The Tacopatli Passion Play

American novelist and short-story writer, MARTHA GELLHORN made her early reputation as a war correspondent. Last summer she and her husband, T. S. Matthews, spent considerable time in Mexico, and they will return to the United States early in 1959 to gather source material for a book about America. Her new novel dealing with the face of war is soon to be published.

It was Holy Week.

Mrs. Calthorp, snipping withered buds from her hollyhocks, said, “Someone must complain about that Archbishop. Being a Protestant, I am not in a position to, but I should think that you, Zaza . . .”

“Yes, yes,” Countess Volenska said. She shifted her weight in one of Mrs. Calthorp’s rustic chairs.

“Hummingbird,” said Mrs. Calthorp.

“How pretty,” Countess Volenska said. Bynarrowing her eyes, which were anyhow very small, she saw a blur of emerald green and purple, moving so fast that it became light itself.

“I went to the Cathedral this morning for the Foot Washing,” Mrs. Calthorp said, “and it is a scandal. In Taxco they pick up charming old men in the street, to be the Apostles, and dress them in lovely colored robes, long cotton things, and put crowns of leaves on their heads, and the priest really washes their feet, nicely, and it does give you the proper feeling. But this Archbishop, Zaza, I can’t tell you, I was enraged. In the first place they choose twelve theological students or whatever Catholics call them, in eyeglasses and black soutanes, and they all look absolutelyterrorized, and one feels sure they have been soaking their feet in disinfectant for weeks. Then that repellent Archbishop waddles over in all his lace and doesn’t kneel but simply stoops, and they have to take off their own shoes and socks, and they stick out one foot as if they were going to get a pedicure, I never saw such a performance. The Archbishop pours water from a silver teapot, which is too absurd, into a white enamel bowl, they certainly could find something less hideous and unsuitable. Then a rather cringing priest produces a cake of Palmolive and the Archbishop, with the tips of his fingers and his nose positively wrinkled in disgust, makes little dabs at their feet. When he has finished, he waddles back to his throne and a swarm of acolytes hover around and they bring him a huge silver ewer and a huge silver bowl, and you can see the water for him steaming, and my dear, he sets to work to wash his own hands as though he’d caught something infectious. No wonder religion means nothing to the Indians.”

“Yes, yes,” Countess Volenska said.

Mrs. Calthorp took off her gardening gloves and surveyed her work with satisfaction. No flower native to Mexico grew here; it was a triumph to have re-created New England in this uncivilized place. There was nothing left in the iced pitcher on the rustic table. If she were not so fond of Zaza and so sorry for her, she would be forced to speak to Zaza about this; clearly Zaza was damaging her health.

“I shall have to call Luz,” Mrs. Calthorp said.

“By all means,” Countess Volenska said.

Mrs. Calthorp walked up the cobbled path which led to the house and shouted, “Luz! Luz!” Then she held out the empty pitcher; after twelve years in San Ignacio del Tule, Mrs. Calthorp was unable most days to remember the Spanish words for anything.

“Mrs. Birch told me,” Mrs. Calthorp said, settling herself to wait for the drink, “that she literally heard Geoffrey Markham chewing the wafer at Communion, and gulping the wine, you know, making sounds when he swallowed. As if Communion were breakfast; she spoke to our vicar about it. She says it’s blasphemous but I feel Geoffrey has fallen so low that he doesn’t notice what he’s doing. I can’t get over him. I mean to say, I knew his grandmother in Boston, and he smells, it’s a very unpleasant thing to mention, but he docs; I cannot have him here for meals any more. He doesn’t wash, that’s all, he’s lost his standards, it is extraordinary the way people let themselves go.”

“Are you going to the Passion Play at Tacopatli?” Countess Volenska asked.

Vexed by Zaza’s well-known habit of not thinking, Mrs. Calthorp said, “Certainly not. All those drunken Indians.”

It was one of Mrs. Calthorp’s cross snobbish days, but it hardly mattered what was said to Zaza since she so seldom understood conversation, possibly a language barrier. The other residents would have disapproved Mrs. Calthorp’s attitude to the Tacopatli Passion Play. The white residents of Tule always took a great interest in Indian fiestas, providing they were not too hard to get to, or too uncomfortable.

