You can’t write that!” boomed a baritone voice breaking Anna’s quiet with the force of a tornado. “What?” she stammered trying to see where the voice was coming from. “You can’t write that I don’t exist,” repeated the voice as the sound suddenly emerged from an exotic-looking man in a mantle and loincloth of reddish hue with a green-feathered serpent, […]
You can’t write that!” boomed a baritone voice breaking Anna’s quiet with the force of a tornado.
“What?” she stammered trying to see where the voice was coming from.
“You can’t write that I don’t exist,” repeated the voice as the sound suddenly emerged from an exotic-looking man in a mantle and loincloth of reddish hue with a green-feathered serpent, the size of an anaconda, rearing up behind him.
Anna’s hands fell off the keyboard. “Quetzalcoatl.”
The man took off the feathered serpent and let it coil up on the floor. “There,” he said, “I sometimes need it, but it’s damned inconvenient.” He then removed the beard and appeared clad in jeans and a black T-shirt. “There,” he said again, “now we can talk.”
Anna’s astonishment lasted a full minute. “I don’t understand; are you Quetzalcoatl or not?” She glanced nervously at the snake coiling on the floor.
“Of course, I’m Quetzalcoatl, and I went to a lot of trouble to show myself to you. You recognized me all right. But I don’t have to have all that paraphernalia on all the time. You are an intelligent woman and can see me without it.” With that, he sat down on the most comfortable- looking piece of furniture in the study, a love seat.
Anna quickly saved her text in the computer and stood up. “Would you like to have something to drink?”
“No, maybe later. I am serious about what I said. Don’t write that I am merely an invention of the Colonial Period and that I did not exist in ancient Mexico.”
“What difference does it make what I write?” she said with a shrug. “Most people will still believe that Quetzalcoatl was the greatest god of ancient America.”
“But, they will quote you even to disagree with you, and that in itself will cast endless doubt on my existence.”
Anna squirmed in the computer chair. “Is your existence so threatened?” she asked, keeping an eye on the snake.
“Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t like it. It causes me trouble.”
The snake moved, and Anna thought she heard her cat’s feet near the door.
“The snake, get rid of the snake.” The next minute the snake disappeared, and Cyrus, an old black cat with white paws, walked into the room avoiding the love seat.
“All right,” she said, “which Quetzalcoatl are you, the Feathered Serpent, the wind god Ehecatl, the planet Venus, or the historical king of Tula?”
“You forgot to mention the creator god.”
“Yes, the creator of humanity. So which is it?”
Quetzalcoatl took a deep breath. “You forgot to mention the saintly man who was against human sacrifice, with the white complexion and long beard.”
“Who might have been the apostle, St. Thomas,” Anna added with a superior smile.
“Or could have even been Jesus Christ.”
“Well,” said Anna, “there is more, I am sure.”
“Yes, you know who I am.”
“No, I don’t. You’re just a mishmash of gods and qualities, and I am trying to create order out of the mess. And the first thing to decide is what is genuinely Indian from what is Spanish and later. And this is going to be my last great work. My legacy before retirement.”
“And you’ve decided that Quetzalcoatl never existed except in the fevered imagination of Europeans.”
“Yes, and I think I can prove it. And I’m going to prove it. Something controversial to end my career with.”
“I can’t talk you out of it?” he asked, gesturing, and the snake poked his tongue out from under the love seat.
“Are you trying to frighten me?”
“Not really. I think we can talk this thing through. You tell me what you’re writing, chapter by chapter, and I will comment. Figure that you’re getting data from the very source. I will keep visiting you.”
“It isn’t going to work. I know what I am doing. I am writing strictly for a rational human audience and you and your snake don’t belong to it.”
“You can’t stop me from visiting you.”
“Are you trying to frighten me again?
“Maybe I can learn a few details from you,” she added, by way of giving in.
“I’ll take that drink now,” he said.
Anna was distracted at dinner, which she served absentmindedly. Roy grumbled, “Why is it that here we are in the seafood paradise of Maine, and we are having chicken drumsticks again?” Anna looked down at her plate of chicken drumsticks, baked potato, and peas. She was thinking of the way Quetzalcoatl had disappeared gradually. After he was gone, she had taken two aspirins, not because she had a headache but because she was confused and stirred up. There was no point in discussing it with Roy, whose plan was to mow the lawn on the tractor mower the next day. He loved to work in the garden.
“Anna, come for a walk down by the point. Don’t sit inside all day.”
Anna put on a light jacket and joined him, her mind on the chapter she and Quetzalcoatl would start on tomorrow. She was sure he would visit again. She even thought, I better put up a good fight or he won’t come anymore; he only came because I was being obstreperous. But then, wasn’t he ridiculous with his beard and snake? She wasn’t simpleminded to be taken in so easily. He’d have a run for his money.
Anna thought that they should start with the Feathered Serpent, which first appeared on the monuments of Teotihuacan. It was never in human form, no beard, no pale complexion. No reference to the sacrifice of birds, butterflies, or humans. Just a green serpent, sometimes with water or shell symbols. Obviously a fertility concept. The green feathers of the quetzal bird probably signified vegetation and the color of living nature. The green feathers of the quetzal bird were imports from the mountains of the Guatemalan highlands, rare and expensive. Each male bird had only two long feathers, and bringing them to Teotihuacan in quantity was a costly and time-consuming trade. So that signified that this green plumage was very precious. Therefore, this Feathered Serpent was also a precious serpent.
What was the most precious thing to a Mesoamerican? But of course it was life, which was short and sweet, even when it was only bittersweet. And this life could not exist without the fertility of the world that was renewed every year during the rainy season. Obviously that’s why the Feathered Serpent is in a watery context at Teotihuacan. It has something to do with the rainy season.
Here, Anna came to a logical stumbling block. That explains the feathers and the water but not the snake itself. Whenever clearly depicted, the snake is a rattler. Why a rattlesnake? Well, Mesoamericans seemed to use animals of prey as symbols of power—jaguars symbolized royalty, as they did in other parts of the ancient world. Elite warriors were called “eagle” and “jaguar” knights. Rattlers are fearsome creatures and could easily represent the power of the supernatural. They are power symbols.
All this was getting vaguer and vaguer, but she proceeded with her argument. Then there is the fact that snakes live both in the earth and in water and can be thought of as superior to both or messengers between them. And finally, last but not least, snakes shed their skin and seem to be reborn young and fresh. If ever nature provided a symbol for regeneration, the snake is it. Surely to the Mesoamericans, it must have signified the rebirth of the rainy season after the end of the dormant dry season. Anna knew no evidence for this, but surely it was obvious from the very nature of things.
She wasn’t arguing that there was no Feathered Serpent; there definitely was one; she was merely saying that it was not a man with a beard and a penchant for sacrificing butterflies. So whoever had visited her did not have his facts straight. She was keeping track of the time. The afternoon was getting close to tea time. Maybe he wasn’t going to come after all. Or maybe she imagined the whole incident. She decided to do her email for the second time that day. When she booted up the computer, there he was.
