by Dan Korgan
Turner scanned through binoculars the aquatic lime-green rafts as they floated down the great El Rio Guayas. Waiting for his guide, it crossed his mind if these islands of vegetation carried unsuspecting creatures to a distant land out at sea.
As westward dark clouds gathered he sat and waited nervously on a narrow bench under the yellow petals of a bean tree. Turner knew Simon spent early mornings shivering in the rear of his father’s old truck, pressed against high-stacked crates of little rattling bottles of beer. Every morning he assisted his father with the delivery of refrigerated beverages to market and in afternoons he pursued the riverside boulevard in search of exotic large people who sported flowered garments and carried expensive cameras. With warm and inviting deportment Simon would shake the tourists hands with vigor and lead them up the hill to Las Penas where the artists lived or to the botanical gardens to see rare orchids or to Lovers of Sumpa to examine an excavation of dried bones.
Turner often found his host hanging with foreign women at the magical monument, Hemiciclio de la Rotunda. American woman at one end, Simon at the other, he’d whisper, ‘Can you hear me, amiga? Puedes oirme?’ As his voice carried through the half circle of pillars and as his syllables approached her and she became so very charmed with his clarity and mysteriousness, she held in her hands an echo that had been delivered from the very gut of a seashell. As Tuner nodded so nearly napping he felt exhausted and then revitalized as the sun seemed to take turns with the clouds - one minute so hot and the next minute drenched in cool rain again.
It must have been during Turner's third week in Guayaquil that Simon had finally found a boat ride for them to investigate the small island across El Rio Guayas. Behind the narrow ribbon of mangrove Simon had bargained with the rugged men who sat next to their long silver boats and dented tanks of gasoline working a price Turner could afford. And after they had settled at a price of fifty dollars a captain motored Simon and Turner to the little island.
In their rubber boots and machetes in hand - as they hacked their way through the lianas - Simon tutored Turner on the plants and animals that lived there. A species of Inga with small oval leaves which may have never been described by botanists; gum trees armed with large thorns on the trunk; ancient fern trees that have not evolved in 10 million years; tiny gray spiders working together by the thousands inside a cubical web; green insects evolved to mimic a lancelot leaf; caterpillars mimicking foliose lichen; leaves that when crushed smelled of menthol; and the Howlers who squatted near the dangling nuts of a palm tree, swung their white testicles and tossed their fecal material.
“They are aiming for you,” Simon would yell. “And they are aiming for you too,” Turner would reply. And at dawn, as they journeyed back to shore, they gasped together at the night butterflies - the fluttering of giant blue wings just above them.
Rain-soaked, Turner tipped his binoculars for the island where they had spent so many hours together. From this distance he was only able to make-out a quilt of green leaves. Water dripped from the tip of his nose and the sun beat down on his shoulders. He moved from the bench to inside the arena with the bronze statues of Don Bolivar and Jose de San Martin where his legs and the stout pillars of Hemiciclio de La Rotunda casted long shadows across the river.
“Mira!” said a woman, commanding her child. She repeated, ‘Mira, mira!’ The woman stood at the pillar opposite Turner. She wore a colorful poncho, a fedora, and a string of pearl beads that lay over her breastbone.
“Madre, I see little families. They live in the lechuga. Madre!”
“Do you not like the statues?”
“Yes, yes!” Turner interrupted.
“Senor!” she said.
"What is it?" Turner asked.
“Someday you will have a family. Live here in the tropics!” As she and her child walked away, Turner followed them inside his binoculars. He imagined sitting at her kitchen table sipping coffee and speaking the Spanish language with her. Oh! To visit an Ecuadorian home would be so much better than visiting the markets that reminded him of America or what he considered to be, in his own theoretical way a brand of evolution where junk could be found in the fossil record - plastic figurines, under arm deodorants, shampoos, and razors, and tennis shoes and T-shirts all crammed into a distinct layers of shale. Sitting on the giant pedestal of Don Boulevard and Jose de San Martin, the constant honking of cab drivers wore on him. Between the cars Turner caught short glimpses of narrow streets and markets that burrowed in. It was Simon that had reassured him Guayaquil was an exceedingly dangerous city after sun fall. And the companionship he required from a friend seemed unattainable. And if Simon still considered himself his professional guide, Turner felt unsure, yet, he wished he was able to gain a sense of independence from him. On the nights Simon did not reveal himself Turner would pout for a while under the bean trees and spend his evening wandering not too far of a distance from his hotel.
