Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

By: Jeremy Ridnor

There was a blanket of shade that covered the gray roads. The air was filled with the sweet smell of smoldering pieces of coal that baked underneath the tender meat. The surrounding homes were vacant, however the streets were swarming with people wearing enlarged hats. The sound of children’s laughter embraced people’s ears, as well as the harmonic sound of song that perpetuated from the mouths of cheerful villagers. People clapped their hands and danced freely. There were all sorts of festive decorations like streamers and piñatas. They hung from every streetlight and every balcony. Little children tossed firecrackers against the pavement, which left a dark outline, not to mention the lingering smell of smoke and chemicals.

Skeletons were prominently displayed throughout the village. It was a morbid celebration of the dead. The very thought of rotten flesh pealing off ones face due to decomposition seemed very frightening. Skeletons were less frightening and more pathetic. Each skull had a sunken in face and a toothy smile. It is easy to identify the living, however the dead are more difficult. Today was the day of the dead. A most joyous occasion, where the community comes together, sings, dances, eats, and laughs. They honor the deceased, by celebrating their lives.

Ivan and his best friend Danny visited Mexico purposely on the day of the dead. They were fresh out of college and wanted to see the world in all its glory. Danny had majored in photography and was an inspiring photojournalist. His goal was to work for National Geographic as a photographer. Danny had just received a Canon Rebel for his birthday, and was thrilled to try it out in Mexico. He planned on making a photo journal. Danny experimented with all types of shots; most of his shots were abstract. He enjoyed taking pictures of objects and architecture rather than people or landscapes.

Ivan felt so fortunate to finally get out of his claustrophobic dorm room and finally see the world. It fascinated Ivan to be exposed to the various cultures. In college he majored in sociology and minored in anthropology, mostly because he was interested in people and their behaviors. He was also quite the history buff, so he had a lot of pre-knowledge about the Mexican culture. However neither Ivan nor Danny knew that much Spanish. Ivan slowly took in his surroundings. The music, the people, and food entranced him, until this obnoxious flash of light distracted him. This beacon of light extruded from the flash off of Danny’s camera. Ivan rubbed his eyes and as he did he saw red spots.

“Could you watch where you flash that thing,” remarked Ivan.

“Sorry about that. I am just a little photo happy,” admitted Danny.

“Tell me about it, you haven’t stopped taking pictures since we got here. Danny why don’t you just take a moment and just appreciate your surroundings, instead of hiding behind that camera,” suggested Ivan.

“You go ahead and do that. I would much rather capture the beauty, instead of forgetting it later tonight when we get piss drunk from too much tequila. Oh my God! Look at this alleyway. It ‘s covered with such elaborate graffiti. Hey, do you want to come with me?

“No, that is okay. You go ahead, but hurry back I don’t want to miss the parade,” insisted Ivan.

As Ivan watched Danny rush towards the graffiti, he chuckled silently to himself. Danny was the ultimate tourist; he had the shirt that said Mexico on it, a really expensive camera hanging around his neck, and wore a dorky safari hat. Danny was completely out of place. It was like he was a banana in an apple tree. Ivan slowly drifted his attention towards the dancing girls. He starred at the women’s bodies as they moved back and forth. Normally sweat was repulsive, but when these girls perspired, it aroused him. He could see the sweat glistening off of the women’s cleavage. One of the women glanced back at Ivan noticing that he was taking an interest in her. She began to play coy with him. She would glance at him and then glance away, every time they met eyes she would smile with her ruby red lips. Ivan had never seen such a voluptuous woman, except for maybe in a playboy magazine. His heart fluttered and he began to sweat; however his sweat was not appreciated. The woman continued to glance at Ivan with her dark brown eyes.

Ivan noticed a gathering of birds fleeing from the sound of some boisterous noise. The music stopped playing and the women stopped dancing. At first Ivan did not understand why everyone had stopped dancing and why the joyous music was currently idled. The sound of screaming women cut the air. Ivan was puzzled; his brain did not process what was going on.

“Alguien tiene ha sido tiro!” shouted some man.

Ivan regrettable knew what the phrase ‘alguien tiene ha sido tiro,’meant. It mean someone had been shot. Suddenly a wave of distrust and panic settled in Ivan. He wondered who was shot, and where was Danny?

