Welcome to the newest slot on my blog, the Saturday and Sunday evening feature ‘Novel Nights In’ where I bring you guests’ novels in their entirety over a maximum of ten weeks. Tonight’s is the third novel in this series and features part two (of four parts) of a romance / travel novel by Tad Wojnicki.
You can read the previous instalment here: Part 1. This novel does contain some adult content.
Nobody in Poland hurts badly compared to a girl who’s “missed her train” on Christmas Eve – certainly not a Jew, like Teddy, hardened in his loneliness. But he feels for her and, anyway, helping a stranger may be helping an angel.
Fueled by each other’s passionate letters, two displaced Poles are desperate to share their lives. They stake their future on a plan to meet in Mexico and jump the border in Tijuana into the United States. United at last, they are shocked to realize each has fallen in love with a fantasy.
Lie Under the Fig Trees (part two)
A peroxided blonde blocks the exit, bent under a buff-colored bag, mobbed by black-robed Jesuits. Her hair, outlandish among the Aztec heads, strikes me as even more outlandish because it’s curly. Is it Rosie? My angel? My hope? She looks like Rosie. Especially those honey-cake eyes, lush lips, that hourglass figure—but that hair? That horrible hairdo? Curly mop? Tasteless wig? This girl looks like a lion sporting a new perm—an overcooked one. She keeps blowing the corkscrews out of her eyes.
It must be my angel.
She’s wearing a cheap rabbit-fur coat. The fur looks bad here, in Mexico City. I’m sorry for her, for the rabbits.
She’s standing there, unsure of what to do. The Jesuits walk around her. She’s confused. Does she want to back out? I panic, I’m running toward her, I realize. I have no idea when I jumped forward. I only know I’m running. Here’s my fate, it hits me. Funny, that’s the only thought I have. Coco loco, honest.
She smiles, her blood-red lipstick standing out in her haggard, frost-harsh face. The same smile. Now I’m dead sure—it’s the sunburst smile I knew. Just seeing this smile makes it all worth it. Not for the moment—it makes it all worth it till the end of time.
Tripping on her bag, knee-weak, Rosie falls against Solidarność. It’s a hug, sort of. She’s just reeled into my arms, dead tired, that’s all. “Here’s my fate, here’s my fate,” my mind rattles. I grab her bag, lock it between my legs, squeeze it with my calves—the airport thieves must have been watching, I’m sure, ready to take advantage of our euphoria—and I give her another hug, a bear hug this time.
“Finally,” she mumbles, squeezed too hard. I’ve never taken into consideration that she might say the first word.
“Yes, finally,” I mumble.
“You look very distinguished,” she exclaims, bending backwards, “Distinguished” is a euphemism for “old,” so I laugh. What else is there to do? I gotta face it. But I didn’t expect her to do all the talking. Not so fast, anyway, Everything turns out to be different than expected.
“You look great,” I say, staring at her eyes, dense as honey, chalky makeup and cannibal lipstick. I don’t mind at all. I kiss her. Now her lipstick looks worse. I care even less. “Really great,” I add, but the hug makes me hot, my voice breaks, and I squeak like a boy.
“Great?” Rosie says, looking up at my eyes.
“Having flown for twenty-four hours? Having visited Brezhnev? Fidel Castro? Having crossed seven seas?”
“My daddy never had to tie a pork chop ’round my neck to get the dog to play with me, you know!”
We burst out laughing. I hear the same raspy giggle I remember from Warsaw. For Rosie, it’s the first laughter here, in Mexico, and I’m happy for her. Things look rosy now.
“You’re the same bad girl I met six years ago.”
“Only more so.”
Rosie may be a tiny bit on the crazy side, true. But the way I met her was crazy, too. Spent only one night with her. Besides, long time ago. It’s as though I’ve never met her. What are one-night stands worth? All I know of her is from what she writes. We all know how reliable that can be. “Words serve to hide thoughts,” Rosie wrote once. I’ve bought a pig in a poke.
Rosie looks into my eyes, askance a bit, I can’t tell why, maybe to check if I would blink, then looks down. We think looking down when spoken to is disrespectful, while the Mexicans think it disrespectful to stare into the eyes. Unaware of it, Rosie is culturally correct—she lowers her eyes. Sheepishly, I think at first. I’m wrong. She’s not lowering her eyes, much less sheepishly. She sizes me up on the gut level, why not say the nut level. Is my fly open? I look down, too. Coco loco, again!
Rosie sees a gringo couple sleeping against the wall, their backpacks strapped to their wrists.
“How come they sleep standing?”
“They’re red lobsters.”
“They sunbathed bare, I guess.”
“Let’s do that, too.”
“You’ll jump out of your rabbits tomorrow,” I say. “Eat something?”
“How about a drink at the cocktail bar?” I say, stepping inside the airport bar while Rosie, saying nothing, drags her feet behind me.
I told Hersh I wouldn’t wine her and dine her, but I’m loco about this girl, so I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks. Particularly Hersh, the super naysayer.
The great thing about the bar is the decor—jungle plants and flowers and two cockatoos raising hell in a cage. Someone taught them to screech, “Rotten Robbie!” and they go on and on, repeating, “Rotten Robbie! Rotten Robbie!” but, oddly, I hear, “Rotten Rosie!” Otherwise, it’s a bummer. Dammit, Hersh was right, it turns out.
The drinks arrive in large glasses filled with thick slush. A radish twisted into a rosebud straddles the rim crusted with the frozen salt.
“Waiter, there’s a rose in my drink!” I say once he’s out of earshot.
“Don’t you like the little red radish roses dressing up the drinks?”
First, Rosie doesn’t have the slightest idea what it costs. She thinks this posh watering hole is one of her Warsaw student hangouts. Second, she hates the tequila. The first time she’s ever had it. The waiter brings her a Coca-Cola, her drink of choice. She drinks it straight from the bottle, at times pushing the tip of her tongue down the neck. Can’t show off much if your date doesn’t appreciate either the ambiance, or the finesse of tequila—she just sits there, hunched in her chair, dipping her tongue in the bottle neck, all red from her lipstick, ignoring it all. La mujer insatisfecha, I think, the unappreciative woman, unaware of what you do for her. Is that who Rosie is? I’m not even sure she’s aware of the cockatoos, their stubborn mud-slinging.
