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Category Archives: Puebla

Flora (2002)

Anna hustled off to the registration table, leaned across a stack of agendas, and whispered in Sandrina’s ear.
“Sandrina, you remember that really flirtatious friend of yours, the one that plays for both teams?”
“What are you up to, amiga?”
“Bring her. I don’t care what you have to do, just make sure she gets here by dinner. Better, give her free admission.”
Sandrina looked up, puzzled. “But she’s a writer!”
“I don’t give a damn if she’s a truck driver! Just make sure she’s here, OK? She should see whomever is at the information table and get me unless I’m onstage. You’re the best.” With that, Anna puckered her lips and blew Sandrina a kiss. Sandrina wondered if this was a loaded gesture. Surely Anna didn’t need flirtation from a woman in a big room full of salesmen!
Anna turned away to make sure that the last few standees in the registration line were being cared for, and then headed off to the podium. Her father Ernesto Garcia, Señor Lopez the importer, and Augustinho Verano, the Brazilian expat whose fleet of route drivers studied Ernesto’s chapters and Anna’s verses in breakfast seminars, were already in their seats at the head table. Of Anna’s friends and fellow thespians, only Sandrina remained at the back of the hall. Anna stepped to the microphone, lifted a manila folder out of the podium shelf, opened it, and opened the convention.
“Good morning, and welcome to Crear Para Creer, the second in what is shaping up as an annual series of events dedicated to your clients, your prospects, and your employees. Everything that you will learn today comes from the practical application of one idea. You can only increase your sales if you are in relationship with your client. Last year, when we addressed a much smaller assembly, primarily of route salesmen and delivery truck drivers, we learned that your customers are more than people who buy your products – they are your Clients, with a capital C. For some of you, the time spent eating emergency breakfast was the opening of the event. I was pleased to see so many pods flowing to the table. What I have to say to you in line is, “Padrisimo!” To those of you in your seats who arrived early, let me see by a show of hands how many of you exchanged five or more business cards? Three or more? One? Now, everyone who is sitting next to someone whose hand is not up, make a new relationship in the next five minutes. Go!”
The buzz started out slowly, like a nervous rookery of penguins awaiting the hatching of their young. Then slowly, the fits and starts of the shifting of conversation evened out, as random processes are wont to do. Just when it seemed like the conversation would ebb of its own accord,  Anna strided away from the podium, which her classmate Antonio (no one called him Tonto anymore except Anna) approached. Antonio had doffed his business attire for a black unitard, a tie, and the white face makeup of a pantomime. The young man who had a habit of being in the wrong place and saying just the wrong thing found that he was most talented at being everywhere and saying nothing. Wordless, Antonio performed the famous mime’s shelf trick next to the podium. Then he took two monstrously impactful strides toward the audience which advanced him no more than a foot, but had the effect of silencing the audience in mid sentence. Antonio then performed the illusion of straining every muscle in his rippled body to move the podium a few inches. Out danced a ballerina from the preparatory school en pointe, who pirouetted and then disappeared behind Tonto’s imposing physique. A pink leotard-clad leg emerged on the young mime’s left, between him and the podium. With no apparent effort, the slipper attached to that leotard swept the large man off his feet. Antonio caught himself on his left hand in push-up position, but rendered the impression of a forcible takedown by slapping the stage with his right. On the beat, the pixie rose en pointe again. And again with no apparent effort, she pushed the podium off the stage.
Antonio, the ballerina, and an actress in business attire moved microphones and props into place while remaining in character throughout. Antonio nearly brought the house to a roar when he picked up a mic stand and played it as a bass guitar. When all the props were out, the ballerina pirouetted once more, landing in a split, and Antonio, leaping over the girl, caught a thrown microphone and landed in a matching split.
What happened next went beyond Anna’s wildest fantasy. Antonio and the ballerina remained in their split for a beat as the characters for the first skit tried to take their places. Nice intro, yes? Ernesto would chide Anna later for creating an opening act that neither she, nor he, nor Lopez, nor Vicente Fox could have followed up. Two hundred fifty salespeople, route drivers, and businessmen turned into soccer fanatics. They defined this as a show-stopper, and when Anna realized this, she practically hurled the rest of the company onstage into an impromptu curtain call, grabbed and flicked on a microphone, tapped the mime and dancer, and called out,
“Señore, señore, te presento a Ustedes la compania Personas Desordenatas!”
