When Roberto Diego had left and they were alone again, Angela suggested that they get out and explore the town a little. Craig thought that was a waste of time, seeing as how they had to get back on the road early in the morning, as well as the fact that this was just some sleepy little tourist town, interchangeable with all the other towns along the border. "No," he said, "I donít think thereís anything wrong with staying right here and getting wasted. Besides, itís dangerous out there. Thereís all manner of Mexican police patroling the streets and whatnot."

Angela looked into Craigís eyes and thought she saw the glimmer of a little boy, hungry and alone. Not hungry for food, but she thought sheíd give it a shot anyway. "Hey the hotel man said there was a pretty good restaurant just down the road. Rosieís Cantina was I think what he called it. Letís see how we feel once weíve got some homemade-style enchiladas in us, hmmmm? Who knows, maybe we can even get to know each other a little better." She took Craig by the hand and led him out of the hotel.

Though night had fallen it was still relatively early, and there were actually a lot of people on the street. It seemed that the Desert Chihuahua was far enough from the border side of town that the number of tourists in the crowd was rather minimal, though they could still see a few tall out-of-place looking people in white t-shirts with various beer logos who obviously had not been born on that side of the river. They walked in the direction Roberto had indicated and after a few minutes found a lively place with a broken down "Rosieís" sign hanging out front.

Maybe it was her imagination, but Angela sensed a slight lull in the roar of the crowded place as she and Craig entered the room and a few heads turned to look their way. The two of them found a small, beer-stained table near the back and waited for someone to bring them some kind of menu from which they could order. A short, plump smiling senorita was soon standing in front of them with the list of available delicacies. Only half of one of the pages of the rather oversized menu was actually devoted to food, the rest of the pages being taken up with lists of various beers and tequilas from which they could partake. They ended up ordering a large order of "goat fajitas" (as Craig had translated it) to share, and a pitcher of margaritas. As they waited for the food, Angela surveyed the scene around them.

The main part of the cantina was a large open room, reminiscent of an old west saloon, although all the signs here were in spanish. It was also rather dark, lit only by strands of multicolored Christmas lights that hung strategically around the room, many of them anchored to the longhorn skulls that lined the walls of the place. Other than that, it seemed that every inch of available wall space had some kind of advertisement, sign or poster for alcohol. It was quite a collection, actually, with several items that appeared to be many decades old.

The overwhelming gender in the place seemed to be male, although there were a few women scattered about here and there. While she and Craig were sitting there a small mariachi band set up on the little stage in the far corner of the room and started playing mexican dance hits of the thirties. The few men in Rosieís who were accompanied by women got up at this point and started to salsa dance with their dates in the rather limited space in front of the stage. Some of the men were at least twice as big and twice as old as the apparently barely-legal girls they danced with (which seemed a bit sketchy to Angela), but soon she could also make out a few older couples dancing cheek to cheek and as if they had had a great deal of practice over the course of their lives.

"Hey, do you know how to Lambada?" she asked Craig, who seemed to be finally getting into the mood of the place, tapping his glass as he watched the swirl of energetic musicians and dancers on the other side. He laughed and said no, maybe they could practice tonight in private before showing off at whatever hot spot they happened to be at the next night.

Angela started to see why Tina had discounted this guy. Despite his cool, flashy exterior, this guy had all the personality of a wet sock. She had imagined from his looks and his stories that he was some kind of social animal who could take charge of a situation and easily fall into the role of the Life of the Party. But Mexico seemed to have taken all the fire out of him. Or maybe it wasnít Mexico.

She leaned over the table and looked him straight in the eye. "Craig," she said, "all the way to Mexico you told me your whole life story as if it was an entertaining joke you had told a hundred times, maybe a thousand times. But I still donít feel like I know anything about you. And to be honest, I really donít know if its worth the effort to get too close to you. Is this thing going to go anywhere, and do either of us really want it to? I havenít told you a thing about myself, and to tell you the truth, you havenít seemed all that interested. The only thing that seems to interest you is my wavering and drastically uncertain desire to sleep with you. Tell me now, do you see me as a person or as some kind of conquest for your history book? Do we really have anything in common at all, or it this going to be some kind of ephemeral physical thing that weíre going to forget or worse, wish we could forget?"

