It took more than two hours to drive to San Jose. In the morning, there had been a double rainbow hanging low over the mountaintops. But then came the drive through the hottest hours of the day in a rickety borrowed Land Cruiser with no air conditioner and no power steering, up, over, around, and down green mountains on a two-lane highway that was typically more mud wash than road. The trip had been extended by the presence of a cattle truck lumbering along in the northbound lane. Now and then a driver in the line of cars following the truck had attempted to pass on the left, but had been thwarted by a blind curve or a ditch where the concrete had caved after a mudslide. The reluctant caravan had crept along behind the open truck of piteously braying cattle for nearly an hour.
Having deposited the Cruiser in the cool, dark shade of the small parking garage, Sabina stood with her heels hanging over the edge of the curb of the pavement in the sunshine outside of Juan Santamaria International Airport in a shifting mass of turismo bus drivers gripping signs, excited family and friends, and cabbies. Every few minutes, a taxi man would skulk up to her to ask in heavily accented English, "Car, lady?" Each time, she shook her head and tried to sink deeper into the crowd, tried to blend, an impossible task for a single milky white gringa in a sea of café-au-lait ticos. There were lines of moisture criss-crossing the fabric clinging to her skin, underlining her breasts, and peaking out from beneath her armpits.
She shaded her eyes to the sun and scanned the bustling crowd, trying to catch a glimpse of his features. She found him quite a ways down the pavement seated on the curb next to a bulky black traveling knapsack. He was thin and pale, and he looked nervous and poet-like, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette with his elbows and knees making points and right angles. She checked her watch and saw that she was late, but not terribly late.
"Hello, Per," Sabina said, sitting down beside him. "Welcome to Costa Rica."
"Hello, my girl," said Per.
His smile was warm and full of an easy affection that half surprised her in its sharp contrast to her own nervousness, which she'd interpreted as giddiness and girlish excitement. She reached over and hugged him around the shoulders, pressing her cheek lightly to his, noting the sharp musty tang of sweat that clung to him and wondering if she had made a mistake.
Four days prior, Per had called her in the middle of the night, waking her, to tell her he was ready, if she gave the word, to confirm an order for round trip airline tickets. The gesture and the sentiment behind it seemed to have cascaded into being from nothingness. They’d met in London. She'd fed him ice cream during a party and, at the suggestion of a drunken acquaintance, they’d slipped into a pub bathroom and exchanged shirts. That had been it. The idea of a visit was so spontaneous, so impulsive, that she found herself saying yes, do it, before taking time to think it over.
The clouds, she'd written him, they fill the great bowl of sky during sunset, and are canvases for the painted colors of the sun’s rays when the sky is backlit with fire before being lost to the twilight. Night doesn't fall, it rushes silently down, and there is nothing, no streetlamp or flashlight, no medicinal sodium-yellow city lights in the distance, to shield me from the darkness. The sky flickers with constellations I can't name and the smiles of a million billion Cheshire Cats.
Soon, but not soon enough, she'd written, you will see this, too, and then it will be ours.
She wrote those words before she moved to Jaco from Playa Hermosa, from a cozy out-of-the-way apartment of stone and teak and artful hand-worked metal to a run down bright pink condo topped with faux Spanish tiles owned by a faceless and nameless woman in San Jose. Sabina’s excuse had been the money, which all of her friends had taken at face value, but the reality lay in the endless days spent entirely alone through blackouts and water outages, re-reading old books, and cleaning tabletops, counters, and spigots that were already spotless. She'd developed an overwhelming hunger for people and reluctantly, though with an unconscious sense of relief, had moved to the heart of town, into Paraiso Condominios, a gated complex around the corner from the "world famous" Beatle Bar and less than one hundred meters from the cheapest Internet café in Jaco.
Sabina hadn't told Per about the move. As she pulled the Cruiser onto Avenue Pastor Diaz from the nameless boulevard that led into town from the main highway, she could see a great white puffy cotton-candy cloud that hovered below the line of the mountains to the east and seemed almost close enough to skim the tops of the one-storey houses that were crowded together in the town's main residential development. The dark clouds that oozed over the mountains each afternoon were just coming into view, a fact that highlighted their brighter, less ominous brother. Sabina checked her watch. The dark front would roll in soon enough.
