Empty Threat


Captured in a bright window, a husband and wife get ready to fly. Tilting her head this way an that, she curls her hair while speaking. He shaves under his chin, speaking. Stacked in the foyer, their bags wait for them, while a taxicab idles out front, its taillights shining red, its exhaust pipe puttering. Beyond the house, silhouetted conifers mark a jagged line rising and falling as if through the sheen of stars, while a speck of light, a satellite crosses the sky on a northward trajectory. Gazes widen and narrow before each, their own reflection.

A conversation that started as a lament over the ethics of air travel in a time of changing weather patterns has morphed into a debate over the tragedy at North Sentinel Island. The tribes-people there, a culture reaching back 30,000 years, thrashed an American proselytizer as he came ashore to convince them of their Savior. They hanged him in the tropical air as a warning sign to future trespassers. Shot him full of arrows. One wonders, Can we expect to go where we want without impunity? “Absolutely we can,” she says. “Absolutely not,” he counters. “Are you crazy?”

Captured in the bright terminal of the municipal airport, the husband and wife listen to the recorded voice of an English speaker issuing a warning: “Any unattended bags will be removed by the authorities and destroyed.” “Do they really destroy them?” she asks. “Or do they just say they will and store them somewhere as an object lesson?” “How should I know?” he says. “Do I look like a screener?” “When I was a little girl,” she says, “my parents never followed through with their punishments. Isn’t that funny?” “I got spanked with a wooden paddle,” he says, “and it hurt like a mother.” “If they swore a spanking,” she says, “no one laid a finger on me. If it was restriction, I gained my freedom through extra sweetness. If it was a month without television, I played like I was despondent and, as if to bring me back to life, we all watched something together that evening.” “I assume they detonate them,” he says. “Blow them to smithereens.” “It doesn’t pertain to us though,” she says. “How could it?”

The husband and wife are not lawbreakers, and they are not terrorists. Neither of them knows from childhood a vengeful god or religion. Neither harbors a guilty conscience. If they’re not watchers to their core, the proverbial Eyes of the World, they are fine having been made more vigilant by a recorded voice, an urgent message said over and over again on their way to the Shrine of Guadalupe, the Teotihuacan Pyramids.