Afterwards, the walls of the villa leaned away from them, as though the stones themselves couldn’t bear to be near. The flies buzzed a fury, a demented mariachi band. Holebas was first to move. He ambled out of the shadows and onto the veranda, where he launched a wad of phlegm over the balcony. He flicked the polystyrene lid of the icebox onto the tiles and rummaged in the meltwater for a beer. He found two and opened them both, waiting for the American.

A minute or two later, Daniel followed. He leaned against the door, dizzy with light. Considering the patterns on the tiles, he thought: life should run in lines.

Holebas offered him one of the dripping beers. Daniel took a drink then gestured with the bottle.

‘Do you have limes?’

‘For the beer?’ Holebas understood. ‘Ha! You know why they have the lime?’

‘For the taste.’

‘Ha! No señor. Is to keep away the flies. The flies! You pop it in and out like this, see?’

He plugged his finger into the neck of the bottle, and Daniel looked away. Holebas sniggered about the flies and gazed out at the desert. The horizon shivered with heat, the land and the sky melted like a wax. The sky curved upwards and leaned across them, too heavy to hold. A porcelain bowl, balanced on edge, ready to fracture and fall.

Smithereens, thought Daniel.

He breathed out hard enough to hurt. ‘That’s my first time. Can I tell you that?’

Holebas grinned, then, all teeth and no humour. ‘Ah, señor! A part of me might envy you the first one. Is a special moment. You become a man, si? Daniel, the man! Is no going back from this now.’

‘No,’ said Daniel. ‘No, I guess not.’

He’d never looked more like a small boy. He wasn’t drinking anymore, and didn’t notice the flies that skirted the neck of his beer. He tried not to think about what waited in the villa, though they still had to tidy it up.

Everything would be so simple, if life ran in lines.

One thought on “Smithereens

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