Ray Bradbury
                             http://raybradbury.ru

                                The Next in Line
                                      1947

     It was a little caricature of a town square. In it were the following fresh
ingredients:  a  candy-box of a bandstand where men stood on Thursday and Sunday
nights exploding music; fine, green-patinated bronze-copper benches all scrolled
and  flourished;  fine  blue  and  pink  tiled  walks—  blue  as women's newly
lacquered eyes, pink as women's hidden wonders; and fine French-clipped trees in
the  shapes  of exact hatboxes. The whole, from your hotel window, had the fresh
ingratiation  and unbelievable fantasy one might expect of a French villa in the
nineties.  But no, this was Mexico! and this a plaza in a small colonial Mexican
town,  with  a  fine State Opera House (in which movies were shown for two pesos
admission:  _Rasputin  and  the Empress_, _The Big House_, _Madame Curie_, _Love
Affair_, _Mama Loves Papa_).
     Joseph  came  out on the sun-heated balcony in the morning and knelt by the
grille,  pointing his little box Brownie. Behind him, in the bath, the water was
running and Marie's voice came out:
     "What're you doing?"
     He muttered "— a picture." She asked again. He clicked the shutter, stood
up,  wound  the  spool  inside, squinting, and said, "Took a picture of the town
square. God, didn't those men shout last night? I didn't sleep until two-thirty.
We would have to arrive when the local Rotary's having its whingding."
     "What're our plans for today?" she asked.
     "We're going to see the mummies," he said.
     "Oh," she said. There was a long silence.
     He came in, set the camera down, and lit himself a cigarette.
     "I'll go up and see them alone," he said, "if you'd rather."
     "No,"  she  said, not very loud. "I'll go along. But I wish we could forget
the whole thing. It's such a lovely little town."
     "Look  here!" he cried, catching a movement from the corner of his eyes. He
hurried  to the balcony, stood there, his cigarette smoking and forgotten in his
fingers. "Come quick, Marie!"
     "I'm drying myself," she said.
     "Please, hurry," he said, fascinated, looking down into the street.
     There  was  movement behind him, and then the odor of soap and water-rinsed
flesh, wet towel, fresh cologne; Marie was at his elbow. "Stay right there," she
cautioned him, "so I can look without exposing myself. I'm stark. What _is_ it?"
     "Look!" he cried.
     A  procession  traveled along the street. One man led it, with a package on
his  head.  Behind  him  came  women in black rebozos, chewing away the peels of
oranges  and  spitting them on the cobbles; little children at then- elbows, men
ahead  of  them.  Some  ate  sugar cane, gnawing away at the outer bark until it
split  down  and they pulled it off in great hunks to get at the succulent pulp,
and the juicy sinews on which to suck. In all, there were fifty people.
     "Joe," said Marie behind him, holding his arm.
     It  was  no ordinary package the first man in the procession carried on his
head,  balanced  delicately as a chicken-plume. It was covered with silver satin
and  silver  fringe  and  silver  rosettes. And he held it gently with one brown
hand, the other hand swinging free.
     This was a funeral and the little package was a coffin.
     Joseph glanced at his wife.
     She was the color of fine, fresh milk. The pink color of the bath was gone.
Her  heart had sucked it all down to some hidden vacuum in her. She held fast to
the  french doorway and watched the traveling people go, watched them eat fruit,
heard them talk gently, laugh gently. She forgot she was naked.
     He said, "Some little girl or boy gone to a happier place."
     "Where are they taking—her?"
     She  did  not think it unusual, her choice of the feminine pronoun. Already
she  had  identified  herself  with  that  tiny fragment parceled like an unripe
variety  of fruit. Now, in this moment, she was being carried up the hill within
com-pressing  darkness,  a  stone in a peach, silent and terrified, the touch of
the  father  against  the coffin material outside; gentle and noiseless and firm
inside.
     "To  the  graveyard,  naturally; that's where they're taking her," he said,
the cigarette making a filter of smoke across his casual face.
     "Not _the_ graveyard?"
     "There's  only  one  cemetery  in  these towns, you know that. They usually
hurry it. That little girl had probably been dead only a few hours."
     "A few hours——"
     She  turned  away,  quite  ridiculous,  quite  naked,  with  only the towel
supported  by  her limp, untrying hands. She walked toward the bed. "A few hours
ago she was alive, and now——"
     He  went  on, "Now they're hurrying her up the hill. The climate isn't kind
to the dead. It's hot, there's no embalming. They have to finish it quickly."
     "But to _that_ graveyard, that horrible place," she said, with a voice from
a dream.
     "Oh, the mummies," he said. "Don't let that bother you."
     She sat on the bed, again and again stroking the towel laid across her lap.
Her eyes were blind as the brown paps of her breasts. She did not see him or the
room. She knew that if he snapped his fingers or coughed, she wouldn't even look
up.
     "They were eating fruit at her funeral, and laughing," she said.
     "It's a long climb to the cemetery."
     She  shuddered, a convulsive motion, like a fish trying to free itself from
a  deep-swallowed hook. She lay back and he looked at her as one examines a poor
sculpture;  all  criticism,  all  quiet and easy and uncaring. She wondered idly
just  how  much  his  hands had had to do with the broadening and flattening and
changement  of  her  body. Certainly this was not the body he'd started with. It
was  past  saving  now.  Like clay which the sculptor has carelessly impregnated
with water, it was impossible to shape again. In order to shape clay you warm it
with your hands, evaporate the moisture with heat. But there was no more of that
fine  summer  weather  between  them. There was no warmth to bake away the aging
moisture that collected and made pendant now her breasts and body. When the heat
is  gone,  it  is  marvelous  and  unsettling to see how quickly a vessel stores
self-destroying water in its cells.
     "I  don't  feel  well," she said. She lay there, thinking it over. "I don't
feel  well,"  she  said again, when he made no response. After another minute or
two she lifted herself. "Let's not stay here another night, Joe."
     "But it's a wonderful town."
     "Yes,  but  we've  seen  everything."  She got up. She knew what came next.
Gayness,  blitheness,  encouragement,  everything  quite  false and hopeful. "We
could go on to Patzcuaro. Make it in no time. You won't have to pack, I'll do it
all  myself, darling! We can get a room at the Don Posada there. They say it's a
beautiful little town—"
     "This," he remarked, "is a beautiful little town."
     "Bougainvillea climb all over the buildings—" she said.
     "These—" he pointed to some flowers at the window "—are bougainvillea."
     "—and  we'd  fish,  you like fishing," she said in bright haste. "And I'd
fish,  too,  I'd learn, yes I would, I've always _wanted_ to learn! And they say
the Tarascan Indians there are almost Mongoloid in feature, and don't speak much
Spanish,  and from there we could go to Paracutin, that's near Uruapan, and they
have some of the finest lacquered boxes there, oh, it'll be fun, Joe. I'll pack.
You just take it easy, and—"
     "Marie."
     He stopped her with one word as she ran to the bathroom door.
     "Yes?"
     "I thought you said you didn't feel well?"
     "I didn't. I don't. But, thinking of all those swell places—"
     "We  haven't seen one-tenth of this town," he explained logically. "There's
that  statue  of  Morelos  on  the hill, I want a shot of that, and some of that
French  architecture  up  the  street ... we've traveled three hundred miles and
we've  been  here  one day and now want to rush off somewhere else. I've already
paid the rent for another night...."
     "You can get it back," she said.
     "Why  do  you  want to run away?" he said, looking at her with an attentive
simplicity. "Don't you like the town?"
     "I  simply  adore  it," she said, her cheeks white, smiling. "It's so green
and pretty."
     "Well, then," he said. "Another day. You'll love it. That's settled."
     She started to speak.
     "Yes?" he asked.
     "Nothing."
     She  closed  the  bathroom door. Behind it she rattled open a medicine box.
Water rushed into a tumbler. She was taking something for her stomach.
     He  came  to  the  bathroom  door. "Marie, the mummies don't bother you, do
they?"
     "Unh-unh," she said.
     "Was it the funeral, then?"
