Cody Copeland’s short stories, essays, travel memoirs and embarrassing web content pages have been published in a number of international journals and sneaky gold dealers’ websites, in both English and Spanish. At the moment he is not on speaking terms with the incessant little voice in his head that in the past was able to convince him to write daily, and is taking a break from the novel from which this excerpt is taken (working title: The Nothingness to Which I Aspire). He currently teaches bilingual first grade in Austin, TX.
Agustín Santoyo (Morelos, México, 1985) graduated in Visual arts from Centro Morelense de las Artes (CMA). He has organized 10 individual exhibitions and participated in 15 group shows, both in Mexico and abroad. His work has won numerous prizes; he has twice received a grant from the Programa de Estímulos a la Creación Artística del Fondo Estatal para la Cultura y las Artes (FOECA). As well as being a creator, he has worked as a teacher in the CMA, and his work has appeared in artistic catalogues, books and magazines, among them Tierra Adentro, published by Conaculta. His works are a reflection of his personal experiences, of contact with his immediate social and cultural context, and of a desire to explore new themes, a search that has found expression in collage, painting, installation and intervention in objects and spaces. These collages are part of an exhibiton titled Orgía totémica para matar los tabúes cotidianos (Totemic orgy to kill quotidian taboos), currently on display at Galería El Patio 77, Mexico City. http://agustinsantoyo.blogspot.mx/
In collaboration with artist Anado McLauchlin, Agustín is currently preparing Conversations in Vision: A Two Man Show, which will open on 7 February, at the The Chapel of Jimmy Ray Gallery, San Miguel Allende. More details below and at: http://chapelofjimmyraygallery.com/
Weeks later, John was back up in the Sierra Madres to the south of Miahuatlán, where he had bought a house and a bit of land a few months earlier. Also on the land was a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic set into the steep west-facing slope below, and although he technically owned it, he left all the rehabilitative, pecuniary and administrative duties in the hands of those who knew what they were doing. He had only wanted the modestly sized house near the summit — as well as the sturdy cellar beneath it — but it had been a package deal, and the previous owner said he had to take the rehab center, too. Due to the recent and precipitous rise in his alcoholism, he was understandably not on good terms with the freshly sober hippies living in the unelectrified huts just down the hill.
He woke up late one morning, the hangover a heartless spear in his frontal lobe, and checked his weathered mug in the bathroom mirror. His eyes had lost some of the life that was once evident in his smile (he countenanced a histrionic happiness in his reflection as though testing a hypothesis), but then again, a smile was a rare thing to see on his face these days.
With a bony index finger, he lifted up his short beard to check the scar. Still knobby and grotesque. Good. He now wanted as gnarled a battle wound as he could get, and it gave him the only small bit of pleasure he would experience that day to see that it hadn’t diminished any.
Time interminable. This was how John had come to describe the passage of minutes, hours, days. Dipsomania and a general lack of care had rendered him unable to even feint a guess at a particular period of time’s duration. So, after some time interminable, John Kruger once again found himself at the foot of the mountains he called home.
He literally discovered himself at a particular point in space-time, and the unfortunate burden of consciousness mandated that he figure out where and when the hell he was. Startled by his own haggard visage (no, it hadn’t improved since the Tragedy of Smiles) in the cracked mirror of a foul-smelling bathroom, he sobered up just enough to realize he had no recollection of the winding trip down to the desert. The air was too dry to be mountain air, he could tell that much. He looked about himself, ardently hoping to recognize his whereabouts. He was in a cramped bathroom that had to be under a flight of stairs, for the ceiling tilted down in the direction of the toilet that was little more than a rim. The seat, had there ever been one, was long gone by now. It is an idiosyncrasy common to Mexican toilets. Piss stained the porcelain, stained the floor, his nostrils. Water dropped a torturous rhythm from the spigot on the wall into the oil drum cut in half to make it fit. The flush bucket bobbed listlessly in the dark water.
A spot on the right side of his forehead tinged a bit, and began to ache after he noticed this. As he began his all-too-familiar practice of splicing together blurry images in order to ascertain where he had come to, he inferred that he must have hit his head on the declivitous ceiling, probably as he unzipped and sidled over to the toilet bowl with his eyes half closed.
