Not For Long {Cecelia Chapman}

When Hugo recognized me he was drunk. That was after his woman companion left him at the bar. He said he was staying in a  hotel down the beach and sat drinking and talking to me until my shift was over. A busboy helped me walk him up the hill where he passed out in my hammock. But he was not the addict and alcoholic rumors made him. My previous soft-fleshed, bratty-boy employer was a hard-boned man. Thick, scarred hands made sandpaper sounds as he clenched them while he slept.

One key in his pocket. Wallet with one black credit card. Cuban passport, completely blank. Except for one rubber-stamp seal of a jaguar in a bleeding tree, a smiling baby in it's mouth. Marking his entry into the country yesterday, and a date of birth making midnight, two hours ago, the first minute of his thirty-seventh year alive. Pale blue handkerchief with the initial A. Bespoke olive linen jacket with a welt under the left arm. Denim pants. Woven leather sandals from Guatemala on thick calloused feet that did not need shoes. Tissue-thin pink Uluwatu t-shirt.

I was picking through him when he opened one eye, laughed at me and passed out again. I felt he understood I was doing this because I brought him into my home. And for my other more personal reasons. Second-hand stories followed him; obsession, loss of a software fortune, his rough, handsome wife named Allison, a complicated divorce trial, his disappearance, then rare sightings that were like jokes.

Watching him through the night, from my bed in the corner of a large and quiet rented studio apartment that I liked and where I worked as an artist, out to his hammock on the terrace, all I thought was I didn't want to regret bringing him home.

Foreign yachts with sails like torn wings jockeyed into harbor early. Winds sliced open a black crack on the horizon, a sliver of darkness in the red dawn widened, as if night had won. 

"I saw her again."
  We'd walked down the beach, gone in the sea, returned to the apartment to breakfast and talk more.

  I hung my laundered work shirt on a clothesline where it sailed in the breezes, dry by the time I poured coffee and offered Hugo slabs of papaya with lime.

"The woman I saw that everyone said I didn't see. I'm going to tell you something. Then, forget it. I went for a run. It was a beautiful day. I had only one care that morning and that was that I was afraid I was losing Allison. I took time off work, we planned the rest of the day together. We made love earlier."
He paced the terrace balcony, leaning over the rail, watching the street. "I asked her if she wanted to go running with me. She said she'd wait in bed."

Cards printed with bleeding hearts and pierced with arrows were tied in trees and posts that lined the threatened parade route. They made a whirring, rattling sound in the winds. Some came loose, flopping on the terrace like fish thrown on wet sand, slap of flesh. Scarlet flamboyant flowers were ripped off in the winds, they covered everything, like a petal carpet of spilled blood on my floor every morning.

"On the run, in the hills, I found a woman fallen on the ground. She was warm, breathing, but unconscious. I covered her with my sweatshirt. Running back I found people with a cell phone, they called an ambulance. When I returned to the woman she was gone."

"That should have been alright. But a beautiful woman is hard to forget. I told Allison. Not that I thought the woman was beautiful, but that I had found her, then, that she was gone, and that is why it took me so long to return. She laughed at me. Allison laughed. I felt disturbed, disoriented. I still remember the way she turned over, got out of bed, laughing."

Long before this religious festival was a rain celebration involving human sacrifice. Jungle ruins surrounded us for miles with carved rock rattlesnakes the size of a curled-up man. One day all the snakes disappeared. Later I saw them in the museum in the capitol, dozens of them. In that cold white room they seemed immediately real, more alive than in the bush, fleshless, angry creatures. When I returned later to show them to a friend I could not find them anywhere.    

