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The Mexican Nurse And Her Red Tattoo---A Short Story
The sun was just breaking over the Sierra Madres when Karl left hotel Posada in San Cristobal de Las Casas. The cold morning air had sharp teeth and he could see his breath as he put on his dank helmet, still wet with the cold sweat of yesterdays heat. After a few hours of driving Northward, the powerful sun reflected off the pavement and new, fresh sweat accumulated under the layers of his clothing. Hotel Posada in San Cristobal didn’t have hot water, so instead of showering the night before, Karl just slept, not bothering to go out and see the museums and galleries, or try to socialize in the bars. He was in a dismal mood, his fingernails were left uncut and dirty, and his clothing unwashed and foul. As he drove north on the mountain highway, his eyes became red and irritated from the punishing dust that found its way through the tinted visor of his heat-absorbing black helmet. His ears rang from the constant battle of the four cylinders struggling over the dry agave covered mountains. He didn’t know how far he had left to reach Oaxaca city, only that he still had a long way to ride.
Karl had brought the wrong motorcycle on his Mexican road trip. It was too big, old and heavy. “The Tank,” he called it, was a 1976 Honda CB750. In its heyday known as the first super bike, a real classic, but a poor choice for Mexico’s Swiss-cheese, gravel covered roads. A more nimble and modern, enduro style bike would have been more appropriate. But Karl reasoned, that’s the only bike I have, and as the trip progressed he grew more and more attached to the motorcycle, that in a lot of ways resembled Karl himself-big, powerful and out of place in Mexico.
As he drove he was talking to himself in short Spanish phrases-his voice trapped in the confines of his helmet.
“Quiero dos cervezas por favor, si, dos cervezas porfavor.”
That’s when the Tank and Karl separated, as he conversed with an imaginary Mexican waitress. He was caught off guard by one of the many gravel-laden curves and suddenly abandoning ship became his only option. He seemed to float in the air above the off-balance motorcycle, and like a kid leaping over a fire hydrant he was able push down on the sweat stained seat and lift his legs to ear level and push his suspended body up and away from the trajectory of the monstrous, hot machine. He hit the ground upright, to the left of the motorcycle, standing on two legs. The accident looked almost graceful, had he not been going twenty-five miles an hour. His long powerful legs were not able to compete with the momentum of his two hundred and ten pound frame. One quick memory had time to flicker through his mind as the accident unfolded- the unfinished cherry bed that lay covered in dust on the cement floor of his mother’s garage in Chicago. He was planning on finishing the bed before his moms fifty-ninth birthday . His body slapped against the pavement.
Melissa was bored out of her mind. She preferred the city life in Oaxaca to the little village of Santiago where she had been stationed, trapped, for the past two months. Her time in Santiago was a necessary part of the Cruz Roja nurses training program in which she was enrolled. Her father had insisted that she complete the program, and, as a reward of successful completion, he promised to pay the eight thousand pesos for her plane ticket to Madrid. As she tossed a deflated basketball to Jesus, one of the local Santiago boys, Spain was on her mind. She wanted to dance in the cool Madrid nightclubs that her best friend Carlos had described to her. She wanted to shop for the latest fashions and flirt with handsome Spaniards. But for now she was stuck in Santiago, a tiny town hidden in the dry, brown mountains south of Oaxaca. There wasn’t even cell reception in the town of six hundred and fifty-seven. Actually, there was cell reception had she not changed her cell-phone carrier from Telcel to Movistar, but Carlos had advised her to change to Movistar, because that is the carrier used in Spain.
‘Pinche Carlos,’ She thought.
Two young boys ran up on the basketball court where she was entertaining Jesus and she decided to take a break and smoke a cigarette. She sat on a wooden bench in the shade of the municipal building and lit a Delicado, and watched the boys, in handmade leather chanklas, kick the basketball around. She stretched out one leg and one arm and admired the smooth brown skin of her meaty leg and the contrast made by her, white, converse sneakers.
She heard car tires screech in the distance, causing her to get up, anything that happened in Santiago was a big deal because not much happened. She walked to the corner of the municipal building and looked down the road that broke off from the intercontinental highway and led up to Santiago. She saw two black pigs scurry out of the way of the municipal police truck that was barreling up the road. The silhouettes of the two officers inside the white Nissan police truck floated up and down as they bounced over the speed-bumps.
