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Bodice Ripper

Original Owner: 
Bodice Ripper
Bodice Ripper

Will's story that came with the Bodice Ripper: 

Our honeymoon was a 7 day Caribbean cruise. We stopped in Mexico to visit some ancient ruins.

Mexico, 8:30 on a Wednesday morning. The sweat is dripping down my back like a slathering dog. The woman in front of me looks like it's 1973. Her sunglasses are large purple obelisks that glint the sun into my eyes. The crew-cutted old man is gibbering about his camera. The scars of neglect and diabetes are mangling his knobby legs. The open sores gape from pasty shins. 

Our guide, an Indian/Mexican half-breed named Freddie Villalobos, had the squat stature of a street thug.  His hazel eyes were shoved deep in a round thickset skull and they hovered over a wide gash of a mouth that reminded me of an old Edward G. Robinson gangster movie. He directs us onto a waiting bus.  The darkness and heat creeps away from my skin and eyes.  Eventually I also drift off into a humming Mexican dream of angry horny toads and scorpions, mescaline filled cacti pulsing with psychadelia, and a hellish green devil who tells me when to freak out.

Slowly the scrub brush of eastern Quintana Roo fades away and melds into Central American rain forest.

I awoke with a start and glanced over to see that my brand new wife, GiGi, was asleep.  She’d lain her head on my shoulder and now the dull ache of the weight of her skull was running its course along my arm and down through my fingers.  I was immersed in a cold wet chill from a combination of sweat-saturated shirt and Mexican air conditioning.  The teen sisters in front of me were awake and lively.  The blond was slowly kneading a banana in her mouth, somehow seeming ambiguous her face became a Mexican oil painting.  A child with a round head, pointed small chin, and accented big eyes glancing sheepishly over her shoulder.  Their parents, seated diagonally to their rear, were the perfect picture of aging freedom.   Obvious ex-hipsters sporting tattoos from a time when they were both young and cool.  They had aged into an entirely separate beast.  Sleepy birds with a clutch of teenage daughters on a minivan retreat.  The mother had a tattoo of an ancient flower circling her right ring finger.  It offered me a glimpse into her checkered past.  I imagined her, a woman in the cusp of youth, sitting before a fat biker tattoo artist with her fingers extended.  She took on the feel and look of her daughters.  Broken from my daydream by a pothole, I stared off into the distance, seeing only poverty and jungle.  The roads were narrow and blanketed by a fine mist of sand.  The bus driver, a swarthy and lackadaisical Mexican stereotype, sped around dump trucks and Policia checkpoints.  Young, dark brown soldiers lazily held machine guns to their hip, looking at everything and nothing in particular.

We passed crossroads of houses clustered into dingy villages.  Locals tried to sell pineapples to the moving bus.  Offering up fruit as if sacrificing it to the gods.  The essence of the ancient Mayans was still permeating from the soil.  Old blood flowing through new veins.  They say that the Mayan language is still being spoken, gods are still being worshiped.  I wondered whether they were still sacrificing children in their sacred ceremonies.  Clusters of pulsing musty villagers offering babies instead of pineapples.  Their dinner was tied to a tree in their yard.  It bleated with expectation.

The bus was crowded and quiet except for the sounds of the air conditioning, the engine, and the road. We loped along the dust. Eventually we arrived.

I was stirred from my sleepy haze by the unusual feeling that the bus was finally slowing.  The bus driver was being careful not to pitch us into a ditch during his turn onto a small dirt covered road.  It was impossible for me to tell whether there was asphalt underneath.  First stop the Mexican toilets.  The bathrooms were stuck in a small white concrete building with a tin roof.  Across the dirt were two thatched huts.   In an effort in authenticity, someone had thrown up huts for the tourists to take pictures of.  The guards were really just some locals that the government was paying a few pesos a day to stand around the gate and take naps in the hut.  They were entirely non-threatening and looked as if they were high.

The bathroom was covered in filth.  Even the soap was dirty.  I didn’t wash the sweaty grime from my hands for fear that I’d end up dirtier than before.  I was looking for flies, but found none until I opened a stall door and found that they were all taking an early siesta on the toilet seat.  Mexican toilets are very basic.  “Put only water, piss, and shit in here,” they seem to say, “or else I’ll be barfing all over the floor.”  The Mexicans put their toilet paper in a nearby waste can.  The very thought of stepping closer than I could piss to the toilet was unsettling.  I ended up pissing on half the floor and the seat, but nobody could really tell a difference.  The flies reveled in their golden shower.

