A Reasonably Comfortable Circle in Hell

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James Tipton

An original short story set in Mexico


That morning when Michael left his house on Miguel Blanco to head toward the tortillería on Constitución, on impulse he looked through the window of his little curb-parked 1996 Geo, only immediately to discover that during the night he had been robbed.

Maps, manuals, insurance papers, were scattered across the seats. Alas, he at last had forgotten the previous night to lock the door on the passenger side. Among those things missing was a set of keys, unlabeled, to a condo in Vallarta, and also a pair of old shoes, size 13 AAA, perhaps the only pair of shoes of that size in Ajijic other than the pair he was wearing.

But what was also missing, and this one hurt, was his old silver cross, encrusted with semi-precious stones and aged to perfection, a treasure that he had discovered at the Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara more than twenty years earlier. In recent months, it had dangled from the rear-view mirror, catching and refracting pieces of sun, keeping him safe.

Discovering that cross on his nightstand, his Mexican housekeeper had convinced him that it would protect his car and its occupants from evil, much the way the mosaic-tiled Guadalupe on the wall of his little Mexican house protected the interior and its inhabitants from evil, or much like those tattoos of Guadalupe on the backs of Mexican prisoners protected them from the swift knife, the secret attack.

Perhaps this particular thief would have gleefully plunged his deadly tool between those praying brown hands and into that Most Sacred of Hearts because he felt no temerity at all taking the precious and holy cross, moreover from a car parked on a street named Miguel Blanco, “White Michael,” after the mightiest of archangels.

The loss of the old shoes was not much, other than the difficulty of replacing shoes of that size here in the tropical mountains of Mexico. Michael thought it more humorous than anything else as he studied the modest-size feet of the people in the street as he was walking. But the loss of the cross was something else.

That cross, as well as those large feet, had carried him on many adventures. Wearing that protection, he had done his own pilgrimage of sorts around northern Argentina and among the ruins of Jesuit missions destroyed by the Mother Church herself when she was in cahoots with corrupt Europeans in need of Indian slaves. Wearing that cross he had wandered around Brazil, standing ecstatic in the mists of Iguazu Falls or lying on the beach at Florianopolis on the Pacific where he woke up two hours later with a white cross on his chest, left by the sun and absence of sun.

In Lima, dark plazas rose up in his memory, parks celebrating Bolivar and San Martin, parks where he himself celebrated a victory of his own: the full and eager lips of Lili, his Peruvian paramour. Even beneath the cathedral in the catacombs of that damp city he wore that cross, walking the ancient stone path between the carefully sorted boxes of human bones, with Lili behind him, intentionally squeezing against him, slipping her hands into his pockets.

In spite of U.S. State Department Do Not Travel Alerts, he and his Inca Lili walked the streets of tiny Peruvian towns filled with both danger and devotion. His jeweled cross hung like magic around his neck, like the sensuality that hung around the Latin ladies he hungered for.

At Macchu Picchu, while the sun rose, they straddled a wall near the Hitching Post of the Sun and faced each other without speaking. Lili, signaling with her dark eyes, moved his attention downward. Michael saw, sitting on the cross around his neck, a large, iridescent blue morpho butterfly, attracted by the early morning rays hitting the semi-precious stones, a strange flower of sorts.

And so, this day, walking toward the tortillería, the day of the theft of the sacred cross, Michael found himself remembering Lili and all those other Latin ladies he had loved.

Fingering the cross that existed now in imagination only, Michael began to live again those joyful journeys measured by kisses across Mexico and South America. All those lovely señoritas he fell in harmony with! All those dark corners and poorly lit paradises of old parks and decaying plazas and trees with roots out of fairy tales where those ladies who lived in crowded houses were at least free to resign themselves to a sultry celebration of the lips…. And who were also, in those same moments, comforted by the very cross that hung like holy innocence around his neck.

They offered kisses unlike anything he had ever experienced with women in the States where they were all too eager to hop to the thing itself, kissing for them only being the knock on the door that was promptly opened. There, in all those south-of-the border countries, ladies knew how to kiss. These ladies came to loss of virginity later in their lives than their American counterparts, and so they packed all of their passion, all of their longing for intimacy, into lips swelling in the hot summer night, the night itself so filled with fragrance one knew not whether it was jasmine or gardenia or frangipani or her very mouth that blossomed in that delicious dark.

It was memory now and only memory, and yes, by now, it had the distance of movie scenes one loved and lost and found again from time to time. But nevertheless, the heart was still able to leap a bit at the recovery of all those experiences and one could almost be grateful for the loss of that beloved cross because, on this warm day in April, those memories rose up and walked beside him.

Michael had, by now, without thinking, walked many blocks past the tortilleria, paying no mind to cobblestones, no mind to tortillas, feeling only the imaginary cross still performing its magic. And yes, he was willing now to consign that thief to a reasonably comfortable circle in hell, hopefully one filled with hot kisses.


Published or Updated on: May 1, 2007 by James Tipton © 2007


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