“This wasn’t invented, it really happened.” – Alejandro Zambra
One of us had to watch our hotel in Tulum during the storm, so I was flying into Cancun International then renting a car. The hurricane had closed all of the airports on the coast, and my flight was delayed, and then cancelled. As I was walking out of the airport, I heard an announcement my flight was boarding. It was the last flight into Cancun. When I got to the hotel, I told the story to the clerk and she laughed and upgraded me to a suite. “It will just sit empty anyway,” she told me, as though she were apologizing for the change. “We’re getting flooded with cancellations.” I asked her for an envelope, put sixty dollars into it, and handed it back to her. The room was enormous, with a dining room table, a kitchen in case you’d brought your own cook, and floor-to-ceiling windows with long views of the ocean. The waves were huge and confused in the storm, and they stretched as far as I could see in the rain.
It was ten in the morning.
I paced around the room, looked at myself in the mirror, went to the bathroom, and then opened my computer on the desk. I sat for a few minutes, trying to tell myself I could write, and then moved to the bed and read the room service menu. When I came to the wine list in the back, I closed it. I went over to the window, leaned my forehead against the cold glass, and stared down the ten stories. My forehead made a smear on the glass. I got a Coke Light from the minibar. Then I took off my shoes and jacket and sat on the couch to call Paul.
“I’m already lonely for you,” I said. It was the day after Christmas, and the truth was I was glad for a break. Paul’s boys had been out of school for a week and his family had visited for the holidays. His mother was a friend of mine but she had a way of taking over the house. She was a devoted grandmother but the boys were nervous around her, because she was wealthy and uptight and dressed carefully each morning. Paul’s father was there now—his parents were divorced—and he was clingy and demanding. He frequently needed to go to the pharmacy or the grocery store to buy things. But he hated Mexico City—they were from a small town in Massachusetts—and he’d get lost if he drove himself. He was good with the boys but he liked to tell us how to parent them. Also, after a few days Paul felt like he had a third child in the house.
“My dad is driving me crazy. He keeps getting angry when I won’t stay up and watch a movie with him. We watched two Burt Reynolds movies last night and he wasn’t satisfied. Hurry home,” he said. “I need you here right now.”
“I’m sorry. One of us had to go. It’s three nights. I really ought to be here for at least a week. And I’ve already got a little writing done. It’s so quiet here, with the hurricane, there’s nothing else to do. I’ll drive down to Tulum tomorrow or the next day.”
“Don’t get on the road until the weather is better. You’re writing? That’s good. I told you. How’s the Ritz?”
“It hasn’t changed. Anyway, without you, it’s a room. It doesn’t matter.”
We didn’t have anything to talk about but I didn’t want him to get off the phone.
I called my friend Sadie, a doctor from Galveston, Texas. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years, and she was driving to Cancun to meet me for the weekend. She wasn’t afraid of the storm.
I hadn’t told Paul that Sadie was coming. Not for any reason. I knew it would annoy him. It was understood that this was a necessary but unfortunate work trip that one of us had to make and since they were his boys I was the one going, and I wasn’t supposed to enjoy myself. But I should have told him I’d invited Sadie down. He had never been crazy about Sadie. “She’s trouble,” he always said about her. “All psychiatrists are crazy. But she’s not just ordinary crazy. She’s crazy about sex. She tries to sleep with me every time she visits.”
“Paul, she does not.” Maybe she did, a little. But she didn’t mean anything by it.
* * * *
“Man! These roads are for shit. I’d turn around right now if it weren’t for you.”
“I’m glad you’re coming. Thanks. You want to go to Pobrecito’s? I’ll make a reservation.”
“You’re buying. Hell, I’m almost in town, I’ll come to your hotel. No, you’re not invited, buddy, sorry. I’m dropping you off the minute we cross the border, like you said. Del la What? That on the coast?”
“What?” I had no idea what she was talking about. “That’s where they catch those green lobsters, right?”
“Tell me you didn’t pick up a hitchhiker, Sadie.”
“I have you on the speakerphone, Brett, watch what you say.” I heard her pick up the phone. “He’s a college kid. No? Well, what’s with the bandana? You want any of this? Okay, fine. Well, just hold it, would ya? It’s a pipe, buddy, it don’t bite.”
“Sadie, I gotta go.”
“Can you believe this rain? Beautiful, actually. All the colors.”