Surveying the writing on the walls, he found a clue. Mariela, it said, mama la verga como nadie. Mariela sucks a mean dick, more or less. He remembered having seen it before, and it had been an enticing enough offer back then to have left him with no choice but to call the number scrawled beneath it. John could remember the furious tone in Mariela’s father’s voice when he answered the phone and was asked in piss-poor Spanish if his daughter was around and still gave good head. He just couldn’t remember which bar he had been in when that had occurred.
A fist pounding on the bathroom door shook him out of his stupor. “Oye puto!” said a voice that John recognized instantly. “You die in there? You die?”
That’s where he was! El Gallo de Oro. The strip bars in Oaxaca were better, but he must have been unableto stomach two more boozeless hours on the suburban (not the sport utility monstrosities that come to mind north of the border, but tiny vans crammed to capacity for highway trips, a common mode of public transit in the region) and gotten off in Miahuatlán to get at the mescal more quickly.
“Ya voy, tocayo,” John said and checked his zipper. It can be quite embarrassing to return to the public eye with it all hanging out. “Juan, you bastard,” he said when he opened the door. “What the hell am I doing here?”
Juan’s laugh was genuine enough to pierce through the banda music blaring from the bar’s sound system. John and his friend, who was the owner of the bar, had to shout to be heard over the sounds of the tubas and the accordions and the ¡Aaaaaaaaaaaa Aaaay Aay Ay!
“What you mean what you doing here? You doing what you doing every time you come here.” Juan made a large swooping gesture with his right hand to lift up the curtain separating the main room from the hallway that led to the bathrooms and the back rooms that housed only mattresses that one was lucky to find sheets on. A girl John had never seen before was on the main stage, sliding her back down the pole and spreading her legs as he lowered herself to the floor.
“What the fuck am I doing here?” John screamed again over the music, but he was asking himself. It must be pretty bad when you have to shout rhetorical questions to yourself, he thought, just to be heard. “I came down here to drink,” he said, this time to his friend and Mexican namesake, “not this shit. Not tonight.”
“Hey man, you can drink here. What you thinking? Claro que puedes tomar acá. I find you a good seat at the bar, and if you change you mind about Azucena,” Juan whipped a thumb in the naked girl’s direction, “si se puede, eh? Lo que quieras, amigo. Anything you want here, my friend.”
Juan walked him to the bar where he woke a man who was plopped flat-faced on the bar, at peace in a mescal dream. John was amazed at how baby-like the man looked. He’d only ever seen babies sleep in such uncomfortable positions, or cats, maybe. Juan was patting the man on the head. The patting turned into slapping and when that failed to work, Juan whistled and two large men with mustaches and firearms at their hips came over to hoist the man up by his armpits—also very much like a baby.
“Sácale de aquí,” barked Juan. “A la verga!”
John took the man’s stool. He felt something cold and wet when he set his hands on the bar: the man’s drool. He looked up and down the bar for a napkin, but quickly realized how ridiculous the notion was. He chuckled and wiped it on his pants.
“Yes, there it is. Smile. Have fun. Tonight is Saturday night. What you want? I know what you want. Mescal, yes? Del bueno, no?”
John nodded and Juan reached behind the bar for the bottle. Yes, that was just what he needed. His head hurt like hell, he couldn’t think. A quick mescal and maybe some tacos from the stand on the highway. That’s what was needed. He could get a cheap hotel room and call it an early night, or at least drink in the privacy of his own self-loathing, the room bathed in the insulating liquid crystal blue light of the television. He laid his hands on the bar again, once again in the man’s baby spittle that smelled like whiskey. Then again, the whole damn place smelled like whiskey—and cunt, but more so in the direction from which he had just come. He stuck his hands in his pockets. Whether the job called for it or not, he always accepted the toilet paper offered to him at pay restrooms and sometimes kept it in his pocket for just such an occasion. Too many times he’d gone to restrooms needing to sit down to find no toilet paper, none offered upon entry.
