A short story by Daniel A. Olivas
There was a man who lived in a small Mexican fishing village with his wife and three children in a two room wooden house not far from the shore. The man was not a fisherman like the others. Rather, he made the fishing nets that were used by the fishermen. He had long delicate fingers that were put to good use tying the tiny knots of the nets that he made. His nets were the best in the village because they could withstand heavy catches and he earned a good living selling them to the fishermen. The man lived a quiet but loving life with his bride of ten years and his children ages one, three and five.
The man's daily routine was set early on in his marriage and he veered from it only in emergencies such as when one of his children got sick or when a terrible storm blew into the village. Each morning, his wife served the man strong black coffee and two pieces of pan dulce. He would eat his sweet bread and drink his coffee at their too-crowded dining table while his children played more than they ate and his wife attended to her never ending chore of cleaning. After eating, the man would kiss his wife and children and take his little bag with his lunch and head off to his little shop that was about ten minutes away by foot. When he got to his shop, he would open all the windows and sit down to his work of making fishing nets.
The man had a view of the ocean from his little shop. To rest his eyes, he would look up from his work every so often and focus on the waves as they hit the sand. Sometimes he would be mesmerized by the waves and lose track of time. After finishing a full day of making and selling nets, he would pack up his empty lunch bag and walk home to his family.
One day, the man sat in his shop and looked out the window and saw a rowboat sitting on the sand. He had never seen it before and did not notice who had put it there. He put aside the net that he was working on and went out to inspect the boat.
It was a simple boat with both its oars set inside. There was no net or any personal belongings in it and no name on its side. The man looked around and saw no one. The sun shown brilliantly as it hung at its highest point and even made the man's dark Mestizo skin burn hot. He looked out to the ocean and saw the little island the people called El Lagarto Cornudo, which means “The Horned Toad.” It was called that not because horned toads populated the island but because its silhouette resembled a horned toad.
The man often wondered what was on El Lagarto Cornudo. He had heard that getting there was very difficult because of the crosscurrents that had to be navigated. He thought for a moment about his wife and three children and his little shop. The man then turned and walked back to his shop and retrieved his lunch and walked back to the rowboat. He looked around again and, without hesitation, he pushed the boat to the edge of the water, got in and started rowing in the direction of El Lagarto Cornudo.
The man enjoyed the broad movements of his arms as he rowed. It was in contrast to the delicate work he did each day making fishing nets. He breathed deeply the ocean smell. Rowing was easy and pleasing without any fight from the notorious crosscurrents he had heard about. Several white egrets flew by the boat and landed in the water nearby. The man rowed with his back to the island and the egrets stayed along side of the boat hoping the man would throw them some bread. The man looked over his shoulder and saw El Lagarto Cornudo in the distance.
After a half-hour of rowing, the man stopped to eat. He opened his bag and pulled out a tortilla filled with carnitas and he ate it slowly enjoying the feel of the tender meat in his mouth. The man then opened his bottle of red wine and drank deeply. He wiped his mouth and put the bottle away in his bag and started to row again. The island was much farther than he had realized.
Eventually, the man grew tired because he had entered the crosscurrents that made it harder to row. Suddenly, without warning, the boat jerked and started to twirl and spin and the oars flew in every direction. The egrets flew away helter-skelter. The man tried to stay calm and attempted to gain control over the oars but to no avail. Every few seconds as the boat went round and round, the man could see El Lagarto Cornudo which, by now, was only about one hundred yards away. But the man could not calm the boat and one of the oars flew up and hit the man hard on his forehead and he fell to the bottom of the boat.
The man felt himself slip from this world into the next. His soul left his body and stood over the still figure lying on the bottom of the boat. The man looked so small to himself. The water became calm and the boat eventually was still. The egrets flew back and landed by the boat. The man's soul looked at the island. With one movement of his outstretched arms, the man's soul rose into the air. He aimed himself towards the island and flew around it. It was a beautiful island with many trees and plants and waterfalls. The sand of its beaches gleamed a white different from the darker sand of the mainland.
After surveying El Lagarto Cornudo, the man turned to the mainland and passed over the little boat where his body lay. He then glided towards the shore and over his little shop and eventually he found his little house.
The man entered a window of his house and found his wife working in the kitchen. She could not see him but she looked up momentarily when he came close to her. The man noticed that his wife was indeed quite beautiful and had lovely brown skin and gleaming black hair. He used to notice such things but with time he had forgotten how to look at her.
The man then went out the back door and entered the yard where his children would be playing. And they were there, as he anticipated, playing loudly and joyously. He watched them move and yell and laugh and his heart filled with a love that would have made him cry but he was a spirit so he could not cry. The man looked up into the sky and before he knew it, he was floating again over the little house and he headed back to the boat.
In awhile, he was again over the boat and he looked down upon his still body. Without warning, the man started to fall and he fell fast and silently. All went dark.
“Mateo,” said a voice. “Are you all right?”
The man opened his eyes. He lay at the bottom of the boat that now sat on the shore. Several fishermen looked down on him.
“Did you try to go to El Lagarto Cornudo by yourself?” asked one of the fishermen.
“What a dangerous thing to do with such a small boat,” said another.
The man rubbed his forehead and realized that he was not dead but very much alive. He thanked the fishermen and after gaining his strength, he walked home. It was almost sunset.
The man entered his little house and saw his wife. She said hello and they gave each other a little kiss. His wife noticed the bruise on her husband's forehead but said nothing. His children came in and ran to the man and hugged him. That night, they had a very good dinner of fish and vegetables and bread.
The next morning, the man's wife served the man strong black coffee and two pieces of pan dulce. He ate the sweet bread and drank the coffee at their too-crowded dining table while his children played more than they ate and his wife attended to her never ending chore of cleaning. After eating, the man kissed his wife and children and took his little bag with his lunch and headed off to his little shop that was about ten minutes away by foot. When he got to his shop, he opened all the windows and sat down to his work of making fishing nets.
After an hour or so, the man looked out his window and saw the same little rowboat that he saw the day before. He set his work aside and grabbed his lunch bag and walked to the boat. The man looked around and saw no one. He put his lunch bag in the boat and pushed it to the edge of the water. He looked around again and, without hesitation, he pushed the boat into the water, got in and then started to row in the direction of El Lagarto Cornudo.
Several white egrets flew by the boat and landed in the water nearby. The man rowed with his back to the island and the egrets stayed along side of the boat hoping the man would throw them some bread. The man looked over his shoulder and saw El Lagarto Cornudo in the distance. The sun was hot and the man smiled as he rowed towards the island.[“The Horned Toad” is featured in Devil Talk: Stories (Bilingual Press).]