Gnawed to pulp and far away I might be able to see what I look like from a distance and I want to return battered enough not to remember so I have to do it again.
“If you go, I might not be here when you get back.”
“If. ‘If’ I get back.”
The verb “to marry” also means “to hunt” in the language of the country I am visiting, and all the drug and gang violence there has her chewing meat off her lips even though she is vegetarian.
Her mom mailed a newspaper clipping about a bombing that killed a few tourists.
“People still clip articles? And lick envelopes?”
Explosions are nice.
“Please don’t go.”
“Nobody is safe anywhere.”
“I guess I better prepare to mourn.”
She presses a finger to a lip and eats more flesh.
“That could be fun. People would feel sorry for me and I could drink as much as I want without anyone saying anything.”
Lining: polished precious metal of some kind.
“Promise me you won’t fuck any strippers, okay?”
I wonder why she does not include hookers and tourists and other types of women on the Cannot Fuck List.
She fucks me goodbye.
Even without several men who were forbidden to go by women, there are so many of us in this group that we almost fill the propeller plane. High in the air, drunk and loud, we make the few who are not in our group ponder the emergency exit. We are on the day’s only flight to a city by the ocean for a celebration. Our friend will be hunted soon.
One of us is wearing a white linen suit with a purple dress shirt and flip-flops. He sings the letters in my name like they are a song. He offers a stock tip for a business his company took over.
“I had to step in and fire some people, including the CEO. Worst day of my life. Well, my professional life.”
“What was the worst day of your regular life?”
“Actually, my life has been pretty awesome. Maybe that was the worst day of my regular life, too.”
We are fat enough as a group that we could rock the plane if we stood up and jumped to one side at the same time and I suggest this but too many of us are old enough to be satisfied with the thought.
I sneeze several times fast and nobody says bless you. That is not safe for anyone. A little girl a few seats up hangs over the back of her seat and stares at me. Her eyes are crossed a bit and spread far apart. Teeth crooked. Her face is a mess in a cute way. One of us says she is bad luck, another says she is good luck. She does not stop staring.
One of us says whores are thirty bucks and we should hire a gaggle of them to hang out with us by the pool and I wonder why he would pay women to hang out with him rather than to fuck him. Another one of us says he bought a government trailer at an auction. The trailers were used by people after a hurricane destroyed the coast like no drug cartel ever could.
“You’d stick your nose in most of them and be like, ‘Next!’”
“I used that method to meet my wife.”
“Got it really cheap. It’s in great shape, doesn’t smell like shit. The toilet is busted.”
Oh, to be broke and pissed upon.
The flight attendant has colorful buttons on his suspenders and he is named after the son of the Christian god. People in the country we are from do not name their children after the son of the Christian god. We empty his drink cart of every beer can and airplane bottle, and if he would have turned water into wine, we would have drank that, too. Nobody touches the bags of premixed mojitos and pomegranate martinis. I ponder the emergency exit and my ability to fly.
Some of the guys are playing a game on a computer. It is based on a television show that surveys people. Families guess the top answers. The survey: Name a pet that does not live very long. Top answer: goldfish. Always moist with a mantra for a memory and bubbles that pop om mani padme hum. The pet that nobody could guess? Housefly. Number four answer. Maybe they surveyed people who lost their homes and had to live in the disaster trailers.
We have to fill out a form to be allowed into the country. Our cell phones will not work there because we will not pay extortionist international rates. No email, no texts, no communication with someone who may or may not be there when I get back. If. If.
“Country of residence: Boning.”
I keep thinking I have to shit but it is just gas. A flatulent smorgasbord. Nobody says anything.
The brother of the man who will be hunted tells a story about his first blowjob. It was in the city we are flying to. He was thirteen and he snuck into a strip club and went into a back room. The brothers were born in that country. The one who will be hunted was a star there when he was a baby. He modeled diapers on television and on billboards in one of the biggest cities in the world.
“I hope she still works there. Her name began with an X.”
The plane flies low through the night over bright cities, veins of glittering silver and gold. It is obvious when we cross into foreign air. City lights are sparse, street lamps farther apart, fewer people wasting watts. Empty roads glow incandescent and halogen. Lighting flashes, a distant storm, and one bright star shines high in the black sky.
