“Chh-Chh” or The Eye in the Ocean.
Now that the bruja and her army of drag queens knew that I'd stolen the stone, I felt a lot less bashful about fondling it in public. As Calluna and I walked from the drag show and out onto La Plaza I began to obsess over its appearance. It looked like a flattened pyramid, an oblong bean, or maybe a broken heart that had been stomped on, cracked opened and charred. It was not only black but very black. As if someone had bottled up all of outer space and shoved it into this tiny rock.
Calluna was walking ahead of me with much more drive and purpose than I could have possibly mustered at that moment. I was using only my peripherals to follow her through the plaza without bumping into anyone. I was completely entranced.
The plaza was a wide-open space. An assortment of Papel Picado hung underneath the arches of the Roman aqueduct. Red, green, and white. From these paper punchout flags, I saw guitars and wine bottles and skulls. Below that, a woman was singing Biddy Biddy Bom Bom in banda style just out of key. It brought back memories of my mother and sister bathing me in the sink. I used to love the way they sang that song as I shook my naked little baby ass along to the beat. It sounded nothing like the way the woman was singing it now. Loud. With plenty of passion, sure, but with none of the cariño that made the song mean so much to me.
A small and whithering crowd clapped along as we snaked our way through it, headed nowhere in particular. The kiosks that sold anything from sarapes to Lucha Libre masks, anklets to baby dresses, rosaries to shot glasses, were all locked up now. Their vendors had long since gone home. The same was true of all the restaurants. Even the one where Calluna and I shared a meal that morning, where we met the little girl with the two-tooth smile.
But towering over all of it was that grand and silver arch. The one that could be seen on the sewer bridge over the river as one first enters the country by foot. I remembered noticing it that morning from the abandoned policía tower that overlooked the city. It jutted out and above the other buildings. Holding dominion over them as they cowered in fear. We were standing under it now. A gigantic screen hung from the arch on a thick web of cables, broadcasting the time (11:30 pm) in bright red letters that shone an angry amber hue over the entire plaza.
11:30, It’s almost the witching hour, I thought to myself.
We passed under the arch, and after that, the city started to change: the buildings were still aged and beautiful, but the streets darkened and shrunk, and since I was paying more attention to that little black and singing stone than anything else, and since Calluna was blindly yet confidently leading the way while looking for a place that we could dance, we soon found ourselves lost in the labyrinthian and ever-narrowing streets crowded by pedestrians, taco carts, and putas.
We passed by many bars filled with men in cowboy hats. We never went in but their large and glassless windows served as three-dimensional screens through which we could look into the puppet show of their lives. They drank beer, they played pool, they watched fútbol games and screamed at the television. It seemed like every one of them was filled with a band (either Mariachi, Banda, or Norteño) hunting for their next tip late into the night.
Between each bar was an open doorway. A tiny brick staircase with a red lightbulb above it led up to the second floor. There, you could find one-night motels (or one hour if that was all you needed). And in-between these windows and these stairways there wasn’t a single piece of real-estate on the walls that you wouldn’t find a leaning puta.
They all wore the same uniform: High heels, fishnets, these tiny little black skirts and tube tops of different colors that were cut low to let the cleavage fly free. Huge false eyelashes and clown eyeshadow. They looked bored. Twirling with their hair, texting on their phones, and some of them blowing bubble gum bubbles. But when they saw me, that boredom suddenly disappeared.
Their eyes lit up with this exacting sense of longing. I knew it was fake but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have a convincing effect. Some of them just winked and smiled, some of them raised an eyebrow and gestured to the stairway, some of them would try to talk to me, “Oye, caballero ¿quires pasar la noche conmigo?” as they leaned in and traced my bicep with their long prosthetic nails.
We all have our private little lies. They are small and slick like the Spanish rapier. No matter how many layers of armor we wear, these thin little lies can find a way to slip through the smallest chink in that armor and go directly for the heart.
