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Legend of the Lost Ass

Legend of the Lost Ass

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Legend of the Lost Ass

339 Seiten
4 Stunden
Jul 21, 2020


I think we should take it through Guatemala.


A random text from a stranger inspires agoraphobic Colin to leave New York. His first stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender, half-Mayan Luci Bolon, her ancient but feisty great-uncle Ernesto, and Miss Mango, a bright-orange Kubota tractor. Ernesto's dream is that Miss Mango be driven to Belize and given to the family he left behind nearly seventy years ago. Colin agrees to join Luci on the long journey through Central America.


In 1949, seventeen-year-old Belizean Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he "borrows" a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to America.


The past and present unfold through two journeys that traverse beautiful landscapes. Painful histories are soothed by new friendships and payments of old debts.


Jul 21, 2020

Über den Autor

Karen Winters Schwartz was born and raised in Ohio. She wrote her first truly good story at age seven. Her second-grade teacher, Mrs. Schneider, publicly and falsely accused her of plagiarism. Karen did not write again for forty years. As a writer and a mental health advocate, she is a sought-after speaker at events and conferences across the country. Karen and her husband moved to the Central New York Finger Lakes region, where they raised two daughters and shared a career in optometry. She now splits her time between Central New York, a small village in Belize, and traveling the earth in search of the many creatures with whom she has the honor of sharing this world. 


Legend of the Lost Ass - Karen Winters Schwartz


Miss Mango cooled in the shade of a Montezuma cypress. The tree was large and dominated the flat landscape. Off to her left and straight ahead were rows and rows of browning corn, the stalks heavy with ears, dry leaves rattling in a slight fall breeze. Within days, the miles and miles of corn would be harvested and ground into silage. As far as the eye could see, tiny green tufts of winter wheat were laid out in pretty lines between the dying corn. Over to her right was the rambling ranch house, and just beyond that was a vast metal barn, which had replaced the old wooden one. Various outbuildings dotted the flatness: the feed barn, several pole barns, the bunkhouse, a small chicken coop, and three modern silos. The house was weathered cedar with red shutters; the new barn was red, its stainless steel roof glistening in the Texas sun. Two hawks glided in circles over a couple dozen head of cattle and one gray donkey, which grazed in the pasture behind the barn. Three ranch hands were stretched out like afternoon shadows near the barn, plumes of smoke trailing from their cigarettes.

Under the shade of the cypress, the old man seemed oblivious to it all. He sprayed a fine stream of cool water over Miss Mango’s body. Texas dust ran in rivulets down her sides, disappearing into the dry, cracked soil beneath the tree. Then he soaped her gently but firmly, rinsing and soaping until all traces of the morning’s work were gone. After she was dried with soft cotton, he stood on a ladder and meticulously applied wax to her orange hood and fenders and the metal parts of her cab. Then he rubbed and rubbed before starting on a second coat of wax. With tears in his eyes, he continued to rub until she shone brighter than she had when she was spanking new.

He stood back and looked at what he’d done—her shining orange, the rows and rows of dying corn and new wheat, the rambling house, the new barn, the couple dozen Brown Swiss cows, the one lone donkey, and the sun setting over it all.


New York 2019

When the text came in, Colin Mercer was disinclined to get up off the floor and retrieve his phone. As a general rule, he didn’t receive a lot of texts. He was enjoying the view from his place near the brown leather couch and was sure his ceiling was much more enticing than any text he might receive. So he stayed where he was on his back and admired the spot that broke up the monotony of the white.

It was the exact shape of Guatemala. Although he knew that it was just a water stain from that time his upstairs neighbor had overfilled her bathtub in an overzealous quest for relaxation and cleanliness, he liked to imagine it was there only for him. He moved into bridge pose, squeezing in his abdomen and tightening his glutes. He held the pose for twenty ocean-sounding breaths. Ujjayi. He loved the sound of the word and the way the air rattled from the back of his throat. It reminded him of waves against pebbles. He eased into shavasana, and rather than shutting his eyes, he kept them open and glued to the spot. He pictured himself back on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá.

