Filtered through a bottle of Blanco Añejo, the words on the monitor were yellow and bloated–quite appropriate for the content, now edited and pockmarked, fictionalized and sanitized, wrapped in scared pleasantries and slapped with a byline of Jorge’s name. Local cartels, the wronged victims in a silent war against America, give aid to the families of missing reporters and murdered police.Flavored lies. Jorge tried to resist the inviting cliché of the drunk Mexican and flicked his finger at the floating worm at the bottle’s bottom. Thought you guys were a myth. He finally gave in and took a long swig.
Bleh. Worm hooch tasted about as well as expected, and he drooped his head again to the carcass’ level. He stared at the worm and it stared back. The liquor went down and back up, passed his lungs and throat, flushed his cheeks, and settled in his brain, softening it like embalmer, playing tricks with his vision and senses.
The worm wiggled, as if fitting into a dress, and introduced itself as a Mexican genie. One wish you get, mijo. Ignoring Jorge’s insulting laughter, the genie repeated its greeting, this time firmly enough to create a visible bubble that smelled of cat pee and grass when it popped.
Carina was right about me and liquor, Jorge thought. Educate a Mexican stomach too long and it becomes soft as tortilla. He pondered the situation and pursed his lips at the impatient genie, whose little body was now straight and stiff. Oh, what the hell?
“I have little money, a dead wife, an infertile son, and I write stories of druglords with hearts of gold. Just bring me an interesting woman tonight.”
“You’ll have to be more specific.”
Jesus Christ. “Fine.” He thought for a few seconds and found a name that, considering the night’s absurdity, seemed fitting. “The Mata Hari.”
“Ooooh…excellent choice, my friend. You have six hours.”
For a moment, Jorge was awake and sleep, alive and dead, and then found himself in a parlor of silk, persia, where beads hanged and music told its stories with flutes and drums. He sat on a comfortable couch with a woman in her 30s who had dark features and clothing that, although exotically sheer, seemed secretive and sullen. Not a classical beauty, the woman was indeed beautiful and classic, like a ruffled swan in flight.
Mata Hari was just as confused as her new guest, but after a moment of consideration they both accepted the situation and drank tea.
“Please, call me Gertrude.” She said, surprising him with the fluidity of her Spanish.
“Um, sure. Jorge.” No, not her Spanish. His Dutch. Or some common language of magic meant to last the night.
“So what is it that you do?”
“I’m a writer…for the military. Reports. Minutes. Formalizing strategies in common form for generals across each service.” It was a competent enough lie for his purpose, but Mata Hari only nodded her head with feigned interest.
“Sounds like interesting work.” She paused, her eyes moving up and to the right, combing that side of her brain for suitable small talk.
“Oh it is.” Jorge was now sober as rain, but slurred his words to play the loose-lipped drunk. “You’d be surprised at the stuff I hear.”
Mata Hari nodded again in mid-sip. As she continued to smile at him, Jorge looked at her, lips wet from tea and wax, and wondered If the genie had tricked him . Mata Hari, the ultimate seductress of important men, with loins that trapped secrets and hips that swayed wars, sat unimpressed. As he reached to lay down his cup, a sheet of paper slipped out of his shirt pocket.
“What’s this?” she asked as she picked it up. Before he could figure it out himself, she opened it and read aloud, her voice carrying the words of poetry with songbird gaiety.
Carina’s poem. His first profession of love when he realized it was seeping from his fingers.
“This is beautiful.” Mata’s eyes were now lit. “I love art.”
The next few hours he recited his other poetry, long-forgotten expressions of himself when there was something worth expressing. She played her favorite music and danced, using her stomach and spine, lips and knees, rewriting Jorge’s words in the language of snakes and curves. They laughed and felt at ease, two storytellers who’d forgotten the enjoyment of the tale because of nations and warfare. They told each other of their sadness and their happiness, then kissed and made love, slowly but violently, littering the bed with sweat as their nostrils burned of spice.
They lay together in the hot wetness, and Jorge turned to her.
“How do you do it, Gertrude? The spying? The betrayals? How do you know it’s worth it?”
Before he even finished, she had a knife to his throat, cold, hard, and steady. Without blinking, she slowly lowered it, her black eyes reflecting the setting moon.
“What do you know of me? Nothing!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you, it’s just,” Jorge sat up and turned her face to his. “My wife, my Carina, she was like you. She was police, undercover, and died at the hands of warlords. I just need to know…is it worth it?”
Mata Hari sat blankly, then bit her lip in acknowledgment. “Jorge, we’ve discussed art and its beauty. Do you want to know why it’s so beautiful? Because art is truth. Sometimes ugly, sometimes dangerous. This is what I do, with my body and my words. Art. And truth comes from it.
Did your Carina love art?”
“So she believed in truth and was willing to die for it. I think you know the answer to your question.”
His genie in a bottle, granting men their darkest wishes, truths in exchange for truths. Jorge smiled and rubbed her belly. Before he could whisper his thanks, his six hours were up. The worm slowly twirled in the bottle before him, lifeless and inert.
Jorge moved the bottle and picked up his keyboard, ready to rediscover truth of his words.