Outside the sun was beginning to glare down over rain forest tops.  The lazy government men milled about talking in quick grunts of Mestizo so that I couldn’t understand.  One threw a peso at another and he smiled revealing his crooked yellow teeth.  We were filed off the bus and told to hike the rest of the way.  The ancient ruins were just through the forest along a worn dirt path guarded by a steel pipe gate.  I prepared myself for more sweating by drinking from the water bottle attached to my pack.  My Jose’ Cuervo tequila bandanna was drenched.  The path was cavernous.  Large ants marched a line nearby. They tongued sweet blood from electro-orange centipedes.  Mandibles piercing and cutting flesh and exoskeleton.  A giant spider perched on my back.  Gigi brushed it off casually taking in the mass of ruins jutting from primordial limestone.

Freddie’s gash opened in his head and I thought his skull would pop out and laugh at us.  He licked his lips to sharpen them for the torture.  His prepared speech began and was occasionally broken by the stammer of internal English translation.  Temperatures rose and children began to find the devil with their idle hands.  The little pale boy and dark girl frolicked under trees and on steps from 300 B.C.  The sound of their play murmured carelessly under Freddie’s ongoing tale of Mayan sacrifices, gods and devils, serpents and Spaniards.  Predictions of the end of the world rang from his razor tongue.  Superimposed over the sweet childish laughter and snaps of pictures.  The crew-cutted diabetic wheezed as if he wouldn’t see the apocalypse.  Buddha woman wears a light blue tank top, one size too small.  Leans back, stretching muscles and shirt revealing her round stomach.  Shaped like a violin being strung.  I am confused by her and grasp GiGi tightly. Worshipping her.  Lightly brushing her tummy.

The morbid ancient walls and steps lean over me and make me dizzy.  The jungle air is thick with anger and clings to the shirt that clings to my skin and attempts to squeeze the juice right out of me.  I see Mayan’s slaughtered lying on the ground with Spanish cutlasses jutting from their ribcages.  Murdered blood grass sways with disgusting entrails.  The happy soul will rot in the field and be felt 2000 years later.  I cannot see the tour group.  They have entered the far jungle brush while I was taking a picture in hopes to catch the phantom’s mist that had been rising to my eyes.  My hat strap tries to choke the life from me.  The forest is dark and sullen.  I hear Freddie corrupting the tourists with tales of Spanish massacres intermixed with recounts of virgin sacrifices.  I wonder which is better, to kill for the king or kill for your gods. I decided that they were equally distasteful.  They’re all dead now.  In the end they all got the same sentence, regardless of intention.  They lived, they died. GiGi meanders in the glade taking photos.  We take turns on each side of the stone pathway.  Over the years, the rainy season has washed away loose stones, created rivers between them and smoothed them into small skulls sunken beneath our feet.  I imagined them lifting tiny boned pigmy fingers from the earth to grab my sandals and pull me down with them.

We lagged horribly behind the rest of the tour group.  I kissed GiGi lightly near the crumbling remainders of stadium seating.  A salty hint spread across my lips.  She smiled slyly and walked quicker to catch up with the disappearing group.  My knee is aching from the uneven ground. There is a tension in the air that flows through me and encompasses my legs.  They seem ready to spring at the first sign of panther or bushmaster.  Freddie had warned us that the jungle had once claimed the entire ruins.  It had been beaten back, but not forgotten.  Every leaf breathed catlike, rising and falling in counter rhythm to my own respiration.  I lost myself for a bit as I fruitlessly scanned the ground for artifacts.  Imagining pottery at every glance, wishing knifeblades on each rock.  The broken boy strolled in front of me.  Palm nuts littered the ground creating a landscape of hand grenades, hoping to explode and twist and ankle.  Tear tendons asunder from adjacent bone.  His brown arm was socketed in a light blue cast.  He had the tan skin of boyhood summers at the pool.  A natural color indicating his comfort with the sun.  I spotted a ray through the trees and cursed the heavens for fair skin.  A tendency to burn and sweat that had slowly turned me into a damp, pale, mean spirited sun hater full of jealousy for the tan throngs of beach goers.  His hair was spiked and poison tipped with mischief.  I watched him bend to casually scoop up a nut from the ground.  With a loping elegance he aimed and tossed the nut overhand at a nearby archeological sign.  The nut flew graceful, solidly tapped its target, and ricocheted.  The nut fell back to the earth and solidly pegged his grandmother on the foot.  He was startled by the look of sorrow and hatred that she shot him.  He muttered a “whoops” and joined me in giggling about the incident.  I encouraged him with a “good shot”.  We both smiled devilishly, sweaty.  He ran forward to join the group.  They had stopped at the bottom of a large hill rising out of the jungle brush.