They’d watched from their place near the shore as one battered pickup truck after another made its way down the bumpy dirt road. The truck beds were packed tightly with brightly clad families, straw baskets, and large plastic barrels. The trucks turned and backed into the lake until the rear tires were submersed. Then the family members rose, laughing, and threw themselves into the cool blue of Lake Petén, along with their plastic water containers and laundry. The women waded to the wooden washing stations and scrubbed the Guatemalan sweat and dust from their families’ clothes while their husbands filled the water jugs and their children splashed. Colin’s hand found hers as they watched the families bathe, wash, and play.

Even though he’d met her only the evening before at a local market, her hand fit agreeably into his. Her dark eyes were large and yearning, and she wore long floral skirts that billowed out as they waded in the cool water. Her frilled blouse grew wet so that the dark circles of her breasts showed through like two fifty-centavo coins. He carried his mask, and they snorkeled as the sun began to set behind the mountains. She’d never looked through the glass of a snorkeling mask, and she giggled when her head came up, her dark hair dripping light. Her name was Sucely, and he hoped her laugh wasn’t due to the sight of his large white feet and his fur-covered toes planted in the mud. He kissed her full wet lips, and as the last of the sun’s rays disappeared, she allowed him to snorkel below her skirts, the end of his snorkel just above the waterline and pressed against her soft belly.

Colin Mercer smiled at Guatemala on his ceiling. And he smiled at all of it—the recollection, which was so clearly a lie; the trucks, the families, the water bottles, the tits—because while Colin was slow and cautious with real movement, he was fast and furious in mind and imagination. He’d never set foot in Guatemala. Nor was he ever likely to.

Colin finished his time on the floor with three minutes of meditation, during which he closed his eyes and attempted to clear his mind. The most he managed was shifting around a few odd ideas concerning watermelons and cantaloupes, while curtailing pointless thought threads regarding the way those fruits might make him some money. He stood and stretched, raising his arms high above his head until every muscle of his thirty-nine-year-old arms was taut and pulled toward Guatemala. He needed a ladder and a quick dab of paint. To cover over those memories that never were seemed the mature and reasonable thing to do—if only he owned paint and a brush.

A small flicker of blue light caught his eye. He glanced toward his cell phone on his desk and registered the tiny indicator flash. The text. He’d forgotten about the text.

He took three steps across the room and reached for his cell. He swept his finger across the photo of the full-body shot of an overfed Mexican hairless dog he’d snagged off the internet—he found the image both grotesque and appealing. He didn’t recognize the number.

Colin read the message then read it again. How odd. He rechecked the number—no, it did not belong to anyone he knew. The area code was unfamiliar. He read the message again.

I think we should bring it in through Guatemala.

Colin Mercer didn’t believe in coincidences. He believed in signs. The universe was constantly chattering away; people just had to listen. Colin did a lot of listening. The problem was, he mostly didn’t like what he heard. He contemplated his phone for a moment, set it back down near his laptop, and took a swig from his bottle of Fiji.

Things were just quieter in his apartment in downtown Auburn, New York. A lot less chattering. He’d used his royalties to make the place into something rather spectacular—an oasis, complete with the newest, largest Jacuzzi and Body-Solid Freeweight Leverage Gym. He didn’t own a car, which was fine, because it was possible to walk nearly everywhere he really needed to go.

Guatemala. His eyes strayed to a copy of his newest novel sitting on the ash coffee table. Maybe that was all the universe was saying—for him to set his next manuscript in Guatemala. Colin couldn’t help himself. He walked the few steps to the table and picked up the book. He flipped through the pages, enjoying the way the edges brushed against his fingertips and the breeze the movement made. With that breeze came the faint odor of literature, which was hard to describe—new paper and ink, new ideas and ideals. He stopped on a random page and read:

Sven reached quickly for his rifle, but the beast was too quick. All his effort accomplished was to fend off the creature’s gaping, blood-seeking jaws. Its massive paw, made all the more deadly by the addition of razor claws, knocked Sven to the ground, where he rolled and kicked. He felt and almost savored the warm sensation of his own blood as it soaked through what was left of his shirt. He rolled farther, trying to form some space between this death-seeking feline and himself. Just enough space to bring his beloved rifle into play. The creature’s horrific scream was louder than Sven thought possible, and he felt it reverberate to his very core. The answering sound that escaped through Sven’s lips was primordial, coming from some deep and dark place near Sven’s soul. It was thick and wet with anger, danger, and fury. The beast recoiled as Sven’s sticky fingers tightened against his rifle.

