Are You Ready for the Country?
by Matthew Lyon
Stay away from the yellow ones, and the big black hairy ones, too, she said. I was rocking in a chair closely inspecting a nasty, fresh spider bite on my ankle. Elena, sitting cross-legged and slumped on her sofa, curly clumps of black hair hiding her face and her smartphone, cautioned me on the unforgiving side of the Carazo countryside. The open structure of her house invited all creepers and monsters, bees and wasps and hornets, striped and screaming. Red ants and scorpions shared the walls with orange geckos.
It was a large stucco home, flesh colored with white trim, and a red aluminum roof that amplified heavy rain, creating a high-decibel, Tommy gun drone. Elena didn’t think the rain was romantic, but it did give her an excuse to stay inside. She could stay in for weeks, watching American fashion programs on her widescreen television and collecting friends online. She is particularly lazy, and for the last two weeks we embraced this shared sloth, then slipped naturally back to former regrets and preoccupations.
I met Elena at a bar on Halloween. She was dressed as a genie or a gypsy-for-hire, I couldn’t say which, but her mini-skirt waddle took me just the same. She is a short girl, mixed with Italian and Nicaraguan blood, with large, dark eyes with gleaming, long teased hair too big for her slim frame. She accompanied a man all night, which I incorrectly assumed was her boyfriend. He was a scrawny little pirate with a red sash and blouse and buckles. He didn’t say much, only grabbed Elena’s arm each time she made a joke, and closed the one twinkling eye that wasn’t hidden behind a black patch.
A week later Elena invited me to her farmhouse. Bring massage oils and rum, she said. Oh, and mosquito repellant. They don’t much like cheles here.
Upon entering the gates, I saw Elena’s hungry black pit bull, Cooper, pulling on his chain, locked to a large cabana. The closest thing to food Cooper saw was an old muddy pair of sneakers laying in the yard. Elena opened the fridge and handed me a two-pound bag of raw beef. I tossed the meat to the dog and watched him swallow the hunk in two bites.
For more privacy, Elena told her housekeepers to take time off; the house was a disaster. Empty bottles of Flor de Caña and Coca-Cola lined the sofa. Cereal bowls were stacked on chairs. A bottle of red nail polish was smashed on the floor of the parlor, dark, scarlet globs and tissue paper laying strewn on the white marble like an amateur crime scene. Her other dog, Luchi, the inside terrier, had shit in the kitchen and the turds, unhealthy dried bastards, were pushed aside near the trash can.
Elena called me into the lounge where she was dexterously changing channels with her big toe. A giant television was blaring an episode of the Kardashians’ latest. You know this show? she asked, not looking for an answer, consumed by two girls in fur hats conversing about homosexuals in Hollywood. Before I could even try to answer, I stepped on two small pieces of glass from a shattered coffee table, swept carelessly under the rug. Be careful, she said, smiling. My brother fell on the table. We had a party last night, she said, still focused on the show, watching intently for fashionable clues and thin wafers of drama.
As far as I could tell, the Kardashian girls were deviously setting their gay friend up on a blind date. You understand that these reality shows are scripted? It was the only thing I could think to say. It’s not actually reality, I said, getting the attention of Elena. She looked at me with shocked, even disappointed, big wide eyes. She was wearing her fourth outfit of the day—tight pants with a floral design, a lacey white shirt letting her dark mahogany skin shine through, and large loop earrings that made her face look too small. She looked pensive. I love this show, she said, as if ending the debate.
I found a clean spot on the sofa next to Elena and she briskly handed off the latest copy of Cosmopolitan. You know this magazine, Mateo? she asked. That’s the primary reason I got these damn things. Elena held her shirt up with her chin and cupped her statuesque breasts, moving them gently up and down then side to side.
The other reason is a father who feels guilty for living in Miami. He will do anything to help his little princess, and has tried to compensate with her augmentation, and also her beautiful country home, complete with a fountain and cement lawn ornaments.
It is rare in any country for a 21-year-old girl to live alone on a rural plot of land. In Nicaragua, Elena must be one in a million. Her invitation sounded so unlikely that I almost declined in fear of losing my kidneys and other spare parts to a rusted machete. She explained that her family is well-connected in Ortega’s Sandinista party, acting as delegates, deputies and ambassadors to various nations. They have money, and its best to empty the political coffers before all that cash can be counted.
She read my mind after the second consecutive episode of The Kardashians Infect the Masses. I’m not just a stupid little rich girl, Mateo. I’m a girl with character. I have to be. It’s always been difficult to be a woman, but now I’m expected to be both feminine and industrious. That’s madness.
Again she lifted her shirt and pointed to a diamond navel pendant next to a tattoo of a dolphin, which appeared to be smiling. My mother is a crazy religious fanatic and could not approve of this, but I did it anyway. I can’t imagine how they will talk about you in the village. She’s going to ask me what I’m doing all day with this chele in the house, she continued.
