from Mexico Trilogy
by D.N. Stuefloten
PART I BLUE MOVIE
We begin with the woman sitting on her throne. She crosses one leg over the other, as ordered. A single light is to the side-her right, our left. She makes no movement except the crossing of the leg, which she repeats several times. The nylon surfaces of her stockings hiss faintly as they slide one against the other. The camera hisses too. Film races through it at 24 frames per second. These hissing noises-her stockings, this film-are the only sounds audible in the room. The camera is a Mitchell NC. It is constructed in two parts, allowing the hinged body to swing away from the lens. With the body out of the way, direct focusing is possible on a ground glass screen positioned behind the lens. If the camera body were racked-over at this moment-instead of hissing with its racing film-the ground glass screen would reveal the inverted image of the woman sitting on her throne. She is darkened, shadowed by the single lamp situated to our left. That is, the light has the effect of hiding rather than revealing her. The light creates the shadows which obscure her. It is this paradoxical situation that we wish to stress. She is obscured, not revealed, by the light which illuminates her.
The woman sits. She crosses one leg over the other. The camera, and her stockings, hiss.
At last the man clears his throat.
"Do you know what this film is about?"
"You know it is pornographic?"
"Well, they said X-"
"Not just X-triple X. Pornographic."
"Will I have to-you know-"
She sucks in her breath. He says:
"Have you done it before? In front of a camera?"
"Yes-I mean, once-"
"No-no, it wasn't simulated."
"There's nothing simulated in this film."
"What's wrong with your face?"
"That side-your left side-"
"I try to comb my hair over it-"
"I can see that. What happened?"
"Boiling water-when I was a child-"
"Someone spilled boiling water on your face?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"All right. What did you say your name was?"
"All right, Dominique. That will do for today."
Good-bye, she says. She leaves. She walks along the edge of the mercado. This is after she passes the bridge, the slaughterhouse, the opera house, etc. At the mercado the Indian woman-they are shaped like turnips-rearrange the plastic tarps which protect them and their merchandise. Their language is indecipherable. Dominique continues her stately walk to the portales. These portales form a kind of porch or arcade in front of the buildings which surround the plaza. There are pharmacias, restaurantes, the registo civil, and a ferraterria. All are made of adobe. One large building has a sign: Hotel del Lago. Some years ago, however, its roof collapsed during an exceptional monsoon. Through its unglazed windows is visible the fallen interior of tile and stone and adobe overgrown with bushes and vines. Some flowered stalks-their blossoms are red, yellow, purple-stretch out through the windows, into the portales. Dominique, her stride as graceful as that of any young hoofed animal, passes these blossoms heedlessly. As she walks men lean towards her right ear and whisper. The men are small and dark. Sometimes they have to stretch, like the flowered stalks, to reach her ear. The women-the turnip-shaped Indian women sitting wrapped in their rebozos before their piles of tortillas and ciruellos-stare at her without expression. Each brown face wreathed in wrinkles is expressionless. These faces, that is, are expressionless until Dominique moves past. Then the women look at each other. Their eyes and their lips become mobile. They communicate something to each other, something secret. We cannot decipher these communications. Dominique, in any case, seems unaware of the stir of movement that follows her. Her black patent shoes with their very high heels click on the stone paving. If she is aware of the Indian women, or the men breathing words into her ear, she gives no indication of it. At last she goes into a cafe. She sits at a table. She orders a cup of coffee. She brushes back, with her left hand, the hair falling over the side of her face. No one in the cafe makes any comment. We do, however. It is our belief that her beauty would be incomplete without this disfiguration thus revealed. Could her right eye be as beautiful without the left? That eye, blank, milky, lifeless, protrudes slightly, as though ready to fall from its scarred socket. The stiff parchment skin around it is finely wrinkled. The ear is nearly gone-only a lump of cartilage remains. Her mouth, on her left, does not seem to end but continues as a scar nearly to her throat. Could her mouth be as lovely without this scar? We believe not. Her beauty, her disfigurement, is entire, of a piece. She sits in the cafe, her beauty complete, sipping at her coffee. Soon a man joins her. A cigarette dangles from his lower lip, which seems wet and excessively red. He talks to her. She does not look at him. Occasionally she nods, or makes some agreeable noise. Finally he stands. He makes a last comment. She nods again, looking down at her hands. Then he leaves. After a while she pushes aside the cup of coffee. She stares vaguely around her. She puts money on the table. Then she leaves.