“Sorry,” he wrote. “There is a hurricane off the coast of Mexico; I am delayed. I will be there shortly.”
“Oh,” she managed to say as she went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. When she got back to the study, he was sitting on the love seat.
“As a nice Hungarian woman, you must understand my fears about extinction,” he said, to her complete astonishment. “Didn’t Herder prophesy in the nineteenth century that the Hungarian language, and with it Hungarian culture, would shortly die out?”
“You have been reading up on me!” she exclaimed indignantly.
“Well, sort of. I Googled Hungarians and extinction. You haven’t gone extinct yet. Herder was extrapolating from the superior number of Slavs in the region. But you are going to go extinct now, because the Hungarian birth rate is so low. Sometime soon they will disappear.”
“So what else do you know about me?” Anna said, trying not to enter this conversation.
Quetzalcoatl smiled mysteriously. “You are already extinct.”
“You are wrong there. Yes, we Hungarians worry about being a small people, but we make the most of it. If I make a name for myself outside Hungary, it creates more life for Hungary and Hungarians, even as a Hungarian-American.”
“Are you saying that by making me extinct you save yourself from going extinct?”
“That’s not the point.”
“What is the point?”
“Finding out the truth of the situation. I was just going over my notes about the Feathered Serpent. Indeed, there was such a creature in ancient Mesoamerica, and I see it first in a big way at Teotihuacan at about 100 ad.”
“Well, now we’re getting somewhere.”
“No we’re not, because this Feathered Serpent has nothing to do with a bearded man who sacrificed butterflies.”
“What do you have against the bearded man who sacrificed butterflies?” he said facetiously.
Anna was beginning to see that his strategy was going to be to make it personal. “He is not ancient Mesoamerican. He is the invention of Europeans.” She was going to stick to the issue.
“And you dislike everything European?” he asked slyly.
Anna was ready for this. “That’s a silly remark, but what if I do? Anyway, I deal with that in a later chapter.”
“All right, lets get back to the Feathered Serpent. See, I did not bring him along today. But take the name, Quetzalcoatl. You called me that. What does it mean?”
Anna made a face at the schoolroom question. “It means ‘feathered serpent’ or ‘precious serpent’ in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. But that does not mean anything. All Mesoamericans believed in this fantastic serpent of rain and fertility, maybe from time immemorial. They were an agricultural people. It was a symbol, an emblem, a totem, an idea, whatever you want to call it.”
“You make it sound like a flag.”
“All right, it was more than that. You could say that it was a paradoxical concept of the creative and destructive forces of nature all in one brilliant image.”
“Those are just big words.”
“What do you want? You don’t seem to like little words or big words.”
Cyrus had come into the room and nestled next to Quetzalcoatl on the love seat. The man was stroking his shaggy black fur. Anna had wiggled her fingers, but the cat wouldn’t come to her. She could hear her husband pottering about in the kitchen. Quetzalcoatl rested his hand on Cyrus’s back and said, “How do you like Maine?”
“What does that have to do with . . .”
“Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Why are you so reluctant to answer the question?”
“Do you want little words or big words?” she finally said.
“Oh, a few little ones and a couple of big ones will do.”
“All right. Coastal Maine is a beautiful place and I like it. My husband comes from here and brought me here.” Then she hesitated and added in a quieter tone. “But I’m not really at home in it. I’m not at home anywhere, so Maine will do just like another place might.”
“I have to go now,” he said and disappeared off the love seat.
Anna was confused. The conversation had not gone as she’d expected. I suppose he is not academic, she thought to herself. She was taken aback by his interest in her supposed motivations and background. All that seemed irrelevant. It was so exciting to have him talk to her, but his comments were disconcerting. She did not want to alienate him; she wanted him to return. But how much would he pry, and what was his purpose in laying her bare?
Roy was yelling from the kitchen that Jamie had arrived with the lobsters.
Dinner was quiet. Roy was expertly picking out his lobster, while Anna handed him her claws to crack for her. They were eating by candlelight because Roy was something of a romantic. Anna preferred to see what she ate by lamplight.
“Anna Hunyadi,” he said, “you’re not all here tonight.” His Hungarian pronunciation was excellent, though he did not speak a word of Hungarian. He used Hungarian words as words of endearment.
Anna smiled. Her mind was on the mysterious visitor. She took a better look at him this time. Still the jeans and black T-shirt on the muscular body of a man in his fifties. It was hard to say whether Quetzalcoatl was Indian or white. She could have sworn the first time he had gray hair. Now it seemed black, just graying at the temples. He had a wide face with bright eyes. Probably ten years younger than she was, he was an attractive man. Not that Anna was interested; she was happily married to Roy, and after all, they had just had grandchildren in Chicago. Twins.
Roy was not curious about things Mesoamerican, and though he knew who Quetzalcoatl was, sort of, he took no interest in Anna’s project. They were talking about the coming Lupin Festival and the beautiful lupins springing up all over the countryside. It looked like it was going to rain and that it would be a washout.
Anna went looking for Cyrus, who was still curled up on the love seat. Instead of the usual yowl, he purred quietly. I must not imagine that this is Quetzalcoatl’s effect, she said to herself. She glanced at her Quetzalcoatl manuscript, entitled Who Was Quetzalcoatl, that she had been working on for years. She flipped a page at random and read:
Perhaps the place to start unraveling the facts and legends of Quetzalcoatl is with Montezuma II, who was the Aztec king at the time of the Spanish Conquest. There is plenty of information about this in eyewitness accounts and in early Colonial histories. Montezuma was anxious to identify the aliens in the ships (called “wooden temples” by the Aztecs) approaching on the seacoast. He did the most rational thing any ruler would do—he set his learned men and priests to look in the books and on other monuments to explain who the invaders might be. He may have taken them to be gods at first because of their apparent power, and many of the books dealt with gods and legendary history. Montezuma and his advisors seem to have come up with the name of Quetzalcoatl, a legendary ruler of the city of Tula, who went away—by some accounts at sea—and had said that he would return, as the likeliest candidate for Cortés. The year 1519, when Cortés landed in Mexico, was the year 1 Reed in the Aztec calendar. The date 1 Reed was the birth date of Quetzalcoatl. Obviously then, Cortés must have been the returning Quetzalcoatl. This identification became immediately widespread. The story may have satisfied the curiosity of the Aztecs, but it also intrigued the Spanish conquerors. Was Quetzalcoatl a European and a Christian to have come to Mexico before Cortés? More questions were asked about Quetzalcoatl in the sixteenth century than about any other Aztec god.”
