Once the dust has settled [fiction]

That morning, I’d woken up to find his back to me and a wide no-man’s land of greyish sheets, wrinkled and loose, in between us. I’d listened to the gentle rhythm of his breathing and wanted so much to touch him, yet stayed paralysed to the spot. Shameful fragments of the night before were already crowding in on me, jostling for attention.

To my surprise, once fully awake he’d agreed to come with me to get food. I needed to make things right. Maybe there was a chance. That’s how we had found ourselves in a grimy café a couple of streets back from the beach, ordering pollo frito.

“We shouldn’t have drunk so much last night.” I said ruefully. The use of the word ‘we’ wasn’t entirely fair.

Hardly an astute observation, but I didn’t know what else to say. The air between us was thick with a tense silence. A contrast to last night, when I’d been a runaway train of indiscretions, tossing inner truths about with impunity. I’d spent the night in a beach shack bar, rotating from table to table to finally end the night drawing attention to myself in a sleazy dance, thighs wide, twisting slowly from side to side.

Pascal lit a cigarette and fixed me with his blue eyes.

“Well, you might be too much of a hippy for me, girl.”

I sighed heavily. I was somewhere in that crumbling landscape of not being certain whether I’d ruined everything or not.

We had taken up very nicely two months ago, meeting in a hostel in the surfer town of San Juan del Sur. The good times had come hard and fast, a blur of beaches, waterfalls and run-down bars. But now I felt burnt out and my thoughts were turning to home. Quite where that was to leave our partnership, I didn’t know.

The ceiling fan whirred above us, clicking on every rotation with a mechanical stutter. My forearms had stuck to the Formica table and I had to peel them off, wincing slightly, to turn and face Pascal properly.

Even as I looked at him now, from under the grim miasma of my hangover, I felt a pulse of attraction. He had the lean, taught body of a dancer. Tattoos where the ink had bled. Hair so short that it never changed, morning to night. Clothes sat at ease on his body – nothing about him was too considered or contrived. I admired his total lack of vanity. He was deft in everything. I often felt that I was unravelling in comparison, frayed at the edges and too compulsive in my nature.

Last night’s indiscretions hadn’t stopped with my language.

“I don’t know what you want, Annie.”

Struggling to look him in the eye, I began worrying at a mosquito bite on my thigh, picking with satisfaction at the amber crystals of puss that had formed.

“I don’t know where we’re going.”

“We should probably head to Barranquilla or Santa Marta.” I ventured quietly, ignoring his intended meaning. He didn’t react.

A fug-shroud of shame was consuming me and the more it settled, the more dazzling and out of reach Pascal began to look. My headache had started in earnest; my mouth was dry and my limbs heavy. Mysterious bruises from the night before had appeared on my elbow and knee.

“I feel like I’ve got battery acid leaking into my brain.”

Pascal ignored my comment and casually flicked his cigarette end into the gutter beside us. Looking exasperated he rubbed the palm of his hand back and forth over his scalp. I felt like a child that would soon be tugging at his apron strings. I knew he would split soon.

Briefly I considered the idea of ordering a beer. Getting drunk seemed like the only option to lift us both out of this deep and crushing canyon. If there was any falter between us we could usually cure it with drinking. Something to take the edge off.

I’d noticed a small boy loitering nearby but didn’t give him too much thought until he was close enough to touch Pascal.

“Cocaine. Ten dollars.” he whispered to us, shifting his eyes between the two of us.

I looked at Pascal and shrugged.

“Ten dollars?” I asked.

“Yes.” he said, brown eyes wide.

Were we getting sized up for a rip off? It seemed likely. I wasn’t used to buying drugs, I’d always left that to the men I was with. Like lighting the BBQ, I considered it to be a male job. I wouldn’t have been able to keep my cool. Any dealer would have known instantly that I was an amateur, a mere tourist, plump and juicy with cluelessness.

But the shimmering potential of Colombian cocaine was too alluring to resist. Without it the day yawned ahead, mocking us with its radiant potential. We should have been poised to paint this blank canvas with our many-coloured sunny memories, but we were jaded and our enthusiasm for travelling dulled by overexposure. Truth be known, we were bored.

“I say we go for it. It’s only a fiver each.” I announced boldly.

The boy pointed at Pascal’s sneaker and said “Shoe.”

“You want my shoe?” Pascal asked. The boy nodded. It seemed as though he might want it as some kind of deposit. Diligently Pascal unlaced the sneaker and handed it over. The boy snatched it and darted off at break-neck speed bounding out of the café and leaping the curb like an antelope.

“Putan!” shouted Pascal.

It all happened so suddenly. Pascal had sprung up and was tearing after him. I stayed rooted to the spot. We hadn’t paid our bill and I couldn’t leave our backpacks – our Albatrosses. I watched the chase as it played out, the two figures sprinting with effort, eventually turning a corner so I lost them from view.

I waited patiently at our table for some time, listening to the gentle fizzing and crackling of the cooking going on in the kitchen to the back. With Pascal’s chair abandoned next to me, I suddenly realised that travelling without him might be fraught and lonely. A sense of impending doom began furrowing its way into my gut.

My reverie was broken by Pascal staggering back from his endeavour, still shoeless on one foot.

“Too fast. Must have been a prank, little fucker.”

I smiled weakly at his defeat but felt broken. The abyss of boredom encroached further.

“I’d better give up smoking.”

I patted his chair. “Sit down. Get your breath back. Let’s just forget about it. Shit happens. Did you give him the money?”

“I didn’t get a chance.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes more, watching the passers-by before two plates were slid in front of us, our pale chicken breasts shiny with oil. A couple of menacing flies were circling the food but neither of us made the effort to swat them away. I attempted a few feeble bites, but gave up before long. Pascal pushed his barely eaten food aside and lit another cigarette.

We continued watching the activity of the road. A taxi driver had pulled up on the other side of the street and appeared to be having a row with his fare. The scratch cards hanging from a kiosk swung gently in the early afternoon breeze. Without really registering what I was looking at, a blur of yellow and blue came into sight. It was the boy, easily identifiable from afar by his Colombian football shirt. He was carrying Pascal’s shoe.

“He’s back.” I said, jabbing at Pascal’s elbow.

“No way.” He stood up and began walking towards the boy, meeting him on the other side of the street. The exchange was very brief and I watched as Pascal rooted in his pocket, before handing the boy a crushed note. He signalled to me, then grinning broadly jogged back, holding the shoe level and high. Things were looking up.

“You’re not going to believe this.”

“Holy shit.” I said peering into the heel of the shoe, which contained a handsome mound of cocaine, perhaps two or three gram’s worth.

“Is it any good, do you think?” He would know. We finished up, and bundled excitedly into a nearby alley, already high on the idea of our near future changing.

Pascal licked his finger and dabbed it in the coke. Opening his mouth with a snarl he gingerly applied it to his gum. I watched his expression steadily change from one of neutral concentration to a rare and transforming smile.

“I could be wrong, but I think it’s decent stuff. Quite pure.”

We beamed at one another and briefly the arduous business of negotiating our hangovers was forgotten. It was the first moment that we had truly connected since the mayhem of the night before. I was triumphant. The gamble had paid off and I knew that we would be alright again.

 

If only for tonight.

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