“Lucius asked me to go in his car.” Countess Volenska had no car and enjoyed outings.

“Lucius is too funny about those new Englebachs. Dear Lucius, he cannot help being fascinated by rich people.”

“Yes, yes. The Englebachs are coming too.”

“Ah Luz, gracias. Another drink, Zaza?” Mrs. Calthorp said.

“With pleasure, dear.”

“Zaza, you will remember to complain about that Archbishop? I am sure the Mayor or someone would listen to you.”

Listen to what, Countess Volenska wondered. Oh the lovely little bird, the sweet lovely little bird, drinking from the flowers. So beautiful, so gentle, and the sun coming through the ciruela tree and the borders of pale flowers. It reminded her of Poland. There must surely have been hummingbirds in Poland.

THE church at Tacopatli was ancient and innocent; it might have been built by children. A small door flanked by pillars, like twisted candy sticks, and ornamented by odd Crouched tentative animals, broke the façade. There was no other decoration. Three arches, placed for no reason off to the right on the roof, protected the bells. The church was honey-colored plaster, and flowering weeds and floating vines grew from every crack in the walls. The churchyard was large, walled, and filled with Indians. Out of respect, the vendors of ice cream and chemical soft drinks and delicious varying intestines and fried pigskin and stuffed tortillas set up their wooden tables on the dirt road before the gate. As it was very hot, a crowd of Indians—eating, playing with their children, dreaming, sleeping — gathered in the shade of the great laurel tree, which was perfectly round, enormously high, and so thick it looked black. Above the wall which blocked off the graveyard, a jacaranda tree moved softly in the sun, waving hyacinth-blue flowers against the pale bright sky.

Mrs. Ashford and Abe Harris and Sarah Kent and her small son John sat on the low wall beneath this tree, swinging their feet. These three, with John as an occasional fourth, were inseparable, to the constant bafflement of the white residents of San Ignacio del Tule. Mrs. Ashford had managed to live in Tule for twenty years without giving a party. She looked after an invalid husband, in a calm beautiful house behind high walls. The residents blamed her husband for her cloistered life and often said, “poor thing, how lonely for her,” since none of them understood Mrs. Ashford. Sarah Kent, when she arrived three years ago, made polite elaborate excuses for accepting no invitations, and finally no one asked her. Perhaps, the residents thought, she had so little money that she could not return hospitality, although such neat reckonings were absurd in Tule. Later, the residents decided that Sarah was obsessed by motherhood and thus tied to her home. The newcomer, Abe Harris, who had been in Tule for nine or ten months, was more easily tolerated as unsociable if not surly, because he was a painter. Painters were known to be queer. The Tule residents talked and talked and could find no way to explain the peaceful permanent bond between a formal white-haired lady in her late sixties, a medium-young war widow from Vermont, and a younger lame Jewish painter from God knows where.

Lucius Negley, the oldest resident of Tule, a founding father and the accredited local oracle, said — in his amiable moods — that Mrs. Ashford and Sarah Kent and Abe Harris were attracted to each other because they were all handsome and did not play cards. When feeling spiteful, he said no doubt they read Browning aloud and so would naturally form an exclusive club.

Mrs. Ashford, who had fragile white skin, carried a parasol; she spent much of her time reading about England, where gray skies and rain were guaranteed. The others wore wide-brimmed straw hats from the market; it was the sunstroke season, now at the end of the dry months. They waited, as patient as Indians, only rousing themselves to answer, in turn, John’s endless questions. They had arrived at the Tacopatli churchyard two hours late, on purpose, but a placid confusion still prevailed. Tacopatli seemed taken by surprise, as if the inhabitants could hardly believe it was already Good Friday.

The two thieves, looking remarkably small and guilty, were in place in their pen, a square enclosure built of wood slats and partially roofed with leaves. They wore white underpants, sparse week-old beards, and were guarded by an inexplicable personage dressed as a witch with a tall pointed hat and a yellow wig. If anyone came near the thieves, the witch made snarling noises from behind his mask, and waved his arms. Few Indians dared go close to the pen, but sidled past, glancing the way Indians can, without seeming to turn their heads or eyes. There was a general feeling that the thieves were in bad trouble, and were ashamed, and everyone joined in this shame for them.