Anna wished that the apparition of Quetzalcoatl would address her manuscript more directly. These were all facts. She perused her manuscript some more but found that she next went on to discuss the Aztec divinatory calendar of 13 numbers rotating with 20 day signs of the 260 days of the ritual calendar calibrated with the 365-day year, which was complicated and dense going. This divinatory calendar was used to foretell the fate of humans based on their birthdays, set the auspicious time for wars, marriages, trips, etc. One Reed was the birth date of Quetzalcoatl, but it was not a date with a good omen. Most scholars don’t point that out. During 1 Reed years, thieves are likely to break into your house and take your valuables. Moreover, the idea that the king of Tula returned from wherever he went to at sea to retake his kingdom must have been terrifying to Montezuma and his circle. The king of Tula seemed to have greater antiquity and legitimacy than he did. This is where the Quetzalcoatl saga started, and it isn’t simple.
Her Quetzalcoatl visitor seemed to be not just short on facts but not particularly interested in them. Maybe she should have started with Montezuma and Cortés and not the Feathered Serpent.
In the evening she and Roy watched some Agatha Christie mysteries—which she did not follow but remembered that Hercule Poirot was especially appalled by English cuisine. Anna woke that night from a nightmare by the loud chirping of birds at dawn. She had dreamt that she was at a friend’s house standing fully dressed in the swimming pool. She was wearing a beautiful and elaborate dress from the 1900s with a bustle. The water was pleasantly warm. Slowly, however, the water drained out, and a cold wind began to blow. Encumbered in all the skirts, she could not move and was increasingly freezing. When she woke up, she saw that the window had been left open, and the chirping of the birds was deafening. She crawled back next to Roy but couldn’t get back to sleep.
The Woodrings were coming for tea during the time when Quetzalcoatl visited before. Would he not come today? Would she have to tell him to go away? She tidied up everywhere, while Roy was making preparations to bake oatmeal raisin cookies. They were usually delicious. After lunch Anna retired to her room with a headache in anticipation of the Woodrings. She didn’t feel like interacting with Hank Woodring, a retired professor of theology, or the talkative Susan Woodring, the mainstay of the local Episcopal church. Anna behaved as graciously as she could, listening only halfway to the lack of success of the Lupin Festival. Susan’s voice rang out. “There are too many festivals in Maine these days. There is a festival somewhere in Maine every day—Lobster Festivals, Folk Festivals, Jazz Festivals, Pumpkin Festivals, Blueberry Festivals, Whoopie Pie Festivals are on every day.”
“Don’t forget the Black Fly Festival,” added Roy with a chuckle.
At that point, Anna heard the door to the deck creak and open halfway, as if a breeze had blown it in, but there was no breeze. She heard slight footsteps on the boards of the deck and a slight movement of the seat cushion on an empty chair. He had come to join the tea party! Anna watched the empty chair anxiously. What was he doing? Why was he here?
Roy and Hank moved on from the Lupin festival to the building of the parish house addition of the Episcopal church. Towards the end of the tea party the unseen visitor got up and left the deck, but Anna felt sure he was going to her study. She was afraid that he might be rummaging among her papers or even fiddling with the computer. But when she went in, she found him standing in the middle of the room looking at her uncle’s watercolors of Transylvanian castles framed on the wall.
She said shh and brought her finger to her lips.
He nodded. “Tomorrow,” he whispered and disappeared. Anna thought, He is trying to get to me personally. He refuses to take on the problem of Quetzalcoatl intellectually because he knows I am right.”
Cyrus sidling in the hall indicated that Quetzalcoatl had probably arrived. From the doorway Anna could see the snake coiling on the Persian rug of the study. Q had evidently come armed for combat. Anna had washed her blond hair and wore lipstick. It was a warm and sunny day, and she had on shorts and a hot pink top. They both smiled broadly in greeting. The snake slid under the love seat but stayed.
“I should have told you a bit about myself,” she began. “I am what is called a 1.5 generation immigrant. I grew up in Hungary until my teens, and I came to the US during the Revolution of 1956. I was a refugee and very grateful to have been taken in by the US. But I’ve spent my life trying to fit into a culture I don’t belong in.” She smiled coyly. “I am neither fish nor fowl. And if you want to know why I care so much about the truth of Quetzalcoatl that is because . . . because . . . ” Here Anna could not find the words and waved her hand.
“That doesn’t matter right now. Let’s talk about the man, king, or god, with the serpent on his back.” He acted as though he would pick up the serpent to show what he meant but desisted when Anna motioned to him not to bother because she understood. “You agree, do you not, that various persons are represented with feathered serpents, at Chichen Itza for example, in a definite pre-Spanish date?”
“Yes,” she said in the same businesslike tone, “as at the Temple of the Jaguars.” And then getting an idea she asked, “Do you know who they represent? Is the Feathered Serpent with the Chichen men the name of a family or a title perhaps?”
“What kind of a silly question is that? The Feathered Serpent could be the name of a family or a title. It could hark back to the dynasty at Teotihuacan and later on at Xochicalco.”
“But which is it, name or title?”
“In human affairs names and titles are all mixed up. It does not matter.”
“Are these figures with snakes the same as the bearded man who sacrificed butterflies?” she asked, pressing the point.
“It’s the wrong question,” he said with finality. “You don’t understand. You sit here in Maine, watching your American husband and neighbors, and you don’t understand them either.”
“What exactly do I not understand?” she asked, feeling that he certainly could not understand them any better.
“Why do you have so many churches in the area; can you answer me that?”
“Americans are a religious people. Also churches are places in which to socialize. That’s an easy question.”
“Precisely. Yet Americans are also somewhat scientific and rational, are they not?”
Anna was confused. Was he trying to say that Mesoamericans were as inconsistently religious as Americans? Her befuddlement was so bad that she thought of confiding about all this to Roy and asking his opinion. And maybe asking Q to leave her alone with these questions in the future. But Q then smiled warmly and took her hand. For a crazy minute she thought he was going to kiss her hand the way her father had kissed ladies hands in the old country. But he didn’t. It was sort of a clasp or a brief caress. He then stood up, and the snake slithered after him.
“I’m sorry, Anna. Goodbye for now.”
At bedtime Anna turned to Roy. “Why are there so many churches in the US?” she asked.
“You mean denominations or actual buildings?”
“Well, sort of both. Why do Americans believe in God? Most Europeans don’t.” Roy stifled a yawn. “Americans are optimists. They find it better to believe that there is a God than that there isn’t. It’s more positive. You looked very cute today in that pink top. But you spend too much time in your study. It was such a lovely day. You should have been outside.”
“Yes, Roy, you are right.”
Roy’s parents were sort of Mormons and belonged to a sect called the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints popular in the area. Roy was an ambiguous believer, which went well with Anna’s agnosticism. Why did Q ask this question? He was trying to stop her from making what he thought were meaningless distinctions.
And then she thought, entirely tangentially, about how the Mormons thought that the ancient Mesoamericans were the Lost Tribes of Israel and how Jesus Christ appeared to them in the form of Quetzalcoatl. She knew all that, but her study was not going to go into the vagaries of the Quetzalcoatl saga up to the present. She just wanted to show that Quetzalcoatl did not exist even in ancient times. Would her visitor argue for the Mormon Quetzalcoatl? Anna decided to stick to her material and not be drawn into byways.