Craig didnít answer immediately, but seemed to be intently listening to everything she was saying. He had straightened up in his chair and leaned a little bit closer to her, his right index finger playing with the rim of his margarita. As he took another drink, she continued. "I donít know if Tina told you all about me or not, but there really isnít much to tell, not much that would interest you, anyway. The main thing is that generally, and Iím talking about ninety-nine percent of the time, I really donít enjoy being around other people. In fact, truth be known, I despise other living beings on a regular basis. For a large part of my life my only friend in the world was this silly old cat who probably couldnít even tell me apart from any other person he sat on.

"Somehow you and Tina have brought out another side of me that I'm not used to, that I really had no idea existed before this year. With you I feel like Iím a real person, actually a member of the human race, participating actively in the human experience. But I must admit the glow is waning, and the effect you two have on me seems to be wearing off. I donít know if youíve talked to Tina recently, or if youíre still sleeping with her, but she and I donít really spend time together anymore.

"Sometime after the first year of college began I ran into Tina on campus. We had both gone to the same high school, but we hadnít really known each other very well in high school and we didnít have any idea that we were going to the same college. I looked a little bit different in high school, in fact Iím not sure you would have been that attracted to me if you had known me a couple of years ago, and like I said, I didnít have any friends. I mean none at all. Except Marvin, the cat, like I said earlier.

"In high school I remember Tina always being very popular, but I had also overheard that she had a bad reputation as well and there were a few rumors circulating around about her being a little too much of a party-er, and the fact that it seemed she had slept with the entire Lacrosse team, among other things. So in fact though she was popular and in all the right cliques, there were still a lot of people in the school saying a lot of mean things about her, most of which were not true. Except for the thing about the Lacrosse team, she personally verified the veracity of that one for me." Craig laughed despite himself, but quickly regained his composure and continued to listen fervently, apparently enthralled by everything Angela was saying.

"So though I didnít ever talk to her in high school," Angela went on, "I still had this kind of mix of pity and admiration for the girl. When we later met on the Trinity campus in February, we both recognized each other. Oh yeah, though we had never met in high school she knew who I was too. I went to a relatively small high school, only about two thousand students, and everyone knew who I was because of the way I looked. It was not a pretty sight, letís just leave it at that. But when I saw Tina at Trinity she smiled with recognition and immediately asked me how I was and we went and had a drink and really hit it off. I donít know, I think she was at a rather low point in her life, she wasnít quite prepared for college so she wasnít doing that well academically, though she is actually a very intelligent woman."

"Somehow these circumstances, and her kindness and seeming total acceptance of me led me to actually trust her, though I had not really trusted another human being before that. But like I said I didnít have a lot of human contact growing up and Tina was regrettably the first person I had met who actually seemed to care about me. And I was already nineteen years old! Pretty pathetic, huh?"

"So whatís happened between you guys?," interjected Craig. "What broke up the friendship? To tell you the truth, I havenít talked to her too much lately either." He looked down at his hands and then back up into Angelaís eyes. "I guess Iíve been a little busy with other things."

"Well thatís just it," said Angela. "It was you. I guess after you met me -- and Iím not saying that this has anything to do with it, thatís something youíre going to have to clear up -- after you met me you didnít seem as interested in Tina anymore. So especially with the fact that you invited me to go to Mexico with you, I donít know, I guess that hurt her to an extent. So after that she just kept bringing up the fact that you had asked me to go to Mexico and I had agreed and we had only just met.

"I donít know, I think even though she probably thought she was my friend, and I know I thought she was my friend, either she had a very low opinion of me or a very high opinion of you. And the latter didnít really seem to be an option because -- and I probably shouldnít tell you this, but I think all the alcohol of the day is finally getting to me, well, actually, Iím sure of it because Iíve never talked so much in my life and, oh god, youíre probably actually bored quite stiff but you really have this great ĎIím listeningí look, which you have probably honed to a fine art, but it is quite effective, just so you know. Anyway, where was I, oh yeah, I probably shouldnít be telling you this but she never really said anything nice about you at all. And donít tell me that she was just trying to keep you all to herself because she didnít even have to introduce us in the first place."