When he walked around his block he found the words of what he thought must belong to revolutionists who chalked into the sidewalk their signature, “Unplug Your Antennas.” At the carport’s ceiling under a sheet of amber bulbs of light at Hotel Victoria he would imagine himself as an actor inside a foreign film, where he, as the driver of a stretch-limousine would open his heavy Mercedes door for the European models and Brazilian soccer players who crunched their cleats and high-heals into the red and regal turf. In the mornings - having dressed properly for the public - he would greet with a sense of belonging the polished-glass-mall. Sitting in his wooden chair as the sun arched over the cafe with warmth and cleanliness he would order from the waiter Huevos Rancheros. And after feeding himself and miscalculating the waiter's tip, he would climb from floor to floor to floor in order to practice the Spanish language. Waiting for his guide after such an evening or an afternoon or morning, Turner began to make it a habit to stroll the boulevard along El Rio Guyas passing the tourists who had misted themselves with strong perfume. Then he would sit under yellow flowers of a bean tree - and wait for his guide Simon – while dreaming.
It had been three nights ago Turner had requested from Simon a place to dine and have a quiet conversation together. Turner had begun to miss his family very much and Simon had not spoken much about situation. Not expecting a neutral atmosphere the restaurant Simon picked was the Pizza Hut. Papier-mâché cave-rock that hung from the ceiling reminded him Halloween was near. The men dressed in three-piece suits and women in mini-skirts and high heels sat at the Formica tables bolted to the black and white checkered tile floor. A gourd-shaped candle flickered between a couple in love and after the hostess handed Turner and Simon two giant glossy menus, Turner followed the long-legged waitress with his gaze - her bell-bottom pants, a skin of sheer polyester hugged her thighs. I want you! I want you! I want you! Her hips rocked like a boat at sea.
“Linda, no?” said Simon.
“Guapa. Tengo hombre!”
“Hambre amigo, hambre! Hombre means you want a man.”
“Si, si,” Turner blushed.
Leaning across the table, Simon moved the candle aside, “So tell me amigo, how much did it cost to fly here?”
“To the Pizza Hut?”
“Only a question,” Simon spoke in Spanish.
“I was hoping for ceviche.”
“Of course, amigo. Of course you were. But you are in Guayaquil. You are in Ecuador."
While Simon ate the air conditioner blew a chill at him and the guards who stood outside held machine-guns strapped to their sides. Held at hostage he began to think about prattling nervously considering the claustrophobia he experienced during his plane flight to Guayaquil. On his left he sat next to a heavy-set Texan who mopped his huge forehead every few minutes and rambled-on about shrimp farms, shrimp trade, pink shrimp, big shrimp and little shrimp. And on his right sat an elderly woman who let out streams roast beef gas and would glance at his shoulder every so often with chagrin.
At the next table a man said to a woman, “Revolutionary!"
"You’ve modified Maslow's hierarchy of needs.”
She sipped from her giant red plastic cup of cola.
"Tocame, tocame, amiga," he said.
"You agree it really belongs? She asked.
"La Toca! La Toca!"
Turner found himself in a compromising position because she caught him in a glance to her breasts.
"Your aquatic plant does not live here and I do not know why you still need me," Simon said. "I know you are excited about what you found on the Island. Should I arrange another boat ride across the river?" Simon removed the paper napkin from his collar and swallowed his last bite of ‘Extravaganza’. Turner waved for the waitress and asked her for a container. And after she brought it he placed his pie inside a cardboard box and requested with a sense of immediacy that Simon show him to the nearest Automatic Teller Machine.