To please Roy, Anna went for a walk after lunch the next beautiful day. She followed the back road down a steep hill, knowing that on the way back she would have to climb it. Good exercise. At the bottom of the hill she saw a white pickup truck approach and stepped further into the shoulder to give it room. The truck slowed down and the driver motioned her to get in. He wore a white T-shirt and had heavily tattooed arms. Anna shook her head; going up the hill was her exercise. But the man insisted, and Anna thought she recognized Q’s baritone. While her reason told her in Roy’s voice not to get into a car with a stranger, she got into the truck. The truck took off and flew up the hill. “Now if I were in a science fiction movie, we’d fly straight into ancient Mesoamerica,” she thought.
The road continued uphill, and they were speeding along it—endlessly.
“Are you planning to leave Roy?” Q asked.
Anna snorted. “Me? Of course not. Why should I? We just had twin grandchildren!”
“Just thought I’d ask.”
“Because I got into the pickup with you?”
“You seemed harmless. I know you.”
“Do you? Or was it a desire for adventure?”
“My adventure is the story of Quetzalcoatl you seem unwilling to discuss.”
“You seem to know all the answers already. But fire away. I’ll contribute what I can.”
Anna was disconcerted by the endless hill and their seemingly motionless speed along it.
“Quetzalcoatl as the king of Tula. Was there such a king or not? Scholars are divided on that subject. Some say there was such a king, others argue it’s just a myth.”
“You, of course, think it was just a myth.”
“There are no representations of Quetzalcoatl at Tula. Nor is there anything peaceful in the art of Tula. It’s full of warriors, sacrificed hearts, predatory jaguars, eagles, and coyotes. Much like Chichen Itza. War and blood sacrifice. So yes, I think it’s just a myth.”
“If, as you say, Quetzalcoatl was a name or title, why couldn’t there have been a King Quetzalcoatl at Tula?”
“You’re quibbling. Even if there were lots of King Quetzalcoatls, would any of them have been the Quetzalcoatl of the pale skin, beard, and butterflies—what, with all those hearts?”
“Oh, give off with the butterflies. That just means that he was a benevolent force. You yourself said that the Feathered Serpent is a symbol of fertility and the good things in life.”
“What about the story that Quetzalcoatl fought with Tezcatlipoca, Tezcatlipoca drove him out of Tula, and he went on a long trip to the coast with his followers? Do you think that that is a memory of a historical conflict between two factions at Tula, one peace-loving, the other militaristic?”
“I’m sure you have answered your own question already.”
“Doesn’t it make more sense to see Quetzalcoatl as the creative agent in eternal battle with Tezcatlipoca, the power of destruction in an eternal cycle of death and rebirth, than to see it as political history?”
“Doesn’t politics go in creative-destructive cycles?”
“Maybe, but that is not very specific.”
“I think that the story of the king of Tula is very evocative. I like the ambiguous ending. Did Quetzalcoatl sail off on a raft of serpents, or did he immolate himself in a funeral pyre and become the planet Venus? Which ending do you like?”
“Actually, I like the planet-Venus ending because that proves that Quetzalcoatl was a mythical god and not really a human ruler. I am suspicious of the raft of snakes and his promise to return.”
“You would be. But Montezuma bought it. You’re trying to be more pedantic than Montezuma.”
At this point the truck slowed, made a turn, and Anna found herself in front of her house. As always after a discussion with Q, she thought her issues were clarified, but she could not put them into words. What exactly had he said about Quetzalcoatl that was new? What had he said? She had been mesmerized by the feathered serpent tattooed on his arm.
Roy was in the living room perusing the classifieds in the local paper, looking for a used chainsaw.
“I think we’ll have crabmeat sandwiches tonight,” she said, mentally adding, I don’t feel like cooking. Jamie’s wife picked crabmeat, and it was usually fresh and sweet.
Anna was not up for Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers in the evening. She was thinking of the vision that claimed to be Quetzalcoatl. It was exciting to discuss her ideas with someone, even if he disagreed with her. She was sure that in the end her analysis would win. Logic and common sense were on her side. He seemed well-meaning but a fuzzy thinker. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of his personal interest in her and thought that it was cover for his lack of knowledge of his own history. Or maybe an attempt to figure out her psychology. But her psychology was simple, and she had already offered it up. As far as the silly question about her life with Roy, they had been more or less happily married for twenty-five years. The anniversary was coming up.
Anyway, she wanted Q to visit again, tomorrow and the next day and the next— Maybe after they exhausted the subject of Quetzalcoatl they could discuss Tezcatlipoca, or Xochiquetzal, or whoever else. There were many gods in the Mesoamerican pantheon. But, of course, not many who were also claimed to have been human and even Christian. Quetzalcoatl was unique. And it was amazing to Anna that no other scholar had embarked recently on a critical evaluation of this deity. People were satisfied to list a mishmash of facts. This would be the great work of her mature years. That this was so was proven by the appearance of Quetzalcoatl himself.
Anna crawled into a new nighty from L.L.Bean, pink roses on a white ground that she had just purchased on sale, and waited in bed for Roy.
That day Quetzalcoatl did not come. Anna had taken for granted Quetzalcoatl’s visits. After all, he came even the day the Woodrings were over for tea and sat with them invisibly. There had been no final words between them. The saga of Quetzalcoatl was still incomplete, and their opposing points of view were still unresolved.
Anna reread her first draft and threw up her hands. To hell with Quetzalcoatl! It just doesn’t make for a coherent story. What was there to critique in the welter of assorted information? No wonder no one is writing about it! Maybe she should write about something else. Something about the pre-Columbian gods and goddesses who were neither good nor evil in a Christian sense but could be positive or negative depending on the circumstances. The rain god, Tlaloc, who brought the rains for the crops but could kill by lightning. Something about the Mesoamerican universe that was alive with the being and action of the gods. Cinteotl, the maize god, who was in every corncob eaten by man. Too bad there wasn’t a better word for “pagan” to describe pagan religion. Pagan religion was very sensible and reasonable in its way. What exactly was Quetzalcoatl in that system? That was hard to say. Quetzalcoatl was not simply the storms of Tlaloc or the maize of Cinteotl. He was a lot of unrelated things: the Feathered Serpent whose meaning was ambiguous, the wind god Ehecatl, the planet Venus, and a creator god—to say nothing of the king of Tula and the name and/or title. What exactly did she argue he wasn’t, when he seemed to be all over the place? Was he everything and therefore he was nothing? Maybe the answer was that to please the interest of the Spanish the early Colonial Aztecs attributed everything to Quetzalcoatl.
So I am back to Quetzalcoatl, she thought to herself, that messy enigma. Q doesn’t help me with it all that much, but he is a sounding board. I wish he were here.
