i'm all for weather, i would never try to avoid it or pretend it doesn't happen. in fact, i cheer for changes in the weather. homefrocks are weather in action. we rely on breezes, shifting angles of light, shafts of sunlight, deep shade, to bring our dresses to life. all my colors are borrowed from raindrops, edges of cumulus clouds, autumn-dried grasses, or petals that mimic the brilliant signature of the sun. every fabric consists of weather--we are a weather-based business, from the northernmost stitches to the south hem.
we live in a dynamic environment, and i can welcome a storm as happily as a sun shower. but when i saw the weather predicted for my photo shoot in mexico, a foggy malaise settled upon me.
hopeful for a revision, i consulted my computer often. each time, i was met with the same cloud and rain icon with the same stubby bolt of lightning shooting out of it, from the east side of the screen to the west, exactly seven days repeating. i clicked again. i clicked again and again. i clicked to excess, as if my laptop might turn slot machine and deliver me a row of pairs of shiny cherries. a rain of golden coins could result: a solid week of sunshine on my mexican models.
the storm icon persisted, to my irritation, but i vowed to be patient: what is one to do with a storm if not wait it out? i refreshed the weather site regularly, but the sun never showed. i stepped outside frequently, scanning new mexican horizons from sunrise to moonrise. infinite shifts in color and light answered me, no redundant moment between dawn and dusk. stars arranged themselves above us at night, but when i petitioned for our brief round-trip future in mexico, the same gloomy clutch of cloudbursts paraded across the page. "vacation in mexico" implies a certain gilded warmth, but "photo shoot in mexico" demands illumination.
i dreamt of sitting in a dark and tempest-tossed comedor trying to capture a spoonful of alegrías each time the flashbulb lit up the table in front of me. the momentary brightness revealed an ark navigating nearby waters. my two models huddled at the bow in wellingtons and rain ponchos from woolworth’s. when the next flash revealed that one wore a transparent plastic rain bonnet and the other a shower cap, i awakened shivering.
weather advisories stacked higher and higher. i packed for mexico while others packed for evacuation all over the watery west, reports and forecast rolled in: flooding from boulder to acapulco.
ever the gracious host, mexico was there to meet me at the gate. stepping outside, i could not ignore that mexico was wearing gray skies. i was cordial. what choice did i have? i was a guest: to show my disappointment was impossible. i combed the sky for a streak of sunlight, any blurt of brightness intent on burning through the clouds. nothing.
the gratitude appropriate to the guest, i stated to myself with slight desperation, does not preclude prayer.
i gazed out at the silvery horizon, beyond the rising and returning of tiny airplanes, and searched for some words that could both honor the current cloudiness and also express how clement weather could contribute to a thing of beauty. creador, creadora, i began, but not before i registered a sinking sensation throughout my entire being. what was it? the change in altitude? dehydration? a wave of concentrated culture shock? i moved to rest against a railing. it was something to do with the light.
i collected myself and raised my eyes to the horizon to begin again. the lightheadedness returned. something in the shrouded atmosphere was....there was no doubt about it...exquisite. the clouds were spun, pearlescent, abalone. a shimmery light feathered an unending wing above me. the sky had transformed my prayer before i’d even uttered it. overcast as promised. the cloud cover could only be called—i stowed my sunglasses without qualms--divine.
steep and green, the mountains seemed to shift from long-held positions when the breeze came up, as if they wanted to catch sight of her, as if she didn't pass this way often, scattering raindrops. the mountains greeted her in their mild manner, and turned their eyes skyward once again, silently extolling the rain, exuding green calm, praising even the softest, the quietest rain.
i sat down on a rock among the ruins, pulling my sweater around me. the trees moved in green time to the breeze, catching whatever moisture they could pull from the air and from the earth, too. they were coquettish, the tossing about leafy branches, renewed. the infinite fabric of the sky hung low above my head, soft and woolen just above me, silken to the east, sheer over the mountains, opaque at the horizon. i sighed, thinking of all the people checking their weather websites all over the world, sighing at the uniform scalloped gray cloud forecast for the foreseeable forever, receiving the unspoken message, Don't go outside till we tell you, shutting their computers and opening them again, to trawl for life online.
rain has many faces. rain is not the strict province of pittsburgh,or november. rain is not only to be known through a rectangle of plate glass.
the mines here flooded long ago. as if the revolution wasn't enough to turn the world upside down, rain conspired to reroute the runnels of fate...
anyway, we were working and waiting for the donkey to be delivered. by the time she got here, i figured the grass might stand a good foot higher.
