Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Once Spoken



copyright kevin r. hill

ONCE SPOKEN

Breathe deep, now relax, you can do it. 
I brushed my slacks and noticed the ceiling reflected in a polished shoe.  With taunt fingers hooked around each other I bent forward and glanced at my barrowed Rolex. It was about to be show time, and this show had to be just right.
The hostess smiled from behind a podium and pulled the microphone to her mouth.  "Raphael, party of three, your table is ready," she said, her voice amplified across the old mission converted to a restaurant.   
I heard Liddy’s high heels clicking on Saltillo tiles, smelled her perfume a second before she turned the corner and stepped into view.  Still the same perfume.  I wonder how many men think of her when they smell it. 
Now act preoccupied and happy. 
Liddy turned the corner and lit up like she was on stage.  She smiled and leaned forward, squinting. "Oh, Tucker, you look so nice."  She scratched the lapel of my blazer, pressed her nails into my hand and kissed me.
It means nothing!  You've heard it a thousand times.  Now smile and do the act.
I glanced at her cleavage and that body that stopped cars.  Memory betrayed me and swept me back to a hammock on a Caribbean beach, a bottle of tequila, and Liddy contorting above me, sweat mixing a bitter taste with her perfume.  I remembered her hair tossing about in the shower as she clung to the pipe over head. 
"Thanks, Liddy, you look beautiful; you always did.  I'll bet every guy in town is chasing you.”
"They sure are!  These cowboys, Tucker, they're aggressive," she whispered, sliding close and hugging my arm. "I'll tell you all about it."
"Isn't your ... boyfriend coming?"
"Oh Tuck', he can't afford this place.  I've wanted to eat here for so long.  Thanks for taking me.  I'm poorer now than we were in Mexico.  Oh."  She pouted like a little girl.
Don't be affected.  She does that act for strangers.  You remember.
I remembered lying on the bed of our little palapa in Mexico, laughing as she stripped before the window so the neighbor boys could watch.
"I think we're ready," I told the hostess.  
She led us across the quiet dining room.  The fire crackled and made the room glow.  Everything on the table seemed to welcome us: the red linen, the fine silver, the flickering candles.  I pulled Liddy's chair from the table and she sat down, so graceful, so feminine. 
But the animal side, you remember.  No, don't think about it!  Go on with the plan.  Smile and be light hearted. 
I held the tie against my stomach and sat down. "This is a beautiful place," I said, sweeping the room with my gaze. "It must be the adobe that makes it so warm."
Flamenco guitarists crossed the dining room and came to our table.  "It was built in the sixteen hundreds.  Look at the windows," she said with wide eyes, leaning across the table, rubbing a foot on my leg.
Pat her leg and ignore it.  Pat it like a brother would pat it.
"Yeah, you can see how thick the walls are."
"All the windows are shaped like a cross.  That's because they used to shoot Indians.  With the shape of the cross they could swing a rifle any direction.  Just think, real wild Indians used to ride right outside."  She moved her leg higher.
"Liddy."
She smiled.
"Isn't your boyfriend waiting for you?"
"Ah ha, he trusts me.  I'm a good girl," she said, smiling.
"Like I trusted you?"
"Oh Tucker, I'm sorry." She pouted.  "I tried to wait, but a girl's got to get some dicking or she goes crazy." 
Back out of it.  Smile and look around the room.  Don't let her think you're affected. I picked up the wine list and ordered a Cote du Rhone for fifty dollars.
She withdrew her foot for a moment, and when I felt it return I knew she had removed her shoe.  I smiled and looked around the room.  Liddy tilted her head to one side.
"That was expensive wine.  Are you sure you can afford this?"
I laughed.  "Sure.  But didn't you bring some money with you?"
"What money?  I'm broke," she said, sitting up straight.
"Oh, don't worry; we're going to have the most expensive items on the menu.  Just like old friends should."  That was good.  Keep it like that.  String her along.
"I'm sorry if I hurt you, Tuck.  I mean with all our plans and stuff."
"No Liddy, it didn't mean a thing.  He sure knows how to make that guitar feel, doesn't he?"   I nodded toward the old musician.
"Neither of us really wanted to get married, did we?"  She picked up my hand.
"No," I laughed.  "We were just good in bed together and in a strange country.  I guess you cling to someone more in a different country."
"Yeah, oh baby, we were good together.  We had so much passion.  I sure love my Butch ... he has such muscle ...and those eyes, oh Tuck, you should see them."
Breathe and smile.  Look at the musicians like you're not concentrating on what she's saying.  Just a little longer.
She tossed her blonde hair over a shoulder. "But Tucker, he doesn't do me like you used to."  She rocked her water glass and leaned forward.  "I hardly ever get the big one with him," she whispered, digging her foot into my crotch.
"I think I'll have the lobster."
"Are you listening?"
"We all make choices, Liddy."
"I mean only one night, Tuck."
"I have someone else now.  She wouldn't like it." Perfect.  Now get through the meal and make the play. We talked about Mexico, about spear-fishing on the reef, and about our parrot.  Greeny learned to imitate Liddy's screams during orgasm.  We laughed about how he would do his wild thing scream when we had friends visiting.  Of course we reminisced about the hurricane, how our house had been destroyed.  I wanted to ask her how she got out of jail without so much as a fine when she was picked up for working without a permit.  But I had my suspicions.  I had partied with the immigration officer who arrested her.  But such is life. We ate slowly and savored each bite.  With desert, a second bottle of wine, liquor and coffee, the bill was well over three hundred dollars.  When it came time to pay I took out my fine billfold and looked over the bill.  A moment latter I sat it on the table with the billfold on top, and excused myself.
"I'll be right back."
"Never keep a lady waiting," she said, running her gaze up and down my pants.
I walked to the toilet.  Just wait until the hostess leaves her station, then hurry. A few minutes passed before the hostess walked away from her podium.  Without looking back into the restaurant, I pushed open that massive front door that had once held attacking Indians out, and got in to my car, pulling off the tie as I started the engine. 
She would probably wait about five minutes before opening the billfold and finding the fragment of an old hand written note, the writing of a woman in love, that read: ‘I’ll wait for you, Tucker.’
 No, no hard feelings.  Washing dishes would be good for her.  Liddy always found a way out of trouble.
As I drove through the mesa, the setting sun casting a beautiful golden hue over boulders and cactus,  I felt free, like I could just drive and drive forever on that road.  And then I thought about the laws that keep us all in order, living together.  When I thought about laws and courts, I realized there should be some sort of justice system for crimes of the heart, because some words once spoken change the course of a person’s life and can’t be so easily released.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Touched

