Poetry

Before I Was a Woman

by Elizabeth Gassimi

 
It happened long ago,
Before I was a woman.

Another woman,
Consecrated to God – she wore his ring
And hid her hair –
Was taken and thrown down
Like a forsaken rag doll.
Her face pressed onto the cold marble floor
By a dark, lost Beast who surprised her while she prayed alone.

Her life flashed before her
As she cried and pleaded
While behind her,
He plundered her soul forever,
Sweating and groaning from the effort.

She’d been a cloistered innocent:
A grandmother’s age,
But with a child’s experience.

It happened in, of all places, God’s house,
With smooth, carved wood pews and solemn statues the only witnesses.

Her sobs, her pleas,
Echoing just steps away from
The altar where she’d labored
And knelt in adoration for so many decades.

Did the Father and the Son
Hear The Beast shouting
That he’d kill her if she refused to kneel for him
And his hatred and shame?

Did the acrid stench
Of her fear overpower the
Sweet incense perfume?

Did those adorable
Carved cherubs cover their ears
With their tiny wings
When she gave up and wished a very un-Christian wish
For death
As a single, silent, hot tear fell?

No one but she,
The Beast who took her by force,
And her God
Know exactly what happened
In those excruciating moments.

And only she knows how
She was able to forgive The Beast,
Which she told us later she did.

And even though I wasn’t a witness,
I will never forget
What The Beast did to one who believed
That being
Untouchable would save her.

Long ago,
Before I’d learned what it meant
To be a woman.

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New York City native Elizabeth Gassimi (“Liz”) left the United States in 2011, lived in Mexico City for almost a year, and has been enjoying the hot weather and fabulous food in Merida, Yucatan since 2012. Liz is a full-time teacher of English as a Foreign Language and holds a BA in English and Journalism from The City University of New York. She has always enjoyed writing and started keeping a journal at the age of ten. Several of her poems have been published in literary magazines.
She also loves gardening, photography, reading, and visiting art galleries. Sometimes on the weekends, you can spot Liz with her camera, walking around the Centro, looking for photographic opportunities.

 

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Kreso5art by Kreso Cavlovic

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Graphic novel

Tia Nelly

by Gabriel Canul Olivares and Emaus Torres

aunt nellie1It’s awesome that they let you stay and play after the party!
Well, at least while there’s daylight.
I’ve always liked playing outside, since I was small, because I can see the city lights and all the people passing by.
They bought me these dolls in the city. I really like them. They are so green and scaly!

Tía Nelly002-2Well, now that we’re friends, I’ll give you this one with the medallion of power.
So you can destroy all your enemies.
No need to thank me, let’s play.
People are weird.

aunt nellie3Aunt Nelly says that’s why she had the party.
A party, she’d said.
Ha ha…Well, some of the neighbors went home pretty drunk…
With their noses and cheeks all red, so disgusting.
Another color would have been better.

aunt nellie4Although everyone else disagrees, I think Aunt Nelly is fabulous.
She looks after me and she loves me a lot and it’s not true that she teaches me bad things.

aunt nellie5On the contrary, she always tells me I should be good and smile at everyone.
“Winning them over is the first step,” she always tells me.

aunt nellie6But those people are a little crazy; they tell me mom is sick because of Aunt Nelly
The kid that sits next to you at school, with the snotty mouth told me his dad is a doctor.
And he says it’s impossible for a woman with the disease my mom has to stay alive so long without being in the hospital.
He says it seems more like it’s Aunt Nelly that’s making her sick.

aunt nellie7And you know what? A while ago, I still remember when mom could talk, she said that the most important thing to Aunt Nelly is looking after me and watching me grow up.
She said it was her that brought me into the world.
Sometimes I think I love Aunt Nelly more than my mom. Everybody, maybe even Aunt Nelly, thinks that because I’m only six I can’t remember.
But I can.
Dad called her to help mom when she was expecting me. The people started to hate her when she came.

aunt nellie8To be honest, I’m not that interested in meeting dad…
Even though Aunt Nelly says that he’s always asking about me and that he is getting a lot of stuff ready for when he comes back to get me.
I think it will be like a party because he says the whole family will come. Can you imagine? If Aunt Nelly had a party and all those people got drunk…

aunt nellie10What will they all be like after a party they’ve been preparing for so long?

aunt nellie9I never met dad. People say he hurt mom and that’s why I was born. They say that word that I’m not supposed to say because it’s a bad word, I think they say it when parents aren’t married.
People don’t like dad much either. You know why? Because he abandoned my mom, just because he found out I was on the way. But Aunt Nelly came and helped mom.

