Baldonado won the mayoral election of 1968 in a landslide of 521,101 votes to 46,799 votes. He did not receive broad support from young people or the doctors. He had made a mistake in a speech when he described the youth as cholos and the doctors seemed to resent him for turning away from the profession. When he took up residence in the mayoral estate, La Granja de la Revolución, the youth turned up to protest but it did not change anything except his daily walk. The violent nature of the protests would not allow him to feel safe walking through the neighborhood, because the taxes of Zapopan did not provide adequate funding for his security team. Instead, he decided to wander through the scenic grounds of his new home. 

Upon his relocation to the city in 1966, Baldonado learned that the locals revered the estate for the surrealist design of its gardens. Three separate gravel trails looped under a thick covering of pine and oak trees and gradually led to a gargantuan jonote with bulging veined roots standing at the mathematical center of the grounds. Yucca spindles lined the trails in a haphazard array and bushels of aloe vera and nopal filled in the spaces between the trees. An expectation of the extraordinary dawned on Baldonado as he considered the mythic quality of the gardens and sipped      tequila on his first walk. Such a strange and beautiful mixture of flora and fauna radiated a certain hiddenness, like a masked labyrinth, thought Baldonado, one in which a man would not realize he was lost for a long time, perhaps forever. He was unsurprised when he found a note folded in a perfect triangular shape on a wooden bench under the jonote. Baldonado knew it was meant for him immediately after he saw it. “El Gallo—Welcome and enjoy.” He assumed it came from a groundskeeper and he dozed off on the bench before returning to the house. 

The next day, Baldonado shook hands with the director of the city transportation department and promised a new fleet of buses to rival any in Mexico. He did not plan to follow through, but promises had to be made. His daily walk started before lunch, the air already thick and heavy, and his chest sweated through his shirt as he picked a palm frond off the ground to help cool himself. The bench did not have another note, but he sat anyway and drank his tequila and waved the palm frond while he contemplated his life’s accomplishments. He thought it did not matter to tell someone of his degrees and expertise if he could not show them the actual certificates. His word was not enough. Everyone needed to see the real thing. He sighed and shook his head. No one believed anyone about anything anymore. 

During the next three days, students from La Hermana Divina came to tour the estate, several major businessmen dined in the ballroom, and Baldonado signed a bill for increased funding to the police force. The mayoral office sent the invitation for the students’ visit as a peace offering, but Baldonado refused to shake their hands. At the end of the third day, Baldonado’s two children came to see him and left after a half an hour. 

He found a note on the bench next to the jonote on each of these three days. The first of these notes was written in the same script as the original note and was addressed again to El Gallo. It said, “Every morning a new world awakens.” The second of these notes was also written in the same script as the two previous notes and it said, “Nothing is the antidote to greed.” The last note was addressed to El Jefe and the letters were printed and not written. “Days are short but memories are long.” Baldonado felt feverish after he read it and he spent the rest of the night awake in bed before falling asleep as the sun came up. 

He did not find another note until nightfall of the next day. His walk was delayed by dinner and a lengthy discussion with his predecessor Ricardo Veloz. The conversation was their first since the last public debate held in the La Biblioteca Metropolitana. Baldonado asked Veloz a variety of questions, mostly about the food service in the estate and the discretion of the mayoral chauffeur. As they walked towards the front door, Baldonado finally asked about the notes. Veloz said he knew nothing about them and believed they were supernatural. 

“Why?” asked Baldonado. 

“Letter writing is a lost art”, said Veloz, “like hieroglyphs.” 

Baldonado felt the apocryphal force of the notes swirling around him and he could not deny the magnetic pull. The easy answer, one which he would not realize until it was too late, was to ignore everything, begin anew, stay sober, shut himself away from all distractions, travel back to the European coast, grow old alone, and be reincarnated as a beautiful cloud. But his bureaucratic pride and an intense, reverential fear of ignorance dragged him back to the jonote at the center of the gardens, the center of his universe. A note sat in the middle of the bench and did not move in the wind. He picked it up and read: “El Jefe—Even Satan can disguise himself as an Angel of Light.” Could it be possible that the world was trying to eat him whole? The stack of five folded notes on Baldonado’s desk glowed through the night and he did not sleep for a minute. 

In the morning, Baldonado diagnosed himself with lucid nightmares and prescribed a healthy dose of melatonin, which he planned to dissolve into his tequila three times per day. He believed sound rest would cleanse his mind. When he fell asleep at his desk that afternoon, he dreamed of a rabid dog cowering in the corner of his bedroom. Then he dreamed of a tree, with a smooth trunk and no branches, reaching thousands of feet into the sky. At the top of the tree was a square platform where he could look out to what he thought was the city, though he could not see any lights. He only could see darkness spanning until the horizon, where a bright and blinding sun hung frozen in the middle of its rise. He tried to look at the sun for as long as he could and then it disappeared and he could not see anything at all except a blinking negative of the rabid dog in his bedroom. 

