Word Count: 1603
Genre: Drama, young adult (ish)
Warnings: Uh, underage drinking?
Summary: We go on vacation to escape, to burn away our troubles in the hot summer sun. Sometimes, though, our demons follow us.
Author's Notes: This one is semi-autobiographical... my first foray into that genre, really. Definitely fiction, but inspired by my own experiences, shall we say?
I see her again in Mexico. Foreign countries have a strange way of bringing people together and pulling them apart that never ceases to amaze me. My parents met this way, two native Philadelphians from radically different social circles whose paths crossed easily in the community of displaced American artists in Paris. So when I see her standing in front of a fluid ink drawing at the Museo Diego Rivera in Guanajuato, I am not altogether surprised.
I am sketching, and for a long time I don’t notice her, so perfect is my concentration. But I fumble, in a typical display of clumsiness, and my stick of charcoal rolls down the page, smearing my careful, precise marks. I exhale in frustration and look up, my eyes scanning the room, and there she is. I recognize her immediately. She is longer than I remember her and a bit sadder. She has grown several inches, and her formerly bushy, tarnished gold hair is tamed into neat, chestnut-colored curls. But it is her unmistakably.
I freeze, unsure of whether to ignore her or alert her to my presence. The memories begin to trickle back, and we are ten years old again, writing secrets in a spiral-bound notebook, giggling uncontrollably. We grin as we make up names about our classmates. Cheeseball Paul, Pat the Fat, Dim Jim. We revel in cruelty, hardly seeing the harm. The world around us is dull, and we shine like bright stars. There is no such thing as consequences. Now we are eleven, and we pass notes under the heavy, black table in the science room, delighted to be breaking the rules. I can’t remember the last time I broke a rule in school.
Inevitably, I call her name.
“Becca!” I say, a bit too loudly for the silent halls of the museum. She turns, startled, and regards me with wide eyes. She registers my presence but looks at me blankly. I count the passing seconds in my head—one, two, three. And then her face breaks into a smile. Recognition dawns, and she laughs. I simply stare at her, feeling the weight of my open notebook on my lap.
“Oh my God, Tanya! What are you doing here?” I’ve forgotten her voice, or it has changed, because it comes as a total surprise to me. It is confident and smooth, louder than necessary.
“I, uh… I’m just on vacation. And how about you?” I say, and I can almost see the words marching heavily across the room.
“Yeah, vacation. I’m with a tour group. My parents sent me. My God, I haven’t seen you in ages! How long has it been? Four years?”
“Five,” I correct.
“Wow, that’s just… too long. Will you be in town for awhile?”
“I’m leaving on Sunday.”
“And I leave Monday. We should do something. Catch up. Tonight? Are you free tonight?” Her words rush at me, and I am swept away in the floodtides of her rapid speech, just as when we were ten years old.
"Sure," I find myself saying.
She takes me to a tiny, cramped little bar on the second floor above a twenty-four hour convenience store. The walls of the bar are swathed in the neon-colored forms of stalks of corn blowing the wind, bucking broncos, and rifle-toting revolutionaries. My eardrums vibrate with guitar riffs and thumping drumbeats. A man with red dreadlocks sits, cigarette in hand, beneath a sign that reads, “Fumar es causa de cancer.”
We sit at a table that is tucked away, hidden between a graffiti-covered partition and an open window. Becca leans close, trying to make herself heard over the thundering music. It is pointless, though. I still have to read her lips to discern what she is saying. I catch syllables, occasionally whole phrases. But she was never the sort of person who needed words to be understood. She communicates with her hands, gesturing forcefully, and the glint of her brown eyes.
I manage to make out that she has asked me if I want anything to drink. I am silent, thinking. Before I can respond, she signals to a skinny guy in a fedora, and he sets down something cold, lime-colored, and smelling of tequila.
“What is this?” I ask, pointlessly.
“La Paloma, their specialty.” Becca grins, wickedly.
