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Excerpt from 'The Lacuna'

  • October 24, 2009 - 5:50 PM
Isla Pixol, Mexico, 1929 -- In the beginning were the howlers. They always commenced their bellowing in the first hour of dawn, just as the hem of the sky began to whiten. It would start with just one: his forced, rhythmic groaning,wlike a saw blade. That aroused others near him, nudging them to bawl along with his monstrous tune. Soon the maroon-throated howls would echo back from other trees, farther down the beach, until the whole jungle filled with roaring trees.
 
As it was in the beginning, so it is every morning of the world. The boy and his mother believed it was saucer-eyed devils screaming in those trees, fighting over the territorial right to consume human flesh. The first year after moving to Mexico to stay at Enrique's house, they woke up terrified at every day's dawn to the howling. Sometimes she ran down the tiled hallway to her son's bedroom, appearing in the doorway with her hair loose, her feet like iced fish in the bed, pulling the crocheted bedspread tight as a web around the two of them, listening. It should have been like a storybook here.
 
That is what she'd promised him, back in the cold little bedroom in Virginia North America: if they ran away to Mexico with Enrique she could be the bride of a wealthy man and her son would be the young squire, in a hacienda surrounded by pineapple fields. The island would be encircled with a shiny band of sea like a wedding ring, and somewhere on the mainland was its gem, the oil fields where Enrique made his fortune. But the storybook was The Prisoner of Zenda. He was not a young squire, and his mother after many months was still no bride. Enrique was their captor, surveying their terror with a cool eye while eating his breakfast. "That howling is the aullaros," he would say, as he pulled the white napkin out of its silver ring into his silver-ringed fingers, placing it on his lap and slicing into his breakfast with a fork and knife.
 
"They howl at one another to settle out their territories, before they begin a day of hunting for food." Their food might be us, mother and son agreed, when they huddled together inside the spiderweb of bedspread, listening to a rising tide of toothsome roars. You had better write all this in your notebook, she said, the story of what happened to us in Mexico. So when nothing is left of us but bones, someone will know where we went. She said to start this way: In the beginning were the aullaros, crying for our blood.

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