“How did you say it?” I say. “ ‘If the paddy wagons were cockatoos it would feel like Mexico?’”
“I don’t remember saying anything like that.”
“It’s been years!”
“Exactly six years tonight,” I say, “That night, six years ago, also was Friday.”
“Believe it?” Rosie says, rasping.
“The night was terribly cold, I remember.”
“Was it? I don’t remember that,” Rosie says. “All I remember is you walking nervously around your apartment, mumbling something about your upcoming doctoral exam, and repeating, ‘Stuff yourself with hope and you’ll go nutty as a fruitcake.’ I laughed to tears!”
“I didn’t say that.”
“ ‘Stuff yourself with hope and you will go nutty as a fruitcake,’ that’s what you said, over and over. I thought you went nuts.”
“I couldn’t have possibly said that,” I say. “Doesn’t sound like me at all.”
“As though it was yesterday.”
“Wasn’t it someone else?”
“You were someone else.”
Rosie is biting on a corkscrew of her hair. I watch her lips, thinking of what she just said. I find her lips amazing. Back then, they felt on the meaty side, but now, parched and raw, they look like little skinned muscles showing under the lipstick first lifted by my own lips and then by the bottle.
“You through?” I ask.
She gets up. No word. She just gets up and grabs her bag. I wrench it from her grip. Polish women are strange. For years, I was happy knowing no Polish woman. I may be back to the old stuff.
When the waiter hands me the bill, sixty-six thousand pesos, I feel I’ve been robbed. Is it the last time, though? Not if I keep wining and dining her. Once, that’s fine. I tried to get the goo-goo eyes. Tomorrow, peso-pinching starts—no posh bars, no gourmet restaurants, no ritzy hotels. Just fruit, fruit, and fruit, dirt cheap here. Only now I remember the bottle of vodka in the hotel room.
“Hotel Excelsior,” I throw at the taxi driver.
The rattletrap taxi drops us off at the potters’ stalls. Rosie and I walk to the hotel past the Tree of Life statues, clay flutes, birds, whistles, and stacks of other oven-fired goods. I point out two matching figurines, both naked except for fig leaves. Freshly made, they still shine wet.
“Adam and Eve?”
“Why do they clash against each other?”
“The figures are bookends,” I say. “They should hold a book the size of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium between them.” My joke falls in a heap before Rosie’s wan smile.
We enter the hotel.
“Wwwowww,” Rosie says upstairs. “Is this our room?”
She is excited for the first time.
“Pretty zazzy, huh?”
“What does ‘zazzy’ mean?” my celestial being snaps back, speaking fast. Her voice makes me think of the Nirvana Pizza punch clock back in New York.
“Oh, you know, jazzy, snazzy, pizzazzy, fancy-shmancy—that sort of stuff.”
“What tongue is it?”
“English? Don’t tell me that!” Rosie snaps back. “Doesn’t sound like English at all.”
“God’s my witness.”
“Don’t mix God with lies.”
I’m taken aback. Why? That’s the way she was the first time I met her. I forgot it all. I forgot what she was really like, that she wasn’t an angel. She was never an angel. God, never. The day I met her she was sixteen, plump, and tomboy tough. Today she is every bit the way she was then, “only more so”—to use her own words—because six years have passed. She’s grown older. That’s real. But not in my head. There, the opposite process had occurred. Over the years, in my mind, Rosie was growing younger and younger, prettier and prettier, plumper and plumper, more and more girlish, finally becoming a baby girl, a Rubenesque putto, and even—coco loco!—growing baby wings.
“Talk to me in English,” she says. “I gotta practice the language before I enter America.”
“This is America.”
“This is Mexico, and Mexico is America.”
“I meant the United States,” she says. “What is the United States really like?”
“I can read what I want. I can watch what I want. I can say what I want—there’re no limits for self-expression except those of one’s own.”
“I wish I could become one of them.”
“I promised you that.”
“Be born again.”
“I promised you that,” I stress. “I promised you Mexico City, Acapulco, the United States, no problem. We’ll get there, Tomorrow, we’ll jeep off to Acapulco to watch the coco loco guys jump off the cliff, and then head straight for the U.S. border.”
“On Christmas Day.”
“Hurry up. What’s the date?”
“Twenty-fourth? Are you sure? I left Warsaw on the twenty-fourth, been in the air for twenty-four hours plus, and it’s still the same day?”
“You flew with the sun.”
Rosie enters the bathroom but not to check the window view.
“I’ve never stayed in a hotel in my life,” her voice echoes. It does to me what a punch clock does to the time card. “Look, someone left behind a hair-drier, here by the tub—“ I can’t make out anything else. Rosie turns on the hair-drier, a real blaster.
“It belongs to the hotel,” I yell back into the bathroom door. “You can use it as long as you stay here.”
“Don’t tell me that!” she yells back.
The siesta light shivers, slipping from the bed to the floor. I look up at where it burns through the fig leaves, and then back down.
“Aren’t you tired? Wouldn’t you like to lie down for a little bit?”
“You suffer from jet lag, without knowing it. You gotta rest. Gotta lie down for a little while and get a tiny bit of rest—then we’ll walk back to the market and, guess what? We’ll halve a watermelon, peel a juicy orange, split a grapefruit, suck a mango, mush some grapes, and gulp a quart of fresh papaya juice! You haven’t gotten any of those vitamins back home. Are your taste buds quivering yet?”
The hair-drier clicks off. “Don’t tell me this!” Rosie yells back, louder than is needed.
“You’ve promised me coconuts, remember.”
“You’ll get coconuts. The fruit fellow will grab his machete, slash a coconut head, and we’ll sip the milk through a straw. Get some rest.”
“No bed now.”
“So we’re headed for the market,” I say. “Then we’re going to visit a film celebrity.”
“I don’t want to see anyone,” Rosie bursts out in mock cries. “Only you, no one else.”
“You’ll love him.”
She walks out from the bathroom and plops into the puddle of afternoon light on the floor. She’s wearing her new T-shirt reading Big Apple, and strawberry-red tights. Great diet.
