I must have napped. When I opened my eyes the twilight was stealing away the last few rays of sun. In less than twenty minutes, stars twinkled in the dull cobalt sky. I heard the kitchen door squeak open and close. Maria Terèsa came out. She carried a mug.
“I brought you special tea, señor. It will help you relax.”
“Gracias abuelita.” She left and I drank the tea. Maybe this was exactly what I needed. I felt myself relax; my muscles lost their tenseness. I closed my eyes and fell into a deep restful sleep.
I dreamt I was on the animal path Alma and I followed to the pool earlier that day. Now, everything seemed so familiar, as if I had walked this path a thousand times. Every rock and plant and root and tree was alive with most vibrant colors. I pressed on and crossed the first narrow stream, the stones on the bottom were a beautiful golden color and the moss that clung to them pulsed red. On the other side of the stream I came to a fallen tree. I sat and leaned back and listened to the myriad of hypnotic sounds that came to every side of me.
I didn’t know how long I sat there. Time disappeared. The breeze stirred the trees. The call of the birds abruptly stopped. The monkeys’ casual chatter turned to panicked warning calls and I heard the swish of leaves and the crack of branches as they hurried to another part of the selva. I opened my eyes. Alma stood before me. She was naked and had a translucent quality.
“Emilio, you are here, too?” She sounded surprised.
“Yes, Alma, have you come to me?”
She shook her head, ‘No’.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“You really don’t know?” Alma smiled, “All I can tell you is this, we are the same, but we are not, we are here together, you and I, but we are not.” She sat next to me on the fallen log. Alma ran her fingertips down my cheek.
“What are you?” I asked.
“What you are, what we are, what we all are.”
Alma stood and took my hand. We continued on the path until we came to the pool. The jaguar lay resplendent on the large flat rock in the middle of the pool, sunning itself.
Alma turned to me and smiled and took my hands. “I am so glad we found each other here, so glad. Come to me tomorrow.” Alma floated up and over the water and alit on the rock next to the jaguar. She put her arm around the great cat and faded into it. A moment later the jaguar leapt from the rock onto the path. The beautiful animal came to me and sat, panting at my feet. The cat looked deep into my eyes with hers, gave a purring growl, rubbed her head against my leg, sniffed the air, left me and slipped into the jungle.
It suddenly became cloudy. I felt a chill. I was at El Paradiso back in front of the stable. The breeze blew the door open. I prepared myself to see the mauled horse but it wasn’t there. Instead, a beautiful colt lay on its side in the bloody straw. I went over to the colt and knelt. The animal looked at me with such sad eyes and put its head on my lap. I was sorely surprised when, as I stroked its mane, it bit my hand. I was already to push it away but stopped when I saw that the colt was not a colt at all. It was Sylvie. Her hair was wet and she looked the same as she did on that day we first kissed in the steamy confines of the phone booth.
“I’m so glad to see you.” I said. I helped her to her feet and pulled her close to me.
“I’m glad to see you,” Sylvie echoed and pushed out of my embrace, stood back and looked me up and down. She turned, took my hand and pulled me along out of the stable and to the corral. As soon as we were a few steps in, the gate clapped shut. I wanted to hug her so desperately. I ached to hold her again. I knew if I held her she would know how much I still loved her and she would have to come back to me.
When I reached out to her, she ducked away and giggled. I took a step toward her. She weaved from side to side, laughed and scampered just out of reach. I held my arms out and chased after her but I was too slow and clumsy. My legs felt so heavy and I could barely get any traction.
With a playful smile, she would let me get a step behind her, almost within grasp and then speed away at the last second. I had to stop to catch my breath. When I looked up Sylvie was gone. Outside of the corral I saw the beautiful colt again. The leggy animal gamboled back and forth, taunting me to catch her.
I found it was impossible for me to leave the corral. When I tried to climb out my feet would slip off the fence rails. The colt nipped at my fingers and hands as I grasped onto the top rail. I fell back on to the ground and would have to start all over again.
This went on and on until my hands bled. Then I heard a deep, throaty ratchetting growl followed by a forced exhalation. On the fresh grave of El Cid, I saw her; the jaguar stealthily approached the colt from behind. Its eyes were filled with cold fire. With its front legs extended, claws on the ready, it pushed off with its powerful rear legs, its body arched when it sprang. She landed on the colt and dug her claws into its flanks. The colt whinnied and shivered as its legs buckled under the weight of its slayer. I could only watch in horror as the jaguar, with one massive jerk, tore the colt’s throat out. The great cat sat over its kill and in a strangely delicate way ate and then cleaned her paw with a broad lick of her tongue.
I was suddenly bathed in a white light so intense, everything around me melted into it. All background was gone and those few things I needed to see, appeared, shadow-less, like paper cutouts. The corral collapsed into the light. I stood there naked and alone. The jaguar sidled up to me and rubbed its length against my leg. I felt one with the beautiful animal as it circled me, it too was taken into the light.
Everything around me began rocking back and forth. I began to hurtle along just above the path, through the deep ravines, over the streams, and back up the path to El Paradiso to the rear veranda and stopped in front of the swing.
I stood and looked down on myself. I saw what others people must see, a not so young, hapless soul, sitting there, wet with perspiration, in a stupor. I didn’t know if I should feel sorry for myself or angry, or disgusted.