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Second Sight: excerpt


“Come celebrate my grand victory. You’ll eat out of our garden.” The telegram from Pepe, a good friend in Mexico, had arrived in late October. He’d been elected mayor of Michoácuaro. Not a role I’d have figured for him. Five years ago he’d just brought cable TV to the town.

The invitation did tempt me. A sun-drenched holiday, long talks with other old friends, fine tequila. Except my department here in Montreal was in the throes of a six-year review with me chairing the committee; of course I could resign my role– I wondered if I’d be able to cook up a new course for the January term while I was down there. No, if I did go away it should be a long-promised quick visit to Pieter and Katia in Amsterdam. And Mexico was becoming increasingly violent–I’d read about shootings and bombings during the elections.

The idea of Michoácuaro in December chipped away at my concentration. Going back to some of the magical places I’d discovered was appealing. Better than producing statistics about student-faculty ratios, costs per degree unit, comparative scholarly output. Would such a trip leave me refreshed to produce a well-documented review vital to the department’s future? It was due February 1, 1991.

Since my year in Michoácuaro in the state of Michoacán, Pepe and I had been in contact off and on–six postcards, one serious letter. A lot of what he’d explained to me about his world I used in a book I’d published about my years in the town, the people I’d met, the many intriguing places. I didn’t know what the others thought of the book; they were worse correspondents than Pepe.

Since it appeared a few readers have tracked me down. Including some weird ones, like a couple of weeks after Pepe’s telegram a call from a man in Germany, Hamburg. Gottfried Sommers he said his name was, and he’d read my book. His daughter now lived in Michoácuaro, “our little Mexican town.” He was dying. Using my extra senses, I must insist to the daughter that she visit him one final time. He’d tried over and again to bring her home, but had failed. He refused to carry such a defeat to the grave.

“Look, I don’t have extra senses–“

“I’ve just explained. I read your book. I know you.” He offered me three thousand dollars.

“Three thousand? You’re crazy.”

“Very well. Five thousand. You will persuade her.”

Five thousand dollars. If his daughter wouldn’t go to him at his dying request, how could I convince her? Something was wrong here. No, the five thousand didn’t tempt me. Yes, I’d been lusting after a new computer, I needed more memory, a color monitor– An extravagance? Five thousand would buy a laser printer as well, eight pages a minute. “Call me back in a couple of days.”

“You will hear from me,” said Sommers.


That night I dreamt about about Pepe. He was pleasantly drunk, though it didn’t show–with Pepe it rarely does. He was telling a story to his friends; I was there too. He acted all the parts:

Miguel is furious. Every few nights something gets into his garden, trampling and eating his young peas and corn, his tomatillos, beans and beets. Twice he’s seen it, fleeing into the shadows. One evening after a fourth glass of pulque he confides to his neighbour Alfonso, It’s the nagual–the half-man half-beast monster. So as not to show Alfonso that he lacks in macho Miguel adds, But it doesn’t scare me.

Alfonso, hiding his own fear, whispers, You sound terrified, and sips his pulque.

Miguel states, I’ll set a trap. The plan: string a line of cans along the fence. As the monster’s legs catch the string, these will rattle and wake him. With the rifle his grandfather carried while fighting beside Zapata he’ll kill the nagual. Miguel asks, Can one kill a nagual?

Alfonso answers, I don’t know. This late the pulque helps Alfonso know very little, a better way to slip toward morning.

In the middle of the darkest of nights, the can-trap rattles loud. Miguel wakes, grabs the rifle and a flashlight, runs to the garden. He hears thick breathing, shines the lamp– He sees the running legs of a brown nagual! He shoots at where its head must be. It gives a dreadful squeal and crashes to the ground.

Shining the lamp, Miguel approaches. There lies Evita, Alfonso’s burro.

Dreadful. And even more terrible if Alfonso finds out. Quick, dispose of the evidence! So, all dark, he digs a large hole in the garden, buries Evita and returns to bed.

He can’t sleep. A hint of light in the sky, he gets up, slips out, stares at the grave. The ground above Evita is shifting. A quick thrust– One of Evita’s hooves breaks through the dirt and sticks out in the air. Trying to escape! Miguel, frozen with fear, stares. More movement. Another hoof! Over minutes, a third. Then nothing.

He goes searching for a hatchet. Now two vultures are parading at the edge of the garden. He shoos them off. He works quickly, hacking away the burro’s legs at the knees, reburying them.

Miguel complains to Alfonso, First a nagual, now vultures. Am I not cursed?

Alfonso says, I’m cursed, me! My Evita has disappeared from the face of Michoácuaro.

Soon Miguel’s garden is producing the juiciest beets and tomatoes, the sweetest peas. All envy him. Alfonso says, Your bad luck has ended.

Pepe the one man show, shooting the monster, burying it. Playing the monster, its rigored feet escaping the grave. We, Pepe’s audience, laugh and laugh. We can’t stop laughing. Though we’ve heard the story before we keep on laughing. As long as we laugh, we’re together.