“I’m thirsty. Why am I so thirsty? Haven’t had any salty fish on the plane, or anything—”
“You sweat like a horse in Mexico, huh?” she says, huffing and puffing for effect.
“Let’s have a drink,” I say, producing the bottle of Smirnoff and two glasses. Rosie giggles, hanging out her tongue.
I fill her glass.
“Na zdrowie!” she calls. “To your health!” Rosie brings her glass to her extended lower lip and gulp!—pours it all down the hatch.
“L’hayyim!” I call, and do the same, feeling the alcohol eating its way down my stomach and thinking how long it’s been since I drank the way Rosie just did—a most refreshing sight. I cut a wedge of a mango.
“It tastes slightly acidic,” Rosie states, milling the wedge in her mouth, and gesturing at the ceiling with her empty glass.
“Now for the second leg,” I say, recalling a Polish drinking joke and filling her glass again, then my own. Turning the bottoms up, we laugh our heads off.
“I have to excuse myself for a second now,” Rosie says, hanging her tongue out as though she were already feeling giddy, and heading for the bathroom again. Steam billows out of the shower door. “Can’t think straight!” she yells back from the cloud.
I fold my arms under my head and watch the fig tree outside the window. I listen to the insects buzzing, doves cooing, sparrows chirping, dogs barking, and babies crying downstairs. I nosh on the mango, saliva sluicing wildly around my mouth.
The bathroom sounds overpower the outside sounds. First I hear a spritz—the water hitting the shower curtain. Then a squirt in the toilet bowl, slap of the bare feet, a muffled thud of bowel movement, and finally the splashing, gurgling, and bubbling before spitting of the toothpaste in the sink—married life sounds.
Yet another thing I was damn sure I left behind forever.
We enter the food market and walk past the stalls. The smells attack me from all sides—the feisty stench of freshly disemboweled bulls, anemic breath of pork, pungent tang of newly butchered, plucked and drawn chickens; cold smell of the gutted saltwater fish, hugged by blocks of ice, odor of fruits and vegetables, hot steam of cooking, and the reek of rotting refuse.
Two lobster-faced gringos drag two gringas to a chili stall. One of the gringos, a firehead wearing a Red Sox cap, holds a pimple-chinned girl by the elbow. She’s an anorexic blonde of about thirty, wearing a T-shirt reading, “I’m With Stupid.” The other, a hairy, husky, balding man with a mustache, pins the other girl, a brunette, to the counter with his potbelly. He is holding a foaming beer bottle in a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt above his slipping sombrero.
“C’mon, baby, no shit,” the sombrero yells at the brunette, and then turns to the stall keeper. “Got chili in that pot, señor?”
“Noooo,” the brunette screams at the ceiling rafters.
I look at Rosie. She looks back, dismayed.
I look away.
The cook, sweat-faced, dips his three-foot ladle into the cauldron, stirs his chili, looks up, and laughs at the sombrero man. Heedless of his girl’s screams, the man screams right back at her face, “Señor got some hot stuff there, see?”
“Chili con carne, señor,” the cook’s wife interjects, stressing each word in a beautiful, almost theatrical Spanish. “Es la comida national mexicana.”
Red Sox winks at the cook’s wife but she turns away from him to kiss a baby swinging in a hammock behind her. He mimics to the cook he wants to sample the chili. The cook hands it to him in a spoon. Still holding his girl with one arm, Red Sox cautiously stretches his neck and his pouting mouth towards the smoking spoon.
“You woke up chilled this morn, baby,” the sombrero man says to his brunette. That’s what you said, ‘chilled,’ remember?” His potbelly presses on. He downs his beer in short swigs. His Adam’s apple, the size of a potato, pumps up and down. “You gotta try this, baby,” he says to her, “You gotta, you gotta, y`know?”
The brunette, the counter edge cutting deep into her soft flesh, yells back, “Carne? What’s that!”
The sombrero man pours the last gulp of his beer straight down, his tongue looks like a giant tomato. He throws the bottle, basketball style, in a dumpster. The Mexicans watch the lob, hoping the bottle won’t crash. Crash!
All the gringos cheer.
“You woke up chilled, right?” the sombrero man repeats.” ‘Chilled,’ you said, right?” He winks again at the chili-con-carne lady. “Yes or no?” The lady blushes and hugs her baby.
“Ooooawwwooooo…,” howls Red Sox, who has just downed the spoonful. His mouth wide open, he jumps back from the cauldron. Blinded by tears, he bumps into Rosie, stepping on her toe. The pimple-face mouths, “Sorry” to Rosie for him.
I grab Rosie by the elbow, motioning her toward the exit. She won’t go now. She wants to watch—watch my shame, for what it ‘s worth.
“Chase it with beer, dork,” pimple-face yells at her blinded man, pushing a foaming beer bottle down his throat. “Or the hot peppers will blow the roof off your mouth,” she adds, wiggling out. She is free now. The chili took the power from his grip on her elbow.
“See?” the brunette yells at her man, “See?”
“Gonna fire you up, baby!” the sombrero says.
“Too hot, Mort!”
“You said you were ‘chilled’ this morning, right? ‘Chilled.’ You said that. You said that, right? Yes or no?”
“Weee-wowww-weee!” yelps the firehead, wiping his tears with his Red Sox cap while the Mexicans burst out laughing in their stalls. The cook, wiping his face with an edge of his apron, stretches a new steaming spoon to the anorexic.
“Too hot!” she yells at the cook, waving her hand over her mouth, then shouting, “No! No! No!”
“They think the hotter the better,” the brunette says to her, pointing out the gawking locals. “The Mexican stomach loves extremes.”
“Hotter is not better,” the firehead cuts in, still crying. “Gotta get just the right heat to unclog your sinuses.”
The sombrero man screams as he gobbles the sample pimple-face refused. He gulps some beer, yahooes, and gulps more beer. The cook stirs the chili in the cauldron with his ladle, laughing and crying at the same time.
“Cuatro bowls of red, por favor!” the hairy man says to the cook. Then he turns to his brunette and the other couple. He laughs a belly-laugh. “Yah guys’ll love it.”