The hill was half-encircled by cloying jungle plants, vines hanging down and attempting to plant a new root.  Freddie noted that this was called the Temple of the 27 Steps, although he revealed to us that there was but 23 steps and it wasn’t actually a temple, but a residence, a condominium for the important members of Mayan society.  It was far removed from the main courtyard, a quarter mile through the jungle and 50 feet in the air.  As I was climbing the steps I was struck by how tall they were.  Judging by the local Mestizo population, I would have guessed that their ancestors were little more than 5 feet tall, but the steps seemed to have been carved for giants with huge strides.  There was a definite effort put forth to reach the summit.  Imagining people lugging the enormous limestone up the hill made me sweat and look for shade.

The condos were a collection of small rectangular rooms that had once been covered by thatched roofs.  Some of the doorways to the rooms seemed to open off into empty space.  The backyard had been removed as a result of a thousand years of erosion.  The drop into a large lower level cut into the hill gave me vertigo.  I imagined, with dizzying accuracy, children wobbling on young legs out their front door and tumbling 20 feet onto the rocky floor below.  Some of the rooms had sections of rock missing creating a shelf of sorts in the rock wall.  Smooth edges exhibited its permanency.  The wall had not crumbled, it was designed.  I wondered what these indentions could have been used for.  Some of them were at floor level, others at my waist.  GiGi was continually making me jump with fear by perching on high overhangs on the verge of crumbling into the jungle below.  My heart would leap and my sweat would turn to ice against my neck.  There was a degree of queasiness associated with it.  Flashes of her broken body, hips akimbo, flesh torn asunder framed against jagged rocks flashed in my frontal lobe. I begged GiGi to return to the relative safety of the hilltop’s ground. The summit was awash with bright Mexican sunlight. The jade green leaf filters were non-existent at this height.

I was standing on a hill that had stood up to the test of time and passed with flying colors.  I was only 30 miles from the border of Belize, and I realized that this was the most remote point on the planet that I’d ever traveled to.  Dizzying as it seemed, I was closer to the equator than I had ever come before.  The thought was fresh in my mind as the tour group meandered down the 23 steps.  Worn ruts of jungle rivers had been plowed in the stone from years of rain.  I could see the long alley of the Mayan sporting arena.  It swam into view through the jungle humidity.  It was a long green thoroughfare framed with rudimentary spectator stands consisting of angled stones rising out of the ground 3 feet and crowned with a grassy covering from their many years of disuse.  Freddie downplayed the bloodiness of the sport, but in the back of my mind I know that it was a bloodthirsty battle for the praise of the gods.  The winners went on to play another day while the losers were sacrificed.  It was a great honor to be sacrificed in this manner. I pictured a Mayan winner standing where I stood and holding the disembodied head of his rival up high so that the gods could see and be pleased.  Fields of blood spring to my eyes, ground covered in red velvet, pulsing downhill.  Freddie’s voice is whispering harshly in my head.  His thick accent hiding malice.  “Thee loserrs felt grreat honyer in dying for thee gods.  Eeen thees way they were glory-fied een the afterliife.”  I was not reveling in glory, I am wading in the blood river of the ancients that is flowing around my ankles as he speaks.  Primitive futbol (soccer) players rip at each other’s brown flesh with religious fervor.  This is my body, eat of it and think of me.

In a dusty fog I moved on to a stone carving of a Mayan warrior.  The stone had been removed from the Temple of the Masks, the epicenter of the Mayan religion at the Kohunlich ruins.  The temple seemed to grow right out of the earth with no apparent separation between dirt and stone.  A crude thatch roof had been built sometime in the last 30 years to protect the masks that had been carved into the temple’s sides.  Face carvings of Mayan sun and rain gods peered out of the stone.  Their expressions gave me an uneasy feeling, as if I was being stared at by something that had traveled through time.  Their wide, unblinking eyes fixed my own and stared right through me with and intensity that fermented my thoughts into thick mead to be drunk by a wandering thief who tries to steal my brain.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and a chill ran down my arms.  I feel like I’ve de-evolved.  I am single celled.   Re-emerging from the primordial goo that made up the wealth of life on the planet.  I am being watched, studied by unmoving and emotionless eyes.  They are without anger or pleasure, but demanding more from me than I have to give.  I am but one cell amongst many. We are all paramecia.   I am blinked out of existence.