While Simon and Turner stood in front of the bank of money dispensers, inside the street-side room, Turner found himself anxious and unable to translate the commands because it was so cold in that little refrigerated room. While Simon’s teeth clattered it crossed Turner’s mind that Simon might attempt to capture his personal information but the transaction took less time than Turner had anticipated and he gathered his security would become restored once they left that freezing box and re-entered the street where Simon would continue and press-on with the authority of a historian.
"Would you join me for a glass of wine, amigo?"
"No problema, no problema," Simon hugged himself - shivered.
Simon pointed to a cut-through at the parking lot of The Cathedral. And Simon began to explain to him that the structure in front of them was historically significant due to its neo-Gothic style, glassworks and handcrafted marble altar. From the parking lot, Turner could see the flickering of a thousand burning candles. The incense reminded him of the Sundays he spent as an alter boy but no one could disagree with the beauty and complexity of this ominous building that stood in front of them.
They walked into the dimly lit lot. Six or seven groups laughed and clapped and swooned together gradually fell into his focus. When Simon and Turner joined one of the gatherings, Turner listened for a while and tried to follow their story and he felt left out and curious until Simon began to whisper into his ear. Attempting to understand the actor's language and while listening to Simon's syllables, Turner allowed his confusion to consider the possibility that he was attending a religious ceremony. Turner gathered this because the public had amassed in the parking lot in such large numbers. It was this gathering of locals and tourists that excited him, and it was Simon's intimacy that seemed to stamp him with a sense of belonging.
Under the lamplight Turner leaned into Simon as the voluptuous bride reported to her husband that they owned a four-door car, a nice big diamond ring, and plenty of dressers and patio furniture and yet they could not afford a house in which to dwell. After the audience's re-sounding applause, Turner's laugh had to lag Simon's. Then his sense of belonging became apparent to him when their laughing finally joined and after the bride ripped from her breast two small pillows. Nearly naked, now, when the actor removed his flowered head piece that revealed his balding head and when he allowed his magnificently flowered headpiece turned upside down to travel in the hands of the audience, Turner peeled ten dollars from his money clip to float and land softly into the actor's lovely basket.
As they walked to Hotel Realidad, Turner believed that The Cathedral's parking lot would have been a place where he and his brother as travelers would have stumbled upon. At same time felt an overwhelming sense of confidence in himself and his developing relationship with Simon. At the brick entrance of his hotel he recognized another American leaning in shadow against the tall brick building, a familiar face Turner had met a few mornings over breakfast at the sky-glass mall. Oh! How me missed his brother!
“Buenas noches,” said Simon.
“Con much gusto,” Tim replied. Directing his gaze to Turner, he said, “My friend, would you a like some lechuga?”
“Si, it can reveal certain elements time.”
“La Futura?” replied Turner.
“Like I said, the future or maybe the past, depende,” said Tim.
“For tourists!” insisted Simon.
Turner dug into his pockets. He struck fifty dollars from his money clip. They made the exchange and Turner stashed the small packet of lettuce in his front pocket.
“You crazy, man,” said Simon.
“Loco, tambien,” said Turner. "I have some thing for you."
“I was beginning to think of you as not so such much a tourist!”
As Turner marched up the brown tile stairs, Simon shook his head in disappointment. “Why is so important for you to know the future.”
"Jesus, mama mia", Tuner muttered.
In his room, Turner opened the window and looked over the public square. Below them, a cab driver clanked a wrench under the lifted-hood of a car.
Simon sat in the chair beside the long empty dresser. And Turner unwrapped glasses from their plastic film and poured for the two of them some red wine.
“Turner, you still have interest in seeing bones ten thousand years old?”
“Lovers of Sumpa?”
“La cultura de Las Vegas and of no relation to Nevada, amigo. They were named after the Vegas River.”
“Game when you are.”
Turner began to riffle nervously through his backpack in search for his movie camera. He wished to show Simon the rain forest in Oregon. When he finally got the thing started, he handed the machine to Simon. In the small silvery screen, his brother, Levis, stood next to a five hundred year old spruce. Behind him limbs of Maple covered with a green carpet of Lobaria drooped from the weight of heavy wet moss and Turner’s brother waved to Simon, ‘Hello, neighbor’.
