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Posted by Abigail from 188.8.131.52 (pcp05073051pcs.ivylnd01.pa.comcast.net) on martes, octubre 14, 2003 at 23:32:19 :
Folks, With the subject of maids and weather coming up recently I thought I'd submit this fictional story set in Zihua many years ago. The plot and ALL the characters are fictional. (OK the episode with the hole in the towel and the crab in the sink really did happen to my mother-in-law at the Calpulli but that's all I'll ever own up to.) But the weather that January, The Calpulli, Zihua and Gitano's were real.
And so readers – imploring your gentle good humor – I offer . . .
Aurelia: A Sisters of the Morning Star Story
Copyright Abigail Lovett
Taking our cue from the locals we rolled up our pants and removed our sandals as we slogged through the muddy water of Lago Calpulli. In another life it had been the dusty parking lot of the Hotel Calpulli. But it had rained for three days. Not the typical tropical rainy season showers that give way to humid afternoons, but torrents of rain day and night. It was a billowy, insidious rain, rain that tested our sense of humor and made us stretch ourselves as we found new ways to anchor what the wind scattered as it blew in one screened window and out the other, and compelled us to make a game out of two-manned-towel-twisting as we mopped up the floor.
“It never rains in February on the Costa Grande of Mexico,” is what Aurelia, our friend and maid,confirmed just before my husband started our truck. The rain making the simplest things adventurous, we navigated the axle high water, sending waves to lap up against the VW Bug island that had stalled there the day before, and left the Hotel Calpulli. We were on our way to the airport to pick up my friend Lynda.
“It will be beautiful, sunny and warm every day,” that was what I told Lynda when I convinced her to come to visit us in the tropical paradise where we had spent our last five winters. Zihuatanejo was home to us and I wanted to share the experience with my old friend who I had idolized since my days in dress design school.
Lynda was everything I wished I was: tall, blond, willowy, sophisticated, social, athletic and educated in Europe. I was short, dark, busty, too discombobulated to pull myself together, an introverted reader, with the natural style of an American girl of the seventies. I hoped some of Lynda’s elegance and poise would rub off on me.
We had been drawn together by exponential proximity. First we were seated next to each other at school, then we realized we were commuting on the same train, finally we halved our expenses by sharing an apartment. While we lived together, Lynda made a project of improving me and had a cheerful loyalty to her underdog friend. Some of her efforts were successful, I now folded my towel in thirds, knew how to drink out of a glass without getting finger prints on it and had affected Lynda’s way of saying again so it rhymed with rain, which is what it was doing again when she got off the airplane.
Lynda needed no additional eyeliner to make her eyes look big when she saw the huge hole in her towel as she refolded it, the right way, in thirds almost as quickly as Aurelia put it folded in half on the towel rack. Obviously her concept of a little tropical bungalow getaway was a little more Club Med than ours.
“This is my friend Aurelia.”
“”Oh . . . yes,” Lynda said clasping her hands together below her throat and smiling down at Aurelia, a mother of four, as if I’d just introduced a child. I could see Lynda appraising the cheap fabrics, let out for maximum use, that clothed Aurelia. I thought of a chance meeting with Aurelia a few nights before where Aurelia, in a silver and blue sequin dress, surrounded by her children, was the soul of maternal decorum.
Aurelia’s hand reached toward Lynda. Lynda laid worn dollar bills in Aurelia’s outstretched hand; a gesture Aurelia had come to accept in lieu of the traditional light caress between souls she shared with her own people.
“What’s the word for clean,” Lynda said, eyeing the lime deposits on the bathroom fixtures.
“Limpia,” I answered as I went to personally supervise a search in the laundry room for a towel without a hole. As I left Lynda was practicing the word on my friend Aurelia.
When I returned, Aurelia had the harried look she got when she encountered American tourists who did not appreciate her efforts. Instead of unpacking her clothes, Lynda was pointing and saying, “limpia” while Aurelia followed her with a dirty cleaning rag wiping up dust that had been accumulating for years and leaving even larger smudge marks where Lynda pointed to the walls.
As soon as they saw me the both started in on me.
“How can these people rent these rooms in this condition?”
“Senora, who is this friend of yours, the queen of England?”
“Basta, enough! I can’t listen to you both in two different languages.”
“Mexican cleaning standards are not quite the same as ours, I’ve learned to accept it or compensate,” I said to Lynda as she moved with distracted efficiency around the room, wiping the dust off a bare light bulb with toilet paper as she scanned for more dirt.
“No preoccuparse, don’t worry,” I told Aurelia who was leaning against a long squeegee with a piece of cloth wrapped around the bottom, standard equipment for cleaning a tile floor, “I’ll take care of it.”