     "Unh."
     "Because,  if  you were really afraid, I'd pack in a moment, you know that,
darling."
     He waited.
     "No, I'm not afraid," she said.
     "Good girl," he said.

     
     The  graveyard  was enclosed by a thick adobe wall, and at its four corners
small stone angels tilted out on stony wings, their grimy beads capped with bird
droppings,  their  hands  gifted with amulets of the same substance, their faces
unquestionably freckled.
     In  the  warm  smooth flow of sunlight which was like a depthless, tideless
river,  Joseph and Marie climbed up the hill, their shadows slanting blue behind
them.  Helping  one another, they made the cemetery gate, swung back the Spanish
blue iron grille and entered.
     It  was  several mornings after the celebratory fiesta of El Dia de Muerte,
the  Day  of  the  Dead, and ribbons and ravels of tissue and sparkle-tape still
clung  like  insane hair to the raised stones, to the hand-carved, love-polished
crucifixes,  and  to  the above-ground tombs which resembled marble jewel-cases.
There   were  statues  frozen  in  angelic  postures  over  gravel  mounds,  and
intricately  carved stones tall as men with angels spilling all down their rims,
and  tombs  as  big  and ridiculous as beds put out to dry in the sun after some
nocturnal  accident. And within the four walls of the yard, inserted into square
mouths  and  slots,  were  coffins,  walled  in,  plated in by marble plates and
plaster,  upon  which  names were struck and upon which hung tin pictures, cheap
peso portraits of the inserted dead. Thumb-tacked to the different pictures were
trinkets  they'd loved in life, silver charms, silver arms, legs, bodies, silver
cups,  silver dogs, silver church medallions, bits of red crape and blue ribbon.
On  some  places  were painted slats of tin showing the dead rising to heaven in
oil-tinted angels' arms.
     Looking at the graves again, they saw the remnants of the death fiesta. The
little  tablets  of  tallow  splashed  over  the  stones  by the lighted festive
candles,  the  wilted  orchid  blossoms lying like crushed red-purple tarantulas
against  the  milky  stones,  some  of  them  looking  horridly sexual, limp and
withered. There were loop-frames of cactus leaves, bamboo, reeds, and wild, dead
morning-glories.  There  were  circles of gardenias and sprigs of bougainvillea,
desiccated. The entire floor of the yard seemed a ballroom after a wild dancing,
from  which  the  participants  have  fled; the tables askew, confetti, candles,
ribbons and deep dreams left behind.
     They  stood,  Marie  and Joseph, in the warm silent yard, among the stones,
between  the walls. Far over in one comer a little man with high cheekbones, the
milk  color of the Spanish infiltration, thick glasses, a black coat, a gray hat
and  gray, unpressed pants and neatly laced shoes, moved about among the stones,
supervising something or other that another man in overalls was doing to a grave
with  a  shovel.  The  little man with glasses carried a thrice folded newspaper
under his left arm and had his hands in his pockets.
     "_Buenos  diaz,  senora  y senor!_" he said, when he finally noticed Joseph
and Marie and came to see them.
     "Is this the place of _las mommias?_" asked Joseph. "They do exist, do they
not?"
     "_Si_,  the  mummies,"  said  the  man.  "They  exist  and are here. In the
catacombs."
     "_Por favor_," said Joseph. "_Yo quiero veo las mommias, si?_"
     "_Si, senor_."
     "_Me Espanol es mucho estupido, es muy malo_," apolo-gized Joseph.
     "No, no, _senor_. You speak well! This way, please."
     He  led between the flowered stones to a tomb near the wall shadows. It was
a  large flat tomb, flush with the gravel, with a thin kindling door flat on it,
padlocked.  It was unlocked and the wooden door flung back rattling to one side.
Revealed  was  a  round hole the circled interior of which contained steps which
screwed into the earth.
     Before  Joseph  could  move,  his  wife had set her foot on the first step.
"Here," he said. "Me first."
     "No.  That's  all right," she said, and went down and around in a darkening
spiral  until  the  earth  vanished her. She moved carefully, for the steps were
hardly enough to contain a child's feet. It got dark and she heard the caretaker
stepping  after  her, at her ears, and then it got light again. They stepped out
into  a  long  whitewashed  hall twenty feet under the earth, dimly lit by a few
small  gothic windows high in the arched ceiling. The hall was fifty yards long,
ending  on  the left in a double door in which were set tall crystal panes and a
sign  forbidding  entrance.  On  the  right end of the hall was a large stack of
white rods and round white stones.
     "The soldiers who fought for Father Morelos," said the caretaker.
     They  walked to the vast pile. They were neatly put in place, bone on bone,
like firewood, and on top was a mound of a thousand dry skulls.
     "I  don't mind skulls and bones," said Marie. "There's nothing even vaguely
human  to  them.  I'm  not  scared  of  skulls and bones. They're like something
insectile.  If  a  child was raised and didn't know he had a skeleton in him, he
wouldn't think anything of bones, would he? That's how it is with me. Everything
human  has  been  scraped  off  _these_.  There's  nothing  familiar  left to be
horrible.  In order for a thing to be horrible it has to suffer a change you can
recognize.  This  isn't changed. They're still skeletons, like they always were.
The part that changed is gone, and so there's nothing to show for it. Isn't that
interesting?"
     Joseph nodded.
     She was quite brave now.
     "Well," she said, "let's see the mummies."
     "Here, _senora_," said the caretaker.
     He took them far down the hall away from the stack of bones and when Joseph
paid him a peso he unlocked the forbidden crystal doors and opened them wide and
they looked into an even longer, dimly lighted hall in which stood the people.

     
     They  waited  inside the door in a long line under the arch-roofed ceiling,
fifty-five of them against one wall, on the left, fifty-five of them against the
right wall, and five of them way down at the very end.
     "Mister Interlocutor!" said Joseph, briskly.
     They resembled nothing more than those preliminary erections of a sculptor,
the  wire  frame,  the first tendons of clay, the muscles, and a thin lacquer of
skin. They were unfinished, all one hundred and fifteen of them.
     They  were  parchment-colored and the skin was stretched as if to dry, from
bone to bone. The bodies were intact, only the watery humors had evaporated from
them.
     "The climate," said the caretaker. "It preserves them. Very dry."
     "How long have they been here?" asked Joseph.
     "Some one year, some five, _senor_, some ten, some sev-enty."
     There  was  an  embarrassment  of horror. You started with the first man on
your  right,  hooked  and wired upright against the wall, and he was not good to
look  upon,  and  you  went on to the woman next to him who was unbelievable and
then  to a man who was horrendous and then to a woman who was very sorry she was
dead and in such a place as this.
     "What are they doing here?" said Joseph.
     "Their relatives did not pay the rent upon their graves."
     "Is there a rent?"
     "_Si,  senor_.  Twenty  pesos  a  year.  Or,  if  they desire the permanent
interment, one hundred seventy pesos. But our people, they are very poor, as you
must  know, and one hundred seventy pesos is as much as many of them make in two
years. So they carry their dead here and place them into the earth for one year,
and the twenty pesos are paid, with fine intentions of paying each year and each
year,  but each year and each year after the first year they have a burro to buy
or  a new mouth to feed, or maybe three new mouths, and the dead, after all, are
not hungry, and the dead, after all, can pull no ploughs; or there is a new wife
or there is a roof in need of mending, and the dead, remember, can be in no beds
with a man, and the dead, you understand, can keep no rain off one, and so it is
that the dead are not paid up upon their rent."
     "_Then_ what happens? Are you listening, Marie?" said Joseph.
     Marie  counted  the bodies. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,
"What?" she said, quietly.
     "Are you listening?"
     "I think so. What? Oh, yes! I'm listening."
     Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen.
     "Well,  then,"  said  the  little  man. "I call a _trabajando_ and with his
delicate  shovel  at the end of the first year he does dig and dig and dig down.
How deep do you think we dig, _senor_?"
     "Six feet. That's the usual depth."
     "Ah,  no,  ah, no. There, senor, you would be wrong. Knowing that after the
first year the rent is liable not to be paid, we bury the poorest two feet down.