aunt nellie11And although neither she nor I like people very much, I have never felt alone because she says she’s always in touch with relatives.
That’s why we never need money or food. Ha! You know she cooks really well.
“We really like cows.”
I think she really likes you and that’s why she cooked hamburgers for you and sodas to drink.
So you didn’t have to eat the horrible meat and vegetables the adults eat.
Well, I suppose they like it.
They got really fat!

aunt nellie12But people say she’s bad, too.
They say she does bad women’s work because she gets money for going into the woods at night, to meet men.
Maybe really bad men because some people who say they’ve seen them call them “monstrous men”.

aunt nellie13Well, I don’t know anything about that, I’ve never seen her go out at night.
Although sometimes I wake up when it’s really late and I’ve seen the moon so bright over the woods that it looks like daytime.
Such bright moonlight seems so familiar…
That it calms me and I go right back to sleep.
I bet our relatives will be back soon and Aunt Nelly will want the people around here to get along with them…
She had the party so people could see she’s good. And it worked! They even let you stay and play, see?

aunt nellie14And everybody smiled.
And they even danced.
And they all hugged.
And kissed.
We’ll get along well now, for sure.
Now it’s late, see? The sun has gone down.
You’d better go home and look after your new “Star conqueror” doll.
I’m going to run home, too.
I’m happy because Aunt Nelly said that after the food she served everything would be different. Now people are going to change, for sure!

aunt nellie15I enjoyed chatting and playing with you.
See you tomorrow!

(translated by Patricia Johnston)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Gabriel Canul Olivares (Writer)
Born and rised in Mérida, Yucatán, México. He started making comic books, drawing and writing stories at very early age, wishing to make his own ideas come true.

After high school he went to “Centro Estatal de Bellas Artes” and attended to a painting free workshop.
Gabriel Canul is much a self taught artist and in the year of 2012 he entered to an artist community created by Javier Pech Matu.

It was in this group that Gabriel began to realizing his ideas and making his contribution to the art by performing in public events and the publication of his comic book story “Chica Diamante” in the pages of the anthology “MANIC”.
Gabriel Canul likes to work in many ways of art.

Emaús Torres (Artist)
Born and rised in Mérida, Yucatán, México. A student of art at “CEDART Ermilo Abreu Gómez” focused on plastic, visual arts.

Emaús’ dream has always been to make comic books of his own.

In the year of 2013, Emaús was discovered in a contest organized by the CDS, an art group created by Javier Pech Matu.

Emaús’ most important influences are the graphic novel writer Alan Moore and the movies director Stanley Kubrick.
To date Emaús is working on his story “Dark Soul” (also published in the anthology “MANIC”) to which Cher Bibler, in her musician facet, wrote an image song.

Emaús is always working in many other facets of art besides the visual.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

About “Tía Nelly”
It was a privilege to work side by side with Gabriel Canul and I thought it was an interesting perspective on the alien theme.
It was a nice challenge to finish the task because it’s always been a subject that myself have always been afraid of.
At the same time it was very satisfactory to have accomplished the mission of narrating such story.
Finally, I want to thank all of you, readers, and I expect that all of you to lose some sleep after reading it.
-Emaús Torres.

All I can say is that I have never had a better play mate than Emaús. So it was almost necessary to design a story that we could perform together.
To date nothing makes me more proud than to work with this guy and not only that but counting him among my friends.
For this story I wanted to include and art style that emoted a childish point of view and Emaús Torres was younger  (age 14) when we made it and his art had not evolved to the quality he has today.
So thank all of you for reading it, I wish you to enjoy it and hope that you feel through this work happiness of friendship that it is based on.
Thank you for everything Cher Bibler.
-Gabriel Canul Olivares.

 

The Merida Review also thanks  to Steve Benson for editing, and David Espadas Tamayo for technical stuff on Gabriel and Emaus’s end.

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Interview

An Interview with Steve Benson

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La Venganza, a new novel by Michael Steven Benson, is now available in both kindle and paperback format.

 

Congratulations! Please tell us a little about your book

The book is a crime novel called La Venganza.  I tried to avoid the hard-boiled, tough-as-nails characters that you see in a lot of crime fiction. There are some pretty tough characters, but my goal was to give them some balance in order to make them more real to the reader. In the story, the protagonist has done something stupid that gets him in a lot of trouble but also leads him to the most important thing that he has ever done in his life. It is primarily told from the point of view of Frank Millirons, a ranch hand, as well as the bad guys and several different branches of law enforcement. What I liked about writing it was being able to write several different stories that were related, which all came together by the end.

 

What was the impetus for writing it?

I wrote the first ten pages or so after just seeing it in my head. I had a pretty simple idea of a man on the run stopping in a small town. After some encouragement from friends, I just kept writing.

 

Did the book take any turns from where you thought it was going?