rodrigo stamped out his cigarette and folded his arms in front of him. he would have preferred to have a show pony. he could picture the caramel coat mottled with ivory and a pale mane. mara, he would have called her, short for maravilla, or mejor, estrella. with a pony, there would be none of this stubbornness, none of this yanking and yanking, and vying for power. estrella would come when called, stepping highly and lightly as if her whole life was one long parade. she would smile for the camera, all twinkly eyes, and anyone making a movie or selling silk dresses or tequila would come and pay him a pretty penny to be smiled on by his horse. she would be a delight to work with. everyone would schedule nervously with him at the end of a day of snapping photos of her grace, wondering whether they might cast her in an upcoming major motion picture.
rodrigo yanked and the donkey brayed. if she had been a palomino, or even a pony, but at least some sort of hero's horse, he would have felt proud...was that it? or was it that she wouldn't obey? if she had been agreeable, it would have been fine that she was a little burro in the movies, or in a magazine, or whatever it was. if she was grateful. but she acted like they had disturbed her peaceful existence. she acted as if they had broken up the family, forced her to leave her little hija, and for what?
rodrigo felt remorse. he had asked nieto if he could borrow his cellular to phone to call down to the mines and tell them the donkey just couldn't make it today. he was going to tell them she had fallen ill, was foaming at the mouth, had most likely eaten one of the bad august mushrooms, if not a whole clump of them, and couldn't come. he would have done that for her, really. between noisome complaints and dirty looks at rodrigo and nieto and nieto’s truck, at teofilio and teofilio’s mare, she had nudged her tiny little burro so gently, and the burro looked up at her as if she was sun, rain, and stars, as if she was grass and sky, hill and valley.
the phone didn't work up there, everyone knew that. nieto and teofilio each squinted at rodrigo, and then looked at each other. rodrigo didn't know what had gotten into him. he hung his head and pulled hard on the rope. the burro dug her feet in and glared at him. she gazed at her child with tender yearning. she glared at rodrigo. rodrigo softened his grip on the rope. she glared at him regardless. teofilio’s horse snorted. nieto and teofilio glared at rodrigo.
she was testing him, she figured she’d bring the baby along or stay right where she was. rodrigo tried to glare back. what was a baby donkey going to do at a photo shoot but get in the way?
he had tied the burro’s rope to the old truck and nieto inched down the hill in second gear, looking at himself in the dangling side mirror the whole time, meanwhile combing his hair. rodrigo had made nieto turn down his music, some electronic nonsense from the antro, because he thought maybe the burro didn't like it and that was why she was barely skittering along. but after rodrigo had kindly lowered that noise, the burro stopped moving entirely.
rodrigo had faced the burro, standing still, and screeched at the top of his lungs, what do you want, anyway? beethoven?? she had stared back at rodrigo as if he had bitten her. he signaled to nieto to turn it off completely. nieto stared at him, glancing in the mirror for support. just turn it off, rodrigo whined. at wit's end and muttering to himself that he should have angled for a percentage of the shoot, something more than a few measly greenish dollars for all this misery, rodrigo began to sing.
he sang a song his grandmother used to sing long after she had lost her vision, and sat at the loom weaving every day entirely from sixth sense. rodrigo sang from the depths of his defeated heart, from all his frustration, from all his shame for the burro not behaving, making him look bad, all his disappointed excitement at cameras, at his burro starring in an american feature film, maybe a western, hopefully a western, and then realizing it was really only a commercial for washing soap, or maybe tooth powder, and that he had disrupted the deepest code—separated a mother from her child--for a handful of pesos that would disappear in no time. rodrigo was plunged into gloom.
rodrigo sang. the sonorous depths of rodrigo's emotion startled the burro into fellow-feeling. the music of rodrigo’s melancholy seemed to lift away her conviction that she alone carried the senseless complications of contemporary life. intent on rodrigo's wailing, the burro moved steadily. even gracefully, rodrigo ventured to think, his burro trotted along the rutted road.
rodrigo cheered up with the new progress and begin to sing an old popular comic tune by antonio aguilar. the burro slowed to a walk and dug her heels in, glowering at rodrigo. rodrigo sighed heavily and remembered the gravity of his plight. he hummed a little to find the tune of a haunting ballad about a man leaving his beautiful homeland to look for work in the city so that his family will have enough. rodrigo moved down the road, not daring to look behind him. by the time he got to the part about taking leave of his beloved children, the burro had caught up with him and brayed along with the refrain.
