“Hey Dean. Whatcha up to?”
I take a sip, “espresso.” I put the cup, with the almost black liquid, down on the table, get up from the couch to undo the lock. Oliver pushes off the shark, parked in front of the gate, banging the fender with both hands, “solid.” He walks in and sits down on the couch.
“I’m going to have another. Yuh want one?”
“Much obliged”, he drawls.
I make two, and bobble them with two glasses of water, back to the porch.
“Here yuh go.”
I pick up a packet from the coffee table and toss it to him as I turn and sit, “poison.”
There’s a small one on the couch that I used on a previous occasion. I pick it up, brush it off, and then lick the coffee residue from it. I inspect it, rub it a bit with my thumb, and hand it to him.
He drink, “ahh. That is goo-ood. Whatcha gonna do, today, writin’ yer book?”
“Uh, I don’t know.” I show him ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’. “I’m working on reading, this.”
“Huh. You want tuh go for a walk around.”
I take a drink of water, and slip on the Birkies. We walk out.
We wind in a northerly direction. It’s a heavily overcast grey. Occasionally, I feel the sensation of water on my skin, but I can’t see it. Calle 2, runs parallel to a river. The back yards of the buildings on the east side of the street are on the embankment. We come to the entrance of a large park.
I man stands behind a cart next to the entrance.
“You want some ice?”
“Is it good?”
“Flavoured ice? It’s a Montalba specialty. You should try it.” He looks at the man, “¿dos por favour?”
The man hands me the first one.
Oliver turns to me, “you gonna like it.”
The man starts building the second. Oliver watches and then says, “mucho… poco mas, por favor. Gracias, perfecto, gracias.”
I sniff at mine. Oliver gets his ice cone. “I love this stuff.”
I take a bite, ice, with the whiff of chemically sweet berry flavour. “Pretty tasteless.”
“You know, I didn’t really understand the milk powder, or what ever it is, but it really makes it. I don’t know why.”
“I can’t taste anything like that.”
“That’s what I’m saying, he doesn’t have any… specific taste. It’s an overall… experience. You have to try it somewhere where they make it right.”
We walk along the path, inside the gate. I walk towards a garbage can, intent of jettisoning the remaining three-quarters of my ice and chemicals.
“Yer not dumping that ice, are you?”
“I’m not going to eat anymore.”
“Here, I’ll take it.”
I hand it to him.
I’m happy it’s not wasted.
I can see one person walking away from us at an intersecting path. I haven’t seen anybody else. The tall willowy deciduous trees blow a little in the wind. It’s a damp, neutral breeze; it neither warms nor cools.
I spark up a joint, take a solid drag, and hand it to Oliver. He revs it up a bit then takes a long, even heave. Relaxed, he holds the smoke in, and hands it back to me. I take a couple of hauls.
Oliver lets the smoke go slowly. “That’s not bad. That’s not from town?”
“Puerto Antigua, didn’t I tell you the story? Carlos?”
“Puerto Antigua is a bit of a hike.”
“It’s a mixed blessing. It’s good to get out, every so often, random chance, you know.”
“Uh…. Perhaps some elaboration would further clarify.”
I snort a lost chuckle. “Well, it is a long supply line.” He nods. “But anything you get here, must come via that route, right?” He keeps nodding. “So it ain’t gettin’ any better, the further it comes along the pipe, eh?”
“I get it Dean. I got it two minutes ago.”
“So I get the better stuff cheaper, but still, it wouldn’t be worth it, the gas, the grime, blah, blah, blah, even though I’ll get an ounce or two. But, it increases my exposure to random chance, a little shake up. If I can get into the right head space, I can just go with the flow, and find out all sorts of cool stuff I wouldn’t otherwise get exposed to. O’course, it can be shitty, too.”
Involuntarily, I think about the radiator on the car. I should get that thing flushed. I fear it’s just the tip of the iceberg; that fucking car! Anyways, I’ll just get it flushed and see what it does. It won’t hurt, and it won’t cost too much.
“Is there a point in there, somewhere?
“Are you still tracking this?”
“I got nailed by a copper, roaring out of Siquirres, forty over the posted limit, still in town, double solid, passing around a blind corner. I saw him holding the radar gun, and he smiled at me. I thought I was going to lose the car, and spend a little time in tico jail.”
“You definitely didn’t tell me this one.”
“It was last week, before the weekend.. I think.”
He nods. “Around then.” I nod.
“I thought I told you this one.
The cop is smiling. He tells me it’ll be fine on the east coast; ‘it’s a good idea to go there’. ‘Isn’t it beautiful in Costa Rica?’ ‘Where do you come from?’
Just about everyone asks me about home in Canada, and then talks about visiting one day, including this cop. He’s so friendly… It started to a little bit creepy.”
“So, whah happin’!?”
It started raining, and buddies, or something, of the cop, kept stopping, and calling him over. He would go and talk for ten minutes, then come back. I’m not all that good at starting the ‘how much?’ discussion.”
He nods, “’the how much? discussion’.”
I snort out a laugh. “I’m afraid I’m gonna get hauled down for bribery of a cop to boot; you must definitely get butt-fucked in jail, if you go there for that. Even in Costa Rica. I’d end up killing someone, then it’s game-over.”
I finish the last bit of the joint. I’m stoned. It doesn’t happen very often. I wonder what has lead to this unusually strong effect?
“How come yer still driving it? What did you get?”
“It looked grim, dude. I would have been happy to share what cash I had with me, I just didn’t know how to do it.
Eventually, it was pouring rain, outside, and I was sweating buckets inside. I roll up the window, because it’s pouring into the car, but the windows immediately fog up, and it makes me really claustrophobic.”
“Then he’s at the window! He’s looking slightly irritated while I slowly comes down, as fast as I can do it. I wondered, ‘is now the time he’s going to turn?’ But he was still really friendly, almost jovial. But he keeps on asking me detailed questions about where I live in Canada, and taking notes of it. But it’s like, ‘what am I gonna do?’”
“From now on, I’ll say I sold my house to come here. That’ll work.” I nod to myself.
“He goes again. He’s gone for, ten minutes; the windows down, I’d forgotten to wind it back up. Water is pouring in. Even with the window open, there is a thick fog on the window. I can’t see out of the front window, at all.
Then he appears again. He’s brought me all my stuff. He tells me to go. ‘Have a good time in the sun’, soaking wet, he waves me off, hurrying me on my way.”
“Bum-bum, bum-bum, bum-bum, a little bit of awright! Zounze! Gawday-yam!”
“I was fucking dumb-founded, of course. I had long since assumed that the car would be impounded. I was hoping to avoid going into jail. I’d written off the car, and I kinda liked the thought of being free of it.”
“I was sure it would blow my credit card; that’s why I was worried about jail, no money to pay the fine.”
“You got that right, mister!”
“Well that grass is most definitely the best weed that I have smoked in this country. Did you say, coke?”
“I’m no expert, but it’s strong.”
“Didn’t we have this conversation? I never got any, but I think it’s like, ten bucks, U.S., and you get, like, I think its two grams. I don’t know, something like that. I think I heard someone say it was two grams.”
I laugh at him; he’s grinning broadly, eyes gleaming, laughing also, now.
“Ee-haw. Halleluiah! I’m coming with you on your next trip out there. You’re gonna let me know, right?”
“Jah, man.” I shake his hand. “Jah, man. Strange and funky things happen to me when I stay there. I told you about the lady who ran the hotel, didn’t I?”
“Tell me again.”
“Well… there was the woman. She owned the hotel,” I shake my head slightly, “and I was there.” I nod slightly.
“I don’t think you did tell me that one.”
“She was cool. I got such a fixation to get into her. That’s when I had the cocaine, and discovered that it was perfect if you needed to get stone-cold sober after about twelve hours of non-stop drinking, eating smoking, and cavorting. The problem was, that after twelve or so hours of drinking, smoking, eating, and cavorting, I was rather contented with my outlook on life, especially as I was on final approach to exorcising my fixation. I would only voluntarily abandon that much successful effort towards improving my outlook, in a life-or-death situation. It was awful!”
“Well, if you ever have the problem, of having it, and needing to get rid of it, keep me in mind.”
We both chuckle. “You’re my go-to point man, dude.”
“Dude, I am stoned! It doesn’t happen all that often, these days. I like it!”