Absolutely. From the outset, I was determined to let the characters write the book. I had no real idea where the story was going until I was almost halfway through writing it. By then, I knew the characters well enough to work out a chapter by chapter outline including the ending. There was actually one character that I realized I needed in order to move the story forward. I wrote her in fairly far into the project, and she just kept pushing herself into more and more of the story. Now she’s one of my favorite characters, and I’ve actually already started another story with her as the main character. The great thing about the writing process is that characters can demand to be more a part of the story.

 

You have published the book as Michael Benson when everyone knows you as Steve Benson. Why is that?

My given name is Michael Steven Benson. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been called by my middle name. I just thought it would be nice to use my first name for something other than signing mortgage papers and tax forms. It’s also a way to have a pen name that’s not really a pen name.

 

You seem to have an abundance of creativity. You’ve made two movies and produced (as a silent but necessary partner) two plays during your time in Merida. Tell us about these other projects.

The two plays were written and directed by my wife, Jill. They were both a lot of work but very rewarding. It amazes me when I think back on how talented the cast and crew of each play was. The talent pool here in Merida is really incredible.

The first movie we did (The Dead List) was a fun project.  It was a ten minute zombie movie that we managed to talk all of our friends into. It didn’t have a lot of dialogue, but when I look back at it now, it did have some good, scary atmosphere and great acting. Tom Kuhn’s close up was one of my favorite parts, by the way. He and Debi were two of our anchor zombies.  I was also thrilled that we were actually able to license two songs for the movie, one from Lars Frederiksen. Again, we could have never done it without the help of everyone involved.

Our second movie (The Reading) was a little more ambitious.  It was a half hour short with quite a bit of dialogue. Jill came up with the idea for the basic storyline, and we talked about it for a week or so, hammering out the details. I wrote the first five pages one night and then Jill wrote the next five.  We just passed it back and forth until it was finished. This film was much harder to shoot and edit, but we were very happy with the end result.  Also, this time we actually had a premiere of the movie. It was nice to see a crowd of people watching something that we created.

 

Do you think that living in Mexico as a US citizen has influenced your writing? If so, how?

There is something about living in Merida that has given Jill and I permission to be a little creative. I’m not sure we would have done this in the US. The community here, Yucateco and Expat, is very receptive to people expressing themselves in art, writing, acting, music etc.

 

What authors have inspired you along the way?

My all-time favorite is Stephen King.  People often times think of him as just a horror writer, but in my opinion, he has written some of the greatest American novels of the past forty years.

Elmore Leonard is another favorite of mine. He had a simple, no frills style of writing that was very effective. He could paint a picture in five words that would take other authors a paragraph to achieve.

 

Can you describe what a typical day in your life is like?

Sure, but I can guarantee that it will be the most boring thing in this interview. I get up fairly early most mornings to start my online job.  I go workout in the early afternoon.  Try to do some writing in the late afternoon. We throw some tennis balls to the dogs in the evening and then go to bed. I really need to slow down.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born in Corpus Christie, Texas into a Navy family. I’m the youngest of four kids. We then moved to Hawaii, then to California where my Dad left the service. From there we moved to Oklahoma, to Iowa and then Missouri. By the time we moved to Missouri, I was the only child still living at home.  I also joined the Navy when I was nineteen, serving four years in the Seabees. I met Jill in Springfield, Missouri, and we eventually moved to Kansas City together and married. Jill was also a military brat, so we lived very similar lives before we met.  Over the years, I’ve worked in printing and computer support. Several years ago, I managed to get a degree in history …better late than never.

 

What would you like to accomplish in your artistic endeavors?

Well, if at least half the people who see or read my work like it, then I would be happy. Seeing a project through from beginning to end and knowing I did my best is very rewarding, regardless of any perceived success or failure.

OK, OK…I’d like to see a book of mine on the NY Times Bestsellers List and then have it adapted into an Oscar winning movie!

 

What’s next? A new movie? A new book? Something else?

Jill and I have started a full-length movie script, but we set it aside while editing my novel. As I mentioned before, I am also four chapters into a second novel.  I’m in no rush with either project, whatever happens will happen. Jill has also started a novel. I would describe it as a police procedural with supernatural overtones.

One more thing I’d like to say. Every creative thing I’ve ever done, or tried to do, is a result of encouragement from my wife, Jill. It’s one thing to share a project together, you kind of encourage each other as you go. This novel though is different. It’s something I’ve done by myself and is much larger in scope than anything I’ve ever attempted to write. Every step of the way, I’ve relied not only on Jill’s encouragement, but her opinion and advice. She’s a pretty cool wife.