"The day was ruined, Allison distant. I can't remember what I did. Shortly after that I started drinking, later heavily... other things... I made bad hiring choices, an employee who embezzled, another sold information. Then Allison left. She divorced me, she took the company. She proved I was incompetent. Well, no, first I just didn't show up for three weeks. When I finally made it to work a guard stopped me from entering. When Allison sold the company I was in jail for fraud. My father died suddenly, the shock, I never saw him..."
"...none of that matters now. I went south and drank hard for a year. Hit bottom, got sick. Finally all I could do was gut fish for a living, later I fished... I was in a bar when a ship comes in, a sailing vessel... sleek, maybe 50 crew, big money just floating in. Fishermen are laughing and yelling at the women walking down the ramp.This is the first time they have seen this, women who want women, in a group like this, entering their port, their town. The women are holding hands, arms around each other, in shorts, barely shirts. Fishermen are yelling "make me captain!" The owner of the boat I'm working on points and says he wants that pair. It's Allison. With that woman I saw on the ground. They got into a taxi."

"I borrowed a friend's taxi fast. They weren't hard to find. I spent a couple of hours watching the hotel beach deck where my ex-wife and the woman were drinking, bickering, kissing, rubbing sun tan lotion on each other, holding hands. It lasted an eternity of hell. I thought my anger would burn me in the taxi, the whole taxi, just ignite it, or attract lightening. Gone in flames, like that. I thought a lot of things, I remembered a lot more. I would have gone in, maybe bought them a drink, but I smelled and I'm not happy in bars with white canvas tents and umbrellas any more, and the way I was feeling, well, I'd just better stay low. Eventually they went looking for a taxi."

"I took them back to their ship. Allison got out of the taxi first. Not a glance at me. The other women paid, looking me over, hungry. So I pushed up my dark glasses. She backed out fast. I lived off her look for a long time."

Hugo parsed sea, jungle and street. Big girls slinking through town in holiday dresses, sexy with special red lips, holding hands with little girls carrying the lunch chicken home by it's wrung neck. Tourists at cafe tables drinking breakfast beers, waiting to record the procession with small devices in their hands. Little boys racing all over. Men talking outside the bar. Nuns crossing the graveyard, the church square. Women stopped in the bakery door, blocked by a boy pulling a horse spooked by the cards snapping and whistling in high winds. The balloon man twisted a jaguar from a balloon, enigmatic screeches erupting from the felt tip marker passage across taut latex leaving hieroglyphic spots, teeth, bloody claws.

"I was broke, living day-to-day. But I had rent money from fishing on charters, local commercial boats hired me. Sometimes I fixed computers and made easy money. And I could always find someone, some tourist, to buy drinks. I spent a lot of time doing that. One day I drank a few hours with a man who said he wanted a personal assistant..."

Thunder purred from liver-colored clouds. Flashes of light snapped far out to sea, like something broken, beyond repair.

Hugo sat across from me on my bed. Cleaning his sunglasses with the handkerchief he looked me straight in the eyes for a long time, searching for something. I guess he didn't find it, I didn't see any questions in his eyes. He put his sunglasses back on and went out to the terrace.

"My new employer was much older than me, sold weapons, rented guards he trained himself. He was a fitness freak with a family high up in government. He didn't like hot-heads, told me to cool off, train with the guards in the camp. He said it's easier that way. He liked me. We listened to music, he showed me how to surf, we went fishing, hunting. Sometimes we ran barefoot on the coast, sleeping out with nothing but knives. I kept account books for him, made arrangements. He read Hemingway in English, and asked me about many things, and told me interesting things I found useful later."

"One night I told him what I'm telling you now. He said I should stalk her, scare the hell out of her, let her live, in fear, it's better."

I watched Hugo scan the swollen purple horizon, the yachts, down the beach, up my street, sweeping out past the church to the graveyard at jungle's edge. I tripped on a chair, dizzy from light changes. Hugo was at the far edge of the terrace focussed on a small group of people. They were walking out of the jungle, passing through the tombstones on the other side of the church, coming around the back of the church, down the alley past relic stalls and festival booths, stopping to take photographs, picking things up to look at here, talking to a seller there, laughing with each other. But not for long. Hugo whistled, sharp, loud and piercing, like he was calling a dog. Everyone on the street looked up. Tree branches hid my terrace from the woman with huge eyes twisting her head back and forth. Her body melted into a grotesque posture, hung with a swinging flat-white panicked face. She crouched in the shadows of the church where she threw herself against the wall. 

from Traveling Without A Gun  2011
Previously published in BigPulp, 2012