We are proud to present the first New Voices story of 2022: “The Tomb of Monsieur de Saint Colombe” by A. Mauricio Ruiz. Ruiz’s protagonist, Tlacuache, is a boy on the threshold of manhood. Recently graduated, about to head off to college, he joins a family friend in search of a woman to sleep with on the streets of Acapulco. The night is one that will live with Tlacuache forever, perhaps in ways he would have never imagined.
Later that night, back at the hotel with his parents, Tlacuache would lie in darkness fretting over one thing: his future. Or the absence of it. He would sob in silence imagining halls full of people coming to hear him play Debussy’s or Poulenc’s cello sonatas, the Tomb of Monsieur de Sainte Colombe with viola da gamba. Feeling the bedsheets drenched in sweat against his back, he would imagine people holding champagne flutes, a marble fish spitting water from a fountain behind, long-necked women in tight dresses smiling at him, nodding, listening to the music. Where had those dreams gone?
He pulled at the neck of his T-shirt and fanned his face. The heat of Acapulco. How much will you have to pay for it, he wanted to ask Alfredo. They kept driving in circles hoping some of the women would appear on the sidewalk. The evening rain had stopped and from the asphalt emerged slithering shapes, vapors from the dying remnants of the day.
Alfredo stopped the VW Kombi at a traffic light and switched on the blinker. “We’ll find one,” he said. “There’s no rush. My parents and your parents like to talk and talk during dinner.”
Tlacuache tried to smile. Part of him wanted it to happen, had been praying for it to happen. Part of him was afraid. Would he be able to be naked in front of a woman? Would he be able to get her to enjoy it? From movies he knew prostitutes had no time, no desire to feel anything. And it was important for him, to see that he could not only experience pleasure but offer it too. He wondered how it would feel to do what he had imagined in dreams, done in the bathroom while looking at the magazine with those women bending over or resting a foot on a chair, women whose faces seemed to be beckoning him. I can be yours. A magazine he would not open for months after what happened that night in Acapulco.
The light changed and Alfredo turned onto a one-way street. Ahead of them a black beat-up Grand Marquis trundled as if it carried a coffin inside. “The first time won’t be great,” Alfredo said. “We all start too eager. A woman needs time, you have to be patient. But when they’re ready, I’ll tell you. Women are a gift from heaven.”
The Grand Marquis slowed down for a moment, the brakes screeching, then it sped up.
“Not all are beauties here,” Alfredo said.
Tlacuache stared at him as if he’d dropped a dead rat on his lap.
“Relax. We’ll find you one you like.”
At a corner, Tlacuache saw a silhouette and he swallowed. A figure was standing next to a tilting lamppost, its yellowish light flickering. He discerned two thighs, the negative space between them, the saltpeter on the chipped wall behind, the stretched cloth of the miniskirt. Then he caught a glimpse of her face, her skin damaged by viral infections and poverty.
“Let’s keep driving,” Alfredo said and turned again. He congratulated Tlacuache for having finished high school, the big step ahead.
“You’ll be fine,” he said. “Look at me. Five semesters behind me and I’m still alive.”
“That’s what everyone says.” He sighed. “Somehow it doesn’t help.”
Alfredo was a good friend. Tlacuache’s parents knew Alfredo’s for more than thirty years, had celebrated birthdays and Christmases and graduation parties together. They were almost like family. Three years older than Tlacuache, Alfredo had been an older brother without being a brother. He could listen to Tlacuache’s worries with enough distance to guide him, to assist him in his decision making without becoming too involved.
“I must say I never thought you’d choose biochemical engineering,” Alfredo said.
“Didn’t you want to be a cellist?”
“My father said studying engineering was safer.”
“Safer for what?” He clicked his tongue. “It’s your life, that’s all I have to say.”