The sun was an hour and a half east of noon. The plaza of the Casa La Puta was nearly empty, save for Jesus tending bar, three chunky American female eco-tourists, and a man in a tailored white suit who sat at a table strewn with papers. In the distance Miguel was shouting at a scullery boy for putting trash in the wrong barrel.
The front of the hotel faced the sea. Below the plaza, rocks tumbled down to the beach where iguanas disported. On the larger rocks above the beach the oldest and largest males sunned themselves. Impotent with age and size, the ancient males stared with lidless, lust filled eyes at the young females on the beach below.
On the plaza the three female eco-tourists bickered between themselves as to what they would do next. The eldest, whose knees suffered from the infirmities of age and weight, was determined to stay where she was. The other two wanted to press on; they had paid their money to see ecology in action, and, by God, they were going to see ecology in action.
One voted for descending down the rickety stairs to the beach to observe the iguanas. The iguanas of Mantinigua might not have the cachet of those of the Galapagos, still they were satisfyingly reptilian, being quite unlike the dairy cows of Wisconsin. That was enough for her.
The other evidently was a fanatical bird watcher. She advocated heading into the rain forest, which conveniently came almost up to the rear door of the hotel. There she expected to find a number of species of parrots that frequented the bay of Mantinigua. She had out the journal in which she logged the different species of birds that she had sighted over time. She travelled for birds, and birds she would have.
The man in the white suit listened to their bickering with disfavor. Like C. S. Lewis’s grumbling old lady who became a grumble, they were bickerers who were fast on their way to becoming a collective bicker, all the worse because their bickering meant nothing. It meant nothing because the issue had already been decided – they were scrupulous about taking turns. It was the bird watcher’s turn and, after much annoying acrimony, they headed out the back door and into the rain forest in search of parrots of a new and different kind.
In the background Miguel was still screaming at the scullery boy. Once upon a time Miguel had had a Jewish guest who had wanted kosher food. Kosher Miguel knew from nothing; Miguel had a rudimentary but incomplete understanding of sanitary; kosher was quite beyond him. His Jewish guest had given him explanations that he imperfectly understood. His guest was long gone, but he now had two trash barrels at the back of his hotel, one labelled milk and one labelled meat, and he advertised his hotel as being kosher.
The scullery boy’s sin was to dispose of some creamed chipped beef in the wrong trash barrel. True, there was no right barrel, both inevitably being wrong, an arrangement that gave Miguel the certainty that he would have occasion to berate the scullery boy. After all, he had to berate someone, and it wouldn’t do to berate the customers. Those he had few enough of, and he serviced them with an obsequiousness that would have been the envy of Uriah Heep. This tactic did not endear him to most of his guests, they being repelled as much by greasiness of his person as by the greasiness of his manner.
The man in the white suit appreciated the two barrels. The Casa La Puta was, after all, his own personal endgame. In his mind he populated them with his sister and his brother, his brother in the meat and his sister in the milk. His sister periodically sent him letters entreating him to come home. His brother more usefully sent him small checks on the condition that he continue to stay away. This suited him. Back home, where ever that was, he was a failure, playing out the tag ends of a once brilliant but now failed career. Here he was part of the scenery, one more oddity in a collection of oddities.
Another oddity made its way onto the plaza, one Alexander Bonaparte Cust, accompanied by his wife, who wheeled his wheel chair to a table well out of the wind. Cust, a man of monumental nervous conditions, had been wrongfully accused as a serial killer and had barely escaped being hung. His wife had met him during his travails and had become obsessed with mothering and protecting him from the world. To this task she brought a determination that, in the service of a nobler cause, would have given the world the like of the Sistine Chapel. Cust, never a man of strong will or desire, had collapsed into his appointed role as the focus of her mothering.
Cust’s wife nodded to the man in the white suit. She didn’t care for him – he was an most improper man for her beloved Alexander to associate with – but she was a proper Englishwoman, and was thereby obliged to observe the social niceties, including graciously but distantly patronizing her inferiors. The man in the white suit gravely nodded back, being equally adept at patronizing his inferiors.
Social duties satisfied, he signalled Jesus for another drink, and opened a package from his publisher. As he expected, the package contained a manuscript for him to proof read. He had made a lot of money for his publisher, back when he had been successful, before his creative juices had dried up and left him dessicated. Publishers are not notoriously grateful; however his old editor had a fondness for him and tossed him a bone now and then.
The sun had crawled to the top of the sky, and the Wilsons made their appearance. They were a middle aged couple, unemployed but not impoverished, members of a small, eccentric cult, who vacationed at the hotel Casa La Puta in Mantinigua because it was cheap. They had been quite successful when they were younger. They had been content to forage in the garden of their youth, not knowing or not caring that life demands change. The tide of time had ebbed out and left them high and dry like the ancient monsters sunning on the rocks below. They sprawled into chairs by a wire frame table, where they waited for Jose to serve them lunch.
The man in the white suit began to read “The Curse of the Burymoores.” The Burymoores were an ancient English family, not noble, but definitely gentry. The family had long been under a curse; the head of the family and his wife were fated to turn into pigs. The transformation was not a sudden thing; it came on gradually. It began in moments of gluttony with a porcine change of expression; a change that became drastic with time and accustomed usage. A lifetime of abstemious habits could defer the workings of the curse, but all of the Burymoores came to the sty in the end. The current Burymoore did not attempt to defeat the curse; he embraced it. A wide man, he came to the table with an enormous appetite and left it on all fours.
The Burymoore estate was next to the Jones Estate. The Jones farm had once belonged to a shiftless farmer named Jones. At some point in the past the animals of Jones Farm had dispensed with him, and had taken over the farm themselves. The animals attempted to establish a zoological utopia. Nothing came of it; instead the pigs and the dogs established a tyranny after a reign of terror. Recently there had been a restoration of sorts; the animals had renamed the place, the Jones Estate. No Jones’s were involved though, and none were welcome. Little really had changed – the dogs and the pigs still ruled – save that all pretense of the farm being run for the common good had been abandoned.
The Burymoores had always been honored guests at the Jones Estate; he looked forward to retiring there, perhaps before his heir, although that was in doubt. His heir, not content with emulating his father, positively outdid him, and spent most of his days at the trough.
The sun had crept into its earliest time of decline when a wheezing truck made its way up the gravel road that led to the hotel. The guests watched with anticipation; this was the mail truck, bearing letters from home for these wretched exiles. It arrived, and the driver handed Miguel a small sack bearing a handful of letters. These Miguel handed out with ingratiating smiles.
He saved the last for his most favored guest, his only full time guest. He bowed low, handed the man in the white suit a tray with a single letter on it, and said,
“Your mail, Senor Childers.”
This page was last updated October 9, 2003.