As Simon peered into the camera Turner thought about a camping trip to the east side of the Cascade range where he and his brother had boiled pine needles for tea and brushed mushrooms they had collected from under the canopy of fir. It seemed like just yesterday they were smoking a doobie and getting a little high. And he wanted to share with Simon now that his brother considered earth a dangerous neighborhood. He wanted to share with Simon that he had been jailed for a meandering into the next door neighbor’s house where he had grabbed a bottle of beer from their refrigerator, sprawled-out on their couch, stretched out his arms and legs in comfort and began to flip through the channels on their TV. He wanted to tell Simon everything. He wanted to tell just someone that his brother had been certified for telling the neighborhood that he was from a near by universe and he could not get his way back.
Simon slowly raised his head and looked at Turner. “Your brother looks like you,” he said.
“He looks a bit like you as well.”
“Perhaps so,” said Simon. “I might have meant to say that,” and he looked curiously into the camera again.
“What is his name?” Simon asked.
Turner wanted to say, “Jose de San Martin.”
Simon controlled his laughter. Then he said, “He would be very famous in Argentina and Chile and Peru.” Simon set the camera on the dresser, ”Some of us like that man more than others.”
Turner had been feeling a little queasy and he did not want Simon to hear his stomach rumble so he stood up and padded his way to the bathroom. After stumbling over the corner of the bed and reaching for the door, he quickly pulled down his pants and let his bowels relax. After a long sigh - like that of a walrus - he decided to leave the bathroom door a little ajar.
“Jesus, it's the Monazooma!”
“It’s Montezuma, amigo, Montezuma!”
“Yeah, Monazooma,” Turner flushed the toilet.
Doubled over, Turner stared between his shoes and into his striped underwear.
Simon moved near the bathroom door, “Hermano.”
“You have twenty mil I can borrow?”
“You need some cash? Sure, no problema.” Turner dug through his pant pockets and flipped through forty mil in his money clip. And he waved the flimsy bills through the door and frame.
”Here, Simon,” he said.
“You’ve been in the bathroom for a very long time. You going to die in there?”
“I got the fuckin’ runs.”
“Yeah, OK, man. You should eat some pizza>. That would make you feel better.”
“Sure. Sure,” Turner moaned.
“Mañana hay una fiesta. Amigo, you want to go to a party? You can meet my family.”
“Sure, I’d like that, Simon.”
“We play tricks on Halloween.”
“Of course,” he moaned again.
“Adios,” Tuner said.
He felt relieved when he heard the door quietly close, shut.
Turner threw the curtains to one side and stood looking out his window over the public square. Simon had left his room in such haste leaving no time to discuss details. What time would they meet? Where would they meet? Was Simon’s friendly offering to him just like another commercial-smile? Then he began to consider more private thoughts and let them quickly relax into his most present situation. What type of costume should he wear on Halloween?
Turner unzipped the twelve compartments of his backpack and pulled out his belongings. He rummaged through everything, his polka-dotted and stripped underwear, his Led Zeppelin and New York T-shirts. And then there were his loops, aquatic plant and limnology books, and his binoculars. And then there was his spicy deodorant, nail clippers, mint toothpaste, waxy floss, lamb-skin-prophylactics, anti-depressants, pink pills and his relaxers. He felt so empty inside. As he lifted the corner of his the bed, he reached under the mattress as far as he could stretch and dug through the empty pockets of his pack again and then again. He searched every little place he could imagine were he had hid his passport - under the pillows again and between the cushions again and again and again. He did not yet know that he did not exit, but he found nothing. CCCCCCC
He reached for Simon’s glass. Sitting on a chair, stripped naked now, he gulped the remainder of the wine and went after the lettuce stashed in his lifeless jeans. With his Swiss Army knife he chopped it against the dresser and placed one of the shaved pieces into his mouth. Lying on his bed, starring into the stucco ceiling he tried to walk through all the steps he had taken lately, but his concentration was broken-up by the cab driver, below, who madly pounded a wrench under the hood of his car, then Turner pulled the comforter over his body and began to shiver and have a little dream from the future.
