My first Night in Quichemala.
Outside our hotel room, the ceiba tree gleamed, relentlessly shouldering the sky. Water hyacinths floated in the pool, sanguine as corpuscles. Euphrosne was cocooned on the bed applying a metaphysical pedicure. She was painting her toenails with the symbols that had appeared in her dream. At dinner, she’d shown her sketches to Elegante, hoping for an interpretation, but all she got was another helping of mosquito-egg caviar.
On other occasions, Euphrosne Flambé applied symbols from the Kabbalah or the signs of the Zodiac to her nails with a tiny marker. For personal reasons she wouldn’t explain, she usually left out Capricorn and Cancer. She had frequently offered to embellish my toes with snake faces the way I had when I was a kid. Doing so, she claimed, would help me step livelier through life, yet know when it was necessary to slink. Snake toes didn’t seem appropriate for a woman dressed for success.
She was concentrating as if in a séance. What wickedness might she now be anticipating? From my point of view, Hotel Paraíso was a safe harbor, a secure parenthesis in the midst of a peril-packed paragraph. If I was a prisoner, so be it. It looked a lot grimmer outside these high walls.
“Like Time,” I said, “parentheses are thought bubbles.”
My words surprised me, but apparently not Euphrosne. She said nothing, did not even look up. I glanced out the window. The moon was fraught and the twin sentries, whom Don Elegante informed us were named Newborn Thunderbolt and Raw Thunderbolt, were erect as broomsticks on their branches. There wasn’t another living soul in sight.
Sopadilla, aguacate and copal trees shivered. The wind was rising, intensifying the local smells and the sharp waft of that plutonium odor, so like the one surrounding Denver. I was up to triple puffs with no air to spare. The breeze caused the Light to caper and cavort in the garden, like fairies, once upon a Time.
“Like once upon a Time,” I mused aloud, “parentheses are air holes in Time. They are in Time, not on Time, surfers skimming waves that never reach the shore. Once upon a Time is everywhen and anywhen, which is exactly where we are now, Princess.”
She ignored me. Outside, the wind tossed shadows that resembled leaping jaguars metamorphosing into the shapes of men.
“I am a nationless child,” I continued. “This is my home, and it must be real or I wouldn’t be a prisoner.”
“Mmmmm-hmmmm,” Euphrosne answered.
“And yet, I’m a stranger in Paraíso, buffeted by Time. Time, for nationless children and immigrants, is like these shadows: turbulent, topsy-turvy, transformative, multitiered. We left the U.S. in Time for 2012, a two-Decade journey. Are we also inside other eras, other calendars, other Times?”
Euphrosne did not look up, but concentrated on painting a spiral on her palm.
“Don Elegante described Linear Time as a threat that will destroy us. One straight shot, determined to engage with the future. I see now that my vague careerism, mismatched with my absolute lack of ambition proves my genetic Quichemalan memory of and affinity for circular Time. Mamá says it was the ‘peenk theeng,’ but I say it’s my natural relationship to Time.”
Right there, you’d think Euphrosne would have scoffed, but she did not. So I went on:
“Despite my ambitions, I probably knew all along that there could be no future. Why do we strive so hard for it, when we’re always in the present? When and if the future were realized, the world would end. Even as we say the word NOW, as we’re voicing the O, the N is in the past and the W is being born. When the W has been sounded, the word is post-mortem. That was Don Elegante’s point, wasn’t it?”
Euphrosne tossed me another unsatisfying “mmmmm-hmmmm.”
“The future is Time’s grand finale,” I said. “All events are more outstanding in memory than in actuality. So in that case, the present is also illusion and therefore, we’re always in the past, right?”
“And Quichemalan Time takes place in concentric circles,” I continued, “like the message left in the dust of Tío Ramón’s storm cellar. Were those circles some kind of countdown? A warning? In Quichemala, Don Elegante told us, Time is not blocked off in month-by-month squares. Rather, Time is a coiled snake, biting its tail. Quichemalan Time is reborn each dawn. When the Daybringer rises, the snake is awakened.
