I’m lying in bed watching TV with Lulu. I’ve found a channel I consider educational—it shows nothing but Mexican movies from the 1940s through the 1970s. Sure, sometimes the seventies movies are a little violent and have pimps and stuff in them, but those are usually only on late at night.
The flickering television illuminates a room in which the furniture is covered with dust, and pots and pans sit abandoned in boxes. Just outside the door, open bags of concrete and plaster mix, putty knives and paintbrushes have been left lying about haphazardly. There is no glass in the windows, just elaborate wrought iron bars. If I tried to write this scene into a movie script it would seem unlikely. My pitch would fall flat; I’d end up chucking the whole thing and starting from scratch.
Nevertheless here we are, for Adam’s coworker Eduardo has generously offered us his sister’s apartment in Vallarta, two rooms on the first floor of his own house, while we’re waiting for the boat to be painted. Adam leaves for work at 8 am and returns at 8 pm. Lulu and I explore the Vallarta area by bus. We visit the strange zoo—kind of like a petting zoo with huge wild animals. At the entrance, the ticket-seller also sells food to feed them. “Es muy divertido,” he encourages, but I decide that we should observe instead. As it turns out, the boundaries between human and animal are indistinct. The camels’ rubbery clown lips descend to ruffle the baby’s hair. A friendly giraffe head appears from the sky, curious to know if we are offering carrots.
In the afternoons, back at our new place, the family comes home. Again I observe through a permeable barrier, those iron bars that separate our space from theirs. The family is composed of a mother and father and two children—a girl, aged two-and-a-half, and a boy, aged six. A grandmother and grandfather live nearby and provide regular childcare. Over a period of one week, this researcher rarely saw the mother and father together (both parents work full-time). The group coheres, in so far as connections are made among family members, around social rituals such as what might be termed the “homework battle,” taking place for between two and four hours each school night, and the “unsupervised climb,” in which the girl mounts a spiral staircase and plays on the roof until she is noticed and chastised. Upon returning, separately, to the domestic space, the parents respond indifferently to each other, or with overtones of aggression; for example, the husband was heard to greet his wife as “bruja,” meaning witch. Sometimes the couple ignores each other, or offers merely a simple “hola.”
Anyway. By dusk, the researcher is exhausted, overly critical, and ready for some TV. This particular evening, the feature is “El Vampiro Sangriento.” How scary can it be? It must be like seventy years old. Lulu and I settle back on the pillows. The scratchy music appropriate to black and white movies begins. Some things happen, then there’s a conversation going on between a guy and a lady—OK, it’s like he gave her a crucifix, and it keeps disappearing in the night? It must be, he keeps giving her crucifixes, plural. And they’re saying how weird that is. Now they’re in a big banquet hall, and some freaky guy is sitting at the head of the table. The hero sniffs his wine and then moves his eyebrows to tell the heroine not to drink it. It's poisoned? Wait—I missed something—
And then I notice that we're lying under a filmy canopy. The sheets are soft, the pillows voluminous. Lulu is tugging at her neck—somehow she’s gotten into a kind of long, lacy dress buttoned all the way up the back that looks like it’s strangling her. I go to help and notice that I’m wearing a white gown with a plunging neckline. This is kind of cool. Suddenly a short, pointy-headed creature with fangs pops up at the window. “Que estas haciendo?” it shrieks. I look down. No crucifix! “What are you doing?” it demands again, in heavily accented English, just to make sure I understood. “You can speak Spanish,” I say irritably. “I’ll never improve if people talk to me in English.”
“Da? Da?” Lulu asks. “Dad’ll be back later,” I respond. “Right now we just have to deal with this vampire.” “Vampa?” “Yeah, but don’t worry, mom will take care of everything.” I root among the discarded cutlery for a weapon and come up with a charred wooden spoon.” “Go away!” I shout. “It’s none of your business what I’m doing.”
Just then the door opens and Adam comes in. He doesn’t seem to notice that he has on a threadbare tuxedo. “It’s kind of dark in here,” he says. “You guys don’t look too good. What’s going on?” “Uh—well—” “Quien eres? Que estas haciendo?” the vampire interrupts, in that voice like a malevolent rodent, blood dripping from its mouth as if it’s just bitten the head off something. “Jesus—what’s that?” Adam asks, startled. “What the hell happened while I was gone?” I think to myself, a lot of things have happened. We’ve started living in different worlds, one marked Man, the other Woman. And we’re both too exhausted to say anything interesting.
The vampire reappears in another of those open windows, screeching something unintelligible in Spanish. “My god, that vampire really sucks!,” Adam says, turning away. “Is there any food? I’m starving.” I walk to the kitchen, trying to ignore the terrible noise outside, and get the garlic out of the fridge. Maybe soon, we’ll be ourselves again. I don’t want to speak this language.