by D.N. Stuefloten


     She is a pretty girl, of course. In the context of this story she must be pretty. Although she is Mexican I give her blonde hair. Occasionally I hear her cry. Lagrimas! she exclaims, look, she says, teardrops, there are lagrimas coursing down my cheeks! She seems astonished by this. She stares in the mirror at the tears. She follows them with a pointed finger. Have I said the tips of her fingers are painted red? The red tip follows behind as a teardrop descends from one eye, leaving a salty track on her cheek. I can imagine touching it--touching the tear--with the tip of my tongue, which is also red. Oh! she says. She stamps her little feet. You men! But she proffers the cheek. Who am I to refuse such a gift?

     She cries every month, she says. Every month she is surprised by tears. Voluminous tears--

     Go back to sleep, I tell her.

     All right.

     She reclines on hard concrete. One hand lies on her belly, the other lifts in a salute. She shuts her eyes. I snap the picture: f8, a 60th of a second. My favorite aperture.


     At one time tears had meaning. Was it Niobe who dissolved in her own tears? Although tears today are acidic--life is now acidic--no one would today dissolve in tears. I am myself as hard as zinc, a galvanized man, exposed to the weather but impervious to it. As I write this I am aware that weather itself is a fiction. I have become, through years of effort, a character in my own stories, and the storms which blow around my house--I hear the shutters bang, the eaves howl, the rain rap like bullets, yes, bullets, smashing windows, shards of glass are all around me as I write these very words--these storms, I say, are blown precipitously across these pages, but only these pages. My neighbor--a sullen, dark man, I shall not describe him more than that--is enveloped in still air, heavy air, no storm there, he sweats like a pig, one can see his shirt stained with sweat, when he talks his breath, a moist wind, scatters droplets of sweat before it. He experiences nothing but calm, torpid weather. Sullen, morose weather. It is only I who am faced with tornadoes and cyclones, hurricanes, chubascos, typhoons, the swirling--skirling--madness of monsoons, that is, myself and Edi, the two of us, my blonde Mexican girl who rises from these pages and poses for my imaginary photographs. Who would believe such a girl would pose for a vestige like me? I am a shadow of my former self, una sombra, scarcely a remnant, words will never replace flesh, the most voracious phrases will never equal the carnal appetite I once felt--felt legitimately, I mean, felt viscerally, torment raging in my bowels, I sense it in her, too, she rises frightened from her concrete bed, no more real than I am real, hair falling before her face, arms against a concrete and brick wall, dressed darkly, f8 again I suppose--I might as well imagine f8--caught at a fraction of a second leaning to one side--invisibly leaning to one side, no more visible than I am visible, a morass, both of us, a tangle of inadequate words.


     Now you have gone too far, she says.

     She stands reproachfully at a wall. Her invisible feet are placed just so.

     You are horrible, she says. A horrid man.

     Dont move, I say.

     Why not?

     Keep that expression--

     I shall keep it if I please. Your imaginary peregrinations are meaningless to me. If I am only a simulacrum, what are you? You pronounce judgment, she says, but evade responsibility. Do you think I can stand here forever while you fumble with your apertures? You are a three-footed fool, a tripodal mechanism, no more than meshing gears and careening pulleys. Automatae have more soul--mas alma--than you. You are homunculum, she says as she leaves the wall, you are golem, she cries as she takes me woodenly in her arms, you are clockwork, she exclaims embracing the stick-figure I have become. Outside--outside this page--storms rage. Can one imagine a world spinning endlessly in a void? a world striated with clouds? Yet in the centers of such vortices is calm: air as damp as Ediís breath, as unmoving as my heart. In our fictional embrace I find her throat beneath my lips. Our apertures gape. I would make you visible, I say, if I could. She murmurs some response, a few Spanish words with the texture of molasses. I release her--perhaps she releases me--f16 this time, a narrowing of intent, a shutter cocked and triggered, making a noise like the cracking of a bone, my bones, broken by these words, on this page, tears coursing down my cheek.


     Is this madness? she asks. In my imagination there is a chill to the air. Even my neighbor notices it, lifting his head and sniffing at the breeze. For a moment he seems disoriented: he spins round and round, like a dog pursuing his own tail, a vortex of sorts. When he stops he glares at me from his distance. It may be I have pursued this tale as far as it will take me. How long can a man turn into himself? We are fictional, I say to her, to myself. Her tongue lapping at my tears is fictional. I cry every month, every month my tears surprise me. Is there some gift hidden in this despair? Who can say? The girl is silent: I cannot see her face as she kneels before a rough wall, not there, not there, hiding behind a cascade of hair. In any case there is no truth, I tell her, no truth here at all, or if there is, I say, the truth, like her beauty, has escaped me. I recline on the hard concrete that lies beneath us all. Go back to sleep, I tell her. My hand lifts in a salute. She shuts my eyes, a gesture of casual grace, and snaps with one finger the picture: f8 perhaps, f8 again, a 60th of a second at my favorite aperture.

. . . . .