She enters from our left. The door parts; light spills into the darkened room. She takes her place, as ordered, on the throne. She crosses one leg-her right-over the other, her left-
The room has been kept darkened, perhaps for days. As the door parts light springs with a feral eagerness across the room. This intrusion of light has an aspect of violence to it. The light leaps across the room with a tangible force. There is something of the raptor in this leap. Light and shadow are being manipulated in this scene to achieve some effect, some goal, before the filming even begins. The woman, however, seems a willing participant. It is she who slides back the latch. Though well-oiled, it clicks loudly, the metal tongue drawn against its internal spring by a knob rotated counter-clockwise, then released. The door itself appears heavy. The side facing us is ornately carved. We see a gargoyle's face amid resplendent leaves. Lizards coil at each corner. The door moves easily, in spite of its weight, which is supported by three brass hinges, releasing, as it opens, the light which springs unbounded across the room with something very like an audible noise, so sudden is its intrusion. At the same time, thrown obliquely across the floor and entirely within this shaft of light, is the shadow of the woman. The shadow, and the woman, pause for a moment, until the quartz light on its tripod is turned on. This appears to be a signal, for the woman now steps into the room and shuts the door-whose latch once again snaps audibly as the tongue slides back, then rebounds-shuts the door, we say, behind her, vanquishing at that moment both the light and her shadow thrown obliquely within it.
The camera hisses. A man speaks.
"How is your hotel?"
"Your room-your room in the hotel."
"It's all right."
"And your trip?"
"Your journey down here. Was it comfortable? Easy? Pleasant?"
"It was all right."
"All right? Not-difficult?"
"Yet you were late. A week, is that right?"
"Was it a week?"
"You delayed your flight a week. Seven days, exactly."
"There were things--it took longer than I expected-"
"As it happens it doesn't matter. There have been delays here. The set isn't ready. The script is-incomplete. Have you seen the faces in the mercado? In the portales?"
"I mean the faces for sale. The wood carvings especially. You've seen them?"
"I noticed something-"
"Do you know what they are for?"
"What is your interest in film?"
"Don't stop crossing your legs. You can talk and move your legs at the same time, cant you? A little higher-bring the leg a little higher as it crosses. And when you lower the leg, slide it-slide one calf against the other. You have splendid legs, Dominique. It is Dominique, isn't it? Young, coltish. No, keep the legs parallel-one pressed against the other. Hold them there for a moment. You must give us a chance to admire then, mustn't you? Then uncross-as before-slowly-"
"That is fine. You are an actress, Dominique? A real actress?"
"I did another-you know-film-"
"No, no. What I mean, Dominique, is acting a passion with you? Is it your life?"
"I don't think-"
"Do you know who I am?"
"You're the director."
"Yes, the director. The director, Dominique. That's who I am."
After a while the film stops hissing. Good-bye, she says. She walks past the slaughterhouse-the abasto municipal-where a steer shrieks as his throat is being cut. Her walk is graceful, slow. She wears very high heeled shoes. Her legs are sleek in fine stockings. Indian women squat on the sidewalk before baskets woven of tule. Mastiffs with swinging teats and drooling jaws sniff at her footsteps. Is she aware of any of this? She passes the opera house without a glance. In the opera house a movie is showing. Posters reveal a blonde woman thrown onto her back before brutal men. Her legs, in very high heels and fine stockings, are sprawled apart. One can see white thighs above the stocking tops. A breast has come loose from a torn brassiere. Para adultos, a hand-lettered sign advises. The film is called La Reina de las Vegas. There is no English translation. The brutal men hold their rifles upright, watching the woman sprawled before them. Dominique continues past the opera house, past the mercado with its faces, faces both carved and living, wood and flesh, on through the portales, at last to her hotel. A man awaits her in her room. It is not clear how he got in. They talk for some minutes. The woman seems uncomfortable. She does not look the man in his eyes. He laughs, finally, and gives her a small cellophane packet. She gives him money. He leaves. The door clicks shut. She goes into the bathroom. Her hands are trembling.
He waits in the darkened room, perhaps for hours. The room is rectangular. It measures ten meters by twenty. He sits with his back to one long wall. A camera-the famous Mitchell NC-is in front of him. A door is behind him. The door leads to other rooms in what seems to be a very large building. At last the woman enters from our left. She takes her place. Her stockings hiss as their surfaces pass one over the other. The man, who has been waiting for her in the darkened room, lifts his head.
"You are late."
"I've waited for hours."
"I didn't realize-"
"Nevertheless I've used the time well. I've been thinking, you see. Sometimes a man must think-in darkness, in solitude. ../../images come to a man then. ../../images that have roots, Dominique, roots that stretch backwards into time and outward into space-../../images that speak, that signify something. Do you know what I am saying?"