 

La Venganza on Amazon.com

tramonto

 

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Fiction

Excerpt from La Venganza

by

Michael Steven Benson

 

Rufus, Wayne and the Ochoa brothers stood under a bank of trees that ran alongside a small creek.  They listened to the muted crying coming from the direction of Frank’s truck, parked thirty yards away near a large pond.  They had driven southwest of Pawhuska through an endless maze of dirt roads before finding a field with an open gate and no houses in sight.  The field was dry and the vegetation dead, so there were no tracks from the vehicles as they drove in.  It was a huge patch of land that allowed them to drive over three miles in before stopping.

Rufus smoked a cigarette while he watched Wayne fiddle with his phone.  He glanced over at the Ochoa brothers as they sat down on a small berm with their backs to the creek; they both fidgeted, obviously worried about the situation.

“Relax, kids,” said Wayne.  “I’m looking at the overhead views on my cell.  We’re several miles from the nearest house and over seven miles from the nearest town.  As long as we keep the vehicles out of sight, we’re safe.”

“How do you even get a signal out here?” asked Donny.  It was hot and humid; sweat flowed in small tributaries from Donny’s buzz cut.

“Satellite cell service,” replied Wayne as he held up his phone.  “Always pays to be prepared.  By the way, I know your burner phones probably don’t work out here, but I need to collect them up anyway.  We’re in some pretty desperate straits and the last thing I need is one of you calling your Great Aunt Florence to ask her to forward your mail to Bum Fuck Oklahoma.”

“Too bad we aren’t as prepared as you,” said Rufus as he handed over his phone.  Rufus chuckled slightly as he stood, stretched his back and then walked to the Impala where he sat in the driver’s seat.  He had never cared much for Wayne, not that Rufus cared much for anyone else since joining the group.  Wayne was different though; he seemed to always come out on the opposite side of what Rufus had in mind.  Wayne, who had been watching Rufus, spoke.

“You got a problem, Mr. Duran?”

“No I do not, Mr. Maggard.”

“Then what were you laughing at, if I may be so bold as to ask?”

“I just found your speech about always being prepared a little amusing.  Considering where we are and what’s happened.”

Rufus watched as Wayne placed his cell on the trunk of the car and walked to the open door on the driver’s side.  He wasn’t wearing his jacket and his gun was visible, strapped to his side.  “So you’re saying this is my fault?”

Rufus turned the ignition on and began dialing in the radio.  “There’s enough blame to go around, Mr. Maggard,” he replied, continuing to play with the radio.  Another loud sob came from the truck; Rufus looked up to see Inocente standing at the back of the truck.  His hands leaned on the tailgate, and his head hung low as he grieved his brother’s death.

Rufus looked up at Wayne who was still standing at the driver’s door.  “What’s the plan, boss?” he asked.  He had thrown in the “boss” to placate Wayne a little.  It seemed to work.  Wayne walked back to his phone, picked it up and spoke.

“Glad you asked.  The most important thing we’ve got to do is bring Inocente back to the realm of the living.  The quicker we get his mind off Tito’s death, the quicker we’ll get out of here.  That means we need to have a funeral for the dead, fat man in yonder truck.”

“Funeral?” Will asked.  “How are we going to bury him?  We’ve got no tools and this ground is as hard as cement.”

“Good question, grasshopper.  We don’t bury him in the ground.  We give him a burial at sea, or in this case a burial at pond.”  Wayne pointed to the pond next to the truck.

Donny shook his head and laughed as he looked at his brother.  “Grasshopper,” he chuckled.  Will hit him on the shoulder hard with a punch only a brother could deliver.

“Alright, stay focused Beavis and Butthead.”

“Yeah, stay focused, Butthead,” Will said to Donny.

“What we’ll do is weight down Tito’s body with rocks.  We’ll check the truck and the Impala for something to tie him up.  Jumper cables, rope, whatever we can find.  It won’t be easy, and we’ll get wet doing it, but it should work.”

“What will Ino think of us shoving his brother into a pond?” asked Rufus.

“I think he’ll appreciate our efforts in trying to find a semi-respectful way to dispose of the body.  He’s pragmatic.  He’ll think it’s a good idea.”  Will and Donny looked deep in thought; possibly trying to figure out what pragmatic meant.

“What do we do after getting rid of the body?” asked Rufus.  “Use your phone to call home for help?”

“Yes and no,” replied Wayne.  We call for help but not from home.  That would take way too long.  We’ll call some of the Ochoa brother’s co-workers.  They would be a lot closer than our people in Arizona, and a lot less likely to draw attention when they arrive.  They can deliver a car and a change of clothes for all of us.  Then we can find a hotel close by.  We’ll hole up there while I work out the details of getting back on Frank’s trail.”

“Frank?” Rufus asked.  “It’s too fucking hot to keep up that search!  We need to get to the nearest airport and fly home as soon as possible!”