Not Steinbeck, but pretty damn good stuff. Colin closed the book and pressed it to his chest. He pulled it away and studied the cover. The illustration wasn’t exactly what he’d wanted, but it was close. His heroine, Crystabella, stood tall and proud among thick green fronds. In the background were the golden eyes of a jaguar. Crystabella’s dark hair was free and flowing as if just torn from its restraints. Her dress—if it could be called that—was made of brown animal skin, tight and slightly shredded. Had she just tumbled with Sven or the jaguar? Under her tunic were two impressive mounds. He wondered how many books those tatas alone had sold.

Colin fingered the cover of the book then set it back down gently, adjusting the angle so that it lined up in an appealing way against the grains of the table. He sat at his desk and rebooted his laptop, bringing up his newest manuscript. He stared at the words for a moment. Guatemala.

He picked up his phone, reread the text, and typed in his own: Who is this?

A few seconds later, his phone pinged. Sorry. It’s Luci. Just picked up this phone at Walmart. So... Guatemala?

Colin smiled. Luci, huh?

He tapped in: Yo, Luci. What up?

Colin waited. When no reply was forthcoming, he put the phone down, took a sip of water, and turned back to his laptop. He reread his last paragraph. Dissatisfied, he blocked it out and hit Backspace just as another text came in.

Seriously, Jordy. What do you think? Guatemala?

He smiled again. Guess I’d have to hear more details.

FINE. I’ll email you.

To that, he replied: Cool. But use my new gmail account.

After reading Luci’s final textWill do—Colin went right to his Gmail and changed his name on the account to simply Jordy. He then saved her number into his phone as Luci, spelled with an I. He brought the Fiji water to his lips and drank until the bottle was nearly empty, tapping the tip against his bottom teeth until he was certain there was no more water to be had. He deleted five garbage emails, perused his Facebook newsfeed, liked a few things, and switched over to LinkedIn. Zero things of interest there.

He picked up the Fiji bottle and checked its contents, but nothing he did seemed to free that last holdout of water. After checking Instagram and liking a newly posted photo of a crazy-hot chick holding a red boot, he went back to staring at the second-to-last paragraph he’d written. He read it over. It wasn’t very good, either.

Colin pushed his chair away from his desk, picked up his empty water bottle, and carried it into the kitchen, which was small, neat, and shiny with chrome and steel. The counters were overrun with the newest kitchen gadgets. A Tri-Blade Vegetable Spiral Slicer, a bright-red KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender, a Hurom Fresh Press juicer, a shiny white Kuissential bread machine, and a platinum Keurig coffee maker. Other than the coffee maker, the only gadget he’d used thus far was the bread machine. He’d made himself one loaf of gluten-free nut bread a month ago. It had taken three bottles of Fiji to wash down one thin slice.

He placed the empty water bottle into his recycling bin and removed a full one from a cabinet. He opened the fridge, removed a cold bottle from the front, and placed the warm one carefully behind the other five. Not that he planned on making bread again, but it was still important to keep six bottles chilling.

He returned to his desk with the fresh water, twisted off the cap, and set it down far away from his laptop so that it would miss his keyboard if it toppled over. Instagram showed three new posts on the feed, but none were worth liking. He didn’t bother with LinkedIn or Facebook. Back on his Word program, he started to delete the second-to-last paragraph when the Gmail notification popped up, half a second before his phone dinged.

Sender: Luci. Subject: Belize.

Belize? Not Guatemala. Interesting.


My contacts tell me that crossing the border from Mexico to Guatemala and then into Belize will be less problematic. Also, my uncle seems to want to add Guatemala to our quest. Looks like the best place to cross is Frontera Corozal. Do you agree?

What do you think? Guatemala? This will also make Ernesto happy. IDK... It’ll add to the trip, but if you agree to this change of plans, I think we should leave two days earlier than we discussed. Is that possible for you? This coming Monday rather than Wednesday? We’ll meet at the D’Lucioso Café as planned, but 48 hours earlier.

