The Women: New Fiction by T.C. Boyle 

Miriam Agonistes, an excerpt

Wednesday, Jan 28 2009

None of the doctors could help her in Los Angeles or the provincial outpost of San Diego either, little people all of them, sniveling types, handwringers, an army of effete bald-headed men in spectacles who were mortified of the law — as if this law had any more right to exist than Prohibition, because who was the federal government to dictate what people could and couldn’t do with their own bodies, their own minds, their personal needs and wants and compulsions? Were they going to regulate needs, then? Dole them out? Tax them? Miriam was so furious, so burned up and blistered with the outrage of it that she must have been overly severe with the cabman — the driver with his hat cocked back on his head and his trace of a Valentino mustache — because when they got to the border at Tijuana, he stopped the car, turned round in the seat and demanded payment in full. Insolently. Out of insolent little pig’s eyes. “This is as far as I go,” he said, and she couldn’t place his accent.

She was immovable. She felt her face concretize, the pores sealing up, the muscles round her mouth and eyes going to stone. “Nonsense,” she spat. “Drive on.”

There was a customs man standing off to the left of the car, a slouching congenital idiot with a lazy eye and bad teeth, and he’d already showed them his smile and waved them on — no searches here, no passports required — and he was giving her a curious look now. As if he’d seen everything in his day, every sort of indecision and cataclysm, women four and five months gone heading down to la clínica for the procedure that would make them right again, rumrunners with their empty trucks, day-trippers and ethnologists and rock collectors, but this, this was a new wrinkle altogether.

click to enlarge KYLE T. WEBSTER
  • Kyle T. Webster

Related Stories

  • Beer Festivals 3

    Nothing says summer in Southern California like unlimited beer outside on a sunny day. If you're new to craft beer, attending a festival is the perfect way to access many different breweries and styles in one place. Plus food to keep you grounded and music to keep you occupied.  Every...
  • SoCal Meets Old World: Stone Brewing Co. and Green Flash Announce Plans to Brew in Europe

    This summer has been full of interesting expansion news from several California breweries, including Lagunitas in Petaluma — which recently opened a Chicago tasting room — and Sierra Nevada, which has an expansive North Carolina brewery that is already releasing product. But none of the announcements made in the last...
  • Baja at Tacolandia

    If you haven't yet cleared your dance card for the afternoon of Saturday, June 28, you might want to do so now. Because that Saturday is the occasion of the second annual Tacolandia  the ode to tacos and Mexican street food that began in the Palladium parking lot last summer. This...
  • iPhone Privacy

    It was a scary prospect that we wrote about before: Police didn't need a warrant to search your smartphone. They only needed to have probable cause to arrest you. If your phone was with you, all its contents was theirs for the browsing. The U.S. Supreme Court, in weighing a Southern California...
  • Tijuana Punk Festival

    The L.A. DIY punk scene and its south-of-the-border cousin have long been tight, but with Burnouts en Baja: Vol.1, a two-day punk festival in Tijuana this weekend, the trans-national community-building is about to hit the next level. San Francisco independent punk and hardcore label Discos MMM organized the festival, which features headliners Los Monjo...

“No,” he said, “no more,” and he shoved his way out of the car and tried to pull open the back door, but she held fast to the handle. “Get out,” he insisted and it gave her a small pulse of pleasure to hear the tremor in his voice. The war was already won.

“I won’t,” she said just to savor the words on her lips. “Now, I’ve paid you to take me to Tijuana, and I won’t budge until you fulfill your end of the bargain.” She looked round her in growing outrage: the customs man, a river of Mexicans in pajamas and serapes, mules, dogs, Indian eyes, Indian hair, dust, muck, filth, the street vendors and beggars in their cutaway rags — and hanging over it all the heat, the impossible punishing heat that stewed the odor of decay till she could barely breathe. “Move on,” she demanded.

He saw the look in her eyes, saw the way her face had set, and he didn’t even try to Jew her out of an extra two bits, as any of the rest of them would — he just shrugged, climbed back into the cab and put the car in gear. A moment later they were lurching down the rutted streets, the human circus of Mexican poverty unfolding outside the window like a mural in a moving picture. She was uncomfortable, feeling the heat, dizzy from the stench — she’d sweated through her undergarments and the seat of her dress, and her hair was gummy beneath her parrot-green silk caftan, which she’d chosen expressly to bring out the color of her eyes. But there was no one here to care about the color of her eyes. Just peasants — campesinos, isn’t that what they called them? And what was pharmacy? A cognate: farmacia, wasn’t it? She consulted the Spanish/English phrasebook in her purse and found the term under the heading “Useful Phrases”: ¿Donde está la farmacia?

There was a dog dead beside the road, the carcass swollen beneath a second skin of insects, people strolling by as if it were some sort of monument, as if it had been molded of brass and put there by the town council to honor canine achievement. The cab lurched again, in and out of a rut, and the dog was gone. “The farmacia,” she said, the cords tightening in her throat. “Take me to the farmacia, the first one you see. Quickly, quickly.”

He didn’t seem to have heard her, so she repeated herself. A scorched minute blistered by. There were birds now, some sort of Mexican birds, exploding up from the road — pigeons, Mexican pigeons. “The farmacia,” she said, and she was beginning to feel desperate, all her outrage evaporated in the face of the hopelessness of this place, these peasants, this driver — and he was American, of some sort, a legitimate cabbie from San Diego who’d agreed on a legitimate price here and back, half paid in advance, half when she was restored to her hotel on Coronado Island where the sea breezes stirred themselves each afternoon to neutralize the heat. Peasants she knew. Peasants she’d dealt with in Paris, where they were alternately surly and unctuous, and Tokyo, where they bowed to the floor and laughed behind your back, but these people frightened her. It was dangerous here. She could sense it. See it, see it with her own eyes. Prostitutes. Drunks. That man there — staggering as if he were riding an invisible donkey, his eyes red as some demon’s, staring belligerently through the window at her. And there — another unconscious in the dirt and no more a concern than the dog in his jacket of flies. She was about to open her mouth again, about to say she’d had enough, forget it, he could take her back and away from all this, this chaos and filth and the ungodly stink, when the car abruptly came to a halt. “What?” she said. “What is it?”

  • Miriam Agonistes, an excerpt

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • Lina in L.A. -- Tiki Oasis
    Pin-up girls, beatnik boys and tiki lovers from L.A. and beyond made a splash at San Diego's Crowne Plaza Hotel, which hosted the annual Tiki Oasis event, this year themed "Beat Tiki" with a groovy "60s beat" thrust. The wild weekender took over the grounds with colorful cocktails, non-stop pool and room parties, fashion shows, seminars, shopping and live entertainment including burlesque, bands and more.

    See also: Tiki Oasis, a Convention for Fans of Retro Tropical Kitsch
  • Lina in L.A. -- Swinghouse Studios' Farewell to Hollywood Soiree
    A rocking, raging night was had by all when Swinghouse Studios marked a big move Saturday night. The legendary Hollywood recording and rehearsal space, which has been home to big bands and wild bashes for two decades (first on Cahuenga Blvd. and then on Willoughby Ave. near Santa Monica Blvd.) will soon move to Atwater Village. Food trucks, drinks, and great live sets by Prima Donna, Dorothy, The Beta Machine and Alexa Melo highlighted the bittersweet revelry.
  • Beatlemania at the Flying Morgans' Mansion
    In honor of the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania the Flying Morgans had a Beatle prom this last Friday to celebrate Molly, Bonnie and Gary's Birthday with 400 of their closest friends. All photos by Star Foreman.