Wayne put his hands on his thin hips and looked at Rufus.  “Are you going to be the one to tell Ino that we’re not going to find his brother’s killer?  If so, go ahead.”  Wayne motioned toward Inocente.  “Go tell him right now.  But first let me get the camera ready on my phone, so I can take a picture of him putting a bullet in your head.”

Rufus looked up at Wayne with his eyebrows raised.  “Good point,” he said.

Wayne ran both of his hands through his pompadour, trying to remember where he’d left off.  “OK, you three will meet the new car somewhere close but not too close.  I don’t want anyone knowing exactly where we are right now.  The three of you will change clothes before heading back.  I’ll have the delivery guys bring t-shirts and jeans for all of us, so we look different than we do now.  Then you three drive back here and pick up me and Ino.”

“What about the Impala and the truck?” asked Will.  “The Chevy was rented in my name.”

“We’ll park them both here and hope they don’t get found.  They can be traced back to the ranch though, so we can’t leave them forever.  We’ll send someone back in a week or so with the GPS coordinates and a couple enclosed trailers to pick them up.  Anyway, after you guys come back, we all go find a place to lay low for a day or so.  How’s that sound?”

Rufus hated to admit it, but Wayne’s idea impressed him.  It was simple but well thought out.  “Sounds fine, boss,” Rufus said.  “But I have one question.”

“OK, lay it on me,” replied Wayne.

“How the hell are we going to find Frank?  We can’t track him anymore because he’s not in the truck.  We have absolutely no idea which direction he went.  If he made it out of the county before the road blocks went up then he could be anywhere in the Midwest by now.”

“You leave that up to me.  I’ve got some ideas.  They may not pan out, but I’ll try my damnedest.”  Rufus didn’t say a word but wondered what Wayne’s ideas might be.

“Great.  Now I’m going to go talk to Ino about Tito’s body.  Will and Donny, you two start thinking about any dependable drivers who might be in the area.  When I get back, I’ll make some phone calls to track them down.  Rufus, I guess you can just sit there and look pretty.”

Rufus looked up at Wayne who had a slight smirk on his face.  He raised his middle finger to his forehead and saluted Wayne with it.  “Yes, sir, boss!”

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Art

paintings by Samuel Barrera

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SAMUEL ENRIQUE BARRERA CEBALLOS
Visual artist specialized in painting, a law degree, was born in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico on December 28, 1967. Self-taught, Mexican, Yucatecan and living in Merida, with 5 solo exhibitions and more than 20 collective, was member for five years of “Blue Spiral 1” Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, EU With a 15-year career in the visual arts in the United States parallel between collective and individual exhibitions. Participation in international art festivals and former member of AC Garden Art in Mexico City for three years. Founder and honor member of Corredor Internacional del Arte in the Paseo Montejo of Merida, Yucatan.

ARTIST’S STATEMENT:
Nietzche saw art as man’s struggle against negative social forces by use of the imagination, which he considered a product of pure ego. Art for him was the highest form of clear lucid thought, a tool for the good.
Schopenhauer envisioned art as a device of pleasure. Tolstoi viewed art as a propaganda and Oscar Wilde held to a doctrine of “art makes life”, meaning art is sometimes more real than reality.
I think the purest form of art is to give way to simple visual interest. To look at what you find yourself driven to see. Higher notions of art tend to confine art with lofty moral restrictions.
When art is passed off as a quasi-religion which can only be administered and interpreted by a special-order of priestly elites, the system invariably stifles imagination – even when the art is as liberal as blobs, slashes and splatters.
Art that has to serve as the instrument of artistic revolution is limited by having to react to a greater force in a continual hope of some overthrow, hence becoming the tool of reaction. Even the great revolt is enslaving.
But when all predetermined prejudices are momentarily set aside and you are one of the many at the scene of a horrible accident, your libido will do the looking. Something dead in the street commands more measure units of visual investigation than 100 Mona Lisas. It isn’t what you like; it’s what you really want to see! Art is not the slave of decoration. Hail the voyeur, the only honest connoisseur!
-Samuel Barrera

 

website: http://samuelbarrera.com/

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Cher Bibler, Fiction, Uncategorized

The Time Before

by Cher Bibler

 

I.
Tonight there is no light but the glow from around the streetlights. I am standing here waiting for you, but you don’t know it so you won’t come. I stand alone and look over the park past the swingset and the slide, into the darkness over the baseball field. This is such a sweet slow time when I’m alone and there’s no one to misunderstand me.

A car goes by slowly but I pretend not to see it. The air looks thick and foggy in front of its headlights. I hold in my breath until the echo of its sound dissolves and I’m alone again.

