The Girl Who Tickled Babies
When I heard Joe was back in town, I thought leave it alone. It’s a long time ago. We broke up for a lot of reasons and a hard climb in the Sierra Madre was just one of them.
The night before we left our airless Brooklyn apartment for Mexico, we heard on the radio that Bob Dylan had crashed his motorcycle. Time to split. We got a you-drive-it car to the border and started hitching. It was 1968 the summer of love, and Mexico City was hosting the Olympics.
After a few days in Los Mochis, lingering in the tumbledown market where everything smelled like honey and rotted fruit covered by bees and flies, packed with little kids and yellow dogs, we took the local bus to a cheap seaside guesthouse.
We met a handful of disreputable looking Americans who made us feel like we’d better make tracks or we’d soon be in their shoes. The beach was polluted and we wanted to get into the mountains.
We headed for Barranca del Cobre to help out our friend Irving Oyle who spent summers with the Tarahumara Indians. He was a Brooklyn doctor who carried medical supplies to people living in caves covered in bat shit, whose children regularly died of spinal meningitis.
We took the bus as far as it went and then a single gauge railroad train to the last stop in the Sierra Madre. Creel is an ugly town that never had better days. All the men were plug-ugly and carried machetes. I didn’t see any women.
Joe was tall and rangy with a friendly craggy face, and a camera around his neck. He was good with editors, knew just the right thing to say to get assignments. The International edition of Life Magazine gave us a job for a feature and pictures of the Tarahumara. I was the decoy, a girl who tickled babies and smiled at their mothers while he skittered around, taking pictures. I wrote the story at night. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t help.
I asked if there were any musicians around. Joe found someone who agreed to guide us to him. It was a hard and dangerous climb, he said, and the senorita probably wouldn’t make it. It took us all day and into the night to climb the steep walls and he was right, I almost didn’t make it.
When we stopped for the night the damp wind smelled like granite. Bats flew around our heads while the dry wood crackled. We cooked rice in a heavy black pot, and ate lying in our sleeping bags looking out into the darkness while rain swirled around the twisted yucca and cactus below.
The next morning on a bare windy plateau about twenty miles away we found the musician. He played the ocarina—a round clay flute in the shape of a bird. His long sustained notes sounded just like I felt when a baby with meningitis died in my arms two days before.
About the Author:
Andrea Wyatt writes fiction and poetry. Her first two books Three Rooms (1970) and Poems of the Morning, Poems of the Storm (1973) were published in Berkeley by Oyez, a press associated with Black Mountain and California Renaissance poets. Her third book Jurassic Night was published by White Dot Press in 1980. She is co-editor of Selected Poems by Larry Eigner, Collected Poems by Max Douglas, and The Brooklyn Reader. Most recently, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blast Furnace, By&By, The Copperfield Review and Gargoyle. Andrea works for the National Park Service in Washington, DC. She and husband Lansing Sexton occasionally write about cowboys.