February 17, 2011

The Second Alejandro

submitted by Amara Charles Back

Click. Click. Three inch heels tap rhythm onto cobblestones, polished by millions of footfalls. Clickety. Red patent for glitz, open-toed for comfort, but on uncertain surfaces, an ankle might turn.

Click. “Senora. Canastas. Muy bonitas.”
He stands close, but tonight he does not whine, as he holds out a dozen baskets, bright as birds. Tonight, here on the Alcala, there is song in his voice, and his eyes are lighted.
“As beautiful as the senora,” he croons.
I turn him down, as I have every night save one. Tonight, I am not looking to buy baskets.

It’s Saturday evening, and I’m on the prowl, and not for the man selling baskets. All dressed up with no place to go and no one to go there with. Black crocheted skirt skims my calf; black silk blouse clings provocatively, cleavage now covered (but could easily, surreptitiously, be uncovered) by a red woven shawl bought only an hour before on the Zocalo.
Oaxaca swarms in the streets tonight. School girls in blue and white, newly-conscious of their charms, walk arm in arm, giggling at the boys who circle them, laugh too loud and smoke too fast. Matrons charge along in threes and fours, swaying in tight skirts and tighter blouses, blazings colors across the night.
I’m all dressed up and restless. Very restless. Click. Click.

Tonight, swirling colors are not enough. Music—horns and drums and the clear, sweet punch of the xylophones—which travels up the old, old street is not enough. The ache in my belly turns to a roar. Tonight it is not enough to observe, as I have observed the teeming life these last weeks, on all nights but two. Tonight my lipstick is scarlet.
I’ve hunted for over an hour, promenaded with the merry around the Zocalo, taken coffee under the colonnades, flirted with jacketed waiters who blush. Too young. Now, following the Alcala away from the plaza, I size up the men. How would each come to my bed? Nice eyes, that dark one over there, but his manner is coarse. Him, standing against the house, good cheekbones, but a body already gone to flab. The smile of that workman might carry me to indiscretion, but those hands, caked with dirt, would never trace the curve of my shoulder or those below.

He sits on the steps of the hotel. Behind him, great doors open into a tree-studded patio. Revelers clink glasses and lean toward one another. A door to the side leads into the bookstore. It’s a good sign, that he sits by the bookstore. But what is that expression? Absorbed? Brooding?
Yes, brooding. He’s tall, I see, the way he folds himself onto the steps. Black hair flows torrentially down his back, while his skin holds the coffee brown of jungle peoples. His eyes… obsidian, and they met mine. I slow, not aborting my glance. In that delicious moment, clear as a tremor up a spine, that glance, that split second difference, told something more, something shared. I break it, finally, look away, and play the age-old part, moving on, as though unperturbed. Clickety.

His role is to follow. According to script, I must not look back, but I do peek when I turn the corner.He’s not behind me.“Guapa.”Usually these street flirtations informing me of my loveliness make me smile. Now I feel only disgust at the small, full-lipped man who brushes my arm as he passes. I have one thought. Get back to that man.
And do what? Hold out my desire like an overripe pear? Ask his name? Smile?
Probably he waits for friends. Would they laugh later at my lust? At this woman well on in years, face carved with the passage of elation and despair, panting after the man whose cheeks are smooth and the settings of those obsidian eyes as yet uncrinkled by time?
Remember your dignity, Girl?
Dignity? For this you primped tonight, sent your desire upon the wind. A huntress at her height is all dignity.The streets along the Church of Santo Domingo drown in shadows, I make the circuit. And say what? Forget it. Go back to your room.Coward. Get back.
I am yards from turning onto the street, his street. Do what?
Say, “Are you waiting for someone?”He says “yes,” and you smile, nod “too bad” and walk on. Surely, he’ll say “yes” and you walk on, back to your room and imaginings. With your dignity intact because you gave it your best shot.
He says “no.” And you say…?I’ll say, “May I join you?’ I’ll say…may I buy you a drink?
Too forward. Actually, it’s pretty sexy.Think of how you’ll feel if he says “No.?”
Would he be excited or dismayed.? Excited, I think. Highly complimented, if he had any sense. Startled by this woman who wants to buy him a drink
We’re just talking a drink here. Clickety click.

Absurd. Inviting men you know to bed is one thing. But a pickup on the street?
Men—some men—do this all the time. They get turned down and live to do it another day.
Cougars make a kill, what is it, one time out of four? No, one time out of ten. I forget.
Rounding the corner, I loosen my shawl slightly, so that just enough shows. Clickety. My legs run to water. My hands shake. Breathe.
Empty steps. Empty like forever.

