Jonathan Mack

THIS IS ABOUT PERFECTION

I am practicing attempting to see my beloved as an ordinary man: SeŮor Angel, baldheaded, big-bellied, jealous. Sunday afternoon, as we sit with our beers by the sea, 2 middle-aged drunken lugs, an enormous black butterfly gets weary or lonely and lands on the angel, I mean Angel, and perches there, on his shoulder, for 20 minutes or more, resting up, testing its wings and eyeing me. I go on nursing my beer and staring out at the sea. Finally I get fed up. You are NOT helping, I say to that big black butterfly.

Angel has an ongoing argument with the days of the week. There are only 7 days – could the gringos not come up with a different name for each of them? I hear him practice as he shaves before the mirror. TWOs-day, Thurrrsday, TWOs-day, Thurrrsday. By the time heís dressed and ready, heís back to Thuseday, which comes twice a week. I know heís bound to succeed eventually, which is why I try to stop and enjoy today, Thuseday, as much as I possibly can.Why does anyone want to be right when itís so delightful to be mistaken? Gone, already, are the halcyon days of confusing kitchen with chicken. As in, You never clean your chicken, amor.

Angel calls me penguin, you know, because of the walk. He also points out, accurately, that my head resembles a teapot, since one ear is flat to my head and the other extends between two-thirds and three-quarters miles, depending on wind. How fortunate I am that the angel chooses boyfriends the way other people choose mutts from the pound: it helps me to be slightly pathetic. It must. My deficiencies are real plus. As though the angel looked around at the cages and decided, "Iíll take that one. Otherwise heíll just be put down."

I live with Angel now, in his apartment which is just one room, very narrow and very long, and which, come to think of it, many fancy people might call a hallway. Letís not think of it like that. On one end a window and a door face an internal staircase; the other end opens to a balcony overlooking the church square, so colorful, and so very extremely loud. Much of the day the balcony is too hot and too noisy to be inhabitable, but thereís an hour early in the morning thatís heavenly, assuming no one gets an early start on the gambling machines outside the bodega. OK, I canít make the place sound good but I promise you would like it. In that dim room I am saturated with tenderness and safety, like a lychee soaked in syrup.

Friendly birds come to pick my bones: a flock of cordial rejection letters. There will never be a small book of stories. My small dream will not be forthcoming. All I wanted was to sit in the corner. Angel ordered me to sit there. I reread a commentary on the sutra on the mindfulness of breathing. After Iíd read a few sections, perhaps 20 minutes later, I looked up and discovered that he had paid the gas man, restarted the boiler, fixed the toilet, swept, mopped, put everything away, collected the laundry, taken out the trash, purchased food and prepared it, and put up tiny, blinking, colored Christmas lights. I am still a total failure. I am still totally depressed. On the plus side, it appears Iím dating Vishnu.

Espuma! Espuma! Angel says, then sighs, takes the eggs from me and scrambles them himself. A few words and an unmistakable gesture get his point across. How can I be a world-renowned master at jacking off – and still I cannot froth an egg?

Back from the waves, I discover that Angel has buried my drop-foot brace in the sand and tied his little old dog to it. This delights me. It is a most excellent use of the brace. Even the brace itself is very visibly cheerful about it. The brace now is a stake; the old dog is thereby kept from wandering. In other words: the brace has exactly the opposite effect on the dog that it has on me.

In the night we go to watch the procession of the Virgin of Guadalupe, to weave among the jaguar heads, the immense plastic-feathered headdresses and the crowds of the devout with their electric flowers. We donít pray. We eat. Tamales, posole, tacos, atole. We will be 2 gorditos! Angel says, but I say, no, not me, I am going to gym every day, weights plus cardio, I am doing my best to be good, but Angel shakes his head, and tells me quite seriously that I am mistaken, I donít understand what December is for. December is for going to parties, eating too much, and getting a little chubby. That is the function of December, which I am misusing. He looks at me sadly. Another year so nearly finished and here I still am, mired in self-improvement.

Angel doesnít speak a lot of English, I donít speak much Spanish. All my life Iíve laughed at couples like this, like us. The truth is, it doesnít seem to matter. We talk non-stop. Heís seldom impatient. As 1 of 10 children he was raised in a small village with the help of his tia, a deaf woman who never learned to speak or to sign. He and his tia adored each other, were especially close, maybe because he is also deaf, and he still cooks for her, asado de puerco con chile colorado y papas, on the Day of the Dead. At the beach on Christmas Day, he did teach me one short speech, which he made me practice over and over until I got it right. This speech translates to: "Not right now, young man. I already have a boyfriend. My boyfriend is extremely jealous. He will beat you to a pulp." This, I think, is a speech I would do well to keep in mind.

Looking at old photos, It scares me to see how very beautiful every old lover of Angelís was. I point to one and say, He was rich. His cock was like this –I indicate something like a can of Red Bull, a place on my thigh just slightly above the knee. No, no, he says, but for once I am sure he is lying.

After a day of beers with the amigachos, Angel can seem almost like an ordinary man, even a man like me. Inseguro. Do you love me? he asks, and then again, Do you love me really? The angel appears a mortal man and meanwhile Iíve discovered that I possess actual inner resources because I can say I love you, I do love you, I do indeed love you, over and over, and mean it, with a full heart, with feeling not in any way diminished by repetition.

After swimming I sit by the edge of the water and try not to get dirty, but Angel rolls in the sand as a ball of dough is rolled in sugar. He picks up 2 big fistfulls of mud. I shake my head no. He thrusts his hands at me, gives me mud tits, and then I am covered in dirt. He scoops up wet sand and start rubbing me with it. It feels glorious. The angel scrubs and scrubs, pausing now and then to bestow upon me gritty kisses. Finally a cheeky wave drenches us and we wade back out into the sea. Under the water I watch the sand rise in a cloud from my hair. The next thing required is that we stand very near each other in the water and splash each other, very lightly and very fast, so that we can watch the colors. You see? You see? asks Angel. Thereís obviously a lot to be learned. But only by those willing to participate fully.

Always with the assumption that there is some other life, I should be in it, and not this one, 7 storeys down, which, can you believe it, is actually where the buffet is served, con menudo, los domingos. Tamales, papaya, omelet and, later, bloated, slightly sick. A nap next, then fucked so hard I sit on the toilet shitting clean bright red plumes, one scruffy, middle-aged, peg-legged man held, later that afternoon, by another man, bald, charismatic, deaf and hung, in the surge at the mouth of the river as the sweet torrents into salt, as Mexican and gringo tourists stare from the bridge and maybe even take photos (how touching, local freaks) and I always think itís not supposed to be like this (the way it is) and, above all, that I shouldnít be tired, aching, down. It ought to all be radiant, even the hard parts, and I should be laser-precise, yet relaxed. I do truly non-stop believe this, even as the angel holds me from behind, beneath my arms, at the mouth of the river and instructs me to stream out as the river does until nothing remains which is perfect.

 

Jonathan Mack currently lives in Mexico, having previously resided in India. His short story ďThe Right Way to Be Naked and CrippledĒ became the title story of an anthology of disability fiction published earlier this year by Cinco Puntos. Mack states, "I have a peculiar and broad sense of what constitutes a story — in the tradition, I hope, of Robert Walser, Gertrude Stein, and Joe Brainard." Learn more about Jonathan Mack and help support his work at https://www.patreon.com/JonathanMack.