As they walked from city to ciudad laboral and Turner began to explain to Simon what he knew about the Vegas culture, he imagined his own steps lead and then fall and take a turn in guiding as if he and Simon had been friends who would often take long strolls together. Yet unsure of Simon’s intentions he found himself glance to this man’s profile and try to locate an expression of something that seemed to resemble a hint thievery - a curl of his lips, an unequal slanting of eyebrows, or the weight upon his hips shifting and hiding honesty from one place to another. In these elongated moments, Turner felt moved to over come them. A block in front from them, the policeman who would religiously park his car alongside a barren lot of mint practiced his golf swing, pitching with his nine iron white spheres into the heavens, landing the golf balls somewhere in to the unkept field.
"One moment,” said Turner. And he darted away, running…
Las Vegas cultivated gourds, squash, roots and maize, they hunted deer, small mammals, birds and squirrel, peccary, opossum, frogs, snakes, lizards and parrots. From the mangrove swamps and sea they harvested shellfish. They used pebble-based pounders and hammer stones. Did you know that a ground-stone ax was recovered in the grave of a mature woman? Oh Dio mi, loco American feels so light on his feet. Loco American, a golfer on Halloween!
When Turner returned to his friend, he found Simon shaking his head in disappointment. And Turner tried to re-manufacture a familiar conversation, yet was unable to create Simon's thoughts: "Even if you can report a sliver of our ancient history you will only amount to nothing but a lousy tourist."
“The security guard should have shot out your eyes the way you were running at him,” said Simon.
“He only charged me twenty mil, amigo.”
“Better yet," said Simon, "he should have shot you in the ear.”
When they arrived to Simon’s house, Turner leaned the golf club he so valiantly and reluctantly pursued against a square pillar. Simon’s older brother, Vegas, shook Turner’s hand and asked him how many brothers he had. Simon’s father, a tall, attractive man offered his guest a bottle of beer, Turner considered the probable advantage of sitting here, every night, with him, inside this corridor of pillars, drinking and smoking, and telling Wild West stories like the Gold Rush cowboys.
“One brother,” Turner replied.
Simon set a hand on Turner’s left shoulder, “Un momento,” he said. And Turner felt very alone again.
“You like High Life?” asked Simon’s father.
“Sure,” said Turner.
“What’s your name again?”
“Soy Don Gabriel, Simon’s father. Toon-are?”
“Yeah, OK. Toon-are,” said Turner.
“So what does your brother do?”
“Nada,” said Turner. “Enfermo.”
"That makes me sad," said Vegas.
“I don’t mean to put fear, but this part of Guayaquil is very dangerous, my friend.”
Turner stuffed a hand into his front pocket and sat on a turned-over pickle bucket.
“I don’t want to be nosey, but where did you get that golf club?” Asked Vegas.
Before Turner could tell his story, Simon’s father took the club into his hands and paced thoughtfully between yellow light and shadow. The boom box across the street sent a romantic Salsa, a tinkling of horns and symbols to their ears.
“I want to tell you,” Don Gabrielle began. He spoke part in Spanish and part in English. “I knew the twins who moved here from California. And they loved their families and worked hard everyday. But one of them was a dealer and when the police went to find him they got everything all mixed. They shot the innocent man. They killed the wrong brother and they shot and killed the wrong family. Oh Dio mi, the wrong family. Oh Dio mi, viva para nada, trabaja para nada.” Don Gabriel waved the golf club and gave himself a blow to his back and then he pinned the club against his own throat. After freeing himself from similar methods of torture, he tossed the nine-iron into the street and landed it pinging end for end until it settled into the gutter. “I know where you got that club, Toon-are, but I will not have you tell me.”
Head hanging heavily, Vegas began to amble alone down the corridor of square pillars. Don Gabriel, who also seemed saddened took a few steps to enter the front door behind him. Feeling nervous and unsure of what he should do or where he should go, Turner followed Simon’s father, inside.
