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Latinx Historical Fiction Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“I’d be an atheist, but then I’d have no one to be angry with,” Horacio lisped. His delicate fingers brought the cigarette closer to his face, then back near mine with a languid, fluid motion that reminded me of fishing lines over Lake Chapala. I’d recently gotten into the habit of swallowing the bait, although I could see the hook perfectly well. 


“Socialists are always atheists,” I responded. I flicked the ash off the end and wondered if I was bored with him. “I've heard you say it yourself.” 


Horacio and I began each night dining at the Plaza but ended by smoking in the upper lounge of La Chuparrosa, one of the most curious hotels in Guadalajara. It was several blocks from the house of my father, a minor though self-important civil official under Carranza, and despite the owners’ efforts to imitate the extravagance of French salons it served mainly tequila and sophisticated variations on the birria. I’d come up with that joke myself. “It’s Mozart’s Variation on a Birria,” I told Horacio, poking at chunks of goat meat, and he laughed and said, “Very good, Ofelia. Keep that up and you’ll pass for an educated woman.” 


The lounge occupied the stretch on the topmost floor between the west-facing windows and the doors to the apartments. Stained glass in only strawberry, salmon, and apricot formed the images of strange suns and foreign landscapes; burning horribly at evening light, then fading into darkness. Over and across the apartments was papered a pattern of red and pink flowers, each supporting the hotel’s eponymous hummingbirds. The impression was that of being trapped inside an enormous bougainvillea. Even the tenants, drifting in and out, looked at us with the blank stare of drones crawling back into the hive. Horacio said it reminded him of when he was a boy, peeping through the fence at my family’s garden; I agreed, though privately the colors reminded me more of an execution chamber, and of the Mexico City cellar where he had unofficially become my father’s secretary. I thought I felt the blood of my elder brother and of my first lover seeping through the soft layers of volcanic soil onto my head, sifted down by Villistas and Zapatistas, and I am still unconvinced that it has been washed away. Horacio and I never spoke of that time, as if by conscious agreement. Only the two of us ever seemed to sit here at twilight.


Horacio curled his thin lips under his thin moustache and gestured with the thin blue smoke trail. The stained glass behind his head appeared mostly in browns and blues with an occasional sickly yellow. Dried blood and old bruises: forgotten and yet remaining. “Socialism is about anger. Other socialists are atheists because they are angry with men; once we have fixed mankind…” His eyes had a faraway and yet carefully studied look. In his collar and tie, draped ceremoniously across his embroidered armchair of the last generation, he looked like an official portrait, and he knew it.


Affected, I thought. Like that lisp. You did not always lisp. I lifted a coffee cup from the table littered with champagne flutes and ashtrays, and with my pinky nail traced the hummingbird embossed on the side. “Why should you be angry with God?” 


“Ah!”


Horacio frowned and stamped out his cigarette in a half-empty wine glass. He stood, obviously animated; I’d said the right thing. “A great and yet sedentary being! the only infuriating prospect.” He began pacing the length of our sitting area like a professor we had once gone to see in a lecture hall. The professor had proven to us that while all men were descended from beasts, yet some were closer than others to the gods. I saw him again now, an Austrian who spoke poor Spanish in a bowler hat whose brim-curl was rivalled only by the curl of his blond moustache. “Imagine, if you will, that you possess limitless power, and can do any good you wish; and yet I have seen myself the massacre of children, senseless destruction of villages by fire.” 


“That was in Europe.” 


It was a gamble with Horacio whether he would allow me to interrupt or not, but this time he waited for me to continue. “You do not remember that I have seen the same.” 


“When was that?” 


“You were still in Berlin.” That was where he’d picked up Socialism, and where he’d been when Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo; the lisp was from Barcelona. “It was April in the morning. Regina, our serving girl, rushed in during breakfast screaming that I must come with her, that someone was planning to kill someone else. It was all a confusion. She dragged me out the door without a hat all the way to the Teatro Degollado


“Already there was a crowd. We were all disheveled, rich and poor jumbled together like in the Gospels, only it wasn’t anything like that at all. There were guerilla soldiers in very old uniforms shouting and ordering everyone around. It was a long time before I realized that they had several women lined against the wall. There were four nuns and a girl caught smuggling the Eucharist to private homes. They shot them in front of us. Regina kept crossing herself and muttering to the Virgin Mary, but her eyes shone brilliantly and she seemed quite cheerful afterward. I don’t believe she was at all disturbed,” I reflected. 


Horacio continued to pace, hands folded behind his back. “And you? Do you recall your own feelings at that moment?”


I considered briefly. “I did not think much about it at the time.”


Horacio let out a short laugh that was more like a bark. “The serving girls are always like that,” he said. “All of them”– he waved his hand at the apartment doors in disgust, like he was swatting mosquitoes, “all the same. No dignity, no shame, no compassion. Anyone who could watch such a scene with pleasure or thoughtlessness lacks the sensitivity of true humanity. The executioners were your father’s side, you know,” he added. 


The insult to myself and my father stung like the mosquitoes Horacio had swatted. You imagine we do not suffer because we have not been educated, I wanted to say, neither I nor the poor men returning in meekness to their apartments. You– have you suffered? 