If I’d told you to meet me, you would have, but I’m still not sure about you. I pretend there is some magical way you will sense that I’m here and come to me, because this is the way I want you: I have a dream figure of you sketched out, how I’d want you to be if you knew that I wanted you, if you were sure of me. I know what reactions I’d want, things I’d want you to say and feel.

In a way this time is better than the real thing will be, this dream time; or so I tell myself. I am holding myself back, keeping this suspense, watching you.

II.

I am sitting here with you. We’re talking about books. We’ve never read the same ones but we’re sure we’d both like them, if we had. I’m trying to tell you why.

I hold myself just far enough away from you so we don’t touch. I’m waiting for this to overwhelm you. When I first met you I never expected to feel this way about you. You were just an ordinary person; I had no warning.

I’m sitting crosslegged hugging my legs. I lay my head on my knees and look down at the carpet. You’re talking about your sister but I’m not listening anymore. Our conversations lately have drifted aimlessly.
I’m amazed at this thing that’s grown here between us. I analyze its beginnings, as far as I can dissect them. I can’t find the seed where it began, but I can see how it gathered momentum and how I witlessly encouraged it along.

III.

I’m thinking about my last lover, and how he merged into the dream I had of him until I couldn’t tell them apart. I’ve had plenty of time to think about the mistakes I made with him and I keep them at hand for reference so I don’t make them again with you.

It’s not fair, I guess, to compare future lovers with past lovers, to make them compete with old ghosts grown mellow with memory, but at each step I’m reminded of the last time I felt this way, and sometimes your eyes merge with his eyes and I think there is only one man out there who keeps coming back to me in different disguises.

My old lover never really liked competing with my fantasy of him.

IV.

I have practiced conversations we will have someday; I’ve told your dream counterpart all the secrets about myself. He took it well. He was very understanding.

V.

I sit here by you, not touching but close enough I can feel your body heat. I’m looking at your hands, studying the texture of your skin wondering how it would feel. It looks very soft and I wonder why that attracts me (stereotype—men are supposed to have strong hands).

I imagine how you would react right now to me touching you, but I don’t touch you. I sit wrapped in this thought.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Cher Bibler is the author of About Irene, a novel told from the viewpoint of a collectible french fashion doll about her friends, her owners, and the things that happen around her. She has had poetry and fiction published in magazines such as The Evergreen Review, Amanda Blue and The Firelands Review. She sings in a rock band, edits an incredible online literary publication, and has perfected the art of making potato pizza. She currently resides in Merida, Mexico.

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photo by Skot Horn

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Fiction

Xochimilco’s Frozen Assets

by William Snyder

“BEEP…BEEP…SCREECH.” A beat-up VW passed on the right as a twenty-something blond stepped into the intersection; Holly scrambled back to the sidewalk. The air quality had improved but traffic was the same since her last visit to Mexico City. Put a powerless citizen in a car you better watch out. On the streets the ordinary Mexican was powerless but behind the wheel they had a chance to show their frustration with political corruption and unlivable wages. Although she wasn’t into religion Holly found herself furtively making the Sign of the Cross and muttering under her breath ‘vaya con dios’ as she hailed a cab to the museum.

She navigated the peacocks and Xoloitzcuintles in the garden without further mishap. The Dolores Olmedo Museum was built in a unique spirit of Mexican eclecticism. It included folk art and archeological finds along with the finest collection of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paintings in the world. Dolores Olmedo had been Diego’s model and one of his lovers in the 20’s before he hooked up with Frida. When Frida died Diego and Dolores resumed their romance almost 30 years later. Romance may be the wrong word to use for any relationship Diego had with a woman but his relationship with Frida was closer to romance than any other. He made Dolores promise to display Frida’s work with his own after he died. Dolores agreed to do it because she loved Diego and his paintings but the same couldn’t be said about her feelings for Frida or her work. The museum was an anomaly born from love and hate. The combination of style and subject matter added to the experience; Diego’s work was of his people; Frida’s was of her pain.

The last 10 minutes in the museum Holly spent surveying Frozen Assets. The Depression, skyscrapers, homeless men stacked like cadavers and Rockefeller waiting for his money were Rivera’s cryogenic vision of New York City. The Big Apple may be a metaphor for the fruit of the Garden of Eden but it can be hell on earth when tasted. Holly thought to herself Diego got it right; NYC was full of frozen assets. She favored the painting because it spoke to her of the past and the family she left behind in Long Island.

Frozen-Assets-by-Diego-Rivera

Frozen Assets by Diego Rivera

Their hotel was a five minute walk from the museum. She was surprised that Carlos was agitated when she arrived.

“I asked you to be back by 2.”

“It’s only ten after.”

“I’m meeting Miguel before he gets on the bus.”

“Sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I’ll be back by 5. Diego didn’t sleep, he needs his nap. We can catch one of the boats on the waterway when I get back. You love it there, right?”