It  is less work, you understand? Of course, we must judge by the family who own
a  body.  Some  of  them  we  bury  sometimes  three,  sometimes four feet deep,
sometimes five, sometimes six, depending on how rich the family is, depending on
what  the  chances are we won't have to dig him from out his place a year later.
And, let me tell you, _senor_, when we bury a man the whole six feet deep we are
very  certain  of  his  staying. We have never dug up a six-foot-buried one yet,
that is the accuracy with which we know the money of the people."
     Twenty-one,  twenty-two,  twenty-three.  Marie's  lips  moved  with a small
whisper.
     "And  the  bodies  which  are dug up are placed down here against the wall,
with the other _compañeros_."
     "Do the relatives know the bodies are here?"
     "_Si_." The small man pointed. "This one, _yo veo_?" It is new. It has been
here but one year. His _madre y padre_ know him to be here. But have they money?
Ah, no."
     "Isn't that rather gruesome for his parents?"
     The little man was earnest. "They never think of it," he said.
     "Did you hear that, Marie?"
     "What?"  Thirty,  thirty-one,  thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four. "Yes.
They never think of it."
     "What if the rent is paid again, after a lapse?" inquired Joseph.
     "In  that  time," said the caretaker, "the bodies are re-buried for as many
years as are paid."
     "Sounds like blackmail," said Joseph.
     The little man shrugged, hands in pockets. "We must live."
     "You  are  certain  no  one  can  pay the one hundred sev-enty pesos all at
once,"  said  Joseph. "So in this way you get them for twenty pesos a year, year
after  year,  for  maybe  thirty years. If they don't pay, you threaten to stand
_mamacita_ or little _nino_ in the catacomb."
     "We must live," said the little man.
     Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three.
     Marie  counted in the center of the long corridor, the standing dead on all
sides of her.
     They were screaming.
     They  looked  as  if  they  had  leaped,  snapped  upright in their graves,
clutched hands over their shriveled bosoms and screamed, jaws wide, tongues out,
nostrils flared.
     And been frozen that way.
     All  of  them  had open mouths. Theirs was a perpetual screaming. They were
dead and they knew it. In every raw fiber and evaporated organ they knew it.
     She stood listening to them scream.
     They say dogs hear sounds humans never hear, sounds so many decibels higher
than normal hearing that they seem nonexistent.
     The  corridor  swarmed with screams. Screams poured from terror-yawned lips
and dry tongues, screams you couldn't hear because they were so high.
     Joseph walked up to one standing body.
     "Say 'ah,'" he said.
     Sixty-five, sixty-six, sixty-seven, counted Marie, among the screams.
     "Here is an interesting one," said the proprietor.
     They  saw  a  woman  with arms flung to her head, mouth wide, teeth intact,
whose  hair  was wildly flourished, long and shimmery on her head. Her eyes were
small pale white-blue eggs in her skull.
     "Sometimes,  this  happens.  This  woman,  she is a cataleptic. One day she
falls  down upon the earth, but is really not dead, for, deep in her, the little
drum  of her heart beats and beats, so dim one cannot hear. So she was buried in
the graveyard in a fine inexpensive box...."
     "Didn't you know she was cataleptic?"
     "Her  sisters  knew.  But  this  time  they  thought  her at last dead. And
funerals are hasty things in this warm town."
     "She was buried a few hours after her 'death?'"
     "_Si_,  the  same.  All  of  this, as you see her here, we would never have
known,  if a year later her sisters, having other things to buy, had not refused
the  rent on her burial. So we dug very quietly down and loosed the box and took
it  up  and  opened  the  top  of  her  box and laid it aside and looked in upon
her——"
     Marie stared.
     This  woman had wakened under the earth. She had torn, shrieked, clubbed at
the  box-lid with fists, died of suffocation, in this attitude, hands flung over
her gaping face, horror-eyed, hair wild.
     "Be pleased, _senor_, to find that difference between _her_ hands and these
other ones," said the caretaker. "Their peaceful fingers at their hips, quiet as
little roses. Hers? Ah, hers! are jumped up, very wildly, as if to pound the lid
free!"
     "Couldn't rigor mortis do that?"
     "Believe  me,  _senor_,  rigor  mortis  pounds  upon  no lids. Rigor mortis
screams  not  like  this, nor twists nor wrestles to rip free nails, _senor_, or
prise boards loose hunting for air, _senor_. All these others are open of mouth,
_si_, because they were not injected with the fluids of embalming, but theirs is
a  simple  screaming  of  muscles,  _senor_.  This _senorita_, here, hers is the
_muerte horrible_."
     Marie walked, scuffling her shoes, turning first this way, then that. Naked
bodies.  Long  ago  the clothes had whispered away. The fat women's breasts were
lumps  of  yeasty dough left in the dust. The men's loins were indrawn, withered
orchids.
     "Mr. Grimace and Mr. Gape," said Joseph.
     He  pointed  his  camera  at  two men who seemed in conversation, mouths in
mid-sentence, hands gesticulant and stiffened over some long-dissolved gossip.
     Joseph  clicked the shutter, rolled the film, focused the camera on another
body, clicked the shutter, rolled the film, walked on to another.
     Eighty-one,  eighty-two,  eighty-three. Jaws down, tongues out like jeering
children,  eyes  pale  brown-irised  in  upclenched  sockets.  Hairs,  waxed and
prickled by sunlight, each sharp as quills embedded on the lips, the cheeks, the
eyelids,  the  brows.  Little  beards  on chins and bosoms and loins. Flesh like
drumheads  and  manuscripts  and  crisp  bread dough. The women, huge ill-shaped
tallow things, death-melted. The insane hair of them, like nests made and unmade
and  remade.  Teeth,  each  single, each fine, each perfect, in jaw. Eighty-six,
eighty-seven,  eighty-eight.  A  rushing  of  Marie's  eyes.  Down the corridor,
flicking.  Counting, rushing, never stopping. On! Quick! Ninety-one, ninety-two,
ninety-three!  Here  was  a  man, his stomach open, like a tree hollow where you
dropped  your child love letters when you were eleven! Her eyes entered the hole
in  the  space  under  his  ribs.  She  peeked in. He looked like an Erector set
inside. The spine, the pelvic plates. The rest was tendon, parchment, bone, eye,
beardy  jaw, ear, stupefied nostril. And this ragged eaten cincture in his navel
into  which  a  pudding  might  be  spooned.  Ninety-seven, ninety-eight! Names,
places, dates, things!
     "This woman died in childbirth!"
     Like  a little hungry doll, the prematurely born child was wired, dangling,
to her wrist.
     "This was a soldier. His uniform still half on him——"
     Marie's  eyes  slammed  the  furthest  wall  after a back-forth, back-forth
swinging  from  horror  to horror, from skull to skull, beating from rib to rib,
staring  with  hypnotic  fascination at paralyzed, loveless, fleshless loins, at
men made into women by evaporation, at women made into dugged swine. The fearful
ricochet  of  vision,  growing,  growing,  taking impetus from swollen breast to
raving  mouth, wall to wall, wall to wall, again, again, like a ball hurled in a
game, caught in the incredible teeth, spat in a scream across the corridor to be
caught  in claws, lodged between thin teats, the whole standing chorus invisibly
chanting  the  game  on,  on,  the  wild  game  of  sight recoiling, rebounding,
reshuttling  on  down the inconceivable procession, through a montage of erected
horrors  that  ended  finally  and  for all time when vision crashed against the
corridor ending with one last scream from all present!
     Marie  turned and shot her vision far down to where the spiral steps walked
up into sunlight. How talented was death. How many expressions and manipulations
of  hand,  face,  body,  no two alike. They stood like the naked pipes of a vast
derelict  calliope,  their mouths cut into frantic vents. And now the great hand
of  mania  descended  upon all keys at once, and the long calliope screamed upon
one hundred-throated, unending scream.
     Click went the camera and Joseph rolled the film. Click went the camera and
Joseph rolled the film.