At one end of the churchyard was a raised canopied platform, quite grand, with a table covered by a white cloth, bearing a bunch of flowers in a glass and a water carafe. Two kitchen chairs stood behind the table. A small hand-printed card, tacked to the side of the platform, said: Pilate. At the opposite end of the yard, a similar platform, but smaller and without flowers or water on the table, was marked: Caiaphas. A third platform in the middle of the churchyard remained mysterious: although Mrs. Ashford and Sarah had often inquired of Indians what went on there and who the actors represented, no sensible answer was given. It seemed to be an incident in the life of Jesus which had been invented at Tacopatli. Various figures, masked and strangely costumed, mingled with the crowd. Sarah and Mrs. Ashford recognized them with delight. John was a nuisance; every time Sarah explained which were Roman soldiers and which were Jews, he said, “Why?”

The Roman soldiers wore a sort of old-fashioned white combing jacket, loose sleeved, floating and feminine, and masks of terrific good humor, very large, very pink and white, with Norse horned headdresses or silver pot helmets; their painted canvas mustaches and beards and their long straight rope locks were blond. The Jews wore the same costume, but carried no spears, and their masks were dark brown (on other occasions these masks served for the Moors) and looked both earnest and sinister, and their wigs were black. There was also a band of gnomes, of unknown historical origin, boys dressed in many-colored rags and robes, and with masks showing a twisted mouth, a bulging eye, a leer, enormous menacing teeth. At the present moment they were busy scaring children. They ran and sported throughout the Passion Play, another Tacopatli addition to the story of the Crucifixion. The main actors, the Herald, the Procurator, Caiaphas, the mysterious people from the center platform, Pilate, and his wife had not yet appeared.

“There’s Zaza,” Mrs. Ashford said. “I’d go and speak to her but I don’t think I could get back up here again. How nice that she’s out in the morning.”

Sarah waved.

From near the gate a large shapeless black figure waved back. Nancy Englebach, after some time given to private speculation, had asked whether Countess Volenska was in mourning for Poland or for someone. But no one knew; also no one knew for sure whether it was always the same voluminous black dress. The black had turned a little green from much exposure to the sun. Countess Volenska, prepared for the occasion, wore a hard-brimmed man’s straw hat which was banded with hanging strips of red flannel. People always helped Zaza around: this tendency to show her where to step and to offer her an arm to lean on was instinctive. She was not very old, perhaps sixty, and although extremely fat, she was strong and agile. She could also see perfectly well, despite everyone’s feeling that she was about to trip on something. She was of course vague, it might have been that. Nancy Englebach, although she thought Zaza disappointing and unlikely as a Countess, found herself compelled to treat Zaza the way everyone else did, with courteous care. Zaza was really nothing but an untidy old woman who certainly drank too much, never said anything amusing, and was poor without discretion or concealment. She might have been important in Poland, but no one could say, since Zaza did not mention her past.

“I think you’ll be best over there in the shade, Zaza,” Lucius Negley said.

“So? Good.” Countess Volenska began to make her own way through the crowd until Lucius sprang to open a path. The Englebachs followed. Nancy liked local color more than Harry did, but he was willing to try anything the residents went in for, once. The culture clique of the Tule residents was out in force, Harry Englebach noticed, seeing Mrs. Ashford and Sarah Kent and Abe Harris on top of the wall across the churchyard. All the residents ever said about that cool, prim old lady, Mrs. Ashford, was “such a nice woman.” They wouldn’t even suggest that Sarah Kent was having an affair with the young Jewish painter, Abe Something-or-other. They said there was a sympathy between the two because Abe had lost his leg or his foot in the war, and Sarah had lost her husband in it. These locals understood nothing; it was just those serene, smooth-haired women, like Sarah Kent, who really went for a man, once they got started. Tule is full of boobies, Harry thought, led by that old booby-in-chief, Lucius Negley. He was already bored with this fiesta. If he’d had enough brains to stay in Tule, instead of trailing after Nancy as usual, he could be drinking a long cold rum Collins by the pool, this minute. Why did Nancy want to come to Mexico anyhow; they had a pool in California.

