The Beach of Silk Clothes
After we quarreled, I went to the beach. The devalued
peso had continued to drop, and in the remodeled
fishing village of pastel hotels, lines stretched
uneasily in front of the bank. Wandering the fake
cobblestones of what were once dusty village streets,
I finessed jewelry stores, open late, searching for a
cheap place to eat-- my first meal in Mexico without
him. At the door of a small restaurant in a hollow
alley, a tiny, iridescent woman beckoned customers in.
Her lacquered French twist was pinned by a love bird's
aqua feather; her stenciled lips were cerise. "Come
in, do come in!" she invited in high, lilting English,
"Ye-es, truly, our food is so very good! Perfect for
your lunch or dinner. Not at all expensive!" She
grasped my arm with vermilion nails and squeezed it.
The Menu del Dia, proclaimed a blackboard, was Sopa de
Chayote, Pulpo or Huachinango Chilacate, and postre,
only ten pesos, less than two dollars at yesterday's
exchange rate. The name of the restaurant was "Kafe
Kohfi," I think.
A miniature white poodle, its ringlets pin set, barked
at the Dona's tango stilettos, fastened to her ankles
with a webbing of straps. "Tabatha, callate! Quiet!
Tab-by, please!" she scolded fondly. "Por favor, sit
down! Sientese. Sit down, Senorita!" With her voice,
she pushed me.
"What's a chayote?" I asked.
"A chayote is a chayote!" the vivacious patrona
explained to her only customer. She rushed away, then
back, to present me with a raw version of the sticky,
brain lobe-shaped squash. "And you know, of course,
that pulpo means octopus?" she asked.
The Dona stood over me, as I tasted the soup's bitter
tang in a cream of smooth sweetness, bracelet-bound
arm thrust behind flounces. Beneath its false
brightness, I could see that her face had been drawn
up to her ears and the scars tightly stitched. She was
born in Germany, lived in the United States after the
war, where she learned her "ter-rible" English, moved
to Argentina, then to this place, she informed me.
"Oh, and look, please, here are some letters from New
York, from our favorite customer, a Puerto Rico
playwright, coming here since the year one-nine
six-three; but this winter, a pity, she has no money
to travel, as she has invested it all in her play."
Scanning the hand-written pages she placed on my
table, I recognized the name of the playwright as well
as the play. "Ye-es, many, so many American
celebrities came here to us, from New York, from New
Orleans, even San Fran-cisco. But the times they have
changed. There are too many restaurants, many big
restaurants, empty most nights, much too expensive." I
had seen them, waiters lolling, candles burning on
pink tablecloths. "The tourists have gone to Ixtapa...
the big hotels....paying too much, and for what? For
nothing! For ugly buffets, for hamburguesas...." The
Dona sniffed contemptuously.
A fat girl with sweaty skin carried in the red
snapper, bathed in a complex red-orange sauce,
perfumed with cilantro and a delicate chili the color
of saffron. A tall elderly man-the Dona's husband?--
bent into a tuxedo jacket, limped to an elephantine
white piano in the rear. He began to play, raising
heavy veined hands, twisted like rigging, to
vaudevillian heights before he dropped them into fluid
The chic nightclub sound flowed out of the restaurant,
over the false cobblestones, to the shores of the
unhealthy Pacific, gummy with plastic, to the
luminous, smog-softened moon. He played Manhattan, and
I applauded, as if I were wearing a plunging
décolletage and elbow-length gloves with tiny pearl
buttons instead of a sun-faded tee shirt and dirty
shorts. My claps echoed in the empty Kafe Kohfi.