“We should go to the movie tonight; have you ever gone?”
“Yeah, I’ve been there.” I’d try to go to any of them that didn’t look like a complete waste of time.
“Have you ever gone Montalba-style?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s go tonight.”
“Yeah, okay. What’s on?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. You can bring the ice, or the soda.”
“I’ll bring the ice.”
“Okay, bring a bottle of guaro, and a bucket of ice. Bring some cups, if you want.”
During the time I’ve been yammering on, the path bent off to the left, and eventually ejecting us onto the street, walking southward, past the entrance to the park, and down the street. We enter the central square by the northwest corner.
“I’m goin’ into this ropas Americans. You?”
“I’m going down. I’ll meet you ten minutes, no make it five, five minutes before the start of the show, at the theatre.”
“I’ll be there.”
In the store, the startlingly beautiful woman at the cash, she must be in her twenty’s, takes all of my attention. I walk around, as if I am looking for something. <<¿Do you ever go to the movie theatre?>>
<<Sometimes. Not much.>>
<<It’s such a luxury.>>
<<A theatre outside of San José, and around there, must be…>>. I sought the right word for ‘rare’, “raro?”. Her eyebrows raised and she smiled. “No mucho.”
“Si, si, no mucho”, she agrees with me.
<<I love your store. It’s my favourite store in town.>>
“I don’t see you that much.”
“You speak English?”
I laugh, <<I’m happy to try in Spanish.>>
<<You speak Spanish very well.>>
I laugh some more, “no mucho.” I look right into her brown eyes, and smile, “gracias, mi amor. No quiero comprar mas, a hora.” I stare, dumbfounded at her, I don’t want to let go the sight of those eyes. She looks down, I take a deep breath, and blow it out slowly. I wave, <<I’ll see you the next time, soon.>> “Pura vida.”
I leave the store. A thin rain is falling.
* * *
I’m rolling a joint. I’m running a little late. I haven’t got the ice, yet. I’ll have to find it somewhere. I have the guaro by the door. I think it’s about ten minutes to seven, but it could be later. I fit the filter into the joint, grab two big plastic cups, and hurry out, grabbing the bottle as I go.
Outside, it’s a steady drizzle. I trot up and along, behind the hotel, to a little shop, just like a convenience store.
“No.” He shakes his head.
“Donde?” Where is it?
“El almecenar lico; perro, la tienda se cierra ahora.” He looks at his watch. “Si, se cierra ahora.” He points to his watch with his index finger.
I decide to go straight to the movie theatre; I can live without ice.
The clock behind the girl in the ticket booth shows 6:52. I buy the ticket. <<¿Do you know where I could get some ice?>>
She points behind her, <<next door>>.
I walk out and in the next door. It’s a big restaurant and bar. I don’t recall being in here, before. The maître d’ comes up to me, eyebrows raised in question.
I expect a ‘no’. <<¿Is it possible to get some ice?>>
He makes a fast and slight, but definitive downward jerk of his head, and walks off. He returns moments later with a bucket full of ice. <<¿Do you need the bucket, too?>>
<<It’s no problem. Bring it back when you are done with it. ¿You are watching the movie?>>
“Si. Gracias.” That is very friendly.
He smiles, heartily. I can see a bit of laughter in his eyes. He turns to attend to some restaurant business. I feel lucky after this seemingly random chance of niceness. I begin to laugh, involuntarily.
It’s a freaky trip; I’m happy to be on it.
I walk back in to the theatre. The drizzle has lightened to a settling mist. The clock shows 6:58. I walk through thick maroon curtain into the auditorium. There are nine people; a couple, and two clusters of young women.
I select a seat. Then I remember the joint. I was going to share, but it looks like I could smoke it and return without missing the start. I take a seat, and deposit the ice and the guaro, in a paper bag, under a seat. I walk out, checking with the ticket taker as I go, <<I’m waiting for a friend. I want to see if he’s waiting for me out front.>>
I walk out, no Oliver. The mist settles on me, and evaporates.
I walk towards the tracks, and spark it up, as I go. I lean against the wall of the now closed café, smoking in the darkness. I start back northward. As I reach the street, I toss the spent roach down a sewer grate.
I enter the theatre. I feel the THC hitting my system. I go to the toilet for a pre-emptive drain, then through the thick, plush, dark maroon curtains. As if on cue, the lights dim. I notice four more clusters of young women, and a few more couples.
Oliver is where I left the ice and guaro. I sit down, next to him.
He leans over to me, and says in a soft chuckle, “just you and I and all of these teen-age girls.” I smell the guaro. I can see a cluster of four, licking and swallowing on ice cream cones.
“Do yuh know what movie it is?”
“Uh… no, I didn’t notice. Here, take this.”
I take the over-sized cup. It’s full. The vapour from the booze makes my eyes water. He holds the other cup up, and knocks it against mine, “cheers. Drink up.”
It’s guaro with ice, and a wedge of lime. “I like it.”
“You need a refill. That’s what your bottle of guaro is for. The soda is here.” He puts his hand down on the two-litre bottle between our seats, “in case you want some.”
The movie is about an executive at a large tobacco company. He’s in charge of research and development; the main objective of the research is to make the product more addictive, while dodging government regulations. He knows the real statistics; he leaks the information. The company finds out, then life-threatening accidents keep happening to him. It gets better as it goes on. He cooperates with government agents, blowing the whistle on the corporation.
I’m hammered. There’s an inch of guaro left in the bottle. I move, getting up and walking, determined to stay upright, to the pissoir as the credits begin.
Very relieved, I emerge into the lobby. Oliver is speaking with a group of ticas. I join them. Oliver is sober enough to get the ticas to say they’ll meet us at the disco at 11:30.
We walk next door. I return the pail to the bar. We walk up the street to the park. A fine mist wafts down; when a breeze rises, it blows the dampness away.
We turn at corners. I spark a smoke. I steer us away from the two Guardia Civil, as much as possible, while not making it obvious.
“Relax Dean, the Guardia Civils are judiciously keeping an eye on a party of suspicious-looking teen-aged girl-women.”
I laugh smoke out, and cough. “Such dedication to the job.” I shake my head, laughing and coughing still.
Small packs of young men, or adolescent boys, roams. The packs dance with the defensive clusters of young women, looking for any openings to strike up conversation. The park is full of people of all ages. It’s difficult navigating a course to keep a distance from everybody. A middle-aged woman, wrinkles her nose and gives me a scornful look.
We sit down on a bench.
“What did you think of it?”
“Yeah. I liked it.” His Southern drawl is a bit more noticeable. “You?”
“I read on the internet, about these two American girls found shot in the head outside Cahuita. The article mentioned something about the cocaine trade. I think it’s a real tragedy that these girls got shot. It’s fucked up. But, these companies have thousands of people working to find ways to make their junk more addictive, and an army of lawyers to fuck with the legal system; they can keep wringing profit out of the dumb-fucks who get hooked by their state of the art advertising. I’d rather hang out with the coke dealer than the corporate exec, at least the coke merchant is… human. The cigarette trade is guilty of crimes against humanity that make the, uh, noteworthy cases over the last century, seem… less… severe.”
“You’re awfully serious for a guy who drunk a litre of guaro and smoked an ounce of that stuff.” He laughs.
“Aw, well.” I grunt and get up. I start towards the western frontier of the park. Oliver catches up to me mid-way across the street. We walk down an outside corridor; or is it a covered laneway? It smells. Vibrations shake the air. I push open the door at the end of the corridor. The sonic shock and flashing light hits me like a tidal wave. I accelerate, to settle the wobble, on into the karaoke bar.
Focusing is challenging. I bounce off bodies, trying to maintain as straight a course, as possible. Cuba Libres, and young women. I’d better try to get my song in as soon as possible, or I won’t make it. I walk towards the stage, straight for the microphone to ask for my song. I notice a large table to the left of the stage with only a couple sitting there. I can go there and wait for the first opportunity…
I sit opposite them, and then turn away from them to face the stage.
The guy with the microphone sings, ‘Tonites the night’. It’s bad. I look over and see Oliver. He spots me, and herds the women in my direction.
There’s a large fireplace near the table. I feel the heat. A thin black pussy appears from out of nowhere, and plays with me for a while. She’s really friendly. I’m thinking about taking her home. The ladies hoot and holler at bad singers. The room is spinning around me.