“It’s begun,” Abe Harris said.

A horse of startling emaciation and antiquity stumbled in through another small gate; it bore a splendid figure dressed in a somewhat Elizabethan costume of red satin topped by a plumed hat. Notes, resembling nothing previously heard, now blared and squeaked from a trumpet; the horse drooped its head and stopped. The Herald, blowing his trumpet, spurred his horse, and the gnome figures, the Roman soldiers, and the Jews fell into a huddled procession behind. This group circled the churchyard once, and halted; a consultation started. The audience ate a little more, murmured together, babies cried and had their pants changed, voices could be heard from the road strongly urging ice cream, tortillas. The Passion Play was hung up.

“Don’t let’s get down until Caiaphas,” Sarah said. “I’ve never been able to understand a word of the Procurator’s.”

“It’s very good and legal,"’ Mrs. Ashford said. “They copied it from the police court. If only he didn’t read it so fast. Do you think Zaza could see better up here?”

“Don’t let’s spoil it with the Englebachs,” Abe said. “If things keep up like this, Tule will be ruined by California and Texas.”

Mrs. Ashford and Sarah laughed; Abe had the convert’s protective passion for Tule. Every time he saw another vulgar expensive house being built on the green outskirts of the village, he raged against destruction. Cars, notably the giant American ones, must be forbidden. If people wore clothes which were nasty to look at or immodest, they should be requested to leave town. Nancy and Harry Englebach particularly infuriated him because they had nasal commanding voices, and when they wanted Indians, in the post office, the cafés, the shops, the market, to understand their rudimentary Spanish, they shouted. Abe loved the Indians, who never shouted and ought not to be shouted at. He also did not like the unemployed rich. Mrs. Ashford was the only person he had ever known who had enough money not to think about it, and yet remained an excellent human being.

“Where can Mrs. Calthorp be?" Mrs. Ashford asked. “She’s always very religious during Holy Week. She never misses the Passion Play.”

“I’m afraid Lucius didn’t ask her,” Sarah said. “He drops her whenever there are new people to dazzle. And Mrs. Calthorp does depend on his car; she says he’s the only safe driver in Tule. I believe she thinks everyone else is semi-drunk all the time.”

“Gossip,” Abe said. “You’re losing your grip, Sarah.”

“The Englebachs will leave soon,”Mrs. Ashford said. “And then Lucius will drive Mrs. Calthorp again. It always works out.”

“Mommy, look! Who’s that?”

The Passion Play had imperceptibly resumed. Four men bore the statue of Christ from the church, and were now carrying it in its shafted stand across the ragged grass to a booth, near them, where the Procurator waited, with his speech held in shaking hands, for the first scene of the drama.

“He has such stage fright every year,” Sarah said. “I hope they have the same nice little man to speak for Christ.”

John became quiet, his eyes fixed on the figure of Christ, which was the pride of Tacopatli. Mrs. Ashford and Sarah were accustomed to this statue and Abe, though shocked by it, said nothing. Three little agnostics sitting in a row, Abe thought, and tried not to feel superior because no image, hideous or otherwise, had ever been made of the God he doubted.

Although so near, they heard only the rapid chant of the Procurator’s voice. But already the tight attention of the actors and the audience had accomplished the annual miracle; the pitiful plaster figure of Jesus seemed to be listening. Slightly stooped, dressed in what looked like a purple velvet negligee, with lace ruffles at the sleeves, the black hair ratty now from age, the face painted liverish yellow with an expression of acute ill health, the ugly badly-made hands stretched out in wooden benediction or supplication, the marks of blood on forehead and hands garishly touched up, this image dominated the crowd, and clearly the Procurator was terrified of it. Every year he hurried through his lines, knowing he was doing wrong.

The bells on the roof began to ring wildly.

“What’s that?” Nancy Englebach asked. “What does that mean?”

Lucius Negley shaded his eyes against the sun, and said, “Nothing. Some boys climbed up to the roof and evidently decided to ring the bells.”

“But isn’t there a priest or someone to make them behave?”

“The great good fortune of Tacopatli is poverty, they cannot afford a priest. Thus they are truly devout and also abandoned to art. Their celebration of Christmas Eve is superb.”