She knew the two police officers, Jorge, the chief, a fat slob, and Guillermo a younger, thinner, short man obsessed with soccer. She detested Jorge, a fat sweaty man, because of the time he had reached under her skirt with his chubby little hand after downing one too many mezcalitos in the local cantina. She had slapped his hand away, and he gave her a mischievous, gross smile, exposing his yellow teeth. That was the last time that she ever went to the cantina, where, in her opinion, there was a lousy jukebox selection anyway.
The police truck came to a screeching halt on the basketball court and Guillermo jumped out while Jorge stayed in the truck, where the cushions had formed comfortably to the shape of his large buttocks. The lazy chief rarely left the comfort of the police truck unless comida or mezcal was involved. Jorge gave a yell through the window for Melissa to come quickly. Melissa, dubious of Jorge, walked up to the truck and stood out of arms reach of the window. Jorge’s small black eyes were wider and more excited then their normal cloudy ambivalence.
Jorge told Mellissa that there had been an injury-accident and that she was needed. She reluctantly got into the police truck. The cab smelled of a of sweat and carnitas, pork tacos, she wrinkled her petite nose at the pungent odor. Jorge did a u-turn on the basketball court and the wheels of his Nissan gave a squawk, sending little Jesus and his wide-eyed friends scattering. Guillermo fired up the rarely used ambulance and the aging van blew a plume of blue smoke and grumbled and coughed like an old man choking on a cigar. The two vehicles sped down and out of Santiago heading south on the intercontinental highway.
When they arrived at the scene of the accident, about ten kilometers outside of town, there was a big-rig truck pulled over, with it’s hazard lights flashing. A big black motorcycle was laying on the bank of the highway and a large guero, a white guy, with red hair lay on the pavement beside the motorcycle. A black helmet and a large military-green backpack had been stacked by his side. A short truck driver, with a dark Indian face and dirty sombrero stood by the downed motorcyclist calmly smoking a cigarette. Melissa did not want to see a severely injured person. In her young career as a nurse-in-training, she had been spared of seeing anything too gruesome. The only dead body she had ever seen was in class where the students observed an autopsy performed on a cadaver. She did not enjoy that class and now her heart was beating in a similar way, with a normal pace, but the dreadful realization of its presence and the fragility of life.
The guero was not dead, in fact, he was semi-conscious, moving one arm, blinking and babbling in an unintelligible mixture of Spanish and English. Mellissa went directly to injured man while the truck driver informed Jorge of his medical opinion--a broken arm and a good knock to the head. The truck driver pointed out that the man was a gringo, and that, in his opinion, gringos were normally very slow drivers, not prone to accidents. Guillermo pulled up with the ambulance and came to Mellissa’s side. Mellissa held the gringos head tightly between her bare thighs and kept the gringo from moving his head too much. A skill she learned in school, demobilizing the patient in case of spinal injury. Looking down at the gringos freckle covered face, she tried to communicate with him, she spoke a little English, but she couldn’t get him to respond with anything coherent. Her presences did seem to have calming affect on his eyes that grew sleepy within a few minutes of the arrival of her song like voice and warm thighs.
The three men and Mellissa carefully managed to load the enormous gringo onto a gurney and lift carry him into the back of the ambulance. They loaded up his heavy backpack and motorcycle helmet and with Melissa accompanying the gringo in the back of the ambulance, and Guillermo driving, they headed back to Pueblito. Jorge stayed behind to smoke a cigarette with the truck driver.
On the trip home the gringo went completely unconscious. Melissa periodically checked his status. His left arm was obviously broken, his breathing and pulse seemed regular. Melissa was confident that he was going to be alright and glad that the accident hadn’t been worse. She did not want to deal with the horror of something really awful and right then and there she knew she didn’t want to be a nurse.
Melissa generally liked foreigners, she even had a Spanish boyfriend for a few months but she didn’t care much for gringos. They were not as refined as the Europeans that came to Oaxaca. She thought the United States was a vulgar, cultureless society. These feelings stemmed from the nostalgic days of her youth, when her parents were still together, and were communists. When the United States and capitalism were the enemies. Now her father, as he aged, was more and more conservative. Long gone were the days of left wing political rallies, when she would accompany her father and sisters on late night meetings, where she would sit on her dad’s lap and listen to musicians strum the guitar and sing the words of Silvio Rodriguez.
