Becoming a Sanvicenteña: Five Stages

Stage 1: Fear The old highway to San Vicente is nothing more than a dirt road. At the height of the dry season the landscape is leached of color, the road pale as bone. We bump in and out of potholes, my American advisor filling the Peugeot with 400 years of Costa Rican history: the...

Julio At Large

I hadn’t known the girl very well, and rarely gave her much thought before she disappeared the summer between ninth and tenth grade, when my family lived in Buckhannon, West Virginia.  We both had last names that started with the letter “B,” so we frequently had to sit next to each other in classes where...

Closing Time

Pedro the dishwasher told me about how his sister died. We were drinking gin at a table by the window. He dried his hands off with a towel, ran his fingers through his black hair and described the way the hot water was still running when he found her hanging from a cord in the...

The Pillory

A replica of a pillory in a replica of a Colonial town.  My right arm into the right hole, my left arm into the left.  My neck went right through the center.  I laughed, not because there was anything remotely funny about being hung up in a cross, but just because it felt good to...

As I Unscrew: A Letter

Dear Karen, As I unscrew the cap to the bottle of Gordon’s gin, the boar’s head on the label looks appalled, its eye a wide dilated circle of disbelief (that yes, I am pouring yet another drink, that no, I am not measuring my pour, that yes, I do think a 1:2 tastes watered down,...

Tuesday Evening at the Rue de Fleurus

Evening drops into the courtyard like a black cat lowering its back.  A muted clink of dinner spoons spills from open windows into the courtyard, where the concierge’s dog yips en francais at a pair of American tourists who have found their way to 27 rue de Fleurus.  I sit and smoke a cigarette between...

Aftermath

After the skies broke open with a stunning crack about two o’clock in the morning, brilliant flashes of blue flooding the Winnebago like strobe lights; after the rain cut rivulets through the sand, long scratches of some malevolent creature obviously displeased with the earth; after Kennie and his dad had been out on the beach...

Knock, Knock

London Bridge is falling down, Falling down, falling down, London bridge is falling down, My fair lady. He’s been falling asleep a lot lately, I tell my mother over the phone, the receiver cupped under my chin; she is the one who still holds me. He keeps falling asleep on the toilet, I say as...

Not Like You

I’m memorizing a license plate number, which I glimpsed when he grabbed me by my ponytail, punched me, and dragged me into his truck. I repeat it silently, obsessively. NLU-285. Parked in the woods, dozens of miles from the lights of Portland, the midnight air is thick, damp, barely cool. I smell pine trees, clean...

Crosswords

My mother loved crossword puzzles, spending hours, sometimes, until she managed to work out the answers to clues like “bright colored aquarium fish” and “English composer, Frederick.”  “Danio,” she’d finally fill in, and “Delius,” and for a day or two she’d leave the large Sunday newspaper puzzle face up on the end table by the...

May Showers

Like this, the man says, smoothing a dollop of salve across his wife’s shoulder blades, over the rashes blooming there like teacup roses. With two fingers, he works the cream in circular motions down her rib cage, along the row of black stitches lining the curve of her spine.  Look here, he says, and here....

Instincts

I’m with my family on an isolated stretch of the Metolius River in Oregon. Lush vegetation clings to the bank, ferns and clover and elephant grass, willow trees and aspens, but the air hangs hot and dry. Insects burr. A woodpecker taps like a slow metronome. This is before my parents’ divorce, so we’re all...