     I found an old travel article while cleaning out my filing cabinet.  While it did not arouse the same depth of nostalgia that my old passports did, it still touched me.  You see, I still recall the sense of mystery as I walked those ancient, cobbled streets, and pushed through the crowded market stalls, villagers passing with colorful attire, embroidery identifying their village, toughened feet in leather sandals, car tire soles squeaking on the oily concrete.
     At that time in my life I was roaming the world, jetting here and there, dropping into people's lives but never staying, just touching and moving along before things got complicated.  And it was in Yucatan I found a home, in this 'troubled little brother' of Mexico, as one author called it, a place called 'I do not understand.'  For when the Spanish conquistadors landed and asked the Maya, in Spanish, the name of this place, the Maya answered 'I do not understand': Yucatan.
     It is a region apart from the whole of Mexico. A different flavor fills life here, a seasoning of ancient spices and attitudes, a daily routine even further from schedule than the rest of Mexico, an idea very hard to grasp for most Americans and Europeans.  In a country that had once gone to war over pastries, in a region known for being unique, where the Maya move among the Mexicans as though hidden, I found a home, a bond, a place to fit in.  It was here my heart sang, where I awoke from my hammock each morning with a song on my lips, brought with me from some sweet dream into waking life.  It was here I found the courage to go within painful memories and fashion a novel.  Somehow this peninsula, jutting into the Gulf Stream of life, baked in the sun, would always be my home, would always call to me from memory, like the voice of an amazing mistress, so well versed in who I am, a part of me.