     Moreno,  Morelos,  Cantine,  Gomez,  Gutierrez,  Villanousul, Ureta, Licon,
Navarro,  Iturbi;  Jorge,  Filomena, Nena, Manuel, Jose, Tomas, Ramona. This man
walked  and  this  man  sang  and this man had three wives; and this man died of
this,  and  that  of  that, and the third from another thing, and the fourth was
shot,  and  the fifth was stabbed and the sixth fell straight down dead; and the
seventh  drank  deep  and  died dead, and the eighth died in love, and the ninth
fell  from  his horse, and the tenth coughed blood, and the eleventh stopped his
heart, and the twelfth used to laugh much, and the thirteenth was a dancing one,
and the fourteenth was most beautiful of all, the fifteenth had ten children and
the sixteenth is one of those children as is the seventeenth; and the eighteenth
was  Tomas  and  did  well  with  his  guitar; the next three cut maize in their
fields,   had  three  lovers  each;  the  twenty-second  was  never  loved;  the
twenty-third  sold  tortillas,  patting and shaping them each at the curb before
the  Opera  House with her little charcoal stove; and the twenty-fourth beat his
wife and now she walks proudly in the town and is merry with new men and here he
stands  bewildered  by  this  unfair  thing,  and the twenty-fifth drank several
quarts  of  river  with  his  lungs  and  was  pulled  forth  in  a net, and the
twenty-sixth  was  a great thinker and his brain now sleeps like a burnt plum in
his skull.
     "I'd  like  a  color  shot  of  each, and his or her name and how he or she
died,"  said  Joseph.  "It would be an amazing, an ironical book to publish. The
more  you  think,  the  more  it  grows  on you. Their life histories and then a
picture of each of them standing here."
     He  tapped  each  chest,  softly. They gave off hollow sounds, like someone
rapping on a door.
     Marie  pushed  her  way through screams that hung net-wise across her path.
She  walked  evenly,  in the corridor center, not slow, but not too fast, toward
the spiral stair, not looking to either side. Click went the camera behind her.
     "You have room down here for more?" said Joseph.
     "_Si, senor_. Many more."
     "Wouldn't want to be next in line, next on your waiting list."
     "Ah, no, _senor_, one would not wish to be next."
     "How are chances of buying one of these?"
     "Oh, no, no, _senor_. Oh, no, no. Oh no, _senor_."
     "I'll pay you fifty pesos."
     "Oh, no, _senor_, no, no, _senor_."

     
     In  the  market,  the  remainder of candy skulls from the Death Fiesta were
sold  from  flimsy little tables. Women hung with black rebozos sat quietly, now
and  then  speaking  one  word  to  each  other,  the sweet sugar skeletons, the
saccharine corpses and white candy skulls at their elbows. Each skull had a name
on  top  in  gold  candy curlicue; Jose or Carmen or Ramon or Tena or Guiermo or
Rosa.  They  sold cheap. The Death Festival was gone. Joseph paid a peso and got
two candy skulls.
     Marie  stood  in the narrow street. She saw the candy skulls and Joseph and
the dark ladies who put the skulls in a bag.
     "Not _really_," said Marie.
     "Why not?" said Joseph.
     "Not after just _now_," she said.
     "In the catacombs?"
     She nodded.
     He said, "But these are good."
     "They look poisonous."
     "Just because they're skull-shaped?"
     "No.  The  sugar itself looks raw, how do you know what kind of people made
them, they might have the colic."
     "My dear Marie, all people in Mexico have colic," he said.
     "You can eat them both," she said.
     "Alas, poor Yorick," he said, peeking into the bag.
     They  walked  along  a street that was held between high buildings in which
were  yellow  window  frames and pink iron grilles and the smell of tamales came
from  them  and the sound of lost fountains splashing on hidden tiles and little
birds  clustering  and  peeping  in bamboo cages and someone playing Chopin on a
piano.
     "Chopin, here," said Joseph. "How strange and swell." He looked up. "I like
that  bridge. Hold this." He handed her the candy bag while he clicked a picture
of  a  red  bridge  spanning two white buildings with a man walking on it, a red
serape on his shoulder. "Fine," said Joseph.
     Marie walked looking at Joseph, looking away from him and then back at him,
her  lips  moving  but  not  speaking, her eyes fluttering, a little neck muscle
under  her  chin like a wire, a little nerve in her brow ticking. She passed the
candy  bag  from  one  hand  to  the  other.  She stepped up a curb, leaned back
somehow, gestured, said something to restore balance, and dropped the bag.
     "For  Christ's  sake."  Joseph snatched up the bag. "Look what you've done!
Clumsy!"
     "I should have broken my ankle," she said, "I sup-pose."
     "These  were  the  best skulls; both of them smashed; I wanted to save them
for friends up home."
     "I'm sorry," she said, vaguely.
     "For  God's  sake,  oh, damn it to hell." He scowled into the bag. "I might
not find any more good as these. Oh, I don't know, I give up!"
     The  wind  blew and they were alone in the street, he staring down into the
shattered  debris in the bag, she with the street shadows all around her, sun on
the  other  side of the street, nobody about, and the world far away, the two of
them alone, two thousand miles from anywhere, on a street in a false town behind
which  was  nothing  and  around  which was nothing but blank desert and circled
hawks.  On  top  the  State  Opera House, a block down, the golden Greek statues
stood  sun-bright  and high, and in a beer place a shouting phonograph cried AY,
MARIMBA  ...  _corazon_  ... and all kinds of alien words which the wind stirred
away.
     Joseph twisted the bag shut, stuck it furiously in his pocket.
     They walked back to the two-thirty lunch at the hotel.
     He  sat  at  the  table with Marie, sipping Albondigas soup from his moving
spoon,  silently.  Twice  she  commented  cheerfully upon the wall murals and he
looked  at  her  steadily  and  sipped.  The  bag  of  cracked skulls lay on the
table....
     "_Senora_ ..."
     The soup plates were cleared by a brown hand. A large plate of _enchiladas_
was set down.
     Marie looked at the plate.
     There were sixteen _enchiladas_.
     She  put  her  fork and knife out to take one and stopped. She put her fork
and  knife  down at each side of her plate. She glanced at the walls and then at
her husband and then at the sixteen _enchiladas_.
     Sixteen. One by one. A long row of them, crowded together.
     She counted them.
     One, two, three, four, five, six.
     Joseph took one on his plate and ate it.
     Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven.
     She put her hands on her lap.
     Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. She finished counting.
     "I'm not hungry," she said.
     He placed another _enchilada_ before himself. It had an interior clothed in
a  papyrus  of corn _tortilla_. It was slender and it was one of many he cut and
placed  in his mouth and she chewed it for him in her mind's mouth, and squeezed
her eyes tight.
     "Eh?" he asked.
     "Nothing," she said.
     Thirteen _enchiladas_ remained, like tiny bundles, like scrolls.
     He ate five more.
     "I don't feel well," she said.
     "Feel better if you ate," he said.
     "No."
     He  finished,  then opened the sack and took out one of the half-demolished
skulls.
     "Not _here_?" she said.
     "Why  not?" And he put one sugar socket to his lips, chewing. "Not bad," he
said,  thinking  the  taste.  He popped in another section of skull. "Not bad at
all."
     She looked at the name on the skull he was eating. _
     Marie_, it said.

     
     It  was tremendous, the way she helped him pack. In those newsreels you see
men  leap  off  diving-boards  into pools, only, a moment later when the reel is
reversed,  to  jump  back  up  in  airy  fantasy to alight once more safe on the
diving-board.  Now,  as  Joseph  watched,  the suits and dresses flew into their
boxes  and  cases,  the hats were like birds darting, clapped into round, bright
hatboxes,  the  shoes  seemed  to  run  across  the floor like mice to leap into
valises. The suitcases banged shut, the hasps clicked, the keys turned.
     "There!"  she  cried.  "All  packed! Oh, Joe, I'm so glad you let me change
your mind."
     She started for the door.
     "Here, let me help," he said.
     "They're not heavy," she said.
