Mariposa’s Song: Peter LaSalle Explores Lives of Los Indocumentados


A version of this story ran in the November 2012 issue.

Mariposa's Song
Mariposa’s Song by Peter LaSalle.

Peter LaSalle’s new novel Mariposa’s Song (The Americas Series, Texas Tech University Press) tells of a 20-year-old Honduran young woman, Mariposa, who in 2005 is in the U.S. without documentation and working as a B-girl in a scruffy East Austin nightclub called El Pajáro Verde. The entire novel is a single book-length sentence, and explores the lives of los indocumentadosand the strange, shadowy world they are often forced to inhabit due to current immigration laws. In the scene below, a hopeful but very nervous Mariposa waits in Nuevo Laredo to enter the U. S. posing as a tourist—a plan that just might work.

Peter LaSalle is the author of several books of fiction, most recently a story collection Tell Borges If You See Him, which received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction in 2007, and his stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. He teaches creative writing at University of Texas at Austin, in both the Department of English and the Michener Center for Writers.


. . . and she didn’t wander far from the little hotel room with its cracked yellow walls and a single bare bulb dangling from a squiggly black cord, also a filthy toilet usually overflowing, which she didn’t even want to tell the creepy guy at the nook for the check-in desk downstairs about for fear of drawing attention to herself, she spent a lot of time pushing aside the thin red curtains just a bit to look outside and down to the park of the central square where the city buses and peseros pulled up growlingly, where in the empty dew-covered mornings it was always the same ritual, the ragged men who had slept the night somewhere in the park, amidst the frilly bandstand and the green benches, the black statues of the honored heroes of the República and the massive trees with their trunks whitewashed lower down, one by one the men would come out of the park to the payphone on a pole right there across the street from Mariposa’s second-floor room in that place called the Hotel Alameda, at dawn, and Mariposa would look down and watch yet another one of them go up to the phone as if programmed to do so, run dirty fingers through the change slot of the phone in hopes of finding a few bronze centavos that were never there, walk away again as if wearily programmed to do so, and for a while Mariposa did get discouraged in Nuevo Laredo, a place that everybody knew you weren’t supposed to spend too much time in, Nuevo Laredo was where the drug cartels were fighting for territory, they had lately taken to actually rocketing each other’s houses in the narcotraficante war that was in full force now, and even when Mariposa was in Nuevo Laredo for those three days it was all continual sirens and confusion, a new police chief had been appointed to replace the old police chief and he was gunned down near the rickety lucha libre arena only blocks away from the Hotel Alameda there on Calle González and the central square, Mariposa saw live coverage of it in the little hotel lobby of green rubber tile where there was a big tropical fish tank beside the color TV, she sat alone on one of the chrome-legged chairs in the few rows of chairs set up as if in a classroom or little theater and saw on TV the corpse of the fat police chief, bald and mustached, in his blood-soaked uniform and video-taped from every angle while still slumped at the wheel of a car, his police SUV that seemed more just a splattering of deep pits of automatic-gunfire holes than what was left of the polished black sheet metal of the SUV itself, and in the course of the long days in Nuevo Laredo Mariposa thought often of what she woke up to in Nuevo Laredo, what she herself saw when she came into the world of supposed daylight after her own dreaming on the sagging bed that smelled of urine and cigarette smoke, to push the flimsy red drapes aside again and see the lost men one by one coming out of their own uneasy dreaming to wander up to the payphone and scoop fingers over that metal probably worn shiny with their perpetual clawing, hoping for forgotten change but for there to be nothing there, and Mariposa sensed that maybe she had come this far, all the way from her Honduras to Nuevo Laredo, to be so close, but for there to be, true, nothing here for her either, it was a mistake to have left home, and . . .