She drove slowly, partly to avoid the scattering of potholes that dotted the street and partly out of sympathy to the looks of fear Per's face had assumed throughout the winding drive from the airport in which she had admittedly taken the numerous blind corners a little too fast. But also because she enjoyed playing tour guide.
"It looks like the main street ends back where we turned or like it becomes the boulevard," Sabina said, "but it actually continues on for about two hundred meters. It turns into a dirt road that ends at the river that marks what I call the northern border of Jaco. Then there is a wooden bridge that crosses the river but there is gate marked private property at the end and I don’t know what’s on the other side."
"And that over there," she continued, "if you can see that painted-over sign by Banco Costa Rica, is where we used to play pool before it closed. Now everyone goes to Onyx, though I've heard that the pizza place coming up on the left has pool tables upstairs. I've never been up there, but we could go if you want."
Per was focused on rolling a cigarette in his lap and regarding everything Sabina pointed out with quick stares that seemed to border on weariness, which confused Sabina because she knew first-hand the amazement one's first visit to Central America could inspire in people who'd grown up in the clean and finely-edged towns of first-world civilization. She glanced at him, watched him silently lick the adhesive strip of the cigarette paper, then shrugged and patted his trim thigh. He'd come all the way from Holland. She imagined that he was tired and perhaps a little overwhelmed at the heat. As she drove, the first words he’d written to her after she’d returned from London splashed like the gurgle of running water through her thoughts: The stars over the city that night were nothing compared to the stars in your eyes each time you laughed and I wanted then, more than anything, to get lost in the sky.
"Look at that." Sabina pointed up at the puffy cloud, which was floating gently westward on barely perceptible breeze.
"Isn't it beautiful?"
"Not as beautiful as you," he teased, taking up her hand.
They passed turista shops, open-air restaurants, gaudy hotels, and grazing fields where speckled grey and dun colored horses were standing with their heads down, their mouths to the grass. Sabina pointed and narrated, explaining how the owner of the Paraiso condos kept an office nearby but was never in and that the owner of the surf shop next door was an American and had been very kind to her when she’d first come to Jaco.
"Where are we?" Per said when Sabina parked in one of the few spaces to the left of the Beatle Bar.
"That's the brothel that supplies the tica whores to the Beatle Bar." Sabina nodded forward toward a line of apartments over a mostly shuttered business strip. "My place is right around the corner. I'm leaving the car here so the friend who leant it to me can pick it up on his way back to Hermosa. I had his extra keys."
Per pulled his bag from where it had been stowed in the back seat while Sabina hid the key under the driver's rubber floor mat and locked the doors from the inside.
"I thought you lived in a stone house by the beach," he said, as they stood on the covered clay tile patio of what Sabina had nicknamed La Casa Cómoda.
She was jiggling the key in the door's ancient Yale lock while Per squatted on his heels to examine a pile of tiny black ant carcasses that had collected near one of the two white plastic beach chairs. She looked over.
"I'm sorry I didn't have time to sweep but, well, here we are." She opened the door and jiggled the key more fiercely to extricate it from the knob. "Don't worry about those. They drag them up here and leave them, in the house, too, and nothing I spray stops them. Mi casa es su casa."
The air was hotter inside than out and clung heavily to the lilac walls and gaudy rattan furniture in the expansive room that served as living area, kitchen, and breakfast nook. Sabina jammed the door with a smooth grey stone and switched on the ceiling fans. There were a few carved wooden masks on the walls and a bamboo wind chime hanging from a rod that had supported curtains before the back window had been filled in with cinder blocks and painted over with a single coat of primer. The cinder blocks were quite visible. Per set his things down in the small bedroom and found the bathroom. While he'd freshened up, Sabina had taken green apples and granola bars from the small refrigerator in the storage room and placed them on the table.
"I wish I had more to offer," she said and would have continued her apology had he not taken her by the shoulders and given her a friendly squeeze.
"I'm not very hungry anyway. For me, it feels late, for I flew through the night but couldn't sleep. I think I would very much just like to take a shower."