I let the crowd carry me on. My tongue tastes straw, mixed with relief’s sweet honey. Mourning begins. You lost him. Where the Alcala empties into the Zocalo, I walk the perimeter. Are vendors here? Shoeshine men and musicians? Are couples walking hand in hand with children bounding ahead of them? It is only his face I see. Something wild, there, ancient as magma. I took it deep into my belly, caressing, whispering. I will that face deep into my womb. I call you here, I speak softly to his presence. We will meet. Maybe only talk. Something will happen between us.When I turn back onto the Alcala, I tell myself, you are being so silly. But in my heart, I believe in Magic.
He sits upon the steps, unsurprised at my approach as I click my way to stand before him. How impassive he is, face upturned to mine. Very Indian.
“Do you wait for someone?”
“No.” His voice is silky. I don’t care that my hands shake and my knees give way.
“Can I sit down?” He pats the place next to him. For a few moments, we watch the passing world.
His name is Alexandro. Why I was in Oaxaca? Why did I wander about Mexico rather than be homewith my family?“I would like to invite you for a drink.”His glance darkens. He’s furtive now. Guarded “I don’t drink. Not any more. Before there were many problems.”
But now he relaxes. He’s an artist, has a studio in the district, makes prints. His gaze meets mine, steadily, no arrogance, nothing awkward, nothing silly, as though it were the most ordinary thing in the world for a foreign lady to stop and sit down and invite him for a drink.

I taste power. In spite of my nervousness, I savor it. I am picking up the most beautiful man I have ever seen. My imagination turns cartwheels, streaming light. Oaxaca disappears. We sit in the jungle, backs against a cieba tree, shielded from the stars by overreaching vines, our breaths moist upon each other’s cheeks and then he lifts himself over me…A bird’s plaintive cry pierces the night.He awaits my answer, one eyebrow raised.
“Como?” His laughter comes softly, as though, like a voyeur, he has lifted the curtain to my mind, peered uninvited into my vision.
No, I have no husband, I say, which is true, because in this moment nothing else exists. No boyfriend. He looked deep into my eyes, as though he reads the truth there.
“I came back, but you were gone. I was looking for you.”
He was silent, and I wondered if my assertion were too bold, and he would run.
“I went across the street to make a telephone call,” he says, finally. “I saw you return”
With this acknowledgments that he had connections, that he had not waited his whole life upon these steps for me to claim him, the jungle falls away. But he looks down upon me with urgency. Maybe a drink would be good. But not at a bar. If might bring some beer and meet him at his studio in half an hour. He takes a slip of paper from his pocket and I rummage in my purse for a pen so that he can write his address… He wants to show me his prints.

I fake calm until I am out of his sight, then break into an unseemly jog, red heels and all, back to my room where I have stowed a bottle of mescal. You go, Girl. To see his etchings, no less. An hour later, I pass beneath the arch of the ancient aqueduct and climb his narrow street, dark and overhung with bougainvillea, houses shuttered. I have showered and traded heels for flats. “Psst.” Very low, coming from the shadows, the door cracked, the hallway behind him cave-black. I hesitate. But he reaches for me, not in affection, but to guide me into the gloom, and I relinquish all sense. His finger is at his lips. He takes my hand and leads me.

At the match’s flare, the room springs to life. Tones of harvest gold and rose gold envelop us, as our shadows dance upon the walls. There is a narrow, rough-hewn tressel table with two stools. On top of an old chest sit a jar of paintbrushes and a set of chisels and styluses laid neatly side by side. A hammock of creamy sisle swings in the center. Alongside the far wall is a bed, neat and unadorned as a monk’s, but, unlike a monk’s, matrimonial.

He stands silently by the door, watches unmoving as a cat, while slowly I walk the room to peer into each print. In flickering light, the jungle unfolds in that room. No wonder he had laughed. A jaguar, fierce, probably hungry, gazes out from the leaves, taut body implied behind the foliage. A dragon stretches head down upon a cieba, to clutch at its gnarled roots. Fearsome plants curl before a shadowed moon. “These are…very good.”

He shrugs. Am I shallow? Condescending? But I recognize his naked talent and the unremitting need which brought these prints to birth. In my absence he has changed into a white, handwoven shirt of the indigenous, this one full in the sleeves and slitted deep at the throat. “Sit,” he says in English, pointing to the table. “Did you bring beer?”

I hand him the mescal. “First we drink beer.” He disappears out a second door which opens onto the patio, but not before warning. “My family sleeps. We must be very quiet.”
I hear the clunk of a refrigerator door, and he returns with four bottles of Bohemia.
“Your family?”He nods. “My parents and my brother. This is only my studio.”