“Sadie, you’re stoned. I’ll see you when you get here. Just valet under my name.”
“You just called. Alright, fine. Set up that restaurant.”
I thought about calling Paul back but I knew he was busy with his dad and the boys. I needed to work. Before I started, I checked my email. Three emails from an Italian publisher panicking about a manuscript I had promised him for months. Dozens of emails from Fab, Dwell, and Tablet. A request to blurb a book. Fan mail. An invitation to sit on someone’s doctoral dissertation. I started to switch into Word when I saw there was one from Paul’s banker. “I’m in Cancun,” was the header. “Do you have time for a cup of coffee today or tonight? Paul said you’re here. I was supposed to be in Panama, but I’m stuck with everybody else. They say I’ll get a flight tomorrow. Yrs, Eduard.”
Eduard and I had met briefly once at a party nearly a decade before, but I didn’t remember it. I only knew because Paul told me so.
“He’s not the kind of man you would notice,” Paul said. “He’s old, a bit chubby, and he doesn’t know how to dress.”
I didn’t want to meet with Eduard but thought I probably should.
Plus, now if I met Eduard, Paul would find out Sadie was in Cancun.
* * * *
I wrote to Eduard. “I have a friend in town from Texas, a psychiatrist I’ve known since high school, but if you want to meet us, it would be great. I’d love to hang out. What’s a good bar? You’d be doing me a favor, in fact. My friend Sadie is a drinker, and this way she’ll have a drinking buddy.”
Eduard wrote back immediately: “I don’t know the bars in Cancun. I’ll try to find a place close to your hotel. Paul said you’re at the Ritz-Carlton?”
Sadie came up to my room around six.
“Wow, look at this place. I should have just stayed with you.”
“That’s what I said. You can. Cancel your room.”
“No, you know me. I sometimes stay up late.” She laughed. I could see she was still stoned. “I’m going to make a drink. You want a club soda?”
I told her the news.
“Man, I thought it was going to be girls’ night out,” she said. “What about that horse place we were planning on? I want to see those horses. Cowboys! Mexican cowboys are still the real thing. I thought we had reservations.”
“Oh, I changed it to tomorrow. This won’t take long. We’ll have one drink with him, then we can hit the town. Wherever you want to go.”
“Boring. You’ve been doing this to me for twenty-five years. Always some man.”
“I’ve been doing it to you? Please. He’s not a man, Sadie. He’s Paul’s banker.”
Sadie rolled her eyes.
“Those days are behind me. We’re old women. We’re practically middle-aged.”
“Speak for yourself,” Sadie said. She was two years younger than me.
Eduard had picked an expensive bar in a basement in the old town. It took the taxi almost an hour to find the place. It was packed. The ceilings were low and the zinc bar stretched the entire length of the room. It was lit with dozens of bare Edison bulbs, and on the back wall they had glass cabinets filled with taxidermy molds and instruments. They’d have to redo the whole place in two years, I thought. New Mexico in old Cancun.
“This place is cool,” Sadie said. “This is like a bar in New York. You wouldn’t even know where you were if it weren’t for all the Mexicans.”
Sadie had red hair. She had freckles on the bridge of her nose, and was slender with extraordinary legs and excellent posture. She was pretty in a way that made women hate and worship her.
I ordered her a martini and watched the door for Eduard. I was worried I wouldn’t recognize him—I had no picture in my mind at all—and so I stared at all the men who came and went. An hour passed. Sadie told me a long story about one of her patients who was emotionally abusive to her husband. After three years of treatment, the woman broke down and confessed that she was not married.
“Now that’s a woman who’s fucking crazy,” she said. “No better word for her. What the hell am I supposed to do with this woman? She still comes to see me. There’s a novel in that one for you. You can use it to break your slump.”
I said, “Maybe you should write it.”
I wondered if I could have gotten the night wrong. I checked my email on my phone.
“Where the hell is he? I thought a banker worked for you, not the other way around. I’m hungry. What time did he say?”
“Shit, it’s quarter after ten, and we haven’t had any dinner. I’m starving. I’m getting a hamburger. Do you want a burger? Rare?”
Sadie got a hamburger, and her third double martini. I ordered things I thought Eduard might like, things that wouldn’t go cold: olives, cheese, salami, roasted peppers, anchovies, lobster. The bartender recommended the truffle fries so I got those too.