It was now Craigís turn to say something. Angela sat back in her chair and fastened her lips tight around her margarita, motioning with her hands for him to speak. While she had been talking the waitress had brought a huge tray (she looked like Atlas, carrying that tray) of fajitas for the two of them, with all the amenities. After downing her current glass, she refilled it and then started to plan her attack on the food. Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, Craig still hadnít said anything yet. Finally, after a pregnant pause that seemed to last forever, he started to talk. He had in the interval decided that if he was to have any chance at all with this woman he should just say whatever came into his mind and in that way, he hoped and prayed, he would allay all of her fears and she would see that he was wonderful and she had nothing to worry about.

"The thing is that I really like Tina," he started, and instantly wished he had begun with a different opening. "I really like Tina, and we had a lot of fun together, but I donít know, it was always kind of apparent from the start that she wasnít too serious about me. I mean, hell, we met at a bar and ended up jumping into bed together the same night! Not that thereís anything wrong with that and donít get me wrong Iím sure that many fine romances begin that way, but usually a start like that pretty much handicaps the rest of the relationship. But we were sexually compatible, I guess is the term, and so we kept going out, but I always got the impression that she looked down on me to an extent. Like she was superior to me! Maybe thatís how she felt about you, I donít know. But it always seemed like in her mind she was doing me a big favor by going out with me. Though I have no doubt that she was thoroughly enjoying it at the same time. Okay, well maybe I have a little bit of doubt but itís really hard to know for sure with women. I mean, weíve all seen ĎWhen Harry Met Sallyí, right?í"

They both laughed, and he continued. "So anyway I guess it was a mix of the two things you said. Maybe she didnít think too much of you, about either one of us for that matter, because like I said I think she has this superiority complex or something. And maybe she wanted to be in control of the situation at the same time. Even though she didnít really have any respect for me (and man, she could be a mean bitch sometimes!), she still wanted to be in control of the situation. Maybe she hadnít found anything better yet and was quite happy to pass the time with me even though she knew pretty much from the start that it would be a temporary arrangement, her and me. Hell, she was talking about introducing me to you and we hadnít even put our clothes back on yet. So that wasnít a very good sign. But maybe she underestimated you and me both. And maybe it wasnít until I invited you to come here with me that she realized that maybe she wasnít at the top of the totem pole, and that maybe the world didnít revolve around her. Maybe, just maybe -- and this was probably a very new idea to her, though she should have learned it long ago -- it was only then that she realized that we didnít need her any more, that we could have fun without her. And hell, maybe sheís just never been to Mexico and sheís always wanted to be invited by someone, anyone! You got to admit this is a crazy trip, you and me coming all the way here without, like you said, even knowing each other.

"But I donít know, I guess Iím a simple person but I think that thereís more to life than just all these words floating around. I mean I like to believe that the main thing is living, and that all the words we say are just paraphrasing reality or distracting us from reality, but thereís actually no reality in the words themselves. They are a completely artificial construct. I mean I could sit here and talk all day long, I guess you became aware of that on the drive down here." He laughed, and took the opportunity of his own pause to grab a quick bite of his fajita taco before continuing.

"Why waste all our time creating sentences and talking about things, when we could be directly experiencing the things themselves? Part of my problem, I guess, is that you never know with words, whatís true and whatís not. People can say anything, and often do, and there is just no way of knowing if they are telling the truth or not. I grew up in a moderately well-off household and Iíve seen how the upper class live. Iíve been to my dadís corporate office and Iíve seen the kind of lies they spin there just to get the job done. People will say anything to get what they want. Anything at all. And itís not just the rich and powerful who are pulling the wool over the eyes of the helpless masses. Everyone lies, from the top to the bottom. Everyone has something they desire so much that they are willing to sacrifice the truth to get it.

