The view from Ciudad Juárez
At dawn his eyes were sore and the lids swollen but he kept them shut tight as if someone were trying to pry them open. He could see the sun come over the horizon as a pink glow through his closed lids. He couldn’t tell if this new colour came from the translucence of his closed eyes or from the blood he knew must cover his face. He couldn’t tell, in fact, how much his eyes had been mutilated from the acts of the night before in which three men had held him down while another stitched his eyelids shut.
Shut up, just shut up, was all they had said in whispered tones, laboured from the effort of restraining him. They had meant to make him suffer before he died, his knee-caps shot out from under him as a parting gesture that shocked him at the first shot but made perfect sense by the second. It had become plain to him soon that this scene was being constructed with a cinematic eye, the details meant to be seen and later spoken of in story-telling fashion sparing no dramatic flair in the name of efficiency. So by the time of the second shot he had choked back his cries and almost expected what came next with a composure that must have been unnerving to the other men.
There’s an odd distance one is able to place between oneself and the worst parts of pain, when each different thought and feeling, each sensation of sweetness, sourness, joy, mirth, fear, and yes, pain too, is the last ambassador of its kind upon an ailing frame. There, in the new moon black before dawn, eyes sewn shut, he felt time measured in the throbbing pulse of blood in his ears. He couldn’t help but count the beats as one does when humming a tune. And even during the scuffles and gunshots and then while he heard the tinkling sounds of men pissing on his legs’ open wounds and in his mouth, he separated each act as if by chapters, punctuated by the metronome beat of the blood still in his veins.
Now in the horizontal light of morning, his eyes, too, throbbed, feeling too big by half for their sockets as if the diaphanous skin of his lids was all that held them in his head. Then a voice. A moan he knew was Jorge, whose being alive jolted him as when one is shaken to find someone else close by while sitting in a darkened room. There had been four shots the night before. The first two took his knees. Before that and before they had blinded him, they had used a knife, too big for a mouth, to cut out Jorge's tongue. They had struggled with the logistics of it before the smaller one holding the knife used his free arm to hold Jorge’s head stable while he turned the sharp edge of the blade around and in two clean cuts opened up the left then right corners of his mouth. Snapping Jorge’s jaw was next and only then did the blade go in unimpeded and the bloody flesh come out, lain askew, discarded on the bright red ground in a scene familiar to several of the men, who in the honest parts of their lives performed similar motions a thousand times a day in the abattoirs north of the border: rendering body parts, catching the lard and the tallow, and at the end of each day, themselves being transported back across the noisy border in trucks not unlike the ones used to carry the raw materials of their labours.
He whispered to him but there was no further sound. All told he considered himself to have suffered the least of it. If Jorge wasn’t dead he would soon be and if not he would wish to be. If by some miracle Jorge lived he would never speak again. They had cut out the tongue of the writer and blinded the photographer. The rest of the matter was gratuitous, meant to terrify those who found them and then those who would hear about it, fear and paralysis multiplying like a virus. It seemed that as communicators even their murders would serve a purpose, their lives and deaths all in the service of bringing forth a message albeit a hijacked one. As far as obituaries go, the bookend to his life, strangely, would complement what he felt to be the meat of it.
Another moan and the sound of Jorge dragging his shot-up legs across the ground.
Look at the sun, Jorge. You can’t imagine how I envy you. You get to see the sun one last time. Look at it and tell me what you see. Are there clouds?
His left eye felt hot, the needle having pierced the eyeball several times as this was the first eye to be blinded and the beginning of his captor’s learning curve. Even if he lived there would be no saving it and likely it would have to be gouged out for infection. The dragging sound continued and was now somewhere left of his head.
We did ok. It’ll be alright. If we live through this. Imagine. Imagine the story. The chicas.
He chuckled a little though it sounded more like a child’s cry, and the dragging sound stopped and Jorge moaned softly again, this time something closer to a gurgling sound.
If they don’t come back we’ll be ok.
The dragging began anew and then stopped when it seemed to be coming from directly in front of his mangled, unfeeling legs. He could hear each laboured breath from Jorge now as he rested from his effort. Jorge’s hand found his and turned it over so the palm faced up. Jorge squeezed the other’s hand gently, then placed it on the open cavity of his own abdomen.
Oh. Oh, I see.
He could feel Jorge’s intestines hanging out of his body, a deep depression where they once had been. In the rational, abstracted part of his brain, it occurred to him that the viscera were almost optional, the real human starting and ending with something quite a bit less than the forms that walk and talk in the world around us. Jorge could move, think, feel, and but for his tongue would be able to speak. It all seemed hopeful this way until his hand moved further in and felt the pooling blood. And then he smelled the shit that had inevitably come from a nicked or severed intestine.
It’s ok, he said. We did ok.
He withdrew his hand from Jorge’s flesh and turned to where the light seemed brightest, toward the first parts of dawn. The sun shone pink behind his eyelids but milky as through cataracts. He touched his eyes and wondered if the chicas would prefer him to Jorge, then he thought about his work and what it meant in the end. After a while, he tried to see the details of the sun through closed lids, hovering somewhere on the horizon, pink and piercing the black of night. He wondered if there were any clouds.