Rain joins fog and twilight in Monclova, Coahuila, Mexico.

Three cantinas on a sloping block,

Each with the traditional swinging slatted paint peeling middle door,

Open bottom, open top.

I push cantina one’s door,

Enter the black light,

And see a woman pushing her dress-covered breasts up to her neck;

She motions, and I walk to her table,

Glancing at the mini-skirted women

And leaned-over beer men at the bar.

She offers sex, 30 minutes;

A husband, she says, is at work in Monterrey,

She hasn’t seen him in two years,

 

And she lives wih her mother, has a five-year old daughter.

 

A piss yellow beer (scummy white surface) shines in a glass on her table.

 

She wants more beer money.

 

I leave.

 

 

 

I think: work, work in all forms, even the nearby cartels’ kidnappings,

 

Sex trafficking, drugs … work, no more, no less ….

 

 

 

Cantina two.

 

 

 

Another swinging door, and inside, more black, a two-man group,

 

Guitar and accordion, with voices;

 

No one is listening.

 

 

 

The bartender looks at me, old white man that I am,

 

And will be – and and will die as such.

 

I tell him I’ll listen to the music and order a warm agua mineral – to thwart his stare.

 

 

 

A woman in black, busy with her hands on another old man’s rear,

 

Drops them  and comes to nuzzle me.

 

She mumbles, puts a hand on my shoulder.

 

Another 30-minute offer, I think ….

 

 

 

I gulp the agua mineral, put the bottle on the bar and leave.

 

 

 

The musicians’ voices, almost talking instead of singing,

 

Follow me onto the rainy sidewalk.

 

 

 

Cantina three.

 

 

 

The swinging door, and I’m in.

 

Two men from the nearst table turn and look hard at me.

 

I nod, and immediately leave.

 

I don’t look back to see if their tough faces are gone.

 

Three cantinas, dark, foreign …

 

 

 

And I walk back to my hotel,

 

There, bury myself under a sheet and blanket.

 

 

 

I like to think I’m the wandering observer in Andres Neuman’s,

 

Traveler Of the Century, set in Germany in the 1840s.

 

I’m not.

 

I fall asleep,

 

 

 

And when I wake to get my bus in a drizzly dawn

 

The woman from cantina two is sitting on a corner,

 

With gun-aiming Mexican federal police looking down at her drug-wasted form.

 

My bus leaves, and I scan the street.

 

She’s still there;

 

The soldiers are off to another post ….

 

The bus bounces over topes,

 

 

The Sierra Madre Oriental stretch in gray clouds,

 

East and west,

 

While the bus races the valley between ….

 

Behind, two steel mills send smoke high, and higher ….

 

 

 

Author: Gene Novogrodsky

Eugene “Gene” Novogrodsky, a Brownsville resident for nearly three decades, writes North American border slices, from eastern Canada to central Mexico, and in between. He is one of the founders of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center Writers Forum in San Benito. He sometimes participates with the informal Resaca Writers Group in Brownsville. He prefers, however, to read to two or three attentive listeners – when asked!

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