An old woman with a face as colonial as the town hands you a cold drink brewed with corn and she tells you in Spanish how she knows you are an American because you only speak English and she warns you of the thing that scares you most: “You’re going to love this country. Be careful. You might get married here.”
You are here to work and you only know what she said because the woman this government sent with you finishes laughing and twirls her hair and tells you. Her eyes are starlight trapped in amber.
A sad love song in her language is on repeat as you type this. The translation sucks but the singer sounds like someone shred her heart and you want to feel that way in this land of volcanoes and poets and violent politics. Her pain, the sound of that hurt, feels like ribs stretching the skin of the dogs and horses and goats that stand in these streets wondering what they should do or where they should go or when the taxi strike will end or if anyone gives a shit. Dusty roads and animal-drawn carriages and the jingling bells of hand-pushed ice cream carts. Rusty corrugated tin roofs and rocking chairs. Dollar beers.
There is a heat here, a different heat, and there is a sweat here, a permanent sheen on the forehead that everyone wears because air conditioning is for the weak. A fan and a breeze is enough and you get used to the slick skin. A handkerchief or bandanna is suddenly in style. People only linger in shade.
A new place each day, an itinerary, lots of handshakes and tours and pitches and sun. You are in a canoe with her. You do most of the paddling around tiny islands in a huge lake and monkeys thrash in mango trees and smiling children wave from shacks and fishermen toss nets from boats and you forget this is a job. She says the lake is delicious and you are sure she means it in a different way but you like the way she said it. Fish pop in the water and birds swarm over widening concentric circles for evening bugs. She floats in the pool with you as an angry sunset kisses volcanoes and disappears in the haze and you splash together and talk before your outdoor wine-and-cheese tasting on a private island. Bugs get in everything. You will eat a bug.
Dinner. You are much older than she guessed. Drinks. She is younger than you thought. It is still hot outside. She plays with the buttons on her blouse and tells you that before she was born her mother picked up an AK-47 and joined the revolution. Her father still straps on a pistol every day like he buckles his belt. She plays a song from the revolution for you on her phone but it is interrupted by a call. It is from an old painter who finished a work for her, a tree that symbolizes marriage. It flowers and produces pods, which symbolize union. He is giving it to her as a gift for helping him when he was stranded on the roadside. More drinks. Another call. She is upset. She says she has to go back to the capital tomorrow to handle an emergency. She was supposed to be with you the whole week. She asks if that is okay and you say you will act mad if it means she can stay. She says she wants to but cannot.
This is your last night together and you both climb a tower that rises above the trees on the island and watch stars and drink beer and lightning flashes in a distant storm and she is standing very close to you. You ask her about her childhood. She asks why you write. She leans in just a bit too much and for a second you think you might kiss her and she abruptly says it is getting late and you both climb down and she goes to her room after a quick handshake goodbye. You go to your room and shower and lay naked under a mosquito-netting canopy and watch a ceiling fan spin silently.
Frogs fill the night with croaks cut by the motor of a passing boat. You uncork the bottle of rum you bought at the duty free. A friend as you type, helping you mine the imagined core of this place even though the rum cannot help explain why you insist on the second person. You just do because you want you to be here with you. You do. You and you and you. All of you. Here. With you.
And it thumps like your heart after you masturbate with your eyes closed and you slow the beating with deep breaths while come drips down your palm and thigh and you hope none gets on the sheets so the maid or the next guest does not touch it.
Drunk dream of Gordon Lish. You wake to the politics of birds, coffee waiting outside near the hammock, and a fish jumps near lily pads in the lake. She tells you at breakfast that she thinks she can stay with you and handle the emergency by phone and you smile and she smiles and the eggs are the best you have ever had. She says she had a dream about you but cannot remember what it was.
A car takes you to a different town and you stop for lunch at a roadside stand for a drink and a local snack covered in melted cheese. She gets another call. She says she has to leave after all but she will take you to the hotel and make sure you are settled in and promises that you will be in good hands with another guide. She asks if that is okay and you say you guess it has to be.
Once you are in the hotel, she lingers for a glass of sangria that turns into a pitcher at sunset and she says she has to make a call and while she is gone you order another. She says she should leave and the pitcher shows up and you are persuasive and she says maybe she can stay a bit longer. Another pitcher. Another call. She says she can stay the night after all but has to go before the sun comes up. This emergency is very important and far away. You go into town and drink cold beer with surfers and she spins her hair with a finger and you tell her she has beautiful eyes and she says she hates that because she hears it so much.
It is still hot long after the sun is gone so she slides on a bikini and you both slip into the hotel pool. She brushes her arm against you and floats in close and you kiss her against the infinity wall in the deep end and she kisses back and pulls away and says it is a bad idea because you are both working and you both know this is a lie that must be told to ease the conscience and open the door to what was inevitable since she was late picking you up at the airport, since the first handshake when she took off her sunglasses and her eyes sank into yours a moment too long, those eyes, and all of this was as certain as the blessing the giant illuminated statue of Jesus is giving to a slice of moon sinking into a glittering bay filled with swaying boats.
You drink sangria and eat ceviche on the patio of your room and joke about the old woman who warned you to be careful and lizards cling to the walls and you wave your hand at whatever is buzzing by your ear. She lights a dark cigar for you. She puffs until it glows, and chases away a stray cat with it before she hands it to you. She says she hates cats, they are evil, and you are like wow. There is a tiny, drunk gecko splashing in your sangria.
She asks how you like her country so far and you tell her the sun sets on all of us and what makes a place special is the people and deep down we all want the same thing and she listens and you look at each other and this time too long is not too long and in bed you tell her that her eyes suck and you know now that it is her lips that are special. She says nobody has ever told her that.
The sun comes up and neither of you have slept and her body is slick with your sweat and she showers and dresses and says her legs will not stop shaking and she kisses you goodbye and you look into her eyes and say, “I might never see you again,” and after she closes the door you are certain you will not and you lock your fingers behind your head in bed and watch the sunrise stretch shadows on the ceiling and you hope you are wrong and you are: a knock on the door: she is back: she forgot her watch.