by now rodrigo was so tired and frustrated, and so concerned that the patrona from the new mexico—it puzzled him that somewhere there was a new mexico--surely he had misunderstood her--wouldn't wait for them and would find some other donkey to sell her eye makeup, or shoe polish, or whatever it was, that there was a tremor in his voice as he sang. the donkey walked in step with rodrigo as he sang. rodrigo wondered how fast he could walk while still singing slow and sincere enough to keep the donkey marching.
teofilio behind him was sleeping in the saddle as his horse picked his way along in resignation. rodrigo knew plenty of songs that were heart-rending enough to appeal to the donkey’s temperament, and pretty soon he could see the crumbling remains of the old mines below, and he knew they would make it. he remembered a song from his childhood about an old miner who had disappeared, and his horse who waited for him faithfully at the river by the silver mine and rodrigo felt a little chill creep up his spine at the sound of his own voice. nieto was still driving ahead and had turned on the car radio low enough not to disturb the donkey, more of that electronic trash that people thought made them happy, but nieto and teofilio at least couldn’t hear the quiver in rodrigo’s voice. he made a show of wiping the tears from his eyes as the dust irritated him terribly, even though it was the rainy season, and thought he caught sight of the donkey blinking fast alongside him.
it was a little delicate, rodrigo was realizing, as he watched them down below, the photographer who looked like she must come from new york city and the patrona from the next mexico, and the two sisters in their billowy dresses. they looked nice, he thought, those two young girls, kind of old-timey, in a way, like one of those old photos from when the mines were still running, the sheep moving through the field behind them. the delicate thing was if he would have to stay nearby and keep singing to make the burro pose. those girls from the capitol would feel funny about the him singing the old songs in front of the gringas, and he would feel funny about that, and the donkey would know of he was holding back and might insist on him pouring his heart into a real tear-jerker and who knew who would come out to listen with all that had gone on over the years at the mines, and rodrigo sniffed and wished once again that he and the burro could cancel.
but rodrigo need not have worried. as soon as she laid eyes on the señora, the donkey forgot to behave like a donkey at all. she forgot that only the most mournful, heart-wrenching songs ever to come out of mexico could move her. the burro turned to poured honey. she thought she was maravilla or estrella. the donkey was a star. she was going to do her girl proud. rodrigo could have sworn she was speaking perfect english to the patrona, pulling out a little powder puff and a lipstick to touch herself up so that the photographer could get started and not waste another minute.
rodrigo leaned against an eroding wall and lit a cigarette, looking back up the hill. nieto was handling the english. ¿cuál es su nombre? nieto bawled at rodrigo. rodrigo shrugged back at him, ¿qué?
a ella, shouted nieto, shoving a thumb in the direction of the burro. rodrigo felt ashamed that they had lately taken to calling her chacuaco.
no tiene, he mumbled. no has name, he whispered in the general direction of the patrona.
you have to name him, cried out nieto, smiling at the twins.
mercedes, dolores, eulalia, rosario, and then rodrigo heard a chorus of women’s voices: ¡rosa!
he turned around, craning for a look.
the burro was hanging her head to one side like an advertisement for shampoo. the models followed suit.
he stole a cowed glance at the burro, who flicked about her mane in perfect unison with the twins that flanked her. he turned back to brood into his cigarette, but had to double-take as he thought he saw the burro flutter her lashes just as the twins did. he stole a glance at one of the models who was petting the nose of the burro. she was wearing a silvery green kind of mantle that reminded him of his sister, may she rest in peace, who was simple but had the kindest disposition of anyone in the entire family. she had worn a rebozo made by their auntie from the time she was fourteen until the time she died. she would tell anyone who would listen that her auntie knew how to weave clouds and mountains together and that it made a fabric stronger than oro, plata, cobre, plomo...she could name every metal ever mined in mineral de los pozos.
rodrigo took a deep breath and leaned back, looking at the sky. it was grey. a drop struck his forehead. he looked to see if those dark clouds were still coming this way. the hills looked a little taller than usual, as if they were reaching for the rainclouds. how come the hills always looked happiest in the most mournful season? he dragged on his cigarette and hummed.
rodrigo kept an eye on rosa, to see that she wasn’t too stubborn, didn’t cause any more trouble. who needs a palomino, anyway, thought rodrigo. rosa, who was looking straight into the camera in an attitude of adoration, shifted her eyes for a moment toward rodrigo. rosa, rodrigo began to sing, under his breath. she winked at him and moved her lips, as if blowing him a kiss. he turned away abruptly, and stared back out into the green hills, humming to himself.