Thursday, July 22, 2010


Forty years ago, when the Marines were here, the economy of Culebra was heavily dependent on laboratory rats. The US government had set up a rat factory--this was their way of keeping the locals happy. Then they decided they wanted them unhappy. People were getting in the way of artillery shells, and bombs, and secret posts for listening to the ghostly whistling, the squawks and bleats of our friends and enemies flying, invisible, across the airwaves.
    The factory is by far the largest building in el pueblo. I can only imagine what is inside. That dim decay of abandoned offices, the laboratories where the rats were bred, the sterility necessary to places where life is experimented with.
    We went over. A couple of horses graze on the grounds. Tallulah had spotted them when we went foraging for mangoes one afternoon beside the fire station. The horses were eating green mangoes right off the tree. Their long, rubbery lips reached up, grappling with the crunch. They were also open to eating grass shoved through the chainlink fence. The next day, she insisted we return. She ran happily to the fence looking for horses, but they were nowhere in sight. When I explained, the local firemen said, They're back there. But is it safe? I asked. They looked at each other, shrugged and nodded. One of them pulled open the gate.
    So we wandered into the rat factory. We found the horses. We petted and discussed them. Then we left, because I couldn't get the flattened face of a woman I knew in New Orleans out of my head. She was kicked by a horse and the doctors never could fix her bones. It struck me that I may be unfit for modern life. I can find things to worry over even in the most innocuous, bucolic places. Then again, maybe this time it's to do with the posted warning signs, the industrial shower that accompanies a place where toxic substances collect, the odd metal cages. Maybe something's clinging to this odd intersection of manipulation and things bred to die that the simple practice of ordinary life has yet to overcome.

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