Even Arqueo, a regular at the opera house, probably missed the fact that Anna started out as if this were La Scala and not the Hotel Colonial. Antonio and the girl took repeated bows to a standing ovation that even the most emotionante in the audience must have been astonished to be giving.
As promised, Armando Frias and Magdalena da Silva Hjort arrived at noon, to be oriented to the convention during a break before the first set of workshops ended. Both of César’s associates had been called in from work, but Armando had just arrived at the office when the call came in. César had more work to do with Magda; she had arrived at 7:30 and was in the process of leaving to go to her father’s produce company. César had to call Sr. da Silva and sell him on the importance to da Silva’s company that Magda get trained in relationship marketing, even though she was the bookkeeper and backup office manager. “Every one your daughter comes in contact with, is your Client, that’s capital C, Her every interaction is an opportunity to build a relationship that will benefit you for years to come.”
Anna couldn’t have said it better.
Flora Arenas entered directly from work, also, but Flora had just come from Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, the coffee shop and bakery that knew how to serve espresso drinks and pastries before anyone thought to build a franchise in a coffee-growing country selling the local favorite. Flora always brought in a manuscript in a black faux-alligator soft-sided briefcase, and before the storefront doors even closed on her Pirma earth woman sandals, the counter person would have the iced coffee with a shot of tamarindo. Flora might order a concha bun with her tamarindo, or she might go for the polverόn de cacahuete. Sometimes she would bypass the empty calories, in one case claiming to be on a diet, only to be sold on a peach tart on the grounds that the fruit was freshly picked less than an hour’s drive away (true), and therefore was a health food.  Flora wrote a tourist column for El Sol de Puebla, and was published in travel publications throughout Spanish-speaking countries.
The hours between ten and 2:30 were Flora’s office hours. She would sit in a corner, scribbling about her latest trip, or that of a factitious correspondent. The latter was a true masterstroke; by maintaining contact with frequent tourists, she could write columns about places she had never visited. Better yet, she could get paid for writing these columns. She had worked for Sr. Andrez, the owner of the historically named bakery, in high school. For her first three years as a writer, she took calls on the line of the Panaderia Monsieur Remontel. She even invented the answering protocol at the enterprise (Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, hola bonjour?) which traced its name to a conflict that ended by France invading Mexico in 1838. Flora and Anna’s friend Sandrina had been close in high school, and there were whispers. Anna knew that Magda was lonely. A lesbian in a provincial capital of a Catholic country. Little contact with her mother, to whom she wasn’t out. Her father knew, but it was “the love that dare not speak its name,” as far as he was concerned. By contrast, Flora didn’t bear a burden of religion. The only sandals Flora wore were her own, and the only footsteps she took on the Via Dolorosa happened so that she could get away from Semana Santa on business. Her sexual identity could be someone else’s cross to bear.
Sandrina knew her old friend’s habits, but not her number. So this morning, the call came in on the Monsieur Remontel line, and it was only good fortune that a few of Flora’s friends had stopped by and occupied the server, so that Sr. Andrez answered. After expressing surprise, the proprietor recovered, and even recognized the voice from several years before Sandrina and Anna had become classmates at BUAP.
Esperes, Sandrina, voy a tocarla.”
Flora’s ears stood up through the bandanna at the name of this person who had meant so much to her years ago. Flora knew not to occupy Sr. Andrez’s business line too long, so she bought the coffee for her friends, suggested the peach tarts, and told them about the invite. Really, though, this wasn’t a big deal. Not from someone who wrote a column about visiting St. Petersburg when it was still Leningrad. So at 11:15, Flora pushed off from the Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, and caught a taxi to the Hotel Colonial.
Flora was wearing sandals, a batik sundress, and a bandanna around her head as a combination sweatband and fashion statement. She would have passed for casual suburbanite gringa from the ‘70’s, but for the smart tailoring she had done on the neckline and the slit she had hemmed into the skirt. In short, Flora was a native who looked like an extranjera trying to look like a native. Magda and everyone else there were dressed in some level of conservatism. The two women ran into each other – literally – at the decidedly undersized front door, which was consumed by the giant maize-colored wall facing Avenida4.  Flora had cut Magda off from the door, oblivious to the possibility that another woman could be going to the salesmen’s conference. Magda was thinking about a Neruda poem she had read on the bus to the Zocalo. When they crashed into each other, Flora looked up, smiled, and apologized. Magda grinned sheepishly, and replied,
“My boss – that is, bosses – both think that I should learn a little more about relationship marketing. My name is Magda. Magda da Silva.”
