Disturbing the Spirits

Six kids! The Diva exclaims at the heavily clothed Doña Clemencia. Doña Clemencia cooks the meals and is the first domestic employee I’ve met in South America who eats with the family at the table. Six kids, repeats the Diva, shaking her head. I’ve gone half crazy with two. The Diva sits at the table with her girls in front of her, having just debated with them about police and dirty hippies smoking pot in front of everyone (it is Maria who can’t stand them, oddly enough), and reads aloud from the Hot Chocolate for the Soul in Spanish book Johann has just given her. Listen to this, she says, and reads aloud: We don’t teach our children that they are unique; we teach them that two plus two is four. What about the fact that there has never been anyone like you in the history of the world? You are a marvel. You could be anything. You could be president or the next Einstein. Shit, says the Diva, look at the emphasis on success and recognition. She goes back to her soup.

The world takes care of you, how many times have you realized that? Leaves and rock don’t pass judgement.

I look at the pale pointed leaves as I consider smoking pot with Maria in the rock room. Wonder if I should. The world takes care of you, how many times have you realized that? Leaves and rock don’t pass judgement. As we get stoned Maria starts talking about the gruesome death of some famous Latina singer, then she and Johann start talking about the possible cadaver at the mouth of the cave. We should open the bag, says Johann. Haven’t you guys seen the movies? I plead. When you find a bag that might contain a dead body in a really dark cave, you don’t want to open it.

Sprinkler water smoothes the tile as the Diva agrees that hers is an enchanted city. The elite, the Diva says, gesturing, moved from this area, now run down, to another farther south. The elite seemed to drift as a dark tinted heat mirage moving the glitter of money across the city leaving cracked buildings behind. The elite lived here once, the Diva says of the calm circle with the closed church. The church is good luck, better luck than the other churches, so on busy days numerous couples come to get married revolving-door-style.

I defer to Maria about the spirits, the mountain’s spirit and that of the possible cadaver we must make our way past to find our way out, about the possibility of angering them. No way, man, Maria says in Spanish, we’re learning about natural processes. We open the bag, look at the body, thank the spirit, then take off.

Suddenly I have a full body memory suit between me and the rocks and darkness and dust. I am brought through it by my own dreams.

Perhaps it is the altitude but looking at the starfish-shaped orange arms of desert flowers and imagining a December awash and bursting with blossoms and wind — as Isa describes the month, and I listen incredulously — she says the word lágrimas. Tears.

I am petrified to go back into the cave. Johann guides my feet to their footholds. Only as she enters the cave to go down does Maria say, Damn, now I’ll get paranoid, it’s dark. On the way down Tautahcho appears, shaking his head at me, but lovingly so. Tautahcho is there in his black hakama. I am remembering how he sat leading Aikido class because Maria and Johann start talking about martial arts. I am grateful they did and thereby nudged the poised domino of Tautahcho in my brain, because the entire way down the excruciatingly dark cave with the possible cadaver at the bottom, the image and sound of him comforts and distracts me from the dark cave and possible cadaver. How we breathed, the exercises we did in our white gis to stretch our backs. Suddenly I have a full body memory suit between me and the rocks and darkness and dust. I am brought through it by my own dreams.

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