Friday, August 3, 2012

DEATH OF A FISHERMAN


DEATH OF A FISHERMAN
copyright 2012 kevin r. hill



Yesterday a Norte blew through town.  The Caribbean breeze that always picked up around mid-morning, coming off the sweet ocean and cooling Puerto, had swung around 180* to signal a storm, and came at us from the swamp, carrying with it every mosquito in the world.  When I felt the wind shift I checked the radio for hurricane warnings, and walked to the shed to make sure my window coverings were ready to be installed should a big one surprise me.
For three days I’d been waiting to get in the boat and head to Punta Brava with all my shiny new lures and a virgin CalStar fishing pole.  I needed that thrill, that elation brought about by feeling the line go tight and hearing the drag singing the instant a fish felt the hook dig into its jaw. But instead I stayed inside with Marina and played games in the hammock with olive oil and a bottle of Cuban rum. With her it was pure sex, free and simple, just tourist sex with no strings.  She was number two to my woman back home, and that made the games more focused.  I was living large in the Caribbean, shorts all day long and flip flops, sand clinging to my ankles.
When the Norte blew itself out at four in the morning I woke with the silence and moved Marina’s sweaty arm from my chest.  The stillness meant the Caribe, as the locals called the ocean, would lay down flat and allow us gringos to sneak out and fish.  So I picked up my shorts from the floor, checked for scorpions, and pulled them on as I dialed the number of my Mayan boat captain. 
“Fill the tank, Poncho. I’ll fill the ice chest and grab the bait and meet ya on the pier.”

On the way to the pier I stopped at a new telephone pole where TeleMex, the Mexican telephone company, was installing new lines.  Dangling from the big, thick cable on the pole was a rainbow of tiny wires, just what we needed to secure the bill of our ballyhoo to the leader.  I told Marina to keep the engine running and jumped out.  The sun was just coming up and no one was around, and she looked so sexy with only a bikini bottoms and her nipples pressing against the white tank top she wore, that I thought about playing right there in the road, but that wouldn’t get me on the water. 
“What are you doing, Yankee?” she called with a sleepy voice as I ran around to the bed of the truck and found the machete.   With a few frantic hacks I chopped off a big horse’s tail of the wire and tossed it into the back. 
“Are you crazy? You know what they will do to you if they catch you?”
I shoved the truck into gear and lurched forward.  “This is Mexico,” I said.  “I’ll pay a hundred bucks and have a drink with the cop, and be on my way.”
“Cabrone,” she laughed.

