In Yucatán, San Valentin by Salvatore Difalco
We had spent too much time in the sun the previous day, despite my warnings. An excess of Del Maguey Chichicapa contributed both to a profound loss of consciousness that lasted all night and to the predictable morning aftermath, fully blown as the scorpion of dawn raised its tail. My ginger amigo Rasmussen, the only human I know to have survived a bungled bungee jump, deplored my cautionary instincts—pooh-poohing my calls for more powerful sunscreen or a prudent retreat to shade—and thus must have found himself in a personal inferno at least as execrable and fervid as mine. I felt like a double-decker trolley bus had run me over and a perverse opportunist had then doused my flattened body with diesel fuel, setting me alight.
Afraid to move, I fixed my eyes on my feet, jutting from the sheets like parboiled lobsters. Optically unbearable, I tilted my eyes away from the feet toward the blood-spatter marring the immaculate popcorn ceiling. Ask me how that came about and if I could I would raise and open my hands, offering the nothing between my blistered palms—which had also tasted the poisonous lash of Huītzilōpōchtli. The blood predated my occupation of the room, perhaps the result of a stabbing, a gunfight, or an Aztec sacrifice—the inflamed imagination teems with scenarios— understandable as cleaning oversights go. No one thinks to wipe blood off a ceiling. Admittedly it was not the first time I had noticed the blood—plain to see upon first entering the room, as was the improbable black-and-white print of the Peking Man skull adorning one wall—but it was the first time I had contemplated its genesis.
Sirens wailed in the distance. Ah-ha. Something else was burning. This gave me scant comfort. Some people live for it, but schadenfreude had never been my strong suit. A cardinal stationed in the bone-dry bough by my window—perhaps irritated by the disruption of an otherwise tranquil morning—screeched like an angry rooster. I wrenched myself from the bed—my flesh tightening around my limbs and torso, my raw skin threatening to split—and stood up too quickly. My brain sloshed about like a pot of reheated pozole, my guts percolated. I stilled myself, breathing shallowly, and moved as slowly as possible, legs spread, thumbs tucked in the waistband of my strawberry briefs, avoiding any form of friction.
On my nightstand sat a softened pomegranate I had brought back from yesterday’s breakfast buffet. It was a fruit Rasmussen found highly objectionable, but one I had never before thought to sample. Vacations often stimulate adventurism, this is common knowledge. I was no exception. Moreover, seeking to shake off the residual splinters and nails of a shipwrecked marriage, I was up for any activity—we had snorkeled with dolphins the day before—that would distract me from the agonies of my gurgling inner puppet play. Nevertheless I nudged open the hinged window with an elbow, grabbed the pomegranate and hurled it at the cardinal. A feckless effort, I missed by a good meter. The handsome bird shot me a cross look and flitted off to find worms, or whatever else sustained it.
On the stuccoed side of a low-rise building across the street, above a bank of papery Bougainvillea, a graffiti artist had, over the course of the night, chalked a large red heart and written below it, in a flamboyant hand, the words:
Sé mi San Valentín!
As no name accompanied it, I had trouble contextualizing or affixing to it a credible story. Someone was in love. It happens. Or someone hoped to be loved. Doesn’t everyone harbour this fantasy? Just then a fire truck with peeling paint and a flimsy turntable ladder clanged down the street, followed by a raging emergency vehicle. I could smell smoke, but it struck me as a rather pleasant aroma, reminiscent of barbecue. Further reflection triggered a salivating wave of nausea that drove me to the bathroom where I retched for an interminable length of time, emptying and desiccating myself so completely that by the end I felt made of papier-mâché and that a finger poke in the thorax would have likely penetrated me to the spine.
I opened the door and Rasmussen stood there, his limbs slathered in aloe, his nose covered with white gauze and a wet towel wrapped around his head like a turban. In his hand he held a tall glass filled with a ruby drink.
“Have this,” he said. “It’ll help. The concierge recommended it.”
“What the hell is it?”