She thought of the man with the tattoos on his muscular arms. Definitely interesting. More interesting than the sound of a chainsaw on the old tree in the yard.
At that point Anna became aware that there was something under the love seat that was moving about. It was the Feathered Serpent flicking its long tongue in and out. Anna felt like screaming, but she just drew in her breath and remained motionless. The serpent didn’t seem to want to attack her and lay there calmly staring.
“Stay there,” she said, motioning to it as if it were a dog. “I’ll be right back.” She went to the kitchen to get a saucer of milk. Somewhere she read or saw milk being offered to a snake. Of course, there was no milk in pre-Columbian America, because there were no cows or other large animals. It could not have been the Feathered Serpent’s preferred food. Nevertheless she brought the milk and set it in front of the snake. The snake examined the milk for a moment and then ingested it, looking quite content. It then coiled itself up and disappeared.
Anna became quite happy. Something wonderful had happened. She felt that she had made friends with the Feathered Serpent and that it was a good omen for her project. Actually, never mind her project, it was wonderful for her. A little voice inside her head said that she had corrupted the Feathered Serpent with European food, but she waved it aside. The snake probably thought it was thin maize gruel or perhaps fresh pulque (maguey wine). The little voice didn’t say anything but perhaps thought something quietly about fraud.
“It was just a little milk,” she told herself.
The next day was a perfect summer day. Pleasure boats were out in the bay, the sailboats gliding silently, the motorboats buzzing like insects. Anna and Roy had sandwiches of cold cuts on the deck. After lunch, they settled down with books in the lawn chairs. Anna wondered whether Q would come this afternoon and actually felt like taking the afternoon off. It was Saturday, and she didn’t feel like mental gymnastics. Still, she was curious about the Feathered Serpent and how he would relate to her after yesterday’s “milk.” Eventually Roy got up mumbling something about his spade, and Anna went into her study. She thought to herself that it was time that she took charge of the conversation, so when Q came in with the serpent, she accosted him boldly.
“How come you usually visit me with the serpent and not in your other supposed guise as the wind god Ehecatl?”
“Because I know what you would say about the duck-masked head of Ehecatl,” he answered, getting comfortable on the love seat.
“What would I say?” continued Anna in the challenging tone.
“You would say that the duck mask is stupid. And ugly.”
Anna didn’t answer, but she had to admit to herself that the Feathered Serpent was exciting and romantic, while the duck mask was indeed stupid and left her cold. She didn’t want to say so.
“I don’t understand why the wind god, a perfectly reasonable pagan nature god, should have a duck mask.”
At that Q hunched his shoulders as if to say, “I don’t either and anyway it does not matter.” But actually said, “What kind of a mask should the wind god have in your opinion? Do you like Tlaloc’s mask with the goggles and fangs?”
“It never occurred to me to question Tlaloc’s face. I neither like it nor don’t like it.”
“But you’re unhappy with Ehecatl’s duck face.”
“Well, I’ve made a study of it, and I know as much about the subject as anybody else. So yes, I think I can have an opinion. And most of the time in Mesoamerican myths, things make sense. Take Tlaloc of the storms, he can also be of the earth. But what does the duck mask have to do with the Feathered Serpent?”
Q did not answer, so Anna continued, “It seems that as far as you are concerned reason and logic do not operate when it comes to Quetzalcoatl. Things are as they are and have to be accepted as is. Well it may be okay for the wind god to be duck-faced, and I don’t care all that much about him, but why should this bizarre construct also be Quetzalcoatl?”
“I don’t think we’ll get far in the mood you are in today. Did you and Roy have a quarrel?”
“No, what makes you think so?”
“It is possible to quarrel without speaking.”
“Roy does his thing and I do mine.”
“And never the twain shall meet.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I am beginning to.”
“Thank you for the milk,” he said in a conciliatory tone, as he got up to leave. Cyrus came in and rubbed up against his leg, not concerned about the Feathered Serpent under the love seat. Anna had tears in her eyes.
“Go!” she motioned to him. After he disappeared, she asked herself why she had become so emotional. She lived for these afternoon conversations, but he also irritated her. He questioned everything she did. Now, of all times, when her life was finally in perfect balance and harmony, he insisted that there was something wrong with it. He was as wrong about that as he was about Quetzalcoatl. Would she have fallen for him had he had the head of a duck? Had she fallen for him?
You can’t fall for an apparition. Anna knew that he was an apparition. She didn’t question whether he was “real” or in her own mind. There might be time in the future to analyze that. Right now she was living it, and it was as it was: the most important thing in her life. She was having an intellectual affair with Quetzalcoatl; she sort of admitted that. It had been a long time since a handsome man paid that much attention to her. He will bring up Hungary again.
Leftover chicken casserole tonight? she pondered.
“When was the last time you read a Hungarian book?” he asked bluntly.
“Oh, it must have been a couple of years ago. I can read Hungarian, but it’s an effort.”
“You have no one to talk about a Hungarian book with?”
“I read a Hungarian book when I feel nostalgic.”
“And that’s only every couple of years?”
“You don’t understand. Hungary is my childhood, as much a mythical land as Mesoamerica. To visit it, I have to get into shoes that are too small. I don’t get very far, I teeter-totter around.”
“Why don’t you visit or retire in Hungary?”
“Because contemporary Hungary is as foreign to me as Portugal or Ireland or Lebanon or any other foreign place—”
“So your Hungary does not exist.”
“I guess not, if you put it like that.”
“But you say you are Hungarian, 1.5 generation, if I remember right.”
“I am neither a complete Hungarian nor a complete American. I am two disparate people. I dream in Hungarian, so Roy tells me.”
“Aha.” Q took a deep breath. “So then what’s wrong with the Feathered Serpent and the Duck-Faced Wind God being the same person?” he said quickly.
“Ouch. That’s too easy.”
“Isn’t that what you’re implying, that you are two disparate creatures yoked together?”
“It isn’t as easy as you put it.”
“But perhaps it’s not as unique as you think,” he said coldly. “You couldn’t just kill off a part of that 1.5 generation person, could you? Could you be deprived of those Hungarian dreams?”
“Duckface.” She sighed.
“Duckface,” he insisted. “Wind is like the human breath of life. Something very positive. Remember that.” And with that victory, Q left. He hadn’t brought the serpent, Anna realized in parting.
Afterwards Anna thought, Yes, but what about hurricanes? Don’t forget the destructive winds of hurricanes.
Anna moped around the house doing dishes. Various neighbors were coming to dinner, and she was supposed to make paella. They had mail-ordered saffron; the seafood and even the sausages were local. Anna knew how to make it, though it was labor-intensive. But she wasn’t really there. She didn’t know where she was exactly. She was not in Budapest, though she thought of the bookstore where she was a few years ago looking for the most recent Hungarian novel, which she actually never read. She took it off the shelf. It was something modernistic with a sentence running an entire chapter.