Through the short hours of golden daylight that remained, the two spent time in a uneasy but companionable silence watching an American film with Spanish subtitles on the television. That night, after Sabina had turned on the air conditioner and the two had bid each other goodnight and sweet dreams before settling down to sleep in the condo's double bed, the silence was broken by a sharp clacking from above that increased in both frequency and volume as the minutes wore on until it became a roar of white noise, and Per sat up and tugged at the cloth of Sabina's tank top.
"It's nothing," she mumbled. "That's just the rain."
She woke the next morning nestled in his arms and it seemed obvious by some quirk of his smile that he'd been watching her sleep, for how long she didn’t know.
There were, as there always are in such situations, innumerable friends and acquaintances of Sabina's for Per to meet, over breakfast at Poseidon, one of the nicer of Jaco's many hotels, on the street while buying ices from a man in a fisherman's cap who walked through town each day pushing his old wooden cart, in the outdoor fruit market, at the Internet café where Per stood by while Sabina wrote e-mail after e-mail, at the row of palm trees that marked the beginning of the beach. Each time, the men shook hands with Per and asked him if he’d be staying in town long enough to play poker and the women whispered slyly to Sabina, "Oh, yes, he is cute, just like you said he'd be," which made Sabina see him as he was, thin with liquid grey eyes and a lopsided but knowing smirk, clearly against the backdrop of fear that he might not have a good time.
They were holding hands, walking together through town under an intensely blue sky in the thick heat of the afternoon, when Sabina suddenly remembered a half-forgotten obligation and began pulling Per across the dusty street.
"Where are we going?" Per said.
"I know I said we were going to the beach, but I just need to duck into that shop for a minute because I promised one of my friends back home that I'd send her a postcard," answered Sabina. "That was ages ago."
She left him standing on the broken pavement but came out a moment later, patting her pocket before taking his hand up again and pulling him to the curb. Dirty cars and squat delivery trucks painted in bright colors were speeding by in both directions while dark-skinned men and women in swim trunks and bikinis, sometimes doubled up, rode by on colorful bicycles with whitewall tires, swerving to avoid the pedestrians and mangy stray dogs that darted across the street at random intervals. He was gawking.
"Is it always like this?"
Sabina nodded. "But don't be too critical. It may not be the way you folks do things in Holland but it works just fine here. I haven't seen an accident yet."
"It feels like everyone is so busy, moving so quickly," Per said. "They must do a lot of things. I've only been here for a little while but I feel like you do a lot of things, too."
"You'd be surprised. About me and about the ticos."
"What do you mean?"
"They talk fast but they move slow, even when it comes to business. I've spent two hours waiting on line at the bank. I think that I talk fast and I move fast, but I never really get anything done. I put everything important off, but I go swimming, watch the sunset, buy a postcard, shop for groceries. I get a lot of nothing done. And you and me? We haven’t done much of anything."
After a pause, Per said, "I'm not sure I quite understand you,"
"Doesn’t matter. Let's go."
They walked down Calle Bohio and out onto the beach. Sabina had taken off her flip-flops and was trudging barefoot through the hot, rocky sand but Per's feet were covered in white, soft skin and, though he'd tried walking without sandals, he found himself unable to manage on the burning black ground. She told him he might have an easier time of it at the water’s edge, but the receding low tide had left a wide carpet of rocks of graduated sizes littering the darker wet sands that disappeared under the swirling water and he couldn’t find his balance. On the nearly flat beach, the water left a mirrored sheen that reflected an image of the sky and the mountains.
"You've got a few different types of sand," Sabina said as they walked. "You've got the tiny black sand that sticks to everything and won't come off without scrubbing. Then there is you've got sand mixed with big rocks and sand mixed with medium rocks."
"Sand, yes." He was smiling indulgently. "We have that where I come from, too."
"But it's not just sand. Sometimes the low tide leaves big areas covered in tiny smooth pebbles and pieces of shells that sparkle in the sunlight. You wouldn't have any problem walking on that."