“Hey! There’s no box under ‘reason for visit’ for bone-a-thon!”
We land and I grab my things from the chair pocket and I find a barf bag. I thought that went out with newspaper clippings but I snatch it.
“This will come in handy later.”
We check into a pink hotel, which is hosting a plastic surgeon convention. The doctors’ wives look like experiments gone wrong. Many people die every year from botched plastic surgery in our country. Even more must die here.
“None of these women’s pants have pockets. What the fuck is up with that? Not one of them!”
Later. Many beers and rums and whiskeys later. A nightclub with a live band, big horn section and everything, and lots of fat girls dancing alone until they see us. The language barrier is good. No fakery like any of us gives a shit what the other has to say. They are not on her Cannot Fuck List but they are on my Cannot Fuck List.
Drinks. Hip swivels. Dips. Sweat.
Glasses break and more bottles arrive and we get dirty looks from short guys with big belt buckles who do not like the invasion of their territory by foreign interests. I see an ankle holster. One of us who lives here and speaks their language says they are gangsters. We try to avoid eye contact. We only dance with the fattest unattended women.
The guy in the white linen suit does not look well. His cheeks fill up and his eyes bug out and I step aside because I am too drunk to remember the barf bag in my pocket and he pukes on the shoes of a short, big-belt-buckled dude who hisses at us and balls his fists and hurricane trailers explode in my head but there is no violence. Apologies in another language, a bottle on us. We drink. We sweat.
We wake up when we wake up. Dark clouds. We splash and drink in the rain-drop-rippled pool. The rain becomes mist when it gets dark. Waiters push tables together to accommodate our group for a meal in the middle of a colonial town square. The street merchants are worse than mosquitoes.
“I hate weather.”
“All of it. Rain, sunshine, all of it.”
I like all of it, tornadoes and blizzards and rainbows and locust and typhoons and droughts and floods and butterflies and breeze that resurrects the tiny hairs on the back of my neck that I forget I have.
Our glasses are filled with misshapen, clear ice cubes. The water here is dangerous for foreigners, especially the ones who forget that ice is made of water. The cubes are bigger than the cubes back home. I pluck one from my drink and kiss it all over and pop it in and out of my mouth and hold it up and stare at the warped world twisted inside its smooth edges and I look for a door. It drips down my arm and feels good and I balance the cube on my head and cool trails of water melt down my neck and face and it stays on my head until the hot night air licks it to vapor and the world forgets it ever existed.
Hammock vendors, so many of them. I have never seen anyone ever ever ever buy a hammock. We are all drunk. One of us buys a hammock. Another one of us thinks this is a great idea and buys two. People have died in tragic hammock malfunctions.
A man waves carved wooden horses in our faces.
“You know, come to think of it, I am running low on wooden horses.”
A man with gold teeth peddles fake designer sunglasses and knock-off watches. Another sells bracelets he makes by hand out of thread and he customizes each with a name or saying. His hands are machine fast and the muscles in his forearms are cables. He whips the thread around with precision, no wasted moves or moments. He bends and twists the bracelet, and when he is done he flicks a lighter and burns the ends like wicks to fuse everything in place and I do the math: the amount of minutes it takes per bracelet times the amount he charges times a guess at how many he makes each night minus supplies. It is not much. He makes many bracelets for us, and we write the words on napkins because there is no translation for our filthy slang.
“Seventy-eight percent of this country’s economy is based on trinkets.”
I wonder what I make for this world that is useful, other than problems for other people.
A woman with no pockets on her pants sells something you cannot get back home. She clangs metal rods together and walks around our tables. The rods are attached to a small battery with a knob. She hands a metal rod to one of us and the other metal rod to another one of us. We all hold hands and she cranks up the voltage and it pulses through our arms. Teeth grit. Someone could die.
One of us lets go and the circuit is broken. We hold hands again and repeat this until everyone drops out but two guys. It is a showdown, me versus him. She turns the voltage so high we cannot let go of each other’s hands because our arms are convulsing, fingernails digging into each other’s skin, neck veins thick. I had decided before we started that I was not letting go until my brains boiled and letting go is never an option once pain surges with pride and becomes pleasure.