“Cherry juice with cayenne.”
“You must be joking.”
He bared his teeth. As straight and white as they normally looked, I found myself blinking rapidly at their current radiance, heightened by the surrounding skin—scorched to a red I had not perceived before, neither in nature nor synthetically.
Without pressing me further, he lifted the glass to his lips and drank off a third of the beverage. This tinted his teeth red momentarily, the effect quite alarming. Another acrid wave of nausea crept up my esophagus; I gulped.
“You look positively awful,” Rasmussen said, taking another sip of his drink. “Come down to the buffet and get yourself straight. Eat some fruit and whatnot.”
“You—you don’t exactly . . .” but my voice trailed off and I couldn’t spit out the rest of the sentence, intended to suggest that he didn’t exactly look peachy. I walked over to a large clay vase holding decorative asphodels and puked into it. Not much came out, just a thin pink fluid. Shivering, I wiped my mouth and started for the bed, but Rasmussen grabbed my bare shoulder. I howled with pain at the touch. His hand recoiled as if electrified.
“They sure like their skulls down here,” he said, stepping toward the print and tracing his finger over the occipital bones.
“That’s Peking Man,” I said, as if revealing a secret.
Rasmussen furrowed his brow and stepped away from the print, unwilling to engage the matter further. “You kinda overdid it with the mescal last night,” he reminded me. “You even ate the worm, bro.”
“I did what?”
“You ate the fucking worm.”
I had no recollection of eating any worm.
“That’s right,” he said. “I guess that’s cutting loose, haha. Right?”
“It was the sun,” I insisted.
“What’s that?” he said, cupping his ear.
“The sun messed me up.”
“You’re fucking Sicilian, man. Thought you worshipped the sun.”
“This isn’t Sicily.”
“You’re starting to bum me out, man. You said you wanted to get away, forget about everything and just have a blast—that you weren’t gonna be negative. What the fuck is this?”
My legs rapidly failing, I leaned toward the bed and let myself collapse upon it face-first.
“Oh man,” Rasmussen said. “Guess I’ll be doing breakfast alone.”
I waved feebly as he departed.
I rolled to my back and let my eyes comb the bloodied popcorn of the ceiling, as if forensically trying to determine the trajectory of the spatter. The Aztecs used to sacrifice people to the gods, cutting out their hearts. I wondered what happened when they cut someone open and found a broken heart, or no heart at all.
Salvatore Difalco is the author of two books of stories including Black Rabbit (Anvil Press). He splits time between Toronto, Canada and Sicily.
¹Citations, Artwork Graffiti With Verses From Pablo Neruda: Poema 20: Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche / Poem 20: Tonight I can write the saddest lines by Pablo Neruda:
“5 Lovely Spanish Poems with English Translation.” My Daily Spanish. December 04, 2017. Accessed February 03, 2019. https://mydailyspanish.com/spanish-poems/.
Elena, Lee-James Bovey. “Analysis of Tonight I Can Write by Pablo Neruda.” Poem Analysis. May 14, 2018. Accessed February 03, 2019. https://poemanalysis.com/tonight-i-can-write-by-pablo-neruda-poem-analysis/.
Neruda, Pablo. “Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines.” PoemHunter.com. January 03, 2003. Accessed February 03, 2019. https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/tonight-i-can-write-the-saddest-lines/.
Sheko, Tania, and Tania Sheko. “Pablo Neruda: “Tonight I Can Write” – Poem of the Day – Medium.” Medium.com. May 22, 2018. Accessed February 03, 2019. https://medium.com/poem-of-the-day/pablo-neruda-tonight-i-can-write-3c5a23982e0d.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Quotes – Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines.” Shmoop. November 11, 2008. Accessed February 03, 2019. https://www.shmoop.com/quotes/tonight-i-can-write-the-saddest-lines.html.
“Tonight I Can Write by Pablo Neruda.” The Guardian. July 02, 2004. Accessed February 03, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/jul/03/featuresreviews.guardianreview27.