They sit down to eat.
Rosie and I walk to the drinks section, buy a couple bottles of Vittel, and drink it without a word. Walking out of the food market, we can hear the yahoos way behind.
“Is that what Americans are like?” Rosie asks.
We enter the silverware section. The black-velvet walls and tables are decked with sparkling plates, trays, rings, earrings and other stuff, but no real jewelry. We are dogged by stall-keepers who dart and ply us with the shlock. Rosie loves it.
“Look,” she says, jabbing her finger at a pair of heart-shaped earrings, “Look.”
Rosie walks along, a small gang of young, quick, eager kibitzers in her wake. Part of her charm is her clunky platform shoes. Sporting her strawberry tights, my squeeze looks berry good. She has got a helluva good body with good boobs. “¡Esos melocotόnes son enormes!” I overhear a kibitzer drivel, “Those peaches are enormous!” Rosie throws her head from side to side. Always moving, her peroxided hair makes a swirl of tufts and quiffs in front of my nose now.
I help her through the crowd, nudging her a bit this way or that way. There’s electricity in her flesh. Nothing’s changed since that Christmas Eve back in Warsaw. See her stare at the convent’s ceiling over my shoulder, that’s what I want right now. But I curb my lust. Stop pumping thyself up, I tell myself. There’s time for everything. At some point, the excitement will wear her out, the jet lag will hit her, and she’ll land in your bed. And there’s only one bed—she saw it. Sometime tonight, sooner or later, thou shalt lie under the fig trees as husband and wife. She knows that. We schlep together, we sleep together.
We dive into what seems to be a clothing cave. Mountains of merchandise in all colors pile on the tables left and right, burden the posts, and hang in bunches from the rafters overhead. First there are cycle jackets, mostly Made in Hong Kong or Made in USA, and girlish dresses, flimsy and see-through, spinning slowly in the wind one can only imagine. Rosie goes from one thing to another, checking, touching, stroking—especially a bright green jacket lettered Monkees and another, nail-studded black leather, reading Hard-On Work-Shop, made in San Francisco, California. She goes from item to item, getting the feel of everything. She shows no signs of slowing down.
“How do you feel?” I ask.
“With my fingers,” she says.
“I’m serious, too.”
“Aren’t you running out of steam, angel? Be honest.”
“One moment I may collapse and you may have to carry me back to the hotel—in your own arms! You’re macho, aren’t you? I’m the weaker sex, you know.”
“You think I’m light, perhaps immaterial, right? The angel for the Christmas tree, sort of. Sounds like it, y’know? I’m not, if you want me to tell you the truth, not a lie.”
“It’s a joke.”
“God’s my witness.”
“Say it’s a joke.”
“I`d love to.”
“Don’t be shocked.”
The sun bursts down from between the hanging clothes, crashing shop-keepers’ faces, dappling their hands, and stroking their babies’ bellies. Folks walk up and down the narrow paths, jostling, thrashing, wheeling, getting in halfway, stopping and moving on, pushing in and out.
Rosie stops, touching a green dress.
“You’d look good in that dress,” I whisper into her hair, which is glued to her neck with sweat.
“That mold-hued one?”
“Don’t you like it?”
“Don’t you like my clothes?”
“This dress, for example,” she says, laying a meadow-flower print against her body, cupping her breasts with her palms, sliding her hands down her torso, and pulling her tummy in flat against her spine. “I have one like this.”
“You wore the dress at the Warsaw Terminal that Christmas Eve I met you.”
“So you don’t have the mental sclerosis I was scared to death you had.”
My hands shake but then I think, Why spoil things? She’s just a foul-mouthed kid. My anger goes away.
“You also had a picture taken in the dress, remember?” I say. “I keep the picture on the wall above my typewriter.”
“Don’t tell me!”
“You’ll type a letter to your Mummy on that typewriter in two days.”
“Wanna see it.”
“The flowers look great on me, don’t they?”
I spin her in my hands. The electricity gets so vicious that my hands start shaking again.
“The flowers look good on you but to me you would look much better on the flowers.”
“That’s news to me.”
Leaving the clothes market I spot a girl sitting by wicker basket of red peppers. Her peppers look like dog penises. She is reading a picture romance, a hot bloom running high up her cheeks.
“¡Socorro!” a man howls. “Help!”
I throw some pesos into his hat.
“Feed the poor till they bite your ass,” says a black man, obviously a Yankee judging by his accent, trotting by with a girlfriend in tow.
“Just a few pesos,” I shoot back, laughing.
“The pesos is zilch.”
“What’s wrong with kindness?”
“Letting the thieves mark the target,” he says, walking away. “Careful now.”
That’s true, I gave the beggar a deep peek at my stash. My wallet is fat. No traveler’s checks, just cash. I feel a shiver running up and down my spine.
“What did the Yank say?” Rosie asks in Polish as the couple disappear in the crowd.
I tell her.
“Be careful now.”
“That’s what he said.”
Hotel Excelsior’s rosy walls loom above a stall when I see a vendor, his arms outstretched, rushing up to Rosie.
“¡Bonitos!” he sings. “Beautiful ones!”
He holds some ugly silver earrings against Rosie’s cheek while she strikes a pose, blinking her eyes at me. The small gang of her attendants cheer.
I have to do it. Sooner or later, I have to do it. I told Hersh I’d buy no rings, no earrings, no tchotchkes or shmattes in Mexico. So I feel guilty. Should I feel guilty? “If you got to sin,” my papa said, “at least have fun.”
I grab Rosie’s hand and drag her, shoes clunking, hair flying, everybody laughing, to see the vendor’s collection. Ten grand? Fifty? One hundred? What’ll the robbery be? Whatever it is, I’ll pay. That’s it. The vendor sweeps the mud in front of us with his gestures, winking like crazy to his partners-in-crime, laughing their heads off. The moment you decide to do it, you pay no attention to what a joke you’re making of yourself. All you do is stare at the crowd, the Excelsior Hotel above the pottery stall, and the empty dresses circling in the late afternoon breeze bringing the stink of the salty fish, the smell of the disemboweled bulls and the reek of the scraps torn by the hungry dogs.
