word. He was so startled at being the one chosen for the gift that he couldn�t refuse. It was a mountain knife, with an inscription cut into the blade: I BELONG TO MY OWNER.

The train pulled up in a hollow blurred by night. Alfredo recognized the stop.

The darkness was so intense that it swallowed up the tracks within three yards. But they put off lighting the torches: insect noises, the nagging of an owl. A landscape, contemplated in all its inertia throughout the burning day, was returning to the minutiae of life. In the distance were sparks that might have been fireflies. There was no moon, only glittering trails of sand in the sky. They had done well, after all. They had arrived by the right door.

�It�s more sheltered here.�

�They call them the witch-winds,� said Sergio, starting to collect pebbles and twigs. He built a sumptuous fire which would have taken Pedro hours to make.

�Did you see that?�

He woke very early. The back of his neck was like stone. The remains of the fire gave off a woody scent. The sun had not yet risen in the pale blue sky.

�Goddamn mezcal,� she said.

Pedro remembered the hunters. What were they after in this wasteland? As if reading his thoughts, Alfredo said something about caged animals shipped to foreign zoos.

His desk was piled with such cases. Who sued, the owner of the desert, the impossible sentinels of this waterless waste?

He was entering an area of thorny huizache and mezquite trees: ahead, a hill that would be his landmark. �The air in the desert is so pure that everything seems nearer.� Who�d told him that? He trudged on without getting any closer to the hill. He set himself a more accessible goal, a tree that had been split by lightning.The cactuses made it impossible to walk straight; he sidestepped countless clusters of them before reaching the dead stump, crawling with red ants. He took off his straw hat as though the tree still gave any shade. His hair was dripping wet. At a moderate though incalculable distance the hill rose, its flanks shimmering blue. He got out his flask, rinsed his mouth and spat.

Feeling hot rather than tired, he climbed fast, pouring with sweat. At the top, he stared at his sodden ankles and the socks made him think of tennis broadcasts, commentators going on about dehydration. He lay down in a clearing free of thorns. A sour, strong, sexual smell wafted from his body. He had a flashback to the hotel room in some dilapidated bit of the tropics where he had copulated with a nameless woman. The smell of damp sheets and alien, irreconcilable bodies, of the bed where she met him with violence, merging into the fire that obliterated her face.

Was he still connected to those nights of his life, to the burning body between his hands in that forgotten port, to Clara�s eyes by that fire? For that matter, had he anything to do with the city that had so painstakingly crushed them beneath its load of duties, fractured timetables and useless buttons? Clara could only conceive of one way out: going back to the valley. So here they were, surrounded by earth, their spirits a little limp from weariness and the sun that blotted out thought from time to time.

Pedro turned to look the other way. At an almost unimaginable distance, he could make out some coloured flecks that must be his friends. He decided to move on. The hill would orient him, and in a few hours he�d be back to share the trip with the others. Meanwhile, though, he would steep himself in this pathless immensity, studded with cactuses and minerals, open to the wind and the clouds that could never mask it.

He reached a place where the ground was sandier: the cactuses thinned out into a clearing dominated by a great rock, a hexagonal boulder, smoothed by the wind. Pedro walked up to it: the top was at chest level. It was odd not to find ashes, crumbs, paint marks or any other sign that others had yielded to the stone's attraction before him. He hoisted himself up, scraping his arms, to examine the surface. He knew nothing about stones but sensed some ideal of abstract perfection being enacted on this spot. The rock bestowed order upon the scattered cactuses, as if to embody a different, flat, unanswerable logic. Nothing could be less comforting than those keen-edged slabs. The rock served no purpose, but its crude simplicity was a compelling symbol of the functions it might be bent to: a table, an altar, a cenotaph.

At what point had he been enticed by the terrain into this gully? Pedro had no idea which side of the rock he had climbed. He searched for his own footprints. Nothing. Not a plume of dust to indicate the position of the pilgrims. His heart was beating thickly. He had got lost in the motionless drifting of this stone raft. Seized by a dizzy urge to jump down and plunge through any of the surrounding green walls, he hunted for some sign, some token of his route to the rock. A grey, artificial spot on the ground brought him back to his senses. A button! It had come off his shirt as he scaled the boulder. He slithered down to rescue the plastic disk, which seemed delightful to the touch. Hours in the desert, and he�d found nothing but this piece of his own clothing. At least he knew where he�d come from. He marched resolutely towards the uneven, prickly horizon that stood for return.

He wavered in his route: this stiff tangled collage of cactuses hadn�t been there before. His one thought was to get out, into some paradise with fewer cactuses, when he skidded into something round which had a double row of thorns that made him think with ludicrous precision of the model of a flu virus he�d seen in a museum. Its spikes went into his palms. Fat spikes that were easily removed. He wiped off the blood against his thighs. What the hell was he doing here, being reminded of a vinyl virus by some nameless vegetable?