“Scientists,” I said, but rather than rant, Euphrosne merely winced. “Scientists claim the beginning of Time can be found in a quasar fourteen billion Light Years away.”
She flinched, but did not inject her customary invectives. She only repeated, “mmmmm-hmmmm,” so I went on, excited by my thoughts.
“That quasar is a pink island, where the smells are water hyacinths, mango and aguardiente. The quasar’s center is a great vulvic volcano, vomiting spectacular sparks that surround each Earth inhabitant from the teeniest, pacifist amoeba to the biggest, most bombastic mammal. The sparks are Days and our Days are numbered. Sometimes your sparks collide with mine and then, my oh my, Princess, what tintinnabulating Times we have together.”
I stood, my voice lifting, my arms waving. “Who are the border guards at Time’s frontiers? Who are the customs officials? Do they carry alarm clocks in their holsters? Do they search our bygone baggage for the contraband we try to smuggle into the O of NOW?
“WHAT are we smuggling, Euphrosne? Don’t answer that! It’s easy. Everything. Any worn-out notion we can get away with, any flatulent belief we can sneak through the watchtower. We cling to our first faces, our primal hearts, our names, our wrong work. The past and future exist because we can’t let go! The present does not exist, because we refuse to live in the Moment. Do you realize what that means, Euph? Just like in your dream: the Serpent of Time is untwisting. It means…it means…it means: Princess, the world is mired in untimely deep shit.”
I gabbled on, motivated by moon and mango or by the quicksilver of Time itself. “Anglo menology takes centuries to complete. Too long for one person to experience what Time has to offer. Quichemalan Time reaches the snake’s head, trudges up its sloping brow, slides down the critter’s snout and proceeds around its scaly sphere to fulfill another Fifty-Two-Year lifetime, another Century, another convergence, another end-of-Days. Think about it, Princess. You can have it all in Fifty-Two. The full complement of Leap Years, Blue Moons and Total Eclipses of the Sun. That, I’m sure, is what was written in Tío Ramón’s Seeing Instruments, and now, N-O-W, I wish I’d paid attention.”
The wind brought rain. “Bowling for Time,” I thought, “Rip van Winkle lost twenty annum.” The torrent outside our room, however, was not one of those celestial ninepin dramas, but a galaxy of fizzing, joggled soda pop tops. The plutonium death-fetor shot through the storm, straight as a poison dart, flat as a desk calendar. The Thunderbolt Twins, Newborn and Raw, were still glued to the ceiba’s massive trunk, hair whipping in the oncoming gale, their Resplendent Quetzal companions still perched on their shoulders. They were quiet as monks. Soundless as Time. Time skating on. Time measuring movement, while things ground to a halt in Quichemala and simultaneously rushed forward, leaping over Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, Years, Decades and Centuries.
Time is a runic rhyme. A pockmarked gypsy. The breath of universal lungs. The cogitation of universal mind. The suspension of belief. The blood under our fingernails. Dead crows. Deadlines. Datelines. Deedlines.
There’s quittin’ Time; retiring Time; got the Time? Any Time; Time and again; Father Time; be on Time; siesta Time; nick of Time; Time heals all wounds; almost Time? Past Time; dinner Time; not much Time; Time to live and Time to die; Time to et cetera, to so forth and so on.
The “No Joke” section of the Denver News tells us that it takes eleven and a half Days for one million Seconds to pass. One billion Seconds take thirty-two Years. One trillion Seconds add up to a whopping thirty-two thousand Years.
Not counting fractions, that’s one hundred and fifty Quichemaleño Fifty-Two-Year eras and every Second counts. Each Hour is a god. Each god has an appellation and sixty unchristened children.
Here and now, on this pink island, a maleficent airstream, hell’s halitosis, was squeezing Time’s jugular, choking Time to death. My Rolex said it was Time for dawn, but the morning star was late. I scanned the sky for signs, but the Daybringer was dangerously dragging below the horizon.
There were two Weeks until the end. Two Weeks until the beginning. Two Weeks to 2012.