Miss Mango should arrive at the Hotel Cameron by late afternoon Sunday. Please confirm that this works for you. Thank you one more time for volunteering to help.


BTW: How will I know you? Please, no big cowboy hat! LOL

Colin’s mind was working on hyperdrive, quickly filling in the blanks. The quest: drugs, guns, a happy uncle, and a pleasing toxic beauty named Luci. But who was Miss Mango, and why was she in quotation marks? Colin hated words randomly placed within quotation marks. He also hated the overuse of ellipses and modern acronyms. He reread the letter again, trying his best to ignore the blatant disrespect for proper punctuation.

He sat back in his chair, laced his fingers together on the back of his head. Once his eyes fell on Luci, he would forgive the faux pas in her email. Luci would be waiting at D’Lucioso Café with a mound of fry jacks drenched in fake maple syrup in front of her. His breath would catch in his throat, and he would have the urge to tease her about her apparent sweet tooth but would hold back and allow her to ease his humor out of him.

There would be a white van. No, not white, but hunter green. A family minivan for appearances’ sake. The drugs—nicknamed Miss Mango—would be stashed within the upholstery of the bucket seats, the guns hidden in tight rows between the metal roof of the van and the cheap cloth interior. There wasn’t a lot of room there, so the guns would be small handguns. And the drugs wouldn’t be something boring like weed or cocaine, which were already plentiful in Central America. No reason to smuggle that into Central America. He grabbed his Fiji water and took a long drink. No, it would be something manufactured. Ecstasy? Mango-orange meth? But maybe not. A quick Google search showed the vast majority of drugs in the US were imported. Not a lot going the other direction. So guns in exchange for drugs. The guns come in, the drugs go out. But mango-orange meth was also a possibility.

And Ernesto? The big honcho of the drug cartel, he was firm but fair, and depending on the circumstances, he wouldn’t hesitate to give a flunky a new car or slit his throat. If Colin had a choice, he would ask for a Mercedes Benz.

Luci would have long black hair, which she kept tucked up under a baseball cap. He wouldn’t see her shake it free until days into the trip. Driving along the bumpy roads in their hunter-green minivan, they would get hot. The ruse might be a honeymoon road trip—she would have to pretend to love him. But, no. She’d called the ruse a quest. Perhaps a sanctioned treasure hunt. The Indiana Jones of couples, they could both pretend to be archeologists from Cornell. They might stop for a Coke at a roadside taco stand. Foregoing a taco for fear of food poisoning, they would share a bag of banana chips instead. Tilting her head back to drink from the icy Coke, Luci’s hat would drop free, allowing the tresses—wet with sweat—to fall like snakes. His dick would jump to attention, which it did now as Colin leaned back farther in his computer chair. He licked his lips. She would send him just the slightest smile, shake her head, and run her fingers through the hair. Then she would capture and fold it away, adjusting her baseball cap, the drug smuggler persona masked with the intelligence of a fake doctorate in archeology returning to her face.

Colin Mercer was intrigued. He Googled D’Lucioso Café and got only one hit: a photo of a café in Brownsville, Texas. Brownsville was practically in Mexico. And sure enough, the Hotel Cameron was right down the street from D’Lucioso Café.

Money would be tight, so they would share accommodations: cheap hotels in scary little border towns. The dream of a big payoff would be the only thing driving them through the heat. Cowboys shaded in hats. Mexicans with large black mustaches. Heart-beating border crossings. Machine-gun-bearing border patrol officers yelling in Spanish. But they would both be cool. Other than the slightest drops of sweat between Luci’s breasts, Luci and Jordy would show no fear. All of it would start in Brownsville, Texas.

He got up and paced around the room. Texas. Mexico. Guatemala. Belize. He laughed harshly. He hadn’t left his apartment for exactly one week, when he’d ventured out to get a box of Cornflakes and fresh milk. Even then, he’d gone only after it was dark and late, when he had very little chance of running into anyone. As always in late fall in Central New York, the air was brisk and light, and he’d walked the three blocks as quickly as he could to the Easy Mart in downtown Auburn. Ten minutes later, he was scurrying back home with his goods, the relief palpable.

Texas. Mexico. Guatemala. Belize. Was he actually entertaining this nonsense?