Moments later, the two women had exchanged personals, and had been ushered in to meet César and as the convention was on its first break, Anna.
Anna hugged her friend, and then remarked, “I see you know each other. You must be Flora Gutiérrez. El Sol, travel column. I read it.”
“You want to get away?”
“All I need to do that is to get my new friend César to open an office somewhere exotic, and hire me to create the marketing campaign. Come on, I think you know Sandrina . Let’s meet and I can tell you what’s up.”
The double date turned out to be a triple. Sandrina wasn’t sure about Arqueo, but he was worth a try, and beside, he was on the shy side. Shy people tend to make good listeners; they just don’t know what to do with the information. Anna and César had to restrain themselves. And Magda and Flora spent the entire meal on another planet, exploring the contours of each other’s feet under the large oak table.

Thor (1997)

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Hector was the kind of muchacho who, had he been born in Los Angeles, would have spent the vast majority of his eighteenth year walking onto sets by day and walking over the cutest chicks’ boyfriends by night, and the girls would be paying the tab.  In Puebla, there were no movies or television commercials to audition for, no agents to impress, and very few fast cars or stretch limos. Hector worked at a limo service after school, and in fact, the only fast car in the barrio, a 1984 silver T-Bird with a 280cc turbo, alternately purred and growled into Hector’s street for another totally unwarranted timing adjustment. Angel Diaz had a master’s degree in systems engineering, ran the power station, and when anyone official might see him, he would be tooling around in his Town Car or being chauffeured in a Diamante Limousine, along with government officials far too sober (and far too chary of drawing attention to themselves) to red-line it on Avenida Vicente Suarez. But Diaz, now thirty-four, had gotten Hector a job in the limousine garage after seeing Hector, then twelve, assemble a fully functional one-seat roadster from scrap parts.
One other thing about Hector. He was the one boy in the school, or the church besides, who treated Anna like she wasn’t a sex object. Walking to school, thirty or forty boys would calculate strategic angles of approach with the skill of a Euclid to preen, strut, or flex along Anna’s route. Anna would dismiss them like a royal waving to the “little people.” Anna was not to be had by a mere schoolboy. Was Hector just a better geometer than all the piñas? One thing for sure, when Anna sat down on June 12, 1996, in the courtyard of the Basilica, Hector knew enough geometry, or psychology, or just plain knew enough, to cross her path, reach over and inspect her book, and say, “Nietzsche. Man killed God,” and walk away. 
“Uh…,” was all the language that could squeeze past Anna’s larynx, which had turned into a habañera. Forget about her tongue. It had the flexibility of carne asada.
Hector’s stitch-popping jeans and Hollywood-tight white T-shirt strode off toward the Basilica archway. 
“Jodito,” cursed Anna, pounding Nietzsche into the open palm of her left hand. She unwrapped her lotus-position, swiped at her sandals, and caught Superman before he ducked into the shadows.
Hui, chingόn, just what the f…” The Basilica dome is right over my head, and a giant dead Jesus almost heard me say…
“All right, disculpa. But where do you know from Nietzsche? And who are you, anyhow?”
“Hector. Como se llama?” ‘Se’ my ass, I know exactly who you are, Princess.
“Anna. Do you visit iconic Catholic buildings for fun, Friedrich?”
It was still before noon, and the thorny crown on the dead savior’s bleeding head broadcast its shadow straight down on the young man’s sweaty brow. The philosopher girl tucked her leather sandals under her left arm along with Also sprach Zarathustra, hooked one of the man-child’s belt loops with the index finger of her right hand, and led him inside the church. A yellowing marble recessed water fountain was the goal. Nothing special here, two teenagers ducking into a building to slake their thirst. Only this was the Basilica, Anna was barefoot, and from ten meters down the hall, the curaappeared, rattling a key ring the size of Anna’s waist.
Now it was Hector’s turn to guide. He slipped Anna’s leather Jesus-sandals out from under her left arm, then placed the sandals next to her feet. Respectfully shod, they stood in front of the water fountain a little longer before turning to admire the iconography. When he felt certain that the curahad lost interest, he play-punched Anna’s right shoulder. 
“You owe me.”Que raro. Anna never owed nobody nothing. Who was this patudo, anyway?