Conversation—thoughtful, murmured—drifts on. He teaches at the university (so he was, indeed, highly trained), works in woodblocks.. Recently he’s begun experimenting with metals. At my insistence he explains each process, but I’m not hearing, really. I watch his lips and seek the depths in his eyes, which are deep brown, not black, after all, although in this faltering light the irises are immense, and await the inevitable moment as our hands, cradling glasses, slip closer upon the table, as though unplanned.

He doesn’t question my roaming life. At the university, he must meet many foreigners, loners, searching for what, they are not sure. His mother is Zapotec. His father—many peoples mixed together, hard to say. Mixtec, mostly, and he names some Mayan towns I do not recognizes. All Indian, puro indigeno, no trace of white in that long, hooked nose, those prominent cheekbones, that thick, wild hair. He should grace the cover of National Geographic. I see him in white loincloth only, spear in hand, a remnant of a once-proud people, fending off intruders and this other way of life.

His fingers are long, and across the table ours touch, as though we didn’t notice. His skin is shockingly cool. “No,” I say, covering my glass, as again he raises the bottle. He rises, then, comes around behind me. His hands are on my shoulders, fingertips tentatively plying the area around my collarbone, etching tiny circles, moving slowly lower, to the place where the blossoming begins. Without ceremony, his hands come beneath my blouse and he lifts it off. I sigh, full of wonder, at this fantasy made flesh. Then he carries me easily to the bed, silently removing my skirt, lace bra and panties, and lays me out.

He is so solemn that I want to laugh, but I’m afraid I’ll break the spell. He takes off his shirt, steps out of his jeans and his black, stretch bikini, and, standing tall before me, shows me the glory of his manhood, proud and ready. Like a cat he slips in beside me, all tongue and cock and hands, he the hunter, me the prey. Black hair streams over me, spills across my breasts, my thighs, my feet. Face burrows into belly, stalks wet lips, wild pussy, tongue probing—he has the rhythm right–so that I arch to scream, only his hand covers my mouth.

Nothing will stop him. He is an athlete, as though there is no tomorrow. A gymnast, with startling and heartbreaking agility. An artist, sculpting the limbs of love into ancient tantric shapes. A musician, changing tempos, drawing out suspense, delaying again and again the reason for the screams which must not come. Our silhouettes bound and bend upon the walls. He knows the angles, the planet’s pulse.

Then, suddenly, he steps away, moves into the hammock, and pulls me atop him, so that my hands brace upon his shoulders and I hold him down. It is my turn to explore his taste, lightly salted, his silky texture, his unrelenting fullness in my mouth. I rise up and bring him home, squeezing him inside of me, taking him to the point, then letting him tumble down again. He moans, and then again.

There is a Carnival of ghosts. His face metamorphoses into the masks of the ages. A tribal elder, eyes holding wisdom, peers into the beyond. I roll and grind, and beneath me I see a warrior’s fierceness. A new husband, he becomes, joyously taking his bride to bed. A young boy, innocent and shy, astonished by ecstasy. No words, only marvels. When he comes he is silent, as he bid me each time.

But when he settles into bed, before he sleeps, he says, dreamily: “I saw you before tonight. At the café. You were taking a coffee with a man.”My companion was a soccor player and we had come from the hotel for breakfast. Our second time, our last.
“I sat alone in the corner. I wondered about you and that man, what was between you. Did you…?” Ah, sweet, silly Mexican men. They can never let it lie.
“A friend,” I say. “Not just a friend.” Then he turns me away from him and wraps himself around me and sleeps, while I sink into pure joy. Before dawn he awakes, rise to put out the candles with moistened fingers, so they make a hissing sound. I must not be there when the household wakes up, I know. I give him my phone number and he gives me his.

“I leave Oaxaca in two days,” I say. “Perhaps…”He says nothing, but drops a kiss onto my lips. “Beautiful Alejandro,” I whisper into his ear. Before he lets me out, he checks the street. Beautiful Alejandro, I croon to myself, through dark streets, livened only by men with rushes sweeping sidewalks and the occasional car.

I wait. I call. I call again. The phone just rings. On the streets, in the marketplaces, along the Alcala, I search, pretending it’s not for him.. Then, returning from the San Francisco Market, the afternoon before I leave, I catch a glimpse of him across the roaring traffic. He nods, half smiles, and his eyes hold mine. A young woman clings to his arm.
Alejandro. Alejandro. I roll your name upon my tongue, whisper it to my soul. Your face embedded in my mind, your touch engraved upon my flesh unsettle me still.

Still, now and then, I yearn.

Mary Sennewald

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