     "But you never carry suitcases. You never have. I'll call a boy."
     "Nonsense," she said, breathless with the weight of the valises.
     A boy seized the cases outside the door. "_Senora, par favor_!"
     "Have  we forgotten anything?" He looked under the two beds, he went out on
the balcony and gazed at the plaza, came in, went to the bathroom, looked in the
cabinet  and  on  the  washbowl.  "Here,"  he  said,  coming out and handing her
something. "You forgot your wrist watch."
     "Did I?" She put it on and went out the door.
     "I don't know," he said. "It's damn late in the day to be moving out."
     "It's only three-thirty," she said. "Only three-thirty."
     "I don't know," he said, doubtfully.
     He  looked  around  the room, stepped out, closed the door, locked it, went
downstairs, jingling the keys.
     She was outside in the car already, settled in, her coat folded on her lap,
her gloved hands folded on the coat. He came out, supervised the loading of what
luggage remained into the trunk receptacle, came to the front door and tapped on
the window. She unlocked it and let him in.
     "Well,  here  we  _go!_"  She  cried  with a laugh, her face rosy, her eyes
frantically bright. She was leaning forward as if by this movement she might set
the  car  rolling merrily down the hill. "Thank you, darling, for letting me get
the  refund  on  the money you paid for our room tonight. I'm sure we'll like it
much better in Guadalajara tonight. Thank you!"
     "Yeah," he said.
     Inserting the ignition keys he stepped on the starter.
     Nothing happened.
     He stepped on the starter again. Her mouth twitched.
     "It needs warming," she said. "It was a cold night last night."
     He tried it again. Nothing.
     Marie's hands tumbled on her lap.
     He tried it six more times. "Well," he said, lying back, ceasing.
     "Try it again, next tune it'll work," she said.
     "It's no use," he said. "Something's wrong."
     "Well, you've got to try it once more."
     He tried it once more.
     "It'll work, I'm sure," she said. "Is the ignition on?"
     "Is the ignition on," he said. "Yes, it's _on_."
     "It doesn't look like it's on," she said.
     "It's on." He showed her by twisting the key.
     "_Now_, try it," she said.
     "There," he said, when nothing happened. "I _told_ you."
     "You're not doing it right; it almost caught that time," she cried.
     "I'll  wear  out  the  battery,  and  God knows where you can buy a battery
here."
     "Wear it out, then. I'm sure it'll start next time!"
     "Well, if you're so good, you try it." He slipped from the car and beckoned
her over behind the wheel. "Go ahead!"
     She  bit  her  lips  and  settled behind the wheel. She did things with her
hands  that were like a little mystic ceremony; with moves of hands and body she
was trying to overcome gravity, friction and every other natural law. She patted
the  starter  with  her  toeless shoe. The car remained solemnly quiet. A little
squeak came out of Marie's tightened lips. She rammed the starter home and there
was a clear smell in the air as she fluttered the choke.
     "You've flooded it," he said. "Fine! Get back over on your side, will you?"
     He  got  three boys to push and they started the car downhill. He jumped in
to  steer.  The  car  rolled  swiftly, bumping and rattling. Marie's face glowed
expectantly. "This'll start it!" she said.
     Nothing started. They rolled quietly into the filling station at the bottom
of the hill, bumping softly on the cobbles, and stopped by the tanks.
     She sat there, saying nothing, and when the attendant came from the station
her  door  was locked, the window up, and he had to come around on the husband's
side to make his query.

     
     The  mechanic  arose  from the car engine, scowled at Joseph and they spoke
together in Spanish, quietly.
     She rolled the window down and listened.
     "What's he say?" she demanded.
     The two men talked on.
     "What does he say?" she asked.
     The dark mechanic waved at the engine. Joseph nodded and they conversed.
     "What's wrong?" Marie wanted to know.
     Joseph  frowned  over  at  her. "Wait a moment, will you? I can't listen to
both of you."
     The mechanic took Joseph's elbow. They said many words.
     "What's he saying now?" she asked.
     "He  says—" said Joseph, and was lost as the Mexican took him over to the
engine and bent him down in earnest discovery.
     "How  much  will  it cost?" she cried, out the window, around at their bent
backs.
     The mechanic spoke to Joseph.
     "Fifty pesos," said Joseph.
     "How long will it take?" cried his wife.
     Joseph  asked  the  mechanic.  The  man  shrugged  and they argued for five
minutes.
     "How long will it take?" said Marie.
     The discussion continued.
     The  sun went down the sky. She looked at the sun upon the trees that stood
high  by  the  cemetery  yard.  The  shadows  rose and rose until the valley was
enclosed and only the sky was clear and untouched and blue.
     "Two days, maybe three," said Joseph, turning to Marie.
     "Two  days!  Can't he fix it so we can just go on to the next town and have
the rest done there?"
     Joseph asked the man. The man replied.
     Joseph said to his wife. "No, he'll have to do the entire job."
     "Why,  that's  silly,  it's  so silly, he doesn't either, he doesn't really
have  to  do it all, you tell him that, Joe, tell him that, he can hurry and fix
it——"
     The two men ignored her. They were talking earnestly again.

     
     This  time  it was all in very slow motion. The unpacking of the suitcases.
He did his own, she left hers by the door.
     "I don't need anything," she said, leaving it locked.
     "You'll need your nightgown," he said.
     "I'll sleep naked," she said.
     "Well, it isn't my fault," he said. "That damned car."
     "You  can  go  down and watch them work on it, later," she said. She sat on
the edge of the bed. They were in a new room. She had refused to return to their
old room. She said she couldn't stand it. She wanted a new room so it would seem
they  were  in a new hotel in a new city. So this was a new room, with a view of
the alley and the sewer system instead of the plaza and the drum-box trees. "You
go down and supervise the work, Joe. If you don't, you know they'll take weeks!"
She looked at him. "You should be down there now, instead of standing around."
     "I'll go down," he said.
     "I'll go down with you. I want to buy some magazines."
     "You won't find any American magazines in a town like this."
     "I can look, can't I?"
     "Besides, we haven't much money," he said. "I don't want to have to wire my
bank. It takes a god-awful time and it's not worth the bother."
     "I can at least have my magazines," she said.
     "Maybe one or two," he said.
     "As many as I want," she said, feverishly, on the bed.
     "For  God's  sake,  you've  got a million magazines in the car now. _Posts,
Collier's,  Mercury,  Atlantic  Monthly  s, Barnaby. Superman! _You haven't read
half of the articles."
     "But  they're  not  new," she said. "They're not new, I've _looked_ at them
and after you've looked at a thing, I don't know——"
     "Try reading them instead of looking at them," he said.
     As they came downstairs night was in the plaza.
     "Give  me  a  few  pesos," she said, and he gave her some. "Teach me to say
about magazines in Spanish," she said.
     "_Quiero una publicacion Americana_," he said, walking swiftly.
     She repeated it, stumblingly, and laughed. "Thanks."
     He  went  on ahead to the mechanic's shop, and she turned in at the nearest
_Farmacia  Botica_,  and  all  the  magazines racked before her there were alien
colors  and  alien  names.  She read the titles with swift moves of her eyes and
looked  at the old man behind the counter. "Do you have American magazines?" she
asked in English, embarrassed to use the Spanish words.
     The old man stared at her.
     "_Habla Ingles_?" she asked.
     "No, _senorita_."
     She  tried  to  think of the right words. "_Quiero_—no!" She stopped. She
started again. "_Americano—uh—maggah-zeen-as_?"
     "Oh, no, _senorita_!"
     Her  hands  opened  wide  at her waist, then closed, like mouths. Her mouth
opened  and  closed.  The shop had a veil over it, in her eyes. Here she was and
here  were these small baked adobe people to whom she could say nothing and from
whom  she could get no words she understood, and she was in a town of people who
said  no words to her and she said no words to them except in blushing confusion
and  bewilderment. And the town was circled by desert and time, and home was far
away, far away in another life.
     She whirled and fled.
