Since the sun was setting over the ocean and the sky was a panoramic cumulonimbus orgy of purple and it was the perfect temperature for ice to melt into warm tequila, the man unfolded his towel, watched it catching the breeze like a flag, stretched it across the lounge chair beside the Pacific, claiming his territory for those few majestic minutes when the kids were swimming and his wife was getting ready for dinner. They had been parasailing and snorkeling all afternoon.
“Buenas tardes señor,” said an old woman on horseback.
The broiled shrimp and lobster tails was simmering over the barbecue grills beneath the palapa. This was their first vacation in three years. It was not a good idea. Not in terms of financial feasibility. It was eating their savings, but they needed to get away from the wretchedness back home; their dream house was foreclosed and the rented apartment meant that the children had to share a room. This worked fine at first. The parents never knew what the children were capable of.
“Would you like another drink amigo?” asked the waiter.
He was a fine waiter. He didn’t need to hear the ice clink against the bottom of the glass; it had melted the moment before that final sip.
“Yes please,” the man said. “Gracias amigo.”
The man folded his palm and rubbed the moisture around his fingers. A seagull was making love to a tropical fish. The sky was turning pink and orange. That was the color of their faces when he walked in. The Ouija board friction of their appendages: spiders entangled in sweaty bed sheets, one hiding in the corner underneath the body pillow and the other struggling to wrestle free from the web. The man will never forget the inertia of their movements, more squirming wormlike than anything human.
“Here’s your tequila amigo,” said the waiter.
The man nodded in appreciation for his surroundings, the inviting smile, so different than the vile greed of those who had taken his house, his job, his dream. Did they really need to do that in the middle of the day when their mother might have walked in? How could he tell his wife when she was folding laundry that the sky was falling? He never will.
“Gracias amigo,” the man said.
He wished he could live here forever, speak Spanish, let the lavish buffets and alcohol wash over him, get fat. Six margaritas for breakfast; that’s what he needed: just a pitcher and some grapefruits and fish omelets. He would find a new woman, a younger wife who would make homemade tortillas every morning. He had no problems with the mother of his children–it was the kids that made it impossible for him to look at her in an innocuous light. She had the same expression as her daughter; the dimples and grunts of her son. It was a brutal position for a man to be in.
“Would you like to buy some cigars amigo?” asked a beach vendor dressed in white.
The waves were rising as the sun set lower, almost half-sunken into the horizon, it would only be a minute now.
“Marijuana, cocaine?” asked the vendor.
The man watched a manta ray jump as the heavenly kaleidoscope made love to his face. The man had never done drugs. He imagined now would be a good time to start, but he had a family to control–needed to keep his wits about him–a clear head–to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. They were a broken family; money was not the worst of their problems. The man pulled five hundred pesos from his Hawaiian shirt and the waiter began to dance to the mariachi band welcoming guests to dinner.
“What you want?” asked the vendor.
The man got lost for a moment in the labyrinth of foaming waves, the aroma of lobsters and flame-grilled mesquite chicken. What was he afraid of? Why not buy the cocaine? Stuff one of those cigars with weed like he found in his son’s pocket that time she made him do the laundry. The man looked around to see if the drug cartels were watching. He imagined cooking the powder with some water and baking soda over the kitchen sink in the hotel room, holding the spoon with a florescent lighter underneath as he saw his daughter do that one time when they put her into rehab in Arizona. She got better after that. God knows what would have happened if he didn’t catch her cooking rocks.
“Cigars amigo,” said the man.
Who was he kidding? He was no druggie; just a husband, a father who has seen the intestines and organs of his family. The sun sunk into the sea and the man shuffled over the tobacco.
“You need any matches?” asked the vendor.
The man could hear his children splashing in the infinity pool. They would not be joining their parents for dinner.
“Sí amigo,” said the man. “Por favor.”
The man handed over the money and the vendor called it a day, stripped down to his underpants and jumped into the ocean. The man ripped the packaging and bit the tip of his cigar. He lit it, puffed, and then saw the wife walking toward him, sandals in her fingers. The waiter trailed behind the lady. Even as a silhouette, anybody could tell that she was a lady at that moment.
“Hey baby,” she said. “Ready for dinner?”
The man got half-naked, rushing to unzip his khaki shorts to avoid the waiter offering another drink he could not afford. In his underpants the man ran into the waves as the woman held her fingers over her lips. The waiter turned around and headed to the bar. The man swam the backstroke, trying to pedal into the past, to solve the problems before they drowned him. He was not aware that he was pulled farther from the shore because the beach was darkened, brightened only by Tiki torches around the buffet: an elaborate display of foods and cocktails.
The man was pulled into a glass bottom panga navigated by drunks who noticed him going out to sea.
“No swimming here señor,” said the captain. “Don’t you read the signs? It’s dangerous.”
The man was dropped on the sand as the waiter greeted him at the water’s edge with the towel.
“Would you like another tequila amigo?”
The man apologized to his wife and hugged the waiter.
“Sí amigo,” said the man.
Life slipped away; the paradise gone beneath the surface. Still, the man was alive and filled with euphoria as he excused himself, explaining how a change of underpants was necessary for dinner.
“Just go naked,” said the wife. “You almost killed yourself.”
The man smiled, his cigar was now burning nicely. The woman handed him their room card. He met the waiter at the sandbar and carried his tequila into the lobby toward the elevator. Nobody cared that the man was dripping onto the marble floor; the hairs on his legs were so long they soaked up the sea.
“They can share a room,” his wife had said.
She had no idea. He charged three rooms, told the teenagers to keep it a secret, use one for their suitcases, make it look normal. He knocked on both doors, but nobody answered. Maybe they were still at the pool? He walked down the hall, the ice clinking against the side of his glass. He stuck his card in the slot, but then he realized that all he needed to do was push it open, and he did.
Profile: Matthew Dexter