Per complained about the heat, which was formidable as the sun was just receding from the apex it maintained nearly all day, but Sabina still took him to both ends of the bay-like cove that shielded Jaco from the ocean’s meaner swells. To the south, they passed two fast-moving muddy rivers and a tiny bubbling creek, all of which she’d named after herself, as she had the town’s largest river. She explained that she’d named the second creek and the clearer, gentler river to the north after a character in a Kurt Vonnegut novel who named everything after himself. Per asked their real names and, when she said that she had no idea, if she'd ever thought of asking one of the ticos. She shrugged and said no, she hadn't, but wasn't her way more fun?
Sabina kept a dusty old Huffy mountain bike for herself and had rented a sleeker but gearless bike for Per for the whole of his visit because she hated relying on the taxi men who consistently tried to overcharge her on the basis of her skin tone.
"Rub yourself down with sunscreen, whitey," Sabina told Per over a breakfast of cinnamon and apple pancakes and the artificial maple syrup that he made a point of saying he didn’t like, though he did not complain further when he heard there was no other kind to be had in Jaco. "We're riding to Playa Hermosa today. Did you bring a camera? It might be a good day to bring it along."
He shook his head and declined her offer to buy him a disposable camera at the supermarket saying he'd rather remember it exactly as he saw it.
They rode south down the busy main avenue and then further south down an unnamed side street flanked by more pastures and forest than buildings, where they passed horses and donkeys, packs of glossy roving chickens, and a milk-white goat tethered to a fence post. They peddled up a hill to the highway, the only route further south. The five-mile stretch consisted of mainly uphill climbs and flat blind curves that at some points were bordered by tiny sodas that were no more than counters and stools and at others nothing but sheer drop-offs that led straight into the pounding surf. They pulled off onto a lookout halfway to Hermosa where a giant boulder jutted out from the side of the mountain that had been blasted by workmen to create the highway.
"My guess is that when they blew it all up, it didn’t have any effect on the big rock and they just left it there," Sabina said.
Playa Hermosa's steeply sloped beach was black and, at midday, too angrily hot to walk on without the protection of shoes. They dragged their bikes along, watching the surf, which there was not bound by inlet borders like the waters of Playa Jaco, thrashing and tearing at the shore. Per remarked that there were certainly a lot of things to see as they made their way up to a small, pitted dirt road that ran parallel to the ocean. They passed massive striped iguanas sunning themselves on the roadside, bushes of tiny yellow and orange flowers, corrugated metal shacks, skinny cattle and jumpy ponies, lots sporting for sale signs in both Spanish and English, pastel houses on stilts, darkly tanned surfers watching the water, wild red Macaws, and saturated flood plains. On the way home they stopped at a small grocery just off the highway and bought interesting local drinks in flavors Per had never heard of.
That night, in bed, Sabina asked Per if he'd had a good day and he curled around her, his angular body doing its best to mold itself to the contours of her curved mass.
"Everything you've shown me has been very nice," he said, "but sometimes I just like being like this better."
On a the fourth day of Per's visit, a thick grey mist poured over the mountains to the east, obscuring them, and the air turned crisply cool. The sun was hidden behind a bank of dark clouds that edged into the sky from nowhere, and a delicate wet scent said the time was ripe for rain. It poured down in streaming opaque sheets, and Sabina, out of habit, left the front door wide open to listen to it fall through the fronds of the palms and down the leaky gutters. The stale air of the condo was replaced by a delicious earthy scent of wet soil and leaves.
It fell harder and faster than it had for a week and Sabina stood watching the wetness painting everything one shade darker as Per sat on the couch, silently reading. There in the doorway, she was suddenly stripping off her shorts and t-shirt and beckoning him to do the same. He shook his head while she unpinned her hair, already half wet with sweat, and let it hang freely. Clad only in bra and cotton panties, she beckoned again.
"What are you doing?" Per said.
"I'm going outside to dance," Sabina answered, "to pretend I'm a rain sprite or a prehistoric woman, to commune with the rain like a crazy lady. You coming?"
"What if someone sees you?"
"This could easily be a bathing suit and I'll hear anyone driving around the corner before they see me. No one is going to be walking around on a night like tonight. Besides, who cares? What are they going to do?"
