An original short story set in Mexico
The tiny casita glowed in apricot hues and beamed welcoming blue trim around the doorway. The mixed scent of flowers and earth hung in the air like rich incense. Ducking under a brilliant mauve bougainvillea, Sharon Advena pushed open the unlocked door with her patterned sarong and turned to unload the storage boxes on the tile floor. Tossing her fifty-fiver old brown curls at the hallway mirror, Sharon congratulated herself on real estate investments which, enabled her early retirement to this little piece of Mexican paradise. Her face with its aquiline nose, set lips and keen eyes returned a satisfied smile.
Flinging herself on the woven blanket covering the sofa, she sighed deeply with relief. The flight from Vancouver to Guadalajara and the drive to the lakeside village of San Juan de Hidalgo had made for a long tiring day.
“But what is she doing here!”
Sharon’s lips curled downwards at the small bundle of dry bones moving imperceptibly in the living-room corner of her rented casita.
“ I thought I locked you up! Thrown away in a shoebox marked ‘Do not open until after Death’! What’s this? Tracking me down to Mexico! Is this some kind of Day of the Dead thing?”
The bones began to flex and knit grotesquely, until the Bony Woman reassembled herself from the pile of bones in the corner.
Decaying corn teeth champed loosely under deep black eye sockets, grinning, “Mind your manners, my dear! Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to speak ill of the dead?”
A bony claw pushed the elegant hat with its flowers and great feather plumes jauntily to the side of her skull. Then the skeleton pulled herself upright.
“Besides. I was getting tired of waiting for you in Mexico. But then… I’ve plenty of time and you, mi querida amiguita, have very little!”
Sharon’s best drop-dead-at-a-hundred-yards glare discharged swiftly, “Oh! That Mexican jag about death sweetening life? That kind of talk gets pretty boring after awhile.”
“Sí! But I haven’t visited to bore you, amiga. By the way do you have a cerveza?”
Sharon shuddered at the dried pieces of flesh, corroding the joints that pointed to her small refrigerator. Still it seemed vaguely impolite to argue with a guest even if it was one’s own Death. She opened the fridge and reached for the six-pack of beer. While she poured slowly and deliberately, Sharon glanced furtively back to the corner. With a brittle clatter of bones, the skeleton was rearranging her framework before sinking into the heavy chair of dark Jalisco leather.
“Damn! She’s starting to make herself comfortable. I hope she’s not planning to stay long. It’s bound to mess up a perfectly good day!”
Sharon handed the drink to the Bony Woman who raised the glass, toasting her hostess with a hearty, “Salud!”
The calavera then lifted the bubbling cerveza to her jawbone, cracking it wide open. As the amber liquid streamed down a former throat, the beer squirted wildly between the vertebrae and the rib cage.
“You’re making a terrible mess!”
“Exactly. Life is a little messy. Not all neat and tidy like you like it.”
“You just wasted that whole beer!”
“Yes. But the bigger question is begging! You’re wasting the moment!”
Crimson crept up Sharon’s neck and exploded into words, “What the devil are you getting at! I’m staying good and busy; I’m still productive. I’ve a nice place to stay, plenty of money, friends here and family in Canada. I resent your implication. I’m not wasting anything! Besides, I recycle!”
“Pressed a wee button, I have!” The gleaming skull grimaced with glee. “Yes. You have it ALL. All wrapped up. Everything in its place and a place for everything. And you call that living!”
Drawing a deep breath, Sharon rushing on doggedly, “I’m not neglecting the future either. I’ve got a small but steady pension from my company. I’ve got good investments, mutual funds, RRSP’s, accident insurance, capital and liquid assets. I’ll be comfortable until the day that I die in my sleep!”
“That’s precisely why I tracked you down here. You completely deny death’s reality. Death for you is clean and antiseptic. Your intellect has completely anesthetized your feelings. Those things you mentioned are very useful but not as all-important as you make them. In Canada you so cleverly cotton-wrap yourself in a little cocoon of sham security. There I could never find you to have a little chat.”
“Chat-smat! What’s so wrong with my life? I’m not afraid of you! I’ve taken complete responsibility for my personal Death already. You see, I’ve already made a ‘living will’ and funeral arrangements. Even written my obituary and memorial service.
“Yes. I’m very familiar with you Canadians and your preoccupation with security and finances. Say! Do you know the difference between a Canadian and a canoe?”
