Chapter One – El Gallo


El Gallo: El que le cantó a San Pedro no le volverá a cantar.

The Rooster: He that sang to St. Peter will not return to sing again.

It was three o’clock in the morning, and Rose could not sleep. It was not the heat: this part of Mexico was surprisingly cool at night. Nor was it jet lag: she had not really changed time zones drastically. The bed was comfortable, the family was asleep, and she was relieved that she had made it here by herself with no mishaps. What she had not expected, in the middle of Morelia, which was a good-sized city, was a crowing rooster.

Wasn’t it too early to wake up – even for a rooster? Before that, it had been the dogs barking. There were a lot of dogs in the neighborhood. Just when she thought that there would be quiet, the dogs started again. Before that there had been a rainstorm, and the grandson of her hostess had come into the room and climbed on the foot of her twin bed to shut the windows.

Now it was rooster time. Rose’s family had had chickens for a while, but she did not remember being awakened by the rooster this early in the morning. She did remember how mean her family’s rooster had been – how she and her mother had plotted its death one weekend while her father was out of town. They didn’t follow through with it, but the rooster lost his life in a chicken raid by neighborhood dogs. She remembered returning home from school to scattered chicken carcasses strewn around their old Victorian house. She also remembered having to go out with her sister and collect the corpses in plastic trash bags – was this some sort of twisted character building exercise invented by her parents? They moved on to pigeons after that.

She tried to sleep with her pillow over her ears, but she could still hear them – there were more than one of them. Who in the world kept chickens in the city? Mexicans, that’s who. How practical! She wondered where they lived. Most yards in the city were rather small – she had already been surprised to discover that dogs were often kept on the roof! Most roofs in Mexico were flat-topped, with slight walls surrounding them. Other dogs just had to be trusted to make their own walls. She wondered if any other livestock lurked in the vicinity.

She had another chicken thought: one Easter, she and her sister, Violet, were given two chicks to raise. They were very young and very cute, but they died after a few days. To make matters worse, they were about to leave on a family trip just when they discovered the dead chicks. In order to give them a decent burial (they had made a graveyard for deceased pets under their house, which was raised off of the ground), she and Violet decided to store their bodies in plastic bags for the couple of days they would be gone. When they returned, the bag was crawling with maggots…

But this was not the kind of thing to be thinking of when trying to sleep! She tried to clear her mind, but it was a long time before she was aware of having slept. She wanted to sleep, too, as she had been up the night before very late – packing, and checking to be sure that everything would run smoothly at home while she was gone. She had never been able to sleep on airplanes, and was not able to sleep on the bus, even though it was very comfortable and featured reclining chairs. This was her first time traveling to Mexico alone and she felt like she had to be alert at all times.

Rose had decided this year to take a trip to Mexico and to learn the language. She had fallen into teaching French after returning from her second year abroad. At that time, an intervention was engineered by her well-meaning mother and a friend. The bottom line was this: get a real job – the free ride was over. Luckily for her, foreign language teachers were in demand at the time, and she was able to skip the dreary education classes in order to secure a position teaching high school French in a small town in Georgia. She had learned the hard way that teaching was a veritable minefield of politics – and she was not yet adept at adopting a teacher’s mask of propriety.

She was learning that flexibility was the key to staying employed in teaching. Interestingly enough, this was contrary to what she had imagined a teaching career would be like. She had loved her teachers, but felt that they had taken a rather safe path, trading adventure for security, a meager salary, and summers off. Her parents had both been teachers, but had moved on to different careers. Her father worked in the petroleum industry before it went bust, and her mother was an interior decorator.

Rosa was content for the moment with being a teacher, and it was for some of the reasons she had disdained at first. She had adequate health insurance and was visiting Mexico for the summer because she had vacation. School could be unbearable at times, but the vacation time made up for the stress! She could not imagine working in an office environment or in any other career that allowed only two weeks off per year.

From her beginnings as a high school French teacher, Rosa had moved on to teaching sixth grade “exploratory” French and Spanish. Since there was already a French teacher at the middle school, and she taught exploratory French as well, Rosa actually found herself with the bulk of the Spanish classes. This was fine with her, as she had traveled to Spain and Mexico and was adept and creative at teaching culture. The trip to Mexico was part of her plan to bring her Spanish up to a higher level, but it was mainly an excuse to travel, partly on the school system’s dime.

There were a few sacrifices made to make the trip possible. Rosa was leaving her boyfriend, William, for the entire summer, and she was also entrusting her 8-year old dog to her mother’s care. On the bright side, her mother was going to come and visit for a week later that month, and then her father and William were going to spend a week traveling with her. William had also gallantly offered to care for her dog and her mother’s dog when she came to visit. Rosa’s parents were divorced, but both had given her fond memories of trips south of the border when Rosa and Violet were young.

At the moment, Rosa did not feel homesick, although she would have like to have her dog with her, as she had in France. Her dog was not a barker… This fact reminded her of the reason for her insomnia, as she woke again to barking and crowing in the wee hours of the morning. She prayed that all of her nights would not be this long.


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