FRIDOCHA

By Henry J. Scudder

02 Deciembre, 1940

Dear Cristi,

It's snowing outside my window. I just looked up, and it was dumping down in sheets, in the grey-blue ecliptic moonlight, a million stars, a million dreams, a storm of ticker-tape washing the past away. The artist formerly known as Frida Kahlo enters immortality at 8 PM this evening.

And it's crazy. I've barely even had anything to drink, yet I feel like I'm on every drug there ever, ever was. Do you remember that American movie 'Duck Soup', where the Marx Brothers were trying to run 'Freedonia, Land of the Spree, Home of the Knave'?

Remember? Well, as I see it, south of the Rio Grande is Freedonia. Below the sprawling mess of the United States, government drives men mad in a special way that nowhere else can claim. I think they are the American kind of Marxists here, rather than Bolshevik, only the Marx Brothers don't assassinate their enemies like Romans. . .

It's a lot for us Bolsheviks to rebel against. But Planet Mexico City just made a freakish pearl. My new husband's thugs shoot drug lords by moonlight and hang alcades. Farmers are talking about running a worker candidate for president a year at a time. The union bosses are starting to own their own companies now. Hell, I'm already titular head of the Partido Feminista.

Freedonia. Change but a few letters and I'll be in charge. One day. La que habla, dios Oye. You watch.

This isn't easy, little sister. I think it's strange, trying to explain how I feel right now, or anything that's happened in the past few years. I still need mi familia to make sense of it all, sometimes, after all I've done and all I've failed to do. But as the Poet says, "Though having greatly failed, more greatly dared."

You wouldn't believe me if I told you half the things I've lived to see. I am perhaps ahead of my time, but what a time it is now! The Americans are trying to outlaw marihuana while Cab Calloway's "Reefer Man" song is number one in Billboard magazine. There is something called a Science Fiction Convention in Leeds, England, and a woman named Amelia Earhart has just flown from Los Angeles to New York City in seven hours flat!

Two Ethiopian mercenaries just shot Benito Mussolini and plunged Italy into a fractured version of Dante's time, four separate republics with guns pointed at each other. In California, the Golden Gate Bridge has just had a "Sky-Way" added on for the new Waterman Aerobile flying cars in the California "Test Market."

The world is wild and out of control. I am the first Mexicana in this century to sell a painting to the Louvre, she who once ran inside with you when we heard the bark of pistolas, the slaps of truncheons, the screams of the wounded.

I painted my own wounds into dreams on the stark whitewashed walls of my home town. and took them gladly from the world: the polio, the chicken-leg, the twisting of the backbone like that young man Hank Williams I met in New York, with similar scars holy in the pale morning light. . .

Andre Breton called me goddess. Hank called me the Devil incarnate. I'll take the middle way, any day. But if I tried to tell you of such marvels, such a wider world, all you'd see telling you is the broken-winged little dove you once knew, though she wears the skin of a dona now.

In your head, we are still skipping rope in the courtyard while the boys play pelota, little cracked sugar-skull calaca, little whirlwind, little Nightmare, Free Kali, Breaker Open of Heads!

I want to be that girl again. I wish I was her. I wish I had her sensibilities now. The doctors have bled her down IV bags until my veins ran dry as an autumn leaf blowing through the alien updrafts of New York, far away where my Beast trembles at his easel. I had to find him, Sister, I had to seek out my own Hell, though none of it impressed me.

I never expected it to. My new husband knows how to act like a proper husband should. I have been his right hand, and now hold that hand on the pivot, the great crux upon which will turn our ascent forward to the shining city that was once Tenochtitlan.

I've read his speech already. "In addition to the happiness of being a fighter for the cause of socialism," he says, "Fate gave me the happiness of being her husband." In front of the whole world, he says these things! What could anyone do but swoon in his arms? I'm not made out of obsidian, never said I was.

I am a Coyoacan hummingbird lately making landfall downtown. The offices of state fling wide their doors for me. Last night, I met Evita Peron. She kissed my hand and told me I was an inspiration to women everywhere. I had to not laugh.

I thought I had it bad around here, but since Eva's ex-husband was deposed by the distinguished poet-statesman General Borges, she's been in exile doing humanitarian work to keep herself in a paycheck. Every day now, I will wake and thank the Blessed Mother that I'm not her. There's that.

My Presidente, El Leon, calls this nation 'Planet Mexico' because of all the different kinds of people who live here side-by-side, and pass through. (You know he's a secularized Jew like Papa, I'm sure I've mentioned it.)

The children of his first marriage died in Lenin's filthy gulags. Even his first wife Natalia was felled by that assassin's bullet not far from our father's house. But our wonderful polyglot daughter Karla Engels Braunstein y Kahlo, who has already sat still for two portraits (photos enclosed), has brought the color back into my little madman's cheeks, and made the smile touch his eyes.

He reads Karla The Communist Manifesto to get her to sleep. It works every time. (I read her his work. Ditto results. Don't ever tell him that!)

What a poet he is himself, what a smoldering gloomy little Russian poet when he bothers to write something besides verbal composition of dialectic theory on that wire recorder, or half a hundred other things just as dull. He claims they will welcome him home, one day. (By then, his citizenship papers will have more stamps than my passport!)