When they arrived back in Santiago the sun was setting. Guillermo and Mellissa enlisted the help of Juan, the tlayuda cook, and unloaded the unconscious gringo into the one bed in the municipal building.
After a short spell of curious visitors, she found herself alone with the sleeping unconscious gringo. She was soley responsible for his care until the next day, when Alejandro would come to help her with her duties. She sat across the room sitting on a bench and took a deep breath. It was going to be a long night.
As she observed the gringo sleeping she wondered what would bring anyone to Oaxaca? She never understood why her city attracted so many tourists from all over the world when what she wanted most was to leave. She got up and walked over to her patient. She put her hand on his clamy forehead. ‘He will be fine,’ she thought.
Then her attention turned to his big green bag that was sitting next to the bed. She hesitated for a second but curiosity got the best of her. She opened the main compartment. It was full of dirty clothes that gave off the odor of dirty socks preventing her from digging through them. She opened a smaller pocket where she saw an Ipod and a little black canvas wallet that was zipped up. Her heart began to beat faster. She looked up at the gringo and he didn’t move, nobody was in the big open room. She opened the wallet and it contained a blue passport saying, “United States of America” she dug deeper into the wallet and found a Visa Credit Card imprinted with the name, “Karl Stanley.” In another pocket of the wallet she found a big wad of pesos held together by a rubber band. With her hands shaking she undid the rubber band and did a quick count of the pesos. Almost all the bills were of pink high denomination, five-hundred peso notes. She counted quicky, nine thousand two-hundred and fifty pesos. She again looked up at the sleeping gringo.
The sound of a little girl humming and the comforting smell of disinfectant inspired Karl’s awakening. He didn’t move he just opened his eyes. He lay in a bed covered in a white sheet. In his line of sight across the cool cement floor, sat a little girl on a red, wooden bench swinging her legs. She had big dark eyes, brown skin, and her long black hair was loosely braided. She wore a traditional white shirt embroidered with vibrant flowers and was occupied with a handmade ball and cup game. She continued to hum the pretty, but unfamiliar tune, seemingly unconcerned with Karl. Karl tried to burn off the fog that enveloped his mind, ‘where am I.’
“Tia! El Guero desperto!” The little girl yelled hoping up and off the bench running towards an open door.
Only Karl’s eyes moved across the room to the door where the nurse walked in. She was dressed in a crisp white uniform that hugged her small body like the skin of a mango. She carried with her a plastic pitcher of water and a glass. She looked at Karl, her head tilted to the side with a sympathetic smile and said, “Hola.” He attempted to answer with a nod and his heart gave one pronounced thump and suddenly his whole body hurt. Not a pain that aspirin or ibuprofen can alleviate but a pain so intense that one rightly deserves a morphine drip. The nurse raised her eyebrows in concern as Karl grimaced. She said, in broken English.
“You need drink water. I help drink.”
She filled the glass with water and put it on a padlocked cabinet next to the headboard of Karl’s bed. She stroked Karl’s red hair, the gentle motherly touch lingered on Karl’s scalp relaxing him. Then proceeded to encouraged him to sit up with hand gestures. That’s when he noticed his left arm and the pain in his body suddenly had an awful focus.
His arm was grossly contorted, there was a new angle, a new elbow. An overwhelming sense of mortality flooded Karl’s mind turning quickly to nausea and utter disgust. He couldn’t stand the sight and looked away. The young nurse leaned over him and put her hands in his armpits and proceeded to try to prop him up against the headboard as if he were a six year old child. She had no hope of moving the large gringo. She gave a grunt trying to get Karl to help her help him. Karl used his right arm that seemed to be in a good state to push himself up. The nurse exhaled, still holding her comforting smile, “eres grande” she said, and gave him the glass of water. Karl didn’t know that he was thirsty until the water hit his mouth and like a drought stricken desert receiving the first spring rain his mouth absorbed the water before it had a chance to entered his throat.
“Aspirina?” The nurse asked.
She opened a small paper packet, handed him two aspirin, then refilled his water cup. He took the pills and gulped down the water. The haze in his mind started to break, ‘the accident!’.
He started to realize where he was and the gravity of his situation and injury, mortality and nausea again flooded his mind. Looking around for the first time, he noticed that there were no other beds in what he had thought was a hospital. It was a large room with plain cement walls except for a few political slogans painted in bright red stenciling,
“PRI para un Mexico Mejor.”