I sing, ‘The Letter’. I’m grateful to get it all out of me. I leave the stage and keep walking to the door, and exit into the alley. At the street, I turn towards home.
“We should go and meet the ticas from the movie”, I hear from behind me, and off to my right.
There’s a whistling. Three women in the line at the disco are waving. They are halfway along in the line up to get in. Oliver talks. I can’t follow what he’s saying. He steps smoothly into the line, with them. The woman closest to me, lifts her hand for me to take. I stare at it. She takes my hand and pulls me into the line. Her hand is warm, and slightly damp. The line moves and I’m pulled past the doorman, and into the lounge. We cluster in a corner. I bounce off bodies. Drinks come and we dance.
Someone grabs my arm from below. It’s Scott. He’s sitting at a table with a blond woman. I sit down and he introduces me. I can’t really hear anything that’s being said. She gets up and walks off. I follow her with my eyes. “Nice.”
“I say, she’s nice looking.”
“Yeah, not bad.”
She returns and I excuse myself. I walk out, onto the street, and head towards home. I walk past the disco where the girls from the movie said they’d meet Oliver and I. It’s way past 11:30, but there’s no line-up to get in. The clock on the wall of the bank shows three o’clock. I reckon I could manage a quick look around, just on the off chance…
I move along the well-lit white-wash corridor, to a staircase leading up. On the first level up, a hired lackey stands in the middle of the one-person-wide cork-screw staircase. He says something. This is getting too boring for me. A woman’s voice, from above, calls out, and the man moves aside.
I go up, through the door, and emerge into the flashing lights and loud music. But it is sedate here, all the same. That’s good. I walk through. I see a guy with his face buried in the cleavage of a woman who is wearing a red satin ball gown. It makes me smile, the gusto of diving in like that, irreverent of any passing judgement. I pass by. “Hey! What took you?” It’s a drooled Texan drawl.
I turn. Oliver is red-faced, languidly smiling, face turned, hovering over the cleavage. I move closer. She stands, as if to display all her glory, dragging Oliver also, to strangely steady legs.
She looks, ahhh, <<you look like a vodka and soda woman>>.
<<¿How did you know?>>
I get two beers and a vodka and soda, with a lime. “Eso.”
She looks at me from the edge of the dance floor, arm outstretched to take. The action prompts Oliver to emerge from his happy spot. As oxygen entered his brain, he recognizes me, “uh?”
I hand him the beer. She’s nasty. I can see why he’s attracted to it. She takes a sip from her drink and says something about the weather.
Oliver proposed a toast to the beautiful, dry weather, and knocks his beer against mine, and against the glass of the woman. He holds on to her, steadying himself. “Turriaqua”, he drinks down some beer.
<<I present you to Suzanna.>> He shakes his head back and forth. The manner of it says to me, ‘I’m gonna get fucked, for sure… (as long as I can stay awake.)’ We sit down with another woman. She looks plain and bored, but she makes an attempt to strike up a conversation. I can hardly talk, even if I felt like it. I look at her, not understanding a word, nodding and shaking my head randomly.
Oliver leans over, and says, “I got tah show you something.”
He gets up, without a word to the women, and walks towards to the door. This is my chance. I smile at the women, and follow. I move through the bead curtains into the hallway. He’s up to the next level. I take a breath, hoping for a second wind, and start up the steps, one at a time. I catch up to him at a locked door.
“Oh well”, he says. He starts heading down the stairs. I follow. We pass the floor with the bar. He keeps going down. We pass the bouncer, and walk out on to the street.
“What about Suzanna? I thought you were gonna get some of that.”
“I got some of it. That’s enough, for now.”
It’s pouring rain. We start walking. I can’t figure out if he’s still leading me somewhere to show me something. This isn’t the way home. Oh, were at another disco. There’s a bit of a hassle getting in. I’m not tracking the details too well, Oliver pushes past the guy, and I follow him in, listing slightly, I lean against the wall as we walk along next to it. I lurch to the right and grab onto the back of a chair and sit down. Oliver puts a damp cold thing in my hand. I’m familiar with such a thing, but can’t quite figure it out. Involuntarily, my arm brings it up to my mouth. Beer pours down my face, onto my shirt and pants. I look up, surprised. Oliver is gone. I look around the dance floor, but it confuses my eyes, and I start to feel nausea. I close my eyes; it’s easy to do, but it’s really hard opening them. They keep closing. I hear it all going on, fading; I can’t open them. Someone is pulling me up determinedly, by my hand. My eyes open. It’s a girl; it’s a woman. I look her in the eyes, pleadingly, as I grab her, and cling to keep upright. She doesn’t flinch. She guides me out, and tentatively uncouples from me. She begins to dance. I bob slightly, and swing my body very slowly, raising my hands as the momentum urges them up, ever so slightly. Aw, she’s cute, but I won’t be able to stay awake much longer for anything.
I make a concerted effort to look up at her face. I’d really like to see you longer.
I lurch, involuntarily, missing my left leg, somewhere. I find it before going down, but allow the momentum of it to launch me towards the door.
Outside, again, I like the feeling of the rain, now. It helps me stay awake. I’ve never felt it so nice and soft on me. I stagger south, over the hump of the rail tracks, into San Rafael. It seems an impossibly slow trek, like a dream. Am I awake, still? This should be less than five minutes; how could it take this long? The rain pours down. I look up. It’s like having a bucket poured on me. I’m soaking wet. It weighs me down. I struggle to look up, and see where I am.
I’m home! Ahh, it’s so nice to be home. I lean against the bars, trying to find a key to open the porch gate. I see the couch, and the door from the porch into the house is open, as usual. I’m through! I use the momentum to carry me into the house. I hear the gate slam shut behind me.
I’m shaky. I lean forward against the wall in the toilet and drain a bit. I take my pants down as I piss, as far as I can. I turn on the tap, and drink water, until I can’t drink anymore. I struggle out of the pants on the way into the bedroom, and drag my shirt off, over my head. I move along the wall in the bedroom, until I get close enough to the bed to fall onto it.
My head is spinning, and I feel sick. But the buzzing in my ears is fading into greater darkness.
What is that noise?
I hear knocking, knocking on the door. I get up from the bed; it’s so hard! Why? My left arm is asleep. I sway down the hallway. I can hear the rain falling. I feel sick. The coolness of the floor feels nice. I look back. My feet leave fading film along the polished floor. The doorbell sounds. I open the front door. Tanya is standing at the gate. She smiles a full, genuine happy smile; I’m home. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen her, in Zarcero.
She kisses me through the gate. I lean into it, as I unlatch the gate. She comes through and hugs and kisses me. She squeezes up to me. I take her by the hand, and lead her in. I kick the door closed behind me. The light of day hurt my eyes. I squeeze her against me; the door snaps lightly closed.
I peel off the jeans and t-shirt. I’m hot. Tanya takes her clothes off. She is so happy to see me.
I take her by the hand, leading down the hall. As I pass by the bedroom, she stalls, and tugs at my hand. “Tanya, come with me. I’m gonna make some coffee.”
She looks up and smiles, “okay, I’ll be there in a minute.”
In the kitchen, I take the soda water from the fridge; a flood of glacial run-off across the desert of my throat; it feels so good. I take the espresso maker apart, clean it, load it, and put it on the stove burner, turned as low as I can get it, so that it remains burning. I have to piss. The door to the toilet is closed. “Tan?” I try the door. It’s locked. “How long you gonna be?”
No answer. I listen closely. I can hear the shower running. I walk back to the back porch and piss into a bucket, pour it down the concrete laundry sink, and turn the tap on. I step into the kitchen. I flip the lid of the espresso-maker up, to take a look and see how it’s doing. It falls down. It’s not going yet, anyways. I look in the fridge. Nothing looks appealing at the moment. I take the cream and a loaf of bread. I cut the stale end, and slice two edible pieces. I put them in the toaster.
Tanya enters the kitchen with a towel wrapped around her. I splash water onto my face from the kitchen tap. She’s smiling at me. “I missed you.”
I hear my espresso blow; I grab it and pour it as fast as I can into a cup. I put some cream in it. I sip it gingerly, looking at Tanya. “Tanya. It so good to see you. I’m so happy.”
