New Writing

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Kindness

Tobias Hill

There was the time she and Eliseo went to a hotel, almost the last night they spent together. They were in Mexico for a funeral. There was a bed for them with friends but Eliseo turned it down. He was in a bright, dark mood, as if it were the fiesta of All Saints. He said, Aura, baby, let someone sweep up after you for a change. We’ll call room service for wine. We’ll make love between clean sheets.

(He didn’t say that. He never used that word. It is Aura who makes him make love, when she remembers him).

The hotel was by the bus depot. There was no room service, but Eliseo bought suspiros and sangria. Their room was above a restaurant and the smells and music floated up, the latest corridos and the green scent of fresh tortillas. And the room was so nice, so clean, with flowers and a new TV. They lay together in the television’s candlelight. They ate the suspiros, light as air, the crumbs lodging between them as they kissed.

They did it gently. Later the last bus left the depot and then it was quieter. Aura lay awake listening to strangers in the street, the people of the capital, calling, calling back, laughing.

The hotel was not a kindness. Eliseo took her there because the big city made him proud. In the city of Mexico he wanted to spend his money, to take it out and have it seen. But that night they were good together, they were made for each other, and so the memory is kind, now that Eliseo is gone. That night Aura was happy. That night and the next morning, waking with Eliseo’s head warm and heavy in her arms.

She hopes she’ll have that when she’s old. She hopes it is a memory which God will let her keep. You never know what He will leave you. That, too, would be kindness.


‘I’m going to kill somebody,’ Aura says.

‘You’re not going to kill anyone.’ says America. ‘Relax, girl, don’t kick so much. You drive like a man in spurs.’

America’s car is a great white Mercedes. Each door says Bridal Joy. Ever since Aura started work America has driven her home. Always they talk, and sometimes - if Aura has been working nights and America has got her boys to sleep - they keep driving and stay out late. Doroteo teases them. A man could be jealous, he says. Seems I lost my wife to my baby sister.

Aura loves it when anyone drives her, but America is her favourite. When America drives her home, Aura slides back in her seat and watches the lights of Cancun turn from uptown to downtown while America talks on above her, or sings to the radio in her dusty brokedown voice. The big car cradles Aura, as if she is a princess, or still the baby that men call her.

But now this summer things have changed. Now America is teaching Aura to drive. Aura knows she should be grateful. It’s only that when she sits behind the heavy leathered wheel, she finds the car begins to scare her. It’s too big for her to wield. She becomes aware of its power. In Aura’s hands the car is a weapon. Here, at the lights. Put your foot down, close your eyes, and just like that you kill someone.

You do it, America said, the first night she made Aura try. You do it, my hands are bad. And it’s true that America worked in her father’s bakery when she was a girl, that her hands ache now when the nights are warm. So Aura has to do it.

‘Take it easy,’ says America. She checks her nails, each side of her cigarette. ‘Don’t think about it too much.’

‘I wasn’t,’ Aura says. ‘I was thinking of Eliseo.’

The lights change. ‘Go!’ America waves, and sighs. ‘Better you think about driving, even.’

America never liked Eliseo, but when he went back to his wife she never said I told you so. America isn’t like that. With Aura she’s like a mother: not like Aura’s Mama, who buries herself in mourning, but like a caring mother in a story with no shades or shadows.

Still, Aura likes to think of Eliseo, and most of all that night in the city of Mexico. And here and now, she’s sure, it’s better to think of Eliseo than of what she’s doing. When Aura drives she gets so tense! Her face is a death-mask. Her mouth is tight, her eyes are fixed on the road. Her arms press against the wheel, as if she could push it away. America is still talking.

‘You deserve better than some Eliseo.’

‘He loved me. He told me,’ Aura says, though he never did, nor will America believe her.

‘You pick bad men, Aura. You don’t need some married man, you need one all to yourself, a man as sweet as mango. A girl as kind as you are, you deserve a prince.’

People have often said that, too - that Aura is kind. It’s another name they give her, like Baby. Like Baby, it never feels fitting. It makes Aura think of the crude things children believe, and the stories her Mama used to tell her, in which kindness always earned kindness.

They are leaving Cancun’s Hotel Zone, the last, least hotels more like offices than palaces. Kukulcan Boulevard gives way to the first downtown blocks. A torn-up basketball court. Tamarinds, their trunks whitewashed, formal, like rich men dressed up to dance. America has gone quiet beside her.

Night. The clipped silver of the moon.

‘Am I kind?’ Aura wants to ask. ‘Aren’t I beautiful?’ she wants to ask, sometimes, but she never does.

Near the Zone the streets are all named after the ruins of the Mayan past - the Avenue Chichen Itza, the Avenue Uxmal - but here they have only numbers, as if they ran out of ruination. Aura gets out on Fifth Street, kisses America goodnight. Next to her place the boys are gathering for the evening. Mario is barechested and from somewhere he has a cigar. Their whistles and promises follow her inside.

‘Mama?’ she whispers. There is no answer, though Aura can see her, huddled on the couch. There is a smell of refried beans, which is good, a hopeful thing. The roaches ghost away as Aura turns on the light. She leaves it on to keep them timid, washes herself, then turns out the light and undresses in the dark. Her bed is warm, as if someone has been there before her. She lies awake and listens to the boys outside.

Without moving her lips she makes her prayer before sleep. She asks God if she can dream of a man all her own, a man both kind and beautiful. Failing that, of the lightness of suspiros, the weight of Eliseo.


The Zone of Cancun is a thread of land, thin as the lip of a champagne glass, the lagoon to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east all the way to the Ocean. It is barely wide enough for its fringes of sand, the iguanas basking along the Kukulcan Boulevard, and the hotels strung like cultured pearls along the oceanside: the Caesar, the Mirage, the Meridien. Aura’s hotel, the Zenith, is a pyramid of seaviews, a ziggurat of hanging gardens. It is a different kind of ruin, a perfect one, flawless as the skins of the bathers along the Bay of Avalon.

Aura gets in early. She says good day to Mekel and goes up the steps he has swept, through the marbled lobby to the servants’ unsoftened rooms and uncarpeted passages. Mekel comes along with her, meek as an old dog. Mekel is a refugee from Guatemala. Everyone comes to Cancun, Mekel for a better life, the beautiful young tourists to find one another. And the old gringo women with eyes like fox-furs, waiting all night in the Beach of Pearls Lounge – what do they come for? Who are they waiting for, here, where no one knows to care for them?

In the Duty Room Lupita is arguing with Ricardo. Encarnacion from Reception is watching them like television.

‘Who is she to complain?’ Lupita yells. ‘She who forgets to flush! Am I her nursemaid? I left flowers in her room, the ungrateful slut. Skin flowers, to match her hair.’

‘I don’t ask you to think about matching her hair. I don’t ask you to do thinking. This job demands cleaning, Lupita, cleaning, nothing more or less. If the lady forgets to flush, then you flush for her.’

‘If she forgets to piss?’

Ricardo raises one finger. ‘Cleaning,’ he whispers - it is a threat - and Lupita shrugs and mutters. ‘Yes, Señor,’ is all she says; but she smiles at his back with all her teeth, as if she might sink them into him.

Mekel shares his tea with Aura. He brings a thermos every day and picks the herbs himself, the way country people do. Lupita is still loitering, smoking out the window. ‘Aura,’ she says, after a while, and Aura almost spills her tea. ‘Aura Celiz. Is that you?’

‘It’s her,’ Encarnacion puts in, cheerfully, because she’s hoping for more trouble.

‘You work Sunday nights, right, Aura? It says so on the roster.’

Mekel takes back his cup. He looks a little worried, as if Lupita might notice him, too, but she has eyes only for Aura. ‘I’ll work your late shift,’ she says, ‘The Sunday after next’.

‘Oh,’ Aura says. ‘But, Lupita, I need the money -’

‘I’ll pay you. I’ll pay you half,’ Lupita says. ‘It’s a good deal for you. You call in sick and get some rest.’

Estela comes in with coffee. Lupita scowls at it and her.

‘White,’ she says. ‘I asked for white. What’s wrong with everyone today? I hate this place. I hate this job. Tourists are ungrateful as thieves.’

‘You don’t hate the man,’ Estela says to her sister. She settles herself down and blows on the coffee. ‘Lupa, you don’t hate the man in the Ruins of the Kings.’

‘Aura,’ Lupita says, ‘Come on, help me out.’

‘She’ll give you what she makes,’ Estela says. ‘You know you will, Lupa.’

‘I’ll pay her half. Aura?’

‘Be nice to Lupa, she’s in love,’ Estela says, and her sister makes as if to slap her.

‘Aura,’ Lupita pleads, ‘Do this for me.’ So Aura does.


Aura was small when her parents came to Cancun. Papi had been offered a job, building hotels along the Nichupté Lagoon. The first year was like a honeymoon, with plenty of money coming in. Mama worked mornings with America, at Bridal Joy, and Papi and Doroteo brought in extra on the side. They made themselves up as clowns and stood along the Kukulcan Boulevard. They made balloon animals for the tourists at the traffic lights. They posed, smiling, for the children. The tourists would laugh and maybe give them dollars. Then one day an American stopped for a photo. He told them not to smile, he didn’t want them happy. Papi did it. The American showed them the picture: a boy and a man, gawky and foolish, clumsily made up as clowns. Papi said nothing, but after that he stopped working so much. He started drinking again.

When Aura was five she began school at the Garden of American Children on Jasmine Street. The first day Papi walked her there himself. The headmistress blushed when he shook her hand. Papi was a handsome man.

‘So this is your daughter? So pretty already! She’s going to be a beauty.’

‘This is my Aura. You’ll take good care of her?’

‘As if she were my own,’ the headmistress said, and blushed all over again.

Aura remembers the nursery well. There was a painting, on the yard wall, of a beautiful white woman and seven ugly little men. Even before she knew the woman’s American name, Aura wanted to be Snow White, who the Mexicans call White Flower. The seven men - bandits, or dwarves - they would all love Aura like fathers. She told a boy she liked but he laughed at her. Look at your hands! he said. How can you be White Flower, when you have skin like an Indian?

Aura knew then that the headmistress had lied about her beauty. She wasn’t pretty. She would never be the princess in the story.

From the boy she had liked the other children found her out. For a while they called her Happy, it was her nickname with them. It was the name of one of the dwarves.


Everyone is talking about the man in the Suite of the Ruins of the Kings.

Ricardo hears him playing the piano in the Beach of Pearls. He must be famous, Ricardo says; many ladies knew his name. In Ricardo’s personal opinion his voice is nothing much, a mariachi kind of singer, but the piano? Well, of course. A piano is always pleasant to hear in the hands of a professional. If you like that sort of thing.

Mekel says maybe he’s rich. His hire-car is something else. There’s bad feeling in the garage because the boys all want to park it. The man says that before he leaves he’ll take one of them out and floor it - Hasta la vista, baby - but Mekel doesn’t think he will. The man himself drives not so well. Why then hire such a car? Mekel wouldn’t like to say.

Estela reads out items from the local newspapers. The pianist’s concerts have sold out. His first performance is received with storms of rapturous applause. He is The Celebrated Chicagoan. After his recent divorce - so the gossip columns say - he looks for the woman of his dreams...really, who writes these things? What kind of fool would believe them, Lupa?

Lupita has talked to him. It happened the same evening he played in the Beach of Pearls. What did they talk about? That’s no one’s business but Lupa’s.

Encarnacion doesn’t know what Lupita sees in him. He doesn’t look so hot to her. Not so tall, not so slim. A man with something to hold on to, if you like that sort of thing.

Sunday week, after his last show, a private party will be held in celebration of the pianist, in the Suite of the Ruins of the Kings.


All that week, Aura goes to clean the rooms of the pianist.

Always, as she knocks, she prays for there to be no answer; and always, when no answer comes, she finds herself disappointed. She goes in behind the laundry trolley, shielded by Egyptian cotton, but the pianist isn’t one of those Aura catches unawares, sleeping or showering or worse (passed out stinking on the floor, with some soft-focus pay-to-view still playing on the television). The pianist is never there except in what he leaves behind. A score as heavy as a Bible. A licked-clean bag of Lay’s Barbecue Potato Chips. One word written by the phone - Paris, with a line drawn through it - in a simple, boyish hand.

The suite itself is beautiful, the best in the hotel, the zenith of the Zenith. On clear days Aura has seen Cuba from here. The pianist’s suitcases lie open, facing the view, like indolent sunbathers. Only the suits have been unpacked.

One morning his concert clothes lie everywhere, the tuxedo a trail of black satin, the shirt bunched in a corner as if hurled there. Aura folds the dress shirt and lays it on the bed. It has a scent - a man’s cologne - and a pinprick of blood on the inner collar.

Once there are two glasses by the pool, and a bottle beside them. ‘The Brandy That Conquers’, Aura reads. She holds the spirit up to smell. She doesn’t let it touch her lips.


Aura dreams of her father. It is six years since he died. At first they thought it was an accident, since it happened on site, but it turned out to be his heart. The doctor said his eating had weakened it. After she was told this Aura’s mother gave up her cooking. She had always believed her man would die in an accident.

Now he is lying on a hotel bed. His skin is dark, like Aura’s. He is a handsome Mayan man, born in the highlands with the old language on his tongue. There is no blood on him, but there is a hole in his chest.

It is as wide as Aura’s open hand, this hole. Papi is like a chac-mool, the statue-altars of the ancestors, with the hollows in their bellies for the offerings of human hearts. There is sun coming in, touching her father’s face.

Wake up, Aura says, Papi, wake up; but as she says it she is already waking herself, hungry, her body barred with midmorning light.


The first time they meet is by Ronaldo’s Hamburguesas.

It happens Sunday, late. Aura works the evening shift that Lupita will take next week, when she will serve delicacies to the pianist and his dearest Cancunenses in the Ruins of the Kings.

Driving home, America wants to hear it all again - the rich and not-so-handsome pianist; Lupa’s shameful designs on him. Aura tires of telling it, but afterwards she finds herself unsettled, lacking tiredness, and so she walks before bed, maybe to get something to eat, down Fifth Street to the junction where the shops begin; and that is where she finds him.

At first she doesn’t know it’s him. She only sees the car, blocking the traffic at the junction. It sits across two lanes, under Ronaldo’s sign, which says, red/green/red/green,
HAM
BUR
GUE
SAS in four descending cubes of light.

Even so awkwardly abandoned, the car is an elegant thing. Ronaldo’s customers and others from the Oxxo are gathering round, admiring both its beauty and the trouble it’s causing. A trucker in a Stetson is working himself up, waving his arms, now at the offending car, now at the junction beyond, where the backed-up traffic blares and jostles.

By the car is a man with a phone in one hand, a tuxedo jacket in the other. He is frowning over the phone; not angrily, but like a boy who has said the wrong thing and now searches for the words to make it better; and Aura - who has never seen the pianist - recognises him.

She goes closer, into the crowd. Her English is not so good, and she is shy of men, but the pianist speaks no Spanish - Aura can hear him struggling - he has forgotten even the name of his hotel - and no one else is helping him.

He gives her his phone too easily. Aura calls Reception. One of the night porters answers. Too late, Aura understands that already she is lucky. The porter doesn’t know her voice, he has never spoken to her, but Encarnacion works some nights. Aura has done nothing, but Lupita would still kill her for it.

‘They come for the car,’ Aura says, when she hangs up. ‘And you. They take you back.’

‘Oh.’ The pianist looks at the crowd. ‘How long do you think they’ll be?’

‘Not long. Your hotel is not far,’ Aura says, and the pianist gazes back at her.

‘You know where I’m staying? Great! Maybe I can walk there?’

‘No,’ Aura says, ‘Better you wait.’

‘Listen, I’ll be fine. Just point it out for me,’ the pianist says, and points the wrong way. ‘It’s that way, right?’

They walk together, up through downtown. It feels strange to Aura, to just leave the car behind, stranger than it feels to have the pianist beside her.

‘You helped me out there,’ he says. ‘Patch,’ he says, and holds out his hand.

‘Patch?’

‘It’s what my friends call me. It’s really Patrick. What’s your name?’

Lupita, she wishes she could tell him. It is such a sharp name, desirable as a stiletto. She wishes she were Lupita, who knows how to talk to men.

They walk on under neon. Outside a taqueria the pianist abruptly stops. ‘You know what? I’m hungry,’ he says. ‘You want to grab something to eat?’

‘With me?’ Aura says, and the pianist laughs.

‘Not without you. Where would I be without you?’

The pianist talks as he eats. He asks Aura what she does, and laughs again when she tells him. No way, he says. You might have even cleaned my room. Please tell me you haven’t cleaned my room.

He is younger than she imagined him. He has fine eyes, big eyes, like the wolf in the story. Aura’s face burns, spotlight-hot, as she watches him.

‘So you know me,’ he says, when he’s done.

‘You’re the pianist. You’re a famous man.’

‘Not so much,’ he says. It’s the first time he speaks quietly, and Aura watches him, this new quietness in him. ‘Famous pianists, you know, they don’t...I mean, this isn’t Paris. Don’t get me wrong. I mean, I like it here. I got to meet you, didn’t I?’

Afterwards she walks him back. She stops short of the Zenith. The pianist smiles at her. ‘What is this? You don’t want to be seen with me?’

Aura shakes her head. It’s late, and the Zone is quiet. No one is walking except them. The moon is one week thinner.

‘Oh. Well, oh well,’ the pianist says, in his quiet voice. ‘I guess this is goodbye.’

She is walking away when he calls after her, ‘Wait. Can I see you again?’

‘Why?’

‘Why?’ He waves his arms, like the truck driver. ‘Because I’d like to see you again, is all.’

‘Maybe you see me in the hotel,’ Aura says, but the pianist shakes his head.

‘I don’t think that’s good enough. How about I see you in another hotel?’

‘Another?’

‘The Hilton. Tomorrow night. I have dinner all to myself. Say yes, Aura. Please say yes.’


The stories Aura’s mother told all came to the same thing. There was the one about the two hunchbacks. The nice hunchback was healed, but his brother’s meanness earned him a second hump. There was the one about the woodsman’s daughters, who could save their father’s life only by marrying a bear; and when the youngest did, she found that every night the bear turned into a prince, handsome and rich and loving. There was the Ash Girl, Cenicienta, and White Flower, whose mother suffered for her own cruelty.

Kindness earns kindness.

Sometimes, if Mama was too tired, Papi would put Aura to bed. He told different stories, those of his people. Old stories of another Mexico.

‘Once,’ Aura’s father says, ‘There was this princess. Her father was a powerful king. The king wanted his daughter to marry some other powerful man, but the princess hated them. She loved her father’s warrior, and he loved her.

‘The king said to his warrior, go fight for me. Kill all my enemies, and you can have my daughter. This king, he had many enemies, Mexicans, even monsters.’

‘What kind of monsters?’ Aura asks.

‘Like the Sun Dog,’ Papi says. ‘Like the dog of the underworld, who drags the sun to hell. So the warrior, he says goodbye to the princess. For years he fights. One day he kills the king’s last enemy.

‘When the king hears the news, it makes him real angry. All along he was sure the warrior would die. Now he has to give up his only daughter to a man with no power.

‘So the king goes to the princess. He tells her he has news. The warrior has died in battle. Now she has to marry someone else. But when the princess hears this, she gets sick, and she dies. The grief kills her.

‘Now the warrior comes home, but the princess is already dead. The warrior asks for her body. The king gives it to him. The warrior, he carries her way, way up into the mountains. He builds a pyre there. He lights the pyre and he takes the princess in his arms. He steps into the fire. There he dies, with the one he loves.’

Aura liked Papi’s stories best.

*

The third time they meet is when they kiss.

‘You know,’ he says, ‘I like you. You’re something, Aura. I don’t know what, but something.’

‘Not beautiful,’ Aura says, and when the pianist insists she tells him not to lie to her. She pushes him away.

Later, he comes back round to it. ‘My wife,’ he says, ‘She was beautiful. It didn’t make it work. It doesn’t work for me with them. I want something different now. Something like I see in you.’

‘What is it?’ Aura asks, and he thinks.

‘You’re gentle,’ he says in the end. ‘You’ve just got this amazing gentleness.’


‘I have to leave, Monday.’

‘I know.’

‘I’m having a party on Sunday, though. Just friends. I’d really like it if you came. There’s some people you could meet.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why?’

Aura tries to think of a reason. ‘It’s against the rules.’

‘What rules? You mean the hotel?’

He moves closer. ‘Come with me, Aura,’ he whispers. ‘Come with me. We can make our own rules.’


Not everyone knows it, but America is a romantic at heart. When Aura goes to her she wants to hear it all three times. The third time is mainly so she can keep on asking why Aura didn’t tell her sooner? You think this is something to hide? You’re crazy, keeping this from me. Love! I should kill you, girl.

They are in the back room of Bridal Joy, on the Avenue Tulum. All around them are precious silk dresses and satin shoes, porcelain husbands and wives, china swans and hounds, glass Christs, White Flowers, Cenicientas, all the wedding symbols. It is Sunday morning, the shop is locked up, they are alone. America is so happy she looks in love herself.

‘Tell me again about the Hilton.’

‘I told you three times already!’

America sighs. ‘So now he just leaves?’

‘He has to go to Europe.’

‘He can’t take you with him?’

‘America.’

‘Or maybe he comes back for you -’

America.

‘So, what then, you go to this party?’

‘I can’t. Lupita will be there.’

‘Screw Lupita. You’re going to that party.’

‘But I don’t have anything to wear.’

America opens out her arms. ‘Look around, will you? By the time I’ve finished Lupita won’t even know you. You won’t recognise yourself. Alright...Not white, the wear might show, and anyway, this isn’t a wedding. That one. That one. And this. Come on, what are you waiting for?’

The dress transforms her. ‘I don’t know what to say,’ Aura says.

‘Say thank you,’ America tells her. ‘And don’t sweat. If you do I’ll never forgive you.’


So many flowers! Jacaranda, bouganvillea, poinsettia, acacia...the zenith of the Zenith is like a jungle on fire. And so many people. A pale man in fishbowl glasses and a bowtie stops beside her. ‘Can I help you?’ he says, ‘You look so lost.’

‘I’m not lost,’ Aura says, and turns back to the window, watching his reflection move away. Outside the sun is going down. The shadow of a plane comes across the waves, like something creeping towards shore.

Already she has drunk too much. She began when she saw Lupita. Lupita’s eyes are ocean-cold whenever Aura turns her way. And there are too many people, so many that the pianist hasn’t even seen her.

Let him see me now, Aura thinks. Make him hurry and see me. I don’t like it here, alone.

Another minute and she will go. Another minute and she will count to a hundred. Then she feels him by her, a quick kiss on her cheek.

‘You look wonderful. Kind of like a bride,’ he says, and she has to laugh.

‘And you look nice too.’

‘New shoes, see? They gave me them. Souvenirs. You like them?’

Aura doesn’t. The pianist’s eyes are bright: like her, he has drunk too much.

‘They’re made of shark,’ he says, and grins like one. Aura shakes her head.

‘Don’t do that.’

‘Don’t do what?’

‘Smile like that,’ she says, but the room is too loud, and the pianist doesn’t hear. He is looking away. Two foreign women are coming through the crowd towards them, and he takes her arm. ‘You haven’t had the official tour, right?’

‘I work here.’

‘Sure,’ he says, leading her, ‘But you deserve the tour anyway.’

He ushers her onto the terrace. ‘This is the terrace,’ he says, grandly. It is like a game, and also like dream, and Aura laughs again despite herself.

On they go. ‘This is the private pool. And here we have the master bedroom. It has these dimmer lights, see, and a door that locks. Like this.’

He is still whispering as he kisses her, his mouth on her neck. He is raising her skirts. She loses herself in the sound of him.

There is a knocking at the door, someone calling the pianist’s name, but Aura hardly hears.

It is only when the dress tears that the joy of it deserts her. It is like waking too fast from a dream. ‘Stop,’ she says, and when he doesn’t she pushes him away.

‘Ow. Hey, what?’

Abruptly she can smell the drink on them both. She is on her knees, searching for her shoes. One of them is gone in the dark.

The knocking comes again, a woman softly calling the pianist’s name. It is Lupita’s voice, and Aura hears something in its softness. She has never heard Lupita speak that way before. All at once she thinks of the two glasses by the pool.

The guilt of what she has done burns her up all at once, like a feather in a flame. What was she thinking? What can she do? She almost falls again, fumbles with the lock, pushes past Lupita’s mournful stare, on through the crowd and out, pulling off the one shoe she still has. She goes down the service stairs, out through the service passages with their hot reek of insecticide, running until she leaves the Zone behind, on past the Oxxo and the Auto-Mac. Her bare feet are raw. She hardly feels them.

It is my fault, she thinks. I should have known. And then, This must be how my father felt. So this is how he felt. This shame.


The dress will come clean. It was only the stockings that tore, and Aura can buy those herself. But the shoe is gone, and she knows that the shoes cost more than she can afford.

America will never forgive her. All night Aura sits awake. Only when her mother gets up does she decide what to do.

It is already light when she walks up to the Avenue Tulum. America is just opening up. ‘I’ll tell you later’, Aura says. ‘He wants me to take him to the airport. Can I have the car?’

America hugs her. ‘Tell him to come back,’ she says. She presses the keys into Aura’s hand.


Somehow she knows he will be gone. He checked out real early, Mekel tells her. He looks at Aura with wide eyes, and she knows that Lupita has been talking. She wonders what people will call her now.

The penthouse suite hasn’t been cleaned yet. Aura latches the door behind her, runs to the master bedroom, but the shoe is nowhere. There is nothing of the pianist, either, except the ruins of his celebration.

She drives to the airport. In the departure hall two men are playing piano music on marimbas. In the restaurant a man who looks like the pianist is eating quesadillas. In duty free a woman who looks like Lupita is trying on earrings.

With nowhere else left to look she tries the souvenir shop; and there is the pianist.

‘Hi!’ he says. ‘What are you doing here? Listen, I’m sorry about last night, really. Let’s just forget it. Hey, want to get a drink?’

She says nothing as she goes with him. She lets him talk and talk. The pianist tells her about the friends he has made in Cancun, and how he’ll come back again. He tells her that once, when he was a boy, he swam in the Caribbean Sea. He’s never forgotten that. He learned the names for all the fish, even the corals, amazing things. Stars, Brains, Gorgonians.

When Aura speaks he stops and looks at her as if he has never seen her before.

‘I want my shoe back.’

‘Your...what? What are you talking about?’

‘My shoe. It’s not mine. I left it in your room.’

‘It’s your shoe, but it’s not your shoe?’ The pianist laughs, then stops. ‘Maybe it’s still there.’ He has his helpful frown on again.

‘I looked already.’

‘Well, I don’t have it. Listen, Aura, I better go pay. My flight -’

‘I want it.’ Aura says again, ‘Please? I have to find it. I want it,’ she says for a third time.

She is beginning to cry. The pianist gapes at her. ‘Jesus, Aura, it’s just a shoe.’

‘You’ve got it?’ she asks, and he shakes his head. ‘You took it. I know you did.’

‘If I did,’ the pianist says slowly, ‘Which I didn’t, but if I did, it’d be mine. If you lost it and I found it. That’s only fair.’

Aura looks at him. ‘It’s cruel.’

‘No. No, it’s not. It’s like the opposite of that.’

‘Why would you do this?’

‘If I had it,’ the pianist says, gravely, like a boy, ‘It would remind me of you. I could look at it and I’d always remember you. It would be the best souvenir anyone could ever find.’


She drives, where to she doesn’t know. There are mangroves going by. The sun flashes between clouds, dazzling her.

When she comes back to herself she finds herself on the coast road. She is somewhere north of the city. Planes pass above, still low, heading to America.

A beach opens up ahead. Aura stops the car and gets out. She takes off her old work shoes and walks down across the sand.

The sea is just turning to come back in. Another plane thunders over and Aura feels its power as a trembling in her flesh. She cups a hand over her heart, but by the time she does the sense of it has already passed.

It’s strange, because she feels alright. Almost she is happy, for the first time since Eliseo. The sun comes out from the clouds, gently at first, then fiercely, as if what it has found could nourish it, and Aura starts to walk. For a while her footprints remain, bare and perfect. They are beautiful, full of light.