MOON/FACE

by D.N. Stuefloten

image

I.

     The bus stopped in a village. No one could explain why. The driver hurried off into a group of small buildings. After a while the passengers began to stir uneasily. The afternoon light possessed that peculiar quality that I see only in the tropics, that is, the light was golden, luz de oro, luz de luna, a kind of thick glow that one could feel, like being submerged in water, like wading through a thick miasma, a scent heavy with verbena and jasmine and fragrant plumeria, etc. In such a light I myself felt as thick and slow as molasses. From my window I looked down onto upturned faces. The faces appeared to be murmuring. Was this possible? Lips moved. The lips of the men were thin and rubbery and crawled about on their faces without particular significance, or at least no significance that I could see from my window, only arbitrary, thin, distasteful lips crawling about beneath noses. The women's lips were thickly coated with a waxy paint. These lips did not move, exactly, but seemed to press motionless against the air, as against a glass. At last I got down from the bus. I immediately smelled clothing soiled with sweat. The faces hardly acknowledged my passing among them. “Donde estámos?” I asked. Where are we? No one replied. Finally I saw a moon-shaped face. “Pues,” I said, “parece que estoy perdido.” Yes? she said as an eyebrow lifted. You are lost? In fact I had been traveling for some time, in both buses and trains. Travel had become a kind of habit, like washing one’s face. I no longer knew exactly where I was or where I was going. In this sense at least I was lost. “Sí, estoy perdido.” It did not matter the name of the town nor even the country. I was not lost in that way. Such names were no more than words, I could invent words as well as anyone, I was just as lost in the town I had grown up in and which I had recently left: the fact that I knew the town and could place it exactly on a map meant nothing to me. I could say, in my town, estoy perdido, and that would have been the truth. I could stand on any corner of the main street and proclaim to every passing car, estoy perdido, and that would have been the truth. What did it matter where I was now? It did not matter at all. I was lost wherever I was. Nevertheless I continued:
     “Sí, estoy perdido. Donde estámos?”
     I dont know.
     You dont know?
     “No sé donde estámos.”
     But you live here—
     Yes, I live here.
     This is your town—
     “Sí, es mi pueblo.”
     “Entonces donde estámos?”
     “No sé.”
     Then she smiled at me, leaned her head against my shoulder, and laughed.

II.

     Of course I do not write this on a bus in a strange town. I am in a cafe on the plaza of a city in central Mexico, an entirely different place. This deception is a mean one, but not meaningless. Will this deception provide clarity? We shall see. In any case her head leaning against my shoulder took my breath away. There is something to this that I cannot explain. Heads, women’s heads, have often enough leaned on my shoulder. A woman's head may be grappled, fondled, twisted, pinched, smoothed with gentle hands, wrenched askew, poked at, kissed repeatedly, all women have heads, heads to brace oneself against, heads to adore and despise, flagrantly brutal heads, heads endlessly dripping tears, none of this is new to me, I have known thin heads, round heads, many triangular heads, dark and light heads, etc., my dreams are filled with these heads whose lips beckon or repulse, etc., but when Edí — that is her name — leaned her moon-shaped head onto my shoulder — and laughed! — I found myself filled with despair. Where did this despair come from? I had seen a pretty face in the crowd, singled it out for attention, an act common enough even in this disreputable age, and found myself filled with despair. What did this mean, that I had “found” myself? Did this mean I was no longer lost? But if I was no longer lost why did I feel such despair? Why was this girl — she was hardly yet a woman — laughing? I had said nothing amusing, made no jokes, no chistes, no bromas, no clever or sly comments filled with hidden ironies, no remarks worthy of this laughter. I immediately realized I was quite helpless. If I had found myself, and myself was filled with such despair, then the only salvation possible lay in this laughing girl. It did not matter where we were, the name of the town, the country, I was no longer lost, I was found, she had found me out, and I was overwhelmed — overwhelmed! — by despair. Later, when she showed me her breasts — I am skipping ahead, I cannot help myself — the despair took on a shape. Each breast was like half a loaf of bread. I was lying ill in bed. She leaned each breast over me, first her right, then her left. My parched lips — I was suffering a fever — brushed each nipple. My god, the despair I felt! I moaned with it. She sneaked into my room in the hotel by the back stairs, so no one would see her. She slipped breathlessly through my door. She brought me food and water while I thrashed about on the bed with my fever. She cooed at me between her thick lips. She washed my forehead with a damp cloth. That face! Sometimes when I woke up I would see it across the room, as though the moon itself were staring at me. Oh, what the shadows did to that face! I would see one eye, sometimes two. She waxed, she waned. Hair itself cast shadows — tendrils of shadows! — across one cheek. Her neck, when it was visible, was long, a hollow at its base. When she spoke, the throat moved. I stared at the moving throat, the lips that wove around sounds, the tongue visible in this damp orifice like a snake hiding in its lair. Oh, that face obsessed me! I died every time I saw it. In my fever I could not bear the sight of it, I could not escape it, I could not help but adore it....
     Well, I have finished my coffee. It costs six pesos here, with tip. From outside I hear buses. These streets are forever busy, humanity and its machines are everywhere. I shall rise now and go my way.