Clever, but it gave her a headache.
She heard Roy’s voice in the driveway and went to see who Roy was talking to. He was talking to a man in a pickup truck with whom he had gone to school. Something about the local election of selectmen and people she knew nothing about. The garden had been watered and looked radiant in the sunlight. To Anna, Maine felt as if it were the planet Mars, but she was still in the spacecraft, not quite landed, encumbered in a spacesuit. She chuckled at the theories that spacemen created the monuments of Mesoamerica. Rationally, she knew that the theory was so popular because people knew so little about Mesoamerica. Mesoamerica was a place of fantasy.
But Mesoamerica was real to Anna. She endeavored to impress this reality she felt in her books. Not as an amateur enthusiast but as a professional critic, separating fact from romantic imagination. She had the reputation for being hard-nosed and down-to-earth. Being in a spacesuit, which hindered her movement in the US, was no hindrance in Mesoamerica. She examined Mesoamerica the way an astronaut examines outer space, in its own element. Q was and was not a surprise. The surprise in Q was not in the apparition but in his point of view. He wanted something that went against her grain, but she was confident that she would convince him of her interpretation in time. The facts were on her side. As she was measuring out the rice, she was pondering the arguments she would use the next time she saw Q. He thought he had vanquished her with the argument of being two people in one. But that was superficial. Two people could coexist in one body only if there was some significant connecting tissue. So what about that!
The paella was good enough. The Woodrings and the Newmans discussed the new exhibits at the Historical Society and a comic rendition of As You Like It in the local high school auditorium. Roy smoked his pipe and dispensed homespun wisdom. Anna had a headache and after dinner excused herself to lie down.
“What’s the matter with you, Anna?” said Roy, after he saw the guests out. “You’re acting like you’re not here.”
“I am not here.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in outer space.” Anna went so far, but something stopped her from confiding that she has been spending her afternoons with a Mesoamerican god.
“What’s that mean?”
“It means that I don’t feel comfortable here.”
“You mean in Maine?”
“Anywhere. The US.”
“What’s wrong with the US?”
“It is so, so inflated.” That sounded lame. “It’s silly. I’m just having one of those moods,” she backpedaled.
“You mean grandiose?” He tried to understand her.
“Well, sort of . . . and the Newmans with their fundraising for grand local monuments are ridiculous—”
“We don’t need to invite them again,” Roy said giving her a kiss.
It was one thing for Roy to criticize the US, which he did unsparingly, and another for Anna. Anna did not criticize—she was the grateful refugee. Occasionally she was tired of the US in all its pretensions of perfection or even in its obvious imperfections. Just tired of its rhetoric. But there was no other place she could call her own or wished that she could. It was always the biggest, the most beautiful, the stupidest, the mostest of something. Maine was something of a relief in that it was a backwater and knew itself to be so. But it was the most quaint, the most natural beauty with the best human values. And if one listened to the noonday news, the most crimes of passion. Still, Anna did not want to share this with Q. Hungary was none of his business, nor was the US. Anna didn’t quite fathom what Q was looking for in his personal questions, but perhaps he was looking for her weak spots. Not that she could imagine what he would do with them once he ferreted them out. Unquestionably, they stirred her up and made her think of things she generally left alone. Maybe they shook her confidence in the rightness of her book. But ha! When it comes to talking about Quetzalcoatl as the planet Venus, she will come into her own. Three beings in one may be a bit much even for Q!
Not that the planet Venus was really a person. He was a malevolent force usually painted black in the pictorial manuscripts. The influence of Venus was destructive, and he was the patron of war. According to one version of the “King of Tula story,” after he was exiled from Tula, Quetzalcoatl went to the coast and jumped into a funeral pyre as a self-sacrifice. His heart became the planet Venus. Some think that faces emerging from the open maw of a monster at Chichen and Tula represent Venus as the Morning Star emerging from the body of the earth. But of course the sun makes a similar journey, dead into the earth and underworld at its setting and being born from the earth in the morning. All the heavenly bodies die in the earth only to be reborn, not just Venus. Is that face the benign god Quetzalcoatl who abhorred human sacrifice? Is Quetzalcoatl even the Feathered Serpent and the wind god Ehecatl? Aren’t these clearly three ideas and three persons that have been yoked together? When and by whom?
Q was late but arrived for tea. He was wearing his duck mask and was laughing behind it. Anna was not sure whether he was making fun of her or whether it was an invitation to laugh with him.
“You’re prepared for anything, I see,” she said, pouring tea.
“Seeing is believing,” he said and didn’t take off the mask, which seemed to be a part of his face.
“The last time we talked I thought we got somewhere. You saw that Quetzalcoatl could be multiple and one.”
“I understand that some gods share attributes, like the fertility goddesses, but what do the Feathered Serpent and the wind god and even Venus share?”
“Ah, Venus, another of my many features. I like being a heavenly body.”
“It is b . . . b . . . beautiful and profound, but what do they have in common?”
“You are the scholar; you figure it out.” They drank tea quietly or as quietly as they could with Q having to sip through a duck beak. Anna pretended not to notice.
“I can’t think of anything, except the name.”
“There you are, that’s it.”
“But a name can be anything.”
“Can it? What is your name?”
“What does that mean?”
“Well it’s the name of an old Hungarian ruler who fought the Turks. But I can’t prove that I belong to his lineage. It’s just a name.”
“But what do people think when they hear this name?”
“Something very Hungarian.”
“Could you be Jewish?’
“Well, I could have changed my name to be more Hungarian.”
“Did you or your family?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know, but you are basking in a celebrated name.”
“Well, in America it doesn’t mean anything. I should have taken my husband’s name, Billings.”
“Oh yes, Billings. And what about Billings?”
“His ancestor came to the US on the Mayflower.”
“And everybody in your neighborhood knows it. And you’re not even gods and you have names. So why can’t Quetzalcoatl be a very special name for some very special forces.”
“I don’t think Hunyadi and Billings mean anything, say in China or even in Montana, but Quetzalcoatl is universal and has to make sense.”
“Why does he have to make sense by being cut up and crippled? Are you a kind of a Martin Luther reforming Mesoamerican religion?”
“I haven’t thought of it that way; I was just trying to create order out of the mess the eyewitnesses of the Conquest and the missionaries left us. Following your religious metaphor, I am atoning for their sins.”
“You mean you’re more Mesoamerican than I am.” With that, Q took off his Ehecatl mask and smiled with his human face. “It’s easier to drink tea like this.”
“Eat your salad. You don’t eat enough greens,” said Roy at dinner.
“How is your Quetzalcoatl book going?” he asked.
“I need to do more research. The basic outline seems clear to me and my interpretation should be novel and controversial, but I am stuck here and there.” She waved her hands about.
“Why don’t you do a conference on it and gather other points of view?”
“Hm, I do have some other points of view.”