She was out the door and away from the protection of the patio's roof before he could ask any more questions. In seconds, her skin was gently glistening and then dripping wet, the water washing down between her breasts, over her bare stomach, and down the creases where pubic mound met thigh. As the rain sounded off the metal roof like a staccato beat on a snare drum, she danced, bending and stretching to let the rain wash every inch of her body and opening her mouth to the sky to let the water splash over her tongue.
She stepped back inside and stripped off her dripping underclothes after the rain had died down. Per had, in the meantime, found her green towel and was just beginning to gently rub her dry when the lights went out.
He fumbled a bit in the darkness while Sabina felt her way to the dining table and found her flashlight. First, she helped him negotiate his way to the bedroom, where he hung up the towel and sat down on the bed, and then she set about lighting candles in the bathroom and living room with a lighter she kept handy. While she lit a stubby little candle in the bedroom, Per asked her if it was normal that the electricity should go out and she answered that, yes, it was quite everyday to lose power but it usually didn’t last long.
What had been simple rain became storm. They lay in bed pressed against each other watching the light of the single candle and listening to the echo of peals of thunder that seemed to last forever, crashing and rolling in waves. The lightning flashed through the skylight and revealed ethereal dancing shadows. Sabina could feel Per’s stare through the darkness, willing her to look up, to meet his eye, but she couldnt.
"I like you when you're like this," he said.
"I like you best when you're quiet."
She shook herself from his embrace and sat up just as an immense crash of thunder shook the condo's flimsy foundation.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" she said.
Per pulled her back down to the pillows.
"I just mean I find you much more alluring when you're not doing anything," he said. "You're always saying something or doing something, showing me something. You're so beautiful but I get distracted."
"Is that all you meant?" Sabina let herself be taken back into the wiry stretch of his arms but not returning his fading smile.
That's almost reasonable, she thought, doubting the assertion even as she voiced it inside her own head. When someone who values a quiet and relaxed life collides with someone like me, there is bound to be friction. I’ll just have to tone it down a bit.
At nine, the storm was over and, as the power had not come back on, the air inside the condo was growing steadily hotter. Per and Sabina agreed to try to go to sleep. When she'd brushed her teeth, she climbed over to the left side of the bed and watched through half-lidded eyes as Per slowly extricated his angular body from out of his clothes and stood for a moment wearing only underwear before settling down next to her. She could smell the same musty-sharp odor that she’d noticed when he'd arrived. She edged away from him and pretended to be on the verge of sleep.
"Sabina?" Per said.
She mumbled something into the crook of her arm.
"Can I have a kiss goodnight?" he said.
She couldn't have said why she didn’t pretend not to hear him or just brush his lips with her own and retreated, instead of moving over and letting herself become enveloped in his embrace which wasn’t soft or gentle, but instead was strong and eager. She felt his breath on her nose before lifting her chin aimlessly in the dark and finding his mouth there, his upper lip moist with sweat. As his tongue found hers, she knew that he knew it had been bound to happen and she experienced a brief moment of anger and then relief at his presumption. Per tugged Sabina's top up over her head and, as she wriggled free from it, she asked him if he'd thought to bring condoms to which he answered that he’d stashed a box of eight in his carry on at the last minute.
"When you assume you make an ass out of you and me," she said.
He rolled out of bed and stepped over to the corner, where he pulled the box out of his knapsack. Sabina was only half watching him, but was conscious of how the candlelight warped the walls around them, throwing oblong shadows and making Per seem twice as tall and twice as thin, like a man made out of Silly Putty stretched to its limits. She could make out his erection and found herself pulling the sheets up around her shoulders even though she could feel the sweat trickling down her stomach from underneath her breasts.
"Whenever you're ready," she said.
He grinned, slipping out of his underwear and kicking it off to the side before climbing between the sheets and tossing the box next to his pillow. He reached for her and she closed her eyes, blotting out the intensely disfiguring light of the candle and the image of Per’s pointy teeth and chin, and his big, searching eyes. She could feel the fine hairs that formed an triangle with its points at his nipples and bellybutton, not coarse like she’d always thought the hair on a man ought to be, but downy, like fur brushing against her corresponding parts, tickling her. When they touched, their sweat mingled and matted down hair, turning their bodies slick and musky. Sabina suddenly laughed out loud, struck by how academic, how out of the moment, it all felt, even as he reached down between her legs. He smiled when she laughed, asked her what was up and she told him that it was absolutely nothing.