     Shop  following shop she found no magazines save those giving bullfights in
blood on their covers or murdered people or lace-confection priests. But at last
three  poor copies of the _Post_ were bought with much display and loud laughter
and she gave the vendor of this small shop a handsome tip.
     Rushing out with the _Posts_ eagerly on her bosom in both hands she hurried
along  the narrow walk, took a skip over the gutter, ran across the street, sang
la-la,  jumped onto the further walk, made another little scamper with her feet,
smiled  an inside smile, moving along swiftly, pressing the magazines tightly to
her, half-closing her eyes, breathing the charcoal evening air, feeling the wind
watering past her ears.
     Starlight  tinkled  in  golden  nuclei off the highly perched Greek figures
atop the State theatre. A man shambled by in the shadow, balancing upon his head
a basket. The basket contained bread loaves.
     She  saw  the man and the balanced basket and suddenly she did not move and
there  was  no  inside  smile,  nor did her hands clasp tight the magazines. She
watched  the  man  walk, with one band of his gently poised up to tap the basket
any  time  it  unbalanced,  and down the street he dwindled, while the magazines
slipped from Marie's fingers and scattered on the walk.
     Snatching them up, she ran into the hotel and almost fell going upstairs.

     
     She  sat in the room. The magazines were piled on each side of her and in a
circle  at her feet. She had made a little castle with portcullises of words and
into this she was withdrawn. All about her were the magazines she had bought and
bought  and  looked  at  and  looked  at on other days, and these were the outer
barrier,  and upon the inside of the barrier, upon her lap, as yet unopened, but
her  hands  were  trembling  to  open them and read and read and read again with
hungry  eyes,  were  the  three  battered _Post_ magazines. She opened the first
page.  She  would go through them page by page, line by line, she decided. Not a
line  would  go unnoticed, a comma unread, every little ad and every color would
be  fixed by her. And—she smiled with discovery— in those other magazines at
her  feet were still advertisements and cartoons she had neglected—there would
be little morsels of stuff for her to reclaim and utilize later.
     She  would  read this first _Post_ tonight, yes tonight she would read this
first  delicious  _Post_.  Page  on page she would eat it and tomorrow night, if
there  was  going to be a tomorrow night, but maybe there wouldn't be a tomorrow
night  here,  maybe  the  motor  would start and there'd be odors of exhaust and
round  hum  of  rubber tire on road and wind riding in the window and pennanting
her  hair—but, sup-pose, just suppose there would BE a tomorrow night here, in
this  room. Well, then, there would be two more _Posts_, one for tomorrow night,
and  the  next  for  the  next night. How neatly she said it to herself with her
mind's tongue. She turned the first page.
     She  turned  the  second  page.  Her eyes moved over it and over it and her
fingers  unknown  to  her  slipped  under  the  next  page  and  flickered it in
preparation  for turning, and the watch ticked on her wrist, and time passed and
she  sat  turning pages, turning pages, hungrily seeing the framed people in the
pictures,  people who lived in another land in another world where neons bravely
held  off  the  night  with crimson bars and the smells were home smells and the
people  talked  good  fine words and here she was turning the pages, and all the
lines went across and down and the pages flew under her hands, making a fan. She
threw  down  the first _Post_, seized on and rimed through the second in half an
hour, threw that down, took up the third, threw that down a good fifteen minutes
later and found herself breathing, breathing stiffly and swiftly in her body and
out of her mouth. She put her hand up to the back of her neck.
     Somewhere, a soft breeze was blowing.
     The hairs along the back of her neck slowly stood up-right.
     She touched them with one pale hand as one touches the nape of a dandelion.
     Outside, in the plaza, the street lights rocked like crazy flashlights on a
wind.  Papers  ran  through  the  gutters  in sheep flocks. Shadows penciled and
slashed  under  the  bucketing  lamps  now this way, now that, here a shadow one
instant,  there a shadow next, now no shadows, all cold light, now no light, all
cold blue-black shadow. The lamps creaked on their high metal hasps.
     In  the  room  her  hands  began to tremble. She saw them tremble. Her body
began  to tremble. Under the bright bright print of the brightest, loudest skirt
she  could  find  to put on especially for tonight, in which she had whirled and
cavorted  feverishly before the coffin-sized mirror, beneath the rayon skirt the
body  was  all wire and tendon and excitation. Her teeth chattered and fused and
chattered. Her lipstick smeared, one lip crushing another.
     Joseph knocked on the door.

     
     They  got  ready  for bed. He had returned with the news that something had
been done to the car and it would take time, he'd go watch them tomorrow.
     "But  don't knock on the door," she said, standing before the mirror as she
undressed.
     "Leave it unlocked then," he said.
     "I want it locked. But don't rap. Call."
     "What's wrong with rapping?" he said.
     "It sounds funny," she said.
     "What do you mean, funny?"
     She  wouldn't  say.  She  was  looking at herself in the mirror and she was
naked,  with her hands at her sides, and there were her breasts and her hips and
her  entire body, and it moved, it felt the floor under it and the walls and air
around  it,  and  the  breasts could know hands if hands were put there, and the
stomach would make no hollow echo if touched.
     "For God's sake," he said, "don't stand there admiring yourself." He was in
bed.  "What are you doing?" he said. "What're you putting your hands up that way
for, over your face?"
     He put the lights out.
     She  could  not speak to him for she knew no words that he knew and he said
nothing  to  her that she understood, and she walked to her bed and slipped into
it  and  he  lay  with  his  back to her in his bed and he was like one of these
brown-baked  people  of this far-away town upon the moon, and the real earth was
off  somewhere  where  it would take a star-flight to reach it. If only he could
speak with her and she to him tonight, how good the night might be, and how easy
to  breathe and how lax the vessels of blood in her ankles and in her wrists and
the  under-arms,  but  there  was  no  speaking  and  the night was ten thousand
tickings  and  ten thousand twistings of the blankets, and the pillow was like a
tiny  white warm stove under-cheek, and the blackness of the room was a mosquito
netting  draped  all about so that a turn entangled her in it. If only there was
one  word,  one  word  between them. But there was no word and the veins did not
rest  easy  in  the  wrists  and  the heart was a bellows forever blowing upon a
little  coal  of  fear,  forever  illumining  and making it into a cherry light,
again,  pulse, and again, an ingrown light which her inner eyes stared upon with
unwanting  fascination. The lungs did not rest but were exercised as if she were
a  drowned  person and she herself performing artificial respiration to keep the
last  life  going.  And  all of these things were lubricated by the sweat of her
glowing  body,  and she was glued fast between the heavy blankets like something
pressed, smashed, redolently moist between the white pages of a heavy book.
     And  as she lay this way the long hours of midnight came when again she was
a child. She lay, now and again thumping her heart in tambourine hysteria, then,
quieting,  the  slow sad thoughts of bronze childhood when everything was sun on
green  trees  and  sun  on water and sun on blond child hair. Faces flowed by on
merry-go-rounds  of  memory, a face rushing to meet her, facing her, and away to
the  right;  another,  whirling  in  from  the  left,  a  quick fragment of lost
conversation,  and  out  to  the right. Around and round. Oh, the night was very
long.  She  consoled  herself  by  thinking  of  the  car starting tomorrow, the
throttling  sound  and the power sound and the road moving under, and she smiled
in  the  dark  with  pleasure.  But  then,  suppose the car did _not_ start? She
crumpled  in the dark, like a burning, withering paper. All the folds and comers
of  her clenched in about her and tick tick tick went the wrist-watch, tick tick
tick and another tick to wither on....
     Morning.  She looked at her husband lying straight and easy on his bed. She
let  her  hand  laze down at the cool space between the beds. All night her hand
had  hung  in  that  cold  empty interval between. Once she had put her hand out
toward  him,  stretching, but the space was just a little too long, she couldn't
reach him. She had snapped her hand back, hoping he hadn't heard the movement of
her silent reaching.
     There  he  lay  now.  His eyes gently closed, the lashes softly interlocked
like  clasped  fingers. Breathing so quietly you could scarce see his ribs move.
