Hidden in the Trees

(excerpt)

I.

At five-thirty when the alarm went off Max was already out of bed shouting, “Get up!  We’ll miss the bus, let’s go.  Hop to it!”  He was wearing jeans and his khaki shirt, as always. Jenny watched with one eye – the other seemed to be stuck shut – as he popped a rubber band around his silver ponytail.

“Hop to it?” she said, trying to blink her eye free, reaching for the jeans she’d stepped out of a few hours ago.

“That’s right, sweetheart.  Hop your silly ass to it.”  He grabbed his backpack and leaned across the bed to slap her on the hip.

In the thin morning light the streets of the town looked different, smaller, quainter, less like a tourist trap, as though this was the real city beneath the noise and sun and stupidity of the foreign crowds.  Belizean women hurried by, arms heaped with baskets, long dresses swiveling around their ankles.  There was a small crowd of locals in the square, gathered around a bus that was covered, wheel wells to roof, with a mural: saints, angels and sinners gazed up at an enormous, grinning Jesus with rays of light, or power, shooting from his head. 

“The town doesn’t look so bad, right now,” Max said as they joined the crowd.  “But give it a couple of hours and this place will be full of idiots.”  He scratched at the gray bristles on his cheek with a frown.  He was, he’d said, thinking of growing a beard.

Yesterday they’d arrived in this little beach town, which, Max had assured her, had only been built for the pleasure-seeking snorkeling hordes of idiot Americans that milled around in flip-flops.  Fools who’d pay anything for a room.  It wasn’t until all the other tourists had been whisked away that a young man with a sloppily corrected hair lip agreed to Max’s terms: ten dollars a night with their own bathroom and a fan. 

As they followed the man past cafes and a crowded bar with enormous stacked speakers thumping reggae into the street, Max put an arm around Jenny and tugged her close. “Three days of this tourist bullshit, then we’re out of here.”

 “Fine,” she said.  His fingers were digging under her ribs and she tried to pry herself loose.  “Three days.  But don’t ruin those, OK?”

“What are you talking about?” he said, pulling her tighter, taking her breath away.  “When do I ruin anything?”

Their room was the nicest accommodations they’d had in months: painted light blue, with a bright white ceiling from which hung a ceiling fan that spun soundlessly.  Lacy curtains hung at the windows that went nearly from floor to ceiling and there was a gleaming, tiled bathroom.  As soon as they were alone Max pulled down his shorts and stood with his long penis dangling from beneath the flaps of his khaki shirt.  “Alright.  Let’s get down to the beach, slather ourselves with some chemicals and work on that skin cancer.  That’s my idea of a good time.  What do you say?”

“You’re a real jackass, aren’t you?” she said, covering herself with a towel, though she was still dressed.  She wanted to lock herself in the bathroom, curl up in that cool, smooth, immaculate tub.

“What are you talking about, Jenny?  I’m here to have fun.  Let’s have some fun.”  He swung his hips so his penis knocked from thigh to thigh. 

“Sometimes,” she said, fastening the towel around her skinny chest, “you’re a real asshole, you know that?”

“That’s why you love me,” he said, unbuttoning his shirt, then taking a long, approving look at his body.  He was forty, twelve years older than she, but just as thin, with ropey muscles from his long neck to his square, solid calves. Sharp tan lines made him look as though he’d been cobbled together carefully: dark, almost chocolate forearms turning suddenly bright white half-way up the bicep. There was a perfect curve of tanned skin around his neck, where his T-shirts ended, so it looked as though his head could be lifted cleanly off his pale shoulders with their white ridges of muscle, the hollows of the collarbone distinct.  The same lines marked Jenny’s arms and neck and thighs: this was the first time they’d left the mountains and come down to the coast. 

  – This story can be read in its entirety in the Spring 2007 issue of The Antioch Review.

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