“Why don’t you start a blog?” As a retired computer technician, Roy enjoyed computer-generated information distribution. “You’d get a lot. Almost everyone knows who Quetzalcoatl is.”
“Well, do they? That’s just my point. They think they do, but they don’t really.”
“You mean, you are the only one who knows?”
“Oh, Roy, don’t be a fifth column. Have faith in my judgment. Suppose I am the only one who knows!”
“Don’t make it any harder on yourself than you have to.” That was homespun Maine advice, and she assented wholeheartedly. They settled down to watch a video of their newly-born grandchildren sleeping and waving their arms about. They would go visit soon.
Did everybody really know who Quetzalcoatl was, and was she “crippling” him as Q suggested? Should she just leave it alone? It was the first time that thought had presented itself, but she dismissed it right away. Scholarship moved ahead with controversy. She was putting herself in the line of fire. But if she didn’t do it, someone else surely would sooner or later.
One of the points Anna was not sure of was, “Quetzalcoatl as creator god.” There were no images of these; the only accounts came from sixteenth-century missionary texts, which she distrusted on principle. They were biased and incorrect, and their reliability could not be checked against reliable earlier information made by the natives for their own purposes. She approached them gingerly, like the proverbial hot stove. There was the story of Quetzalcoatl being present at the current creation of the world, after the demise of four earlier creations. (Destroyed by Tlaloc and Ehecatl respectively, as well as by the Water Goddess Chalchiuhtlicue and a giant jaguar.) The current era would be destroyed by earthquake, for which probably an earth god would be responsible. However, the Quetzalcoatl story concerns the beginning of this fifth era, when the sun was created but there were as yet no people. Quetzalcoatl went down to the underworld, Mictlan, to gather the bones of earlier humanity from under the watchful eyes of the gods of death. When he got them up, he bled his penis over them and thus brought them to life. There is, then, a little Quetzalcoatl DNA in everybody.
In another related story, frightened by the Lords of Death, Quetzalcoatl dropped some bones and took the broken pieces to the Earth Goddess. She ground them into a maize-like flour, and when Quetzalcoatl bled his member over them, they could be shaped into human forms, giving them life. Quetzalcoatl is thus credited with the creation of humanity and of its primary food, maize.
In a third account, maize had been stolen by red ants. Quetzalcoatl changed himself into a black ant and stole back the grains of corn for humanity at the time of the creation of the world.
Anna did not know what to make of these myths. The stories of the creation of humanity and maize sounded authentically Mesoamerican, but it was unclear what they had to do with Quetzalcoatl. Was this Quetzalcoatl the same as the king of Tula who went off in a raft of serpents saying he would be back? Was it the same as the Feathered Serpent in its watery contexts on the monuments of Teotihuacan? Or was it even the same as the Feathered Serpent rearing up behind important Chichen men commemorated on walls? Was it even Quetzalcoatl who did all these heroic deeds, or did the natives attribute the story to Quetzalcoatl because the Spanish only asked about Quetzalcoatl? So every important god or hero became Quetzalcoatl?
Suppose the Spanish had a thing about Tezcatlipoca and asked about him? There are accounts of the creation of the world in which Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca are equals, or even two versions of the same deity. Sometimes Quetzalcoatl is referred to as an aspect of Tezcatlipoca in a different color, the “white” Tezcatlipoca. Even as it is, Quetzalcoatl emerges as the principle of creation, while Tezcatlipoca is the principle of destruction. But in Mesoamerican thought, the two must coexist and are equally important. In this view, Quetzalcoatl as a benign god is only one half of the Mesoamerican concept of divinity, which includes darkness as well. All this modern distortion of Quetzalcoatl was getting him out of context.
It was obvious how Q would see it. Quetzalcoatl as creator god would be a central tenet in his identity. Anna was surprised that the topic had not come up in discussion, perhaps because Q was most interested in psyching her out. He seemed so self-assured in his (chaotic) identity that he hardly gave it serious consideration. Q could not be convinced by logical arguments. What would he do if she published her heretical interpretations? Would they really harm him or as he put it, make him “extinct”?
Now much as Anna was bound up with her controversial Quetzalcoatl study, she really did not want to harm Q. Q could be menacing, and it was a little scary to go against him in the long run, but he proved to be a friendly and intelligent companion on her admittedly lonely afternoons. Intelligent not in the academic sense, for which he had no taste, but in terms of insight. Not everyone took an interest in her Hungarianness. Usually that was more a roadblock in understanding than a help. Q had looked her up and waded into those long-ago waters. He made her feel whole. So how could she please him as well as herself? It seemed impossible.
Q came for tea, but they didn’t talk about Quetzalcoatl.
“You Hungarians have the reputation for being smart and have received all those Nobel Prizes.”
“Well, Hungarians try harder because they have to, as you say, survive.” He could have said something about Quetzalcoatl here, but he didn’t. He took another cookie and patted Cyrus on the head. No serpent, no wind-god mask.
“Maine is nice in the summer, but I prefer the climate of Mexico.” Anna wondered whether that meant when cool weather came, Q would no longer visit her in Maine.
“I will follow you around until I convince you to let Quetzalcoatl alone.”
“Really? Would that be for years?”
“It’s not going to take years.”
“Because you’ll give up.”
“And what happens if I give up?”
“We will both be satisfied.”
“Will you then go away?”
“And what will happen to me?”
“You will go on as before. Or you will come with me.”
“Go with you how?”
“There are ways. You like Mexico, don’t you?”
Anna knew that she was being seduced and admitted that she had done her share of the flirting. He offered something; it was not clear what. Whatever it was, it was not likely to be a fair bargain, since he was a god and she was not. Why was she falling for an entity who, in her own words, was such a chaotic mess? Why did he appear to her as a very together, handsome man? Much as she didn’t like to think this way, she had to ask herself whether the Q apparition was a figment of her imagination and her afternoon fantasy or whether it was real. The only proof of its reality was perhaps Cyrus, but Cyrus was an old cat and not the best judge. What would Roy think if she told him?
Going to Mexico was not an enticing option. Q would be too busy to see her. Besides, he would have to deal with others who wrote about him. From Helsinki to Patagonia. There were mystical possibilities of spiritual union and oneness she was not ready for. On the whole, it was best to go on as is. It was still July in Maine and pleasantly warm. He wasn’t quite ready to go, and she could hold out a little longer.
A voice rang out. “Come on, Anna. We’ll be late for the Historical Society book signing by Althea.”
“Coming, Roy,” she said.
“I guess you most like being the Colonial Quetzalcoatl,” she opened the dialogue.
“What’s wrong with the Colonial Quetzalcoatl?”
“Because you were venerated the most?”
“I wouldn’t say that. I am still venerated.”
“Because you were extensively recorded?”
“Being recorded helps.”
“But the record was biased. Quetzalcoatl was not against human sacrifice before those records.”
“That’s irrelevant. I have shown you that Quetzalcoatl was a benign force. The Spanish saw that as being against human sacrifice. They translated that into their own values. You are smart enough to know that happens,” he defended.