She kisses me hard and her towel falls away. I down the coffee over her shoulder, as she leads me.
* * *
I surface to consciousness again. Tanya lies next to me, smiling in her sleep. I get up and walk out to the front room. The cool of the clean stone floor feels so nice on the soles of my feet.
I feel good.
The phone rings. “Hello. Bueno?”
“Dean. Dean, that’s you?”
“Yeah, man. How’s it goin’?”
“Are you going on the trip?”
“We talked about it. Tomorrow.”
“Oh yeah, the river.”
“With Loco Lee, for Julia? I’m just confirming you. This is going to be a really good trip. Lee mentioned you to me this morning; I told him I already told you about it.”
“D’yuh got an extra spot?”
“We can do that.”
“Okay, Tanya will come, too.”
“Tanya from Zarcero.”
“She’s down… for… for now. I’m pretty sure she’ll be here for tomorrow. So, we’re confirmed.”
“Alright. This is going to be a good one.”
“Of course. You gonna pick us up, here?”
“Yeah, me, or somebody, about eight-thirty, nine. Okay?”
“We’ll be ready at eight-thirty. But if you can, …”
“I’ll try to call you at eight.”
“See yuh later.”
“Pura vida.” I hang up the phone.
I write a note for Tanya, with a map on it. I walk up to the coffee shop, the only other place to get espresso in town. The sun is shining brightly, though it’s well on the way down. I like the smell, like late spring time when the musky smell of the spring dampness dries away. I’m imagining the cutest girl who works at the coffee shop, is making time with me. I take the coffee to one of two tables outside.
I write about Zarcero. The sun is bright on the page, it reminds me of writing on the church bench in Zarcero. I remember the haze, bugs flying in the golden sun beam, and that same late spring smell.
The sun slides further down.
I need another, “¿poco minus leche, okay?” I hold my thumb and index finger out, making them close together, to reinforce that I want only a little, tiny bit, of milk. She nods.
I write and return to Zarcero, and the beautiful school woman-girl in her cluster, ‘establishing some kind of an orbit”, I write. I see a coffee on my table. How long has it been there? It’s still hot. Still too much milk, but not bad. I write. I pick up the glass, for another sip, but it’s long gone; I realize I’ve done the same thing three or four times already. I can’t drink any more coffee.
“Hiya baby.” It is spoken with a low sonorous tone, with an exaggerated Texan accent.
“You’re such a sweetheart. D’yuh want coffee?” I stand up and hug her. Her hair is wet. It’s raining. I hadn’t noticed it, my notebook is dry.
“Mmmm. Yum. Yes please.”
“What flavour do you want?”
“I think I’ll have a cappuccino, please.” She looks me up and down.
“Do you think ‘desirourously’ is a good word?”
“’Desirourously’, d-e-s-i-r-o-u-r-o-u-s-l-y, is a word? Like, ‘you are looking at me desirourously, likely wanting to have sex with me at the earliest opportunity’”.
“It’s a good word.” She kisses me.
“I’ll use it, then.”
I get her a coffee, and bring it to her.
I sit facing west, across from her. The sun is shining in my eyes. Is it raining? It is. The sun shines from an oblique angle, just over the tops of the mountains. Soon it will drop below. I feel good. I’ve just made some progress on the writing.
Oh no! There’s love in those eyes. I lean over and kiss her on the forehead. “You’re such a sweetheart.” She takes my hand.
“Yuh wanna go down a river in a raft?”
She giggles, “oh yeah.” She’s shaking her head up and down, “Yeah, let’s do that.” She giggles.
“Let’s go tomorrow?”
She laughs aloud. She laughs and laughs. “It’s gonna be so much fun.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”
The girl from the café comes out, and says, “hola.”
<<Hola, the cappuccino was excellent. Thank you so much. You have such a lovely smile.>>
The girl looks at her with surprise. Then they speak at a velocity that I can’t follow, at all.
“Mucho gusto, gracias.” The girl smiles at me, and goes back inside.
“She’s a nice girl. She says that you’re here most days. I think she has a crush on you.”
“She is the nicest one here.”
“How nice is that?” She leans over and wraps her arms around my neck, looking into my eyes.
“It’s nice going places where they’re nice.”
“She wants you.” She kisses me. “But she can’t have you, right now.”
The sun falls below the ridge, high up. I can see her more easily, now. “It’s so nice to see you happy.”
“Good.” I look at her. “Are yuh hungry?”
“Yeah.” She nods solemnly, like a child.
“There’s a great pollo asado place. It’s my favourite food in town.”
* * *
“Eh, “ I elbow her, gently, and raise my eyebrows, looking at her, to further accent the ‘eh’, “wasn’t it like I said?” We walk out from Gustavo’s place, towards the centro, along the main street
She rolls her eyes, giggling.
I look up.
It’s Inger, and gang. Inger hugs me and I introduce Tanya to her and Brian, Scott, and Adrian.
Inger and Tanya speak in Spanish. Inger looks up and laughs, agreeing with something she said.
“Okay, so you guys are coming with us”, Inger says to me. Tanya nods slightly, almost imperceptibly, looking at me.
We go to a restaurant along the covered alley off the west side of the park, then to the karaoke bar. It’s already crowded. Before my beer is done, I take Tanya when no one is looking, and lead her by the hand, outside and on to the street.
“That’s enough of that.” It’s Adrian, behind us. I’m busted doing my disappearing routine.
Tanya holds my hand tightly; hers is a little sweaty. “Adrian that is exactly the wording that came into my mind a nanosecond before you said it. Freaky. So, whatcha gonna do, mang?”
“I got a book on the go.”
“Which one are you doing?”
“On the Road.”
“No shit? It’s one of my favourites. Is it your first time?”
I look at Tanya, before Adrian replies, “have you read that one, Tan?”
Adrian says, “yep, it is.”
“I read it in university. I didn’t really get it. The plot is kind of hard to follow.”
“Hmm,” it doesn’t really have a plot, “yeah. Where are you, in the book?”
“I’m in Mexico City.”
Hmm, getting towards the end. “What do you think of it, so far?”
We’re walking into the park. I’m so much happier being out of the disco
“I like it.”
“What do yuh like about it?”
“I like the style of the writing. It rolls. I’m there in it. I’m having a good time.”
I nod at him, absently.
I reach over to him with my right hand, and shake his hand as he holds it out. “Excellent, dude. This stuff you say, I feel the same way; I like it for those reasons, too. I read it shortly after I read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ almost non-stop. It was the first time I ever read a book like that, non-stop. Then I read ‘On the Road’, in the same way, only eating, coffee, shitting, sleeping, and surfing Bondi an hour a day. I read it in two days.”
“What’s a Bond-eye?”
“That’s a beach, like, it’s a neighbourhood, in Sydney, Oz. They call them suburbs, there, but they would call Kits a suburb in Sydney; like the beaches are in Toronto.”
“Did you like it there?”
“Yeah, I really liked it.”
“’Kits’-silano, is a neighbourhood in Vancouver. There’s a beach there, too. One summer, for six months, I lived there. It’s great there; at least, it was great living there, at that time, I don’t know about now. A few years later I lived in Bondi, in Sydney, and it was the best time in my life, at that time.”
“You lived in Kits?”
“Yeah, I thought I told you about it. I was working in Capilano, sometimes.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember. I was fucked that night.”
“Yes you were, Homes.” I turn to Tanya, “there was a party at my place, last week.”
“There was a party at your place?”
“Yeah, Inger came by, with… her crew,” Adrian makes a face, “including Adrian, and woke me up. More people started showing up.” I turn my eyes to Adrian, “yeah, you were fucked up. I’d just about forgotten about it. You ate my emergency food. That’s okay, from the perspective of now, but don’t do it again.” I say it, mostly in jest, but it was a little sharp, because there is quite a bit of truth in it. I shake his hand again to make sure he knows it’s alright, and lighten it up as best I can, after the fact.
I let go Tanya’s hand and take hold of a large green leaf hanging out into the broad pathway.
“It’s definitely bedtime,” I say to Tanya, then turn back to Adrian, “okay Homes, see yuh later. Pura vida. Let’s talk about ‘On the Road’, more, later.”
“See yuh, dude, and uh, good night Tanya.”