I spent mornings feeding the neglected animals, including Luchi, Cooper and a pig, who shocked Elena by eating rotten fruit and soggy cereal. I cleaned the house, stepping all the while on hidden shards of glass, and watched the Kardashians in the afternoons. The idea that the show could be scripted made it even more appealing to her. We also discovered a Mexican dating show where girls dressed like lizards and were matched astrologically to men dressed as superheroes. Elena noted she could never marry me because I’m Aquarian and a propensity toward water disqualified me. She ignored my suggestion that it’s never too late to learn how to swim, but a footnote about the buoys on her chest got a laugh.
On the scale from one to ten, what would you rate me? Elena was constantly testing me, making me earn my stay with affirmations of her beauty. She said her therapist could only do so much. A fine girl, but not without flaws, she wore some mild acne scarring and perpetually puffy eyes that wouldn’t arouse any photographer. I told her she was off the charts at an eleven. She scoffed and said more like a “Two.” Before I could tell her I didn’t seek affairs with Twos, she said she knew the attractive sometimes fall prey to the unattractive. She said that these are the wishes of nature, keeping an equilibrium. She soon had a tape measure around her waist, monitoring the effects of our rum and banana bread diet. Ninety-sixty-eighty, that’s what you want to be, she said, referring to the metric dimensions of a perfect bust-waist-ass ratio, dictated by some impossible fashion standard.
Elena understood why I hate fashion television, and also why I hid her tape measure, some of her mirrors, and also her menthol cigarettes. She thought it was cute how it all upset me. Come on, Señor Party Pooper, can’t you just enjoy yourself and not be so serious? You ought to put your books down and have a drink, and maybe put some Coke in your Rum-n-Cokes this time. She paused for thought, Hey, you aren’t going to write about me in your diary, are you?
After a week together, the drinks weren’t enough to hide our differences. We were both confused as to what my role was supposed to be. I wavered somewhere between a farmhand, a lover, an anti-coagulant, and an honored guest. I spent more of my time reading outside on the terrace while she danced to blaring music videos in the parlor.
To make things more difficult, Elena needed to assign blame for everything that went wrong. She blamed herself for giving me faulty directions to her house, turning the hour journey into three, but blamed me for speaking atrocious Spanish and not figuring it out. She blamed herself for eating cookies in bed and waking to dozens of crawling ants, but blamed me for butchering dinner and having to eat cookies in the first place. She admitted it was strange to log onto Facebook five seconds after sex, but, Can you afford to be offended by addiction, Señor Perfecto? When I insisted on visiting a hospital for an ailing foot, Elena said it was my fault for being crazy enough to surf, risking injury so I couldn’t dance, or even walk right: Did I expect a girl like her to continue dating somebody who can’t even walk right?
Elena said she didn’t visit doctors unless they were psychologists or plastic surgeons. She did, however, know a decent hospital in La Paz from when Cooper tore a few holes in a prior boyfriend. The hospital was clean and quick, and my X-rays cost twenty four dollars. That included a consultation with a spikey-haired 25-year-old radiologist wearing a slick pair of Vans. While the doctor examined the film, Elena flirted with him, and joked about how ugly my foot was. She gave the radiologist her phone number, winked at me and said you never know when you need to be photographed.
That evening, Elena organized a party at her house. It was a birthday party for a friend, but she insisted on displaying the X-rays of my fractured foot, telling people with a high giggle it was a party for the chele’s ugly feet.
Elena looked stunning for the party in towering heels and a glimmering shirt, running circles around the boys, nimbly avoiding fresh dog shit on the floor, courtesy of Luchi. She was a great host, enthusiastic DJ, and the best dancer to Puerto Rican reggaeton as well as local fare. I overheard her tell somebody that she thought she might be a lesbian, or in the very least, half. I limped around and fielded odd questions about the sexual habits of Charlie Sheen and honey farms in California. Everyone attending outdrank me and made sure to mention it.
At the end of the party, the two of us were left on her balcony with the full moon illuminating the young orchard of bananas, oranges, mangoes and coconut. Elena, twirling the diamonds dangling from her navel, talked about simplicity and the tranquility of living in the country. She said if I bought the adjacent plot for seven grand she would give me Cooper, and maybe the pig.
She lives alongside Miskito-speaking natives with sharp faces chiseled from dark clay, but Elena is not exactly a primitive girl. She knows too much to worship the archaic, but she’s not exactly sure what beautification and fashion promise. She is an owner of a tropical ranch with pigs and roosters, big screen televisions, big city shrinks, stuffed animals on the bed, and a gun in the closet. She is weaving a complex web, a double helix of natural contentment and modern infections, giving consideration to all available attractions.
We stood looking at the night, a perfect palm reached solo into moonlight silhouette. A pervasive, sweet smelling brush fire burned somewhere near. She put a hand in my hair, pulled me close and asked if my nose was natural. I mean, is it real or a new one? She said she only asked because it was handsome, long and straight with the angle of a volcanic ridge. I understood just then that she wanted a new nose, and after that it would be a few, or a dozen more improvements. I just want to be beautiful, Mateo, can you blame me for that?
La Paz, Nicaragua