"I'm not sure."
"Everyone is waiting, Dominique. Complaining. Have you heard them? Are they whining into your ear?"
"I've not met-"
"You've not met them yet? My crew of rats? Ghastly people, Dominique. Sometimes I am embarrassed to be in their presence-to be associated with them. Can you imagine wringing a performance from them? Any of them?"
"Is this-what I am doing now-part of the film?"
"Is it? Is the camera running, Dominique? Can you hear it? I am too tired to listen, my dear. I think I'll sit here for a while longer. The solitude soothes me. Noiseless-peaceful. Don't you agree, Dominique?"
The camera stops hissing. Good-bye, she says. She pulls down her skirt, which has ridden up her thighs. Her stockings wrinkle a little at the knee. Her walk is stately, as graceful as that of any young hoofed animal. She passes the bridge, the abasto municipal, the opera house where a line of men has formed. The men watch her, surreptitiously. Indian women turn to each other as she passes. Their eyes, their mouths become suddenly mobile. What secrets do they pass to each other? Men whisper into her right ear. The warm breath is not unpleasant, surely. Yet she does not turn, does not acknowledge their presence. She goes to her room. After a moment there is a discreet knock. A small, dark man enters. He is almost breathless, as though he has run up a flight of stairs. His breath hisses between his teeth. He seems close to panic. "Come in, then," the woman says. The man's eyes roll. "Digame?" he squeaks. She unfastens his belt buckle. His uncircumcised penis, like a dark tuber, lies lax against his thigh. "You're so hairless," she says, as though surprised. She takes his organ in her mouth. Then she pulls him to the bed. She still wears her stockings, but her groin is bare, as hairless as his. When he stands back up-only seconds have passed-she holds out her hand. "Fifty thousand," she says. He stares at her in terror. He jerks his pants back on. He seems ready to run. "He told you fifty thousand, didn't he? You have it with you?" "Mande?" he squeaks. "Digame?" But he pulls from a pocket a soiled fifty thousand peso note. He looks around, wildly. "Here," she says, holding out her hand. The man drops the note and flees. Without looking at it-the bill lies dark and lax on the floor-she goes to the bathroom. Her one good eye is as hooded, as secretive, as blank as the other.
She enters from the left, as ordered. Light springs with a feral eagerness across the room, which has been kept darkened for days. She turns to the side one foot clad in a very high heeled shoe. Its shadow, cast forward by the sun low to the horizon, exaggerates the preternatural length and slenderness of this heel. There is no response, however, from within the room. At last she continues inside. The door swings shut behind her. For a moment she is invisible in the room suddenly black. Then she pulls at the heavy drapes which all this time have hung across the windowed doors behind her throne. An amber light spreads across the room, as thick and slow as molasses. She stares outside, at the lake, the docks, the incomplete construction with its clutter of wood and adobe. It is now possible-while she is thus engaged-to examine in more detail the room which hitherto has been kept darkened. Tapestries hang on the walls, their origins lost in the dim heights where the walls join the ceiling. Elsewhere hang wooden masks-faces crawling with lizards, two faces sharing three eyes, beards which descend into coiling serpents-and the famous mer-men of the lake district, each four or five feet in length: fish tails, scaly and finned, linked to the torsos of swimming men with protruding, feverish eyes and moveable arms. These mer-men, called sirenos, are carved from wood by a village's most adept craftsman, then painted by a bruja, or witch, using dyes from flowers, bark, and insects only. The fishtail and the man-torso are separated so that a woman can suspend the carving from her waist-thus the tail behind, the torso before-and, reaching forward, manipulate the arms to mimic swimming. Only women are allowed to wear these mer-men. Worn ritually during a waxing moon, they guarantee a woman's fertility. Men are not allowed to watch this unless they are covered by zapote leaves and their faces smeared with ochre clay. More items in this room will be described later. Dominique remains at the glassed doors-their ornate frames date from the 17th century-until she hears a noise behind her. She turns slowly, leading with her head, then her shoulders, her hips following as she swivels on the toes of her high heeled shoes. The gesture is rather affected, but undeniably graceful. Standing at the doorway-the doorway behind the camera, where the man usually sits-is a low, lumpish figure, scarcely visible in this amber light. After a silent moment-perhaps a cloud moves from before the sun-the light intensifies, and shifts from true amber to something rather more yellow. The lumpish shape thus becomes more defined. Perhaps aware of this-aware she is no longer hidden-the figure moves forward, exhibiting an odd, bouncing motion of her head, which is slung forward. Her shoulders are round. Her lower jaw extends beyond her upper lips. She looks rather like a hyena. The skin of her face is downy and mottled.
