So this shit happened to me like three or five years ago. It started with a jolt of panic that clutched my chest like an iron thunderclap from the angry heavens. No, that sounds stupid. It was more like that feeling you get when you eat peanut butter too fast. What I’m trying to say is that it was more of a lumpy sensation than a hurt. After all, I was sitting about 50 meters away from the accident and didn’t even see it happen.
Still, from my barstool I felt the crash before I heard it. For those of you who don’t know much about science, the discrepancy is due to the differences in speed with which light and sound travel through space, or something like that. I’m not really sure that’s totally accurate because I never studied science, although it interests me, sometimes.
Anyway, it happened fast and I felt the lump in my solar plexus, or perhaps my sternum. I’m not really sure which because I’m not a doctor. Also, my memory isn’t that good. But it nearly made me spill my beer when it happened. I think I even bumped my teeth with my beer bottle, although they seem fine now.
I spun off the barstool and took several stiff-legged steps toward the sun-filled doorway. The morning sun is brutal in Nicaragua, so I didn’t actually go all the way out to the street to inspect the accident. I just sort of stood to the side of the doorway, out of the heat, where I could see, sort of. The white corolla had crashed at a 45-degree angle to the curb. Really it was more like a 52-degree angle, but no one says stuff like that. Anyway, the car had it’s right wheel up on the sidewalk, stopped just before the electrical post. The left front bumper was sticking into the backend of a grayish, or perhaps faded silver, or a tarnished silver, I should say, BMW that was spun halfway through the intersection.
Black skidmarks slithered up behind the Corolla, which makes me question the chronology of everything I’ve told you so far. The burned rubber means the driver must have slammed on his breaks before impact, which means maybe I did heard the accident before I felt it in my chest. I can’t really remember now. Anyway, who the fuck cares?
At this point, people had begun to gather in the street, shouting in Spanish into their cellphones and at each other. Two women and a young girl, perhaps 8 or 11, or maybe 12, it’s hard to tell sometimes. Anyway, they watched in silence, holding plastic bags from the market. Another woman had a basket of fruit or flowers on her head. And there was a guy wearing a suit who opened the driver’s side door of the Corolla and leaned in. Don’t ask me what the hell he was doing wearing a suit in the tropics. I mean where did he think he was going that’s so important you have to wear a suit in 90 degree weather? It’s just one of those third-world things you see everyday that doesn’t make any sense.
The guy in the suit was making me hot and itchy just looking at him. I needed to get back to my beer, so turned from the sunny doorway and went back to my barstool.
“Bad accident?” Mickey asked. He was wearing his regular baggy blue cargo shorts and a white t-shirt with a stretched neck and the words “Pura Vida Costa Rica” written above a bleach-faded image of a tree frog clinging to a beer bottle. Mickey pressed his fingers into his blue eyes and moved his stubbled jaw to stretch his face. Mickey was always pushing his eyes back into his head, as if they were coming loose in the sockets.
“Nah.” I said. I told him about the guy wearing a suit, but Mickey didn’t say anything. I though he would have been more interested in that detail. Instead, he just smushed his eyes some more.
“Was anyone injured?” Bob asked. He leaned back on his stool to look down the bar behind Mickey. Bob was a real sensitive guy. He would’ve cared if someone had been hurt.
“I couldn’t tell,” I said.
“You can tell me, I’m a doctor!” Mickey roared. He closed his eyes and slapped his hand on the bar, filling the room with cigarette laughter. Bob shook his shoulders slightly, in that polite way of his, and adjusted his eyeglasses. “That’s from the movie Airplane, Bob. It’s a fucking classic!” Mickey barked. He opened his eyes widely and blinked with the sudden confusion of a man waking in a strange bed, then reached for his beer.
“Good one, Mickey,” Bob said. Bob was real supportive like that.
I shifted my weight off my wallet and put the the Toña to my lips. The bottle was warm and the last sip of beer smelled stale. I raised my eyebrows at the bartender to signal for another.
I watched a purple dolphin jump above the waves of her belt line as she bent over the ice chest to grab me another. Her name is Maria, or Victoria, or Ana Sofia, or something like that. I’m horrible with names. In the mirror behind the bar, I could see Bob looking at her tattoo, too. Mickey rubbed his eyes.
Ana Maria turned and popped the top off my beer on that metal thing screwed underneath the bar. She wrapped a paper napkin around the bottle then banged it on the bar in front of me, a little harder than necessary. She’s got this tired face and a faded beauty that’s blown out around the edges. She bought her clothes about about 20 pounds ago and the zipper on her jeans can barley keep its shit together. But she’s got great posture, with a long neck and delicate fingers. And just about the sexiest collarbone you’ve ever seen.
Mickey saw me looking at her. “You hit that?”