The top mayoral adviser, Trujillo Juanacaz, sometimes called ‘the pious one’ by Baldonado, suggested he visit a church or take a holiday trip. Baldonado decided to drive to Ajijic to spend the day at the beach. He sat on a stone ledge overlooking the lake for three hours and did not once think of the notes. Instead, he thought of the upcoming school budget cuts and a commercial he planned to film with a local society protecting stray dogs. 

A small shirtless man in round glasses asked him to buy a beer from a red cooler and he bought two to enjoy on a walk. The old man thanked him and told him to “enjoy this vestigial life” before he towed his cooler up the beach with deep divoted lines snaking in the sand behind him. Baldonado took off his sandals and walked with his pants rolled up to his calves, stepping in puddles on the edge of the water and avoiding the sharp sea stones that washed up with the tide. Only in Jalisco would God himself remind you to wear shoes, he thought. After he finished the beers, he felt a great fear at the clarity of his thoughts and it made him wish he could have been drinking tequila. 

At the end of the beach, far past where the tourists gathered and farther than any swimmers would go, a small crowd surrounded a massive bonfire. One of the men in the crowd introduced himself to Baldonado and shook his hand. 

“I am Duran,” he said, “and these are my people.” Baldonado did not tell Duran who he was but instead asked why they made the bonfire. He did not want to know and the heat made him sick, but he could not help but ask. Duran said it was a futuristic representation of the Capital B Body, Capital M Mind, and Capital S Spirit engulfing the Capital S State in a visceral battle for the soul of the world. He called it the Götterdämmerung. Baldonado shielded his eyes from the fire and realized he did not belong in this place. 

“No one really belongs here, do they?” said Duran. Baldonado could not get rid of the feeling of the man’s handshake for the rest of his time on the beach and he left to return to La Granja de Revolución with a thunderous headache. 

The sky opened up with a deep rain during the drive back from Ajijic and the weather reminded Baldonado of an emergency room case from ten years prior, only a few years before he lost his medical license. A naked man walked into the hospital with his body completely charred. Thin layers of flaked ash fell off him as he made the slightest movement. The nurses rushed him into an empty room and Baldonado asked what happened as they began to dab him with cold washcloths and peel off the dead skin with tweezers. The man said he was caught in a thunderstorm in the middle of a vast field, one where he could not take cover under any trees for miles. He tried to run to the forest but he noticed the faster he ran, the farther away the trees seemed to be. After he had run for almost forty minutes, what he guessed was many miles, he stopped to drink from a small pond. When he bent down to lick the water, a lightning strike hit the pond and then the man in succession. He woke up with his skin on fire and rolled in the wet grass to put it out before walking many more miles to the hospital. Baldonado was amazed the man could converse without screaming. Even the peeling of his skin did not bother him. He asked why the man was in the field to begin with and the man said he did not remember. Baldonado left the nurses to pare the man down to his healthy flesh and he wandered down the hall in a daze. Years later the story still bothered him whenever he thought of it because he never remembered any rain at all from that day. 

When Baldonado arrived back at La Granja, he asked his amanuensis to ready himself at the typewriter. The long drive in the rain had cleared his mind and he felt he had no other choice but to respond. He saw himself as a man of words. Even if he had never won a debate, he also had never won a fight. Regardless of whether the author of the notes was a malignant ethereal entity or a piece of rotten human scum, Baldonado would need to be delicate with his words. If he was articulate enough, he might be able to catch his enemy off guard. He stood in front of a small porthole window in his study and scanned the grounds outside, looking for the garden’s soul, any soul, possibly his own. Baldonado’s pose scared the assistant as he did not move for one hour, standing with his hand over his mouth to prevent a premature epiphany. The assistant fought to stay awake until Baldonado turned around and whispered, “Everyone thought that the encounter of the two chess players was accidental.” 

“Borges, sir?” asked the amanuensis as he typed. 

“I despise him,” said Baldonado, “but true words of reckoning cannot be forced to carry the prejudice of their creator.” 

Baldonado read over the words and handed the assistant a silver coin. After the boy left the room, the Mayor sat down at the typewriter and turned the paper to its blank side. His hands shook violently as he typed the letters one by one: El Espantoso. 

