Dolores Barona came from a long line of successful bull-fighting ganaderos. Weekends during her childhood were spent at Jaral de Peñas, her grandfather’s ranch, a late 18th century terracotta coloured hacienda, nestled in a semi-desert valley, between the Sierra Gorda mountains.
Ten years pass before Dolores returns to carry out the ceremonial act of presenting Leo, her foreign lover, to all the Barona family members. The trip folds neatly between a picturesque itinerary of the central Bajio and the Huasteca with their lavender and orange ridges, cloud forests, saguaro flora and colonial cities.
It’s evening and everyone assembles for dinner. Taxidermy bull heads line the stone dining room walls, mirroring the livid blue agaves, demarcating the edges of the dirt road that leads to el casco de Jaral de Peñas. After an austere meal of tampiqueña steak and green enchiladas with grated quesillo, accompanied by a side of guacamole and black beans, a rich pudding of zapote prieto is served. The persimmon’s velvety black pulp is steeped in orange juice and soaked in rum, each mouthful chased with a sip of tequila—chocolate, caramel and oak swivel in the vocal cavity, giving way to pale notes of vanilla which tickle the palate, the amber mixture turning darker and darker with each turn of the tongue. And then another sip of tequila. Followed by another. And another and another and another, until the party has drunk too much and to their rooms they retire.
The bedrooms are rustic. The adobe walls are painted red. Glossed over a layer of white plaster which seeps through the paint, the pigment turns a juicy mamey. A heavy pine bed sits opposite a south facing wall, its rough-hewn wood oiled with thick tar. The burly frame supports a hefty mattress, the bed linen ironed and starched. These simple luxuries swiftly dissipate before Leo’s foreign eyes as he stands aghast under a sobering cold shower, staring at his feet, watching them turn blue against the talavera tiled floor, coming to terms with the fact that there is no hot running water. Shivering and wet he emerges from the ensuite bathroom and finds Dolores perched on the edge of that abysmal bed. Blissfully ignorant of her lover’s icy presence, she drowsily raises one foot and inserts it between the cotton folds, slowly submerging herself underneath the magnolia bedsheets.
Clothed in a pair of old short pyjamas, Dolores lays on her right side, asleep in her portion of the bed. She has put both pillows under her dark tousled head. A band of pale moonlight crosses her top vertebrae, her lightly veiled body and bare limbs form a zed. Leo slowly subtracts one of the pillows and lays down on it, noticing the smell of Lola’s hair impregnating the crisp cotton, before softly slipping into a deep slumber. Half asleep Dolores gasps, muttering with insane rapidity something about joining her uncle tomorrow on a drive across the ranch, then she tugs at the sheets and lapses into humid unconsciousness. As she tosses, in that abundant flow of sleep and hot sweat, her arm strikes the bovine beast across the face, its nefarious growl forcefully shaking her awake.
Dolores opens her eyes and finds herself with the stark sun on her face and the grit of the sand rubbing her moist naked body. In trepidatious haste, she presses onto the gravel, finds her balance and begins to run. The beast chases Dolores through the desert. Its breathing amplified, its member visibly engorged, Zacate and yuca plants shoot dagger black shadows across her honey-toned skin as she races between brittle and brush, winding through the edge of a ravine. A foot catches onto a raised piece of rock. She loses her balance. Her weight tips forward. She trips. Falling onto a shrub with dry stalks, spines and resinous green leaves, its thorns scrape her cheek as she rolls over onto the edge of the ravine. Panicked, she clasps onto a protruding angular rock. Her body hangs by the arms, two clammy hands anchoring her in.
Dolores’s mouth lets out an exaltation that shrilly tears through the vocal cords, vibrating her facial bones as the deep thrust of the beast’s grunt closes in. Her wildly shaking limbs throttle the neck, constricting the airflow, her body turning blue and listless and filled with fear. Her legs dangle not too close together, and when that abhorrent tongue locates what it searches, a dreamy and eerie expression, half-pleasure, half-pain, comes over Dolores’s features. The beast tries to relieve itself from the pain of love by first roughly rubbing its dry lips against hers. It then draws away with an insatiate toss, and comes again darkly near to feed on her open lips. Her quivering mouth, distorted by the acridity of some mysterious potion.
Dolores wakes drenched, lost in a state of excitement that borders on insanity. She sits up in the bed, panting, swaying a little, wondering if everything was a dream. On her left side Leo lies quietly still. She peers at her beloved’s rumpled hair, trying to gauge the depth of his sleep by the rate of each respiration. Some time passes, nothing changes. Dolores decides to shuffle a little closer. Just as she is moving into the bed’s warm centre, his breathing is suspended, leaving her with the odious feeling that Leo is wide awake.
Softly, with a hopeless sigh, Leo turns. The ebb and a flow of his breath carries the rhythm of sleep. The chest expands, then recedes, two bodies immersed in its tide. Dolores swims in a field of dahlias, her arms raised high, pointing two feet long banderillas towards a cobalt blue sky. Her gait takes the form of a prance, dark ringlets swaying in the breeze. Fuchsia, magenta, orange and rose shrouding her sun kissed cheeks as her body is flung into the heavens by the bovine beast. The barbed darts pierce the air. They twirl. Curl. Plunge. The monstrous creature bucks! Its jaws gape open, nostrils tossing vigorously up, its foaming mouth nestling momentarily between hot pink pleats, sending Dolores into a small violent heave. Her skirt balloons, then subsides onto the beast’s rump. Blood trickles from the barbed darts stuck on the animal’s muscular hump. The beast then bucks again. Dolores jolts forwards. Upwards. Her body folds sags sinks. Arms dangling over brawny legs, cheeks brushing against lines of red coagulated beads. Frills and elbows and hair tousle and twist. A mass of crumpled cotton lies mangled between limp limbs.
Shaken by the fierce drop, Dolores is slow to take in her surroundings. A poignant chaos wells within her. Her left ear presses onto the ground. Bits of gravel dig into her bruised cheek. She inhales. Exhales. Her breath escalates into a pant, becoming heavier and louder as the beast’s back legs slide forward in a slant. The animal loses its footing. A horn grazes Dolores’s right arm. She gasps. Flinches. Rolls backward towards the beast’s neck, her nose sweeping against shoulder, dewlapand sweat. The beast raises its front right leg. Buckles over. Five hundred beefy kilograms thrust forward, fur and hoof and hot pink peplum becoming entangled, the brute diving down. It collapses. A grunting noise vibrates within its closed mouth. An exhalation of a breath held inside—traces of iron mixed in with a distinct salty odour, scent of a red desert flower—a wet form of drowning that embeds itself as far as Dolores’s left lung.
Dolores closes her eyes and dozes off. Her vision is clouded with grit. Saliva and dirt ooze between Leo’s pulled lips.
Catalina Barroso-Luque is a Mexican artist, writer and arts programmer working between Mexico City and Glasgow. Her making traverses bodies and territories, and is produced between tongues. In 2019 Catalina devised and led Penetrate: Translate, a reading project focused on female body politics in translation programmed in association with MAP.
Pedro Lavin is a Mexican multidisciplinary visual artist and filmmaker based in New York City. Working in various media, including animation, illustration and film, he constructs personal mythologies and weaves magic realism, fantasy and oneiric exploration into the stories he tells. Lavin’s work, rooted in themes of sex, gender and love, challenges heteronormativity with a radically queer voice.