From the Dead Story Files


The night was among the purest black that Amber had ever seen. And yet, despite its textured thickness, she was able to make out the pearly sheen of waves reflecting off the bare bones of the moon. Aside from herself, perched upright in a beach chair, shrouded in a large towel, there was no one. The resort was about a mile down the beach but she felt farther from it, shill shaking with anger and the large quantities of cheap consumed champagne. Amber associated this kind of darkness inseparably with equally thick, hefty chill, but it was just as warm now as during the day when the beach was filled with people and Spanish music blared from battery-powered boom boxes.
Looking out into the ocean was like looking into the pupils of an abused child. It was impossible to be angry here, while surrounded by dampened friendly warmth and excess and dancing, impossible not to have her soul instantly dredged of all the week’s terror and badness. She recoiled in the chair and smiled and cried like a sun shower.
On the day she arrived, she had never been to the tropics and stepping off the plane, she felt like she was in a surrealist painting. Palm trees leaned in the breeze against a backdrop of a coconut milk sky, their leaves large darted sails of green the airport’s rooftops were quaintly thatched and airport employees donned leis of tropical flowers, their petals colours Amber could not believe truly existed in nature; land was flat and fresh and stretched forever; people rode squirrely bicycles down thin, chaotic roads. She looked up and saw clouds part revealing a patch of pure, pale cerulean which felt higher and farther away than the skies back home. She felt both hyper-alive and infinitely dreaming.
Her companion was Warren, a burly older man with thinning curly hair and tree trunk arms and legs, with thick red-hard skin and pock marks carved crudely into his jowl cheeks. He grabbed her shiny red suitcase and his own black duffel bag from the luggage carousel and waded through crowds of vacationers to their shuttle bus. She clasped his arm and walked with him, glancing around the foreign airport with wide childish eyes. It occurred to her then just how far away her life was from this place, separated by a deadened expanse of deep, tumultuous water.
Night fell drastically as the shuttle pulled out of the airport, but Amber did catch the tiniest glimpse of a quick sunset the shade of bright, sinister crimson. Her heart skipped a beat, her insides quivered inside her skin. It probably showed on her face, judging by the nudge of frustration and concern she felt against her arm. Her hair puffed and she touched it gingerly, feeling it frizzy and damp against her fingers. She carefully rehearsed Spanish vocabulary in her head as the shuttle zipped down skinny, winding, unpaved roads, reggae music playing on the shuttle radio.
The feeling she got sitting next to Warren was akin to sitting next to a perverse stranger on a city bus. The fabric of his khaki shorts felt intrusive and foreign against her bare leg, and the two of them barely exchanged words since sitting down. In fact, neither had spoken at all since their plane touched the ground except a few confused utters of “Gracias”. She slept the whole eight hour plane ride, swallowing a couple of downers in the airport while Warren had a few afternoon drinks at the bar by himself. She peered over from where she was sitting, watching him intently as he drank straight vodka with only a few ice cubes floating in his glass. There was a twist of lime perched on its rim that he dropped into the drink and swirled around on the countertop. It was a chic drink, unexpected given his head-to-toe ravaged denim ensemble, the knees of his jeans thinning and caked with old mud. He hadn’t been what she expected at all, until she had seen his drink of choice, and the meticulous way in which he tended to it, the mechanical sips and stirs.
As she watched him he looked up and had beckoned her over. She sat beside him and he begrudgingly engaged her in sporadic conversation until she was too weary from her tablets to carry on talking. She boarded the plane woozy and incoherent and awoke in the Dominican Republic, with no recollection of the flight whatsoever.
The resort’s lobby was brimming with exotic good spirits; the employees were grinning from ear to ear, showcasing glassy white teeth, wearing bright blue blazers. Women dressed in traditional costumes offered up blue cocktails while vacationers waited in line for their hotel keys. A woman in a wedding dress sleepily lounged in a chair by the lobby bar, drunkenness visible on her tanned, dewy face. People were dancing to a live band outside, mostly elderly couples, but a few people her own age, perhaps newlyweds or university students, were swaying manically, their shapes visible in the dim light of hanging lanterns. She forgot Warren for a minute and focused on all of this savage magic that surrounded her. She grabbed a drink in spite of herself and waited for Warren to get their keys.
“Como estas?” asked the woman, her gorgeous thick hair hanging down over one browned shoulder.
“Er… estoy… bien…” she replied shyly. She took a drink and instantly felt like a vacationer. Warren approached with their room keys and they walked through the resort to their room.
The room was dim with an outdated floral bedspread and matching curtains. In the mini fridge were bottles of beer and Coca Cola, free of course, and there was a balcony with an ocean view. The ocean in the evening was the colour of asphalt and she couldn’t see the horizon in the dark. Nights in the Caribbean were blacker than her nights at home. Despite the relaxing exterior of a resort, the nature of the night seemed to indicate that a murky danger was hidden amongst the trees, waiting to snap its teeth at you in the water. Amber sat down on the Queen-sized bed, feeling its hardness beneath her palm. Warren came over and sat beside her.
“I’m tired,” she murmured.
“Too tired for a drink?” he murmured back. And the two of them changed out of their North American clothing and made their way to the lobby bar.
Her drink was a milky sea green, too sweet for the hot humidity, and not nearly strong enough. She longed for a crisp Canadian beer and guiltily realized it was only her first night there. She drank slowly, savouring the sugary rum flavour.
“Do you drink champagne?” he asked.
“Yeah, why?”
“They have bottles in the dining room.”
Warren sauntered awkwardly over to the buffet table and concealed a bottle of champagne under his beach towel. Amber was both in awe, and suspicious of his meticulous thieving. He carried the bottle back to the hotel room and the two of them drank straight from the bottle, passing it back and forth, reminiscent of their respective high school years, the rebelliousness, the excess. She felt the bottle’s smooth, carved ridges against her lips and truly knew then how far she was from home, splitting a bottle of cheap, generic sparkling wine with someone who was almost a complete stranger, wearing a string bikini top, wandering over to her balcony, her face glowing with an inebriated, heat-baked sheen.


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