When the estate settled into a quiet malaise for the night, Baldonado grabbed his tequila bottle and headed straight for the bench by the jonote. He set his note down and decided to walk a loop around the grounds. With every breeze he pictured the note being lifted and opened and the wind shaking its fist at him and dissipating in a scream. He walked with his hands folded behind his back and his eyes facing the tops of the trees which faded into cetaceous bulges of chiaroscuro—shapes of a sea cow, a seahorse, a whale, the canines of the sea—and intermingled with the gray sky to make a long rectangle, like a cap on the earth. The time it took to walk around the gardens contained ages, multitudes of visions involving sickly dogs and a futuristic world with all of the trees of the planet on fire, life and death within a single day. He thought about digging up the jonote and clearing all of the other trees from the grounds to open up the air and demystify everything, but the image of hundreds of thick stumps sticking out of the earth like candles, or like portals in and out of the world, or like stepping stones to the clouds, made him tired and he knew he would never be able to think of anything else if the stumps were there. 

Baldonado did not see his note when he returned and he felt the bench’s emptiness freeze and harden his stomach. Suddenly the gardens seemed to be sucking all of the life of the world through a swirling breeze into a pin-size black hole at the foot of the bench. He walked back to his room where he drank more tequila and laid awake thinking of stray dogs roaming the estate gardens and spinning aimlessly while barking out “Borges.” His fever rose to 104 degrees before he fell asleep and then he dreamed again of standing on the platform on top of the tall tree and watching the sun freeze in the air and disappear into the belly of the beast. 

A local radio station, La Época, interviewed the Mayor for its early show the next morning. Trujillo Juanacaz provided all of the preapproved questions and Baldonado recited his answers with complete accuracy, taking special care to mention of the Power of Infrastructure, specifically the road construction in the city center. The host, who whispered that she had voted for him under at least two different names, asked if he would build a new hospital, to which he responded: “The medical profession is our greatest quandary.” 

The only moment in which Baldonado paused, as if to reflect on all that was and would be, was when the show went to a commercial break and the host told listeners to find the station at 179.9 FM on their radio dials. Baldonado froze and deeply contemplated a full set of radio-specific numbers journeying into eternity, stations only set to prime numbers, stations spiraling in Fibonacci’s sequence up to 2583.9 FM, the mysterious station of Kaprekar’s number which calls itself —— (only silence). 

Afterwards, the advising team congratulated Baldonado on a successful interview and promised him a bump in the approval polls. Trujillo Juanacaz assured him that campaigning never ends. The group ate lunch in a small cafe next to the painter’s union headquarters. The union leader stopped by to drink a cold beer with the Mayor over a plate of pulpo frito and they discussed a pending contract dispute surrounding the renovation of the state penitentiary. The Mayor agreed to all of the painter’s terms while he sat mesmerized watching the small arms on his plate wave in circles. He told Trujillo Juanacaz that he did not feel well and the advising team deliberated and decided his sickness could be traced back to the rotting pulpo. As the security team lifted Baldonado above their heads on the way to the car, he realized he had never felt closer to dying, but he knew it would not feel as grand as this in the end. 

Baldonado’s administrative assistants sent an indiscrete black car to pick up a prostitute for him when he returned home. They thought there could be nothing better for his psyche or his physical health. Even Trujillo Juanacaz, who once loved him, agreed. Although, at first, he wondered out loud if the Mayor should quit and leave forever to escape all of the things that were chasing him, but he quickly took it back and dialed the number of the escort service. 

The girl who came to La Granja was an American from Tucson named Miracle. Baldonado sent his team home for the night and took the girl to his room where they stayed together for twenty minutes. She told him she moved to Mexico at the end of World War II because she could not take the patriotism. 

“That is good,” Baldonado said, “because what we have here is very different.” 

She agreed and they did not speak of how she got to Jalisco or how she ended up as a high-class prostitute in Zapopan of all places. Baldonado asked her if she would like to take a walk and she said yes, after looking at her watch, and added that she would only go because he was an honest man. He knew she called him honest only for business reasons. 

They held each other’s hands and walked along the gravel path until they came to the bench by the jonote. The tree looked like the husk of a skeleton emerging from the ground and reaching up to the black and starless night. Baldonado sat on one side of the bench with his tequila glass resting on his knee and Miracle sat on the other side. A note sat in between them. The scrap of paper’s sides appeared to be ripped, as if by talons, from a larger page. She tried to pick it up but the Mayor grabbed her hand. “It wouldn’t be right for me to have you involved,” he said. 

