by Charles Martin & William Logan -->After a short story by Octavio Paz

You know what those provincial towns are like:
Just one hotel, one decent restaurant—
That’s if you’re very lucky—and afterwards,
Nothing to do but stroll around the square
Watching the locals watching you, until
You’re bored enough to go back to your room …
         I got there just a little before dark,
Unpacked my suitcase, put away my samples
And freshened up a bit. The clerk downstairs
Suggested a restaurant not too far off,
And I set out on foot to find the place.
The usual, but clean, with decent service.
I smoked and had a brandy after dinner
And flirted with a woman from the kitchen
Till someone came along outside and whistled,
And off she went. With no other prospects,
I saw that it was time to call it quits:
I had a busy day ahead of me.
         But heading back, I somehow missed a turn,
And didn’t realize that I’d gone wrong
Till I was truly lost. Of course I tried
Retracing my steps, but every street I chose
Seemed like a misstep in a labyrinth
That led from one confusion to another.
Nobody else was out there on the street.
The only sounds I heard were my own footsteps,
Which stopped whenever I would pause to listen.
         Then, as I passed a doorway deep in shadow,
A heavy figure stepped out right behind me:
One hand gripping my shoulder pulled me back
Into the darkness, while the other pressed
Something cold and hard against my throat.
         “Don’t move,” he said, “I have a razor here.”
“All right,” I said, “My watch, my wallet’s in—”
“It’s not your watch or wallet that I want,
My friend,” he said. “I only wish it were.
But you know how much trouble women are,
And mine wants me to give her a bouquet
Tomorrow, for her birthday, a bouquet
Of eyes. Blue eyes. They must all of them be blue.”
         He pressed the razor blade against my throat.
“I want your eyes, my friend, if they are blue.”
         I was so frightened I could hardly speak.
“My eyes are brown,” I said. “My eyes are brown.”
“Matches,” he said. I took the packet out.
The matches were rattling inside their box.
“Light one,” he said. My hands were trembling
So violently that I dropped the match
As it flared up. “Again,” he said, “And quickly.”
I lit a second match and held it out.
“Closer,” he said, “Hold it closer to your eyes.”
I could feel my eyelashes begin to scorch.
I held the match until it burned my fingers.
He blew it out. “I beg your pardon, friend,
For not believing you.” He let me go,
And in a moment he had disappeared.
         I fell into the doorway and collapsed.
After a while I pulled myself together
And somehow found my way to the hotel.
I packed my car and drove away next morning.
         That happened almost fifteen years ago.
I’ve never been back. Not a very pleasant
Topic for dinner conversation, is it?
I seldom think of it at all, these days,
And almost never tell anyone the story,
Which isn’t a real story after all:
In a real story, I would have seduced
The kitchen girl, whose brother would have killed me,
Or some such nonsense.
                                             Yet I sometimes wonder
Just how, when I was so confused myself,
I somehow managed to mislead another—
Could it have been the flaring of the match
Kept him from realizing I had lied?

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 27 Number 9, on page 29
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