Seventeen minutes later, as Sabina saw by the dim light of the travel clock on the nightstand next to the bed, Per began to squeal and squeak in a way that was unlike anything she had ever heard before and she gathered that he was quite close to having his orgasm. She bit the tight, smooth skin of his neck where it met the shoulders and that did it, finished what they'd both began, and she buried her face where she’d bitten so that he wouldn’t know she was laughing again.
For lunch the next day, Sabina took Per to one of the open-air sodas where they both ordered casados with batter-fried fish and perspiring bottles of Cerveza Imperial. A fresh breeze was blowing in from the east. He was eating quietly, efficiently, while Sabina poked at her food and wondered if he liked it, if he liked her, if he liked Jaco, if he liked anything at all in that floppy-haired brooding head of his. She’d shown him everything, from hermit crabs to mountains to monkeys to cramped packed-mud streets that ended in spooky shady glades of palms, but half of everything he said was a comment veiled as a question and the other half was innocuous and automatic responses.
"You don't say much, do you?" she said.
"I don't always need to talk," Per answered.
His tone was neutral and she consciously altered hers to match.
"I don't get it, though. When we were sending each other e-mails or chatting from thousands of miles apart, it seemed like you were always making some observation about the world. You told me how you felt about thunderstorms and how it was always special when you and your mother had asparagus. Now you're here. We’re here together. What happened to the other you?”
He adopted a thoughtful look and put down his fork.
"When I'm at the computer," he said, "I have time to think. A lot of time when I am writing an e-mail, but still time when I am talking to you. I think carefully about my words."
"Why so careful?"
"When I met you, I could tell you loved to talk, and I wanted to be able to communicate with you. On your level."
He resumed eating and it was Sabina's turn to put down her fork.
"On my level. Okay. But now?"
"Now, I am here and I don't think of much to talk about."
She gaped openly at him, then looked over her shoulder at the expansive bowl of sky dotted with clouds just beginning to darken at their centers. She could hear the surf pounding the shore, the excited calling of birds, and the clip-clop of a horse walking somewhere on the road.
"Nothing to talk about?" she said at last. "Doesn't any of this mean anything to you?"
"How about the rain? Have you ever seen rain like the rain in Costa Rica?"
"No, but it's still just rain."
"Just rain. What about the mountains and the black sand and the big fat hairy men wearing little bikini swimsuits?"
"Well," he said and she thought she detected condescension in his voice, "the rain is just precipitation and the mountains are the work of millions of years of geological activity. The same goes for your black sand. You look around you and see beauty but I’ve learned how the world works and so I know that beauty is just science."
"Don't be stuck up," Sabina said quietly. "I've studied my share of science."
She slumped in her seat and then said, "Tell me how you feel about rainbows."
"What about them?"
"What if there was a double rainbow right over there over those mountains?" she said, gesturing behind her. "Wouldn't you think it was a beautiful sight or at least something special?"
"I know how nature makes a rainbow and it may be unusual, but that's no reason to consider it very special," he answered. "Now can I eat? I find it pleasant to just sit and look at you."
Getting lost in the stars in my eyes. Your words, she thought, were a lie. You have not an ounce of zeal in you. Though you may look the part of the poet, you could never be one.
Jaco's main river had been so fat and sluggish for the week past that it had overflowed its banks, cutting a sharp curve northward and washing a large part of the shore into the sea, which the muddy silt carried by the river had colored a dull brown. Sabina was alone, watching as a portly log of driftwood was sucked down into the waves as the changing of the tide caused the sea to flow back over the fresh water. Change in action, she always thought while watching the town's waterways tear through their sandy beds, altering courses from day to day.
Per was back at the condo, reading. She'd spent the previous two hours sitting in the dim light and cool air of one of the more expensive Internet cafés, ostensibly for the purposes of work-related research, though she’d done nothing but answer long forgotten e-mails and lazily click through web pages at the cost of two dollars per hour. When there were no more e-mails and nothing else seemed capable of holding her interest, she left and walked down to the beach.