“With confetti and firecrackers in the church,” Countess Volenska said dreamily, “and those nice dances of the men before the altar and the little Virgin looking so hopeful and pretty in her wedding dress.”

Mrs. Englebach stared at them as if they were not responsible. The exaggeration that goes on, she thought, you’d imagine this was Oberammergau. Who are they pretending for? She looked at Harry, to share her disdain, but Harry was watching three Indian girls, quiet under their dark-blue rebozos, with still doe-eyed faces. Delicious, he was thinking, soft as water, delicious; American women are all too white and too assertive.

The crowd, with the foreigners tagging along at the edges, had moved to Caiaphas’ platform. Abe steadied his aluminum leg carefully, gave his cane to Sarah to hold for a moment, and lifted John to his shoulder,

Caiaphas was considered to be the finest actor. His enormous mask dwarfed his body; the hair and beard were fire-red, the skin was dead-white, while protuberant eyes stuck out from it like large ominous blue marbles. He spoke from memory, his voice rose and fell with emotion, he made sudden fierce gestures and paced his platform like a tiger, stopping only to hurl questions at Jesus.

“What’s your name?” Caiaphas was shouting. “Answer me! Are you deaf? They say you call yourself the King of the Jews.” Caiaphas roared with hideous mirth behind his sneering blue-eyed mask, and the crowd rustled in anxiety; one could feel them all suffering for the lonely figure who had no friends.

From time to time, the humble voice of the man who stood behind the figure of Jesus and spoke for Him could be heard murmuring gently. “I have done no wrong. I have talked to the people and told them to be kind.”

“You have caused trouble,” Caiaphas shouted back, in fury. “You go around talking. You talk too much. You have made the people excited. Who asked you to come here and talk and cause trouble? We were very well before you came.”

The crowd seemed to pull closer together; there was no help, they could see it, the authorities were against the Son of God. Who could do anything against the authorities?

“This is not my business,” Caiaphas finally said, in disgust, “You will have to see the Señor Presidente. Go and see if he will believe you. A beggar. A nobody. He says he is the King of the Jews!” And with a gesture of contemptuous dismissal, Caiaphas turned from the crowd and the stooping shape before him. The crowd shuffled away; the four bareheaded sweating Indians backed the figure of Christ from Caiaphas’ platform and started to move toward the center of the churchyard, where the special Tacopatli event which nobody understood would now be acted.

John was whimpering, tears dripped on his cheeks.

“Get down, get down,” he said.

“Darling,” said Sarah. “What’s the matter?”

She lifted the child from Abe’s shoulder. “Do you feel sick, baby?” The sun, she thought, oh heaven, I hope not.

“I want to go home,” John said, hiding his face in her skirt.

“Yes John, I’ll take you home right now. Have you got a headache?'’

“Oh dear,” Mrs. Ashford said.

Sarah led John to the car; once inside he crept close to her and sobbed; she held him in her arms, feeling his forehead for fever. She had let him keep his hat on, the Indians would know it was not intended disrespect.

“Why he be so bad to that man?” John cried. “Why that man got blood on him? Why he can’t say something? Why the big man with the bad face talk so loud to him? I don’t want him to talk so loud. I want to go home.”

“My darling, you were frightened?”

“I want to go home,” John wept.

How could I be so stupid, Sarah thought, he’s only four. All the Indians, knowing this tragedy as they knew no other story, waited in the sun with growing fear and pity for the ending. All of them understood it, all were bound together in their helpless sorrow for the figure of the brave good man, unjustly accused, and without friends to speak for Him. Perhaps each year they hoped some help would come to save Him; and one could always feel their grief. Why did she think John would be blind, when no one else was, or careless?

“John, listen,” Sarah said, holding the child quietly against her. “It is an old story, a very old story. It is about a great teacher and the frightened people who wanted to hurt him.”

“What they do to him?” John asked, in a small scared voice.

“He is all right,” Sarah said, firmly avoiding the facts. “He was so good they couldn’t hurt him, not really.”

She thought of the cry for water and the pain, and the uninterrupted course of human cruelty. Must one always lie optimistically to a child?