How a person takes one fact about something as complicated as Nietzsche and turns it into a conversation remains one of the dating world’s great unexplained mysteries. By the time that Anna was convinced that Hector had planned his approach like all the weak boys from school and church, his subtlety, self-confidence, and shrewd intelligence had blinded her to the fact that not only was he older than she by only a year, but she was a diplomate and he had not finished tenth grade.
Skillfully, he guided the conversation away from the philosopher and back to the girl.
“Do you think that God died after creating the world?”
“And who said that God was done when He created this one?”
Hector waved his left hand toward the dome under which the two had found the water fountain.
“These people think so. What do you think?”
“I think there is a God, but I think that God underwent a shift when He created the world. The God that was compelled to create the world may be dead, but that doesn’t mean that my God is dead. Besides which…”
“You refer to God as a He. Does God have cojones?” Hector smiled broadly when he said this. Anna felt a wash of shyness, just a touch of embarassed self-consciousness. This stranger, this naco, had captured the initiative, like a gambiteer in ajedrez
   ,“ Anna gulped, and then recovered. “No, I just think of God as a man. My God is a man. Maybe your god is a woman, but I can’t believe in a woman. I couldn’t pray to a woman.”
“Neither could I, unless, of course,” Hector paused, “she were my mother.”
“So if I become a mother, you’ll have to pray to me?”
Ya eres madrisima. But if you’re Hera, I’ll be Thor. Bumm, bumm, bumm, bumm.” Hector pounded his fists on the grass as if he were the Norse god. “Tierremoto! Earthquake!”
Anna opened Zarathustra and hid her head in it.
“OK. I fall in. Do you put the Earth back, or do you rescue me first?”
“I pull you out.” Hector took Anna’s left hand (Zarathustra still held her right), sprang upright in one great motion, and lifted Anna up to standing as well. “Now we are Titans, straddling the wounded planet, and we invert the mountains to heal the breach!”
Anna waved grandly with her book. “I hereby declare a new era for mankind. Now we have overcome our humble origin, and now we are ubermenschen, celebrating the rectitude of our creation and permitting ourselves the full joy of the lives we claim!”
Hector was out of his league, and he knew it.
Orale! You go, chica, orale!”
Anna felt buoyed by this audience, beyond anything that she had experienced in theater arts class. She created a manifesto for Superman, and Hector played the role of the Greek chorus. Neither the philosopher-princess nor the motorhead with the physique of the god of thunder noticed the passage of time. Only their shadows, lengthening and mostly overlapping, showed cognizance of the passage of the day.
Jesus’s crown of thorns no longer projected a shadow, as the evening sun cast a rosy, almost living tone on the savior’s granite cheeks. The west wing of the Basilica nearly enveloped the courtyard in deep shade. Lacking midday frequencies, the light disguised a hint of chlorophyll on Hector’s T-shirt where his pectorals pressed into the grass.
“Anna,” Hector whispered, brushing back a cascading lock of her hair with the back of his index finger.
“I only read the study guide.”
“I know.” She guided his lips to hers.

Roberto (1994)

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There was an angel hovering over Anna – but she couldn’t see through the translucent haze of its wings. She felt a coarse, lined texture with the sole of her right foot. Stroking it, sensing the high friction of it, she began to be aware of sensations   Que raro, she thought to herself.   I feel something. I hear my own thoughts. Is this Heaven or Bedlam? She became aware of a dull sensation where her right wing should have been. She tried to move it. It was folded, half behind her, half under her. it started tingling. This isn’t how a wing is supposed to feel. She could not move that wing, but she could hear her voice inside her head as clearly as if she was standing over herself, preaching. She instinctively reached her left wing to the aid of the right, still anesthetized and immobile. Pick, pick, pick, she plucked at the skin of her right forearm. No sensation. 
Pick. Pick.
It occurred to her that her left arm moved too easily. There was no wing. Maybe this is Bedlam – or Hell?! She sat up with a snap – seated, but at rigid attention, she looked like a mitered joint waiting for a framer. She batted her eyelids – nothing. She lifted her functioning left arm to her eyes and rubbed – just a cloud. And an echo. She was not dead, and she was not loca. Somewhere between Heaven and Bedlam, between Bedlam and Hell.