"My dear," this woman says. "You are early."
"But I thought I was late again."
"Not at all. I am quite certain of the time."
"Yesterday I was late-"
"So we heard. Endlessly, it seemed. Dominique, is it not?"
"And tell me, my dear. Are you a dominator-or a dominatee?"
The woman brays suddenly with laughter.
She walks in blackness to the window, whose heavy drapes she swings aside. A light, as thick and heavy as molasses, spreads through the room. We see sirenos, faces crawling with lizards, tapestries hanging from a ceiling too high to discern. A woman-she looks like a hyena-enters. The two of them talk. The woman brays suddenly with laughter. Her spittle flashes like a spray of tiny jewels in this amber light. It seems she wears jewelry everywhere. There are rings on each yellow finger, sometimes more than one, earrings dangling from earrings, rings in the flanges of her nose. We can identify jasper and sapphire, chalcedony and emerald, sardonyx, sardus, and chrysolite, fine beryl and topaz. Chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst are woven into her orange hair. Her fingers have long nails, lacquered green. Rubies, or perhaps garnets, are glued there. Her open toed pumps are festooned with tiny diamonds. Many of these jewels are coarsely faceted. There are gold chains and silver filigree dangling from each lobe, from each orifice. In the amber glow there is a nimbus of light surrounding her. Dominique retreats a step: the woman's breath, emerging hissing from between yellow stubs of teeth, is foul. They go through another door-this on the wall to our right, opposite the entrance-with the woman's hand grasping Dominique's elbow. In the next room hang racks of dresses, skirts, blouses, wraps, slips, half slips, camisoles, corsets, garter belts, and brassieres, some with their cups torn. Many are fine, delicate, edged with Belgium lace. In drawers are stockings, stoles, gloves, hats, some of them veiled, plus ribbons and costume jewelry. Shoes in their original boxes-we recognize Spanish and Italian brand names-are stacked on shelves. An iron chandelier dangles from the ceiling, which has trompe l'oeil scallops painted on it. There is yellow electrical light everywhere. Dominique is ordered to disrobe. This she does with an affected diffidence. She wears a twilight colored dress with buttons up its front. She steps out of it, and hangs the dress over a chair. The woman stares at her, grinning. No one could avoid pleasure in the sight of such a fine, slender animal, still clad in her high heeled shoes, her legs sheathed in stockings, breasts contained in an underwired bit of lace, the bare mons nearly revealed through a thin wisp of silk. Her diffidence, under the woman's stare, begins to desert her. A flush spreads down her neck. She shifts her weight from one stiletto heel to the other. At that moment a door opens. A man steps into the room. A cigarette dangles from his lips, which are thin, wet, and surprisingly red. "Don't turn your back to her, my dear. I warn you-our Sheba is prone to attack."
"Hasn't she introduced herself? You must be Dominique, our lurid starlet. Dominique, meet Sheba. And I am your co-star. Garred, my dear."
His cigarette wobbles as he speaks. His face has the rubbery look of a drunk. His cheeks are highly colored. He reaches over and hooks one finger under the elastic stretching from Dominique's garter belt to her stocking.
"A nice bit of crumpet, wouldn't you say, Sheba? Are we going to vie for her affections, you and I?"
Garred!" she says. "What a nice surprise. But wouldn't you say she is too old for you?
And the wrong sex as well?"
"Aren't we all, Sheba?"
"Have you a bottle with you?"
"Have you glasses?"
"The finest crystal, of course, dear Garred."
"Then shall we party? Dominique? Have you developed yet a taste for our Mexican brandy?
A fine, burning liquid, Dominique, well suited to our cool evenings-"
"I don't feel so well-"
"Not so well? She hasn't started fondling you, has she? Sheba, that's enough to turn anyone's stomach."
"Better turn her stomach than her arse."
"Is that your preferred aperture these days?"
"Have you become discriminatory?"
"Any port in a storm-that's our song, isn't it?"
"It's your melody, I believe."
"Melody, malady-are you paying attention, Dominique?"
"No, really-I don't feel well-"
"She's not well, Sheba."
"She does seem pale, Garred."
"Can we do this-another time? Tomorrow?"
"Can we, Sheba?"
"Are you in a hurry, Garred? Certainly our director isn't."