JOHN was safe, happy and forgetful, playing with his little Indian nurse in the sandbox, so Sarah told him to eat a good lunch, have a nice nap, and she drove back to the Passion Play. She parked her car behind Lucius’ dusty sedan and saw Countess Volenska struggling out of it.

“I’ve been having a tiny rest,” Zaza observed. “One’s legs get so tired. It’s all over except the Crucifixion.”

Several rests, or a very long one, Sarah thought, noticing the faint blur in Zaza’s speech and the increased vagueness of her small blue eyes. Zaza wandered away, peering before her at the dusty road, the worn stone steps by the gate. Sarah brought out the picnic basket and carried it across the churchyard to the shade of the jacaranda tree.

“Is John all right?” Mrs. Ashford asked.

“Yes. It wasn’t the sun. He was frightened.”

“We were quite wrong to bring him.”

“Yes.”

“One forgets how frightening it is.”

Abe seemed subdued and weary. He reached for the basket and lifted it to the wall, but no one had the energy to open it.

At this point there was always a long delay in the drama, and a curious change came over the crowd. Even those who did not follow the actors but preferred to rest on the grass, and see without hearing, had remained quietly attentive. But after Pilate, known in Tacopatli as El Senor Presidente, asked his final question, the audience lost some quality which had kept them in order. Now there was nothing to hope for; now they knew there was only the terrible death to come. Either they hated this scene or it poisoned them; they became loud and restless, it was evident that many men were getting drunk, and there was much of the mindless high laughter which always marked street accidents or the announcement of disastrous news. Sarah wondered why the Indians laughed when they were shocked or afraid; Mrs. Ashford said that after twenty years in Mexico she had given up trying to understand many things. This depression, which seized the Indians so oddly, affected the three Americans like a darkening of the day; they felt physically weighed down, and somehow trapped.

“Couldn’t we go?” Abe asked.

“Yes,” Sarah said immediately.

“What a fine idea,” Mrs. Ashford said. “We can take our lunch to the river. I really cannot bear the Crucifixion.”

“I am not crazy about it myself,” Abe said.

They skirted the crowd, which had broken up into noisy groups, laughing, drinking, arguing. From the other side of the laurel tree came shouted orders and the sound of hammering; the three crucifixes were always a frantic last-minute problem.

They did not speak in the car, but felt a shared relief. I would have had the sense to take John away now, Sarah told herself, I’d have had that much sense at least.

COUNTESS VOLENSKA hung on Lucius’ arm, her legs and her head felt heavy, she wiped her face continually with a wadded handkerchief. The two thieves were in the act of being crucified, which was extremely difficult, owing to the lack of handhold on the poles and the weight of the men. Eight or nine Indians tried to raise each crucifix; the thieves stood on small wooden pegs nailed to the upright and their hands were roped to the crossbars. Everyone near them screamed instructions; the thieves said nothing; their faces were blank with fear. Children howled and were spanked and howled louder. A woman seized a man’s arm to stop him from drinking out of a bottle and he slapped her, backhanded, across the face. “Don’t let it fall, shameless ones!” a voice called in anger. Slowly, with much slipping and cursing, the crucifixes were forced erect in their sockets.

It was easier to raise the center crucifix since the plaster figure of Christ was light. When the crucifix was in place, a sigh or groan rose from the crowd, which suddenly became silent except for that wordless sound. Men and women crossed themselves; women pulled their rebozos over the faces of the babies they were carrying.

Countess Volenska made the sign of the cross while tears slowly coursed down her thick gray cheeks. “It is too sad,” she said, “too sad. We must love one another. It is all we can do. We must love one another.”

“Quite right,” Lucius said absent-mindedly. He was thinking that if he were not rotten with laziness he could write a magnificent book about native theater, including all the Indian dances and with this Passion Play as the brilliant middle section. Also he felt queasy and had trouble breathing; the heat, he told himself, and standing around for hours. He could not look at the two thieves, this barbaric copy of an old violence made him sick.

“There is no love,” Countess Volenska mourned. “Mrs. Calthorp says poor Geoffrey smells in church and the Archbishop eats the wafers. Mrs. Delaunay is afraid of growing old and afraid because no one ever loved her, so she tells lies about everyone. Mrs. Clewer laughs at the Englebachs, it is not good to laugh, we are all the same. The Indians are very nice and kind, it is wrong to say they don’t care for religion.”