* * *
I hear the whistle of the vigilante, riding his bike down the street. It’s always down. I wonder where he rides back up again? Tanya sleeps softly in the moonlight. I can see the beam of it shining through the window to where it makes a silver-white patch on the floor.
It’s cool. The blanket is off of me. I get up as lightly as I can, and walk to the kitchen. I take a drink of water. It goes down smoothly, as if my body absorbs it from the glass; none of it even reaches my stomach. I pour another glass from the kitchen sink and take it out to the front room. I put down the glass, and pull on a pair of shorts, from wear they lie on the floor. The clock shows 3:03. I take the glass to the porch. I lean against the bars. I can see my breath. It’s nice. It was hot last night. I look back at the couch; at the far end is a square table, next to it, an armchair. On the table, in the middle of a stack of books, is ‘On The Road’.
I won’t be sleeping soon. It’s been a while since I looked at it. During the drive down, I thought of it often. I knew I had it stuffed away somewhere.
They were seeing, and experiencing new freedoms of exploration and lifestyle. With a car, you could drive to Mexico City. At a personal level, horizons were expanding! It feels so different to me now, in this new millennium. I can still feel the control. It seems strange that you can go so far, to different cultures, some with so little affluence, yet the control system is still here, menacing freedom. One has to ease between the cracks of it, and let go of it. But why did they get it so good? All of the rights, but none of the responsibilities! They always come together, one-to-one; so if they got the rights, but not the responsibilities, someone else had to take care of the responsibilities, without getting the rights?
The sky is lightening. I need to sleep. I go in. The clock shows 6:24. I stagger down the hall and back to bed, as stealthily as I can.
* * *
The phone is ringing! Tanya is next to me! The ring again! I slide out from under the sheet, at a dignity-challenging abruptness, and walk out. “Hola.”
“Hey Dean, are yuh up?”
The clock shows 7:59. “I’m talking to yuh, either awake or from in a dream, ugh! I hope I’m awake.”
“Good. Hey, Dean. We’re gonna be over there in about five minutes. Can yuh be ready?”
I hear Tanya get up and go into the toilet.
“Mostly… Probably. We will move as fast as possible. I gotta have a coffee, right?”
“Yeah. Get one at Julia’s.”
I can hear someone addressing him in Spanish on the other side. I must have a good coffee; I can’t bear any risk to that. I’ll have to make one between getting my shit ready, right. “Jah, man.”
“Okay, I’ll see you in five-tuh-ten.”
Hearing the ‘…ten’, is music to my ears; I smile and hang up with twice as much times as I reckon I need; no problem getting the coffee ready, now.
She’s in the shower. I walk around getting the gear for the day, and stuffing it into my dry bag.
I walk into the kitchen and drop the bag to work the coffee gear. The smell of the coffee reminds me of marijuana, and another ‘must-do’ chore before I’ll be ready to go. I take a chunk of the compacted grass from the small brick of it on the top shelf, and break it up as the coffee blows in the espresso maker.
I have the cup sitting in boiling water, I can hardly hold it. I dry it and use the towel to hold the espresso maker to pour it into the cup. I put some bread over the grill, clean and reload the espresso maker, in one continuous motion. I put enough sugar in the coffee to give the liquid a satin texture. The first few drops on my tongue seem to immediately and directly touch my brain. Saliva gushes in my mouth. I put the hot cup to my lips, immediately pouring it in.
My taste buds explode! I can feel the chemicals from it entering my bloodstream directly, by the many blood vessels under my tongue. Like a rollercoaster ride, oh yeah!
I take a breath. I hear her emerge as I exhale.
“Hi Tanya. Do you want coffee, sugar?”.” I give her a quick kiss, and smile at her. I dry the hot cup, as the maker blows a second time; I pour it quickly. “Sugar, sugar?”
I mix it and hand it to her. “Here’s some toast.” I put the toast on the plate and place it by her, on the table. “There you go.” She’s looking in the fridge. She comes out with butter and some an unopened jar of marmalade. She hands it to me. I open it, and hand it back.
I make another coffee, and finish rolling the two joints. I have a little left, so I make another small one. I pour a measure of brandy into the coffee. I take it, the tiny stick, and a piece of toast to the back porch, and light the diminutive joint.
The doorbell rings. I forgot, Phil! I put the joint down, and walk with the coffee to the front. “I’m coming”. I see Phil in front, smoking at the gate. “Hey, dude.” I hand him the coffee as he comes in.
He drinks it down. “Good.” He hands the cup to me. “How long?”
“Good. Just come across, to Julia’s.”
I make another coffee and take it to the back porch. The joint smoulders on the concrete laundry sink. I fire it up. I take some deep into my lungs. I breath it back.
I set the joint down, and grab the brandy from the kitchen. I pour it into my coffee and take a few sips. I take some smoke. I hold it.
I breathe it out. All is good. Tanya comes back into the kitchen. “Ah, baby. Thanks for the toast.”
“You made it.”
“But you dressed it. Thanks.”
I suck in some more smoke, finishing the joint. I butt it out on the concrete laundry basic, holding the smoke. I blow it out and finish the coffee, in a gulp, walking in. I kiss her. “I got to get everything together. Are you ready?”
“Uh huh. Can I do anything?”
“Where’s your stuff?”
She points down the hallway to a small bag on the floor.
“Yer beautiful.” I pause, visualizing all the shit I have to get ready, organizing it in my mind for the fastest possible pattern, and sign lightly at the realization that it is almost certainly more than five minutes worth.
She kisses me, “go.”
* * *
We walk over to Julia’s. There are three trucks, one of them Phil’s. No one is outside.
“Let’ go.” He comes barrelling out of the Julia’s. “I gotta pick up something at the house.” He yells to JuanJo, “hey-hey, let’s go.”
At Phil’s place, he goes in, JuanJo following. I can hear a woman’s voice yelling. I look over at Tanya and cringe a bit. She’s listening intently.
A couple minutes later, Phil strides out, followed by JuanJo. Accompanying them is Phil’s wife. She is instructing JuanJo. She shakes her index finger at him; JuanJo looks at her sheepishly.
Phil stashes some equipment into the back of the truck.
I’m glad to be driving away. Phil’s mood picks up.
We go right, at the highway. We’re only on it for a moment, before he takes a hard left, into the neighbourhood on other side. We make several turns before stopping in front of a large house with a large, walled yard. There are three other trucks parked along the narrow, treeless street. I don’t know this part of town.
“This is Lee’s place.” Tanya and I share the passenger seat. JuanJo sits, splayed across the back seats, on top of rafting gear.
I see Julia in a truck with ‘Aventuras Tropicales’ marked on the side.
I point over to the truck, “Aventuras Tropicales is the only outfitter taking kayakers in groups, not just down the Reventazón and the Pacuare, but all over Costa Rica. That tall guy there, he’s Ray. He runs Aventuras Tropicales.”
Ray strides over, with his long gait, and has a word with Julia.
Lee comes out of his house. Phil goes and talks with him. He calls JuanJo over to him, and talks to him, pointing towards Lee’s house. JuanJo goes in, then comes out with a box, which he puts in the back seat of Phil’s truck.
After fifteen minutes of loading, we leave in a convoy.
At the put in, I take stuff from Phil’s truck, to the bank. Julia walks by. She comes over and greets me. She’s beautiful still, and in motion, like poetry. Tanya joins us. I introduce them.
I have déjà vue! Have I already introduced the two of them? They’re in conversation. I can’t follow it, it’s too fast and too low. They both glance over, smiling.
A woman, man and girl come over to Julia. She introduces her sister and her family. I can’t absorb their names; I can’t stop thinking about… getting with Julia. I feel a bit at odds; I’m here with Tanya. But I can’t stop thinking about it, with Julia. Why is it so strong?
I smile at her, and excuse myself. I continue loading the raft, from the stuff remaining in Phil’s truck. It clears my head a bit.
Tanya touches me on the back; it feels nice. I pause and look at her; she’s such a sweetheart. I kiss her on the cheek, and continue outfitting the raft.
Lee hurries around, talking everybody up; he pays particular attention to Julia, and her two boys. Phil mentioned that Lee was paying for the whole thing. Ray and his partner join in the fawning over Julia.
“Hey Phil,” I call him over. “Why is that drunk, Bicicleta here?!?”
“He’s Julia’s husband; didn’t you know that?”