"We are learning, Sheba and I, the fine art of intemperate dalliance, the inconclusive meanderings of day after day, of manana, Dominique, we have all become infected with manana-"
Garred peels his cigarette butt from his wet lips, looks at it a moment, then drops it onto the tiled floor. Good-bye, Dominique says. She walks over the bridge, past the slaughter house where hoarse cries reverberate, past the opera house, whose lights are now blazing, through the portales, to her hotel. Three men, small and dark, wait outside her room. There is a fine layer of moisture on Dominique's pale face, rather like the dew one finds in the morning on a white flower newly opened. There is an agitation about her that is only partially concealed. Her face, normally so fine, seems swollen. Her neck has thickened. Is this possible? Perhaps it is a trick of the light, the dim light in this hotel corridor. The three men waiting for her are dressed in what is clearly their best clothes: suit jackets bare at the elbows but recently brushed, white shirts only somewhat dingy with age, and shoes polished to a mirror shine. Just a minute, she says to them as she fumbles for her key. The men twitter and sing at each other. They move restlessly together. No, no, she says as one tries to follow her into the room, just a minute-un minuto-momento-just one minute. Their black hair has been greased back from foreheads, their faces scrubbed. Their skin is so smooth, so fresh, their cheeks so plump, it is impossible to guess their ages. Dominique shuts the door. Her hands are trembling. She hurries into her bathroom. She enters from the left, as ordered. Light springs with a feral eagerness across the room. Yet the woman seems a willing participant in this charade. It is she who slides back the latch, rotating a knob counter-clockwise. As the door parts-it swings easily on its three brass hinges-the light leaps forward like a hunting animal eagerly released. It leaps across a quartz lamp on a tripod, across the chair we call the throne, and nearly to the distant wall, twenty meters away. The woman herself, as well as her shadow, lies entirely within this rectangle of light. She turns one foot to the side-the shadow of her stiletto heel is preternaturally lengthened, etc.-and moves forward with the grace of a young hoofed animal only when the quartz light is itself turned on, a kind of signal, perhaps, a cue already agreed upon. The door meanwhile shuts behind her, the latch springing closed with an audible click. For a moment she is in darkness. Then she sits on the throne, which is shaped-have we said this before?-as a giant lizard. Its hind legs form the "arms" of the chair. The head looms, lowers above, jaw partly open, eyes exophthalmic, hooded. This chair has been constructed-at some expense, we understand-by a craftsman imported specifically for this task, using papier mache mash laid layer upon layer over an existing wooden frame. This papier mache has been left roughly textured and gray, giving the illusion of stone, perhaps granite or oxidized limestone. Sitting in this chair exaggerates the palpable humanness-the warm fleshfulness-of the woman. This humanness beneath the overtly reptilian face, this fleshfulness enclosed entirely within reptilian legs, makes her appear not so much regal, we are afraid, as vulnerable. This is so even when she moves, lifting one leg-her right-over the other, her left, with a grace that is truly exquisite. No one, surely, faced with such a vision, could avoid a stir of pleasure-
The camera hisses. The woman is shadowed, not revealed, by the lighting. At last the director speaks. It is a man's voice which answers his.
"What do you think, Fetters?"
"If I knew what you were after here-"
"I'm after beauty, Fetters. Grace."
"Yes-yes, of course, I can see that. But as a technical matter-"
"Is there something technical here?"
"I mean as a matter of plot-to justify, you see, this scene-"
"Didn't you notice the way the light sprang across the room? Wasn't it like a leopard? A cat? Something wild, Fetters, something leaping free, something even ominous, threatening? And to have this figure back-lit-"
"Yes, of course-"
"She is luminous, don't you agree?"
"Surely. But plotwise-"
"What do you think, Dominique?"
"No, don't stop moving your legs. Tell us, Dominique, what do you think, plotwise?"