I gave a noncommittal grunt and stuck my beer in my mouth. Bob didn’t say anything. He was a super respectful guy with the ladies.
Mickey took a long pull on his beer. “Christ, she’s got more curves than a country road. Sensual as shit; I think I’m falling in love.”
Bob said something about sensuality hastening the growth of love and weakening its roots, or something that like. It was a quote from Nietzche, he said.
“Shut the fuck up, Bobby.” Mickey said.
Bob took a pained sip of his beer. His feelings were easily hurt. Bob was a real gentle guy. Smart, too. I think he used to be a high school teacher or college professor. I don’t remember which. I never asked him about it.
The shouting in the street was getting louder. A bunch of hotheaded Latins yelling in the reflexive verb. It was that sing-songy, crescendo-type of yelling that Nicas do when they get all hot and bothered about something, like noisy jungle birds flapping inside a cage. Maria Victoria moved to the end of the bar and pressed her paunch against the counter to lean on one foot to try to get a look outside at the scene in the street. She tilted as far as she could, extending that long neck of hers to try to bend her sight to the action down the street. She couldn’t see anything from her angle, so she rocked back down to earth on two feet. I looked away before she caught my stare. Then she turned the dolphin away from us, leaned against the ice chest and pecked at her cellphone with red nails. Waves of dark hair fell over her collarbone.
“When was the last time you guys saw the movie Airplane?” Bob asked. He blinked and scratched the hair on his left forearm extending from a green shirtsleeved polo sleeve. Bob’s mouth was slightly ajar, like a child waiting to slurp hot soup. Mickey ignored him. “I don’t remember, Bob” I said. You kinda gotta answer Bob. He’s the type of guy whose feelings got hurt real easy if you didn’t answer him. Bob was always trying to make conversation. He was real thoughtful like that.
There was no one else in the bar at this hour. It was just the three of us and the wave of shouts from the street, which barged in through the doorway to interrupt our stares. I looked at the painted mirror behind Ana Sophia quickly counted 36 liquor bottles. Most of them were full. We only drank beers.
The bar was big and crumbling. A wobbly ceiling fan pushed heat around the room and spackled the wooden rafters with a fresh coat of dust. The cracked adobe walls were painted mint green, that shitty color you typically find in third-world hospitals or postcards from Miami. Decorators call it something like “waterfall dreaming,” or “mintspiration.”
Deep in the mirror behind the bottles I could see a clutter of empty chairs and tables behind me. I turned in my barstool to confirm that the younger tourists — the long-haired guy with the girly mouth and the the short-haired girl with the thick calves — had left the table under the window. I didn’t see them leave. A dry beer bottle sat on the key-carved table alongside a few worthless one-córdoba coins.
Ana Maria read my mind and ducked under the bar to come over to our side and claim her tip. I turned slightly on my stool to steal a view of her walking toward the table. Her ass moved like a fat kid chewing bubblegum. I turned my eyes discreetly back into the mirror to watch her turn and tack back toward to the bar. She tried to pass by the doorway to see the action that was intensifying in the street, but Mickey whistled at her and waved his empty beer bottle in the air. Bob never did stuff like that. He was always a gentleman.
Mickey was jamming his thumbs into his eyes when Ana Victoria put the beer down in front of him. She saw Bob was nearing the bottom of his beer and asked him if he wanted another. He smiled in that friendly way of his and said no. Bob never drank too fast. He was super responsible like that. Ana Maria went back to tapping at her cellphone and Bob picked at the label of his beer. Outside a police car wailed by and I noticed the doppler effect as the frequency of siren’s wavelength changed relative to where I was sitting.
“You guys file your taxes yet?” Bob asked, leaning on the bar to look down at me.
Mickey pinched the bridge of his nose with his right thumb and index finger and exhaled loudly.
“Not yet, Bob.” I said, just to be nice. Bob nodded. He always appreciated it when I responded to his questions. Then he took what would be his last sip of beer.
A staccato of gunfire bounced off the shouts from the street. I felt the danger rushing behind the rising pitch of panic. Instinctively, I dropped from my stool just as a bullet screamed by overhead. I felt Bob’s body stiffen, then saw him topple away from me in a jerky, two-part motion; his head and torso led his backwards dive, followed by his knees and heels snapping up and over the top of his stool, like a scuba diver going over the side of a boat. His empty beer sat on the edge of the bar above, the picked label hanging like a broken shutter.
“Jesus H. Christ!” Mickey said, spinning toward the door in his barstool. “That bullet nearly hit me.”
The gunman in street was gone. More shots and shouts were fired outside. Underneath the bar I could see Sofia Victoria crouched low against ice chest; her stomach rolls bulged even more in her wide-knee squat. She looked at Bob pooling in his own blood, which smelled like warm manganese, if that’s even a smell. I saw her teeth open and felt her hot scream a second before it made any noise. That part I’m sure of.