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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes: Going Native in the Jungle

The Temple
Mary Wilson

I’m going to the jungle. Palenque

Matt Haines rotated the wire postcard rack and scanned them all before picking out the one with the aerial photograph of the hotels and resorts that lined the beach. On the postcard, orange letters spelled out "Cancun," and the word hovered above the water and buildings like an ignominious blimp, and Matt thought of the black and white footage of the Hindenburg he had seen on the History channel.
He addressed the card to his roommate, Luke Monahan.

I’m going to the jungle. Palenque.

Matt dropped the card into the mailbox in the hotel lobby, slung his backpack on, and went to the desk to check out.
"Couldn’t find a job bartending?" the clerk, who was also American, asked him.
"I got offered one," Matt said, "but I’m heading to Oaxaca."
"Going to the ruins?"
"Yeah." Matt signed the credit card slip.
"Good luck, man."

The bus ride was long, the highways narrow and winding. He passed the time sleeping, reading, or staring out the windows while music blasted through his headphones.
On the last leg of the trip, the bus driver let passengers smoke. That driver had played music most of the stint, chain smoking along the way. Matt had liked him and gave him a tip when they stopped in Palenque, and in return the driver had told Matt how to find the most isolated temples.

He ate a quesadilla at the café, and drank three cups of coffee. Matt sipped his coffee and watched across the street as the short Mexican with the red and black cowboy boots talked to passing tourists. Whores lingered by the side of the road, next to the white van where they did their tricks.
Matt approached the man, "Cuanto me cobra llevarme a? What will you charge to take me to…"
The man cut him off with a laugh, and gestured to the girls who leaned against the building where there was shade, sipping from soda bottles and smoking cigarettes.
"Pretty girl for hire," Enano replied in English.
"No." Matt turned and started to walk away.
"Magic mushroom," and Matt turned around again.
He filled Matt’s palm with psylocybin mushrooms for the equivalent of three US dollars. The whores stared at him, the youngest one smiling. In a few years, Matt thought, some of them would be missing teeth. Better to suck dick with. He felt ashamed for thinking such a thing.

He hitched a ride to the temples and found a slim path through the jungle. The bus driver had told him to look for the paths that the tour guides made, the Indian tour guides, he had stressed, not knowing that Matt was an Indian himself, an American Indian. A half-blood. He had followed a tour group into the jungle and had hidden in the brush while the tourists climbed the temple.
The Mayans had built this place almost a thousand years before Christ was born, he knew. He wondered how much blood had spilled on its stones.
At first, he was afraid of the howler monkeys. But he had slept on the temple top for three days, and in that time, the monkeys had not bared their teeth to him or shrieked. When the tourists came, he would watch from the brush while the monkeys shook branches and threw shit or bananas at them. Tourists, monkey no like.

He found and filtered his water from the cascading pools, and searched for fruit in the jungle. Mangos and bananas. On the third day, Matt awoke, and realized it was Christmas morning. If there had been a phone nearby, he would have called his mother or father or brothers and wished them a Merry Christmas. But there was no phone nearby. Instead, he ate a dry energy bar from his pack, and followed that with the mushrooms.

Once the drug, the nepenthe, had taken hold, he thought of staying on top of the temple and its moss bed, but the jungle was calling him down. He slithered down the worn temple, dribbled down its rock like rain water, pulled by gravity to the bottom, to the earth, under the earth.
The monkeys began yelling to each other. Must be tourists nearby.
He did not know where he had put his knapsack and he did not care.
His shoes were gone and his toenails radiated like mother of pearl.

"Don’t go to Mexico because you’ll get robbed by the Banditos," his mother had warned him. But they had left him alone. After failing the fall semester and skipping finals, Matt had headed to Cancun with his backpack, hoping to get a job bartending. He had spent two weeks there before beginning his journey deeper into the jungles and mountains.
His mother, Ellen, hadn’t wanted him to go so near to Christmas, was angry that he had surrendered his scholarship but was willing to forgive. She was the best kind of American, she liked to say—well mixed—as was he.
Matt’s father, a Sioux Indian, or Big Pow-Wow, as Matt’s mother referred to him after the divorce, had passed on enough dark pigmentation that the Banditos had left him alone in favor of paler fraternity brothers and pasty honeymooning couples.
Indian—he could feel the Indian cells in his blood colliding with the French, Dutch and Welsh cells and all melting into the resonating earth. What kept them stuck together, those cells?

The tourists were getting closer. He could hear them coming through the brush.
Must be a guide whacking, he thought.
Whack, whack, whack.

Big machete hacks through jungle and here he was with no shoes or shirt no service at the convenience store and wearing only a pair of shorts and no ID on him because he had hidden his knapsack somewhere, and they were getting closer and the monkeys were getting louder and the birds were flying away and why did the tourists want to come to this temple anyway, to this little pile of mossy stones when there were so many other temples that were easier to walk to where you didn’t need a guide to hack through the brush and where he wouldn’t be disturbed while he was peaking on Christmas and then he was watching the ants by his toes and wondering if they would bite him so much venom in such a tiny creature but the ants seemed to leave him alone and all around him the pulsing, the breathing, the birthing of the world, it was in labor he was eating its placenta, it was all breathing it was a continuum of breathing even when it was over uncountable micro-organisms feasted on the body which was just a sack of water and jelly and salt a giant knapsack of flesh and he wanted to fly away but here he was and those mushrooms had cost just three dollars and maybe he loved that one whore he wanted to save her he could buy her and take her back to the US she was so young and radiant she had looked at him with those big black eyes and he had wanted to fuck her but he was scared of disease and ashamed for considering.

The tourists and their guide came out of the brush. He was barely hacking now because he had found a semblance of a path.
There was a woman and a man with the guide. They were dressed in khaki shorts, the woman much younger than the white bearded man, with her hair pulled tight under her hat, and Matt could smell the bug spray emanating from them and see the pearls on her earlobes, and he wanted to fuck her too as easily and simply as the howler monkeys went at it together, he wanted to collapse in a puddle of lust, of being, and all the words had fallen away from his cortex and there was only divine cellular experience, each cell in ecstasy and unity, one being, the body and the earth. It was perfect and fundamentally flawed.

The guide had fear in his eyes, and Matt noticed his hand grip the machete tighter. Matt wished that he had hidden in the brush like he had done when the handful of other tourists had come, but he was frozen. He stared at them and they stared at him, and Matt saw that the men were perplexed but the woman was excited. After an eon of silence, the woman spoke, her accent British, "My God, it’s Tarzan!"

And with those words the primordial ooze became articulate and formed into grunts and he pounded his chest and tickled his armpits with his fingers and then he made the sounds that he had heard the monkeys make when they were excited ahwhooahwheh heh heh hee hee hee while he ran closer to the monkeys and hid in the brush, where he found his knapsack and the bladder of water. The monkeys were going nuts and Matt knew that they understood, and as the tourists climbed the temple, the guide still gripping the machete with white knuckles, Matt watched the primates shriek and throw bananas and shit at them, striking the older man on the shoulder with excrement.

Back in England, at the University, the woman would tell her colleagues about Tarzan, and damn few of them had believed her.

© Mary Wilson March 2004

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