She squatted by the river's edge, stepping carefully so as not to cause the short but steep sandbank to spill over into the water. The sun was bright and high in the crystal sky. The usual clouds had congregated in the east, but they wouldn’t pour over the coast until late into the afternoon when the rain would inevitably come. She tossed a few damp and shiny pebbles, one orange, one red, and one emerald green, into the water and watched the resultant splash get carried away by the current. It struck her briefly that it wouldn’t be long before the skin of her shoulders began to burn and so Per would know that she hadn't been working after all. She didn't care and rather hoped he'd notice so that the discrepancy might goad him into conversation, even an angry one.
"Hey," said a masculine voice, interrupting her thoughts. "You American?"
"That’s right," she said, "but I live in Jaco."
"That's awesome," the voice said. "Me and some of my buddies are just down on vacation for the surf."
Sabina stood up, turned around, and found herself facing six feet of golden-tanned nearly hairless skin in twilight blue swim trunks. Muscles she hadn't known existed slid gracefully against one another under his skin as he shifted from bare foot to bare foot on the hot sand and gestured toward the pavement where, under one of the stunted coconut palms, a group of similar looking men were standing.
"And where do you guys all come from?" she said, playing her part in an exchange that was a duplicate of so many she'd suffered through.
"That's great. Flights must be pretty cheap when you can fly direct."
"Yeah," he said, running a hand through his sandy brown hair. "Today's our last day here and we were all wondering if you might like to come out with us tonight and show us all a good time."
"No," she said, "I don’t think so."
She nodded and, when one of the group waved, she walked away from the river and toward the street. On the pavement, when she was within a few feet of the six surfers, some said hello or smiled with straight white teeth that glowed of their own accord against the background of their uniformly burnished skin. Sabina couldn't help noticing the one in the center who had the brightest but the shyest smile. He was tan like the others, but instead of the sandy brown or black hair of his companions, his head was topped with a mop of curly gold. His eyes were downcast and he was wearing a light blue shirt that read "Kiss Me, I’m Chris."
Sabina stopped and realized she was staring. That, she thought, is it. The answer to the unspoken question that had hung over Per's visit like the evening clouds. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the one who’d spoken to her at the river heading toward her and she felt like an animal in a cage. She didn't want to go home and she couldn't stay there. She understood then that she was feeling an almost perverse happiness at the idea of putting Per back on a plane to Holland and her skin tingled when she thought of waking up without him there. She might have described it as experiencing plain and simple goodness mixed with freedom, Thanksgiving mixed with Independence Day. She stepped closer to the surfers, who very likely looked back upon that moment months and years afterward to think about how they couldn’t believe it had actually worked, because a moment later Sabina gave the one who may or may not have actually been Chris a soft fleeting kiss. Then she broke free of them and walked away.
Per and Sabina had sex for the second and final time shortly after she'd returned from the beach. Her shoulders and nose were pink and hot to the touch, but he said nothing, simply moved more carefully with a generous tenderness that overshadowed his obvious urgency. He did not ask what she’d done or where she'd been or who she'd met on her way. She let him kiss her all over, let him map the parts of her that he, between kisses, said he'd miss, and, when he asked her if she wanted to be on top, she crawled up on to him. She rode him and when he began to kiss her again, she was imagining, as she expected she would, someone named Chris.
I've played one on you, she thought, biting his shoulder and listening to his odd piggy squeals. In the final moments just before his orgasm left him panting into the crook of her neck he murmured that he loved her. She pretended not to hear. You thought you caught me, but I got you good and soon enough you and all the quiet you bring with you will be gone, gone, gone.
Sabina didn't say much on the drive back to San Jose the next morning and he didn't say anything, which suited her just fine. She drove fast. At the airport, she pulled the Cruiser up to the curb rather than parking in the garage, even though his flight would not leave for another three hours. After he'd pulled his bags from the back seat and deposited them on the curb, he, looking mildly confused, hugged her and she gently patted his back. When they separated, he opened his mouth to say something, but she quickly covered his lips with her fingers and shook her head. As she walked away from him, leaving him standing by the railing overlooking the taxiway, she whistled to herself. The joke's on you, friend, though I’ll never make this mistake a second time, she thought. You love silence so much? Now you’ve got it.