"Ye-es, he plays magnificent, truly," the Dona said
with profound indifference. She kissed beringed
fingertips, then smoothed her thinning coiffure with
The pianist stooped over to my table, lifting his
white linen trousers to preserve their crease. Even
his shoes were white-patent wing tips. He spoke
English with a serious intent, if not as fluently as
his wife. "Ah, yes, Man-hattan!" he exclaimed, "I love
Man-hattan. Or the idea of Man-hattan is what I love,
perhaps! All of my life I wished to visit this city to
meet Keem Novak, but when I did succeed to go there at
last, I did not meet Keem Novak, or any such beautiful
girl, but a gor-illa. So many gor-illas, there in
Man-hattan." He growled, shaking a rat in his teeth,
then sucked in his cheeks. Did the Senorita, by
chance, know some person who desired to purchase a
grand pleasure cruiser, he asked.
"A magnificent boat, truly," chimed in the Dona. "A
yacht! Twenty-five feet! Perfect! We no longer have
the time to use it and so must give it away. Only
twenty thousand dollars--nothing for such a wonderful
ship." She spoke sharply in Spanish to the dark
waitress, who balanced a quavering caramel flan to my
table, pinching the saucer between her fingers as if
it had metamorphosed into a struggling moth. "These
girls are so lazy! Every minute I must watch them,"
commented her boss. She gazed into a gilded compact
and sedulously thickened her lipstick. The mascara
icing her glued-on lashes had shed some black bits.
Her husband limped back to the white piano, set a
foamy pink cocktail on top, and pounded out Cole
Porter's Nice Work if You Can Get It. Pumping the
pedals with theatrical stomps, he played Some
Enchanted Evening and Shall we Dance, tunes my
Shakespeare professor sang long ago, before his
daughter jumped out of the window, and Wrongside on
the Hudson burned. Swaying to the medley, I danced
with myself, with the images washed up by the music
deep into the moonlit, Mexican night.
The next morning I returned to The Kafe Kohfi for
breakfast. Although the sun was high, firing its rays
through a fecal dust haze, the bank had not posted the
exchange rate yet. The ancient pianist passed me in
the doorway with a curt nod, stepped into an olive
jeep, chauffeured by a soldier, a bandoleer of machine
gun cartridges crossing his chest. The old man had
exchanged his ivory tuxedo for a stiff khaki uniform,
decorated with flags, silver and gold medals, and
carried a briefcase.
The Dona, applying her make up at a wrought iron
table, wore a white peasant blouse of freshly starched
lace, and a sprig of bougainvillea in her sparse,
shellacked twist. Her naked skin, I saw in the
polluted morning light, was not only wrinkled, but a
chemical yellow, and as unyielding as a fossilized
leaf. Tabatha, soiled, twitched in her lap. The
proprietor cast dragging lids, minus lashes, at me,
murmured a cheerless good morning, and did not seem
delighted that I had come back. Possibly she didn't
The tortillas were stale, the Nescafe weak, and the
undercooked huevos rancheros wobbled blind golden eyes
in a tepid salsa. I wouldn't eat here again, I
thought, the lonely day before me, desolate, adrift.
A woman on a balcony attached to a concrete apartment
block across the alley shouted "Mira!" Rendering her
lips a precise magenta, the Dona glanced crossly up
from her compact mirror. The neighbor was waving a
large green dragon that writhed sinuously in her
"What's that?" I asked, shocked.
"That is a... an Iguana," the Dona replied, her voice
suffering my intrusion. "There was many here once, but
now they are few. The big hotels have driven them
away. But sometimes the peasants catch them in the
desert and brings them to sell on the Playa--how do
you call it in English? -- 'The Beach of Silk
Clothes.'" She called a shrill question to the woman
on the balcony. "She paid only forty pesos...It is too
cheap. The peasants do not know of the devaluacion."
I asked what the woman would do with the lizard.
The Dona rouged her dead cheek with a brush. "She will
cut his throat before she cooks him." "Then..." She
tipped an imaginary glass toward her crinkled lips.
"..., she will drink his blood. For health."
Vicki Lindner is a fiction writer, essayist, and journalist, who teaches writing at the University of Wyoming. Her work has recently appeared in Gastronomica, Ploughshares, Bearing Life: Women's Writings about Childlessness, and The Best of Terrain.