“And one more Coke Light, if you don’t mind. Sorry. I drink these things like water.”
“You know those are bad for you,” the bartender said. He smiled. “Poison. Let me make you a ginger ale. Trust me. Do you like eucalyptus?”
I shrugged, and he turned to start on my drink.
“Man that bartender is hot,” Sadie said. It was noisy but she said it loud enough for him to hear. “He totally hit on you. Did you see that?” She raised her voice. “It’s funny because I’m the one who’s interested. In him.” The bartender turned and looked at her. “You,” she said, and raised her drink.
Sadie’s husband was wealthy. He was handsome and young, but she had never been in love with him. She was happy in her marriage, but slept with other men. “Hell, he knows,” she always said. “But he doesn’t know what he doesn’t want to know, and I can keep my mouth shut.”
Paul had asked me to make a similar promise when we first started dating. “Life is long, and you may cheat on me one day,” he said. “If you do, just promise me you won’t tell me about it.”
“I’ll never cheat on you,” I said, but still I promised. I never had. “This is a great burger,” Sadie said. “You should have a burger. I’m gonna have another one. They’re so tiny it’s like a slider. In Galveston they’d serve you three of these.”
“I guess I’ll get one too,” I said.
They had a clothing rack at the bottom of the stairs and a man was taking off a white windbreaker. He hung it on a hanger. He was wearing weird black leather gloves, and he took time getting them off his hands and into his coat pockets. That can’t be him, I thought. He was dressed stylishly. He wore a black suit. The pants were tailored tight to his legs. He had a grey shirt on and a narrow grey tie. Contrary to what Paul said, he had hair. It was cut short, but growing long. He smiled and waved.
“Man, is that him?” Sadie said. “Tell me that’s him. That’s not a banker. That’s a fuckmaster prince.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.” I stood to meet him.
“Seriously,” Sadie was saying. “He looks like Benicio Del Toro.”
Eduard walked up quickly and I held out my hand. He pushed it aside, hugged me, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. His lips were cold from outside. He took a seat at the bar.
“You know what? You look like a movie star,” Sadie said. “Brett said you were like an ordinary man. I mean—you don’t look like a banker.”
“Brett said I was ordinary?”
He winked at me and ordered a whiskey.
“Make it a double,” I said to the bartender, leaning forward so Sadie and Eduard wouldn’t hear. “And water down her martini a bit.”
“Your husband?” the bartender asked.
“Oh, he’s not my husband. He’s my husband’s banker.” The bartender laughed, and I ordered another ginger ale.
We talked, they kept drinking, and Sadie and Eduard seemed to be hitting it off. Occasionally Eduard’s legs bumped against mine. At first I didn’t think it was intentional. The bar was getting too crowded.
“Would you like a hamburger?” I asked Eduard. “Sadie says they’re good.”
“The burgers?” Sadie yelled. “They’re great! The burgers are great. Brett, do you think they have buffalo wings? Eduard, how about you and me split a dozen wings? And chips and salsa! How come Mexico is the only place you can’t get chips and salsa?”
“I’m sorry. Our kitchen is closed,” the bartender said. He had just served a final round of drinks.
“We’ll take two burgers and a dozen wings!” Sadie said. “Those are great burgers. Delicious! Where’d you get the cows?”
“Apparently we need some food,” I said to the bartender.
“If you go two blocks toward the water there’s a place. Also, there’s the Dino hotel, and they serve good pizza.”
Eduard took me by the wrist. “Doesn’t pizza sound fantastic? Hawaiian pizza, that’s what I want.” He swallowed half of his drink, paused, and then swallowed the other half. Sadie was almost at the bottom of her martini. I had lost track of their drinks. I’d had four or five ginger ales.
“Yeah, pizza!” Sadie said. She grabbed Eduard around the waist. He put one arm around her shoulders, and lay the other on mine. He was almost a foot taller than either of us. I could have fit under his chin.
“You’re drunk,” I said.
For an hour or so, I had been worried because I thought, if he is flirting with me, I’m enjoying it. But now I decided it was alright. He was flirting with both of us, but it was innocent.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” Sadie said. It was pouring rain. We walked up the cobble-stoned street, swaying and laughing, getting soaked. “Pizza man!” Sadie shouted. “Pizza man! Hey put that dog on a leash!”