Yellow light spilled through the open window in a narrow patch across the living room floor. As Turner’s eyes slowly fell into focus he found a wooden chair pushed under a desk and a room with the door ajar - over the sink in the kitchen, Don Gabrielle shaved his face with a blue plastic razor, his knees knocking against the pots and pans stacked inside one another - Turner strained his eyes. From inside the next room he saw a mature woman slip off her high heel shoes. Her spaghetti straps fell to the floor. Stepping out of her silk, black garment, Turner gathered with a sense of certainty her intention must have been to show him a sliver of her muscular thighs - a certainty in her privacy, yet, after a vigorous brushing of teeth at the kitchen sink, Don Gabrielle turned off the water and met with her in the bedroom and firmly closed the sliver of that open door. While Don Gabrielle pressed a crease into his pants and dressed his children, Turner found him self alone in the living room and corrected this thoughts to look for something that naturally belong to him and he began to madly rummage through papers in a desk. He searched under the couch and between its pillows and under its cushions. He peered inside a lampshade. Then he pursued each corner of the small room until a fit of dissatisfaction quickly grew out of him. After picking a small coin from the coffee table he decided it best for him to wait outside, now, inside the corridor of vaulted square pillars.
“Oh Dio mi, Dio mi,” Turner heard. “Amigo, you are part of this family now.” Don Gabriel gathered his children in his arms and hugged and kissed them, “Mi razon, mi amores.”
A moment later, a taxicab arrived and waved for the family. Turner climbed in last, into the backseat next to Simon’s little brother and sister dressed in costume for halloween.
“Is Simon is going to meet us there?” Turner asked.
“Of course, amigo. Of course,” Don Gabrielle chuckled and craned his neck, “Amigo, Simon is a very smart man. I do not understand how he is more smarter than me. Hey, Teen-ear you gotta cigarette?”
“Ninos,” announced Don Gabrielle, "tonight you will see me practice some magic. I will make the bananas dance. And at the dinner table the shrimp will dance on their tails and rice will stand on end.”
"Dance across the border, across the border!" exclaimed Simon's little sister.
“Adentro. Adentro!” said Simon’s little brother.
“Do you believe me, Teen-ear?” Said Don Gabriel. “Do you believe what I say?”
“Adentro,” said Turner, “Adentro,” as excited as a child.
With gigantic and hopeful gestures Don Gabriel pointed left and then right - the cab driver careened and followed his instructions and Turner felt the building of excitement as they passed Banco Central del Ecuador, The Cathedral, Pizza Hut, Hotel Victoria and finally the magical monument, Hemiciclio de La Rotunda. As the cab driver slowed Turner began to feel as if he belonged to all of the places he had recently visited, as if a stone-heap of memories had been re-designed and shaped into a magical time.
His scrambling-against-the-pavement would not claim a focus until after that striding moment when he had been struck with a mind full of force and glee; after that impossible wall of four small feet pushed him out of the taxicab's passenger door, a tumbling against gravel for the safety of the street gutter, he was unable to discern how much time had passed before he had found himself curled-up at the heavy stone boots of Jose de San Martin. After he lifted himself, bruised and wary, he wandered hesitantly as if parting his way through the lianas in a forsaken tropical forest. Stoned and rambling up and down the boardwalk he could taste the river waves as they sloshed for the muddy bank.
Bruised and wary, yes, bruised and wary he sat on a park bench now and gathered his thoughts under the yellow petals of a bean tree. The very young man he sat next to seemed to be sleeping.
“Would you like to visit the Lover’s of Sumpa or perhaps the island just across El Rio Guayas?” Turner quietly asked him. And with his simple understanding of the landscape and with a near sense of a re-useable history, he felt transparent with respect to his intentions.
“Puedes oirme, amigo?” With one hand he shook at the very young man's left shoulder.
“Puedes oirme, hermano.”
And then again, he shook him, wonderingly…
"Can your hear me?"
Still waiting under bean tree, the young man fell against Simon’s or perhaps another man's promising shoulder. In the distance, he heard the faint and familiar sounds of bottles of beer stacked in crates rattling vigorously against one another. He felt a chill cross his shoulders and exhausted and alone as if he was sitting and bouncing with the potholes inside Don Gabriel's, Simon's Father's rattling, rattling little refrigerated truck...