Clancy Martin is a contributing editor at VICE and Harper's. He is also a novelist, essayist and philosophy professor. His forthcoming short novel, Love in Central America, is about a woman, a writer, who finds herself at a crisis-point in her life and responds to it by having an affair and resuming her self-destructive drinking. "It is loosely based on a disastrous year in my own life. I chose the excerpt for you guys because—with allowances for some gender-switching and other fictional devices—it, the excerpt, really happened."
Our hotel didn't have a pool, and later we went to the
pool at a property Madonna owned or had owned and I
ordered Eduard a drink so that we had a right to swim.
A couple who had rented a cabana told us we could lay in their
deck chairs. I was tan all this year—it was almost exactly a year,
now, since Eduard and I had started—but I needed some sun
on my skin. My upper lip had broken out in tiny pimples like a
moustache. Eduard drank his mojito, I drank my Coke Light. I
did not want a drink. We watched the fat, burned white people
and ripped Asian boys and skinny haughty boys in sunglasses.
One girl with shoulder-length glossy black hair that hadn't been
wet yet stared at Eduard through her aviators. She was standing
in the water at the end of the pool with the sun showing on her
tight body. Her swimsuit was expensive, red with an orange stripe,
and snug. She was drinking cognac from a snifter.
"Do you want to get in the water?" Eduard asked.
I watched him perform in the pool for this young woman. He
went underwater and tossed his head back when she came to
the surface. He swam laps then stretched his arms and back. He
did a backflip off the diving board. I might have done something
similar if a beautiful young man were admiring me. Still I was
irritated. I stood on a small fountain in the middle of the pool.
I was out of the water to about my knees, and I saw that, in the
white bikini shorts I had bought, you could see everything.
"Honey," Eduard said. "Come back into the pool. Let me
hold you in the water."
"I will," I said. I thought, How do you like it?
He had put his sunglasses on. Everyone looks ridiculous when
they wear their sunglasses in a swimming pool. But Eduard was
wearing his sunglasses in Madonna's swimming pool.
"Maybe we should have bought black shorts for you,"
Eduard said. "Or coloured ones. The white ones are a little
transparent now that they're wet."
I glanced down. "They're fine. You are so paranoid. Besides,
you're the one who's showing off."
"Hey, I'm missing you down here," Eduard said. Miss
Asian Perfect Body was still watching him. Other people had
noticed me. I saw women talking quietly to each other and
motioning with their chins the way they do.
I got back into the water. Eduard carried me around the pool.
"You're being silly," I said.
I went and got his mojito from our pool table. Now most
of the people there noticed my transparent shorts.
"Pool drinks," I said when I got back to Eduard. It was a
joke that Paul used to make.
When we got out of the pool, the couple had taken their
deck chairs back.
"Sorry," the man said. The woman regarded me
without an expression. Eduard wrapped me in a towel, then
put one around himself.
The beautiful young Asian woman hadn't moved from her
spot. But now she was eyeing someone else's man.
She'll learn, I thought.
Then I thought, No. As long as there's a market for it,
people will always be looking at each other, and enjoying
being watched. In the god realm, the Mayans said, they make
love by exchanging glances.
Paul's mother told me once, "The worst thing about growing
old is that you become invisible." Only a beautiful woman
could know something that awful.
I said, "I want to take you out tonight. You're always paying.
Let me buy tonight."
"You could buy drinks before dinner. How about that?"
"You choose a place."
He chose the Ritz, which was a good sign. We had
made love very gently and for a long time before we went
out, and we were happy. We walked along the edge of the
sea in the dark. He carried my heels and we held hands.
There was no moon, and the water was quiet. From the
beach the Ritz-Carleton looked like the nicest hotel in
Cancun, but the bar was empty except for three discouraged
middle-aged women. They looked like businesspeople
or corporate saleswomen of some kind, but there is no
business in Cancun.
The pools of the hotel were illuminated and the lights
shone across the bar and gave the air an underwater feeling.
The women could have been holding their breath, or their
gills might open, or they could be drowned, I thought. They
looked at Eduard with frank appreciation.
It is exhausting dating a sexual man. Every time you walk
into a bar or restaurant there they are, all the predators who
want to take him from you.
"I want a whiskey," Eduard told the bartender. "With just
one cube of ice. She'll have a Coke Light."
