Tilt or I remember the Parrot but not the Spiders

The colors in South Texas and Mexico are brilliant, the history rich, the stories deep and poetic. These are reasons I love it down here. One nearly ubiquitous emanation of local tradition are Lotería cards. This summer I taught a flash-fiction class at Gemini Ink and gave each of my students one of these cards and asked them to use it however they pleased to write a story. 

One of the tricky parts about traditional cards is the sometimes outdated (read: offensive) portrayal of races or individuals. That doesn’t mean that they should be censored. Instead, writers (and painters and musicians) need to show tact and sensitivity in the way that they understand these stereotypes (and it doesn’t do anyone any good to forget how we used to think as a culture about race, or gender roles, or everyday objects for that matter). In this month’s Short Shorts selection, the author, Jorge Lopez-Ramirez, does just that. The memory of a city in Veracruz is triggered by the narrator’s return so many years later. The voice nicely portrays the soporific quality of memory, both personal and cultural. Thanks to everyone who submitted stories this month; please keep sending them to: [email protected]. The next installment of Short Shorts will appear in the November 18 issue of the Current. — Lyle Rosdahl

My brother and I, as newcomers, couldn’t sleep most nights in that small city in the state of Veracruz. We used to look out our bedroom window until late. The nights were clear, so clear. It is there we remember seeing regular estrellas and shooting estrellas share the night sky for the first time. La luna showed up late most nights, so the streets were dark (not too many public lights back then). We glanced at the house directly across from us and saw most of it easily. It had tall palmeras that rocked with the wind. Under their palms, the house had macetas hanging from the rims of the upper windows. 

Right after the last campana rang (at around 10 p.m.), on Friday nights only, the arpa music filled the dark street. There were lots of musicos in town back then. There was an arpa in almost every house. We enjoyed listening to the street musicos play danzones, sones jarochos and bambas as they glided through our street. Sometimes they followed each other. Sometimes they danced by our neighbors as they played their arpas on the footsteps of their homes. Where were they going? 

There was a place down the street we were not allowed to go or even pass by. It was called “La Calavera.” During the day, the owner would let a big cotorra outside where it perched by the door. He was kind of a musician, too; he whistled at the women passing by and called them names. The soldados passed by our street at night, too. We heard the steel of their boots making noises against the street’s cobblestones as they marched to “La Calavera.” Once I asked my mother, what will those men do there? She only said, borrachos! 

Much later in the evening, we saw the “negritos” come out too, wearing their best clothes. People used to call them arañas because of the color of their skin and the fact they only came out when there was no one outside. I could never understand why. They were people, not arañas! My brother and I saw them in the marketplace and the streets every day. They would come and go with their wives and kids. They always wore beautiful, clean clothes. Their kids were very well-behaved. You could see their women carrying their cántaritos on their shoulders on the way to their houses outside of town. Everyone knew that if you needed rosas for your wife or girlfriend, they had the best ones for sale. They also cooked the best pescado in the marketplace. 

After 42 years away from Mexico, I came back to the now big city in the state of Veracruz and found out that everything has changed, except the “arpa” music on Friday nights. •

Short Shorts edited by Lyle Rosdahl