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The Other Side


MY GRANDFATHER LITIO MALDONADO, the last living speaker of a forgotten Indian tongue, died recently at the hands of a grieving peacock.

The peacock had no hands, being a lowly bird not native to our village or the nearby lake. The hands belonged to a German tourist, a man named Meyer who having consumed the hallucinogenic mushroom Teonanácatl was in the lake thrashing around, trying to rescue a woman he believed drowning in a whirlpool of gelatinous colors. It was not a drowning woman the German heard that morning but rather the call of a lovesick peacock. Litio, who in the morning half-light heard the commotion, hurried to the lake and tripped over the body of a dead peahen, the object of the male bird‘s public grief. A stone to the head broke Litio’s fall and he suffered an unnatural death.

Just before my grandfather’s death, another accident, a nonfatal one, occurred. Litio and I were returning from Cholula after delivering fireworks to the village. Nearing the final turn into Tequestitlan, Litio learned through the truck’s radio that Chivas, his beloved football team had lost a championship match (1-0) against arch rival Club America. My grandfather, an emotional man when sober, dropped bitter tears thereafter, blinding him to the goat herd crossing the road. The truck stopped to avoid the goats, throwing me from its bed where I slept. I flew headfirst into the animals.

Losing consciousness, I awoke to monstrous visions: multi-headed creatures dressed in thick metal armor and blackened by calamitous fires. The creatures raged with fang-tipped growls--- threatening me at all angles and stretching in dimension: in height, in width, in everything measurable by fear and terror.

After my accident there were surgeries, expensive ones, with many trips to the hospital in the capital. To earn money for the visits my mother began selling dried fish in the local market, bought wholesale from a cousin in Amantitlan. Although bandaged and bruised, I helped unload the fish and haul the produce to market.

It was there I saw my grandfather.

He first appeared sitting in the shade of the plaza’s trees, hunched over, gazing at his hands and occasionally shooing away the flies circling the fruit rinds littering his feet. I instantly recognized him and thought that death had restored some youth. His neatly trimmed mustache was still pure white and his eyes had the damaged look of excessive sunlight but his chest and arms were thick like a aged Mexican Popeye.

I sat next to him. Neither of us spoke. The market crowds moved before us, buzzing and chattering, exchanging gossip for gossip. Before I could speak, I was distracted by an ache coming from the root portion of my skull. I turned to look where my grandfather had been and saw him walking toward the market stalls, his elbows flexed in odd angles as his arms pushed him forward. Soon he was lost in sea of women haggling over the price of chilies and children looking hungrily at the candies and toys their Indio parents had no money to buy.

Over the next few months I saw my grandfather occasionally. Seeing him once in the trees outside our house, climbing from branch to branch like a small restless monkey. I saw him a few times on television as a news reporter talking of the latest war or drug bust or political scandal. He even appeared as a child’s tornado---a dust devil, a small twisting wind that many said contained the souls of lost children spinning their way through eternity.

But mostly he appeared in my fitful, dissolving dreams. In those dreams I was a child, continually moving in a shadowy world made from the unfulfilled desires of others. I hovered as ether does, eventually floating into a crowd of men, starving and desperate they attacked me. I fought their battering. My grandfather, Litio, who took the form of a raven, watched the mayhem. “Help me,” I called out. “Help me fly away.” The raven, perched on column of broken cemetery stones, lifts his wings to reveal the brittle skeleton of a starving bird. I wake sweat-stained, feeling as though a demon-heated darkness breeched my soul.

One morning, after a round of disturbing dreams, I awoke to see four gypsy women sitting in a row, staring at me. Each had in their laps dark purple grapes, eating and then spitting out the grape seeds through my open window. One woman was not a woman at all, but my grandfather dressed as a hungara.

“Benny, Benny” my grandfather spoke in an old shaky voice. “You must leave.” The other gypsies nodded in agreement. “You are filled with maharime up here.” He tapped his forehead as did each woman. “Who are you?” I asked, although I knew she was my grandfather in gypsy dress. Another gypsy with skin the color of burnt charcoal answered, “Chavo, she is your Baba, we are all your Baba. It is with God we found you and it is with God that we will leave you. Give us some bread, give us some herbs, we are your finger casters.” She drew her hands out to me and on each tattooed finger were the devilish symbols of owls, snakes, ravens and goats.

Another woman, very heavy, whose silver teeth sparkled in the early light said, “Give us your paper, so that that we may bless you, Chavo. We will remove the Prikaza that darkens your spirit. Give us your paper.” I looked around and saw a football card with the picture of Rafael Marquez, the Mexican soccer star, on the table beside my bed. It still smelled like the loaf of Bimbo bread I had taken it from yesterday at breakfast. I gave it to my gypsy grandfather.

All the gypsies seemed pleased, except for the one whom the others called Chivani. The oldest looking, she wore many beaded necklaces around her neck and thin brown leather straps around her wrists. The Chivani was silent until given the card. She looked at it in disgust, with the wrinkles in her nose bunching together and her brow tightening in concentration. She spoke two words ‘kocsis sándor’ before handing the card to another. Shortly thereafter, I heard the braying of horses and the ringing of many small bells. This was their cue to leave and so they left.

After the gypsies left, I lay in bed watching my world unwind. Shadows lengthened and shrank outside my room. A crab spider spun a web across my tiny window frame. In our small courtyard, my mother worked making tortillas. Her hands making the pat-pat-pat sound that was as familiar to me as her long mournful sighs. My tiny world was taking shape as it always does, moving slowly, going to those same places that end in my mother‘s reproachful, faraway looks, in my numerous headaches that clamor and roar, in a feeling that makes me less solid, less durable each day.

I hear a voice telling me, “Go to the other side.” It’s not my voice I hear, and it’s not a gypsy, or my mother‘s. It’s my grandfather’s voice, sounding like thunder tearing down a mountainside.

I hear a voice insist I leave. I comply. I must.

The day of my decision, the earth shook violently, knocking me out of bed to the floor where I found a 20 peso note. A good omen, I thought. But more importantly a reminder about money needed for the journey. Later that day, after the earth rumblings had quieted, I went to Timoteo Mendoza’s grocery store to borrow cash. The debt business is a good one for the Mendoza clan, since most migrants lack resources for the trip. After some nonsense about Jesus as my master and savior, Timoteo handed over an envelope, saying, “God wants you to take care of your debts, for if you don’t He will find you. He always finds what belongs to him.”

Returning home, I tell my mother of my plans. She objects. She grabs my elbow with her hand, disturbing my already strange moods. She then asks if I’m well. I’m unsure how to respond. It angers me, her question. So I let it go and step away. I’m leaving I say again. This time my voices trembles like a frightened child endlessly seeking adult approval  My mother demands I stay and care of her but makes no move to stop me. How could she?  I am a man.

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About Mario J Gonzales

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Fresno born, Parlier bred. Parents saved each penny to ensure that my failures would be grand ones. Have an enzyme disorder which makes my skin yellowish when ill--somewhat like Homer Simpson. Overeducated, but not enough to have acquired street smarts. Kind of enjoy ice sculptures and can remain stoic when they have melted. That's about it.

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