Aurelia nodded knowingly, her eyebrows arched, the gold fillings in her front teeth adding to the mischievous nature of her smile, secure in my ability to do what I had promised, she continued to mop the floor in languid, sinuous motions.
Aurelia, would have looked like a German Frau had she not been brown skinned. Her dumpling body progressed through life on thighs and shoulders that did not move against the air but rolled though it with a warm tropical allure that would have made me nervous in a younger and more attractive woman, especially if she was looking at my husband.
At some point in the early years of our stay at the Hotel Calpulli, finding us friendly, and me willing to work on my Spanish, Aurelia brought me in to translate on a few occasions when misunderstandings between the foreign guests and the maids required mediation. The hotel staff found me to be such a good arbitrator that over the years my husband and I became adjunct staff, or family, I’m not sure which, either way it contributed to the reduced price we enjoyed at the hotel.
As the rain poured down outside, I think Lynda would have been willing to pay for something dryer and a little less authentically indigenous.
We spent the week reviving the old habits of our friendship.
We had relinquished the beds to Aurelia as she changed the sheets and were standing in front of the mirror in the only open corner of the room.
“You look windswept, but I love that color on you,” Lynda tucked a lock of hair behind my ear, and replaced the bright yellow shoulder strap that had drifted down my arm. “Your hair needs a trim. You’d look so cute with a short haircut, that Afghan look is so dated. Here,” she said pulling my hair off my shoulders and letting me look at myself with short hair in the mirror. She was right, in the full length mirror, the shorter hair added inches to my height and took the focus off my bust line and put it on my face.
“I know,” I said, slouching under the awareness of my inability to master my “look,” “I wish we had time in the U.S. to go to the hairdressers together so you could help me pick out something that would be right for me.”
“Put your shoulders back,” Lynda said dropping my hair and pulling my shoulders back. “Tilt your pelvis forward and put your feet one before the other,”she demonstrated as she strode into the bathroom, then screaming, she bounced back into the room.
“There is something in there!”
“Ai,” cried Aurelia, lifting her mop, ready to do battle, with me, then Lynda, right behind her.
In the sink a small blue and brown claw struggled out of the drain, and the beady eyes of a crab looked back at us ready to defend his position while he retreated back down the drain that evidently emptied somewhere out on the beach.
“What it it,” Lynda asked.
We all bent forward and then jumped back when Lynda squealed as the crab reappeared.
Aurelia, the first to step forward, pragmatically encouraged the crab to return to the beach by running water on him, smiling widely at the idea of us all being afraid of a small frightened crab.
“My God, I said, laughing out loud in relief, “I thought it was a tarantula or a scorpion.”
Lynda’s eyes opened wide and her hand went to her throat as I repeated myself in Spanish for Aurelia’s benefit.
Aurelia smiling incredulously at Lynda’s alarm, poked me with her elbow and pointing down, made the motion of squashing one of the stinging creatures with her sandaled foot.
“If she is this afraid of crabs, better not let her go out on the beach in the evening,” said Aurelia, making me laugh, my hand covering my mouth, as I looked into her eyes and realized she was having the same amusing image of Lynda, an hysterical gringa, running from crab to crab as they made their evening foray from the land to the sea, “She needs a man to protect her,”Aurelia finished with a bawdy smile that invited me to put my hand on her shoulder and smile in agreement.
As I looked at her rigid back I thought maybe Aurelia was right, a little romance was what Lynda needed to put some sunshine into this washed out vacation. I had fallen in love young and remained fixated on the man who became my husband. As we had whiled away the rainy days, applying nail polish to our fingers and toes, smearing mashed avocado on our faces, gossiping about mutual friends and our relationships with the men in our lives, I had found myself feeling sorry for Lynda for the first time. Lynda was still looking for a man who could sustain the romance. Yes, Aurelia was right, and being realistic I had no hope for a sustained romance, but still; there was no better place in Zihuatanejo to start a vacation romance than Gitano’s.
A long time ago Gitano had started a party under a palapa on the beach and years later the party was still going. It was not the haphazard decor of retired fishnets, or bizarre half animal, half human masks from the nearby villages of the state of Guerrero that attracted people to Gitano’s but the never ending energy that was generated within the establishment. Gitano himself could never stand still long enough for his heels to hit the ground as he ran back and forth from the bar to the kitchen with frequent stops on the stage to pick up maracas and sing back up: his black beard and youthful tenor contrasting with the gray beard and the rum vocals of the lead singer of the Cuban jazz band that came to play one night and never left.