My lie is this: That I’m this clutzy, untalented, messy little sinner that is undeserving of any attention or praise. That I’m fooling myself in my dream to become a writer, that I have no talent, and that I’m doomed to end up on the street like the many vagbundos we passed that night: toothless, half-crazy, (or fully crazy), and absolutely lost in this world. Like that toothless man that would hypnotize me in the subway station while I was wandering alone through New York City. But I already told you that we are a long way off from that story and you’ll just have to wait if you really want to hear it.
Anyway, the stone picked up on that lie and sang it back to me in a perfect feedback loop of self-pity. I would tell myself the lie and believe it. The stone would pick it up and send it back to me, making me believe it even more. With that spiral of lies I was telling myself, and the accumulating shots and beers from the night taking a toll on my armour, the rapier got through and broke my heart.
In that altered state of reality, all of the sudden female attention certainly was gratifying. But more than anything it was overwhelming. As we walked down the street they would look up at me and catcall with one eyebrow raised and lips pursed. But they didn’t whistle like we do in the states. They put their tounges to the roof of their mouths and made this “chh-chh” sound. Like sandpaper rubbing together, a hunter calling his dog, or a maraca.
Everywhere we turned there seemed to be more of them and the noise in my head grew and grew until I thought it might burst. My thoughts became a lucid soup of dreams and words strung together by a constant rattle of the catcalling whores:
Oh my God there are so many of them CHH-CHH you are a bad person CHH-CHH is it bad that I’m attracted to them? CHH-CHH Yes of course it is you’re a dirty little sinner CHH-CHH but oh my god it’s so sad that they have to be out here on the street in the wintertime, that sounds awful I can’t believe -CHH-CHH CHH-CHH I guess part of their allure is that they have strength in their numbers CHH-CHH I guess that a man who might not be drawn in by just one might be overwhelmed by the lure of 10,000 whores because there must be at least 10,000 whores here oh my god they’re fucking everywhere how can I be 23 years old and never have seen a prostitute in my life CHH-CHH CHH-CHH CHH-CHH CHH-CHH!
I was drowning in my thoughts, doing my best to stay above water, but it wasn’t until I noticed a girl who couldn’t have been older than thirteen with a full mouth full of braces on the street and an older woman with the wrinkles of hard wisdom on her face jump in front of me and say “Hey! You like baby sex??” that I let the black water of the stone completely overtake me, and I ran away inside of it.
As I said, the stone looked like bottled up infinity. There seemed to be levels to its depth. Like a black ocean, or the liquid charcoal an OD patient has to puke up before getting his stomach pumped. The way that the pacific would look a month later on my final date with Jane Ronnie, right before I jumped into its freezing water one last time. And the more I stared, the more I noticed something seemed to be swimming in that ocean in the stone.
I couldn’t make out much of the details, but there was a slight silver outline to it, glinting from all the flashing lights above us, and I took note of what looked like scales as it swam by. I couldn’t tell how big it was either, was the size correlation one to one? If I were able to crack open the asking stone and hop inside, would I have to shrink my body to its peso size diametre to get to the other side? And would everything in it be the same size as it appeared in my hand? I got the impression that no, that would not be the case. That, more or less, the rock I was holding served as a small little screen to show me a place where things were much bigger than they actually appeared.
There was a shifting of that black and silver body swimming in the stone. It seemed to be rubbing its scales right up against the edge like a shark would at an aquarium. And then it stopped. For a minute there was nothing.
Then it opened its eye.
One big green eye pressed right up against the edge of the stone so that there was hardly any black left on its surface, just one huge gaping orifice of green staring deep inside of me into that chink in my armor where my heart had been stabbed and started to blacken with a self-pitying rot.
The pupil was shaped like a cat’s, and it stared at me the same way. With an impersonal glare of curiosity. It was nothing like a human eye, which can’t help but be filled with emotion and meaning even though it’s just three concentric circles. Nothing like the eyes of the Puta’s that were staring at me as I walked down that street, or the eyes of Calluna when I made her laugh or the eyes of some third fucking example that I guess would be perfect if I could just focus but–
“GIO! WATCH OUT!”