III.

     But what way is that? In the streets of this town I am more lost than ever. People whisper as I pass — crowds of people whisper as I pass — but I cannot make out the words. I imagine them saying: El hombre perdido, or el estranjero inconsolable. The women sadly examine my hands as they sway at my sides. My clothes have grown shabby. I am a man, I think, from another century. Who today is inconsolable over a woman? Who today thinks of phantasms, or muses, or the unattainable exaltation of art? No, we are crass today, pragmatic, a woman is no more than flesh and blood, measurable for her utility. Give me a tit, we say, let’s fuck, baby, anything else is suspect, the adoration of the moon is suspect, beauty is suspect, the gravelly voice of the past is suspect, poetry is suspect, when a man speaks of such things he is suspect, such sentimentality belongs quite properly in the previous century, when people were foolish. No one had cars or televisions in those days, telephones scarcely existed, people had to talk face-to-face or via notes crafted on elegant paper, billetes de amor, perhaps. When I walk today through the plaza, in my shabby clothes, mothers point me out to their children: El hombre del siglo pasado. The children stare putting their hands to their mouths. No one wants to be like me, ill-dressed, gaunt, haunted by his visions. These visions are visible too, tantalizing densities in the air, moon-visages, mists fragmenting and refracting the light, an occasional dazzle of color, arco iris, the suggestion of a shape trailing behind me like a wraith, a katrina perhaps, a dead woman as gaunt as myself, sheer stockings pulled up the white bones of her legs, a glove on one hand, eye sockets painted, bone-lips rouged, a cape like the moon’s shadow flying behind her. Such an image itself lies properly in the century past, el siglo pasado, when grotesqueries abounded alongside mysteries, where beauty, fate, despair were fit subjects for poets and women. It amuses me—in my anguish, huddled over this notebook filling slowly with my crabbed words—to imagine myself blown forward here, by a gust of wind perhaps, tumbling through the years to fall at last on these stone pavings. Is this the secret of my anguish? Have I found myself in Edí’s arms, at her extended bosom, between her parted legs, only to discover my fatal dislocation? When the fever subsided she — not I! — became insubstantial. I became lumpish, sodden. Such a return to life is fatal. Coarse walls, litter, mumbling people, thieves, pick-pockets, buses belching sooty exhaust, the harsh cries of crows and greedy woman, spotted tomatoes, chayotes scarred by disease, hanging slabs of beef, children sleeping in gutters, drunks rolling in mud — all of this became visible as the fever receded. I crouched at the edge of my bed, terrified. At last I climbed on board a bus. The seat sagged to one side. An elderly man sat beside me, frail and panting. The driver twisted around in his cockpit to leer menacingly at his passengers. Tree limbs whipped past. The sun beat down on everything, but the bus roared on, as though we all had somewhere to go, a day, a night, the bus leaning with voracious greed into each corner, lengthening itself in the straightaways like a running cat. What beasts we were, lumpish, solid, coarse, our cowlings leaking oil like blood. When we came to rest in this town, I descended, too bereft to continue. I took a room in a hotel. I walked to the cafe. The coffee, as always, was hot, black, etc. A sad-faced girl brought it to me. I look up at this moment — as I write these words — and see her lurking in a corner.
     Well, this is enough for today. I shall rise creaking from my chair, and scatter a few pesos on the table. I chuckle at my prospects: a day of aimless drifting, solitario, perdido.