“They distorted the nature of Mesoamerican religion.”
“Don’t religions outlast many distortions? What about all your Christian sects?”
“They even said that Quetzalcoatl was a white man, like the Apostle St. Thomas, who came to convert the Indians before the Conquest. Surely, that is insulting.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied. “What could be more flattering than to be identified with the conquerors themselves? If we had to be conquered by the Spanish—and evidently we had to be—I think that I was singled out to help with the transition. In return for eternal life.”
“Hah, but Mesoamericans don’t believe in eternal life. Each one of their previous worlds were destroyed, and so will this one be.”
“But I don’t just belong in the Mesoamerican world; I belong in the Christian one as well, and in that I will go on living. Unless you go on writing your wretched book.”
Anna bit her lip. He called her book “wretched.” She had thought she would eliminate his arguments by ridiculing the fabrication of the Colonial Quetzalcoatl, but evidently he accepted that identity eagerly.
“Who are you then?” she asked in frustration.
“Don’t you see? I am all those Quetzalcoatls, and I may yet be new ones, like the Quetzalcoatl of the Mormons.”
“Don’t you see? Tezcatlipoca and the others are extinct, but I not only exist, I’ve grown bigger.”
“So if all that means so much to you, what difference does it make if I say that you hardly existed in the pre-Columbian past? You don’t care about that, it seems.”
“That’s not true. Those are my roots, and I could not exist without them. They’re my legitimacy. Where would you be without your past? I dream in Nahuatl.”
“But why are you such a hodgepodge?”
Q shrugged a silent “I don’t know” or “I don’t care.”
“You would say that all kinds of things have been attributed to you at all kinds of times, because you’re so great—”
He gave a sheepish look.
“Somebody had to be,” she relented. “You stand for Mesoamerican religion as Jesus stands for Christianity. And maybe he is something of a hodgepodge too?”
Q did not disagree.
Anna was awed by the direction of this conversation. She occupied herself by pouring tea. The last thing she expected was a discussion of comparative religion. Hers was the nitty-gritty world of Quetzalcoatl imagery. It was like going from home videos to Hollywood. The change in scale was frightening. Had she been conversing with that Quetzalcoatl? He seemed so friendly and mundane, even with the Feathered Serpent. He dipped his cookies in his tea.
He stroked Cyrus’s head. On several occasions, he had touched her hand.
This was a case of mistaken identity. And it wasn’t Anna’s fault that she thought he might be the pre-Columbian Quetzalcoatl. Didn’t he appear with the Feathered Serpent? But wasn’t that his name? Should he have appeared as St. Thomas the Apostle? Was he all of those Quetzalcoatls, because he was greedy for power, and any silly veneration would do?
Or was it a survival tactic? He could survive best by donning the garments laid out for him by the conquerors. That’s the Quetzalcoatl Roy thinks he knows. He may be a mishmash, but he is a living god. People know him and some even believe in him. Surely, he exists beyond her study. And surely her study would do him no harm.
“Well,” he said, “are you coming with me?”
The next day was busy. Anna and Roy’s daughter and son-in-law were coming with their three-month-old twins. The house had to be cleaned and fumigated. The young couple were obsessive about germs and infections. The study was requisitioned for cribs with newly-laid crib sheets. New soap dispensers were placed in the bathrooms. Cyrus’s food was relegated to the basement. Anna prepared a big pot of goulash soup, and Roy made apple pie. The kids came with big bundles of diapers, towels, and sundries, and the house was converted into a nursery. The babies were adorable asleep and had powerful crying organs when awake. One had hair; the other did not. This was the first time that Anna saw them, since they were born many hundreds of miles away. She was charmed by the trusting little bodies in her arms. After all, they were as much her legacy as her books. All the while the kids were there, she hardly of Q nor the question she did not answer. A couple of times during the visit, she thought she felt an invisible presence, but she attributed it to the wind outside. She would think about Q when the children left in a couple of days.
Anna put the love seat back in her study. Cyrus was stretched out on the rug. Roy was on his computer. It was as warm as in Mexico. A perfect afternoon for Q to visit. She scrolled down on her Who Was Quetzalcoatl manuscript. Maybe she should title it Who Is Quetzalcoatl.
It seemed pretty good. She could amend it here and there in light of her conversations, but it did not need major changes. Her point of view was right.
But when Q was suddenly there, seated with his snake under the love seat, her courage evaporated.
“So you won’t change your mind?” he said sternly. “You want me to disappear?”
“Well, I don’t think you’ll disappear. You have too great an opinion of my influence.”
“It cost me a lot to survive so far.”
“I didn’t look at it that way.”
“Don’t bother with tea; I must be going soon. I have to see someone in California.”
Anna felt a stab of jealousy as well as curiosity. She did pour tea, and Q had some despite his objections. Was this to be their last meeting? she wondered in some panic.
“I think that my book needs serious revision. I need to do more research. I can’t publish it like this,” she finally said.
“Oh,” dipping a cookie in tea.
“It might take some time.”
“How long a time?”
“Six months, a year, maybe more. When I get the right information.”
“Do you think you’ll get the right information?”
“I will try.”
“I might be busy for a while,” he said.
“Here and there.”
This sounded very much like a last meeting.
“But when you get that new information, if you don’t mind, I will return and discuss it with you.”
“You will return?”
“I will return.”
There was nothing more to be said. Anna got up. “I will see you out,” she said nonsensically, because Q was usually in the habit of disappearing.
“My vehicle is parked outside.”
When Anna went to the door, she saw the white pickup truck and walked to it with Q in slow steps. Cyrus followed behind. Was Q going to say, “So long, it’s been good to know you”?
He turned around and kissed her on the cheek. “Are you sure you don’t want to go with me? I promise you an interesting time. A historian would be very welcome among us.”
“How could I go with you?”
“Just get in, and in a minute we’ll be beyond the clouds.”
“Maybe next time you come, I will go with you.”
“Until next time, then.”
With that the white pickup truck disappeared on the curve of the road.
“Who was it you were talking to?” said Roy, poking his head out of his room.
“Just Cyrus,” she fibbed quickly.
“Where is the little bugger?”
“I don’t know; he was here a minute ago. He seems to have disappeared.”
“Shall we celebrate and go for the fish-fry dinner at the Dockyard Café? It’s a Friday.”
“What are we celebrating?”
“That it’s a beautiful day in Maine and still far from winter.”
Anna woke from a bad dream. She had dreamt that she put on a raincoat over her nightgown to deliver something urgently to her doctor husband working in an emergency room. He was too busy to attend to her, so she decided to go home. When she got there, all the buildings were new and different from what they had been, and she could not find her house among them.
“Roy, when we go to Chicago to visit the babies next month, I could stop by the Newberry Library. I think they may have some unpublished documents relating to Quetzalcoatl that I need to see for my book. I don’t think it is finished.”