A woman and man walking under a giant umbrella turned to look at us, startled. Sadie pointed across the street to an old, distinguished looking man in a yellow raincoat and wide-brimmed hat, and his wet, carefully-groomed white poodle. The dog was walking beside him and they both seemed not to notice the rain. Three tough-looking guys on the corner stood under a tattered awning, watching us. They had beers in their hands. Sadie slipped on a heel and Eduard caught her and almost fell, pulling me down as well. The three men laughed, and I saw it was okay.
But the restaurant at the hotel was closed, and so was the little place across the street with bars on the windows. All of the garage doors were pulled down across the businesses, the streets were empty except for us and the billboards for concrete companies and auto part stores, and I thought, “Maybe they will go home together. How am I going to get a car?”
Eduard said. “What about your hotel? Or mine? You’re at the Ritz-Carleton, right? It must have a restaurant. You’re the hotel expert.”
“It’s half an hour from here,” I said. “If we can find a cab.”
“I’ve got my car,” Eduard said.
“She’s got the Presidential suite!” Sadie said. “I’m staying there too. But her room is like a palace. And it’s got this oversize minibar too, so you can eat all you want. You can eat anything! Plus, free booze!”
“Sound good?” Eduard asked me.
I thought, well, they’ll eat, and then they’ll go to bed.
Eduard and I were sitting on the red leather sofa and Sadie was in the chair next to the minibar. They had finished their steaks and were picking at their salads. I was exhausted. Sadie didn’t want to leave, and Eduard was still talking and drinking. They both had booze energy. The party’s over, I thought. I went to the bathroom and saw that Paul had called six times. He does not have a cell phone—he hates technology—and so I didn’t return his call: I didn’t like to imagine our home phones waking up his boys, and particularly Paul’s father, who, when he had been drinking, would crawl into Paul’s bed in his pajamas.
When I sat down Sadie opened the minibar again. She reached across Eduard’s lap to refill his drink, allowing her shirt to fall open. She looked up at him and dropped her hand onto his leg. Eduard stood suddenly and went to the bathroom.
Sadie sat upright. She said, “I think I’ll go down to my room.”
“Please,” I said, “it’s late. Just stay here in my place tonight.” She gave me an angry look.
“Sadie,” I said, “this is ridiculous. There’s three bedrooms in this suite, I think. Or just sleep in bed with me.”
At that point I still meant everything I was saying. At least, I’m pretty sure I did.
She was already walking to the door. She stopped, turned, and looked at me for a moment when I said that, and I realized she was furious. I let her go. I sat and watched the ice melting in Eduard’s whiskey and Sadie’s vodka and almost picked one of them up to finish it. Then I realized, that’s how tired you are. It had been two years, almost to the day, since I’d had a drink.
Eduard came out of the bathroom. “Sadie left?”
“Yes. Jesus Christ. I’m sorry. I didn’t expect her to get so drunk. We didn’t get to talk. You’re flying out tomorrow?”
“I think so,” he said. “Who knows.” He put more ice in his drink and gestured at the window. The rain was going sideways. Up the beach in the lights from another resort you could see the palm trees bending almost to the ground. “Don’t you want one?” he asked.
“One what?” I knew what he meant.
“A drink. I don’t care if you have one. Have one.” His smile was unexpected. He knew about my alcoholism. He said he’d read my novel, and even if he hadn’t, in the old days Paul had loved to complain to his friends about my drinking. I hesitated.
“Don’t ever offer me a drink,” I said. “I mean, I can’t.”
“I just thought, you know, one. It doesn’t do any harm.”
“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t say anything else about that.
He took a couple sips of his drink and asked, “Do you want to watch a movie?”
He got up and walked into the bedroom, where the TV was. From there he said, “It’s cold in here. Let’s get under the covers.”
You always want a man to say that to you but they never do. When I’d stopped drinking I stopped behaving this way and I thought it was behind me. As I got into bed with him, I was still thinking, this is not the kind of thing that I do. He took the back of my head with one hand, and my throat and the base of my chin with the other. He kissed me.
When we stopped kissing, a long time later, I said, “Eduard, I’m happily married.”
“I know,” he said.
We had sex until dawn. The storm had blown south and the sun was over the sea. We had sex at least seven times. An hour or so into it he told me that his girlfriend didn’t like sex, and I was determined to make an impression.
From BAD SEX. Used with permission of NY Tyrant. Copyright © 2015 by Clancy Martin.