Excerpt: ‘Mean’

Myriam Gurba’s acclaimed work is the California Book Club’s April 2021 selection. Here’s a passage from “Wisdom,” the memoir’s opening section.

mean, myriam gurba
Coffee House Press

Let’s become a spot upon which fateful moonlight shines.

Let’s become that night.

Let’s become that park.

Let’s absorb and drip. We’re damp grains of earth. We’re grass purged of color. We’re baseball bleachers. We’re November’s darkness. We’re the baseball diamond’s sediment. We host Little League games by daylight. By dark, we become an Aztec altar.

We open our eyes. We allow them to adjust to the place and things described.

Seasonal quiet prevails.

Nothing squeaks or whimpers.

Nothing hums.

In a tunnel beneath the bleachers, a gopher daydreams. Roots sigh. Earthworms blindly go about their business.

A dark-haired girl walks alone.

Her foot falls onto the grass. We see up her skirt. She’s not wearing underwear, so we can see that special part of her. It’s the hole Persephone fell into. Some swine fell down it too.

Her clothes are long. Her dark-blue jacket sweeps her knees.

She slouches. She walks as if in mourning.

She steps into the outfield.

She pauses.

“Who’s there?” she calls out in Spanish.

Silence responds.

She clutches her white purse. Her fingers worry its strap.

She nears the pitcher’s mound, walks across it, heads toward home, and walks across it too. She crouches and climbs through a gash torn into the chain-link backstop.

She reaches into her purse. Mexican hair falls across her face.

It won’t look like that much longer.

A man wearing white clothes creeps around the corner of the snack bar. He creeps up behind the girl and swings a pipe. It hits her in the head and her knees buckle. The man raises his weapon, takes another swing, and whacks her again.

He reaches down his sweatpants. He fondles his penis.

At sunset, a vendor in a straw cowboy hat had pushed his cart along the sidewalk yards away. Making his way down Western Avenue, the vendor had shouted, “¡Elote! ¡Elote! ¡Elote con mantequilla! ¡Elote con mayonesa!”

The man had heard these calls for corn.

He bought none.

Lovingly, he strokes his corn. It quivers. He lets go of it and resumes his chase.

She scrambles up the bleachers, panting. She bleeds onto benches. Blood on concrete. She hears him coming. She lurches, her purse tips, and two receipts sail. A nail file spills. Her toothbrush hits the ground bristles first. She scrambles further along the bench. She slips and falls. Her weight smashes against her elbow.

She crawls. Wet palm prints length behind her. Blood smears her clothes. It makes dark Rorschachs on various surfaces.

Hard-packed dirt rubs her knees.

The man in white stands beside her. Blood dapples his T-shirt.

Excerpt from Mean by Myriam Gurba reprinted by permission from Coffee House Press. © Myriam Gurba 2017.

Myriam Gurba is the editor in chief of Tasteful Rude. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Paris Review, Time, the Believer, and Harper’s Bazaar. Along with Roberto Lovato and David Bowles, she cofounded #DignidadLiteraria, a grassroots literary organization that seeks to revolutionize publishing.

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