The smoke from my cigarette gently rises with the surrounding tropical heat.  I take a long drag and pass it to GiGi as I breath smoke and feel the dragon lash my lungs with his tongue.  A small yellow butterfly flits by carelessly and perches momentarily on a nearby bush.  I stop and watch it while sweat escapes my eyebrows and creeps into my eyeballs like a stealthy border invasion.  The pain is immediate.  Blink and rub until colors burst in the darkness.  The butterfly is gone when they reopen and adjust to the surrounding green sunlight.  It had disappeared into the forest in the instant.  I took the cigarette back from GiGi and hit it hard.  The ash fell across my knuckles.  The heat was a light hot breath against my moist skin.  I hardly notice.  My head is swimming as I trudge out of the treeline.   The bus is being prepped for the return trip.  I re-visit the bathroom filled with flies and joke with the broken boy.  As I enter the bus I’m given a box lunch.  We have the choice of a slug of Pepsi from a weirdly shaped bottle or a slosh of beer out of a large Sol Beer bottle.  Freddie assures me that it’s made by the same company that makes Dos Equis Beer, but I fear that there is a reason that Sol Beer never made it to the US.  I opt for the Pepsi.  The mustachioed driver gives me a good belt of it and I squeeze down the aisle.

The general atmosphere of the bus has now changed.  The sweet anticipation from 4 hours before has dissipated into an innocuous sense of finality.  The heat and exertion of archaeological exploration has worn on the tour group.

I started to munch, soaking in the bus silence and chilly air.  My skin slowly began to cool.  I drew the shade back from the window and a thin stripe of light ran across the length of my face.  The outside still hummed, softer now under bus tones.  Even the bugs were taking a siesta.  The window looked like a picture postcard of vines and huts.  I let the shade fall back into place.   Hustling darkness corrals amongst us.  I hide my tin foiled cookies between seat back and strap.

The bus is fired to life and a baby begins to cry toward the rear. We slowly wheel up the snaky jungle road back to civilization and souvenirs.  Freddie Villalobos does another song and dance for us, stuttering final tour words.  His red rimmed eyes dart over his broken sentences, searching for a sign of comprehension.  He realizes the futility of his task and cuts his speech short. The bus begins to hum in tune with the surrounding Mexican landscape.  Jumping and bumping past village and jungle.  Passing dump trucks within inches of our lives.  The hum gently strums our brains into a somnolent sleep.

We bumped along, and while the dust flew behind us, I slept and dreamt, then woke with a start.

I crack my eyes open to reveal the darkened confines of a Mexican tour bus. The air conditioning vent is broken.  It’s a wide gaping hole that’s been partly covered by stuffing a cottony filter up into it.  The filter had fallen away and now I was shivering in my own sweat.  Most of my fellow tourists were drifting somewhere between here and the place I’d just left.  The driver was the only one I was sure was awake.  GiGi was propped against my headrest.  I shuffled my body and retrieved the cookies that had been wrapped in foil.  Peeling foil cuts the air, a shiv on fresh fish flesh. The cookies are old.  Grinding them becomes a welcome escape from the monotonous hum, the continual river of human misery.  Selling pineapples to the speeding bus.

Over time, dust clouds settle.  Clouds float.  Hot blacktop asphalt flows past sweaty brown-skinned Mexican men digging ditches in ancient limestone.  The bright yellow and red stucco walls of tourist trap huts move into view.  An oasis of capitalism amongst the coastal forest.  The bus hisses to a stop and Freddie’s slit lips beg for tips.  Murmurs and footsteps.  Caustic sweat awaits our eyes.  We exit the bus in file, sleepiness still clings to our eyes.  I nod and tip Freddie.  My money lush and green as his palm touches mine.  Fleshy cactus finger.  He has a wolfish manner.  I stop for just a moment, hand in hand, thumb pulse ticking against my own.  Mayan blood pulsing under the membranes.  I feel its warrior strength dancing in angry revolution. Freddie looks back at me with a half smirk.  Small eyes surrounded by middle age wrinkles.  Beyond them, far away, deep black obsidian peer back at me from across space and time.  His thin sharp lips, now reptilian, part slightly.  A slick pink tongue lolls out.  They synchronize to form “Gracias”.  It is just a hoarse whisper, but it reaches my ear and vibrates my brain as I walk through the gaping maw of the souvenir market.