“Chica,” a deep angelic voice parted the clouds on the horizon on her left. Maybe I’m dead after all.  She raised her left arm in the direction of the voice. “Como‘stas?” The angel’s swarthy Mestizo features parted the clouds and clarified the situation, at least a little bit. Anna was not dead. She sat with the toes of both feet pressed into a rough handrest of a rugged but accommodating sofa. She hadn’t said anything, not out loud at least, but her verbal centers were communicating with each other, not with her voice. Her eyes, at first sightless, opened wide, but as her already darkest chocolate irises, dilated to the size of swimming pools, began to focus, she glimpsed a living room interior. Behind the man hung harvest gold drapes on a bare white curtain rod and…
Oja! Oja!´ The neurons controlling her jaw more or less engaged, causing her jaw to fall shapelessly open while her verbal centers cried in pain and confusion. She noticed that she was wearing clothes, not wings, and that, other than being severely rumpled and with a bit of errant sputum here and there, she showed no sign of anything worse. She tried, but failed, to slap her now spinning head with her right hand, now throbbing as the blood began to force the small blood vessels open anew.
Calmate, chica,  no puedes hacer nada, que vale.” Settle down, girl. You can’t do anything anyway. The words could have been menacing, but the man wasn’t a menace. His voice still sounded like it was coming from the Cathedral of St. Mark’s in Venice, not from a sparsely furnished living room in a four-room bungalow in…
Gradually, scenes of B. B., Before Binge, cracked through the coconut milk that was Anna’s brain. She had left Puebla to take a summer course in business communications. The school, in Mexico City, was still just a classroom and a silhouette. But there were faces – giddy faces of girls, a boy, a bottle, beer. La cerveza!Oh, did it course in frothy rivulets through her memory!
“It’s Sunday afternoon. You’re in Netza, I brought you here when you couldn’t get out of the taxi.”
“Usted es taxista? Crei, que Usted fue un angelo.”
“No, no angel. Just a man who was put in the right place.  I’m Roberto.”
“Where did you find me?”
“You got in my taxi in front of ( detail ). I don’t usually work until closing time, because I’m just a soltero  and I don’t want to be thought of as a wolf. But you seemed lost, and not stoned. “
“I.. I… was alone?”
“I left with four girls and a muchacho.  Cute, but young, like me. Maybe fifteen. No, they served us, so he must have…”
Anna’s voice was overtaken by its echoes in her throbbing head.
“You were alone, and you looked lost. I don’t think you live in La Ciudad, do you, chica?”
“I come from Puebla. My father is…” Anna thought better of revealing her lineage; her mother had shamed her before for not living up to her father’s standards. As if she did. Jajaja..
“You are very young, to be in La Ciudad alone. Who is taking care of you here?”
“I am at (school ). I stay in the student dorms. At least until last night.” Anna was pleased that her mouth and brain seemed to belong to the same person; it was too bad that there was a razor splitting her head into its hemispheres so she could barely tell who that person was. That person just moaned like she was in labor.
“Vuelvo ahora mismecito.” Before his words stopped echoing in Anna’s wretched head, he was back with an ice pack. His workman’s hand stroked her bangs backward, and he laid the ice pack on the symptoms of Anna’s pain.
More images knitted themselves into memories under the coolness of the ice pack. A few bottles. A joint. The munchies. The muchacho had a fattened wallet from some good fortune or other, Anna could not think which. So it was dinner. Bistecca. Carne asada. Tamales con arroz. Y mas cerveza. Was it pitchers? Anna sucked her teeth. Bits of beef still bled their marinated juices from the gaps. So a night out? No, in her memory, the sun warmed the sidewalks underfoot. The beer started early that Saturday.
It must have been six or seven in the afternoon when the party began unraveling. First, Silvia and Ynez took leave. They had been wearing (soccer colors) futbol jerseys. They must have gone to the game – Guadalajara was in town. Busloads of Guadalajarans always made the trip – Guadalajara was like the Pittsburgh of futbol gringoso; their fans traveled well – and loudly. Anna liked watching futbolistas. But the muchacho – ja! Right, his name was Placido, like the opera singer. The Placido wanted to go sing karaoke. And he could buy the pitchers. And she could drink the pitchers. 
The Placido, Anna, and the two other girls. Anna remembered that much. The two girls – they looked like Flora and Magda – no, they couldn’t be!  Stop dreaming, he’s talking to you.  A voice tried to dispel the renewed fog between Anna’s ears. Instead, it was as if her receptive speech centers were vibrating crystalline molecules, and the rich baritone vibrations of her unlikely host Roberto just amped up the noise without clarifying the signal. Anna raised her right hand, still tingling, to her forehead and adjusted the ice pack.