IV.

     At times we go out in public, this creature and myself. To protect her from the stares and glares of the assembled people I encowl her. Thus obscured is she even more beautiful? even more ferocious? She takes my arm — I am dreaming this, of course, none of this can be real — and we stroll into the cafe. Her face emerges from the cowl like the moon from clouds. When she laughs, her lips crawl back and her teeth become visible. I remember her tongue twisting around mine, probing insistently into my mouth. In this way she crawls into me, like a small animal, I feel her moving down the bones and veins of my body, a secret peristalsis, humping along ulna and tibia like a rat on a hawser. I myself enter her through each of her apertures. Is this what it means to lose oneself, and find oneself? Estoy perdido, I told her when I first saw her, her face moonish in the crowd. She herself sweated: I saw rivulets of sweat on her neck, her arms. When I touched her, I touched a surface slick with water. It was like skimming over a lake. It may be — in a fever all things are possible — that she slid her body, naked except for this sheen of sweat, against mine. Did I feel each breast drag across my chest? I am staggered by these memories, real or not: her legs sliding into her stockings, the wiggle of her toes digging into her extravagant shoes, the way, standing, she tugged and smoothed at each strap, each bit of lace. The despair this engenders in me is untenable. Estoy perdido, I say, me encuentro yo y estoy perdido: I have found myself and I am lost. In her vacancy — she is not-here, I am alone in this cafe, sipping at my coffee — she is a more powerful presence than the walls which surround me.
     But at last the bus driver returns. He makes no remark about his mysterious absence. He sticks his head into the cafe. Bueno, he says, vamos. In the bus I see faces stricken with fatigue, elation, hope, suspicion. I sit next to Edí, my moon-faced girl. Her sleepy eyes turn upward. “Did you have your coffee?” she asks. “Sí,” I say; “and I wrote a story.” “Sobre me?” “Claro.” “Ah,” she says, snuggling against me, “now I know you love me too much.” The bus engine roars. The gears clank and grind. In this respect the fever subsides, though not the journey. How often have I begun this trip, on this bus, with this moonish girl? Her hand sneaks into mine, beneath the jacket I have spread over our laps. The driver, laughing crazily, steps on the gas. Vamos, he says, we say, let’s go, and we race off, crazily, maniacally, into the night.

 

Text and photos copyright D.N. Stuefloten.
Contact:
don@dnstuefloten.com

Back to Stories

NOTES: I spent a lot of time in the old Colonial city of Aguascalientes, in central Mexico. I liked it for its architecture, because it had no tourist industry, and it was peaceful: a good place to work on my books. Over time I met a few interesting people. One was Edith, a very lovely girl, a natural blonde. She was smart and artistic. We would meet occasionally for coffee. Once I took some pictures of her. And, inspired by her beauty, I wrote a couple of stories, this one and a shorter piece called Apertures, which was published in Flashpoint, a literary magazine. Edith was a perfect example of what fascinated me about Mexico: its mixture of reality and dream. She seemed to float, sometimes, in a world of her own. Thus this story, a slippery descent into magic...

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

Your Comment Will Be Posted Here
after it is reviewed (usually same day)