"So I guess you canít say that Iím an intellectual. Hell, I havenít read a book of my own free will since probably the third grade. Well, I take that back. I did read the Harry Potter books, I mean who hasnít? Itís kind of become an initiation into the human race, that series. I canít wait to see what happens in his fourth year, that bookís probably going to be massive! But in general I donít see any point in reading books. I mean, here are some guys saying whatever they want, in order to make a cheap buck, just like everyone else. Except somehow writers have been put on this high pedestal for some reason, like they have been entrusted with documenting the human condition or something, when in reality theyíre only trying to make a quick buck, and at some point theyíve realized that the easiest way for them to make a quick buck, for whatever reason, is by writing. Maybe theyíre good at writing things that sound believable, but let me tell you, I donít believe any of it. Iím talking about the fiction and nonfiction. For me itís all just words on paper and all the people sitting at home eating it up like it was candy are just saps. Thatís all there is to it. I guess that probably puts me into the minority of people, but Iíd rather be a minority than a sap. Iíd rather feel like Iím actually experiencing life instead of just reading someone elseís sensationalized account of it. No offense, of course, if you happen to like books. I guess I should have asked you that before I went on my rant."

"No offense taken," said Angela. "I prefer to think that maybe there is more of a happy medium between life and art, and I guess I prefer to think of there being a better relationship between art and money as well, but I can see that as being a little bit idealistic. I donít know, youíve given me a lot to think about. I donít think I agree with much of what you just said, but I can see quite clearly now that there is much more to you than meets the eye. Itís a shame you have such a negative attitude towards writing because I think it would be very interesting for you to write some of your thoughts down and let more people in on the secret. Itís funny, actually, that here we are in Mexico of all places, the two of us all alone and together. And you hate books and I hate people! How did this happen?"

"When worldís collide," said Craig, as if he was giving the evening a title. "Like the cute animal poster of the kitten and the puppy says: the more different we are, the more we have to share. Maybe weíll both learn something from the experience."

They finished their meal in relative silence, but there was a feeling in the air now that had not existed before. By being honest with each other it was almost as if they had created a tangible thing that they shared, an understanding that wrapped around them and pulled them closer together. Suddenly there was an excitement that had not existed previously, and it grew in intensity as they went into the night. They could both feel it, and admittedly it could not be considered love, it was more of a mutual physical sensation. It was definitely real, however, whether or not it was to be later described (rather poorly) in a book that would never be published.

They entered their hotel room, only to find Roberto Diego lying on their bed, watching TV and eating from a bag of Doritos. "Oh, sorry, he said, I didnít think you would be back so soon." He jumped out of the bed and quickly brushed any remaining Dorito crumbs onto the floor. "Have a good evening, and please let me know if you need anything. Iíll be downstairs at the front desk." He showed himself out without delay but still he seemed sad to go, as if envisioning the uncomfortable stool that was waiting for him below.

"Hey," said Craig to Angela, once the door had closed and they were again alone. "You donít imagine this is actually his room, and heís just being nice to us letting us have the nicest room in the place?"

She said, "Well, in that case heís not doing a very good job of giving it up, is he? I donít think we should worry too much about poor Roberto. I think heíll manage."

With that she put her arms around Craigís neck and stood very close to him. She was ready to see what real was, to try to feel what she had only read about before. Almost immediately they kissed, a long kiss that fell into another and then another and then they fell into the bed even as they kissed. He understood that she had never done this before and they took their time, laughing and learning about each other together. They made love all night and then finally fell asleep with the breaking of the dawn.

They awoke to the sound of the key in the door. "No, Roberto!," they shouted in unison as the door opened and then immediately closed again. Craig looked at Angela and smiled. "Roberto," he called to the closed door, "I think weíll be keeping this room for a few more days yet."

Then he kissed her until she was fully awake and they made love in the light of day with all of their senses unencumbered by alcohol or exhaustion or uncertainty. They ended up spending a week in that little hotel room just on the other side of the border before mutually agreeing that it was time to go back home.

On the way home they didnít say anything at all almost the entire way. Angela felt a happiness and a sadness at the same time, because the future was speeding towards her and she was not ready for it. Her heart was like a balloon inflated to the point of filling her throat, and she knew that there was nothing to be said for what she and Craig had experienced together except that it was over, and it could not be repeated.

She never saw Craig, or Tina, again after that.

Chapter 35

 

Chapter 34 was first written November 30, 2001

It was last edited December 30, 2001