Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The sun hadn’t been up for an hour. It resembled a hot yellow bonnet, not a disc, and if you caught the Volcan la Malinche just right, it actually looked like a hungry Ms. Pac-Man chasing Akabei, the blue monster in the video game. You could find that game in every bar in the US and in Mexico.
Ms. Pac-Man’s arms stretched through maple louvers on the Garcia household. The family’s hacienda, or most of it, had been built in 1848, not long after Puebla fell to the Yanquis during the Spanish American War. Much of the northeastern face had fallen in the 1973 earthquake, as the southwest corner of the house sat on bedrock, but the soil on the northeast stayed soft for twenty feet below the surface. Dr. Enrique Garcia was newly married to Fulgencia Zamora, who was carrying their first child. Full of youth, professional admiration, and love, Enrique and Fulgencia not only rebuilt the sunrise corner of their mansion, but they added three-story turned Ionic pillars to the entrance.
Now the early morning rays narrated a different story. The writing desk where the Venetian blinds landed, usually pristine and shining with its unctuous leather inlay, now held a small clutter of looseleaf paper. All the pages bore the crisp sheen of refugees from a newly opened packet, not the tatter and smudges of homework, budgets, lists, and letters that yield evidence of being the usual state-of-affairs. A few were written on in pencil, in a tightly stitched hand that Fulgencia in 1973 would not have recognized. The books remained neatly pressed together by end caps, but space appeared that had not seen dust at least since the last time the leather had been oiled. The culprit? A missing Bible – in Latin and Spanish.
On the other side of the northeast windows, the dresser was clean. Too clean. What was a woman’s dresser doing with a jewelry case and two carousels of make-up, now empty? And the drawers; always closed shut, the drawer with the underwear was held open by the edge of a dowdy matron’s undie. All the thongs had fought their way past. All that were left in the shoe tree were the sensible shoes, the office shoes, the gardening boots. The knee-high lace-up boot that was all lace and no boot? Gone. The set of 4-inch and higher heels in as many colors as Joseph’s coat? Gone. The smart platform leather boots that she hadn’t worn since Ernesto had last unzipped them with his teeth were gone, too.
In the clothes cabinet, the evening and ballroom clothing had left their more humble, quotidian sisters behind. Jeans, tattood in brocades of feather and fur, si, neatly pressed nylon slacks, no. Backless fantasy dress, si. The prim blouses that Fulgencia used to wear to greet company, especially Ernesto’s professional associates? No, dust undisturbed. Careful inspection indicated that the alarm clock was missing.
“Mami! Mami,” burst in eight year old Anna. Fulgencia had padded into Anna’s room much earlier, maybe at 3 or 4 that morning, saying, “No te preocupes. Necesito a irme. Voy a volver a los 8.” Anna was half awake, as usual, but she heard no footsteps, which was strange. Her mom was always so precise with the language, but this time, she said that she would return at eight – not at eight in the morning, which would be the customary level of exactness in Mexico to suggest she was running an errand. She could not be shopping, even the panaderias were not open until 5. Maybe she took a walk – she had been so sad lately. Maybe she had a lover? Flora, Anna’s best friend from school, said her mom would leave in the middle of the night, but she always got back in time to make breakfast.
Plus, Flora’s mom had gotten more cocky, almost arrogant, since beginning her early morning trips. Anna’s mom was letting the remaining servants run everything as they liked, left her garden untended, and lately even skipped her –
Grooming! That’s right. Mom never showers anymore in the morning. Not even on weekends, when she sleeps in. But the floor was wet today…
“Anna!” Dr. Ernesto Zamora, self-confident, calm, alpha male in every sense of the word, called to his eight year old daughter with a sense of panic just under the surface of his tone. Anna told her father everything she could think of. “You give Zunibel her breakfast, and I’ll call the police.”
To the police in Tehuatecan, this was a missing person case. To Ernesto, this was an all-too-predictable tragedy. To Anna, the elephants had just broken through the spider’s web.