"I'm not sure-"
"Really, John," says the man called Fetters. "I don't think-"
"You don't think she should have a voice? She's playing the role, after all-inhabiting it, so to speak-"v "I suppose if one's conception-"v "Tell us, Dominique-tell us what you are feeling-at this moment-"
"I don't know that I have-"
"Ah, Dominique. Feelings-if only we knew our own feelings-"
The hissing stops. A light moves slowly across the room, turning everything yellow. The air seems turgid, thickened. The two men greet Dominique. One, the younger, is blond, wearing khaki pants and shirt. The other, Osgood Fetters, is grayed, stooping. They stand close to Dominique, whose face is averted. Finally they shake hands, each with the other. It is a clumsy ritual. Good-bye, Dominique says. She leaves. After a moment the blond man in khaki follows. He remains a discreet distance behind her as she passes over the bridge, passes the abasto municipal-a sudden gush of blood washes down a concrete trough into the stream below-and the opera house where the man stops, briefly, to rearrange the tilt of the poster advertising his film. The woman strolls, with a liquid ease that is almost painful to watch, through the mercado, past piles of tortillas presided over by Indian women who squat like turnips, past chayotes, spined and not, past limp bundles of lechuga, glossy ciruelos, papayas sliced open to reveal their pink flesh, past pigs' feet stuffed into jars, past raw pig faces-their brains like coiled intestines-stacked in rows, past plucked chickens hanging from hooks and stalls where chorizo steams in liquid fat. All this time she is wearing her high, stiletto heels. Her legs are lean, sheathed in fine nylon. Her dress is the color of twilight. Blonde hair falls across the left side of her face, hiding-only partially-the limp eye, the parchment skin, the gnarl of cartilage left of the ear, the scar that extends her mouth into her throat. The man in khaki watches all of this. He watches men lean towards her and whisper words into her right ear. He watches the Indian women suddenly look at each other, their mouths and eyes becoming mobile. He follows her to the entrance of her hotel. A man awaits her. The man is unshaven. He has the surly face of a drunk. He takes her arm, a bit roughly. The woman does not look at him. After a while she gives him something, perhaps a sheath of bills. Others watch, also. Small Indian men in their best clothes-their eyes seem liquid-turn to each other and twitter and sing in their own language. The woman goes into the hotel. The unshaven man remains a moment at the entrance, hands thrust into his pockets. When he leaves, the Indian men-there are twelve of them-file silently into the hotel. Our man, dressed in khaki, watches all of this. A light rain begins to fall.
It is morning. A thin sun has risen in the east. Dominique thrashes on her bed. Elsewhere smoke from chimneys settles on tile roofs. A church bell tolls. Owls hide in trees, lizards in bushes. Wagons pulled by men wheel into the mercado. Carcasses are unloaded, fruit and vegetables. In her bed Dominique's face looks sour. Has the disfigured part grown larger? This does not seem likely. Yet the right side of her face this morning is not pretty. Has she thickened, become swollen during her sleep? What dreams has she experienced? When at last she rises, she rises like an old woman. Naked she goes to the bathroom. Even her legs look swollen, shapeless. Her hair has been scattered like straw, like chaff. In the bathroom she boils a bead of brown heroin in water, using a cigarette lighter held beneath a spoon. Occasionally she shakes, a tremor that extends down her whole body. She holds the spoon with difficulty. When the water suddenly boils, spreading the brown heroin evenly through it, liquefying it, she puts a shred from a cotton ball into the spoon. Into this cotton she inserts the silver needle of her hypodermic. The brown liquid draws up into the plastic barrel. All this time buses and taxis pass outside. High revving engines howl. Somewhere, monotonously, a man bangs with a hammer at a piece of metal. Is the sunlight always this thin? this gray? this cheerless? A woman laughs beneath Dominique's window. Yet it is a sour laugh, a laugh without mirth, even vicious. In the bathroom Dominique is leaving blood everywhere. She cannot find a vein. Has the needle dulled at last? Are her hands shaking too severely? The needle slides into one ankle, then the other. Blood flows down her feet, onto the floor. The needle slides beneath the skin, but fails to penetrate the vein whose surface is hardened, scarred. She tries one arm, then the other. She spins her arm round and round, driving the blood into the metacarpal tunnel of her wrist. Blood flies from her wounds to the ceiling, to spot the walls in front and behind, to scatter like precious jewels onto the tiled floor. She wraps a scarf around her forearm. The needle seeks, slides, skips. She is sweating now, and breathing harshly. Her breath rales in her throat. Yet her determination is absolute. Her intentness is complete. At last the needle penetrates. Blood rises into the hypodermic, mixing with the brown heroin-water in the plastic barrel. She makes a soft noise of pleasure. Her head nods forward. Her shoulders relax. She presses the plunger.
Sleek, serene, she emerges from her hotel. Almost immediately the man called Fetters-gray, thin, slightly bent-takes her arm. He has been sent, he says, to lead her to the set being constructed at the lake's edge. Dominique's arm, in his grasp, is limp. Fetters smiles and nods as he explains his mission.
"I need some coffee," Dominique says.
"The coffee here is terrible."
"Just something to drink-"
"Have you tried the tea? At least the tea is tolerable."
"Herb teas-chamomile, manzana. The water's usually tepid but the tea-"
"No," she says, "I need coffee."
The coffee comes, thick and strong. She gulps it, holding the cup with two hands. Her lipstick leaves a red bruise on the cup's rim.
"I must apologize," Fetters says, "for our director."