I pay and go.
Now I walk by the potter’s stall with the happiest woman in the world. Rosie hangs on my neck, showering me with kisses. The vendors harass us with a double zeal. “Fuck off,” I say left and right, “Fuck off.”
“Where’re the Adam and Eve figurines?” she asks, jabbing her finger at the empty spaces left by the book-ends. “Where have they ended up?”
“In the oven.”
“To get fired.”
“It’s time to juice up my life a bit,” Rosie says, but stops.
She stabs her finger at a girl, possibly the potter’s granddaughter, breastfeeding inside. The girl is in Levi’s and a T-shirt, while her baby, no older than six months, is in full fig—looking like a wedding cake in her puffy pink dress.
Rosie seems transfixed.
“She looks like Mother with Child.”
“Let’s go mango, huh?”
I nudge Rosie toward the fruit stand, but she lingers, keeping me still, and watching the breastfeeding. She can’t get enough of it.
“A girl wouldn’t be caught dead childless here.”
It amazes me, too.
“They feed’em, overfeed’em, carry’em, slap’em, caress’em, dress’em as wedding cakes, readying’em to get married and repeat it all over again.”
“The mothers love their niños,” Rosie says. “The niños climb them, burden them, slap them, pee on them, bite their breasts, yet they keep bringing them …”
“Into this pit.”
The potter’s granddaughter squints her eyes as the baby pats her face with its hands.
“No love is selfless,” I say. “The mothers love to be loved.”
“The more niños the more love, they figure.”
“Start early, too.”
“Babies have babies,” I say. “How about you? Ever dreamed of a doll of your own patting your face with its little hands?”
“First I want to know the taste of life, not the taste of the nappies,” Rosie says. “Didn’t you get my letter at the hotel?”
“What’s on your mind?” Rosie says. “Wish you could taste a wedding cake?”
“I already have.”
“I told you.”
“You never did.”
“The night my ex took a train for Christmas Eve dinner at her mother’s.”
“I told you I had a daughter.”
“No kidding,” Rosie says. “Where’s she?”
“Where she used to be, somewhere in Warsaw.”
“Do you write to each other?”
“My letters get back.”
“If I should ever go back to Warsaw, I’ll find her, I’ll find her no matter what,” Rosie says. “How old is she?”
I’m losing my memory, it must be the heat. The heat does not keep me from noticing things, though. Without a baby, a woman here thinks of herself as not respectable. A baby is her credit card. No woman leaves home without it. They walk around, yoked with baby bundles. They don’t mind the yoke.
Every girl imitates La Virgen de Guadalupe. She wants a baby, but stay a virgin. She wants sex, yet seem sexless. Her baby is a proof of immaculate conception—of never having been laid. The baby-lust is nothing else but a cover-up for sexual lust, which they hold sinful.
Does Rosie want a wedding cake of her own? She wrote she doesn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be a lie.
Everything, every color, every line, every light and shadow is sharp as a machete. It’s like stepping into another world, which it is. The world is loco, intoxicating. I walk past the heaps of rotting refuse. The foods have been lying under the open sky since morning—the first time I walked by—crawling with flies, and mixed with the earth itself, the lovely dirt.
“¡Papayas! ¡Guayabas! ¡Aguacates!” a girl shrieks into my ear. She must be one of those walking fruit vendors. She stuns me. I didn’t see her at all.
I stagger on, feeling all tingly, drunk with love for being here. Rosie steps at my side, her platform shoes clunking, pecking my cheek from time to time—but not just that. At one crowded stall, standing behind Rosie, I feel her palm on my zipper. My cock jumps to stab her palm, and she grabs it. If I felt free taking off from JFK Airport this morning, I feel totally free here right now.
“¡Papayas! ¡Guayabas! ¡Aguacates!” I hear the Indian girl again. Judging by her voice, the girl is approaching us with her fruit tray.
The girl looks like a mountain of coconuts wrapped in a lunch bag. At first I don’t see her face, she comes with the sun. I see the coconut-sized lumps of fat—breasts, elbows, shoulders—piled up one on the top of another with the head wedged between them. Her butt resembles two cocos grinding against each other.
Rosie says something in Spanish, and the vendor girl turns to her. And only now I see that her face is wrought by a tragic sadness.
Her tray is almost empty. There’s only watermelon left. Why is she calling, “¡Papayas! ¡Guayabas! ¡Aguacates!” if all she has is watermelon? Obviously, it’s a slogan. Who expects truth in advertising? Only the hungry. The watermelon comes in half-moons, standing in a puddle of a multi-fruit juice.
“¿Si?” she asks.
“¡Si!” Rosie says.
The girl reaches for one of the half-moons. Her hand is dark brown but her fingers are bleached white by the juices. She lifts the dripping half-moon by its hard green edge and gives it to Rosie. Then she reaches for another one, gives it me, I pay, and we sink our teeth into the red flesh.
It’s hard to describe what a piece of watermelon tastes like in the baking heat of a Mexican market. The flesh explodes on my bite, its juice hitting the roof of my mouth, churning around my teeth, my gums, my tongue. I relish its granular consistency, its fragrant friction, but at the same time another sensation hits me, overwhelming my mouth—the sensation of bliss born from something liquid over my tongue.
The fruit is not cold, which surprises me. It’s not even room temperature—it’s downright warm, mild, lazy, and it gives out the overripe smell of a sweaty siesta. But it’s a wet, juicy smell. I smell water, the wetness of sugary flesh that bleeds pink all over my hands, dripping from my mouth, chin, fingers onto my T-shirt, my shoes. I don’t care. I love it. Can’t believe the taste of a watermelon in the oven of a Mexican day while being starved, lean, keen, wiry, and just about to make love. You feel it’s coming, coming big, about to burst, and you feel starved in more than one way.
Now my mouth is full of the pink flesh, my hands are red, and my Solidarity T-shirt is messy. Rosie looks at me, giggling. I’m like a baby, true, a big baby, but I couldn’t care less. Why should I? Who’s there to tell me what to feel? I feel fruity, weightless, hollow, shitless, alive. Totally alive. Feeling alive is knowing where your hand is, where your leg is, where your head is, where each part of your body is, without looking. My mouth fills with the watermelon, my shoes fill with my feet, my pants fill with my bone, my T-shirt bulges with my pecs, my beard is soaked with the juice, and I love this market and Mexico and myself.