Lucius, recalled from willed concentration on a possible book and grudging attention to his nausea, listened with alarm. Zaza was delirious, it seemed, or what: Mrs. Calthorp had once reported that Zaza was sometimes taken by Slavic fits of weeping. Good God, he thought, not now, not here, as if it isn’t bad enough.

“Zaza, we could go now, there really isn’t much to see.”

“We must love one another,” Countess Volenska insisted. “We have let it all happen for nothing. We have done nothing to help or repay. We can only love one another, to apologize to Him.”

“Certainly,” Lucius said rather wildly. “Zaza dear, come along, it’s deathly hot, let’s find the car.”

Nancy Englebach had gone in search of Harry; she did not know what he could do, but he had to do something. She found him talking to the three Indian girls.

“Mucho calor,” he had said experimentally.

Dove laughter rippled from them.

“Donde vine?” he had said, and their eyelashes swept their cheeks, their delicate bare feet stirred the dust, and they coquetted behind their rebozos. How do you get started, he thought in desperation; he could not let them go without some way of finding them again. They were what he wanted; any one of them, all of them; they were the secret unknown grace he was looking for.

Nancy took his arm. “I am going mad!” she said. “I am going absolutely mad! You have to do something, Harry! Make that old fool Lucius take us home. Oh God, why didn’t we bring our own car?”

The three girls melted into the crowd. Harry Englebach stared at his wife with hatred, having heard nothing.

“I’ve got a flea!” Nancy said. “I know I have. I can feel the damned thing creeping around me. I itch all over. I must have picked it up from this horrible crowd. I feel filthy, I can’t stand it. Harry, for God’s sake, get me out of here!”

“Harry!” Lucius called from the gate. Harry Englebach took Nancy’s arm roughly and pulled her toward the road. They were gone now; he would never see three like them again; Nancy, big and white and shouting, imperious with her money, had spoiled this too; he would never be anything, what he wanted always escaped him.

Lucius was unlocking the door of his sedan. He crossed in back to open the other door for Zaza, who stood in a dream, forming silent words with her lips. He saw that the cap of his gasoline tank had been stolen. “Again!” he shouted and kicked the rear tire so hard that he hurt his foot. “Damn them to hell, what do they want with the things!” The third time in a month; he would like to kill someone.

“Zaza, come here, get in,” he called.

Three Indians, with bloodshot eyes and black thatched hair hanging over their foreheads, approached Zaza. They looked apelike and unsteady and seemed to be keeping their balance by swinging their hands below their knees.

“Gringa,” one of them said. “Dame dinero.”

“Zaza!” Lucius called.

“Poor things,” Zaza murmured. She opened her enormous scarred black leather handbag and saw the old letters and bits of pencil and the flashlight and the medicine bottle she always carried and mussed handkerchiefs and an oozing tube of Vaseline. No money: perhaps she had left her money at home, perhaps she had no money just now. She found some copper coins and two crumbled cigarettes; these she gave to the man who had spoken. He looked at them with bleary loathing, spat at her feet, and threw the coins and the cigarettes in the dust. The sharp smell of marijuana floated from a group of boys who were watching the gringos; they laughed shrilly. One of the unsteady men came nearer to Zaza. “Gringa, hija de puta,” he said, looking at her through the one eye he was able to keep open.

“Zaza!” Lucius shouted. He hurried around the car and pushed her before him; the Tacopatli Indians were known to hate foreigners; hadn’t they refused to sell any of their land to white people; a riot might be starting; though God knows how they could get home, with the gasoline bouncing out of the tank; accursed people, savages, fools, murderers.

“Hurry, Nancy,” Harry said, having seen what was going on. “In the car.”

Lucius drove off with uncontrolled jerks, to the sound of mocking laughter; the three drunks in the road made obscene gestures.

“Oh God!” Nancy said and suddenly clawed at her left shoulder blade; she could feel it, moving, there. I will burn my clothes, she thought; if I don’t get a bath right now I’ll start screaming.

“I shall tell them all,” Zaza was saying sleepily to herself, “I will explain. We are here together. We must love one another.”