That song. “Amor, Amor” by Jose Jose. Or by The Placido. Wow. It just flooded out everything else. Anna blinked, but in her mind all she could see was The Placido with the mic in hand and a dream in his eyes. She wanted him. As he found his rhythm with the house band, The Placido relaxed more and more into the song and the beat. With a broad forehead, a furrowed brow,  a squared jaw, and an aquiline nose, The Placido looked like the famous singer’s son. Anna wanted him.
“The others? Jose? No, not Jose Jose, Placido,” Anna stammered 
“Your are alone, in Netzahualcoyotl. I had to take you home with me.”
“No, senorita, Roberto, el taxista.”
“Where was I?”
 “ I don’t know, but I found you outside La Casa Teddy. Not far from here. I was coming home.”
“A terrible place. A real (    ). You look somehow like a muchacha I picked up around 8 last night.”
“I remember very badly. I cannot imagine it all. I think I remember going to the zoologico. My classmates were  – two of them – going to the futbol match. Magda – lo siento, lo siento – Marisol and Fatima. Marisol is from Guadalajara. “
“Yes, I remember. I picked you and this Placido and some others on Avenida 533. That wasn’t such a great bar either. You’re too young to drink, chica.”
“Legally, señor. Remember, Placido is older.”
“Who is this Placido, anyway? What kind of gorilla is he that leaves such a young girl alone? No offense, Señorita, but if I recognized him I would break his head for him and serve it to him for lunch.”
“No, Señor…señor…”
“I can’t remember. But I can’t find bad feelings anywhere in my heart for him. We must have left 533 to go to a karaoke bar. I don’t remember the trip. I think I remember something about you, though, señor Roberto.”
“Alarcon, was it? It was like the name of the zoo.”
“You said something about Jose Jose. Were you going to see him?
“No. The Placido loved his songs. Where you took us to – wasn’t that a karaoke bar? I remember singing “Amor Amor” with him.”
“You have a beautiful voice, Señorita?”
“No. terrible. I can’t sing well at all. The Placido sings very well, but he lied and told me I sang beautifully,” Anna sighed and paused. The sigh stuck on the roof of her parched mouth. “I am so thirsty. May I have something to drink, please?”
“Just the thing. I am coming back right now.”
Pressing the tender points on her temple and brow, Anna pulled herself up to sitting. She saw that her lace sandals sat in a neat pair near the armrest of the sofa – just on the side that her feet had been. It seemed, she thought, that the two of them might have been a pair of nosy neighbors from her vecindario in Puebla who, upon encountering her, were telling (“can-you-top-this”) stories about her scandalous night before. With a feeling of panic that occluded her hangover, Anna shot her hand up her right thigh. Gracias mi Dios, she thought through another sigh, this one so heartfelt that it forced its way out her desiccated throat. She heard herself cough, and then – nothing.

Magda (1991)

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Fulgencia, Anna’s mom, had returned to Puebla several times during the first year after her fancy clothes and her Bible had tiptoed out when Anna was 8. Each time, the mother became more sarcastic toward the daughter, gradually moving to open rage. It was as if the mother returned only to throw aside her previous life by destroying the links that bound her to those who loved her. Anna, try as she might, could not move past the place that children go when a parent leaves, by abandonment, divorce, or death.  One morning, she would look up at the crucifix she took off the wall – that wall in that room with that empty bed for one alone – and hurl invective at a God she had started doubting long ago. The very next morning she would kneel in front of the crucifix, with its cast-iron martyr peering out from under his crown of thorns, and beg Him to care for her mother and to remember her among the myriad billions of believers on this world or any other.
When she was eleven years old, she had discovered her classmate Magdalena sitting cross-legged in front of the giant sycamore tree in the school’s courtyard. This deciduous gift came from the Archdiocese of Seville as part of the earthquake reconstruction effort sixteen years earlier. The tree towered above the stumpy palmeras of the native climate, its bark looking like an endless row of greenish chameleons by comparison to the scaly brown exoskeleton of the much smaller palms. Magdalena’s light skin and blond hair marked her as an outsider. Anna felt like an outsider on the inside. Since Magda’s Danish mother had divorced her father and returned to Copenhagen, Magda and Anna shared parallel lives, but until this Tuesday in October, a bright sunny interpause in a month of solid rain, they had never spoken.