The high ceiling made the room feel large and empty, there were not many furnishings besides his bed and a few stacks of folded chairs in a corner. To his left, through some wrought-iron windows he had a limited view outside; an empty basketball court and an ambulance with the Cruz Roja insignia parked in the brilliant midday sun.
He lifted up his broken arm with his right arm, carefully avoiding looking at the misshapen extremity himself. He held out the arm towards the nurse and asked.
“Do you have something stronger? My arm hurts a lot, pain, ow horrible.” He spoke slow and clearly knowing the nurse struggled with English.
“Yes, no the precupes, no worry Alejandro ya viene, he come,” she said her face relaxed and calm. She did not seem too disturbed by Karl’s misshapen arm.
“Mi motocicleta, where is my motorcycle?” asked Karl.
“Wit Joel, con Joel el mecanico”
“Wrecked?” Karl asked.
She looked puzzled so Karl tried another word.
Her face showed recognition “No, destruida, no, Joel es un buen mecanico, very good.
You talk tomorrow wit him, manana.” She said, nodding with each word.
“Now give medicine, medicina.” She squeezed her hand into the pocket of her uniform and pulled out a key. She then opened the padlocked cabinet. As she knelt down Karl noticed the upper-part of a red tattoo extending down from her clavicle disappearing under the uniform. She looked up at him as she knelt and there eyes met for an extended second, she had long eyelashes and big dark eyes that somehow radiated light. She fumbled in the cabinet, and took out a plastic coke bottle three quarters filled with a green liquid and two Styrofoam cups and a pack of cigarettes.
“There is, un dicho, mmm, un frase, here in Oaxaca; todo mal mezcal, todo bien, tambien. Means you bad, drink mezcal, you good same ting.”
“Are you a real nurse?” Karl asked
“Yes, sipi, Why? You no like mezcal? Is medicine!?”
“Why is it green, verde?” Karl asked adding the Spanish.
“Ruda, es una hierba, a plant, for espiritus malos, to mmm, fight bad spirits, but first mas water. We drink mezcal water, mezcal water asi se hace. Then Alejandro, el dentista viene, come.”
“The dentist, not the doctor is coming, when?”
“I don’t know but pronto, soon. He fix arm but first you drink mezcal for when he come.”
She poured a little mezcal in the Styrofoam cups. And handed Karl one of them. Karl, took it down quickly, like he had done plenty of times with Tequila. But this wasn’t tequila. He coughed violently and gagged causing a shooting pain in his fragile arm.
“Ayyy, No, asi, slow” the nurse took a small sip from her own cup showing Karl how.
“Un cigaro?” she asked. Karl didn’t smoke but he nodded, she took a cigarette from the pack and lit it, took a drag and handed it to Karl.
“We share,” She said, giving a wink.
Karl took a puff and coughed sending more shooting pain through his arm. He handed the cigarette back changing his mind.
“Musica?” she asked and didn’t wait for him to respond reaching into her uniform and pulling out a cell phone. “Julieta!” she said “Musica maestra!”
The music filled the room and broke the silence with young woman singing a sort of Mexican pop song accompanied by an accordion.
“Can I make a call?” Karl asked.
. She replied, “no hay senal, no se puede.” Karl brought his head back in confusion, not understanding the Spanish. She held the cell phone up to his eyes and showed him that there were no bars, no signal. The nurse took an elegant drag from the cigarette exhaling the smoke in Karl’s direction.
“Un water y un mezcalito mas, one more mezcalito, you drink slow.”
“Relajate, No you worry, everything good, you alive!”
Karl considered this, yes he was alive, alive in Mexico, and this was going to be one hell of a story. He took a deep breath and wiggled his toes, and they all responded. He took a small sip from of the green mezcal and it burned in his throat.
Karl noticed the little girl who had shouted earlier was watching them from the doorway now with accompanied by two little boys. Karl smiled and waved and they giggled and disappeared.
The nurse smiled and said, “no many gringos here.”
“Where are we?” Karl asked
“Santiago, Oaxaca” she said
“And my bag, where is my backpack?”
“Is here” said Mellissa pointing to the bag that lay on the other side of the bed out of arms reach.
“But you no worry now, toma, drink, el mezcalito.”
Ok! Still not quite finished---please check back and if you made it to here leave some feedback for an insecure, fledgling writer------thanks