“Danny, Danny, Danny,” shouted Ivan.

Ivan could not find Danny. People started crowding around something. Ivan tried to shove his way to the front of the crowded mob. In the process, some guy pushed him back, and he fell into a puddle of mud. His jeans were soaked with the creamy mud. He quickly sprung back up and continued his venture to the front.

“Danny, Danny where are you?”

Finally he advanced to the front. Ivan looked down to see what it was that everyone was crowding around to see. It was Danny. Danny had been shot. It did not appear as though he was moving. His body was contorted and his face was mangled as if he was beaten before he was shot. A pool of blood had poured out of his gaping wounds. Ivan leaped forward in order to comfort his friend.

“Danny, wake up. Shit man, this isn’t funny. Wake up.”

Ivan looked down at his chest and in the mist of all this panic and hysteria Ivan noticed his camera was missing. Someone must have mugged him and then murdered him. Ivan attempted to feel his pulse, but was deeply disappointed. He began doing CPR. He pumped his chest four times, but in the process more blood gushed out of his chest and onto Ivan’s fingertips. He than gave mouth-to-mouth, Danny’s lips felt cold and chapped. He did this for ten minutes until someone pulled him away.

“He can’t be dead, he just can’t be. He is only twenty. He hasn’t even had his twenty-first birthday yet.”

The ambulance took him away, and put Danny in a body bag. With that, Ivan was left stranded on the Mexico on the day of the dead. Ivan sat down in the middle of the filthy street and then curled his body into a ball. He began to sob uncontrollably. Suddenly Ivan felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up with his puffy eyes and saw it was the girl that had smiled at him. Ivan managed to smile when seeing the girl. Ivan could taste his salty tears, and feel the gooey snot run down the cleft of his chin. The girl cradled him in her arms rocking him back and forth. She also began stroking his jet-black hair while humming some soothing melody.

About a half an hour past and Ivan finally stopped crying. The girl had been crying too, she felt a connection somehow to this stranger. She stood up and extended her hand out to him. He accepted her hand, and clasped onto it tightly, not realizing that he still had dry blood on his hands. She started escorting him to some enigmatic place. Finally they halted in front of some quaint little house. It had a small shrine that was decorated with memorabilia of relatives who had past away. She opened the ripped screen door still grasping onto Ivan’s bloody hand. She led him to a bedroom and sat him down on the bed. She knew he was a foreigner so she started to mime sleeping. Ivan waved at her and smiled. Immediately, he fell asleep on top of this medium sized bed even though it was still light out.

Ivan woke up the next morning feeling groggy. For a brief moment Ivan thought Danny was still alive, and then was deeply disturbed when he realized he was not. He looked down at his hands and noticed he still hand and noticed he still had Danny’s blood soaked into his epidermis. He felt a strong feeling of melancholy. A single tear streamed down his cheek. He quickly wiped his tear away. Ivan could here some whispering in the distance, but did not understand it, because it was Spanish. He slipped out of bed and started tiptoeing towards the door. The door was cracked slightly so Ivan glanced through the crack. He did not know where he was; the only thing he remembered was the girl and Danny. As he peaked through the slit of the door he noticed that there was an older man-waving goodbye to the girl he had smiled to. The mysterious man left. He then noticed that the girl was heading towards the door so he quickly bolted back into bed.

She opened the door slightly, trying not to make it creak. She noticed that Ivan was up. She came towards him, and than she sat down on the bed beside him.

“No hablo espanol,” Ivan said using his best Spanish accent.

She nodded, as if she understood. Then she started motioning with her hands. It appeared as if she was trying to communicate through sign language. Ivan did not understand.

“No comprendo”

She pointed to her open mouth and then shook her head back and forth. Then she pointed to herself and then started flapping her hand as if it were a mouth. Then she clasped that hand shut. Ivan finally understood what she was trying to say. She was a mute.

“Tũ es tranquilo?”

She nodded in conformation. Then she smiled at him once again. This comforted Ivan, her smile was like a rainbow after a storm.

“Do you understand English?”

She nodded excitedly.