On the water, bouncing over the current, the wind in my sun-bleached hair, Marina walking topless around the deck, my Mayan Captain trying to to stare at her too much, I wondered if life could ever get better, wondered what I had done to be so lucky and feel life so fully as now.
For hours we trolled with the baitfish, escribano, as the Mexicans call it, tied to the lines courtesy of TeleMex. I tried everything to get a bite: I spit on the bait, tied my new transparent leader, even chopped some fish into bits of chum and threw it over board to attract fish.  But nothing was biting so I pulled in the lines and got my new pole with light 20 pound test line on it. If they weren’t biting on bait, then I’d try something different.  From my tackle box I took a small golden Rapala lure and secured with their own knot. If a sailfish hit the light line I’d be in for a half hour fight, complete with aerial gymnastics.
“Are you trying to make the fish laugh, or scare them away?” shouted Poncho when he saw the lure I was dropping over the side. 
Before I let out enough line to get the lure past our wake, the fish hit.  My pole jumped in my hand and I shoved the reel into gear and set the hook.  I know most guys get pissed when you put on the ratchet sound, but I love that sound of line being pulled out by a strong fish and the alarm ringing as though a bomb were about to explode.  After a minute I clicked off the alarm. Keeping the tip up so the flex of the pole would act as a spring, cushioning the pull of the fish, I let him run until his strength faded, and was surprised to see how much line he took off the reel.  That meant he was big.  It had to be a sailfish.
Now it was just him and I, connected by a thread, one animal fighting for its life, the other fighting to take his life, to deny his freedom.  And when he stopped in the water I started working him, pulling him closer with the pole, raising it and then lowering it while reeling in the slack.  Then suddenly he was gone!
My heart raced and pounded. I looked at Marina and wanted to hold her. In a split second it occurred to me he was charging, and I reeled like a madman, as though my life depended on it.  I called for tequila, and Poncho held it to my lips as I drank, the fire water burning my throat and taking my breath as I exhaled.
Within a minute I felt him again on the line.  Suddenly he jumped and violently shook his head, looking so long and magnificent in the sun, that long sword slicing through the air, searching for the connection that held him, searching for my line, trying to sever our bond.  I don’t know how long I fought him.  He ran, and I pulled him back close enough for him to see the boat hull, and then he’d run again, each time less as his energy faded, as hope slowly wore away.  And in some strange way I felt him, felt his heart pounding with fear, and I wondered at the glories he had seen in the ocean Caribbean, wonders never seen by man, and I wished I could somehow download his memories and relive them to honor him. 
And connected to that fish like that, I realized that for a man it was the ultimate sport, with life in the balance, as close as a man can come to sex without the feminine.  That was the thrill, the elation for one, and death for another.
The first time I saw his color, when he got close enough, Poncho was pulling on his gloves so he could grab his bill, and he shouted: “There’s something down there!  Something is following him.”
“Is it a shark?”
“No.  It’s crisscrossing in front of him, back and forth.”  He stood up straight and scratched his black hair.  “I’ve never seen that before.”  And he opened the tequila bottle and drank.
When we finally got him in the boat we high fived and raved a bit, and we all got fresh cold beers.  The beer washed away the numbness of the tequila, and the cold condensation dripped on my chest.  And then I caught the look in that fish’s black eye as it stared at me with one question: why?  I watched as those rainbow colors vibrated and began to fade.  Around me I heard Poncho and Marina laugh as they hugged.  A different type of numbness was growing in me.
As soon as I dropped the lure over the side another sail hit it before I had let out 20 feet of line.  It was as though it was there waiting, calling to us to drop it, begging us to catch it. I handed the pole to Marina and watched as Poncho helped her and coached her. 
Within 15 minutes we had another sail in the boat, laying side by side, the one still alive staring at the first, flapping its tail and touching the other.
With all the force of hearing my woman speaking to a lover on the phone, a voice within me said: They are mates.  One is saying to the other, ‘I’ll follow you anywhere.’ 
I turned and watched Marina and Poncho laughing with arms around each other. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