I thought he was just a drunk, who hung out at Julia’s bar. “Uh, he’s her husband. Oh! What else should I get?”
“Just make sure you got your shit together, and we should be going in about five. Hey-hey!”
JuanJo looks over. Phil points to Ray’s truck, “Azul, azul.”
JuanJo shakes his head, showing his enlightenment, and moves towards Ray’s truck.
Phil moves off.
Ray continues to fawn over Julia; he looks like a cartoon, gesturing in a strange, animated way. I lock the air seal on the raft. JuanJo helps me with the rigging; together, we move it to the river bank; it’s ready. I load and secure cargo.
Phil corals people into boats. Tanya and I get in.
“Let’s go Brian.” Brian pushes his boat onto the river. Phil soaks his head, shakes off the excess, “ahh, it’s gonna be a good day.” He puts his helmet on, and he pushes us off, and jumps in. He pauses a moment, as he lights up a cigarette. “The river will be fine. But traffic could be a problem. I want to get in front of it. It looks good.”We paddle for five minutes, then practice some drills for about two minutes, before continuing down the river. The valley is broad here. We pass a point where I can see into another valley. The green scenery fades to cigarette blue in the distance. Phil points out a toucan. A morpho butterfly, flies between Tanya and I, takes evasive action around Bicicleta, and goes straight back, flying inches over Phil’s head, “there’s a morpho, right here! Do you see it?” He’s looking at me; I nod once. I turn back to look at Tanya. She’s looking at me, giggling. She grabs my arm with a hand off her paddle, and squeezes it lightly.
We hit a rapids and a wall of water crashes over me. As I can see, I’m amazed to find that I was the only one who got touched by it! “I’m awake, now.”
We come to the shore just past where a powerful water fall crashes into join the river. Phil jumps out, I follow quickly; we pull the boat securely on to the bank. I’ve been to this place before; oh yeah. Tanya’s going to like it. I take her by the hand, leading her towards the forest.
As we walk past Phil, I say, “I’m gonna take her.”
“We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
The falls cascade down in falls of 3 to 7 metres, into stable basins, that in turn pour out a fall, down to the next basin. I’ve climbed up, but never got to the top. Each successive pool is unique and beautiful. The water is just barely on the cool side of tepid. I take off my wet suit and shorts, then dive into a deep spot of a large pool. We climb up fall after fall, lingering in one of the pools. Water hangs dense in the air. It’s odd to not be able to determine where the sun is in the sky. I hear Phil yelling. I go to the edge and look over. I can see him three pools down. “Dean.”
He sees me, “let’s go.”
I stand up, and yell, “okay. We’re coming now.”
He smirks, and shakes his head slightly.
It’s trickier going down, it takes longer. I can’t find my shorts where I left them, but my shirt is there; I put it on. We continue down to where I left the wetsuit. She looks at me, and I laugh aloud, because I have an excuse to walk around nude. She starts laughing. I put it on, and we join the group, loading into the boats.
Bicicleta hands me the bottle, I drink back a big slurp, finishing it. For a moment, I feel bad for having drained his supply. “Finito”, I say, trying to project apology.
He shakes his head vigorously, “no problemo.” He takes another floater bottle from a spot he must have stowed it in, before I came to the boat. He hands it to me, “Red Label.”
“Let’s go.” It’s Phil. I jam the bottle under the seat, and help to push off. I get in and drain some of the whiskey, to my satisfaction. I hand it back to him, “gracias, hombre.”
We pushed off from the rocks, and paddle for fifteen minutes. On the other side of the river, along a flat sandy beach hedged by dense rainforest, we pull ashore.
I walk into the forest, away from the crowd. It’s so calm in here. I light up. The smell of the smoke is amplified a hundred times in the damp air. I smoke. I can see everybody, out there. Phil and Brian set up the infrastructure. Lee and Dave, Ray’s partner, take the food out and set it up on an over-turned raft. I can see Tanya talking to Julia, and looking around for something. Julia points in my direction, and Tanya enters the forest. She joins me. I feel secure cradled in the green. She lies against me, my back along green moss on a tree in a perfect leaning back position. The ground is dry, and comfortable.
Tanya goes back out. I hesitate leaving this sanctuary. It’s so exposed out there.
I see Bicicleta, alone, a short distance from the rest of the group, hovering around the food on the over-turned boat. He fumbles for a moment with a zip, before drawing forth a mini-bar-sized bottle of Red Label. He opens it and pours it into his mouth in one continuous motion. Drained, he inspects the bottle, holding it in front of him. He takes a quick glance back at the group, then throws the empty bottle in a high arc, over my head. The fucker! I relight my fizzled joint, and wander back. I find the bottle. I place the roach in a small zip-lock bag that I brought for this purpose. I join everyone on the beach.
I sit down on a log. Why am I here? I like it here, but why? I look down. There’s another empty bottle in front of me. I pick it up, and place the two in the garbage bag.
“Hey!” It’s Phil. “Come here.” I start over to him. “Where’d you go?”
“Just hanging in the forest.”
“Let me know, okay?”
“Okay. Hey, you should know this, how do you find sheep in the rainforest in Costa Rica?”
“There are no sheep here, they’re up in the mountains; what was the name of that town you were in, Zarcero? It’s in the mountains, isn’t it?”
“That’s true, but that’s another questions. How do you find sheep in the rainforest?”
“I don’t know.”
“I doubt that.” I chuckle, “very satisfying.” I laugh. His brow furrows, then he grunts out a laugh.
He opens the hot box and takes out two burritos, and hands them to me.
“Thanks, man. Bananas?”
He points to the driftwood picnic table.
Tanya touches my shoulder. I kiss her with my mouth still mostly full of banana; I smile as I do it. I swallow the banana and lay a wet, long lick across her cheek to her mouth, laughing as I go. She kisses me back, the way she did on the forest, half an hour ago. She’s got joy in her eyes; she breathes out a heavy, happy sigh.
It’s raining again. The second half of the river starts with more shimmying over low water parts. An hour and a bit after we’re going again, I can see the river is rising. “Is it coming up?”
“Yup. The last thirty-six hours has changed the river. A lot of the lines are different, and it’s still pretty low.” Something catches his eye. I turn around.
“Whoa”, he calls to Brian. JuanJo looks up. He guides us to the bank then gets out. He moves along the shore, down river, looking at something. He calls Brian and JuanJo. Phil points; I can see him talking to them, but I can’t hear it.
Back on the river, he explains that the traditional path down the upcoming rapids would lead to trouble. He’s got a new way that would not have been considered two days ago.
There is a raft upside down! We pass the crew at intervals along the banks.
Phil pulls us over at the first spot. He takes two throw-ropes and several paddles, and moves back upriver along the shore. Brian follows him.
JuanJo is up the river. I can see him above the rapids. He directs boats to the shore. I see another safety kayak go to him. He paddles up river.
Two safety kayaks come down the river and go to Phil, just above the turned boat.
The raft is spinning around; there are three paddlers still in it, but no paddles.
Phil has a committee around himself. They all nod, and move off.
Two throw-ropes, one from each bank, land in the boat. It stops spinning, but it shutters and shakes violently, tossing the three around. They hold on.
A safety kayak carries a guy to the raft with several paddles. The safety kayaker is Oliver. He paddles like a wind mill in a gale, eyes fixed forward without doubt.
Another guy is transported to the raft. The two new guys are instructing the three left on board. One of them holds the ropes to each shore. The other four paddle in concert. The raft shutters in the discordant white currents. They move down the river, towed and paddling, against a powerful back current. Now they’re thrown forward. The guide in the front lets go the tow ropes and paddles. They pull down to our landing.
Phil and Brian return as the crew of the raft filter down and are ferried across the river.
We continue on our two boat expedition.
We enter the gorge.
“I’m going down for a bit.” Phil nods at me as I take my lifejacket and helmet off.
I’m under, going down into the colder darkness. I love it down here, free to move in three dimensions. I breach for some air.
“Dean, let’s go.”
I dive down across the thirty feet to the raft. I breach at the front edge of the raft with my arms up; I grab the top, and heave myself up and into the raft, in one motion. I take egotistical satisfaction that I get from these manoeuvres; ahh, it feels good!
Everything is anti-climactic after the raft rescue, and mundane after the dive into the chasm. I paddle, a bit laboriously, to the take out.