“That’s good to hear,” said Ivan in relief. “My name is Ivan, I wish I knew yours.”

She promptly got up from the bed. She rummaged through a mahogany desk, looking for something. Finally she pulled out a pad of lined paper and a pen. She wrote her name on the paper.

“Monica, that is a pretty name. Nice to meet you,” said Ivan while shaking hands with Monica. “Thanks for letting me sleep here. You are very nice, and I can’t thank you enough for all you have done for me.”

She wrote on the pad of paper again, this time it said, “Do you want to talk about your friend?”

“Not right now, maybe in a little bit,” said Ivan sounding uneasy. “So what is it like living in Mexico?”

She shrugged.

“I love your country, it is so beautiful. I am a little bit of a history buff. I know a little bit about the day of the dead. For instance, how the lady of the dead or “Catrina” was this goddess who people would celebrate and worship. Now it has evolved into what it is today. Danny… Danny told me that actually. Danny and I just got out of college, and we were going to see the world together, starting with Mexico. I’ve always wanted to go, and especially see the day of the dead celebration.” Ivan started to chuckle. “You know it is kinda ironic how Danny my friend was killed on the day of the dead. He died on November first, which is All Saints’ Day, the day where we celebrate the death of infants and children. Today however is All Souls’ Day, the day where we celebrate the death of adults. He didn’t really get to be an adult. How could someone do that, how could someone not just rob him of his camera, but rob him of his life? He was just taking a picture and minding his own business. I could’ve gone with him you know, then maybe I would be dead too. Oh God I just realized that his parents don’t even know, at least I don’t think they do. How am I going to tell them that their son, their only son is dead? He is my best friend or at least he was my best friend. We had been friends since Elementary school. He had so much potential, he was an amazing photographer, he wanted to work for National Geographic. He had a lot heart. He was like a brother to me, and we were supposed to be neighbors and have our kids be best friends. I don’t know what to do, I just don’t.”

Ivan sunk his face into the palm of his hands trying to connect spiritually with the blood. It was so weird that once Danny’s blood was out of his veins it was no longer a part of him, it was just blood. He took a deep breath and noticed that Monica had started to cry. His heart broke in two. A shower of tears sprinkled down upon her face and down onto her blouse. Ivan’s stomach sank and his eyes watered up, and then he finally succumbed to crying. Monica hugged herself and rocked back and forth. Ivan then leaned towards her, and then reached out to her. She buried the crown of her head into Ivan’s left breast. He held her like a mother holds her baby. He shut his eyes tightly trying to hide away from his pain. She then looked up at him and started to caress his cheek. He opened his eyes. She wiped away his soggy tears. They both met eyes and in a moment of weakness they both engaged in a lustful kiss. Her lips were soft and warm. The kiss was long and passionate. For the moment, Ivan had forgotten about Danny, for only a brief moment that is. The kiss would have lasted for an eternity if it was up to Ivan, and it might have unless Ivan did not picture Danny’s pale dead face. He pulled away from Monica.

“I’m sorry I just can’t, don’t get me wrong I enjoyed that kiss, but I just can’t stop thinking about his face, oh his face. It was just so still and distorted. His expression I’m sure will haunt me for the rest of my life. I’m sorry, I just need to be distracted right now.”

Monica leaned over to grab her pad of paper and as she did Ivan could see down her shirt. Monica wrote on the pad of paper and it said, “You are a great kisser.”

“You’re not so bad yourself. Monica if you don’t mind me saying you are just so stunningly beautiful. I didn’t know there were women that looked like you. I’m sorry I don’t mean to seem forward but I think I’m falling for you.”

She wrote on her pad of paper and said, “I like you too.”

“I just don’t know if we should do this, I mean I like you, but we live in two separate countries. And I don’t know if I am in my right state of mind right now. I don’t normally just hook up with people like this, but then again I feel so safe around you. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Would you just stay here with me, I just need someone to talk to.”

Monica nodded and reached out to hold Ivan’s hand. She kissed it and then placed it onto her thigh. She wrote on her note pad one more time and it said, “You stay here as long as you like.”

“Thanks. You know I hear somewhere that your people’s belief that once someone dies that his or her soul awakens for the first time. I hope you guys are right.”