He returned to his computer and read the email again. Drinking from his water bottle, he checked his Gmail. He liked a couple new posts on Facebook. He switched over to LinkedIn and liked a random comment then watched a couple stories on Instagram. He read the email one more time. He frowned as he went back to his new manuscript and read all of what he’d written today.

The Easy Mart guy was new and young, and he’d looked at Colin as if he were some sort of freak, navigating the store, touching only what was necessary and stepping on the filthy floor as lightly as humanly possible.

He wasn’t a freak; he was simply cautious. He truly could not help the way his body recoiled when his sneakers made that minuscule popping sound as he lifted a foot. He’d thrown them into the wash as soon as he’d returned—holding them away from his body by the laces and dropping them into his top loader, which he’d pre-filled with steaming soapy water. He had three identical pairs of sneakers just for that reason.

His eyes strayed upward from his computer, landing on Guatemala on the ceiling. His life might be easier if he accepted that shoes carried millions of germs. It wasn’t like he ate off them. He glanced at his kitchen counter and considered whether it needed a good scrubbing, then he looked back at the ceiling. He squinted at the water stain. Texas. Mexico. Guatemala. Belize.

He laughed—only this time, the laughter wasn’t quite so harsh.


Texas 2019

Sitting in the Texan bar, Luci Bolon took another sip of her margarita, hit Send, and settled in with her tamale. She carefully unwrapped the corn husk, unfolding each side so that it was laid out like a greasy Christmas present. In the center of the now-flat corn husk, the wet chicken-filled masa steamed. She picked up the container of recado sauce and poured it on the chicken. The name on the menu— tamales colorados— had sparked some old neuron. Had her grandmother once fed her these? Most of what she remembered about her grandmother were snippets of sounds and tastes and visual snapshots: the teal lace at the bottom of her grandmother’s skirt, the tang of a mango, the smell of cooking oils and cilantro, the distant cry of a howler monkey.

"Ak’d’ma’ax," her grandmother had whispered then smiled, letting Luci know not to be frightened. Short and round, speaking incomprehensible Mopan Maya, her grandmother had overwhelmed six-year-old Luci. When the sweet, hot taste of tamale hit her tongue, Luci remembered more than her grandmother and more than her one visit to Belize as a child; she remembered something ancient, basal, and mingled with sadness.

Her father had called Luci’s grandmother Na. Their initial plan had been to stay three weeks in the tiny Mopan Maya village of Santa Elena in southern Belize. Three days into the trip, her father’s accent had grown thick. His eyes glazed over with childhood nostalgia while he sat on stools and clicked the Belikin beer bottles with old friends, joked in Mayan, and laughed at things that Luci couldn’t understand. But she’d laughed also, as she sat near her father’s bare feet and drew lines in the sandy dirt around his toes. Her mother had been restless—so tall and pale, her blond hair shimmering in contrast to so many dark-haired Mayans. Her Americanisms were so brazen, even to a six-year-old. Luci remembered being both proud and embarrassed that she was half American.

Years later, Luci had turned to her mother. I was thinking of going to Belize after graduation. Luci said the words flippantly while they drove from the high school. Luci’s hair was shiny black like her father’s, and long and straight back then. She liked to comb it so that her right eye was often covered, making her world perception monocular and slightly askew.

Her mother shot her a sideways glance, bringing her hand to Luci’s hair and tucking it behind Luci’s right ear.

Luci recoiled and shook her hair back into place. You know, maybe stay a month, Luci continued. Before I go to college. Or I could even see about some sort of student exchange. They must have something in Belize.

Her mother’s eyes grew hard and distant. Luci wanted to scream. A moment ticked by, then her mother said, We need to shop for a dress for prom. She slowed the car and pulled into the driveway of one of the few small houses on Woodland Avenue, in Mansfield, Ohio. I think you’d look especially good in red. We’ll get you some matching heels. Maybe a pair of those really cute platforms I saw the other day. Luci wished she was tall like her mom, or more precisely, Luci wished her mom didn’t want her to be taller.

As usual, her mother had been correct—she did look good in red. And although they pinched nearly every surface of her feet, the shoes did enhance the overall effect. Everyone said that Luci looked amazing in her red dress with her dark hair and light-olive skin. Even she could see that this was true when she later examined the photo

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