I felt a tug on my throat. Calluna grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled on it hard. That choked me a little but stopped me from walking directly into the street and being hit by a beat-up and rusty Toyota with loudspeakers tied to the top of it and the driver yelling “TAMALES, TAMALES, TAMALES MUY RIIIIIIICO Y BARATAS!!!”
Jesus, did this guy ever sleep?
I looked around and saw where we were. The ambiente had completely changed. The streets were no longer skinny and narrow. We had found ourselves on the edge of a major avenida with strip clubs all the way down. Huge monolith screens with silhouettes of dancing girls on them were everywhere, screens almost as big as the one passing judgment in la plaza under that huge arch.
All this light was a stark contrast from the dark and dusty streets we traversed through to get there. Here, all the sinning seemed to be done out in the open and under a spotlight. Lights of every color blared down on us in a tiny microcosm of Las Vegas, there was even a strip club with a giant windmill on it exactly like the Moulin Rouge.
Across the street from the largest strip club was a donut shop filled to bursting with Mexican police. Some of them had simple uniforms on, but some of them had assault rifles and bulletproof armor. Every one of them had a donut or coffee in his hand, and every one of them had their eyes fixed on that club. Maybe it’s a front for the cartel? I thought. But I would never find out.
When the shock of almost getting hit by a car wore off Calluna said: “Dude, you could have died right then!” Half concerned and half laughing.
“I’m sorry, I guess I just get so fucking distracted all the time. Like with everything. God, I can be so fucking spacey. I really fucking hate that about myself, I’m sorry.”
“Woah, woah, It’s Ok! Let’s just get back to having fun, OK?” And she squeezed my shoulder. I looked up from my stone to see her smiling, but her eyes had changed. My god, her dutch chocolate eyes had turned green! Big green eyes, she had big green eyes! The same shape as that evil eye in the black ocean. The phosphorescent color of the muck at the bottom of a swamp. The color of the little flame floating above my head. The green had taken over not only her pupil but all the whites of her eyes too, and they stared into me as she smiled.
By the innocence in her smile, I could tell she wasn’t aware of the two green parasites that had taken over her face. Those eyes weren't connected to her optic nerves. No, they were collecting data for some other brain, watching me from some other, darker place.
To stop myself from screaming I looked anywhere else but at her, hoping her eyes would have turned back to normal by the time I looked up. That I was just hallucinating. That maybe I’m just one of those people that can’t even have one beer or they start freaking out.
I feigned that I was just catching my breath from the shock of almost having been hit by a car and I bent over and looked into the street, fighting back tears and the intense desire to scream and to hit myself over and over and over again like I used to do when I was a kid. Like Dobby the elf. Bad Dobby. Stupid Dobby.
There was a puddle of water below my face but I didn’t see my reflection inside of it. I saw something else. And I let out a panicked yell and stomped on the puddle in an angry rage until there was almost no water left.
“Umm are you okay?”
I took a deep breath and looked up at her, my feet still feeling wet from stomping on that dirty puddle. The big green eyes were gone and her much smaller, much prettier light brown eyes had returned. “Yeah, I’m all better now. Sorry, the car just scared me and I needed to let that steam out somehow.”
Her brown eyes gave me an intelligent stare, but she didn’t say anything.
“Come on, this strip club looks fun and you need to do some research if you really are going to dance this summer in Vegas, right?” And I grabbed her by the hand and led her across the street, not giving her a moment to overthink what had just happened. As we walked past the smiling and portly club promoter I looked back at that puddle on the street only once before deciding to forget forever what I saw there.
Because when I looked in the puddle, I saw a small shirtless boy with long black hair looking up at me. And next to him: A priest with a huge black hat that cast shadows on everything except his bone-white smile.