Son Puppets to Juárez by Monique Quintana

When we got to El Teatro Campesino, the performance of the Popol Vuh for that night had been canceled. Something was going on with the stage lights. The woman in the box office looked at me like she was scared of me. I’m not used to getting that kind of look. You could tell that she thought I was going to tell her off—we had come all the way from Fresno in my dad’s Chevy Malibu. My son was eight years old and had pointed to houses he thought should be in horror movies and rusted dinosaur sculptures that line the highway. He had picked up curse words and was trying to break himself out of the habit of using them, by making a loud beeping noise every time he wanted to say something profane.   

A stockily built man offered to give us a tour backstage. There were stage props all around the windy corridors, signs leaning against the wall. We saw saloon clothes, and we saw Los Vendidos. My son had a razor fade and a stoic face that looked like my own at that age, but he was more talkative than I was, liked to converse with new people. As we rounded a corner, my son pointed and said, “Hey, that’s my last name!” in his raspy voice. There was a yellow sign painted with orange letters like a ray of burnt sunshine. It said, “To Juarez.” The man gave my son a black T-shirt from the gift shop for free. They had skull heads with handlebar mustaches and sombreros, a red slash of ribbon dancing over their heads. They only had one size. My son put the shirt on, and it almost touched his knees. He’d wear that shirt for years. When it finally fit him right, it faded to a smoky black, but the skulls laughed on.

In the Popol Vuh, Blood Moon becomes impregnated with the magic twins when a tree spits in her hand. I think of my son and his father as a sort of magic twins. My son’s doctor once said that he acted up with me because we had conflicting personalities, and he could sense it, even as a baby. He was well-behaved with his dad, but with me, he was resistant. He said “No” to almost anything I asked him to do. He’d crumble his cartoons in a ball if I complimented them. He scowled at his teachers when I’d chat with them after school.  

The man invited us to a play they were having the next day in the park and to tell the people at the inn that he sent us there, so we’d get a discount. My dad said he was glad I didn’t get mad at the lady at the box office for the play getting canceled. He said that you should always have a cool head and be understanding, especially with our people. That night we were supposed to go to Xibalba. Instead, we got a room at the Posada Inn, with a jet pool. That night my son sat in the pool in his swim trunks, the bright blue of fabric ballooning around his knees.

In the morning, we ate at a Mexican buffet and went to the mission to walk in the garden. We took pictures next to porcelain dolls behind glass, writing instruments, and an oven that native people used to cook meals for the white men of the church. We went to the little cemetery, guarded by a gate and closed to the public. White crosses sticking out of the dirt mounds and patchy grass to mark the spots of the dead. Even the clouds told us it was unjustly.  

When we got to the park, we saw the same man and woman from the theater. The play was called Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven. Teenage kids were setting up props, their shiny black hair blowing in the cold wind.  The sun was bright again. The soccer field was expansive, as if it had been plucked of flowers. The theater people gave us folding picnic chairs to sit on and watch the play. We had to drive back home soon. I thought about Pacheco Pass, how it winds, the way the mountains look like they have been here before anything, even before animals knew how to breathe.  The giant puppets floated in the sky like they were tethered to my son.

Monique Quintana is the author of Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019) and a contributor at Luna Luna Magazine. She has been awarded artist residencies to Yaddo, The Mineral School, and Sundress Academy of the Arts. She was also the inaugural winner of Amplify’s Writer of Color Fellowship and has been awarded fellowships to the Community of Writers and the Open Mouth Poetry Retreat. She lives in Fresno’s Tower District and can be found at  

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