What We Left in the Yucatán
What I Left
We circle above crystal blue of every shade. “There’s the reef,” Blake says. I feel the pinch, the capillaries constricting in my brow as the pressure changes. Circling, circling, my sinuses expand. Please, please, don’t burst this time. I breathe into the vomit bag which calms my inner ear for a while, until I must turn the bag down, expel liquified cheddar Chex Mix, spit, bile.
It’s a three hour drive to El Cuyo from Cancún. Blake’s on his own, with a wife too sick to help navigate or translate the road signs. The wild dogs with xylophone ribs and white pink hanging tongues don’t break my heart as much as everyone said they would. Smoke pluming from the grills in the poblados that spring from the jungle don’t tempt, either, as I expected. With every speed bump, the force pulls me forward. My head can’t keep up.
“I’ve waited as long as I can.”
Violent heat greets me as I lean down, open my throat. Get out, get out. The ground gulps my drying insides. Two, tiny bare feet kick up dust by my face. She says something I don’t quite catch. I think I tell her I have the stomach sickness. Adiós. Wet with sweat, I open the vents.
“I’m turning inside out.”
Blake rolls down the window. The heat barges in. “Did you see that girl’s feet? They were fucked up.” He lights a cigarette.
“I’m hungry but not for this.” We arrive at Lonchería Amigo Wiley as they’re putting out the tables. We can’t get used to waiting for the sun to go down to eat with the mosquitoes. Out on the porch, a railing separates us from the residency side of the red squat building. We wave to the women, the teenage girl, the boy and his parakeet, the same bird that the other day, hung upside down from the doorway, while the boy kissed its beak. “Buenas noches.” They bring the salbutes, with boiled egg and ground chicken maybe. By now, we don’t have to ask for the salsa de habanero, green, speckled with black roasted skins, served in a paper bowl. It’s getting dark. The dust white branch of the Milky Way will soon sprout from the horizon, and stargazing is the perfect excuse for making love on the rooftop deck. I smack my leg involuntarily, leave a fat red streak on my skin. ”I’m so sick of salbutes,” I’m saying when the squawking starts. A wild pack gallops by, the leader, black coat, breasts swollen, mouth full of the bird squawking. The family runs out to the road, open their cell phones. “Los perros, lo tomaron.” The boy hangs over the railing, wailing out towards the beach where the dogs probably are, enjoying their meal, returning the bird to that dark rift. “Muerte, muerte.” Dead gone. Blake had seen the whole thing. He tells me how the black dog cornered the bird on the steps, how it only took a second. I go inside, lay down my pesos. “Qué horíble. El pájaro.” The woman nods, “sí,” with a smile. “¡Ah! ¿Tienes un otro?” She returns my peso bill, showing me the ripped edge. I pull out another fifty without question. I guess that’s how they do it here.
After three days in Mérida, stuck in the whirlpool of numbered streets that don’t always behave chronologically, we drive the pot holed road back to El Cuyo, crowded by lush brush on both sides. In the distance red iron water glitters under 3D clouds. “Pescado frito,” he says, referring to the stand just beyond the salt ponds. A red flag darts out from the green. Arms, bodies, faces appear as our eyes separate the camouflage from the natural greenery. Blake grasps for the black pouch that holds our passports.
“Buenos días.” I hear every third word. “Routine ... patrol ... vehículo.”
Blake searches for the trunk latch, not readily visible in this rental, that measures distance in kilometers, so much faster than miles. He gets out to open the trunk for the men in the rear. The green man leans into the driver’s side, shakes the water bottle, pats under the seat. Do I need to get out? I’d like to ask, but I can’t think of the verb let alone the conjugation. In the back seat, he unties the black plastic bag filled with wet bathing suits. I decide to get out, leave the door open for him, the picture of cooperation. Dried stems cover the ground, poke through my flip-flops. To my right, a few feet away, another green man wears black rubber boots. Much better for this terrain, I wonder, or too hot? We are looking at each other. Is he wondering what I’m doing here? Or does he think I’m cool? In his hands, a machine gun, same as the ones that aren’t so menacing from the front seat of the car that defies distance and time, where the poblados and tiendas and barefoot girls and machine guns pass by like a movie reel, and the air conditioning defeats the heat. The first green man comes around. I turn to my left, away from the gun, and squeeze between the car door and the wall of living green to let him pat down my seat. I cross my arms, immediately start sweating. He finishes and gestures for me to sit down, a chivalrous gesture I appreciate as I squeeze past the car door, ignoring the limbs of the dead through my flip-flops, past the gun, the closest I’ve ever been to one, into the front seat. Vents open. Car started.
“Tengan un buen día.”
“The best meal I’ve had in days.” Blake pops the eyeball into his mouth. Fried flesh sizzles under juice squeezed from a fresh lime. We separate meat from bone. The flies aren’t as quick to dart from my hand as the ones back home. They’re not scared of you.
“I don’t suppose we can move our flight up,” I say.
He waits for the pack of dogs howling from the dirt road to finish. “First class tickets are refundable.”
What We Left in the Yucatán first appeared in the Midwest Literary Magazine.