"I know you were expecting something more professional. I must say I've never seen him so dilatory."
"I don't think-"
"I've worked with him before, you know. Of course you've heard what happened to him. vPerhaps that's an excuse-"
"Something happened to him?"
"Well, yes. He was taken off his last film. Surely you've heard the gossip-"
"Well. Well, I suppose that's neither here nor there. The point is we've all had misconceptions. I know Sheba is alarmed. It's mostly her money, you see-"
"Yes. Sheba Makeda. A rich Ethiopian woman. You've met her, surely."
"She invested in some of his other films-his early ones, I believe. The two that made money. Well, you know what Hollywood's like-"
"Yes," she says. "I'm ready now."
Fetters digs quickly into a pocket for change. Here, he says, waving his free hand at her, let me. Dominique does not stir as Fetters pulls from three different pockets coins and loose bills and inspects each one. Yes, yes, he says, here we are, this damned money-cant get used to it. He leaves copper and silver on the green tablecloth. Dominique rises with her usual willowy grace. They walk past the mercado, past the opera house, past the abattoir, over the bridge. Beneath the bridge blackish water flows over and around piles of trash. Paper, plastic and cloth hang on the weeds and spiny bushes above the water level. A black carcass-is it a dog's?-is wedged against a branch. Water eddies along its spine, nudging it. At this bridge the air smells of decaying flesh and decomposing sewage. Fetters wrinkles his nose. "I must say," he says, "you seem to have inspired him." "Him?" "Yes, our director. Since you arrived he's actually become animated-more like his old self. For the first time I'm hopeful-really hopeful-that something-er-finally will get done, you see." Fetters suddenly makes a little skip and hop. "Well," he says, "that is, I suppose this isn't exactly your finest-er-role-" But she ignores him. Fetters takes her arm again. "Here," he says, "to our left." They descend into Las Vegas.
She makes a soft noise of pleasure. She withdraws the needle. Is it morning? A thin sun has risen in the east. Has morning always been this sour? this cheerless? this gray? A woman laughs beneath the window. There is nothing pleasant in this laugh, which reverberates as harshly as the cry of a crow. Dominique enters the shower. She pulls plastic curtains around her. We hear the water turn on. Steam rises. All this time buses snap and snarl outside, climbing the cobbled streets. A policeman blows a whistle. In front of the hotel paces Osgood Fetters. He has been up since dawn. Occasionally he glances at the facade of the hotel, and then checks his watch. Small Indian men watch him. Their eyes are liquid. Within the hotel Dominique steps at last from the bathroom. Wet hair falls around her face. She is fresh and clean. She looks like a child. She has a child's face, scrubbed and shining. She sits at a table. She leans into a mirror. Creams and powders are applied. Later we will name some of these potions, and describe their colors, their textures, their aromas, and the effect each has on her face. At last the face we remember emerges. Hair is dried. The left side of her face-the gruesomely beautiful side of her face-is half hidden by the hair. A black garter belt is attached around the small waist. Legs are sheathed in fine stockings. Each breast is placed in the lace cup of a brassiere. She puts on a dress that is the color of twilight. Sleek, serene, she emerges from the hotel. She meets Fetters. She insists on coffee. Her red lips bruise the rim of the cup. "I must apologize," Fetters says, "for our director. Surely you've heard the gossip. Only his first two films made money. Well, you know Hollywood-" They pass down the street. He takes her arm. They descend into Las Vegas. The director is there. Workmen are gathered around him, unloading a truck. These are small, dark Indians. John, the director, has plans unfolded before him. He points right or left as items come off the truck. When he sees Fetters and Dominique he sticks a pencil behind his ear and folds the plans. Other Indian men, holding hammers and saws, stop their work to stare at Dominique.
The director makes a sudden gesture as they approach.
"All realities are creations, are they not, Dominique?"
"It is my conceit, of course, that as an artist I can create worlds."
"Come, come," says Fetters. "Surely-"
"I am not speaking metaphorically, my dear Dominique."
"Fetters would have us believe that reality is a given. Something received, equally, by all of us. Isn't that so, Fetters?"
"Clearly it is not possible to argue-"
"Yet it is all lies. Lies, you see. And my lie-which you see being enacted around us-is just as real as anyone else's lie. Even God's."
"Reducto ad absurdum," says Fetters. "Your argument achieves success only within its own definitions."
"My definitions are the ones that matter, since they are the ones which form my own life."
"What are those?" Dominique asks, pointing.