The bartender poured him four fingers of whiskey in
the glass. I saw him look at the bartender—she was a tiny
thing, my size or smaller, she couldn't have weighed ninety
pounds—and she moved on down the bar.
It was one of those half-inside-half-outside bars they have
at resorts in the tropics.Eduard took two long sips of his whiskey. He was
wearing a linen suit that he knew I loved. I wiped off my lipstick with
a cocktail napkin and kissed him.
"I love you," he said. "I really want us to be together."
They were playing old American country music. Eduard
finished his drink in three big swallows and ordered another.
The bartender poured it the same. He drank it down, and
ordered a third.
"What's gotten into you?"
"Let's get in the pool. Come into the pool with me," he
said. He got a fourth to carry with him.
"I'll watch you."
"You're no fun," he said.
He took off his shoes, rolled up his trousers to the knee,
and walked between the bar pool and the larger infinity pool.
The two pools were connected by a shallow, underwater ledge.
Walking along it, the water reached Eduard's calves. He took his
trousers off. He wore yellow silk boxers with elephants printed
on them. Both pools were illuminated and the blue light shone
up on him from below. He took his shirt off and dipped in the
water. The women had perked up. I took pictures with my
phone. Eduard took his underwear off, and threw them towards
me in a ball. They landed in the pool and floated conspicuously.
A husband had arrived and he gave me a questioning
look. Even the bartender raised his eyebrows at me.
Eduard was singing in Spanish, in his strong soprano, with
his penis flapping around, but he wasn't slurring his words.
It was a love song he was singing to the night.
I picked up my Coke Light and moved to a table closer
to the pool. It had been raining earlier and I brushed off
the cushions before sitting. The cushion soaked the ass of
"Come on, come out here!" Eduard shouted. I smiled
and waved. Just a week ago this would have been the time
to drink half of his whiskey, I thought. But I didn't want it.
It may have been stubbornness. No alcoholic, no matter
how practiced, whether she's had twenty relapses or never had
one in twenty years, can explain why she doesn't take a drink.
He was dancing a tango with himself. I didn't know what
I would do if he fell the wrong way. Presumably one of the
hotel staff would rescue him. I'd never seen him truly drunk
before. He seemed larger. At last he came back to sit with
me. He put his clothes back on carefully. He looked around
for his underwear, which had at last sunk into the pool.
Without getting up, I looked around for his shoes. He walked
around barefoot. Then he sat, and quickly stood up again.
He wobbled, held the arms of the chair, and sat back down.
"This chair. Got my pants wet." He took a sip of his whiskey.
"Did you like my song?"
I showed him the pictures. He laughed. He looked handsome.
Drunk and bold and blue in the pool lights and silly.
I showed them to him again the next day, performing a postmortem
of my own, and he still loved them.
"Hey, Julio Iglesias," I said, "who's the exhibitionist now?"
And he laughed and said, "What's good for the goose."
We borrowed a convertible from the Mercedes dealer in
town—he was a friend of Eduard's—and drove to a house at the
end of the peninsula. That night there was a storm and when
we woke the ocean and the seaside had been swept clean. The
house was down on the sand, and the glass doors of our bedroom
opened to the beach and the sea not even fifty yards away.
"Let's get in the ocean," he said.
"Okay, in a minute." No one was up yet. Further down
people lived on the beach in little straw huts, and cooked
fi sh, rice and plantains. You could walk across a channel into
the grassy jungles of Belize.
Before Cancun I had told him that everything could be
alright with me, again, if I could swim in the ocean with
him and see the sun on his skin. When I was sober, this
seemed both impossible and true. If I had three drinks I
saw it wasn't a dream at all, it was simply going to happen
that way, it would all work out, if we were patient, if we
could both be kind.
When we swam the water was too salty and we didn't
stay out long. "You're supposed to dive into the
waves," he told me.
"I know. I like to swim over them."
When I was a kid in Florida my mom said she liked to
watch me go into the surf. I clenched my fists like I wanted
to conquer the ocean. I still prefer to stand in the waves and
try to jump over them.
The way Eduard swam it was like he was trying to go
Like a surfer swims in the ocean, but he wasn't headed
for a break.
He held me in his arms, rolling up and down with the
forming waves, cradling me and trying to get me to laugh,
but it was like we were doing it because we had agreed we
would, and it didn't work.
Taken from Love in Central America by Clancy Martin, published by
Harvill Secker in August. Copyright © Clancy Martin 2016.