An Airline Ticket to Romantic Places
The town will be wan with sea blight, colors gutted of vigor, and building facades chipped and ablated. The beachfront, a line of tin-roofed shacks, will be worst of all, but you and Rylee will sit stirring sugar into cups of coffee and watching the sea, a slate of inert gray. She will be disenchanted, having pictured cobblestone streets and colonial homes of lambent yellow. But you are no Fisher-Price, My-First-Backpack motherfucker. You've known Colombia since old Pablo had its balls in a vise grip, you were in Caracas the day they were shooting from the overpass at Puente Llaguno, you've seen every scar of coastal highway on the continent. And as you sip the coffee, you will catch a whiff of sweet bread and take its smell as a benediction, an assurance that you are living the life chosen for you and living it well.
Then an urchin will burst from the baked-goods shack clutching one of those sanctified loaves and take off running down the beach. Maybe nine or 10 years old, filthy and clad in rags, desperate feet churning up sand behind him. His salvation coiled in the crick of his arm. Someone will give chase with a rolling pin and shout for you to grab the kid from where you and Rylee sit at the shack's entrance, but you will not want to touch the diseased little fucker, and really you will root for him to escape. It is only a loaf of bread.
But a tourist cop will step from next door (fresh off his bribe rounds, no doubt) and snag him by the shirt. And when the baker catches up they will go to work. You will have never seen anything like it. They will beat him like an adult, closed-fisted, and the cry he gives when the first punch lands will singe into you like an arrow of fire. You will remember every fight you ever lost, every romantic rejection, every daily cruelty meted out by neighborhood bullies. By the time the baker poises the rolling pin above his head, you will have seen enough.
You will leap up and catch the pin behind his shoulder, and in one motion wrench it from his hand and crack him over the head. He will go down, right down. For half a second you will find yourself face to face with the cop, the urchin shivering and bloodied, and you will know you have gone too far. Then you will raise the pin and bring it shuddering across his head with a terrible force whose source you will not recognize. When he crumples before you, the uniform's majesty gone up in smoke, you will feel something within you turn cold.
The urchin will retrieve the loaf from where it has fallen in the sand and limp away, bawling. You will drop the pin. Peals of sunlight will tumble to your eyes and you will narrow your lids, glance down the ruined beach. Vendors will emerge from doorways like crabs from holes in the sand. They will not shout or give chase. They will watch as you blink back the Caribbean sun and examine what you have wrought.
You and Rylee will race back to the hotel, pay the bill and hail a lift on the first flatbed out of town. There you will tie a shirt over your light hair and lie on the hot iron as the truck whisks you down the highway parallel to the sea. Rylee will leave her hair unbound for the wind to tousle, and when you grow tired of watching traffic you will watch her. Her knees drawn to her chest, her posture rigid with vigilance. Eventually, she will turn her head and her hunted gray eyes will dart all over you as if she had never seen you before.
The flatbed will drop you in a town as unlovely as the last, with air acrid from vitalizing sugar fumes pluming from factory stacks. Road shoulders rutted and refuse-strewn, and empty lots pockmarked with metal scraps. Buildings in ruins, as if shelled, and crawling with vermin. You and Rylee will check into a flophouse across the street from the refinery and upon keying open your room find the walls draped in mirrors.
Rylee will sit on the bed, examining herself from all angles. You will shit, fill a bucket at the tap outside, and hurl it into the bowl to flush it. Then, you will refill the bucket again, plunk it down in the bathroom, and pull Rylee to her feet and lift her T-shirt over her head, unfurl her bathing top and peel down her bottoms. She will watch you do this as if she were outside of her body. And in the mirrors she will regard her breasts as if they were diseases, her ass and thighs yoked hopelessly to ropes of sinew. Then you will undress and lead her into the bathroom, where you will douse your bodies with scoops of cold water. Pop open a soap case and lather her arms, the small of her back, her neck and breasts and hips and thighs. Goosebumps prickling her skin, she will clench her shoulders and say your name: "Dinner."
"Do you think they're dead? Do you think you killed them?"
You will look hard into those feline eyes and lie.
Moments later, cords of muscle will clench thighs tight. You will press long fingers into crevices and try to pry legs open, hold hips supine, kiss legs still wet with iron-tasting water. Eventually, she will no longer be able to resist, or maybe just tire of fending you off, and the cords will go slack. Your body will poise with desire and in the mirrors that surround the bed she will watch in horror as your member swells and narrows into a rolling pin. The whorled hairs between her legs turned churlish, you will settle your face into a thicket of nettles that prick you around the mouth. And your tongue will scrape against a mouth as dry and raspy as a starfish underside.
Night will grow up around you. The power will go out, cutting off the TV and fan. Rylee will fall asleep and have one nightmare after another. Shuddering and crying out while you lie awake, listening to the paint fall in flecks from the walls. You will be at the edge of sleep when a series of twitters jar you back. You will feel around on the nightstand until you find the flashlight, thinking it's the sound of rats, and scatter the beam across the floor. Crabs will leer into the light, stalked eyes malevolent atop indigo carapaces, brandishing pinchers like rolling pins. You will spring from the bed, pick up your sandals and move into the mob swinging them wildly, growling curses. Hijos de la gran puta, get the fuck out of my room. They will slide between clefts in the wall, squeeze underneath the door.
Rylee will rouse, sit up. "What's happening?"
You will stand in the middle of the room, scanning the corners with the flashlight. "Goddamn crabs all over the place."
She will watch you as you finish checking for stragglers, click off the flashlight, and get back in bed.
"I ain't crazy," you'll protest. "There were big crabs all over the floor."
She will say nothing, place her hand on your chest and trace your pectorals, your neck and chin, mouth and nose, eyes and ears. Her hand inquisitive, fumbling for recognition. You will grasp it with your own, squeeze its limp digits.
In the morning, you and Rylee, you and your girl, will go down to the sea. Town wan with sea blight, beachfront worst of all. Shack floors black with fleas, sand scabbed with scrap metal. Right off shore, gulls will gather on a trawler long run aground, wave-battered, and mollusk-crusted. You will know that's you and Rylee, and as you sip coffee and slap fleas from your ankles, you will wish you'd have never left home at all.
Urchins will approach Rylee with cupped hands, whining, diez mil? Algo pa' comer? She will try to shoo them away, but her gaze will linger on them sadly, and you will have to intervene. They will join the older urchins in fishing for ghost crabs in their burrows. Jamming fingers into the moist sand, hoping to feel a hard pinch of promise. A few will succeed, haul out their catch, bash it dead, cook it up over little brushfires. You will look past the boys cracking carapaces with plagued fingers, examine the trawler and its crest of cawing gulls, and wonder when it will finally crumble into the sea.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201