Modernity by Anne Guidry

We’re in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, and someone else’s child starts bawling. “God, what a sound,” Leo says, but softly like he says everything, even in anger or disgust. “My ears,” he holds them, pretending to suffer, “it’s like torture.” I pull one of his hands down and clasp it in mine. “You like torturing me?” he says, right in my ear. “You’re embarrassing me,” I whisper back. 

To Leo’s displeasure, I lead us further into the gallery, closer to the stone and the sniffling child. Leo is not impressed by ancient remnants. He disdains nostalgia. Except, he also collects and harbors things from the women who slept with him, and sometimes I wonder if he’ll keep something of me. If I’ll know.

The child is talking and crying at the same time now. She’s upset because her sister touched the Aztec calendar stone without permission, and now she wants to do it and never will. I don’t know why I’m saddened by this, or why I want to sweep the girl off the floor and run to the stone so she can press her palms against the surface. It is, after all, only a replica, and not even a very accurate one, so I’ve read, though it’s dramatically lit and looms over the other artifacts with formidable grandeur. 

All of a sudden, a man with a telescopic camera lens emerges from the outer edges of the room. He seems to have materialized out of nowhere. The gallery is also conducive to this, everything around us receding into dimness. “It’s OK,” he tells the girl in a confidential tone. “Better for you. The calendar stone curses those who touch it.”

Of course, the girl’s sister starts crying, too, both of their eyes brimming with impressively prolific teardrops. The sister wants to take it back. But the camera man says she can’t. He’s unrelenting. Something awful will happen, he continues, and probably in the next year.

Leo thinks this is hilarious. Cruelty sometimes strikes him as funny. 

“Let’s go,” he says, losing interest. “I want to see the modern section.” 

“I’ll meet you there,” I tell him. I watch Leo pass through the gallery entrance, brightening into daylight. He looks like he’s just woken up, or else been awake for days. He wears the same loose black cardigan almost every day, and cartoonishly large red tennis shoes. He pauses briefly by a glass case with an unremarkable artifact, examines it, then disappears in search of modernity. 

The girls are quieter now, and the camera man has dissolved into the darkness from which he emerged. “Are you OK?” one asks the other. She nods. They’re both equipped with billowing blue windbreakers and miniature backpacks. All around them, adults wander like sleepwalkers.

I can’t help walking over. “That man was lying to you,” I tell them. 

The older girl, the one who touched the stone, looks at me doubtfully. Above us, the calendar stone is a glaring, radiating sun, with rays sharpened into deadly points, aiming in every direction. I kneel, take her hand, press it to mine. “He’s wrong,” I say again. And for a moment, she considers this. She looks at her sister, back to me, then pulls her hand back quickly. “Don’t touch me,” she says. Then she grabs her sister’s sleeve, and they run.

 

Anne Guidry holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The Ohio State University. She’s received an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and residency-fellowships from the Anderson Center and the Vermont Studio Center. She currently lives in Minneapolis.

Front Cover Issue 64