“I give up.”
“A canoe tips!” With a loud cackle, the Bony Woman slapped her thighbone.
“That’s not very funny, you know. We’re a polite and generous people.”
“Ouch! Sensitive too. Just like your American neighbors. How about the poor lost American soul who is told by Saint Peter that he must go to hell, but he has a choice: he can go to American hell or Mexican hell.
“What happens in Mexican hell?” he asks.
“They boil you in oil and nail you on a cross and stick a spear in your side.”
“And in American hell?”
“Well, they stick a spear in you and nail you to a cross and boil you in oil.”
The poor soul shivers and says he might as well take American hell and be among his compatriots.
“Choose Mexican hell,” says St. Peter.
“It can’t make any difference.”
St. Peter says, “Look, I speak to you as a friend. Choose Mexican hell. You know how it is. They won’t have the right size nails for the cross. They’ll have loaned the spear to somebody who broke it. The oil won’t be hot enough.”
“Are you just getting warmed up or will you be leaving soon, I hope?”
“Maybe. Your face looks like a scorpion’s vulva! It tells me you’re still not ready to listen to me yet. To respect death is to respect life. One is impossible without the other. For it is a continuous circle.”
“I hate it when you go on like that! I thought that I left all of that metaphysical ranting back in British Columbia. It’s bad enough here that Mexicans have fiestas in graveyards. How can they let children romp around the tombs and crucifixes, munching tiny sugar skulls, shinbones and pan de muertos? People even send their loved ones little sugar coffins with their names written in icing. It’s so macabre!”
“Yes. And if Uncle Pancho drove his truck off a cliff last year, you’ll buy a Pancho skull for the family altar and perhaps a large sugar skeleton clutching a real bottle of his favorite tequila and a cigarette.”
“Double yuk! And in their homes, tables turn into altars with food and delicacies heaped around photographs of the dead. The families actually eat this food together in the cemetery during the night of November 2. All night long, they eat and drink; with firecrackers and ringing bells to boot. How bizarre!”
“I see the meaning of traditional Día de Los Muertos escapes you completely. Can’t you see it’s the ideal occasion for reuniting families, both living and dead, once a year? Communion with the difuntos is an important ritual. Even when someone dies, yes, people are sad but there is dignity too with honoring the dead. Love need not end with death. Even the death of a child is not a catastrophe. A family knows that they have another ‘angelito’ to be its representative, its natural intercessor with God.”
“Even if I have to respect these people’s religious beliefs, I can’t understand this one! How can someone’s uncle lean against a tombstone reading a bawdy, satirical poem that rudely caricatures the mayor in the local newspaper? Now where is the respect in that!”
“¡Ay! Sátira. Another pastime down here that you judge so heavy handedly, mi gordita.”
Slivers of burning chilies shot from Sharon’s thin lips, “Did you just call me, fatty?”
“Little fat one. You know. The Mexican habit of calling people affectionate nicknames. And you are a little chubby, ¿verdad?”
“I can’t take this anymore! Get out of my house this instant, you dirty old bag of bones! I won’t listen to this crap about my death or anyone else’s. I’m not Mexican; I’m Canadian. And I’m going out right now and buying the biggest Maple Leaf flag I can find. Put it up and sing, ‘Oh! Canada” at the top of my lungs!”
“¡Cómo no! But please remember this, amiga mía. You can run but you cannot hide from death. As the esteemed poet laureate Octavio Paz said; ‘For us to be Mexican is a problem of life or death.’ The contemplation of horror, its familiarity is a constant element in the Mexican character. Whether you like it or not, you will be surrounded by these ideas while you live in Mexico.”
Sharon clenched her teeth, grabbed a pole lamp and charged at the Bony Woman. The pole caught the skeleton neatly under the rib cage and she dangled there helplessly. Spinning through the air, the grand floral hat pegged a potted pink fuchsia.
“I thought you Canadians were a polite and generous people!”
“Not today, I’m not!
With a sudden burst of strength, Sharon raced down the hallway and flung the skeleton out the door.
Like a handful of bony dice, the skeleton scattered over the sandy soil. Sharon sniffed loudly and slammed the door shut.
“Temper, temper,” chuckled the jawbone as the skull rolled to join its dismembered skeleton.
“I will call on you later, mi amigita. Besides like the saying “hay más tiempo que vida.” (There is more time than life.)