As  usual,  by this time of morning, he had worked out of his pajamas. His naked
chest  was revealed from the waist up. The rest of him lay under cover. His head
lay on the pillow, in thoughtful profile.
     There was a beard stubble on his chin.
     The  morning  light showed the white of her eyes. They were the only things
in  the room in motion, in slow starts and stops, tracing the anatomy of the man
across from her.
     Each  little  hair  was  perfect  on  the  chin  and cheeks. A tiny hole of
sunlight  from  the window-shade lay on his chin and picked out, like the spikes
of a music-box cylinder, each little hair on his face.
     His  wrists  on  either  side  of  him  had  little curly black hairs, each
perfect, each separate and shiny and glittering.
     The  hair on his head was intact, strand by dark strand, down to the roots.
The ears were beautifully carved. The teeth were intact behind the lips.
     "Joseph!" she screamed.
     "Joseph!" she screamed again, flailing up in terror.
     Bong!  Bong!  Bong! went the bell thunder across the street, from the great
tiled cathedral!
     Pigeons rose in a papery white whirl, like so many magazines fluttered past
the  window!  The pigeons circled the plaza, spiraling up. Bong! went the bells!
Honk  went  a  taxi  horn!  Far  away  down an alley a music box played "Cielito
Lindo."
     All these faded into the dripping of the faucet in the bath sink.
     Joseph opened his eyes.
     His wife sat on her bed, staring at him.
     "I  thought—"  he  said. He blinked. "No." He shut his eyes and shook his
head. "Just the bells." A sigh. "What time is it?"
     "I don't know. Yes, I do. Eight o'clock."
     "Good God," he murmured, turning over. "We can sleep three more hours."
     "You've got to get up!" she cried.
     "Nobody's up. They won't be to work at the garage until ten, you know that,
you can't rush these people; keep quiet now."
     "But you've got to get up," she said.
     He half-turned. Sunlight prickled black hairs into bronze on his upper lip.
"Why? _Why_, in Christ's name, do I _have_ to get up?"
     "You need a shave!" she almost screamed.
     He  moaned.  "So I have to get up and lather myself at eight in the morning
because I need a shave."
     "Well, you do need one."
     "I'm not shaving again till we reach Texas."
     "You can't go around looking like a tramp!"
     "I can and will. I've shaved every morning for thirty god-damn mornings and
put  on  a  tie and had a crease in my pants. From now on, no pants, no ties, no
shaving, no nothing."
     He yanked the covers over his ears so violently that he pulled the blankets
off one of his naked legs.
     The  leg  hung  upon  the  rim of the bed, warm white in the sunlight, each
little black hair—perfect.
     Her eyes widened, focused, stared upon it. She put her hand over her mouth,
tight.

     
     He  went in and out of the hotel all day. He did not shave. He walked along
the  plaza tiles below. He walked so slowly she wanted to throw a lightning bolt
out  of the window and hit him. He paused and talked to the hotel manager below,
under  a  drum-cut  tree,  shifting  his  shoes on the pale blue plaza tiles. He
looked  at  birds on trees and saw how the State Theatre statues were dressed in
fresh  morning  gilt,  and  stood  on the comer, watching the traffic carefully.
There  was  no  traffic!  He was standing there on purpose, taking his time, not
looking  back  at  her. Why didn't he run, lope down the alley, down the hill to
the  garage,  pound  on  the  doors,  threaten the mechanics, lift them by their
pants,  shove them into the car motor! He stood instead, watching the ridiculous
traffic pass. A hobbled swine, a man on a bike, a 1927 Ford, and three half-nude
children. Go, go, go, she screamed silently, and almost smashed the window.
     He sauntered across the street. He went around the corner. All the way down
to  the  garage  he'd  stop  at  windows,  read  signs, look at pictures, handle
pottery. Maybe he'd stop in for a beer. God, yes, a beer.
     She  walked  in  the  plaza,  took  the sun, hunted for more magazines. She
cleaned her fingernails, burnished them, took a bath, walked again in the plaza,
ate very little, and returned to the room to feed upon her magazines.
     She  did not lie down. She was afraid to. Each time she did she fell into a
half-dream,  half-drowse  in  which all her childhood was revealed in a helpless
melancholy.  Old friends, children she hadn't seen or thought of in twenty years
filled  her mind. And she thought of things she wanted to do and had never done.
She had meant to call Lila Holdridge for the past eight years since college, but
somehow  she never had. What friends they had been! Dear Lila! She thought, when
lying  down,  of all the books, the fine new and old books, she had meant to buy
and  might  never  buy now and read. How she loved books and the smell of books.
She  thought  of a thousand old sad things. She'd wanted to own the Oz books all
her  life,  yet  had never bought them. Why _not_? while yet there was life! The
first  thing  she'd  do  would be to buy them when she got back to New York! And
she'd  call Lila immediately! And she'd see Bert and Jimmy and Helen and Louise,
and  go  back  to  Illinois  and  walk around in her childhood place and see the
things  to  be  seen  there.  If  she got back to the States. If. Her heart beat
painfully  in  her, paused, held on to itself, and beat again. _If_ she ever got
back.
     She lay listening to her heart, critically.
     Thud and a thud and a thud. Pause. Thud and a thud and a thud. Pause.
     What if it should stop while she was listening?
     There!
     Silence inside her.
     "Joseph!"
     She  leaped  up.  She  grabbed  at her breasts as if to squeeze, to pump to
start the silent heart again!
     It  opened  in  her,  closed,  rattled  and  beat  nervously, twenty rapid,
shot-like times!
     She  sank  on  to the bed. What if it should stop again and not start? What
would  she think? What would there be to do? She'd die of fright, that's what. A
joke;  it  was  very  humorous.  Die of fright if you heard your heart stop. She
would  have to listen to it, keep it beating. She wanted to go home and see Lila
and buy the books and dance again and walk in Central Park and—listen—
     Thud and a thud and a thud. Pause.

     
     Joseph  knocked on the door. Joseph knocked on the door and the car was not
repaired  and  there  would  be another night, and Joseph did not shave and each
little  hair  was  perfect  on  his chin, and the magazine shops were closed and
there  were no more magazines, and they ate supper, a little bit anyway for her,
and he went out in the evening to walk in the town.
     She  sat  once  more  in  the chair and slow erections of hair rose as if a
magnet  were passed over her neck. She was very weak and could not move from the
chair,  and  she  had  no  body,  she was only a heart-beat, a huge pulsation of
warmth  and ache between four walls of the room. Her eyes were hot and pregnant,
swollen with child of terror behind the bellied, tautened lids.
     Deeply  inside  herself, she felt the first little cog slip. Another night,
another  night,  another  night,  she  thought. And this will be longer than the
last.  The  first  little cog slipped, the pendulum missed a stroke. Followed by
the  second  and  third  interrelated cogs. The cogs interlocked, a small with a
little  larger  one, the little larger one with a bit larger one, the bit larger
one  with  a  large  one,  the  large  one with a huge one, the huge one with an
immense one, the immense one with a titanic one....
     A  red  ganglion,  no bigger than a scarlet thread, snapped and quivered; a
nerve,  no  greater  than a red linen fiber twisted. Deep in her one little mech
was  gone and the entire machine, unbalanced, was about to steadily shake itself
to bits.
     She didn't fight it. She let it quake and terrorize her and knock the sweat
off her brow and jolt down her spine and flood her mouth with horrible wine. She
felt  as  if  a  broken  gyro  tilted  now  this way, now that and blundered and
trembled  and  whined  in her. The color fell from her face like light leaving a
clicked-off  bulb,  the  crystal  cheeks  of  the  bulb vessel showing veins and
filaments all colorless....
     Joseph  was  in  the room, he had come in, but she didn't even hear him. He
was  in  the room but it made no difference, he changed nothing with his coming.
He  was  getting  ready  for bed and said nothing as he moved about and she said
nothing  but  fell  into  the  bed while he moved around in a smoke-filled space
beyond her and once he spoke but she didn't hear him.
