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Mayan Woman in Tribal Costume by Hannah Gleghorn
copyright 2006 by HANNAH GLEGHORN

(a cautionary tale)

If you drink the single shot of tequila you can make time stop. You can hold the moment suspended and stay in your perfect Mexico forever.

To perform this trick you need tequila, tiny acrid limes, and a girl named Misty.

The limes are optional. The girl is essential.

You'll find her sitting cross-legged on the tile in front of the statue of Our Lady of the Seas in a bus station in Acapulco. She is reading Lorca's Blood Wedding by the light of the votive candles. When you step in from the street, a band of bright sunshine falls across the pages. She will recognize you as someone she's waited for and rise from her nest of cigarette butts and mango pits to take your hand. Backlit in smoky candlelight, her hair is a nimbus of pale fire around her head. Her hand is strangely cool.

You and Misty will travel together for the rest of the summer, rattling along back roads in ancient buses with seats like open wounds, sleeping in twelve-peso hotels with gray crisp sheets and magnificent names. Every pueblito has a hotel Olympia, or Imperial. You'll eat ceviche prepared by fishermen on the beach in Zihuatanejo; see the moon rise over the ruins at Monte Alban. You'll climb to the summit of the Pyramid of the Sun, where your transcendent exhilaration turns out to be the beginning of a ten-day bout of bowel-wrenching, soul-searching dysentery that leaves you translucent and glowing like a mystic. After that you give up two-peso tacos and live on a diet of beer (pasteurized for your protection) and sweet bread from the bakeries that are on every corner.

The tequila is medicinal. The old lady who sells you the bottle and the shot glasses says it purifies the body. You thirst for purity. The glasses appear to be melted coke bottles, squat misshapen things with heavy blue rims, but you buy them anyway because it's all part of the journey and Misty thinks tequila will taste more authentic in these rustic shots. The liquor smells like a combination of brown sugar and paint thinner. It comes in a square, brown bottle with a picture of a Mayan warrior on the label.

On the walk back from the mercado, you talk Misty into letting you drink your first shot out of her navel. You are influenced by the rituals of human sacrifice, the Chac Mool at Chichen Itza, but also by the idea of ritualizing her body, which has been one of the enduring pleasures of this long, strange trip.

Back at the hotel, Misty is in good spirits. Her face is flushed with the two shots she's knocked back while you were in the bathroom. She is willing to be the instrument of your purification.

She's sitting on the edge of the sagging bed; she flops back. Her blond hair fans out around her on the nappy turquoise bedspread. She pulls her shirt up.

Your fellow mystic has small round breasts and a tan belly dusted with fine hair. You've run your hands over this body countless times in the last few weeks, used her hipbones as handles, her spine as a chin rest, but you've never thought of her belly button as a vessel for imbibing sacramental beverages.

The novelty is thrilling.

When you kneel between her legs with the bottle, she clenches you with her thighs and laughs, "This is going to tickle."

"No, this is going to feel cold, then hot. Don't move."

How much tequila will a woman's navel hold?

If she stays very still and you pour very slowly, just enough to stop time.

Misty will stay very still, breathing shallowly through her open mouth. When the first drop touches her skin, her nipples harden, but she doesn't shiver. A second later you've made an oasis in the hollow of her belly. A private pool of tequila that ripples when she breathes, runs in a golden trickle down her side.

You want to make a joke of it, to lap it up like a dog, but her hands are in your hair pulling your head down. You run your tongue across her salt-sweet skin and then suck the liquor up in one breath. Perfumed with her sweat and just a hint of sun tan lotion, it's the best thing you've ever tasted.

This is when time stops, in the moment that you lean back, savoring the taste and the slow heat of tequila building in your chest. Misty's green eyes are open. She is serene, as beatific as Mary in her niche in the bus station. You are kneeling between her warm thighs. The bottle is only three shots down, and the smell of enchiladas from the stall across the street is appetizing for the first time in weeks.

The single shot of tequila can hold you suspended in this perfect, promising moment.

Stop now, because the second will make you dizzy.

Three only seems like a magic number.

Four and you wake up on the cold tile with broken glass embedded in your cheek and a lime wedge in your ear.

Misty will be gone, so will two hundred pesos from your backpack and your copy of Distant Planet's Guide to Mexico. She will leave you one of the shot glasses and a line of small deliberate bite marks on your stomach that make you wish you'd stopped after that single shot so you could remember the feel of her hair trailing across your belly as she prepared you for sacrifice.

Copyright 2006 by Mary Estrada


Mary EstradaMary writes:
When I was feral, I prowled southern Mexico, lived out of a backpack, devoured street food, slept wherever I fell. Weeks of dysentery led to dizzy mysticism. Every experience was sublime. Every conversation with a crone in the market full of mystery and portent. One day I lit a candle in the dark cathedral of the Virgen de la Soledad, and then wobbled into a little cafť to rest. Eating seemed irrelevant. Everything flowed through me like molten metal. With the dramatic fervor of the young and healthy, I believed I was dying. The waiter presented a saucer. Centered on it was a shot of clear mescal. Iíd been hoping for fruit or rice, but I downed the liquor. Time stopped. In that interval, heated blood flowed from my chest to my belly and groin. The sun pin-wheeled across the sky and tumbled into the treetops in the plaza. I discovered myself alive, aware of all my hungers and eager to satisfy them. The shot was the distillation of my perfect Mexico. Still is. I donít write autobiographically, but there is something true in every story. In this one, itís that single shot (and Mistyís green eyes, which are mine).

Mary Estrada lives and writes in a town where bougainvilleas bloom in December. Her short stories "Pastorela" and "La Sirena" appeared in the premiere issue of Cezanne's Carrot and were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Mary can be reached via email at

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