A man sells a whistle that sounds like a cat crying in a dark alley. Five of us buy whistles. Cats crying in a dark alley.
The price of anything is less than an afterthought.
A little girl with dirt on her face holds up a cup.
“What do you want? Food?”
“How about some ice?”
She runs away.
“I wish I could have offered her more. Oh, wait. I could have!”
Nobody says anything. More bottles arrive.
A one-man band plays a song. He clangs a cowbell, thumps a drum, blows a harmonica. At least there is no accordion. Nobody drops anything in his hat and he begs for a can of soda.
“Let’s go fishing tomorrow — with dynamite! That’d be awesome. And you’re not allowed on the boat unless you’re wasted.”
The only difference between here and home is that everything here is lesser.
We ride a charted bus everywhere. The bus does not have air conditioning and is always late picking us up, sometimes by hours, and we drink communist rum while we wait in the hotel lobby.
Exposed bolts hold everything in place on the bus, and empty beer cans roll in the aisle and the door is always open in case anyone wants to fall off and we sing and yell and rumble and splash down dark puddled streets and sometimes a moment becomes memory.
The rain stops in the afternoon and I think I see a grey rainbow but I do not say anything to anyone and we drink and throw a ball in the pool for hours.
There are no people with the same skin color as me at the hotel or anywhere except in our group. Grey skies are dangerous. My skin color changes. I am a goldfish in unexpected expected places. Hat needed. Overpriced hotel sunscreen. The ocean is brown even when the weather is nice.
Everything is slick and I walk to the toilet by the pool. I slip and almost fall and my back could go out or I could split my head open on the cement and maybe no one would hear me fall and I would drown in a pool of blood or puke. My wet ass slides on the toilet seat. Exposed bolts jut out everywhere, not just on the bus. I scrape some skin off a finger reaching for toilet paper. Not a cut, a peeling-off-of, a divot. This place is dangerous after all and I feel better.
Couples and families walk on rain-washed beaches. Street musicians. Architecture. Vendors everywhere. Our group is so big we change whatever we walk into, into something other than itself.
We take over a tiny bar to watch this nation’s team lose to a smaller, less respected country on a soggy grass field. One of us who lives here tries to end the suffering of the defeat by telling a story about his hobby. He fucks whores but does not pay them. He and a friend took two whores to a hotel. They fucked the whores. There was a Jacuzzi in the bathroom. They told the whores to get in while they got more drinks and ice. The whores sunk into the Jacuzzi naked and giggling. The guys stuffed the whores’ clothes into pillowcases on the bed, stole their purses and ran.
This city is not a big city. Months later, one of the whores spotted him at a bar while he was with his girlfriend. She pounded on him with her fists and screamed: “You fucked us in the ass and stole our clothes and our money and we were stranded, you drooling jerk!”
But she did not say drooling jerk, she said a single word in her language that does not translate well into our language, and is much harsher than that. He tried to block the whore’s punches and said: “No! That’s not true! Honey, I swear I didn’t steal their clothes! I hid them in the pillows!”
Our tab would have been huge in our country but even with the tip it feels almost free. People from this country do not tip and we make it rain gratuity and it feels generous and apologetic and kind and unintentionally ostentatious.
“If you were born here, your life would be totally different.”
“Yeah, you could be slinging hammocks.”
“Glad I fell out of the right vagina.”
People here work hard for very little and we work not hard for very much and why is that?
Another nightclub. Live bands and a deejay. We hear a lot of music we listen to back home. All of us are drunk and tired and some of us have skin that burns. Others peel off, go back to the hotel. Eyelids sag. The deejay spins a ridiculous song by a terrible group. Everyone chants the lyrics like mad monks. The song instructs us to feel good, like it is an obligation.
“I know you want to hate the motherfuckers singing this song but look what they did. These idiots were about to fall asleep and poop their pants and now they are throwing their hands in the air and dancing.”
Hating this music seems suddenly pointless, but so does liking it.
Somebody buys a tray of shots and the waiter lights them on fire and there seems to be a message in that. I imagine the place in flames, people screaming. We drink the shots without blowing them out and I do not even burn my lip.
