Monday, June 14, 2010
In Normal Miguel by Erik Orrantia, Miguel Hernández is a teacher who has left Mexico City to complete a one year student internship in the rural hills of Puebla. He came to the school intending to focus on his teaching and his students but quickly learns that it is impossible to keep his private and professional lives separate—particularly as his experience turns into a voyage of self-discovery.
His students, the Directora of the school, the baker, and other people from the town all contribute to his growing awareness. But most important is Ruben, the owner of the candy store who progresses from merchant to friend to lover. He will be the man who has the most effect on Miguel — who, in turn, is transformed by the impact of Miguel on his own life.
This is a lyrical story that brings to life the countryside of rural Mexico, with its grinding poverty but care of the people for their native land; expressing prejudice and hate but at the same time affirming the power of love and acceptance in overcoming obstacles. As a slice of life in the year of Miguel, Normal Miguel will certainly capture the hearts and imaginations of those who join him on his journey in the pages of the book.
Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing (print) (June 1, 2010)
Bristlecone Pine Press (ebook),
ISBN: 978-0-9797773-9-4 (print)
ISBN: 978-1-60722-019-0 (ebook)
Excerpt: (from Chapter 11)
Horseback riding was awkward, the back and forth swaying that was not jerky like the buses in the city but unstable, like riding a see-saw for the first time. His hands were like those of a school boy at his first dance, unsure where to be, because there was no place to grab at the saddle and no way to hold on to the horse’s rump beneath him. Ruben’s waist was a most tempting handhold and, because of that, forbidden. His hands settled onto his own thighs, his lower legs clinging ardently to the creature’s ribcage. Unexpected jolts caused his hands to grasp at Ruben anyway. Miguel was not convinced that the equestrian life was for him.
Much of the rocky river bed was still dry and the horse’s hoofs slid on the smooth boulders at times before finding solid ground, but it plodded on without complaint. Ruben looked at the canyon walls on either side that not long from now would be wet with the winter’s rain. Random logs, branches, and dry vines littered the river bed, testaments to last year’s storms that flushed them down from the hills above and left them like bodies on a battlefield.
In Ruben’s silence, Miguel focused on the fine hairs on Ruben’s neck. He imagined his muscular back shirtless and the feel of his forearms on his palms. He was quietly aroused, but embarrassed, too, for thinking only of sex at a time like this. Perhaps it was the liberty of the canyon, empty of people and garbage, loud children and watching eyes. The moving air refreshed him as it passed through his hair. He felt as if he had escaped. Then he reflected on the irony—his coming to Comalticán had been the escape. He had already escaped. What was he escaping from now?
They must have been ten kilometers from town by now. Ruben pointed into the trees. “Do you see the power line?”
Miguel followed his fingers and saw where a heavy black wire was hidden in the thick of the leaves.
“It’s the only sign of people out here…and the only source of electricity for all of Comalticán. They’re always worried about it going down in the winter storms like it did a few years back.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” replied Miguel. “You’d think they’d have put it in a better place, then.”
“Yeah, but they put it up in the summertime when the river bed was dry. They found it easier to use the river bed than building a road for it. Maybe they’ll fix it next election.” He shrugged his shoulders. “We’ll stop up there beyond the bend. There’s a small beach that formed this spring where I like to rest.”
Ruben had always tended toward tranquility. He hadn’t fallen into the bad crowd at school, hadn’t hung around at the park and gotten shit-faced at parties like the rest of the guys. He hadn’t enjoyed talking about fucking this or that girl or arguing over which was the best soccer forward or which was the fastest four-wheeler. Mostly he had hung around with the studious school girls. He had had a serious air since early childhood.
Perhaps it was his Christian upbringing that set him apart, at first, or at least the dedication that his mother had to it. She would read him Bible stories and talk about the greatness of God. She would pray with pathos and sing with eyes closed and hands raised toward the heavens. She preached honesty and sincerity, and challenged others in tight spots with “What would Jesus do?” She was a good woman, Ruben knew, and he loved her dearly. But he didn’t believe what she did. He found her religion dogmatic and, at times, self-righteous or simply unbelievable. He had acquiesced through his adolescence to keep the harmony at home, however.
Indeed, he had been the perfect child—quiet and obedient, not easily led astray, always striving to achieve in school, help around the house, and save his money for a rainy day. He was his mother’s pride and joy. He had been afraid for a long time that he might destroy that pride and joy. He knew he was different from the other kids in another way.
Once he had finished preparatory school and began having serious feelings for a long-time friend, there was no more denying. His mother had instilled honesty in him, so how much longer could he ignore what had to be said?
The worst part was that he was right. His mother had been devastated when he told her he was gay.
The roof caved in and the storms came down. It was a good thing that Ruben had saved some money in anticipation of disaster. When a friend’s parents were selling the candy store in nearby Arbolito, Ruben was ready to start anew. It was the perfect opportunity, a godsend, for studying at the university in the big city held little interest. Despite the problems with his mother at home, he was a small town guy…and a Mama’s boy, after all. He believed she’d eventually find a way to rationalize loving him. He believed in love.
The rift hadn’t been entirely healed. Until it was, his horse Micha would be his solace. Ruben loved the solitude and solidarity he found with her. She was also a symbol to him of his modest financial success, and the tranquility of being alone with her was a luxury, a short-lived vacation on lunch hour.
Recognizing the little beach, Micha stopped at her resting place beneath the tree at the river bank. The two men dismounted. Then Ruben took the blanket from where Miguel had been sitting and pulled sandwiches and sodas from a knapsack. After eating, they lay together on the blanket in the cool November afternoon, watching the gray clouds sweep across the sky, and chatted awhile.
“Captain sent you greetings,” Miguel said, finally finding the confidence. “I think it was ‘Fuck your mother!’ to be exact.”
Ruben looked over at him and laughed. “Typical macho man! He’s so pathetic.”
“I guess you know him pretty well?”
“Are you kidding?” Ruben shook his head. “He started suspecting that I was gay and would come to see me at the candy store. Starts grabbing his cock and looking at me in his ‘sexy’ way, as if I’m gonna stop what I’m doing and suck his dick right there.” Miguel’s confidence began to waver as Ruben continued. “He thinks any queer will fall for that. I have more dignity than to let some fat slob fuck me who just wants to blow his load. I told him he’d have better luck baking himself two buns and drilling a hole in between them.”
Miguel nodded and chuckled in agreement, silently relieved that he had rejected Captain’s last come on.
“He’s probably put the make on you, too, huh?” Ruben asked.
“Yeah, something like that.”
“What a pig.”
“So,” Miguel shifted. “You’re gay?”
“Am I gay? Yes. Why did you think I asked you out here?”
“Okay…I just wasn’t sure.”
“I figured you were,” Ruben said, “you know, for taking naked boys down to the river and all.” He laughed and elbowed Miguel in the side. “As you can imagine, there are not that many open gays out here. And when they are, they’re usually practically drag queens or hair stylists. I don’t have many friends like me.”
They lay silently, reveling in the moment, the liberty and solidarity. Miguel thought of the Captain and of his students. What if the world knew the truth about him? What if Ruben knew about him and the Captain? What if his students knew about him? Then where would he escape to? He thought of Abimael, whose warts were displayed for the world to see. Those warts didn’t affect his usually happy disposition. Why couldn’t it be so easy for him?
On the way back, Ruben put Miguel in the driver’s seat. He instructed him on the use of the reins and the kick of the heel. “You have to show the horse who is in charge,” he said. But Miguel could hardly concentrate as he felt Ruben’s arms firmly wrapped around his waist and his body pressed against his back.
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