"Slot machines, my dear. Well, Fetters would say not real slot machines. They are made of wood and papier mache, of course. By Indians in our local villages, and painted using dyes from insects and flowers. Yet they are real, are they not? Solid? They are genuinely something, aren't they? If I call them slot machines-and it is my right to label them, isn't it?-how can anyone argue with me?
"Do they work?"
"If you pull-"
"Ah, they work, Dominique. In the context of my film-they work."
Men with liquid eyes carry the slot machines past our group of three people. Each machine is slightly different from the next. That is, they are each approximately the same size and shape. Each has a lever emerging from its right side. Each is painted, mostly in muted shades, reds and yellows, some greens. The differences require a second or third look. Some have lizards crawling up them. Others have faces-some wounded, some smiling, some obviously dead-staring out from the carved wood and papier mache sides. Each slot machine, shouldered by a small Indian man, is carried across the open space where stand our three figures, past a stone fountain, and into a building to our left. This building is the casino. It is called-by light bulbs in different colors spelling out the name-The Quetzal Quesino. Come, the director says, to Dominique but perhaps including Fetters. He takes the woman's arm, which lies limply in his grasp. May I show you the reality in which you will perform? They start across the open space, Fetters trailing in their wake.
The director is forty years old. His name is John. He stands six feet tall in his leather shoes. Every day he wears a khaki shirt. Often a bandana is tied around his neck; sometimes, perhaps as a talisman, around his wrist. He is clean shaven and blond haired. When he is excited he looks mischievous, the way a child will look doing something forbidden. At other times his face sags. His eyes twist one way, then another. At these times he moves, if he moves at all, without direction. We have seen him sit for hours in darkened rooms. He will toy with his cameras. He racks his Mitchell NC open. He slides the tips of his fingers over its metal surfaces. He stares at the inverted image in the ground glass screen. The camera hisses when he turns it on. Is it focused on anything? on nothing? on infinity? It cannot be clear to him-nor to us-the direction he wishes to go. Yet he is capable at times of moving in complete darkness with a certain ease. At such times there is real grace to his movements. Within the Quetzal Quesino his eyes shine. He appears even happy as he stares around at what he has created. He moves easily between the banks of slot machines-muted reds, yellows, greens-which are still somewhat askew. He shows Dominique and Fetters the blackjack pit and the craps pit. Both are mere tableless depressions. Only the poker pit has a few chairs. The baccarat room is unoccupied. The roulette table has not yet been placed, only its position marked. The keno corner, however, is complete, with its glass box full of ping pong balls numbered from one to eighty and its own bartender, a small, dark man industriously wiping with a white towel the highball glasses which he then sets in a row behind him. He nods at the threesome, as a good bartender would. The director, however, leads Dominique and Fetters to the lobby, which at this point is no more than a bare desk and a rank of cubbyholes. Mounted on the wall above these cubbyholes is the statue of la Virgin de la Salud. Dominique, her mouth agape, stares up at this resplendent figure.
"Yes," says the director. "She is quite a sight, isn't she?"
"Who is she?"
"The Indians refused to work without her. She's made of something called pasta de cana-whatever that is. Corn meal, I believe. Perhaps they baked her in a in an oven."
"Isn't she? Quite properly blessed, too. They took her to the basilica. The priest did something with incense-waved it over her, I suppose."
"The Indians," says Fetters-he sounds as if he is apologizing -"are really quite superstitious here. One tries-"
"Perhaps they are merely more perceptive than we, Fetters."
"Who made her gown?" says Dominique.
"Nuns, I understand. Perhaps Indians-perhaps meztizos-"
"I cant tell," Dominique says breathlessly, "if she is alive or dead."
The Virgin looks down and says nothing. Her hooded eyes are focused elsewhere, distantly, perhaps millennia away. Her face is very white. Her lips are rouged. Her corona is gold and red. Her resplendor is arranged in two concentric circles behind her head. Her manto sagrado is blue. It is embroidered with gold. Her vestido is white embroidered with gold. The manto trails behind her. The embroidery, we understand, is done by hand by Carmalitos Descalzos-both Indian and meztizo-who never leave their convent attached to the basilica. Their lives are as circumscribed by their faith as are the lives of all of us. The Virgin's hands are pressed together. They hold a gold sceptro. There are pearls around her wrists and arranged in masses around her neck. Each finger has a ring. A media luna dangles from each ear. A large media luna is at her invisible feet. The gowns-the vestido and manto sagrado-spread widely, right and left. She looks down on the three people below and says nothing. The director nods. He leads them to stairs which rise, gently curving to the right. He opens a door. Its latch, though well coiled, clicks loudly. He gestures. "Your apartment, madam," he says. They enter-