Guest Author James LePore talks: The Myth of Place

The Myth of Place: Why I Chose Southern Mexico as the Venue for a Large Swath of Blood of My Brother

Mexico, at once magical and diabolical.

—Anonymous

    In 1997, I spent four weeks in southern Mexico, in the city of Oaxaca and on the Pacific Coast between Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel. I had just read Under The Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, and wanted to see, and photograph, imagesthe country where Lowry (in real life) and the American Consul Firm in (in the novel) had tried so hard, but failed, to commit suicide by mezcal.

    The coast road from Puerto Escondido deteriorated with a jolting suddenness as I approached Zippolite. Earlier, I had picked up a hitchhiker, a middle-aged Brit with bad teeth and a scruffy beard, wearing a bandana like a sixties hippie, who told me, as I was dropping him off at a godforsaken roadside cantina, that he had heard that a busload of American tourists had been hijacked earlier in the day north of Puerto Angel and all were killed. I immediately regretted leaving Puerto Escondido so late—night had fallen as suddenly as the road had turned to rutted hard-pan—but I pushed on. There were two or three large bonfires on Zippolite’s beach, their light reflecting wildly off of the huge waves crashing behind them, the waves that had for years, according to my guide book, attracted the world’s most insane surfers.

    Ten minutes later, I was in Puerto Angel and twenty minutes after that ordering dinner on the veranda of a small but clean and not un-charming inn on a hillside overlooking Puerto Angel Bay, lit to perfection by the moon and stars shining down through a clear night sky. The inn’s owner, a graying ex-hippie herself from San Francisco, had heard nothing of any massacre of Americans. Rumors, she said, it’s what the ex-pats and the paranoid surf bums live on along this coast. The time to worry will be when the rumors stop. She had been running her inn for twenty years, so, relieved, I was happy to take her at her word. So happy that after dinner I had three or four shots of the strong—very strong—and smoky local mezcal.

    There was a couple that I took to be American—in their late twenties, both blond, both good looking—at a table not too far away. The place was otherwise empty. I thought to ask them to join me but there was something about the way they were talking, looking at each other and then not looking at each other, that decided me against it.

    I was asleep within seconds of getting into bed.

    At three AM I was wide awake. My room was among a half dozen or so situated along a wide terrace facing the bay. I took my cigarettes out to this terrace, found a comfortable chair next to a thick potted palm tree of some kind, and sat, to smoke and look down at the bay and the dark Pacific beyond until I felt I could fall back to sleep. Before I could light up, I heard the crash of glass on tile floor quite nearby, followed immediately by the voices, at first constrained and then getting louder, of a man and a woman arguing. A moment later, the young blonde woman from the restaurant came out of the room two doors down, stepped quickly to the terrace’s sturdy wooden railing and began vomiting over it. Her husband, or boyfriend, or whatever he was, came out and put his hand on her shoulder, but she shook it off violently. She was wearing a thin cotton robe or wrap, knee length, which she had been holding closed while she retched. It came loose when she shook off the man’s hand, and I could see a breast exposed, and a portion of soft, beautifully rounded abdomen, before she pulled it tight again.

    Leave me alone, she said. I’m leaving tomorrow.

    What about your share? the man asked. He was wearing jeans and no shirt, his hairless, sculpted arms and chest bathed in moonlight.

    The woman did not answer. She pulled her wrap even closer, then she turned and looked my way. I was in deep shadow and had not lit my cigarette, so I was pretty sure she couldn’t see me. I could see her face full on now. She was very beautiful. I stared at her. Your share of what, I said to myself?

    Fuck you, she said, then turned and stepped past the man and into their room. He followed and pulled the door shut behind him.

    I waited a moment or two, then lit up. And listened. But all was quiet. Like the scene I had just witnessed had never happened.

    Mexico, I thought, Mexico.

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James LePore is author of ‘A World I Never Made’, ‘Blood of My Brother,’ ‘Sons and Princes,’ ‘Gods and Fathers,’ and ‘The Fifth Man.  He currently lives in Salem, NY and is collaborating with screenwriter Carlos Davis on  his sixth novel. Click here to visit his website.

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