Brígida immediately abandoned her task. She got up, looked me in the eyes with an expression of great suffering, and then, pulling me by the jacket, led me to a door I hadn't noticed before.
"See you next time, baby," she said, her voice much throatier than usual, as she pushed me through the door.
Suddenly, I found myself in the toilets of the Encrucijada Vera-cruzana, a long, gloomy, rectangular room. I stumbled around a little, still dazed by how quickly things had just happened. It smelled like disinfectant and the floor was wet, and partly flooded. The lighting was dim to nonexistent. Between two chipped sinks, I saw a mirror, and glancing sideways at myself, I caught an image in the mercury that made my hair stand on end. In silence, and trying not to splash in the rivulet that I'd just noticed trickling from one of the stalls, I turned back to the mirror, drawn by curiosity. The mirror revealed a cuneiform face, dark red and beaded with sweat. I sprang backward and almost fell. There was someone in one of the toilets. I heard him mutter, swear. One of the regulars, I assumed. Then someone called me by my name:
"Poet García Madero."
I saw two shadows next to the urinals. They were enveloped in a cloud of smoke. Two queers, I thought. Two queers who know my name?
"Poet García Madero. Come closer, man."
Although logic and prudence urged me to find the door and leave the Encrucijada without further delay, what I did was take two steps toward the smoke. Two pairs of bright eyes were watching me, like the eyes of wolves in a gale (poetic license: I've never seen a wolf; I have seen gales, though, and they didn't really go with the mantle of smoke that enveloped the two strangers). I heard them laugh. Hee hee hee. There was a smell of marijuana. I relaxed.
"Poet García Madero, your thing is hanging out."
"Hee hee hee."
"Your penis… It's hanging out."
I patted my fly. It was true. I'd been so flustered I really had forgotten to tuck myself back in. I blushed, and thought about telling them to go fuck themselves, but I contained myself, fixed my pants, and took a step in their direction. They looked familiar, and I tried to pierce the surrounding darkness and decipher their faces. No luck.
Then a hand, followed by an arm, emerged from the globe of smoke around them. The hand offered me the end of a joint.
"I don't smoke," I said.
"It's weed, poet García Madero. Acapulco Gold."
I shook my head.
"I don't like it," I said.
I was startled by a noise in the room next door. Somebody's voice was raised. A man's. Then someone shouted. A woman. Brígida. I was sure the owner of the bar was hitting her and I wanted to come to her defense, although the truth is I didn't care all that much about Brígida (I didn't care about her at all, really). Just as I was turning back toward the door, the strangers' hands grabbed me. Then I saw their faces emerge from the smoke. It was Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano.
I sighed with relief, I almost burst into applause; I told them that I had been looking for them for days. Then I made another attempt to come to the aid of the shouting woman, but they wouldn't let me.
"Don't make trouble for yourself, those two are always at it," said Belano.
"The waitress and her boss."
"But he's hitting her," I said. The slaps were clearly audible now. "We can't just let him hit her."
"Ah, García Madero, what a poet," said Ulises Lima.
"You're right, we couldn't let him hit her," said Belano, "but things aren't always the way they sound. Trust me."
Clearly they knew all about the Encrucijada, and I would have liked to ask them some questions, but I didn't want to seem indiscreet.
When I came out of the toilets, the light of the bar hurt my eyes. Everybody was talking at the top of their lungs. Some people were singing along to the blind man's song, a bolero, or what sounded to me like a bolero, about a desperate love, a love that time could never heal, although with the passage of the years it became more humiliating, more pathetic, more terrible. Lima and Belano were carrying three books apiece, and they looked like students, like me. Before we left, we went up to the bar, shoulder to shoulder, and ordered three tequilas which we downed in a single gulp, and then we went out into the street, laughing. As we left the Encrucijada, I looked back for the last time in the vain hope of seeing Brígida appear in the doorway to the storage room, but she wasn't there.
Ulises Lima's books were:
Manifeste électrique aux paupieres de jupes, by Michel Bulteau, Matthieu Messagier, Jean-Jacques Faussot, Jean-Jacques Nguyen That, and Gyl Bert-Ram-Soutrenom F.M., and other poets of the Electric Movement, our French counterparts (I think).
Sang de satin, by Michel Bulteau.
Nord d'été naître opaque, by Matthieu Messagier.
The books Arturo Belano was carrying were:
Le parfait criminel, by Alain Jouffroy.
Le pays où tout est permis, by Sophie Podolski.
Cent mille milliards de poèmes, by Raymond Queneau. (The Queneau was a photocopy, and the way it had been folded, in addition to the wear and tear of too much handling, had turned it into a kind of startled paper flower, its petals splayed toward the four points of the compass.)
Later we met up with Ernesto San Epifanio, who was also carrying three books. I asked him to let me make a note of them. They were:
Little Johnny's Confession, by Brian Patten.
Tonight at Noon, by Adrian Henri.
The Lost Fire Brigade, by Spike Hawkins.
Ulises Lima lives in a room on a roof on Calle Anáhuac, near Insurgentes. It's a tiny place, ten feet by eight, with books piled up everywhere. Through the only window, as small as a porthole, you can see the neighboring rooftops, where human sacrifices are still performed, according to Ulises Lima, who got it from Monsiváis. In the room there's only a thin mattress on the floor, which Lima rolls up during the day or when he has visitors and uses as a sofa; there's also a tiny table, its entire top taken up by a typewriter, and a single chair. Visitors, obviously, have to sit on the mattress or the floor or just stand. Today there were five of us: Lima, Belano, Rafael Barrios, and Jacinto Requena. Belano took the chair, Barrios and Requena the mattress, Lima stood the whole time (sometimes pacing around the room), and I sat on the floor.
We talked about poetry. No one has read any of my poems, and yet they all treat me like one of them. The camaraderie is immediate and incredible!
Around nine, Felipe Müller showed up; he's nineteen, so until I came along he was the youngest in the group. Then we all went to eat at a Chinese café, and we walked and talked about literature until three in the morning. We were all in complete agreement that Mexican poetry must be transformed. Our situation (as far as I could understand) is unsustainable, trapped as we are between the reign of Octavio Paz and the reign of Pablo Neruda. In other words, between a rock and a hard place.
I asked where I could buy the books they'd had with them the other night. The answer came as no surprise: they steal them from the Librería Francesa in the Zona Rosa and from the Librería Baudelaire on Calle General Martínez, near Calle Horacio, in Polanco. I also asked about the authors, and one after another (what one visceral realist reads is soon read by the rest of the group) they filled me in on the life and works of the Electrics, Raymond Queneau, Sophie Podolski, and Alain Jouffroy.
Felipe Müller asked if I could read French. He sounded a tiny bit annoyed. I told him that with a dictionary I could get along all right. Later I asked him the same question. You read French, don't you, mano? He answered in the negative.