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***This is a Great Fiction Countdown 2015 post. I’ll be reading and responding to a new short story published or reprinted in 2015 every day throughout the month of December. If you have a recommendation, tweet at me or use the contact form.***
“The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zací” by Benjamin Parzybok
Originally published in Strange Horizons Feb. 2 Issue
Read it for free here.
Image © 2014 Paula Arwen Friedlander
This piece is told from the perspective of Eduardo, a poet/alcoholic by night and ticket taker at a local tourist attraction by day. Eduardo’s life is consumed by mystery when tourists begin disappearing inside the Cenote Zací where he works. As an interesting counterpoint to the protagonist’s descent into the investigation, his artistic life takes on a renewed passion resulting in the creation of what the reader is to believe are some of Eduardo’s finest poems.
Parzybok’s prose is largely transparent, rarely stepping on itself to provide additional flourishes where none are needed. This story turns largely on depth of characterization and effective plotting. The three main characters–Angelica, Eduardo and Eduardo’s lover Rinaldo–are all fully realized with believable behaviors and alignments to the plot. Even the trait of Eduardo most susceptible to cliche and melodrama–his alcoholism–is tactfully depicted. At first reading, It wasn’t until his tequila bender in the last act that the casual consumption of beer after beer earlier in the narrative took on new significance.
I also thought Parzybok’s judicious use of Spanish was quite effective. Words like “Cenote” provide authentic flavor to the setting without feeling contrived. I felt my own Spanglish vocabulary expanding as I read in a way that enriched the experience of the story.
Eduardo’s character arc reaches a natural conclusion even though the mystery of the Cenote isn’t ultimately solved. After reading, I was inspired to do some cursory internet research about Cenotes and their importance in Mayan culture. Knowledge of Cenote folklore provides a fascinating underpinning for the piece, but is ultimately inessential to the story.