They admired the gardens and sipped tequila in silence before Baldonado opened the note and brought it an inch away from his eyes. The writing became more haggard as the letters went on and he dropped the paper to the ground and crushed it under his shoe after he read it out loud. “El Capitán—Punishment manifests itself through the administering angel.” This second mention of angels convinced Baldonado that the author existed on a plane higher than religion, with the angels as equals, no fear in incantation, a being which could not be reasoned with and could not be extinguished. 

“Is it a riddle?” asked Miracle. 

“Of course not,” he replied. 

“Then a proverb,” she said while nodding her head. He did not respond and she looked like she would cry or scream. “Poetry, perhaps?” 

Baldonado spit on the ground. 

“How can you let a man taunt you like this?” 

Baldonado said he did not think it was a man, but maybe something in the air that shifts with the wind and lives off of the sun. 

“I don’t believe in those things,” she said. 

“Just because you don’t believe doesn’t make it untrue,” wished Baldonado. 

“You should find him and make him pay,” she said. He looked at her and suddenly felt terrified she would kill him. She looked like she grew a thin mustache on their walk and behind her eyes blazed a sharp fire with smoke lifting from her mouth when she talked. He placed his hand over his face and looked at Miracle through his fingers. “Sometimes there are things we see which tell us of things we should not have seen,” she said as she locked eyes with him. 

He touched her face with his other hand and asked, “Could a man like me really cause all of this?” 

“A man like you is what causes everything,” she said. He gave her the cash in his pocket and asked her to go and she left him alone on the bench and walked through the gardens into the lush abyss. 

Baldonado felt like the rabid and untamed dog shivering in the corner of his room, waiting for something, possibly to be killed or maimed, possibly to be healed miraculously. He thought of an old saying from his days in residency: If you want to be told what to do, ask a doctor. If you want to be told what is right, ask a whore. He decided he did not have a choice but to stay on the bench and wait for the end of the world. The earth rumbled beneath his feet and he took off his shoes to feel it. He cried and wished he could have paid Miracle to stay. The bench felt empty and he laid down to fill its space. He would be alone into infinity.

He dreamed in vibrant colors, a vision of Duran running down the beach towards him. The Götterdämmerung seemed to glide across the beach in step with Duran, but every time Baldonado looked into the fire, the towering structure disappeared. The clarity of the situation flooded his veins and he knew Duran was not running from the fire, nor was he running to Baldonado. He ran for the sake of it and he subsisted on the motion. His body would never tire and he would be in perpetual movement as the bonfire stalked behind him. Baldonado tried to wave his arms to get Duran’s attention and warn him, but there was no response. A bystander in his own dream. 

He woke up on the bench with his shirt sticking to his chest in sweat and he immediately knew it would be dangerous to fall asleep again. The jonote trembled in the dark and a thin line of red ants climbed up the tree. Baldonado watched the insects carry the universe on their backs and he imagined them climbing to the platform on top of the world and walking off one by one. He looked into the black sky and a series of visions flashed in front of his eyes, the type of hallucinations which haunt the seer until they come true. He saw a man with a crown sprinting up a stairway ahead of a parade of runners, a piece of paper melting like butter in the sun, and a slice of pie turning black as he brought a forkful to his mouth. He shuddered and rubbed his arms with his hands and put his shoes back on. The wind picked up as if it would rain, but he knew it would not. 

The barking of a stray dog echoed past the iron fence of the gardens, somewhere on the streets of the town, and Baldonado whimpered when the sound grew more chaotic and hostile, like a mob of teenagers barking in unison, all of them with a knowledge of the world’s full lifetime. He felt overwhelmed with a joyful sadness, or perhaps a sad joyfulness, and he wept deeply in the face of the great mystery of it all. As the wind died down, the sun exploded over the grounds and stretched into an oblong shape bending over the curvature of the horizon.

Minutes later, Trujillo Juanacaz, the pious one, walked out onto the grounds in his bathrobe and slippers and found the bench empty, except for a thin sliver of paper held down by a small rock. He picked up the paper and a small tequila glass on the ground, and, without looking at what the paper said (four different and distinct words, you know the ones), put both objects in his pocket and walked back to the estate house. 

Later that year, in December of 1968, Zapopan held a special mayoral election in which Ricardo Veloz beat out Trujillo Juanacaz by a margin of three to one. Veloz governed until 1970, which was considered the Year of the Dog.

 

Cover art: “Nest,” by Kristen Baker

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Jared Billings

Jared Billings is an author who lives in Hilltop, Ohio with his wife and two kids. His writing centers on the emotional toll of the unseen world. He enjoys riding the bus, listening to songs with no words and watching movies in languages he doesn't understand. This is his first published story.

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