When we arrived, the band was in full swing exciting the locals and planting palm trees and warm sunshine into the blood of those willing to lose themselves to the beat. Almost all the tables were full with a mixture of locals, expatriates and tourists. The babble of English contrasted harshly against the flow of Spanish and the lively sound of the music.
Almost immediately, we saw Aurelia with her extended family, and as I was the only one who could understand her in the volume, Lynda followed my husband up to the bar, where he introduced her to a crowd of his interested gringo friends.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched them at the bar as I laughed and joked with Aurelia’s sisters and their husbands who had come to celebrate the birthday of, I assume, the sister wearing the blue and silver sequin dress. The talk was lively,and one of Aurelia's brothers in law hustled a waiter and handed me a beer. Back at the bar I could see Lynda, her back erect and her body poised as if she was at a modeling session, the chintz dress she had bought for a night out dancing ready to swirl on the dance floor. Smiling at Aurelia, as we shared the camaraderie at the table I noticed she was wearing a brick colored skirt whose seams revealed the yellow stitches of a previous alteration. Her top was a black tee shirt that had lost its’ nap and faded to gray in the tropical sun.
The men at the bar leered at Lynda with their eyes; the men at the table leered with their mouths. Still watching I observed Lynda get involved in a conversation with one of our expatriate friends, a man who had inherited enough money to chuck convention and adapt to a tropical life on a beach in Mexico without disturbing the family fortunes enough to incur the wrath of his relatives.
The band broke into a favorite song and our table surged to the dance floor. I looked across the room and saw Lynda startled and staccato stepping pulled to the floor by our expat friend with my husband not far behind them. Bodies bumped up against each other, writhing in abandon to the music. I heard Lynda repeatedly apologizing to anyone she touched on the dance floor, the locals, their pulses excited by the beat of steel drums, congas, guitars, and organ were oblivious to her good manners.
My husband, having worked his way over to me, was dancing something between a Mick Jagger strut and the chicken dance. Lynda was closed up like an umbrella, hands pressed against her skirt to keep it close to her body, struggling not to bump into anyone. Lynda’s partner, danced with his legs spread wide apart, hips swinging wildly, his arms waving in the air, sun blond hair tangled in his arms as it swirled to the rhythm. He was a full head shorter than Lynda. I tried to flash Lynda a smile over the dark heads on the floor, to get her attention, to let her know it didn’t matter if she was new here, she was our friend, we were all together, dancing to the same music, and that made us family. I couldn’t get her attention though, she had turned her back to me.
Hoping Lynda would do the same, I abandoned myself to the music watching Aurelia and the others around me, pulsing, gyrating, hair swinging, upturned mouths open; exposing bright dental work, our bodies open to each other, rolling our shoulders backwards, elbows, thighs, and buttocks skimming against each other in constant contact, the moisture building up between our bodies and the clothes that covered them. I wanted to share the rapture with Lynda, something we had never done, but when my eyes found her, I could see she was getting confused as the dancing became more frantic. She tried to step aside, to make room each time she was bumped, throwing her further off rhythm. Her body was not responding to the music the same way as the rest of the dancers. Her arms, bent at the elbows, moved up and down like a robot, and her torso would no sway, in an attempt to retain her own space, she shuffled her feet.
Lynda’s partner was drawing away from her responding to the body language of Aurelia and her sisters and passing beers back and forth with the men. Aurelia wide eyed and welcoming was moving in a way that made me realize that bearing children, as well as eating too many tamales, had contributed to the misshaping of her body. Her smile invited him to come and play. He leered back at Aurelia in mock acceptance of her challenge and turning his back on Lynda, headed across the floor in Aurelia’s direction.
Lynda’s hand went up to her throat and her eyes dropped to the floor. I could tell she was at a loss as to what she should do. Dancing with Aurelia’s brother-in-law, I caught his eye and he made his way through the crowd to her. As he approached Lynda he taped her on the arm. Her eyes glanced up and then, seeing it was a strange brown man who had touched her she glanced back down at the floor. The wide eyed joyous look left Aurelia’s brother-in-law’s face and was replace by thin lips and lowered eyebrows. Smiling into his eyes, I grabbed his hand and spun us, putting myself next to my guest. With dismay I realized her eyes were hooded from me too. Lynda was not going to dance with the unwashed masses. Alone in the crowd, Lynda shuffled until the song was finished and with er hand up to her throat, left the dance floor as soon as the crowd around her thinned.
The last few days of Lynda’s vacation it did not rain. We made an effort to get some sun when it appeared in patches through the clouds. When we took Lynda to the airport, her skin was just a little pinker than it was the day she arrived.
“Make sure you use plenty of sunscreen,” she said in parting, “you know how the sun ages your skin.”
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