What he found instead of crumpled up toilet paper sent a jolt up his spine and sobered him up a bit more, enough to think. Juan placed the shot of mescal in front of him and moved on to tend to other customers.
Why in the fuck would I have brought that with me? he asked himself inwardly. Why would I even take it out of the cellar? He removed his hand, leaving the object in his pocket, and went straight for the liquor. Taking it down in one go, he held the empty glass up to signal to Juan that he would need another. Juan was more than happy to oblige. While he waited for his refill, John couldn’t help but think of the thing in his pocket. It overtook him. He wanted so badly to look at it, more than he wanted that next drink, which was saying something. He turned around on his stool in order to face the girl—a new one now, the other nowhere in sight—who was bent over on the stage, pulling her panties to the side for a fan in the front row. She was beautiful. Was she even legal? But that question was definitely moot in a place like Juan’s. She turned to peek around her thigh and for a moment caught John’s gaze. The spell was broken as quickly as it was cast. The bar lights glinted in the young girl’s eyes for a tiny moment and John found his thoughts instantly drawn straight back to the object in his pocket.
He looked around the bar. Everyone was having fun, paying him no mind. There was a show on, and the men’s attentions were all occupied. The bar stools next to him had just been vacated. The coast seemed clear. No one would know what it was, anyway. He reached into his pocket and carefully pulled out the object, keeping it balled up in his fist for a little while, as though postponing the result of a coin toss on which he’d wagered his own life.
John finally opened his hand and, although he had looked at the object many times before, the sight of it still sent shivers reeling through his nervous system. He was holding a coin, but not one that was in circulation anywhere in the world. No bigger than a twenty centavo piece, it had been struck out of a mesmerizingly translucent material that normally shone with a hue that he couldn’t really name. He had tried to describe it in an email he probably never should have sent, but had only gotten out: It’s a bluish, whitish, clear… Oh, hell. You’ll just have to see it to know what I’m talking about. Now, in the undulating dance club light of the strip bar, it seemed to take on new tonal attributes that hadn’t been observable under the yellow filament light of the bulb in his cellar up in the mountains. He sat there transfixed, leaving the mescal untouched on the bar in front of him.
“Dos chelas, eh? Victoria,” John didn’t hear the man say next to him. He was frozen, continuing to stare at the little shiny idée fixe in his hand while Juan, who had heard the man’s order, opened the cooler and reached in for two bottles of beer. “Que tienes allí?”
The man prodded John with his elbow to wake the old gringo out of his trance. He spoke to him in slurred Spanish: “Hey gringo, I said, what do you have there?” He was not looking John in the face, rather, he was speaking into John’s palm with wide-eyed captivation. “It’s so shiny.”
John knew he should close his hand, shove the thing in his pocket and run like hell. He could pay Juan for the mescal later. The drunk man was enthralled by the little star in the palm of John’s hand—his lower lip flapped about soundlessly, as though involved in the recital of an incantation—a reaction that amazed John nearly as much as the coin itself, which presently had his attention once again.
“What is it, man? I ask you, what is it?” the man pleaded.
“El futuro,” John said. He noticed that he was beginning to drool a little.
“Give it to me,” demanded the sot, “I want to hold it.”
John snapped back into his crapulent version of reality and quickly closed his hand into a tight fist. The drunk man did not like this at all. His two beers sat dripping condensation onto the bar. Juan was nowhere to be seen. Grabbing John by the wrist, he tried to pry the fingers open. John clawed at the man’s fingers, trying to wrest them off of his own. A lifetime of holding coins into the light had given him hands that were no match for those on the man with whom he was grappling, a man who had the grip of someone used to holding tools and wrestling livestock. John sent an elbow in the direction of the man’s solar plexus and almost hit his mark. The jab landed in the man’s gut, just enough to make him back off for a second and give John a chance to bolt for the door.