But neither the former Lev Braunstein nor my own shattered self could have ever imagined that the whole sprawling mess would be dumped in our laps, the whole Class Struggle suddenly as up close and real as maggots on a corpse, blood through a needle, the paradox of birth and the end result.

We are candles in a hurricane, Cristina, guttering so brightly while our ancestors laugh and drink and wait for us to learn by going where it is that we have to go. I couldn't wait for that to happen. I had to make it happen, to change, to choose the desert starlight of freedom over the harsh artificial light of cities, the true tomb-worlds I can't escape and must keep at the end of a very long arm. I hope New York is much kinder to you, and I hope I never return.

I see myself reflected back here in my words, in your eyes in double exposure, silly me like a broken vase glued back together with peasant courage, like a Huchitecan priestess, with brute force and ignorance of natural consequence, let alone natural law! Ha! "The sleek little pixie with the sweet sniper's eyes" as that American journalist Mencken, called me. Ha!

I wonder what would have happened if I never got on that bus with you, that day. What I'd know of Art. The answer makes me cold, and hurts worse than anything I've ever been through (voluntarily or involuntarily.)

I'd be a doctor, by now, one who paints in blood and catgut and pills instead of oils. One who gives me hope and empty promises and makes my body twenty times sicker than it was before the accident. I would be a liar, a traitor, putana to myself and disgrace to all of Mexico.

Or at least that's what Leon said, the last time I cried about it. Apparently even secularized Jews know as much about offering suffering up to God as we Papistas.

I walked without a cane today, Cristi, and barely limp at all. I will hold my Russian's arm the whole way up the steps of the Presidential Palace for the Inauguration. Esta hecho. We'll be shot, or worse. And yet we both agree that such knowledge makes every day more miraculous, every sensation so very wonderful and rare.

I still dream about going under the knife. But now I have the best surgeons in all Mexico; indeed, in all of Europe, though you tell me I have a bad habit of dropping too many names so I won't bore you.

If it weren't for that wreck, I'd never have married Dieguito, my snarling Lord Ganesh in his rogue aspect, warlike, in must. I would never have lived through that, and learned how strong I really could be. You did me a favor there, boricua. You set me free. You got me shut of that enmeshment , that whirling monstrito.)

I am Death's handmaiden, dear sister, and I snatched El Leon from Death's cold outer rim when I took that assassin's ice-axe in the small of my back, when the local boy in the pay of the Soviets caught us in flagrante delicto on that squeaky old desk.

But he was my deliverer, too. Our new Commander-in-Chief told me he felt behooved into betrothal, or something equally him.

Everyone else can say what they want and talk behind their hands and publish their hateful, spiteful garbage in the Hearst papers. But the picture they see is no portrait of me.

They didn't see the pick-blade side sink three inches into the dulce de leche skin of the other scar from the first operation, the one Dieguito should have remembered how much he adored, worshiped, at that altar to Dischordia, Mother of Chaos, Mother in the Sky. . .

I have no nerves in that part of my back, Cristi. I reared up with the axe sticking out of me, screaming like Death herself, and smashed the son of a bitch in the head with the bottle of tequila we were working on before Nature came up to bat. I would have kicked him down the stairs, but Leon stopped me.

"Truly, Kali, thou art beautiful in thy wrath," he whispered. "But this man is not getting up. Let him be."

One spindly hand disarmed me of the pickaxe I'd removed myself by main force, with a quick over-and-under wrist lock that I admired very much, just so, with the first three fingers, like a striking rattlesnake.

"One has to learn from one's enemies." His sad, faded eyes, looking into mine, were very sad, cloudy with too many years on the run. "We have before us a great undertaking which raises us above perfidy and baseness, above personal misery and weakness. Our ends must justify our means, but there must be a morality which justifies the ends."

As he spoke, he was rifling through the dead man's pockets. Only then, dear sister, did I realize I was still holding the broken bottleneck in my other hand. I set it down.

My brave little Russian produced a large alligator billfold, and rifled through it, producing several pieces of identification in Visqueen sheaths. "Jaume Ramon Mercader del Rio Hernandez," he rattled off from the last piece of identification. The card was large and made of some kind of hard plastic. It looked important, but I cannot read much Russian.

"NKVD," He said apologetically. "Like Peron's Secret Police. Or the Special Services here. Spooks. Assassins. Dogs." He spat in the dead man's face. "A field agent."

"One of old Lenin's thugs." I spat in his face too.

"Indeed," my love chuckled. "Our proof of this was so known as. . ." He flipped through the veritable pinochle deck in Visqueen, "Frank Jackson, Jacques Momard, oh, look, a Jamaican one, Dexter St. Jacques. . . You get the idea. Anyhow, I'm sorry you killed him, querida. This dead man still has a story to tell. . ."

I tell it now, little sister. I can do so much from here. All Mexico is my palette, and I will blend everyone's color with my own before we are one day in the Palace. All through my dazed, confused twenties and early thirties, I thought I was alone and in pain.

Now I know that pain is the pain of a whole land, a whole raza. I will be like Leon, live every day as though it were my last and treat the people of Mexico as though it were theirs.

Mercader won't be the last assassin. All the Soviet Russias are baying for our blood. But don't cry for me, Cristina.

I'll never leave here again.

Your New First Lady,

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon. . .
Trotsky.

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