* * *
Back at the casa, we take a hot shower, for a long time, then dine at the pollo asado place. I go into the booze store and buy cold beer, and take it back into the dining room to have with dinner. Gustavo is cool to it.
There is a wistful, light drizzle, as we walk back to the casa. It mutes the world so. It reminds me of something… snow, mild temperatures for it, say, minus one, that damping effect, like a dream.
We lay. I sink below the surface then swim down. I’m breathing into the blackness…
* * *
The light hooks my consciousness, yanking me up. I get out of bed. It’s bright and clear outside. A light breeze cools me on the porch. I make espresso.
I sit on the porch reading ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’.
Tanya joins me. I make espresso. We lounge. She speaks to neighbours as they wander by.
Tanya has to teach in the afternoon. We eat. We drive to San José, and continue north.
“Hey, do you want to go to the ‘supermercado’?
I pull off to the best little strip of highway in Costa Rica, connecting CA1, where it passes the airport, to Alajuela. Tanya gets silly with the extreme selection of otherwise, difficultly obtained luxury items. Despite the absurdity of it, I revel in the cold of the air-conditioning.
We’re back on the CA1 for a few minutes, before I take the familiar turn off at Naranjo.
I chug up the long hill and bend right, entering Zarcero. It’s strange being here, but no longer living here. I’m not reconciled to the fact that I can’t just drive up the hill to my sanctuary in Palmira.
I drop Tanya at the school. She’s given me the directions to her place, and the key to get in. I say I’ll meet her at the tourist office at 4:30.
I go to Restaurant Willy and order pollo arrozo.
I go and see Tom, at the tourist office, but he’s so down and disillusioned about everything, after a few minutes, I remember that I have to go to the pharmacist. I pick up some supplies and stash them in the car.
I walk north from the centro, and west from the highway, across the soccer field, and through an ancient-looking stone arch, into the residential neighbourhood behind it. It’s like a whole new town, bounded by an almost vertical stone face, to the west. I lived in the town for months, and never came here. There is so much action, here. There are neighbourhood stores and a few other services, people in the street, kids playing. There’s so much life, here.
I return to the car and fetch my notebook. I take my spot on the bench on the steps of the church. It’s beautiful and clear here now. The temperature and breeze balance. This is just as I had envisioned it when I decided to come and live in Costa Rica; this is exactly what I’d had in mind; this is why I came here.
Tanya finds me, still writing.
We talk until the vermillion light announces the beginning of dusk. I drive north as slowly as possible, along the highway. About a hundred metres past the main commercial strip in Zarcero, she points, “that’s it!”
It’s on the corner of a street leading down a steady slope into flat terrain, to the soccer field that I walked through earlier. We turn down the street, and I park the car on the right. Tanya’s apartment faces west. We walk around a porch to where the door is, towards the north end. I can’t hear the highway, except when a large truck uses air brakes, slowing into town.
A collie puppy comes wiggling over to me. She calls him in a high voice. The puppy goes to her immediately, and rolls over. She pets him up and down. His entire body wiggles, and he barks out in happiness.
We go in; the puppy cries and barks in pain of abandonment. She looks up into my eyes, “I want a baby.”
“Tanya.” I tone it trying to say, ‘it ain’t gonna happen, sorry’, “you’re such a sweetheart.”
We push the two single cots together. I hold her. She falls asleep. I go to the porch, and lie in the hammock. The puppy comes over, then lies down and goes to sleep. I look out, down the valley. The rock face descends to the ridge steeply just south of west. I can see the bay. It’s cool. The wind blows from the west.
* * *
Tanya is in my arms. The sun is shining in, through the window in a narrow shaft. We go into town and have breakfast. She has a busy day.
I walk up and over the sharp rock promontory, to the west of downtown, and down to the bull ring, on the far side. I write.
Silver shines through the western clouds. Wind blows up the mountain side, in gusts. I got quite a few pages done!
I walk back and meet Tanya at the Tourist office. We buy a steak and spinach for dinner and a good Argentinean red at the booze store. She cooks the steak on the brick, wood-fired stove on the porch. The three of us fall asleep in the hammock. I wake Tanya around midnight; it’s clear and cool, now. I get her up, and set her off, towards the door. Then I gently take the puppy from the hammock, and lay him gently on the floor.
* * *
I get up early and make coffee. I’m sad to go, but I can’t stay.
I arrive in Montalba in the early afternoon. There is a note on the floor of the porch. It’s hand-written in a fine, flowing script, ‘Dean, I’ll come by in the early evening. Javier’. I wonder what day it was written?
* * *
Darkness settles in San Rafael. Javier is in a fine, positive mood. He raps on in Kerouacesque rhyme and rhythm. He absently strums and picks the Seagull.
“It’s great to see you, man.” I grab his shoulder, and look him in the eyes, “I’m glad you’re here, man. I’m really happy to make your acquaintance.”
“Hombre, mucho gusto. Igualmente. Igualmente!”
We clasp wrists.
All of a sudden, I feel the pit at the bottom of my stomach, I realize my neglect, “I’ve got to eat. You want to go and get something?”
“I forgot to tell you, there’s a party at Inger.” He plays a diddy on the guitar. You’re up for that?”
“Inger’s eh? Food?”
“Oh yeah. It’ll be good.”
“Let’s go, then.”
I take half an ounce from the chunk of grass. From the shelf I take a fresh bottle of red, and an open bottle of Mescal. We load a bucket on the bong and smoke it out, then head out, stopping at a bar just off the highway, at an entrance to Inger’s barrio. We get a dozen beers, and walk down the street to Inger’s house.
We walk around the back. Inger spots us as we enter the back garden, greeting us with hugs and kisses. “For me?” She takes the booze minus two of the beers. “I’ll take care of this. Who wants wine”, she asks no one, in particular, grinning broadly?
“I’m glad you’re here.” She carries the stuff off to the kitchen, and returns shortly.
“Dean’s hungry, Inger.”
“I know.” She gives me a sly look.
I grunt acknowledgement, smiling back, coyly. “Here,” she takes my hand and leads me towards a table off to one side of the patio. “Here’s a bean salad and some nachos, salsa, enjoy.” She takes a nacho and scoops a heap of salsa on it then places it in my mouth.
“Thanks. Mmmm”, I munch.
Around a potbelly stove, on the patio, sits Adrian, Scott, and “Angelika!”
“Dean. Feeding at the trough?”
“I got tah eat.”
I shake hands with Scott, “how’s it goin’?”
“Bueno.” I turn to Adrian. He scowls.
“Dumb ass, have you been spanking the monkey in Old Man Anderson’s shed, again? Heh, heh…heh, heh, heh.”
I break out in full laughter.
“You guys are fucked.”
I look at Angelika.
Adrian says, “she said ‘fucked’.”
“Yeah, yeah, I think I’m gonna score.”
“Not you, dumb ass. Come to Butthead, baby.”
Inger’s shaking her head.
“I brought beer. You?”
“He said ‘beer’. Beer’s cool.”
“It’s in…uh… Inger?”
“I put it in the tub, in ice, in the kitchen.”
I’ve finished mine. I glance at Javier as I go to the kitchen; he’s just begun his. I stare at Angelika, and raise my brows. “No thanks, I’m onto vodka and lime with soda.”
<<Angel of desire.>> Some guy I’ve not met, walks in singing.
“Alesandro…” She speaks too fast for me to follow. They embrace. Javier is up, shaking Alesandro’s hand, <<Hey, it’s great to see you.>>
<<¿Where is Andrew?>>
<<He is surfing, on the Nicoya. But this is our friend, Dean.>>
I nod, shaking his hand.
<<I’m pleased to meet you.>>
“Mucho gusto, hombre.”
He spots Angelika.
<<Angels>>, he embraces her where she sits, kissing her on both cheeks. Then he greets Scott and Adrian, with equal sincerity.
Mario, dark and swarthy, in his late fifties with a mostly black Stalinesque moustache, walks in carrying a platter of steaks.
Alesandro calls out, “Mario!”
He stops, waves him off, and mumbles something I can’t hear, looking at Inger.
<<Over there>>, she gestures to a table along the wall.
She walks over to him, and kisses him.
“Mario”, Alesandro joins them at the table, and engages Mario in a jocular banter.
I get two beers and give one to Adrian. Mario comes by on his way out.
