Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sunday Scribbling #139: A Winter's Tale

An excerpt from my novel Galilee, with Emma the narrator, Alejandro, and Jackie the dog:

We reached Española in the early afternoon, after a big swoop past Santa Fe. Since I was sure we’d loop back to Española, I didn’t linger there. We took the highway east into a mountain valley towards Chimayó. The sky was turquoise blue against yellow mountains. It was a lazy drive in the afternoon sun—little traffic and a winding road. Jackie took a snooze in the back seat for both of us.

Chimayó was little more than a village scattered along the mountain highway. I was hungry again, so I stopped off at a big hacienda restaurant under a grove of trees. Ever the telepath, Jackie stayed sprawled out on my sleeping bag as I got out of the car. There was still a bite in the air, but sun and sky conspired to create an illusion of warmth. The lunch crowd was winding down in the restaurant; the woman who greeted me took me to the lounge, and seated me next to a wonderful piñon fire. I was the only diner in the room; the bartender was the only other human. Over against a pair of French doors lounged a gargantuan white dog—a Great Pyrenees, the bartender told me. He took my order and smiled as I declined his suggestion of a Chimayó cocktail. “As you wish,” he said. A few minutes later, he set one down in front of me, smiling as if he had set a precious jewel in its place.

“My compliments,” he said.

“I’m the designated driver,” I said.

“I went light on the tequila,” he replied.

“There is no such thing as light on tequila,” I said, but took the lovely cocktail glass in hand. “I smell apples.”

“Apple cider, lemon juice, crème de cassis, and Herradura.”


“Shall we say the—culprit?” He bowed ever so slightly.

Culprit was right. It was nowhere to be found in my first sip of the drink, which quickly led to second and third—and larger—sips. Halfway through the drink I felt like my body had turned into a river: I could hear myself rushing over stones.

Someone took possession of my mouth and said, “Alejandro,” for so the bartender had introduced himself.

“Indeed,” he said, from behind his beautifully carved wooden bar.

“Do you hear the river?”

“The river?”

I felt myself rushing over the brilliant limestone of the greenbelt back in Austin.

“I am a river. You should see me.”

“Ah, yes. The river.” He chuckled.

I could not turn to him in his mirth. The sun of the fire felt as if it were nestled upon my left cheek. To turn would be to lose the sun.

“Why are you giggling, Alejandro?” I said.

“For most it is something like Niagara Falls. You are the first river.”

“You are a very bad man, Alejandro.”

Muy mal,” he replied.

He was, in fact, a bit of a shaman. I spent the next three hours in his empty lounge, as he went about his afternoon chores. He gave me just the one cocktail, but fed me an abundant feast of his own choosing, items mostly not on the menu. When he moved to an outdoor bar for further errands, he took me with him and set me down at a table on the lovely hillside terrace behind the hacienda. At one point I mentioned Jackie, and he left to rescue her from the wagon. She lay on the warm flagstone of the terrace, while I drank very strong coffee.

My head was coming back around. Alejandro was hand-squeezing limes.

“Shouldn’t I be cold out here?” I said.

“Chimayans are never cold,” he replied.

“That’s the Herradura talking.”

He smiled and nodded. “Precisely.”

Alejandro lit a fire in the kiva fireplace beside the table. The sun had gone behind the mountains and the valley light was dimming. Evening diners were beginning to take tables inside the restaurant and on the terrace beside other kivas. Waiters were lighting votives on all the tables. I was no longer drunk, but I still did not want to move. I had not felt such peace in a very long time.

"o n'other than Ann Richards, theWith a feeling of heartache, I said, “Alejandro, I must go.”

“What is this must?” he said. “There is no must. You have just arrived in Chimayó. Have you been to the weavers? No. To the Santuario? Of course not. You have not yet fulfilled your obligation to Chimayó. Of course you cannot leave.”

“You are taking me prisoner?”

“On the contrary. I am setting you free.”

He sat down beside me, and folded his hands upon the table. I liked his face very much. His hair was very dark. There was a hint of Emiliano Zapata in his look, with his dashing moustache, but there was also an extraordinary gentleness in his manner. I could not tell his age—he could have been forty, could have been sixty.

“Listen to me,” he said. “I do not make it a habit of handing out free drinks to every person who walks into my lounge. Ask my friends. Much to their chagrin, I make them all pay me up front. But, this afternoon I see a young woman walk into my room, and the first thing I feel is my heart is breaking. The feeling does not stay with me long, but for the few moments before it passed, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to weep. Alejandro Montoya is not given to tears, believe me. After that feeling passes, I feel a clenching like chains around my heart. These are not the feelings of Alejandro who lives in this quiet valley. These are feelings, I realize quickly, that this young woman has brought with her into my tidy little workroom. What can I offer this woman, I wonder? I have nothing to offer her. I am a man who plies liquor into his customers, listens to their stories, wakes them with coffee when it’s time to go home. I do not know how to cure such pain as you carry in this afternoon. I am at a complete loss, and then Christ whispers to me, ‘One Chimayó cocktail will not hurt her.’ I tell him, ‘She has already refused.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ he says. ‘But this one is on me.’ So, I give you his cocktail and I feed you and let you sit with me while I putter around, and I can see and feel in my own chest that your heart is lighter. The chains are looser. Yes, I know, your pain is not gone, but you have felt some of the peace that so many others feel who stumble into our little valley. People who come to Chimayó and drink the drinks I set before them, eat the food we cook for them, who then buy their blankets and wool jackets from the weavers, and then go and get soppy-eyed over at the Santuario as they experience maybe five minutes of a little mystery in their lives before heading out for their next shopping spree. Not once do they think of giving anything back besides the money they charge to their silver and gold and blue and titanium credit cards. But, I look at you and I say to myself, you are not one of those people. You come with your broken heart and your little dog and your strange car with the sleeping bag in the back seat, and before I know it you are a river running across river stones, and out of nowhere the thought comes to me, ‘She must give back.’ I am puzzled, I do not know what this means, I think maybe this is Christ speaking again to me, but he says, ‘No, Alejandro, this is all yours, mijo.’ So, forgive me, mija, but I cannot shake the idea that you have an obligation and you have not met it.”