     She  timed  it.  Every  five  minutes she looked at her watch and the watch
shook and time shook and the five fingers were fifteen moving, reassembling into
five.  The  shaking  never  stopped. She called for water. She turned and turned
upon  the  bed. The wind blew outside, cocking the lights and spilling bursts of
illumination  that  hit  buildings  glancing  sidelong blows, causing windows to
glitter  like  opened  eyes  and shut swiftly as the light tilted in yet another
direction.  Downstairs,  all  was quiet after the dinner, no sounds came up into
their silent room. He handed her a water glass.
     "I'm cold, Joseph," she said, lying deep in folds of cover.
     "You're all right," he said.
     "No, I'm not. I'm not well. I'm afraid."
     "There's nothing to be afraid of."
     "I want to get on the train for the United States."
     "There's  a  train  in  Leon,  but  none  here,"  he  said,  lighting a new
cigarette.
     "Let's drive there."
     "In these taxis, with these drivers, and leave our car here?"
     "Yes. I want to go."
     "You'll be all right in the morning."
     "I know I won't be. I'm not well."
     He said, "It would cost hundreds of dollars to have the car shipped home."
     "I  don't  care.  I have two hundred dollars in the bank home. I'll pay for
it. But, please, let's go home."
     "When  the sun shines tomorrow you'll feel better, it's just that the sun's
gone now."
     "Yes,  the  sun's  gone and the wind's blowing," she whispered, closing her
eyes,  turning  her head, listening. "Oh, what a lonely wind. Mexico's a strange
land.  All  the  jungles  and deserts and lonely stretches, and here and there a
little  town, like this, with a few lights burning you could put out with a snap
of your fingers ..."
     "It's a pretty big country," he said.
     "Don't these people ever get lonely?"
     "They're used to it this way."
     "Don't they get afraid, then?"
     "They have a religion for that."
     "I wish _I_ had a religion."
     "The minute you get a religion you stop thinking," he said. "Believe in one
thing too much and you have no room for new ideas."
     "Tonight,"  she  said, faintly. "I'd like nothing more than to have no more
room  for new ideas, to stop thinking, to believe in one thing so much it leaves
me no time to be afraid."
     "You're not afraid," he said.
     "If I had a religion," she said, ignoring him, "I'd have a lever with which
to lift myself. But I haven't a lever now and I don't know how to lift myself."
     "Oh, for God's—" he mumbled to himself, sitting down.
     "I used to have a religion," she said.
     "Baptist."
     "No, that was when I was twelve. I got over that. I mean —_later_."
     "You never told me."
     "You should have known," she said.
     "What  religion?  Plaster saints in the sacristy? Any special special saint
you liked to tell your beads to?"
     "Yes."
     "And did he answer your prayers?"
     "For  a little while. Lately, no, never. Never any more. Not for years now.
But I keep praying."
     "Which saint is this?"
     "Saint Joseph."
     "Saint  Joseph."  He  got  up  and poured himself a glass of water from the
glass pitcher, and it was a lonely trickling sound in the room. "My name."
     "Coincidence," she said.
     They looked at one another for a few moments.
     He looked away. "Plaster saints," he said, drinking the water down.
     After  a while she said, "Joseph?" He said, "Yes?" and she said, "Come hold
my  hand,  will  you?"  "Women,"  he  sighed. He came and held her hand. After a
minute  she drew her hand away, hid it under the blanket, leaving his hand empty
behind.  With  her  eyes closed she trembled the words, "Never mind. It's not as
nice  as  I can imagine it. It's really nice the way I can make you hold my hand
in  my  mind."  "Gods,"  he said, and went into the bathroom. She turned off the
light.  Only  the  small  crack  of  light  under  the bathroom door showed. She
listened  to  her heart. It beat one hundred and fifty times a minute, steadily,
and  the  little  whining tremor was still in her marrow, as if each bone of her
body  had  a  blue-bottle  fly  imprisoned  in  it,  hovering, buzzing, shaking,
quivering  deep, deep, deep. Her eyes reversed into herself, to watch the secret
heart of herself pounding itself to pieces against the side of her chest.
     Water ran in the bathroom. She heard him washing his teeth.
     "Joseph!"
     "Yes," he said, behind the shut door.
     "Come here."
     "What do you want?"
     "I want you to promise roe something, please, oh, please."
     "What is it?"
     "Open the door, first."
     "What is it?" he demanded, behind the closed door.
     "Promise me," she said, and stopped.
     "Promise you what?" he asked, after a long pause.
     "Promise me," she said, and couldn't go on. She lay there. He said nothing.
She  heard  the  watch and her heart pounding together. A lantern creaked on the
hotel  exterior.  "Promise  me,  if  anything—happens," she heard herself say,
muffled and paralyzed, as if she were on one of the surrounding hills talking at
him  from  the  distance,  "—if  any-thing  happens to me, you won't let me be
buried here in the graveyard over those terrible catacombs!"
     "Don't be foolish," he said, behind the door.
     "Promise me?" she said, eyes wide in the dark.
     "Of all the foolish things to talk about."
     "Promise, _please_ promise?"
     "You'll be all right in the morning," he said.
     "Promise  so I can sleep. I can sleep if only you'd say you wouldn't let me
be put there. I don't want to be put there."
     "Honestly," he said, out of patience.
     "Please," she said.
     "Why  should  I  promise  anything so ridiculous?" he said. "You'll be fine
tomorrow.  And  besides,  if  you  died,  you'd look very pretty in the catacomb
standing between Mr. Grimace and Mr. Gape, with a sprig of morning-glory in your
hair." And he laughed sincerely.
     Silence. She lay there in the dark.
     "Don't  you  think  you'll look pretty there?" he asked, laughingly, behind
the door.
     She said nothing in the dark room.
     "_Don't_ you?" he said.
     Somebody walked down below in the plaza, faintly, fading away.
     "Eh?" he asked her, brushing his teeth.
     She  lay  there,  staring  up at the ceiling, her breast rising and falling
faster,  faster,  faster,  the  air going in and out, in and out her nostrils, a
little  trickle of blood coming from her clenched lips. Her eyes were very wide,
her hands blindly constricted the bedclothes.
     "Eh?" he said again behind the door.
     She said nothing.
     "Sure," he talked to himself. "Pretty as hell," he murmured, under the flow
of tap water. He rinsed his mouth. "Sure," he said.
     Nothing from her in the bed.
     "Women are funny," he said to himself in the mirror.
     She lay in the bed.
     "Sure,"  he  said. He gargled with some antiseptic, spat it down the drain.
"You'll be all right in the morning," he said.
     Not a word from her.
     "We'll get the car fixed."
     She didn't say anything.
     "Be  morning  before  you  know  it."  He  was screwing caps on things now,
putting  freshener  on his face. "And the car fixed tomorrow, maybe, at the very
latest the next day. You won't mind another night here, will you?"
     She didn't answer.
     "_Will_ you?" he asked.
     No reply.
     The light blinked out under the bathroom door.
     "Marie?"
     He opened the door.
     "Asleep?"
     She lay with eyes wide, breasts moving up and down.
     "Asleep," he said. "Well, good night, lady."
     He climbed into his bed. "Tired," he said.
     No reply.
     "Tired," he said.
     The  wind  tossed  the lights outside; the room was oblong and black and he
was in his bed dozing already.
     She  lay,  eyes wide, the watch ticking on her wrist, breasts moving up and
down.

     
     It  was  a  fine  day  coming  through the Tropic of Cancer. The automobile
pushed along the turning road leaving the jungle country behind, heading for the
United  States,  roaring  between  the  green  hills, taking every turn, leaving
behind a faint vanishing trail of exhaust smoke. And inside the shiny automobile
sat  Joseph  with his pink, healthy face and his Panama hat, and a little camera
cradled  on  his  lap as he drove; a swathe of black silk pinned around the left
upper  arm  of his tan coat. He watched the country slide by and absent-mindedly
made  a  gesture  to  the  seat  beside him, and stopped. He broke into a little
sheepish smile and turned once more to the window of his car, humming a tuneless
tune, his right hand slowly reaching over to touch the seat beside him...
     Which was empty.