He pauses and holds out his hand. <<How’s it going?>> I shake his hand.
“Todo bien”, he nods.
Javier says, <<Mario, it’s great to see you. You look strong. ¿Is Inger keeping you busy?>>
For the first time, his mouth curves towards smile. He’s nodding, even more. <<I go too crazy. Women!>>
I duly chuckle with Javier. Mario grunts out a few barking laughs. He takes a box of cigarettes from his breast pocket and fires one up, inhaling the smoke deeply, then blowing it out slowly.
<<That is the way it is.>> He says glaring from under his brow, barely a suggestion of a smile on the mouth; but his eyes cast a small sparkle.
Javier hugs him. <<It’s good to see you well, my friend.>>
<<¿Mario, where did you get the steaks?>>
<<The butcher is one of my best friends; he is my cousin.>>
He nods and shows gold teeth, smiling broadly for the first time.
<<¿And the dentist must be another cousin, getting you a good price for gold?>>
He likes that one. We laugh.
Mario goes, still muttering, in an amused tone.
Inger calls, “adios, papa”.
He waves over his shoulder.
<<Okay, I’m going to put the meat on.>> She goes into the house and comes out with the platter.
I see Alesandro still without drink. “¿Qué bebes?”
“¿Vino?” I nod at him.
“Inge, is that, uh…”
“It’s right on the table.” She nods her head towards the large round white table, as she comes back out onto the patio.
I open it with my army knife. “Vino.” I hand it to him.
He drinks from the bottle, pouring it back slowly, for fifteen seconds, then hands it to me. <<And you, also.>>
“Salud.” I pour some back, then hold out the bottle, for him to have more.
He hugs me. “Salud.” Then he takes the bottle.
The steaks sizzle on the grill. Everybody is in conversation, creating a buzz. It’s mild, nicely warm. Javier shows the guitar to Alesandro, strumming several chords, very precisely. <<Listen.>> He strums another chord, and looks at Alesandro, eyebrows slightly raised, <<it’s made in Canada. ¿It sounds good, doesn’t it?.>> Alesandro holds out his arms, as a child does, for candy, of some shiny thing. He takes it and immediately reefs back on the strings at the neck, and pounds the strings over the body, playing hard and wailing soulfully in a Gypsy style.
All the attention is now focused on him. His story demands to be heard.
Inger brings me several large, sturdy glasses. I fill them with wine and put one next to Alesandro.
<<…Now comes the wine, isn’t it so fine, I am thankful for it,>> “adelante, adelante…”
He stops abruptly, “gracias, Dean.” He picks up the wine, tastes it, and then downs it all, in one go. <<This guitar has a good soul.>> He tunes it, momentarily, then beats it again.
Javier begins tapping the jembe, and singing, backing Alesandro up.
Alesandro tells a story about freedom, without any anchor of possessions, wandering carefree. He finishes with a slam across the strings, then holds them to stop the sound completely!
“No es mucho malo.”
He laughs, looking admiringly down upon the guitar. <<¡She is a beauty!>>
Inger is clapping. She’s practically crying. She looks happy. She hugs and kisses him, telling him how good it is.
The food is ready and plentiful. I try to eat as slowly as I can.
Javier strums, absently, occasionally speaking a phrase. Inger begins an ever so soft accompany on the jembe. Javier works a rift, and begins a story. He wraps it up with a closing flourish.
I begin preparing a joint; but Alesandro most insistently volunteers. He uses enough grass for three and rolls it in doubled paper. He wets the seam and lights it in a smooth continuous motion.
He blows out the smoke. “¡Que bueno!” It goes around, to the left.
<<¿Where did you get that guitara?>> He’s looking at Javier. Javier nods towards me.
<<I got it in Toronto. I think it’s made in Quebec.>>
<<They speak French there.>>
“Si. Más o menos.”
<<¿Is that where Toronto is?>>
<<No, Toronto is in the next province west of Quebec, Ontario. The first language is supposed to be English.>>
<<¿What other languages?>>
<<In Toronto, everything. Most of them, anyways.>>
He looks at me a little incredulously, <<that sounds pretty cool.>>
<<There are some cool things. I can get any kind of food, from any place! It is cool, for sure.>> “Para seguro”, I repeat. <<And… of course, women from everywhere, too. Cuisine from around the world.>> I nod at him.
He nods at me. “¿Pero?” But?
<<There is some stuff I don’t care, so much.>>
<<¿Like what, for example?>>
<<It’s a real working city. I like that, more or less. But people are too into it, and righteous about it. It’s uptight, and some basic stuff seems messed up. Lot’s of people seem to live to work. I have a difficult time communicating with a person like that, in any language.>>
He nods. <<I don’t like the cities too much. It’s your guitara, so you can play. Here,>> he hands me Javier’s guitar, <<¿What can you play?>>
<<I can’t play anything.>>
<<That’s impossible. ¿What are you going to play? I know, just play it. Go.>>
I play the opening chords to Blind Melon, ‘Mouth full of cavities’ the way FR showed me; it starts with ‘E’ then e-minor, chord. Then the same finger pattern of the e-minor, another fret down, then the same as a regular ‘C’ but on the third fret. Holding that pattern, back to the second, and then a natural ‘C’. “Bueno”, he nods, “muy bueno”. He plucks and scrapes the guitar, singing out with freedom, about… the spirit of the worker, and… addressing ‘misfortune’ of the peoples’… conditions. He raises his chin, looking at me, as he picks up the pace. My fingertips are burning. A flourish, and, it’s over!
Inger is so happy! She hugs and kisses me, and then the same for Alesandro. Javier takes my hand, “beautiful, man.”
Everything is glowing. It starts to rain. We move under several large umbrellas at the edge of the balcony. I place Javier’s guitar well under the balcony, then stand in the middle of the patio, in the pouring rain. The drops hit my forehead, my head, shoulders, and chest. It pours down. Inger comes out; she’s trying to get me dancing with her. Her face is red. She smiles. Barefoot she dances.
She breaks, from me, and spins around, then dances over to the balcony, she tries to pull Alesandro out, but he dismisses her, pouring wine into a large heavy glass. He drinks half of it down, and picks up the guitar.
Javier and Inger join and dance in the rain; Alesandro wails on.
It’s pouring down. I’m soaking wet. I look around. I see Angelika gathering her stuff, and speaking with Adrian.
I go in and look for a plastic bag to put my guitar in. Alesandro wails on. I can’t find a plastic bag, and I don’t want to alarm anyone with my leaving. I can see by the light in the courtyard, an absence of drops coming down; it’s stopped raining.
I look up at Angelika, “goin’?”
She nods at me.
“I’m gonna go too. Wait for me?”
I want to leave the Seagull. I really want to. But I also want to keep her. Fear has the better of me; I’m afraid to lose her. I’m embarrassed with myself.
I’m ready to leave. He wants to keep it. But when he sees my mind is made up, he very graciously hands it to me, and thanks me. Javier gives me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and hands me a plastic bag. Inger hugs me. I feel and smell her, intensely, pressing against me.
In the corner of my eye, I can see Angelika, wanting to get out.
We walk down to the highway in silence. She’s breathing easier. “You’re glad to get out of there.”
She shakes her head once slowly, in acknowledgement.
Then she says, “you know, whenever I’m around it, it reminds me of working there. It’s chaos, and even simple stuff is hard because of that”, she tilts her head back, the way we’d come.
“You gotta take the bad with good.” I grunt, smiling broadly at the paradox of Inger.
“What’s the good?” There’s mild incredulity in her tone.
“It looks like her kharma, works for her.”
“That’s exactly it, it works for her.” She heavily emphasizes ‘her’.
I nod, “yeah, yeah, I guess I can see that. But working any good kharma, good, no?”
She shakes her head once, but she’s mellow now. “What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know. Go along with you?”
“I’m going swimming in the pool.” She looks at me; is that a question.
“I’ll come with you.”
We go to the community pool. She says, “look at, the rain has taken out the back of it, into the river. The pool deck is intact, but all of the soil at the back is eroded away. It’s raining again. “You get in around the back.”
We walk around the back, carefully, holding the chain link fence, as we go. It’s slippery. I’m one-handing it, holding the neck of the Seagull, wrapped in the plastic bag, with one hand. I reach the breach, I follow, and in.