The bathroom is a mess. When locals wipe their asses, they put the smeared toilet paper in the trash can instead of flushing because of the poor sewage system. The trash can is overflowing with shit paper. Shit transmits hepatitis and polio and that is why I do not eat her ass even if she wipes aggressively and flushes the paper. Feces transmit heartworms, too, or maybe that is only from dog shit.
On the bus, everyone sings a song about an attempted rape and laughs. It is funnier than it sounds. We are traveling to find the woman whose name begins with X. Someone lights a joint. Most of the windows are down in the rain.
A military vehicle stops next to us at a stop sign, but it does not say “STOP.” Men in the back of the truck have automatic rifles and black masks and no cover to stay dry. They could just as easily be criminals.
I aim my cut finger out the window like a pistol and lock a soldier in my sights and he looks at me and I stare back and pull the invisible trigger and make a sound like a child’s bullet. They could empty their clips into us and have cause. The smell of marijuana is as strong as the taste of blood when I suck my finger gun and put it back in its imaginary holster, but maybe the rain and the masks keep the soldiers from catching a whiff, or maybe they smell it and are too wet too give a shit even though they are fighting the same people who probably grew and sold the weed that is being puffed.
Anger is almost always useless.
The woman whose name begins with X is not at the strip club. Someone in a penis costume wanders around while women take their clothes off and take men by the hand into back rooms. The penis costume has great abs.
“How many crunches does your cock have to do to get an eight-pack like that?”
All the strippers except one have horrible boob jobs and the men who cut them up are probably sleeping at our hotel. The man we are celebrating hates fake tits and also has a strict NBR policy: No Back Room. Strip clubs here only offer lap dances in back rooms. They offer other things back there, too.
A woman in a glittering bikini grabs my hand and motions to the back and I shake my head and she says something I do not understand and one of us shoves me on the shoulder and says to get going, she likes me. Of course she does. She is a pro and her tits are real and I think of things I will not do to her.
One of us craps his pants and leaves. He ate a tiny, potent pepper on a dare and flies home in the morning. The newspaper clipping did not warn of the dangerous local vegetables.
Boozy breakfast at a table by the pool under a thatched palm-frond roof as others straggle out to join us. One of us drinks piña coladas all day. Rain. Poop is big conversation. Everyone has a shit story to share and all of the tales include heavy use of the word “epic.”
The ocean makes miniature waves. The water is muck. Big black birds squawk at us in a foreign language.
There is no translation for “eggs over easy” so one of us explains to the waiter that I want fried eggs with runny yolks. The waiter serves me fried eggs with solid yolks and runny, potentially fatal whites, which seems, somehow, an impossible thing. I eat them.
A fly is dying in what is left of a piña colada. Its legs squirm and glisten in the white syrup. I lean in to watch a life end. The more it struggles, the thicker its suffering. Number four answer. One of us rescues it with a straw and we stare at the perched fly as it dries its wings and grooms itself with thread-thin black legs.
“This fly must be a chick. Look how long it’s taking to get ready.”
We huddle around the straw.
“It just peed!”
It buzzes its wings and flies away in a drunken swirl.
Crazy drinking plans are plotted and diagramed. We must be at the airport before sunrise. Maybe we will just stay up. I have become immune to the pleasures of alcohol but not its displeasures. Not even the communist rum can help and maybe I see someone familiar in the distance.
“Why weren’t we stabbed yet?”
I run a finger nail across my scab until it bleeds and I hope it scars so I will not forget when I get home.
“How come nothing has blown up?”
“You mean other than your ass?”
Maybe it is too wet to light a fuse. One of us belly-flops into the pool and yells something about lightning. Someone throws a can of beer at him and it splashes next to his head like a depth charge. A waiter carries a hefty tray of drinks with a towel over his head and slips but does not fall or spill a glass. Big tip. One of us spins a fork in his beans as if there is no if. Shots, more shots. One of us brandishes his new belt. A cobra belt. Flared head and fangs for a buckle. So there are cobra hunters, people who hunt cobra. How can anyone feel safe ever? Cobra.