I grip the glass, my fingers leaving holes in the condensation. I remember reading an article about a stampede of underage drinkers at a bar in Mexico City, and wonder if they will still charge me if I don’t drink it. I glance over at Becca and see that her glass is already nearly empty. She has always been a little reckless, even when we were ten, but now the stakes are higher. I inspect her face, searching for some sign that she realizes this.
“I love this bar,” she shouts across the table. “It’s so… I don’t know, Mexican.”
I nod. Will they serve me a soda, if I order one?
She has been making eyes at the man with the red dreadlocks, and he comes over to our table. We learn that his name is, very appropriately, Rojo, and that he is a DJ. He asks us if we want to dance with him, and, of course, she agrees. I follow. It’s all part of experiencing the culture, after all.
There aren’t too many people dancing, but once we are on the dance floor a few more couples join us and soon everyone is dancing; everyone is shouting and writhing and spilling drinks on the wooden floorboards. All the tables are empty, except for one, where a man and a woman are locked in intense conversation and chain-smoking. I want to draw them, but my sketchbook wouldn’t fit in my evening bag and, anyhow, this is hardly the moment.
By this time a small crowd has gathered around us, mainly because Becca’s cheeks are red and she is laughing as she dances. Rojo is talking, not really dancing, telling us and anyone who will listen about his poetry, which he can’t get published. He says that no one reads in Guanajuato, even though it is a university town. I ask him whether he prefers writing poetry or deejaying. He laughs and says that they are the same thing. Becca seems to think that this is a brilliant insight, because she nods fervently and closes her eyes, digesting the thought. I think it’s clever, but blatantly untrue.
Soon my limbs are heavy with exhaustion, but she doesn’t get tired for a long time. After a couple of hours we stop dancing and go to sit with Rojo and some of his friends. There is a tall guy in a suit named Fernando, his friend Alejandro, and Alejandro’s girlfriend, whose name no one mentions. We talk about all the other bars in Guanajuato, bars I’ve never been to. Becca doesn’t speak much Spanish, so sometimes she breaks out into English. Somehow, even with the language barrier, she dominates the conversation. My fluent Spanish seems useless, suddenly.
It is late, about three in the morning, when we stumble down the narrow staircase and out into the street below. Becca is exhilarated, trembling with the adrenaline that hasn’t quite left her body yet. My hair is wild, and there are runs in my stockings. I have a blister on my right foot, as usual. It has always been this way with us. At nine we rode the Cyclone at Coney Island together. Becca came off beaming. I was sick three times and had to leave early.
We share a cab back to our respective hotels. I get dropped off first, because my hotel is in town, and she is staying at one of those spa-slash-hotels just outside the city. Before I get out, we exchange phone numbers scribbled on dirty napkins. She begs me to call her.
“You must!” she demands. “I’m just a subway ride away, there’s no reason not to stay in touch.”
“Of course I will,” I promise, and hug her. She kisses me on the cheek, and her face feels damp. Maybe she is crying, or just sweaty from dancing.
“I’m horrible at goodbyes,” she says. It sounds like an apology.
“That’s okay.” I give her one last smile and climb out of the cab. I trip on the way into the hotel, thinking of her maybe-tears and wondering if she will miss me, or just the memories.
My whole body is exhausted, and I scramble into bed as quickly as I can. My parents are already asleep in the next room. Tonight I am too tired to turn on the TV, but I stare at the ceiling without falling asleep. The hotel is silent, except for the dogs barking on the adjacent rooftop, but my head is filled with noise. Memories flit back and forth like lightning bugs on a hot summer’s night. For a few brief, tantalizing moments that night our paths crossed again and everything seemed glittering and bright. Now the gulf between us seems wider than ever. I wish I could have read her thoughts, seen into her head. I shiver and pull the blankets up, and sometime before dawn I fall asleep.
The next morning I punch her number into my phone from the airport, but just as I am about to press “dial” my flight begins to board. When I get home, I realize I have lost the napkin. I wait for days for her to call, but with each passing day the memories recede. I feel that somehow she has let me go, like a fisherman tossing his prey, squirming and spluttering, back into the sea. By the time the new semester begins, she is just a phantom in my mind, whispering through my childhood and that one night in Mexico.