Story 14: Coatlicue's Cup
Coatlicue's Cup (Photo by author)
In Another Life, Bishop Zumárraga Drinks Hot Chocolate in Coatlicue’s Waiting Room
A man sat down on the couch at the far end of the waiting room. He sighed and fished a leatherbound book out of his briefcase. An old Mexican tin lamp glowed next to him on the side table. Concealed speakers piped out some kind of chants. Or was it whistles? Maybe flutes? Possibly rattles. The man shifted uncomfortably in his seat, telling himself he would never get used to this place. He pulled on the red ribbon in his book marking the page for the day’s reading.
“Buenos días Señor Zumárraga. Te traigo un chocolate?”
The offer came from the woman seated at the front desk. She looked the way she always did. Her midnight-black hair was pulled back tautly and wrapped into a shiny bun at the base of her head. Her nails were impeccably filed, polished; her lipstick the most brilliant shade of red. She wore her signature silver earrings—a configuration of geometric shapes with the triangles dangling their points all the way down to her shoulders. At a certain angle, the earrings were oddly reminiscent of daggers, the man thought.
Every week, the man felt unnerved by this moment—the moment when Señorita Coyo would offer him a steaming cup of hot chocolate, which she retrieved from some unseen kitchen down the back hallway. It was only hot chocolate, he’d told himself week after week. Yet here he was, poised on the edge of this decision that tugged at him with an odd sense of gravity.
Should he or shouldn’t he?
Today he would.
“Sí, gracias Señorita Coyo.”
She winked at him and wandered off.
She always did that—wink at him. The man felt his neck grow hot under his tight collar. He'd been to a half-dozen other therapy offices in the last year. None of them felt quite like this. There was no coffee or tea here. Only hot chocolate. There were no copies of The New Yorker or Arizona Highways arranged tidily on a coffee table. Instead there were stacks of old books that looked like they came from a hippie’s library discards. Bookcases lined the walls. They were overstuffed with figurines, stones, dried plants, live plants, photographs, and enough feathers to lend flight to the whole mishmash.
A large, ornately framed photo of a rocky hillside hung above the sofa—over the man’s head as he sat and waited. The image irritated him to no end. The photography showed lack of skill, and the hill itself was wholly unremarkable. Drab. Dotted with nondescript shrubbery. Why choose this expensive frame for such a blob of a hill? Why place it here? Week after week of sitting beneath the gaze of the hill, the man couldn’t help but occasionally study the image, as if to uncover its secret value. All he could discern was a pile of dirt and weeds.
Señorita Coyo returned with his hot chocolate and placed the mug and saucer on the side table. She tucked an embroidered cloth napkin under the lip of the saucer.
“Try to enjoy, Señor Zumárraga.” She walked away before he could respond.
The man sighed.
He cleared his throat and reached for the mug. Cradling it in his hands, he caught a whiff of the steam and felt his senses spring to life. Each sip seemed to register a different taste—sweet, then salty, a spicy earthiness when he exhaled. Something about this chocolate was intoxicating. He felt the edges of his being grow fuzzy, as if with one foolishly deep inhale, he might forget his very name.
“Don’t give in,” he whispered to himself.
“Perdón Señor?” Señorita Coyo inquired from behind her desk.
He shook his head and waved her off.
The man stood and began to pace the small length of open floor in front of the couch. The movement kept him from descending into the fullness of the chocolate. He traveled back and forth, the hillside casting a backdrop to his struggle.
With the last slurp of chocolate the man breathed out satisfied. He was still securely tethered to everything he knew about himself and his purpose.
He glanced down at the remnants of ground cocoa at the bottom of the mug. There was something glistening amidst the sediment. He tilted the mug to catch the light. There they were. Shimmering specs in the muddy silt of the chocolate. He was about to try to retrieve one of the particles, when Señorita Coyo interrupted.
“Señor Zumárraga, La Madre will see you now.”
The man stood still. Stunned. What had she said? La Madre?
“Who will see me now?” he asked, with a bit too much urgency on his tongue.
Señorita Coyo was unphased. “La Doctora. La Doctora will see you now.”
“Is that what you said before?” the man asked accusingly.
He walked up to the reception desk.
“Who else would you be here to see?” she inquired with a smile. “Perhaps a little less chocolate for you next time, Señor?”
The man handed her his emptied mug. He stopped.
“Did you add something glittery to the chocolate? Why does it sparkle at the bottom of the cup?”
“Oh that,” she waved her hand dismissively. “That’s just the mica from the pinch of dirt we add to each cup. It’s what makes the chocolate so irresistible.”
Dirt? The man felt his face redden. Dirt in his drink? Before he could utter another word, he heard his name from the back hallway.
The voice of La Doctora was at once steady and expansive. He heard her chuckling from the recesses of the office.
“Bring your inquisition directly to me, Señor.”
“Sí, Doctora,” he replied.
The man felt on the edge of forgetting again—a forgetting that was oddly similar to remembering.
He sheepishly smiled at Señorita Coyo. Then he turned and followed the voice that called to him.