Phil’s next surprise

Goodbye, Maggie (160 pages), which was short-listed in the William Faulkner — Wisdom Competition, is scheduled for January 2020 release. If anyone would consider giving an honest advance review, query drggautier@gmail.com and I’ll send typeset pdf (and notify you when a Kindle copy is listed for free after release).

Summary: In a culture of health food stores, gurus, quacks and seekers, a young man’s stagnant life goes topsy-turvy when his charismatic brother shows up with the news that he has murdered someone and asks for sanctuary.

For the opening page, click here.

For an excerpt from late in the novel (“Phil’s next surprise”), see below …

Phil is shaky, fresh from the bed and weak. Gus supports him. The priest walks away, past the cracked headstones toward the moss-laden oaks and cypress trees at the perimeter of the cemetery. Perhaps his concern for all souls has brought him here but his better judgment has him scurrying away before anything pagan breaks out.

The voodoo priestess stands and speaks.

“Close your eyes and feel, feel this city of the dead come to life to help our sister cross over. The city of the dead is come to life and we are but its shadows.”

Gus whispers to Phil: “This is definitely not like my aunt’s funeral in New York. The cities of the dead here feel like they might really come to life.”

A raspy, middle-aged woman’s voice hammers down from behind.

“What you mean, ‘might come to life’? You must be blind as a bat. Look around you and what do you see? Flesh and blood and spirit mixing and churning.”

They turn and see Madame Peychaud.

“Damn fools,” she adds.

“Madame Peychaud?!” Phil exclaims.

“Where the hell did you come from?” asks Gus.

“Got a letter from poor little Maggie. She told me when and where to come. Always directing things, even from the city of the dead. She said y’all had the essential oils business all ready.”

Gus and Phil look at each other confused. The conversation continues as they walk out of the cemetery.

“Yeah,” Phil says. “Yeah, sure, we’re ready. I just, we don’t actually have the, have the oils.”

Phil hears his own voice echo off the cemetery’s iron gate. He is speaking to Madame Peychaud, looking at her. Perhaps he’d never seen her in a dress, never seen her exposed to the shoulder. And the echo – and what he sees – captivates him. For a second, he ponders in sheer curiosity, trying to remember where he had seen it before. He is still speaking to Madame Peychaud but he doesn’t know what he is saying. Where had he seen it before? And suddenly he knows. His mouth dries out. He knows where he saw it. The tiny image against the caramel skin of Madame Peychaud’s shoulder. But he is too frail from his ordeal. He drops.

Someone is being carried. Someone is carrying. A white man being carried. A black man carrying. Other characters populate the scene. They are going down a street. Phil feels that he is somewhere in the scene but he doesn’t know where. Is he the white man being carried? The black man doing the carrying? One or all of the others? Or is he the trees, the sun, the stucco facades, the atmosphere itself. He floats into the atmosphere. Up, up he floats, surveying the scene below – a black man carrying a white man with a huddle of people moving along with them down the street. He is on top of a cathedral. The mime is there, on top of the cathedral. The bells ring.

“Wake up, baby.” The voice is Madame Peychaud’s.

Phil is back in the fairy queen’s bedroom.

“Where are we?” Phil ventures. “Why are we …”

“Hush, baby. We don’t have to be out of this room just yet.”

Phil is still groggy. Everything seems symbolic.

We don’t have to be out of this room just yet.

He starts to dream again. He is back in the hollow, at the pond with Maggie. She is young and beautiful.

“Do you know about my parents?” she is saying.

Phil doesn’t answer. He is lying in the grass, feeling the sun, watching the leaves waver overhead, hearing the occasional “plip … plip” of a fish jumping in the pond.

“Once upon a time, I thought that he too betrayed a loved one.”

Strange, Phil thinks. This conversation. Viewing our lives with such calm. Feeling the truth of things, but from a distance. Detachment. Compassion. They only work together. That’s where he got it wrong. That’s where people get it wrong. They think detachment and compassion are opposites. No, they are brothers, sisters, twins, always together. They only work together. Unconditional love means never missing anyone. If you miss them, your love is tainted by attachment, interest, possessiveness. As long as you’re capable of missing someone your love is conditional. It’s like a veil was lifted for Phil. He is getting excited. And his excitement breaks the spell. He looks at Maggie but the scene is fading, dissolving. Someone is standing across the room. Someone with her back to Phil. She is rinsing out a small towel in the sink. He hears Madame Peychaud’s voice.

“This wild goose chase you been on the last few weeks, hunting around like that. It isn’t really about Hermia, is it?”

“No ma’am. It’s about Magnus.”

Did he really say that? No ma’am? Is he a child again? No, he is just disoriented. He gathers his thoughts.

* * *

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Hitchhiking to Oaxaca

One problem with hitchhiking. In a metro area of 3 million (in this case, Puebla) without subways, you’re going to lose the first couple of hours trying to get to a decent spot beyond the edge of the city.

I was lucky enough to get a ride to the main (and quite hectic) bus station. After several well-intended misdirections, I found the gate for a bus to a (presumably) good spot on the road to Oaxaca. I bought my ticket. “The bus leaves in 50 minutes,” said the ticket guy. I didn’t want to lose another hour, so I walked out to the buses and asked a few drivers from the same company. “Leaving right now,” said one, and I boarded. I find this rather typical in Mexico. Everyone is incredibly kind and eager to help, but it is difficult to help with much clarity because the whole world is winging it. It ain’t Germany (though I love both equally – and both are great for hitchhiking).

