The coyote's bones bleached in the sun. Dust rolled through a town painted in earthy tones, succulent greens and bright stucco, the brilliant red of roses, lips, and spilt blood. Bare feet trampled hard dirt roads and well-worn paths. From the shadowed halls of the cantina came the strum of a guitar, the clap of hands; punctuated at times by the dim, somber roll of church bells.
Jose stood outside, holding his burro. White stripes were painted against the dark skin, the better for the cameras.
"Must there be a Jose?" he said to the burro. The animal regarded him with the flat wisdom of such beasts, who always know who holds the reins and where the next carrot is coming from. "Is this night not an illusion?" he asked, though the sun shone steadily overhead.
Shadow-shapes blinked over the town. The mission church with its sole bell-tower on the square was overlaid, briefly, by a stone teocalli, the grinning brown-skinned priest in a bloody frock as he held the fresh-strewn heart above the communion chalice. Masked men in capes strolled boldly, chests bare, muscles glistening. A shadow, also masked, lurked on a rooftop, standing for a brief moment to pose, the very image of a don, one black gloved hand resting on the pommel of his sword, the other stroking his mustache. Then they were gone.
A gringo came, dollars in his hand. Jose smiled and held the rope, maneuvered the burro into better light for the camera. The flash came, the welcome greenbacks. Halting Spanglish, loud and slow; Jose pointed toward the zonas, at the end of town. Past the cramped jail where Americanos slept off their drink. The end of town, where all semblance to Mexico ceased, to become the carnival-caricature of itself: tequila and flashing skirts, native talents for sale.
Jose watched the gringo go, and in his wake saw the shadows again. Brown-skinned Indian women screaming as they were drawn beneath sweaty, hairy men with eyes full of god and gold; empty-eyed boys who stood at the sides of roads, bloodstains on their American-made jeans; gawdy mariachis serenading the young football team that had come down to Texas to pound the screaming whore; tattooed children with their father's eyes, bloody hands grasping at weed and coke.
The shadows passed, the church bells rang. Barrel-bellied farmers brought their crops to market. Grey-haired professors from the university came to join the throng that circled the square. Books passed back and forth: Spanish, English, old codices, fragile and livid, which few could read. The professors clucked to their students in dead tongues, elbow to elbow with the brown-skinned villagers that chatted beside them in the same language. A girl sat on a stoop, listening to music; a boy sat next to her, reading a comic book.
Jose's eyes strayed north, drawn by some magnetism, gravity, irresistible compulsion. The shadows clustered there, across the border, a long train of them tramping silently to cluster above the border.
"How much of Mexico, is Mexico?" he said aloud. The burro did not answer him.