..First Glyph

March 20
6:45 a.m.

Still she is here behind this Ciudad Juárez counter. Still la güera moves behind this counter, dignified, prompt, hair bleached yellow. Three months now since I last mooned here in La Fonda Vieja, three months since my beginning. I ordered a café con leche from la güera--just as I did three months ago--and huevos a la Mexicana, and pan dulce. La güera nodded. I'm just another face.

I turn my stool now toward the storefront of glass. Beyond it morning light falls coldly over the buildings opposite. Peluqería, says a sign--line drawings of hairstyles beneath. Comida China, says a sign--a narrow doorway, a walk-up window beneath. Cold, the light falls. As cold almost as three months ago. Abandoned, it all is. Barely 7 a.m. Soon enough it will warm, the shops will hum.

The bus trip from Tucson was sleepless. I have not bathed since Tijuana. I just shaved in the El Paso bus station. A vagrant joined me shaving, cadging a palmful of my lotion. I will depart El Paso this afternoon at 5 p.m. Twenty hours then to Wichita. I saw my French actress last night in Tucson. Vagabond, the French film was titled. Beautiful.

Opposite me at this circular counter a man reads La Frontera. Next to me at this circular counter a man reads La Frontera. Far from me at this circular counter a man reads Diario Juárez. Each of them pores over his print. None notes the glass entry swinging wide, nor the shawled old woman crossing it with that draft of chill on her heels. None notes the television hanging from the ceiling, nor the bright colors of its morning weather report. None notes me here sitting, fatigued in my fitful night. But I do. I note all of this. And the busses and the cars that do not yet howl in the street, I note.

The end. I saw it first in Los Mochis. There, scribbling notes about As You Like It on that bedspread in that overpriced hotel room, I found myself suddenly at the edge of the abyss. I looked down over the abyss. Simple, this end is, but paradoxical. I saw it there.

He has a once-broken nose and chews at a bigote. His old knuckles, gnarled, grip La Frontera. Another wears wire- framed spectacles over severe pock marks. The spectacles peer abstractedly through the window glass, the pock marks inward. Her long mane falls black, to her waist, a golden hoop in this lobe, purple cinching her hair. I see these and I understand what I've missed here. But I've caught what I can. Life is better than art. Always. And their fingers do not drum the counter. And the day has only begun.

La güera just took the spoon from my saucer. The spoon resisted, clinging still wet to the napkin. She tugged, "Ándale, ándale," chastening the spoon; and the spoon surrendered. The orts of my breakfast she also removed. Of chiles the orts were. The chiles too spicy for me.

Today I will revisit the El Paso cafe of those long ago telephone calls to Sandra. Today I will revisit the El Paso cafe of that sudden comprehension that we were finished. I cannot visit El Paso without haunting that cafe, without placing myself at that small cafe table and looking again at that pay telephone. That's where this all began. Those years ago. There.

"Señora," I call to la güera. You address waitresses here as "señorita" but I have never been able to address any aging woman as "señorita" waitress or not. "Señora," I call to la güera. Finally she turns, in passing. "Otra café con leche, por favor." Her nod, dignified.

I will nap in Magdalena park this afternoon; or maybe in the university library, or in a student union lounge. My second café con leche now, and la güera moves on. She leans before a man two stools down from me, her weight on one leg. The man sports a Brazilian soccer cap. La güera scratches out his check. Then she rinses out a plastic glass. Then she reaches for a pair of aluminum tongs. A very old woman just claimed the stool next to mine. She is very shrunken. She stoops under a black and white shawl. Her shaking hand spoons sugar into her smoking café con leche.

In Los Mochis I looked down over the abyss. I held onto the bedstead in my hotel room as I looked down over the abyss. Instinct, that was, to hold onto that bedstead, self- preservation. In the abyss I saw myself at this Ciudad Juárez counter scribbling these words. I was wearied there in that vision by the paradox of this moment. For this end is not an end at all, but a beginning. There is no end, really. No beginning. It is all just one great circle. All just continuation. Continuation. Sitting here I have merely arrived where I began but did not begin, and so where I finish but do not end.

My café con leche.

I will tip la güera and pay my check.

Then I continue on.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers