Read Day of the Dead Online

Authors: Lisa Brackman

Day of the Dead

To my dad, who tried to be a good guy.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE

Michelle dropped the sarong she'd started to tie around her waist onto her lounge chair. Nobody cared what her thighs looked like.

Sand burned the soles of her feet as she walked down to the water. Look at these people, she thought. Foreigners, mostly. Like her. Older, a lot of them. Sagging, leathered skin, the ones who'd been here awhile. Pale tourists, big-bellied, pink-faced, glowing with sunburn. A family of locals – Mexicans anyway, who knew if they were really from here? Dark, short, and blocky, eating shrimp on a stick from the grill down the beach, giant bottles of Coke tucked in a Styrofoam cooler.

Out of shape. Lumpy. Flabby. Aging.

Nobody cares.

And her thighs weren't bad, anyway.

She stood at the water's edge, watching the rainbow parasail from the real-estate company lift a middle-aged woman into the soft blue sky, the motorboat gunning its engine and heading out into the bay, avoiding the banana boat undulating up and down as it hauled a load of college kids south toward Los Arcos. She watched them gripping the yellow tube with their knees, shrieking with laughter, several clutching beers, tanned and young and healthy.

They'd drink until they puked, screw each other till they passed out, go home and post about their awesome vacation on their Facebook pages.

She waded into the water until it was up to her hips. Warm as a bath, but the surf was pounding. She stood there trying to resist the pull as the receding waves sucked the sand out from under her feet.

After a while she'd had enough and went back to her lounger beneath the
palapa.

She tried to read her book. It was about a woman whose marriage had broken up, and she'd learned to bake bread. Bread and muffins. After about thirty pages, Michelle was willing to bet that the heroine would end up with the overly educated woodworker and not the stressed-out options trader.

‘Ma'am? Can I get you something? Something to drink?'

The hotel waiter, dressed in a white guayabera and smudged white pants, stood above her, round, sweating, tray in hand. Nutbrown, gray-haired, creases marking his face like wrinkles in a crumpled shirt.

She thought about it. ‘A margarita, please.'

Why not? She didn't need to be sober to follow this plot.

They'd already paid for the vacation. It still seemed like an extravagance. She and Tom were going to go together. A getaway. A celebration, he'd said.

She wondered what it was that he'd wanted to celebrate.

She must have fallen asleep for a while. That was sort of the point with these vacations. You partied at night. Got up earlier than you'd like. Grabbed your
palapa
while the sun was still low behind the eastern mountains, spread out your towel on your blue canvas chair, put on your sunblock, found your place in your novel. First cocktail at lunch, to wash down the greasy quesadillas brought out to you on a paper plate. Try to ignore the vendors selling jewelry, blankets, offering to braid your hair, massage your feet. At some point you'd close your eyes, tired as they were from reading in the shaded sunlight, irritated from the sunscreen sweated into them.

When she opened her eyes, it was late afternoon. She'd been dreaming, about something. About being too hot. About … what was it about? About somebody breathing in her ear. Leaning over, touching her shoulder. A man, but not Tom.
Didn't you forget?
he'd asked.
Didn't you forget?

A few clouds had come in, but it was still hot, and the sun glared in her eyes. She blinked a few times. Then something blotted out the light.

A parasail, between the beach and the sun.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. The parasail was its own small eclipse, dark against the sun. Now she could see it – the bloodred parachute, white letters glowing.

TOURISM KILLS!
they spelled. In English.

Michelle blinked again and stood.

An atypical crowd had gathered on the beach. Elegantly dressed men and women – a wedding party, she thought at first. Waiters rushed to fill shot glasses with tequila. Photographers ringed the group, pointing their cameras at the parasail, which was heading back from the bay.

Now she could see the person in the harness. Even at this distance, he appeared huge, roughly as spherical as a balloon. As he descended, she saw that he wore a three-piece brown tweed suit and a red plaid tie.

She wished she had her camera. But it was locked up in the hotel's safe – too valuable to risk leaving on the beach while she napped or waded.

The parasail crew – tattooed, in surfwear T-shirts and baggy trunks – kicked up sand as they staggered under the parasail rider's weight, trying to guide him to his landing, and for a moment Michelle thought they would all collapse in a heap. But at the last second a third man dressed in a crisp linen suit stepped forward, bracing his hands against the fat man's chest, pedaling backward until at last the body in motion came to rest.

The people in the crowd cheered and raised their glasses in a toast.

‘That was different.'

Michelle turned.

The man next to her smiled.

‘Yes,' she said. ‘What was it, exactly?'

‘Arts festival. It's running all this week.'

He was an American, or sounded like one. About her age. Tanned so dark that the creases around his eyes fanned out like tiger stripes.

‘Should be interesting,' he said, ‘if you like that kind of stuff.'

He wore a pair of baggy swim trunks and a faded batik shirt. Gray flecked his hair and the stubble of his beard, but he was rangy trim. A fit fortyish.

‘Do you?' she asked.

‘It's kind of fun,' he said with a shrug. ‘I mean, art, you hang it on a wall or put it on a pedestal. I'm not sure what this is.'

‘Performance,' Michelle murmured.

By now a procession had formed around the fat man: the well-dressed crowd, the photographers, and a group of young musicians wearing matching T-shirts, singing ‘Paperback Writer' in perfect harmony. Together they set off down the beach, north toward the pier, laughing, drinking tequila. A brown dog followed in their wake.

‘I was going to get a drink,' the man said. ‘Would you like to join me?'

His name was Daniel. ‘I live here part-time,' he explained. ‘Got a condo in Amapas.'

‘Are you retired?' she asked.

He drew back, mock offended. ‘Wow. I hope I don't look old enough to be retired.'

‘Not at all,' she said. ‘But you never know what people's situations are.'

‘Well, I'm not loaded either,' he said with a grin. ‘I'm a pilot. The work is sort of freelance. So I have some flexibility about where I spend my time.'

They sat at a table under a
palapa,
on the sand. The sun wouldn't set for another few hours; the restaurant staff had just begun to bring tables out to the beach for dinner. Michelle expected that the restaurant would not be full, even with the arts festival. Memorial Day weekend was the last gasp of tourist season in Puerto Vallarta, and it was still pretty quiet. Too hot this time of year. The crowds came earlier, for Easter and spring break, and later in the fall, after the rains.

‘A pilot. For an airline?'

‘No. Private company. We fly Gulfstreams and Citations mostly. Rentals.'

He scooped up guacamole with a chip, spooned salsa on top of that. ‘You know, businessmen who can't afford their own but want to impress a client. Rich guys who want to get to a golf course or a football game in a hurry. That kind of thing.'

She nodded and sipped her margarita. They made good ones here. Not too sweet. You could taste the lime. ‘Sounds fun,' she said.

He smiled. ‘Works for me.'

The sun had moved behind a bank of clouds, illuminating them like a bright bulb in a shaded lamp.

‘Check it out,' Daniel said.

She looked where he pointed. A pair of dolphins surfed at the crest of a wave. They leaped above its crest, plunged back into the water, caught the next swell, then shot up again, twisting in midair like a pair of dancers.

‘Better than SeaWorld.'

She nodded. ‘It's beautiful here.'

Daniel leaned back in his chair, took a final sip of his drink. ‘How long are you staying?'

‘I'm not sure. My flight's on Sunday. I might change it.'

She wasn't sure why she said it. She had no real intention of changing her flight. It was just that when she thought about what was waiting for her in Los Angeles, it was easy to indulge in the fantasy of staying a little longer. Of never going back.

‘Nothing pressing back home?'

He was looking at her in that way, sizing her up, what her intentions were, what she might be willing to do.

She shook her head.

‘Are
you
retired?'

She laughed briefly. ‘I'm between things.'

He didn't ask questions. Michelle wasn't sure how she felt about that. She wasn't ready to talk about any of it, certainly not to a stranger, but on the other hand one does like to be asked.

‘This is a good place to be,' he said. ‘When you just want to relax and figure things out.'

Other books

Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
The Forgotten Map by Cameron Stelzer
El cuaderno rojo by Paul Auster
Eye of the Tiger by Diana Palmer
Be Mine for Christmas by Alicia Street, Roy Street
Kiss of the Dragon by Nicola Claire
Aphrodite's Hat by Salley Vickers
The Headmaster's Confession by Laurel Bennett