They were situated in a simple suite of rooms on the fifth floor
of the small hotel. Their principal windows looked down onto the
clean, sandy beach, the calm ocean, sky with a dappling of small
clouds. It was off-season and quiet.
They lay awake in the mornings in the wide bed and covered just
with a sheet. The linen curtains puffed gently into the room,
stirred by a slight breeze flowing through the open windows. He
pulled up a pair of jeans and stood watching the activities on
the beach, below, dark, sturdy, stocky men working fishing gear,
nets and floats, old and worn wooden pangas, aging engines. He
had been awake when they had gone to sea, earlier that morning,
before the sun was close. He had heard the men's coarse, chewy
humor as they worked their heavy boats into the water with the
help of a failing tractor. He heard them fire their motors and
listened to their fading roars as they distanced themselves from
Then she was up. They ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant and
by nine walked down to the beach and out onto the sand where the
fishermen were completing their wrap-up. The auctioneer had just
arrived. He started at the east end of the small line of boats.
Prospective buyers surrounded him, cooks from the hotel,
merchants from the town. a collection of sea creatures are
positioned in the sand between the boats, arranged by the
fishermen as to be most attractive. The auctioneer started by
calling out a repetitive price that he knew was higher than the
small catch from the first boat would command. He kept his
whole, partitioned palaver running, words slurring and
redundant, dropping his price every few seconds. Soon, one of
the vendors commits to the asked price and the deal is done. The
assemblage moves on to the next boat. The process is repeated
until all sales are settled and they disband until the next
morning. It's a seven-day-deal amongst hard working sweaty men
smelling strongly of fish.
"Well," he asks her. "What'll we do today?"
"Want to walk through town?" she says.
The small village was situated along the edge of the ocean, with
only the shallow beach separating the sea from the two- and
three-story structures there. The main street passed between
buildings, small shops and offices along both sides, the ocean
visible just beyond. Street vendors pushed two- and
three-wheeled carts laden with fresh fruit, clams, hotdogs, fish
tacos. The sun was in full bloom now and the heat intense, even
along the water. A larger cart, moving a family and pulled by
mules rattled along the cobblestones nearby.
"Down to one day." he said. Nothing more.
A street vendor on a busy corner had collected a crowd of
customers. He placed a whole raw and unpeeled potato into a
hand-operated device that carved the potato as it rotated,
shaving a long, thin ribbon of the tuber and dropping it into a
pot of heated oil, below. Within seconds, potato chips, hot and
salted and it's their turn next. They collect a bag, napkins,
pay and continue through town, she offering him a slice. His arm
around her waist, hooked over her opposing hip, walking slowly,
In a small plaza they find a bench and sit, watching the
children, the matrons, the couples walking there, the poor
seeking assistance. Three large trees there throw shade down and
onto the plaza like watered cement. A growing breeze off the
ocean rattles the tall limbs overhead. Young boys and girls are
selling chicles out of small cardboard boxes. The pair wanders
back to the main street and across and toward the beach. A small
café is positioned out-of-doors, shades opened and shielding
beside the sea and they sit and order glasses of Rioja and an
alioli artichoke. The wine arrives, chilled in the heated day,
the artichoke hot and steaming, wafting strongly of pungent
"Thirteen months is a long time," she said.
"I wish there was some way out of this deal," he said. "Too
late, though." They both knew he was leaving, flying out in the
morning. Early. Neither wanted to ruin this last day with
sadness, but there it was, hovering in the back of each of their
minds, regardless of their unwillingness to address it. Even in
the day's heat their hands brushed, met, fingers intertwined and
gripped each other. A second glass of red. The artichoke's done,
heart cleaned, dissected and consumed and they're back to the
main street and it's looming into late afternoon. A driver atop
a dual horse-drawn carriage is moving slowly down the cobbles,
clicka-clacka-clicka-clacka. Steel wheels and hooves on hardened
stone. The driver stops, solicits the couple to ride for a fee
and they agree, climbing up, into the black leather seats behind
the driver, both on the same benchseat and forwardfacing. Their
chartered two-horse power pulls them forward along the rounded
stones. The afternoon has worked into evening and the air is
cooling; electric lights of the houses, shops and restaurants
are turning on, magically, as if under their own volition. Soon
the town sparkles and the carriage continues its circuitous
route, meandering throughout the smaller barrios and intimate
places. There is little need for conversation in these touching
too-short moments but small and intimate contacts are made,
shoulders, hands, knees.
The driver has a reservation at seven. He's paid and they are
walking on the beach, now in sunset, back to the hotel where
they take the shaky elevator to the top floor and the small,
intimate restaurant, covered candles working in curtained
breezes off the sea. They were seated and dined alone there. The
starter was a small cluster of eels, positioned laboriously with
their tails looped back and placed into their own mouths and
broiled. Fish was the Prix-Fixee and well seasoned. Dessert was
disappointingly canned peach. Moon was rising over water in the
windows they gazed out over a glass of Oporto, hands still
hungering each other.
"Look!" she said, in surprise and gesturing at the peaches in
front of him. "Ants!"
In the darkened light he had to double click on his small
cluster of fruit in a bowl before him. He spotted several ants,
dead from the heavy syrup and nestled comfortably atop those
"Hmmm," he said. He humorously prodded the orangecolored fruit
with his fork. "How tasty." He stabbed a fleshy slab, popped it
into his mouth and swallowed.
"Yummy," he said.
"You swine!!" she whispered, gripping his arm, aware they were
alone with staff.
And then they were in their rooms and comfortable and sharing
the music they had collected across the margins and borders
through which they had traveled and intertwined experiences.
This was the end of the event that they had worked toward
forever and there was no turning back, casts were hardened into
concrete. Clicka-clacka-clicka-clacka, the hooves of the horses
and steel rims of the carriage wheels, some things can't be
changed and they were working down to ground zero. Time was up.
They made the best of an intimate evening. He was flying out the
next morning. Early, as expected.
Guttural voices rounded out his night as he awoke slowly to the
sounds of the men moving their pangas out, into the water, the
congested tractor pulling them to the waters edge and depositing
them there. The grunts, belches and farts of the stubby men
straining to shove their heavy vessels into the water flowing
gently there, offering small resistances.
His plane, on liftoff from the tiny airstrip, banked to east.
Just there, at the very last visible edge of his window, he
could spot a small piece of the hotel. While he couldn't see her
there, in the windows overlooking the edges of ocean and
continent, nor her see him, peering down from several hundred
feet and climbing, they knew they were there forever for each
other. Never a break in bondage. They both continued the watch
until it no longer made sense and then came back to earth or
air, respectively, and settled in for their journeys.
Sometimes, things end and sometimes they just go on forever. It
doesn't mean that the issues are open. Or closed. They just go
They never met after that sweet moment and their time with the
fishermen and in the village.
She was killed the next year in an F-14 that fell from a radar
screen, in an attempt to pull off a particularly difficult
mission in a discrete part of our world we aren't allowed to
address publicly. He went on to dig further into a cushy world
of padded couches and comfortable conference rooms in
He never took his eyes off that last east-bank out of the
airstrip. His heart was in her hands. And hers, his.
A moment in time.