I let the moment pass. Horacio came and gazed down at me before plucking the cup from my hands and continuing his lecture. “After such an experience, the humane observer cannot help but locate God as the stumbling block to social prosperity.” He examined the image of the bird and continued his lecture. “The Aztecs worshipped a god called The Hummingbird to whom they offered human sacrifice. I believe he was invented expressly as a god with whom one cannot be angry. Afraid, certainly; but that is precisely why one cannot be angry. Fear distracts. It is not the use of power one resents– no, one can understand that– but the possession of power and subsequent refusal to act.”


He waited for me to answer, but I knew he was only showing off. I chose to remain silent. 


Horacio cleared his throat and looked at me as though I were a painting, one that happened to suit him very well. “You should be always dressed this way, in that shade of blue.” He caught up an artificial orchid from the vase resting next to my chair and tucked it behind my ear. “And always with a flower in your hair.” He studied a lock between his fingertips. “Dark red,” he murmured. “I have always thought dark red hair the most beautiful characteristic of the Jaliscienses.” 


“Are you afraid of me, Horacio?” 


For the first time in our acquaintance, either as children on opposite sides of the fence or as lovers suffocating in our love that was more like hate, he appeared to be at a loss for words. We stared at each other, blinking. The thought indeed had never occurred to me; I was as surprised as he was. 


“Afraid?” Horacio’s smile failed to reach his pale eyes. “You were listening, then! Afraid of you? That would be rather out of place in our situation, I believe.” 

“You did not answer my question.” 


Another minute of silence. I began to be afraid myself. The lamps in the hall grew gradually dimmer and Horacio’s pupils seemed to shrink as I sat, motionless, waiting.


“Are you in love with me, Ofelia?”


Once again we were both surprised. I did not look away from his face, nor did he remove his hand from mine. I meant to say yes, in the weak and almost dismissive manner that would leave him entirely unassured, from experience the best way to preserve our relationship. But instead I realized that I was quoting, “‘Ello es, Horacio, que en el cielo y en la tierra hay más de lo que puede soñar tu filosofía’”; “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”


Horacio drew back as though I had slapped him. His face contorted into a terrible grin that I had never seen him wear. 


“So. You accuse me of hypocrisy?”


“The thought has never occurred to me.”


“But you do think, you've said it to my face,” he said rapidly, the whole time backing away without turning. “I know it– I’ve seen it the entire time– for years you’ve mocked at me secretly, knowing my mind and despising it.” His voice became so low it was almost a hiss. “But I know” –and the laugh was worse than the grin– “you imagined I couldn’t see your thoughts though you could see mine– but I tell you I understand all, all! And not for one instant have I loved you as anything other than a pretty and foolish creature. I felt sorry for you– your father you know is even more foolish than– I wanted– but no– I will not– perhaps–” 


The hysterics were only a confession. I felt a gentle sorrow roll over a much greater peace as the man I hated, the man I loved, spat his way toward the stairs. The last I saw of him was his forehead, paper-white and beaded with perspiration.


And I knew that I– I was the god with whom he would always be angry.


June 03, 2022 05:16

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8 comments

Johanna Parry
00:05 May 27, 2023

I was facinated by your use of the hummingbird metaphor... clever, beautifully done, Mysterious to those outside the culture...thank you for writing this. There is one typo. On my first time through I saw a period followed by an uncapitalized word, however when I went back to verify this, I couldnt find it again...oceans of words waving by, I guess.

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Katy B
13:14 May 27, 2023

Thank you for reading and commenting, Johannah!

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Esperanza Rivas
16:32 Jun 21, 2022

Wow! Great first line. You were really descriptive and that brought a lot of color to your writing.

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Kelsey H
08:39 Jun 07, 2022

I really enjoyed this, I loved the discussion between the characters and the descriptive style of your writing. I could really picture the setting they were in. I also found the historical and religious aspect of it interesting, although it is not something I know anything about it didn't seem confusing to follow the conversation. I loved the last line of this and how it ties back to the beginning. I really liked how she describes their relationship with this line; - as lovers suffocating in our love that was more like hate - I feel like it...

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Katy B
11:50 Jun 07, 2022

Thank you so much for your detailed comment! The Mexican Revolution is difficult to write about-- it was a confusing time but one that is important to me. I wanted to write about a character who is smart although they aren't university educated or ostentatious, foiling them against a significant other, so I'm so glad you thought that was well done.

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Kelly L
21:51 Jun 06, 2022

The first line of this story was perfect!

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Katy B
05:38 Jun 03, 2022

For this story, I decided to explore my interest in the psychological connection between violence and existentialism, particularly in the context of the Mexican Revolution. I also wanted to increase knowledge about Latin American history and culture. Most people aren't aware of how violent Mexican history was in the recent past, or the kind of cultural effect the Revolution still has (for example, Catholicism was technically illegal until the 1980s). It is so difficult to write short historical fiction-- the balance between dialogue, actio...

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Tommy Goround
23:36 May 22, 2023

Oh check out Liv Chocolate. She's a professional proofer that can actually write. I think you might like her.

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