I’ve never thought of myself that way. I’ve always been puny, but here? What’s going on here? I can’t believe it. These eyeballs? These giggles? These come-ons? These bell-pepper tongues? Grab-ass? Mexico makes me love myself for many reasons I had no idea existed.
From the moment I put on my new sports suit, I felt a change—I’m light now, flowing, set forward, free to do anything, move anytime, fly anywhere, meet anyone, love anybody—even whoever refuses to love me back. I’m full of love, unconditional love for everybody and everything—the watermelon girl, the oven of a day, even the yelping dogs.
I don’t even mind the gang of boys who follow us, doggedly keeping our company, laughing at Rosie’s lips—painted wide like those of a clown—her carrot nose, dipped in the fruit juice, the blond corkscrews she is blowing off her eyes, the stains blooming on her Big Apple T-shirt, her out-thrust chin. She spreads her clunky shoes wide apart to keep them from being splashed by the hot, fragrant blood squirting from the watermelon’s flesh, trickling down her forearms, and dripping from her elbows.
“The hotel is as hot as a potter’s oven,” Rosie says upstairs. “I need a shower.”
“Good for you.”
I draw the heavy, plush curtains—probably meant to keep out the heat—to the side, unlock the window and fling it open onto the fig tree. Behind my back, Rosie peels off her tights, bra, panties and T-shirt, folds them neatly, then shoves them into a drawer and slams it shut. She must be naked now.
My hands are shaking.
The excitement rises to my chest, my mouth gets dry. Now, stop this shit, I tell myself. Don’t think sex. Don’t look back. Look straight ahead.
The big fig tree, smelling sweet and noisy as a beehive, stretches its leaves towards me like hand-shakes. Shielded by the leaves, but not hidden by them, grow oblong, yellow-green and reddish figs. They grow to the size of a baby’s fist. I still remember their sweet, mushy, grainy pulp from Poland—always about this time each year, around Christmas, my father was able to fetch a fistful of Jezreel Valley figs, a few Jaffa oranges, maybe a stick or two of cinnamon, some cloves, and hopefully a handful of lemons in a rare delicatessen store downtown. I know the taste of figs but I’ve never seen them mothered by a tree.
“I’m enjoying the garden.”
I don’t move, I just stare. I am all eyes. I stand there, my head hanging on my chest, my body loose, my hands holding the window wings, and I look down under the tree. The fallen figs lie in clouds of shit-flies mixed with shattered glass. A bottle bottom grins at the sky, shining in the dirt.
The picture of a jar of jam flashes through my mind. Miss Jenke, my Fine Arts High School teacher, gave me—the weakest kid—a small jar of strawberry jam. It became my obsession that day. I craved to taste it. I got so wired I couldn’t concentrate on my class. Finally, I snaked into the locker room for a taste. While licking the jar, I dropped it to the floor. I scooped the goo from the concrete into my soap-box and kept sucking the strawberries from the shards for most of the week. Can’t believe how alive Poland comes for me here. Must be the smells in the heat that do that.
In the flowerbed under the tree, in the deepest shade, I detect a struggle. Something is going on there. First, I can’t believe it is what I think it is, but as I watch for a moment, I’m sure. A snake, the size of a baseball bat, is swallowing a bird. The bird is not feathered yet, all rosy, just a nestling that had fallen from its nest. The baby bird seems to be doing well, its eyes agog, its beak agape in an expression of rapture, but its lower body is in the snake’s jaws. I notice a slight spasm of my chest muscles.
Back in Poland, Wilga, a girl next door, went to cut weeds for her bunnies. She raked the weeds into her babushka. Accidentally, she raked in a snake. As she swung the bundle on her shoulder the snake bit her in the neck. But now, I can’t see either the bird or the snake. The snake slithered away into the fallen figs. As I look, a juicy fig plops like a moldy pulp into the shards.
Behind the branches, stretching their hands to me, fanning and parasoling their oblong offspring, I can see other branches, deep within the tree. Some of them are thick and gnarly, living in the shadow of the young branches.
A male pigeon is making love to a female—treading her, ornitologically speaking—on one of the branches. The branch is caked with shit, a dating spot. A rosy balloon is stuck in the tree. There’s something printed on it, but I don’t get it—probably a Mexican idiom. Bees walk all over it, frustrated, mistaking it for a huge blossom. The tree is big, the figs are sweet.
Bliss is near.
I’m jolted out of my spell by the silence of the shower. When it was sprinkling steadily, I didn’t hear it. I heard it only when it stopped.
The tingle of the ripe fruit and the rot of the fallen crop fill the room, vibrating with the buzz of bees, mumble of the bumblebees, zigzags of the wasps, quick orbits of the flesh-flies—all wrestling, overpowering, treading the blooms, forcing their way between their petals, and down into their wombs.
Two arms snake from behind, lock on my neck.
The arms are soft, reeking of cheap lotion and steaming from the hot shower—corkscrews of steam rise from the flesh.
In the middle of my back, below my shoulder blades, I can feel a fist—a small fist, but a fist—holding the corners of a fluffy towel. The water from her hair, that bushy, curly, peroxided hair slithers down my back.
“I’m going to lie down now,” I hear Rosie’s whisper. “I left the perfume I like best, Poison, by the shower hoping you wished to smell sweet. Would you like to take your shower now?”
Bliss is near.
I lie with Rosie in my arms less than twelve hours since leaving Manhattan. It’s six p.m. on the clock. I can’t grasp the stuff I’ve packed into these twelve hours,
We curl up, our legs looped over each other’s loins. The nunnery cell reeks of raw oysters—the sweet smell of success. Rosie’s heart ticks like my parents’ bedroom clock, and her tummy rumbles. Her lips part. She breathes through her mouth, her nose is stuffed up. The jet lags has caught up with her and she lies unconscious, her face crumpled, aged, and lined with streaks the color of the neighborhood sidewalks.