BLEEDING SOUL


Bleeding Soul

     It took place behind the restaurant with banana trees dancing in the Caribbean breeze. Friends arrived with bottles of tequila.  
     Women and men arrived with tear-filled eyes, memories of Francisco still so fresh they didn’t know how their life could go on without his singing and laughing, his love of life. We sat at plastic tables and ate as if afraid to speak, as though the food had no taste, as if we would be punished for any enjoyment when a loved one could not be there.
     I remember Dona Maria getting up in the middle of her meal and walking to the alter of photos and flowers and candles with the Virgin Mary on them, tears flowing down her wrinkled cheeks as she picked up the biggest photo of her Grandson, held it to her chest as though cuddling a child, and danced around the terrace.  All eyes were on her as she cried and said proudly, “Francisco promised me a dance.”
     I bit my lip and couldn’t look at the boy’s mother beside me, my dream of moving to Yucatan rising above me like the spirit of the boy we had just buried, getting further away.  I remembered having to pull his mother, Lisbet, from the coffin of her son as she tried to raise him from the dead.  With her thin body she would not allow him to lay there with the dead. And I remembered  laying beside her the night before as she told me that Francisco was coming over the next day, and how she was getting friends and family together to drive South of Tulum and dive in some remote cenote.  I remembered reaching into the air above our bed and trying to grab onto her mind as it floated like smoke above us, but my words could not penetrate her castle walls of pain and suffering.  And when I touched her, so hoping for a nurturing response, a word, a touch showing there was still a bond between us, I felt her pull away like a cat trying to escape.
     After the dinner one of Francisco’s friends grabbed a bottle of tequila and stood up.  After a long pull on the bottle, he told everyone about his last day with Francisco, tears bursting into his words and making him pause.  One by one we drank, stood up and shared with everyone around us what the boy, the young man, had meant to us, how he had touched our lives, how having him with us had brought love and laugher , helped us forget life.  When it was my turn I took two hits and let my memory take me back twenty years to the shirtless little boy who brought me a photo of a beautiful woman cut from a magazine.  At the time I was living in an abandoned little house with a frog named Ralph in my toilet tank, and Francisco thought it a shame I lived without a woman, so he cut one from a magazine and said that I should call her. 
     As I stood there with palm leaf roofs around me, people watching my tears, I thought how strange it was that my life would be entwined with that of the boy from memory, his passing driving a wedge between my plans and reality. As I sat down I saw Francisco’s sister stand up, and the sight of her made me think of something she would never know.
     Early that morning, Lisbet woke me with the sun, while her daughter slept upstairs, and led me outside.  Birds had just started singing in the jungle as the sun chased night into the shadows. On the ground lay Francisco’s crash helmet and leathers.  Lisbet asked if I could wash the blood from inside the helmet so her daughter would not see it.  It sounds like a simple task.  Wearing only shorts, my feet scrapping the rough limestone soil, I turned on the spigot and watched Francisco’s blood color the water as it flowed over my feet, memories of the tanned, shirtless boy with sun-bleached hair running along the street and calling ‘basura’ to me as I carried home some reef fish I had shot.  Each time I reached into the helmet and touched his blood, I watched another bit of him enter the stream and wash over my feet, flow so gently into the limestone, and vanish without his laughter, without a shake of his hand, just gone as jungle birds filled the air with song, another day in Yucatan.  
      So like his blood did my dreams of opening a cafĂ© disappear. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sunglasses


Cultural Sunglasses

It was another day in the home improvement center. Half of the people I asked if I could help them said no because they were embarrassed they could not speak English.
I met Tan in the Hardwood flooring aisle.  He was with two other short Cambodians, and each smiled a lot and seemed to be always tugging at their shirt front, a habit fat people often developed so their clothes didn’t become tucked into belly creases. One of Tan’s friends pushed a cart, and they spoke a lot and buzzed around the cart, hurrying here and there. 
Tan asked for me by name, and said the manager sent him over.  Right away he started telling me about a tile project he was undertaking, and handed me a sheet of paper with all his measurements on it.  Like all my Latino customers, he expected me to calculate how much tile he would need.  Tan and his friends shared such enthusiasm for the work that I too got caught up in the excitement. 
I would tell him something, and he would translate to Cambodian and the three men would discuss it, each shooting back some quick words as the shuffled around the cart in plastic sandals, looking at this and that tile.
As I went through my calculations I began forming an idea of what I thought Tan’s house must look like, and what the tile job would look like.  All total I guess I spent over an hour helping them, pulling down another pallet of tile with the forklift, and then having the communal discussion about what type of thinset he should use for the job.  At times I felt I was back in Cambodia dealing with village elders, and not in a busy Home Improvement Center in the U.S.A.
Finally he had two carts loaded with the supplies I helped him with, and he turned and shook my hand.  From his notes he took a photo of his house to show me.
“Your tile make my house very good,” he said.
I looked at the photo and was shocked.  I had imagined a California bungalow, something I knew, a house I felt a bond with, a house from my culture, like so many I had worked on during my contractor days.  But the house he showed me was a direct transplant from Cambodia, with multiple little pagoda towers, totally foreign to anything I knew.
After Tan left, I continued to think about our interaction, thinking about how different we were, each coming from countries so different and strange to the other, meeting in a home improvement center in the U.S.A.  But no matter where we met, each retained our culture, a pair of sunglasses through which we see the world and measure everything by, calculate right and wrong, even our idea of what a house should look like, what is eaten in that house, the relationship between the man and woman there.  Then I realized that Tan carried all that with him because he had been raised in Cambodia.  But his children who are born here would have a different pair of sunglasses, a different culture.  Before I started my closing chores, I wondered how difficult that must be as a parent, to see your own children with foreign values, foreign likes and language.