“OK. Hurry back. You’re right I do love Xochimilco’s waterway.”

Five years before she had met Carlos Sanchez in Cancun on her last spring break from Stanford. He was a computer whiz from the Yucatan blessed with the Maya math gene. They spent more than a year flying back and forth between LA and Merida before he took a job as a website designer at an Orange County start-up where the venture capital firm she worked for provided the funding. Now he was a Program Manager with lots of stock to cash after the IPO happened next quarter.

Initially the wedding plan was to have the ceremony at the family estate in the Hamptons, but Carlos preferred the West Coast so that more of his family could attend. Holly liked the idea, especially since Carlos’ brother, Miguel, said he would be Best Man. She lined up several dates for Miguel with friends from LA’s Westside and Santa Monica but none of them were kept after Vicky caught his eye at an East LA dance club. Love and more than a little bit of passion took over and soon Vicky was expecting his baby. Miguel got a job working construction in LA so the baby would have a father and be born a US citizen. His brother was already a citizen by marriage and that could grease the skids for Miguel’s green card.

Vicky was from a Roma family well known in the world of flamenco dancing. Ostracized by them for hooking up with a man outside the gypsy world, she felt it was a blessing in disguise that she was welcome in a world where women had rights. With their different backgrounds – East Coast establishment money and Roma heritage – it was a stretch but Vicky and Holly became BFF’s. The two couples became inseparable with social lives that ran the gamut from Boyle Heights taco stands to a performance at the Walt Disney Center of Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras. When Vicky and Miguel bought a fixer-upper house they moved in with Holly and Carlos until everything was ready. While they waited for the baby Holly and Vicky became as close as sisters. The joy Maria gave Vicky and Miguel brought a renaissance to Holly’s belief in family so that not long after she was expecting herself.

Miguel should have gotten his green card before he was stopped for a non-working taillight on the 405, but with Maria’s birth and Holly’s pregnancy it had been a back-burner item on his to-do list. He made 3 times working for Mara Salvatrucha in Merida than what he made in the US but he would never leave Vicky and the baby to go back to work in Mexico. Mara Salvatrucha was dangerous when they were crossed but there was no cell in Merida. Miguel worked alone for them as a middle man distributing drugs to Belize sent from Chiapas, Mexico. He was beaten up by LAPD for the 13-7 V on his bicep – the good luck – bad luck tattoo mistaken for a gang member’s tat. Miguel had actually gotten 13-7 V after he met Vicky to show her and his brother he had left La Mara and found good luck.

LAPD handed Miguel over to Homeland Security who put him in a group to be flown from El Paso to Mexico City. It was part of the $1.4B of taxpayer money the US government spent on the Merida Initiative as part of the War on Drugs. Instead of returning illegals to Mexico at the border where it would be easier for them to re-enter, the USA government flew them into Mexico City and Mexico paid their bus fare home with money provided by the US.

Ironically, LA was the origin of the Mara Salvatrucha. Formed originally by Salvadorans to take care of their Salvadoran brothers found homeless on the streets of LA, La Mara eventually became Central America’s most dangerous gang. Now they were criminals and drug dealers with a code of honor based on loyalty rooted in the Latino family value of taking care of your own. Miguel met Smiley in a Merida bar one night. They hung a couple of nights before Smiley recruited him. It was a no-brainer; the money was 10 times more than he was making as a reporter for a local newspaper. Miguel knew nothing about La Mara’s origin when he took the 13 second beating from fellow members, Smiley included, that served as his initiation in Chiapas before he started selling drugs for them in Merida. His boss, El Sol, was pissed at him when he didn’t come back from the wedding but he let him go because there was no cell in Merida and no one in Chiapas would question El Sol.

Holly and Carlos were to fly the next day from Mexico City to Merida for Diego’s baptism – the perfect occasion for a Sanchez family reunion, the introduction of its newest member and making plans for reuniting Miguel with Vicky and Maria. Holly was accustomed to ignoring Carlos when it came to the baby, so she strapped Diego on her back and headed for the embarcadero leaving a note:
See you at the boat dock.

Xochimilco is like Venice to some and a cesspool to others. The smell of the waterway takes some time to get used to, but as long as Gabriel Marquez Valdez wrote and lived there, Holly was inclined to think of Mexico City as a harbor for artistic endeavor. She couldn’t say it was a safe harbor with all the violent crimes, but the city does have 20 million people and with that size shit happens. The hippy ambience of the ‘flower field’ – the meaning of Xochimilco in Nahuatl – was intensified by the colors of the boats parked along the docks. Boats don’t travel in flocks but the waterway was gridlocked by a flock of trajineras painted in the same brilliant colors as Frida Kahlo’s parrots.