This part of the trip a success, I must turn to the next, the tough one. The problem is, I can’t. Not now. I’m snake-bitten, having a hell of a time trying to figure out what’s next. I can’t sleep. Can’t relax. I’m wired. My senses are hyped to the max. I’m stuck in the present.
Rosie’s flesh shocks me still, sticky and white like an unbaked pizza, but I know the Mexican sun will soon bake it red, turning her into a lobster. I’m getting used to the nakedness. Rosie is getting used to it, too. She doesn’t insist I throw a sheet over our bodies. In fact, any attempt to cover her with anything drives her mad. She is sweating. Her sweat has a bite to it. Her perfume, overheated, has turned into vinegar. She feels fecund. Fertile. I smell fish, algae, oysters—and I love it. I watch a pool of perspiration forming slowly in the hollow of her throat. “The room is as hot as a potter’s oven,” I recall her saying.
But I must admit—at first, I didn’t like Rosie’s knees. They are red, bulging, calloused, as though she spent every day of martial law on her knees in her university church. Her breasts turned out to be on the Milky Way side—bigger than I recalled them—and maybe rightfully called melocotόnes, or peaches, by the market kibitzers. I found her thighs heavy. Her knees, though, looked especially bad against her doughy thighs.
Out of her tights, my squeeze looked like a lump of pizza dough ready to be shaped into a human form. Her unbaked thighs tasted berry sweet to my tongue. I ate her ripe nipples, the back of her knees, the small of her back, her rosebud asshole, all the time letting her squeal, yelp, howl, whimper. I can’t recall the last time I was so loco about the vitamins—in fact, Rosie’s a well-balanced diet.
The greatest shock was to discover that Rosie’s peroxided perm was a wig—exactly the way it looked.
“Was your head shorn? Were you arrested?” I asked, looking at her bald skull with amazement.
“Wigs are my weakness,” she said, unwilling to elaborate.
Having felt her body, I see we’ve been made of the same stuff. I like it now. When I fall for someone, I fall for every part of their body, seen or unseen. Now I like her knees, her thighs, her double-scoop boobs, everything—and particularly her buns, the greatest buns in the oven. She’s born for tights.
Earlier, I saw a way Rosie uses her buns. While brushing her teeth and talking to me at the bathroom door, Rosie kept the bathroom door from closing by clutching it right between her buttocks. With Rosie, the fanny is a clutching tool serving to grab anything and hold it tight.
“You’ve got more oomph than most young boys,” Rosie whispered into my ear after we’d done it.
The difference between this time and the last time was like between night and day. I should jump for joy. Hersh said once, citing the poet Julian Tuwim, “No man ever forgets the impression he made on a woman.” I’m sure it’s true. I’ll never forget the impression I made on Rosie.
But how about the “boys?” That stabs me. Stabs me really deep. Well, I’ll never forget her “boys.” She’s laid a helluva lot of them during the last six years, God’s my witness. I’d be really hard pressed to forget that, but now? Now, I’m the one who’s got “more oomph” than most of them. At forty. Quite a boy.
American men don’t grow up, it’s said, they always remain boys. I detect those boyish, maybe childlike, traits in myself, definitely marking me a Homo americanus. Can’t see anything wrong with it. I recall Miss Jenke saying: “All boys and girls grow up. Only poets remain children.” I felt like I was a poet all my life. Once a boy, always a boy. And today I’m a bald-headed American boychick lying in Mexico City’s poshest fleabag with his fellow poetess.
We have made love with the window open. The chatty garden life seemed to move inside the room. Throughout the lovemaking, I had the impression that Rosie’s hair buzzed with bees. I heard the pigeons cooing, the girls playing hopscotch. If I said the “kids” played hopscotch, I’d lie. What I heard, in truth, were girls playing hopscotch, not boys. Why only girls play hopscotch, not boys? That’s how it was back in Poland.
I cock my ear.
I keep hearing the fig tree dropping fruit, the tiny bombs of sweetness crashing through the leaves, then plopping onto the path. Now, I listen as the mangoes, figs and oranges falling through the hum of wasps, bees, bumblebees, and mosquitoes.
We didn’t have to keep quiet, what I love. The walls feel thick—nunnery thick!—unlike the walls of most modern apartments, which seem to grow ears.
The family next door is back from the pool for their siesta. They schlep down the hall. There are four of them, the old folks and two boys. It’s easy to count them—they all step on a board that gives off a terrible squeak. It sounds like, “Oy vey!” Their footsteps get so close that I panic they might by error bang on our door.
Both boys cry their lungs out. They’re against the nap. The mother spanks them. The boys’ trunks give off wet claps that echo against the high ceiling of the hall. Moms here beat kids a lot. I saw a mom slap her boys in front of the crucifixion off la Reforma, and then again at the market. It is as though the greatest responsibility for a Mexican mother is to break her child’s rebellious spirit. Has anyone here heard of Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence?
After the beating the boys cry even louder but neither parent pays attention, and soon, having dumped their toys, the boys fall asleep, and all I can hear is the parents’ bed at work. Their headboard scratches against the wall right behind our headboard. Their headboard is like ours, I guess, made of heavy mahogany. It sounds as though someone is chiseling a hole in the back of my own skull.
The wife speaks—a quiet, stifled voice. It must be coming from underneath a ton of male meat. It’s as though she said, “Get off me,” and added, “Enough already!” I couldn’t make out her words, but if that’s what she said, it had just the opposite effect—the chiseling got only more pointed. I hear the clapping of sweaty bellies. I detect wheezing—his wheezing. A book falls from the night stand, a big book, maybe a Bible. The man slows down. The thud voiced a warning. Now, he stops. He probably picks the book up, kisses it, and puts it back on the night stand.
The bed springs whine a complaint. They’re back at it. But as soon as they’re back at it, it’s over. The man bellows into his pillow. He sounds like a slaughtered bull, death rattle and all. I strain my ears trying to hear the woman’s peak, but I can’t hear a thing. I hold my breath, hoping to hear at least a squeak, a sigh …
Nothing still. I take another breath, wait again. I wait for nothing. That was it. The wife’s biggie didn’t come. Maybe it was a quickie, maybe just a pffft.