Wordlessly, Anna sat down on an exposed root of the great tree. Unlike the sticklike Magdalena, Anna had hips to tuck under herself even as a sixth grader. Noticing the slighter girl’s shoes neatly placed next to her schoolbooks, Anna placed hers the same way. The girls sat in lotus position like two yogis.
“What are you reading?” Anna asked.
“La Indagacion de la Poesia.”
“Mande?”, which is the Mexican idiom for, “I did not get that. Again, please!”
“It’s one of my brother Marco’s textbooks. When I was born, I was careful to choose a family that would have a brother ten years older, so I could read his books.”
“With my luck,” replied Anna, “he would have been a naco futbolista.”
“That was part of the bargain. If he wasn’t a reader, I don’t get born.”
Si, claro. Por supuesto.”  Anna had never heard the white stick-girl talk before. She liked it. “What would he do if he knew you had his book? I’m telling, jajaja!”
“You don’t know where I live. In fact, you don’t even know my name, do you, burra?”
Magdalena’s tone, the little toss she gave of her rich Mexican brown hair, and the furtive wink of her Danish blue eyes put the lie to the harsh words she had just uttered.
“Magdalena da Silva Jort. Babosa.”
Mande? How did you know my matronymic?” Magda’s eyes widened, and her thin lips remained parted slightly at the end of her question. She blushed, more from embarrassment than from anger. The idea of a nearly-complete stranger knowing such a personal detail, especially as she perceived her mother as having abandoned her, felt like a violation.
“I do my research.” When the girls were in fourth grade, Anna had noticed a tall, blonde woman in the school. Perhaps it would be better to say that the tall, blonde woman penetrated Anna’s consciousness, striking a silent blow to Anna’s self-image and placing a permanent chip on her shoulder. Anna walked in the tall woman’s shadow to the office, and hid in the stairwell until she saw which girl left, hand-in-hand, with her goddess mom. Anna had the classroom responsibility of running messages to and from her classroom, so she spent the last three periods praying that the Sra. Morales would ask her to take something to the office. The moment finally arrived in art class. A new poster and English phonics game had arrived earlier in the day, but Sra. Morales had left it in the copy room by accident. Her lesson for last period depended on having this material, so she sent Anna to retrieve it. Anna feigned casual disinterest when she glanced at the early dismissal sheet, and there it was:
Heike Hjort      Magdalena da Silva
Now Magdalena da Silva Hjort was reaching for her shoes.
“No, don’t,” Anna pleaded. “I didn’t mean any harm.”
“It’s just… just… nobody talks – uses matronymics. I was just surprised, that’s all.”
“So tell me about, who is that, Villanueva?”
“Yes. He says that the central moment in the creation of a poem is like the moment of consciousness. Like the way the first man realized that he was a man and not an ape.”
“Yes! I think that this is the big idea in being human. Every moment is a new awareness…”
“A new possibility! And a whole universe is contained in it!” Magdalena gushed.
“Magda, would you read that passage to me?”
Magdalena read from the book. The entire passage occupied a page and a half, but it took up most of recess to read. That is, to read a single paragraph of it. The language was dense for an adult, and these girls were eleven and thirteen. But they savored the language, the thoughts, the seriousness, the ADULTness of it, and they interrupted themselves interrupting the reading. Occasionally, Magda would look up whenever an older boy took up position nearby. She would shoot the boy a cross look and try to pick up where she and Anna had left off.
“I wish they wouldn’t do that,” Magda sniffed.
“Do what? Who?” Anna replied.
“The boys. They haven’t stopped coming since you sat down. Do they do that to you all the time?”
“No, but maybe,” speculated Anna, “I just don’t notice. That’s bruto. Barbaro.
“They don’t do that to me, and I guess I could carry their naquisimo baby.”
The bell rang, indicating that the children had five minutes left to go back to class. Both girls gathered their shoes, replaced their lunches, barely touched, in their book bags and caught each other’s gaze. Anna spoke first.
“Do you want to come over after school?”
“I’d love to! But I have to take my younger brother home. Then I have to…” The words froze between Magda’s larynx and tongue.
“My mom left too.” With that, Anna placed her free hand on Magda’s shoulder. The girls hugged. “I’ll come to your house, then. My father knows I usually stay in the library, so he won’t expect me.”
Even to the European thinness of their lips, the girls saw themselves reflected in the other.