It was a lot of words to take in on strong black coffee, but one thing was clear to me—I felt no need, and no desire, to argue. I hadn’t a clue what this all meant, but my body just seemed to be saying, “the man is right. You’re not going anywhere.’

Still, I put up the token fight.

I said, “I don’t have a titanium card, Alejandro, but would cash do?”

He smiled, relieved, I think, to be shorn of the intensity of his big speech.

He said, “Emma Sullivan, you are a very bad woman. Very bad.”



Blogger anno said...

Paschal, there is true beauty here, and I'm feeling a bit staggered by it all. I've come to expect your unsettling torrents of wordplays and dreamy collages of images -- who knew, though, that Xochipilli could turn so lyrical, so quietly perceptive? This was a great treat -- thanks for posting this.

12:24 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

anno: Thank you for your words and your time in reading this. I wrote Galilee over the course of a year when I was purposely working half-time, with Tina carrying the bulk of the breadwinning. I finished the novel during my first (FIRST!!!) summer vacation, after my first year at the Instituto.

I was struck by your musings about your three years of writing for anno's place, particularly your essaying. So much of my Murat output feels "governed" by the pace of school and prep, a rhythm I feel reflected in many of the writings themselves. Then, of course, there is the self-inflicted "tyranny" of the Scribblings. I know writers who worry that blogging will hurt their writing: I think that's a bit elitist, with seeds of truth as well.

I was also struck with your comments about your letters. Letters were also, for me, probably the earliest place that I developed as a writer, before admitting that I was one.

I loved writing Galilee and my first novel Scarred Angels. Any time I care to check in, I can feel and hear whisperings of other novels that want writing. I purposely put no such project on my last summer's agenda, but who rush of energy leaned a little heavier on me when I checked in earlier this week.

It is great to have met you in this tribe of readers and writers. Peace.

12:42 PM  
Blogger tumblewords said...

Exquisite writing! Exquisite!

11:24 PM  
Blogger anno said...

A rush of energy sounds like something you shouldn't ignore. I, for one, would be happy to see any bit of your novels, any time.

4:25 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Tumblewords: Thank you again.

anno: There'll be no ignoring; just a matter of clearing the decks, creating the space. Thank you for your support.

7:35 AM  
Blogger present said...

It doesn't happen very often that we are really seen by another and knowingly come face to face with ourselves and our own motivations. His empathy lets her sorrow in and it seems to me that the well of his own sorrow is breeched. Is it that he doesn't recognize the need to weep as his own? I enjoyed the use of Christ's voice to give Alejandro direction and that later it is his own. I loved, "my body had turned into a river: I could hear myself rushing over stones". An inspiring piece.

11:03 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

present: Thank you for the present / presence of your words on this piece. This excerpt began the story arc of Emma and Alejandro in the novel, culminating in his own recognitions, discovered beneath his witness to her own healing while she is in the valley at Chimayo.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Tammie Lee said...

first you enlivened my senses
my desires to taste that drink
then I was fluid like a river
now tears rise to the surface
ancient tears

you have a way with your story telling!

your comment on my post just arrived, fun to think we were reading one anothers' at the same moment

2:05 PM  
Blogger alister said...

The photo is the most pleasant of dreams. The writing is so cozy, so mesmerizing. No problem to read with your clean, close style. No problem to stay in Chimayó forever :-)

9:24 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Amen to all of that, LadySister Alister.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I love the way the story begins and turns deeper into itself as characters, actions, and setting emerge. All are woven into a story I'd like to read more of. What does the young woman do next? And will you write the rest of this? Thank you for sharing this excerpt. It's beautiful.

8:36 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Beth: Thank you very much for your remarks. The rest is written, finished a year and a half ago. Emma circles back to the Arkansas mountains whence she came, circling in with the circlings of the novel's other main characters.

8:45 PM  
Blogger San said...

Chimayo--the perfect setting for magical realism. I believe in Emma's transformation into a river rushing over stones. I believe in Alejandro's shamanic bartending. I believe Emma will find a way to pay forward...and will it involve Jackie?

When do we get another excerpt???

8:49 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San's Back! Emma will certainly circle round, as will all the others. Jackie is assuredly spirit guide.

Christmasy time seems like a good time for another Galilee excerpt. I'll rummage around.

Good to hear your voice in the blogwaves.

9:04 PM  
Blogger AC said...

beautiful photograph!

9:55 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

AC: Indeed it is.

11:11 AM  

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