Again, from outside, I can hear the dogs bark, the bees buzz, the macaws screech, the girls scream their heads off, but from the other room, all I can hear is dead silence. The wife is quiet. She might as well be dead. So unlike Rosie. When Rosie comes, the whole of Mexico City knows.
The hotel walls seem thick, but it’s a lie. Were the walls built so the nuns could spy on each other day and night?
I hear a maid jingling her keys in the hall. The big maid, I believe, the one I think entered our room to lock the window. She probably thinks keeping the window open lets in los aires, the “evil spirits.” She cares about us, I guess. Her feet move a lot of weight. The board by our door whines its, “Oy vey!” again. It’s more like the howl of a stoned dog than a squeak. She reaches the staircase. The staircase groans. Then, it’s quiet again, only downstairs, at the lobby, Señor Xavier plays his guitar. He sings “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” as he did this morning while I read Rosie’s letter at the bar:
¡Noche de paz, noche de amor!
Todo duerme en derredor…
I saw Señor Xavier’s wife but just for a moment. She’s not allowed at the front desk. He communicates with her by barking into the back room. She peeked through the half-open door—she couldn’t help herself stealing a glance. She’s a small, puffy-faced woman with bright eyes. Her eye-brightness comes from sobbing, while her puffiness from beating, I guess.
The hall comes alive with a spunky trot.
The challah hairdo, I guess.
I hear the froufrou of her apron. She trots by our door. So close I think by mistake she will drop off in our room the drinks she is carrying for someone else. The bottles and glasses on her tray chatter like teeth. I almost panic and dive under the covers.
But no, no mistake.
She carries the drinks away. Too bad. An iced beer sounds divine now. I’d love to lick bitter foam from a cold-sweating bottle. But I can’t. I’m short of cash, badly short. Besides, I can’t stop thinking of how to pay the coyotes. Smuggling Rosie’s gonna prove costly. Likely beyond my means. The coyotes are liable to skin me—they sure will. They’ll quickly see I’m a rookie at smuggling false blondes.
Again, the squeaky board.
The maid is about to step on it. I’m waiting for the terrible noise. But, as she tiptoes by, her apron rustling and her feet flying, the board stays silent. No heart-breaking, “Oy vey!” It’s a shock. Clearly, there is a wordless dialogue going on between me and the challah hairdo.
Not long ago, she walked by as Rosie and I were making love. She even stopped for a moment pretending to dust the hall furniture. I wondered if she could hear anything. Clearly, she could. Now, she’s telling me that she’s got dirt on me: “I know you’re lying there, listening to me walking by,” she seems to be saying, “So be careful now, everything’s being heard here!”
Six years ago, back in Poland, it was dangerous to be overheard but today, back in the United States or here in Mexico, it’s a joke. Today, I’m free as a bird. Today, I’m not afraid. I hate an apartment, I change it. I hate a job, I quit. I hate the burger chazerai, I don’t touch it. I dig the juices, the fruits, the sun, the girls. I’m a free man. I can say what I want. But I still remember when it was dangerous, only six years ago.
But for Rosie it was dangerous only yesterday. She knows horrors I have no idea of, She has lived through the crash of Solidarity, the martial law, the witch hunts, the trials. She’s got a helluva tale to tell.
The family next door wakes up.
The siesta is over.
The boys, full of energy again, slam the doors, rattle their toys, kick a ball, yell at each other, or keep bugging their mother about something—I can’t figure out what—and finally follow their father out the door. The mother leaves last, the grating of her key harsh in the lock. I hear the family far away in the staircase on the way to the pool.
The noises should wake Rosie up, but they don’t. Her jet lag wore her out. Her hair is still buzzing of bees.
My arm is numb from lying under Rosie’s back. Her heart is beating rhythmically. Tightening and un-tightening my fist I look like I’m trying to catch Rosie’s heartbeat.
I can hear the traffic through the bathroom window. It sounds like waves—first rising, rising, rising to a climax, then breaking, and finally, collapsing into nothing. A huge truck is passing by. Its engine, likely hundreds of mechanical horses at work, abruptly dies out. The peace is sweet. I’m grateful again for Rosie.
Suddenly, right under our shower window, the peace erupts into a gut-wrenching roar. After a few explosions under its hood—each closely chasing the other—the truck comes alive again. I hear the grinding of gears and wheezing of the air vents, both jammed by the returning roar.
Rosie wakes up with a start and tenses up, listening. Her parched, raw lips part in fear. Her irises widen, turning her golden eyes into two black beans.
“Sounds like a tank stuck in a snowdrift.”
I’m sorry for her. Avodim bayinu, I recall my father say—we were slaves, lefaro bemitzrayim—of the Pharaoh of Egypt.
“It’s Mexico City.”
“Only yesterday, I was at the University of Warsaw campus, bundled up like a snowman, treading in a knee-deep snowdrift, surrounded by the tanks.”
“And tomorrow, you’ll lie in Acapulco, wrapped in a bikini under the fig trees, watching guys jump the cliffs!”
Rosie bolts out of the bed.
“I feel all sticky,” she calls from a puff of shower steam. “I feel like you’ve smeared egg whites all over my butt!”
Thank you, Tad. Tad’s novel continues next Sunday but if you don’t want to wait, you can purchase it from…
Tad Wojnicki is the author of a novel, Lie Under the Fig Trees, and a hybrid work, Typhoon: A Haibunette with Life Drawings. His poetry chapbook, Haiku On the Road is forthcoming from the Writers and Lovers Studio / www.writers-and-lovers.com.
If you’d like your novel to be considered, please see https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/novel-nights-in.
** NEW!! You can now subscribe to this blog on your Kindle / Kindle app!
or http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008E88JN0 for outside the UK **
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my Books (including my debut novel, which is being serialised on Novel Nights In!) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating and choose an optional free eBook.
For writers / readers willing to give feedback and / or writers wanting feedback, take a look at this blog’s Feedback page.
As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. If there’s anything you’d like to take part in, take a look at Opportunities on this blog.
I welcome items for critique for the online writing groups listed below:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
We look forward to reading your comments.