The bus dropped me right at the toll booth of Hwy 150D. The toll takers were busy, so I just walked through the gates. Like everyone else. Yes, inside the toll booth of what we (in the US) would call a “controlled-access highway,” there is a mini human ecosystem on the shoulder: tables set up selling tacos and jugos, guys with flags offering to change tires, hitchhikers (me), people walking around selling M&Ms, toll workers on break, and some people just hanging out.

It took me 5 minutes to get set up, getting my highway info out so I could stuff my daypack into my backpack, get my OAX sign ready, stake out a spot at a safe distance from the vendors and such. Lots of big trucks coming through in the right lane, making it difficult. But in just 15 minutes, someone risks life and limb to cut through the trucks. A fiftyish couple, Lalo and Erika, heading from Xalapa to … yes, to Oaxaca. One ride. Hitchhiking is too easy in Mexico. Going through Guanajuato state and then here, I have never waited longer that 20 minutes for a ride, the people on the side of the road were all helpful (none of the hawk-eyed judgement leveled at hitchhikers in the US), and my drivers all relaxed and friendly, including couples more often than not (as opposed to the US, where it’s almost all single, blue-collar men that pick you up).

At Tehuacán, we turn right and go into the mountains. Lalo and Erika speak almost no English, for which I am grateful. My hitchhiking immersion strategy is working. The flora changes dramatically from agave and organ pipe cactus to big trees. Then we slope out into white sandy, rocky terrain dotted with individual trees standing dark and green in relief. Then red clay terrain. Then fully green mountains again. We are getting near Oaxaca.

“Watch out for the negra,” says Erika. “The yellow mole and the red one, the one they call ‘coloradito,’ are great. But the negra, the negra is spicy. Really spicy.”

I doubt anyone can beat the dark, chocolaty mole I had in a middle-aged woman’s home in Puebla, but since I’ve been in Mexico, half the people have told me that Puebla has the best food and half say Oaxaca. I would find the negra not spicy at all, but in any event, I took Erika’s comment under advisement.

(One final note about the people of Oaxaca — and my new friends there can reply as needed. They are among the nicest, friendliest, most relaxed people I’ve met, but put them behind the wheel of a car and it’s like their hair is on fire. Visitors beware when crossing those streets!)

PUEBLA

       

ON THE ROAD

 

OAXACA

      

     

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Beach scene from Hippies

A beach scene from Hippies

Summary of novel: In this Age of Aquarius epic, a group of hippies moving through the sights, sounds, and ideals of the 1960s counterculture discover an LSD-spinoff that triggers past life regressions and leads to a dramatic climax.

x x x

As Ziggy ambled naked toward the water, Jazmine thought there was a hint of Apollo in his stride. “But a little skinny,” she added in her mental narrative, smiling to herself, as she watched Ziggy plunge. She’d never had a guy best friend till Ziggy, someone she could love with all the doors and windows open. But not sexually. Maybe that was her problem. She had to separate sex and love, as if love were pure and sex were dirty. Like she was defending something inside but she didn’t know what it was that was being defended.

“You look hot!”

Jazmine started out of her reverie to see a lanky teen boy with black frame glasses hanging over her.

“Thanks.” The teen boy could see she was nervous.

“No, I mean sweating hot. I’m not hitting on you, I swear.” He grinned. “We got some beers over by the Plymouth.”

“No Thanks.”

Zig was walking up, squeezing water out of his long hair.

“Hey, man,” said the kid, “I was telling your old lady we have some beers over by the Plymouth.”

“Thanks. We’re good.”

“Y’all hear about the cops out here yesterday?”

“Never seen the cops out here before,” said Zig. Jaz kept sunbathing in her own mental space, trying to put closure on her thoughts.

“Yeah, cops took my friend’s weed and sent him packing.”

Zig commiserated: “Shame, man. Cops getting into everything.”

“Hey, I know you,” said the kid. He scratched his big toe in the sand, as if he were trying to draw a secret symbol. Then he looked up and straight at Ziggy.

“I know where I seen y’all before. Y’all part of Ragman’s army,” he said, grinning a little more cautiously.

Ziggy laughed. “If we’re the army, I feel sorry for whoever we’re defending.”

“Don’t laugh, man,” said the kid. Weird, Ziggy thought. That’s the second time somebody told him that today.

“Be careful around Rag,” continued the kid.

“Rag’s cool,” said Zig. The kid had touched on a point he felt strongly about. “Rag’s the coolest guy I ever met.” The kid fidgeted.

“Ever,” Zig repeated, letting the kid know that this was not negotiable.

“I know, man,” said the kid. “But be careful.” Now he was nervous, whispery. He looked over at a small group standing across the beach by a palm tree.

“That’s the problem,” he hissed, under his breath. “Ragman’s the one thing the cops can’t stand. An idealist in the drug scene. You think they give a shit about speed and heroin dealers? Shit, the cops are dealing half the drugs in this town. And cocaine and downers? The Man loves that shit. Speed to keep people working; downers to keep’m tame. What the cops hate is LSD. And maybe pot. And kids with the vision to change things. Fuck things up. And it ain’t only the cops.”

The more the kid hissed and whispered, the more Zig became intrigued.

“What do you mean, it ain’t only the cops?” Zig asked.

“Those fucking dealers coming in with the heroin and the coke. They just want money and zombies. They’d get rid of Ragman faster than the cops. Yeah, they got their fucking ways too.” He rolled his foot along the sand, smoothing over forever whatever imaginary symbol he had started. “Their own fucking ways, man.”

“Why are you telling us this?” asked Zig.

“I don’t know. I like Ragman. I admire the guy. And your chick there looks cool.” He thought for a second. Someone from the group by the palm tree gestured to the kid. “And because I’m a fucking idiot,” the kid said, and he walked briskly off.

x x x

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