At some point it occurred to him that he hadn�t relieved himself all day. Dried out by sweat, it was hard to expel even a few drops. He paused to hack off a couple of prickly pears. One of the few things he knew about the desert was that its skin was fuzzed with invisible spines. He split the fruit with his knife and sucked greedily. Then he realized he was dying of hunger and thirst.

When the sun was going down, he saw the leap of a hare and the scuttle of quails, quick animals that had hidden from the heat. He made out an area of scrub a few yards away, and felt an urge to collapse onto the lumpy sand. Only a lunatic would dare disturb the hours that were the desert�s real night, its fiery repose.

When he got back to his feet the sun was fading into the distance. A fringe of green swam into view, surely a phantom of his charmed brain. He waited for it to dissolve. A nopal fence, a constructed, definite row, a planted field, an enclosure. He ran to see what lay on the other side and was met by desert, a desert identical to the one stretching to infinity behind him. The partition was merely a hinge for their mirror images. He sat on a stone and looked back at the other desert, with the gloom of one appreciating a senseless miracle.

When he opened his eyes the sky was deepening. A watery star glimmered far away.

The fact that someone, somewhere close at hand, was killing something filled him with a sudden, bestial exultation. He let out a yell, or tried to, a toneless roar as if his throat were clogged with dust.

He raised himself slightly to look around: a ring of black birds was hovering at what seemed an accessible distance. He stood up and walked on.

In his ludicrous plight, any change was for the better: it gave him as much pleasure to see the shadows of thornbushes as breaking free of the green maze had done before.

After a while he was surprised to find how easy it was to walk with a wounded foot: any other sensation was drowned out by weariness. He reached the spiky huizache branches but there was no time to get his breath. Beyond, in a ravine, were torches, fires, intense activity. He remembered the Huichole and their rite of fire. An intricate randomness had nade him stumble on the pilgrims. Then a great shadow disturbed the desert with a piercing screech. Pedro now saw the crane, the tense pulleys brandishing a monstrous contraption, a plant bristling with extremities that the night turned into lunging tentacles. The men down there were uprooting an organ cactus. Pedro was unmoved. In all the day�s chaos, to confuse Huicholes with plant robbers was only a minor setback. He had made up his mind to approach when a shot rang out. There were shouts from below, the cactus rocking in the air, men kicking dirt over fires, disjointed shadows everywhere.

Later, as he was moving aimlessly on, he wondered whether he was leaving the bullets behind or walking right into another obscure gunfight.

Though he�d become used to the dark, he did not see at first, so much as sense a proximity. A warm body had invaded the shadows. He turned, in slow motion, trying to muffle his excitement, neck twisted out of joint, blood slamming in his throat.

Strange energy charged through him: he had survived, hand to hand. He wiped the blade clean and tore off his shirt for bandages. The beast was lying, massively, over a black stain. He tried to lift it and failed. Kneeling, he drew out fistfuls of hot entrails and felt overwhelmed with the relief of sinking his aching hands into such moistness. The battle with the coyote had lasted seconds, but he struggled for hours with the corpse; at last he managed to get the skin off, though he couldn�t be sure of the results, he hoisted it over his shoulders and set off again.

He looked at the stars. Somewhere, elsewhere, Clara would also be staring at the unknown sky.

He woke with the coyote hide glued to his back; in the midst of a pungent smell. It was dawn. His mouth tasted salty. He heard buzzing very close by, and stood up in a cloud of flies The desert thrummed, a blurred space. The effort to focus on the promontory in the distance dampened some of the joy he felt at finding he�d got back to the hill.

He set off towards his friends, at a pace that in him seemed lively but was no doubt a crawl. He arrived at nightfall.

He was still until he heard purposeful steps approaching: Sergio, the protector, with a look of intense reproach, and Clara, her face white from the sleeplessness of waiting.

�What have you done?� she said in a tone of weary disbelief verging on disgust.

�What the hell is that?� said Clara, motioing towards the skin over his shoulders.

�Where have you been?� Sergio stepped closer.

�lt�s revolting! Why, for Christ�s sake?� Clara�s voice was becoming corrosive.

He felt a cold spurt and licked the water running down his face, tasting the sour tang of his blood mixed with that of the animal.

He felt as if a scab were being wrenched off. The coyote skin fell around his knees.

A slow silence settled. Clara knelt beside him without touching him watching him from a distance. Sergio was back with a spade.

They went away.

He tossed the shapeless mess into the hole and patted the earth carefully over it, making a soft mound with his wounded hands. He lay back, resting his head against it. Just before falling asleep he heard a whimper, but it was too late to open his eyes. He was back. He could sleep. Here. Now.

translated by Lorna Scott- Fox
Fuente: From the book La alcoba dormidaStorm. New Writing from Mexico. London, Storm, 1992.



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