Two men, presumably his opponent’s company, got up from a table and tripped John up as he ran past the main stage. They both immediately fell on top of him, pinning him to the beer-soaked, miasmatic floor of the bar. The stench of regurgitated booze almost made him vomit, but he was too deep-down scared shitless to perform even involuntary functions. The weight of the men suddenly disappeared, however, and John turned back to see the two bouncers from before holding the men up by their shirt collars like puppies in a pet store. John sprung to his feet and hit the ground running. He made it to the door and turned in the direction of the highway. He had no idea where he was going—he prayed for serendipity, with luck he could flag a passing suburban—away from El Gallo de Oro was his only plan.
The piercing sound of a gunshot stopped him cold. He could hear high-pitched screams and baritone Spanish cuss words coming out of the bar. When he turned to look, he saw no one chasing after him, but he was not about to wait around to see. He started running again, the bright lights of the Pemex gas station on the highway shining like his own personal El Dorado of light, to which he had paradoxically attached notions of safety and sanctuary, as though fluorescent light were somehow bulletproof. Of course, it would only make him easier to see and shoot.
Realizing this, he darted to his right onto a deeply rutted unpaved road etched through a field of maguey. A hundred yards in, he heard another shot, louder this time, and felt a tiny explosion in his left shoulder. He went reeling through the air and landed on his chin, splitting it open in the same tender spot as before. He must have lost consciousness, for the next thing he remembered, he was lying on his back with his arm stretched out at a right angle from his body. His awareness of his predicament took a moment to come back to him, and for a time he just lay there staring down the rows of maguey. Their leaves, er, branches—what are they? seemingly neither—their spikes thrust out and into the dark night, toward the moon that painted them onto his vision with a soft and eerie glow. The world had never looked so alien. He peered down the row as far as he could see and his eyes followed the spiny plants inward, coming towards him, until he saw his hand palm up, emptily facing the full moon. He instantly became aware of his shoulder: the pain was terrible and, he feared, forever. “Time interminable,” he mumbled without really knowing why. He let out a raspy howl that drowned out the footfalls of the men running toward him and then slid out of consciousness another time.
He woke up in a hospital bed. His right hand patted down his chest and thighs, in search of pockets. There were none in his hospital gown. A dull ache groaned in his left shoulder, so he kept the arm limp at his side to avoid finding out what it really felt like. The nurse came in to check tubes and doses.
“Moneda,” John said in reply to her “Buenos dias.” She looked at him bemusedly, guessing that he didn’t speak Spanish.
“No. Good morning, Señor,” she said and smiled.
“No, mi moneda. My coin,” John said weakly. He was tensing up, sending little arcs of torture through his shoulder and down his arm. “Have you seen my coin? Has visto mi moneda?”
The nurse now realized that John spoke Spanish well enough and that he was just being rude, or dazed from the pain meds. “No coin,” she said, “but your… su cartera.” She picked his wallet up off a little table on the wall opposite the bed and held it out for him to take and presumably check for money inside, but she replaced it when he waved it away. All of those bills were worthless compared to what he had lost.
“Conversations in Vision: A Two Man Show”
Entre piedras y metales, tejidos, pintura y colores, murales y objetos, recuerdos, espejos y dioses, flores, colibríes y corazones, sirenas y cowboys, tiburones, relojes, retratos y calacas dialogan Agustín Santoyo y Anado McLauchlin co-creando una experiencia visual donde el vacío tiende a llenarse. Un canto a la diversidad conceptual, que nos invita a ampliar la vivencia de nuestras miradas y así enriquecer nuestras más íntimas visiones e imaginarios.
Dos sombreros, dos corazones, dos puertas, cuatro manos, dos visiones, un presente, un lugar: 7 de Febrero a las 13h en The Chapel of Jimmy Ray Gallery.
Among rocks and metals, fabrics, painting and colour, murals and objects, souvenirs, mirrors and gods, flowers, hummingbirds and hearts, mermaids and cowboys, sharks, clocks, portraits and skulls, Agustín Santoyo and Anado McLauchlin are in dialogue, co-creating a visual experience that abhors a vacuum. A hymn to conceptual diversity, one which invites us to expand our perceptual experience and thus enrich our most intimate visions and imaginings.
Two sombreros, two hearts, two doors, four hands, two visions, one present, one place: 7 February at 1pm. The Chapel of Jimmy Ray Gallery.