An artist was painting a portrait of a wedding couple sitting in the Aztecan version of a Venetian gondola. The embarcadero was filled with people enjoying the Mexico City sun on Sunday. A crowd began to gather next to a monument in the park. Holly was curious and took a spot at the outer edge while Diego slept. Everyone’s attention seemed to focus on a limo encircled by a host of armed guards. A bus pulled in behind the limo. A group of young men began filing out. Some of the crowd waved. A small podium was set up by a guard. The flags of Mexico and the USA were stuck in the ground by another guard next to the monument. With the American consul at his side a Mexican government official spoke at the podium:

“Sunday at Xochimilco. What better day for the first day of American-Mexican cooperation in bringing our family members back to their…

“BLAM!……BLAM! BLAM!”

The American consul went writhing to the ground. People began shouting and running in all directions. Guards ran toward the smoke spiraling above the trajinera where the bride lay in shock on the boat deck. The bridegroom was on his knees consoling her. He gave thumbs up to the guards to show she was OK and waved his arm to indicate that they should continue to run after the unseen gunman in the direction they were already running. When the guards passed the bride and groom scampered off the trajinera.

Holly cowered under a bench protecting Diego. A man walked toward her on the embarcadero. Paint box in hand, he pulled her out from under the bench.

“Come with me, Holly.” She recognized Carlos’ father and nodded.

In the mercado across the street they were joined by two guys in hoodies.

“What are you doing here?” Carlos lifted the hoodie from his face.

“Have you gone insane?” Holly hugged Diego closer to her breasts.

“Nice shot, Papa.” Miguel in the other hoodie hugged his father.

“Nice shot? Sight was messed up at first. Had to adjust after that first shot. I was afraid I hit somebody in the crowd. Don’t know why I went for his leg, should have killed him but El Sol said no because he didn’t want to piss the Mexican government off. Don’t know why killing an American should piss them off. I have a passport and ticket to Seattle for you. Somebody will be waiting for you there. Vicky and Maria will be there next weekend. Compliments of La Mara. All is forgiven as long as you do what you’re told from here on out. Carlos, take care of your family. See you at the airport tomorrow. You weren’t supposed to know about this, Holly. I hope the baby slept through it. He’s beautiful. Diego, our gift from God. A wonderful name. Time to go.”

Carlos’ father patted the baby’s head. He and Miguel embraced Carlos before walking into the street. Carlos and Holly started back toward the hotel. An ambulance siren drowned out the yelling from the crowd.

“I told you to wait in the hotel. My dad called Mara Salvatrucha in LA. Vicky’s going to live with Miguel in Seattle. Miguel doesn’t want to get back into the business but it’s how he’s getting back to the States and he’s legal this time. The paperwork’s all done.”

“Here take him. I have to sit.”

Holly struggled to a bench. Carlos took the baby; Diego’s blanket was staunched with blood.

“My God! Did you know this?”

He quickly stripped the blanket looking for a wound.

“It’s not him.”

Holly slumped and slid to the ground. Carlos ran toward the ambulance pointing back to the bench.

“My wife’s been shot! Help me!”

One of the medics ran to the sprawled body. Carlos stood over him as he checked for vital signs. Carlos knew without hearing the words.

Diego was cared for by a nurse in the hospital’s pediatric ward while Carlos was informed of what had to happen before the body could be taken home. He was surprised that after the autopsy the body would be frozen for the trip back to the States. When all the details had been worked out Carlos went back to the hotel and wept through the night with Diego in his arms. Miguel, Vicky and Maria, were ‘family’ in her own words. Then this baby in his arms came – his son the gift from God. Now Diego’s mother was gone. The family was gone. If only she had listened to him and stayed at the hotel she wouldn’t be frozen like the people in the painting she loved so much.
The wait seemed endless until the flight left for Merida. Carlos’ mother and father stood side-by-side baffled by Carlos’ glazed stare as he walked toward the baggage carousel in the airport. Carlos put Diego in his grandmother’s arms. His father asked…

“Where’s Holly?”

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William Snyder is sweating out the winter of his life in the capitol of the Yucatan state in Merida with Vicky Carrasco-Silva, the love of his life, and his dog Chino. His travels have taken him to Europe, Ireland, South America, and most of the USA. He has lived in Philadelphia, Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Prior to becoming a writer in Mexico he has been a teacher, consultant, manager, technician and business owner dealing with application software and computer technology. His writings have been published by Merida English Library, Queen City Crier, Inotherwordsmerida.Com, The Merida Review, Merida’s Night Writer, The Yucatan Times, GE Magazine, and Knowledgeware Users Conference. He is the father of 2 sons and 2 granddaughters.

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Angie5

photo by Angela M Campbell

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