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The Off-Season

Story by Jami Attenberg (Read author interview) December 15, 2007

She was in the bathroom washing her face with an anti-bacterial soap when she heard the announcement in Spanish on the loudspeaker. The loudspeaker was attached to the top of a truck driving on the dirt road behind their guest house. The announcement was on repeat. She dried off her face and then her hands on a towel, then walked back through the bedroom and tipped open the door to the living room.

“What did they say?” she asked him.

He looked up from his magazine and rolled it in his hand, like he might strike something with it.

“They said they’re spraying for mosquitoes in an hour.”

It was the first time he had talked to her since that morning, when they had the fight about the coffee maker. She wouldn’t have talked to him at all but he spoke Spanish and she didn’t. That’s all he had been speaking all day to everyone around them but her. Sometimes he just spoke it to himself when he thought she wasn’t listening. He hissed when he did that.

“We have to close all the windows and bring everything inside.”

The announcement played again and they both froze and listened. The only word she understood was “amigos.”

“Or we’ll get a respiratory ailment,” he added.

“That’s good news,” she said. “I’ve been swallowing bugs since the day I got here.”

He said nothing, just slapped the magazine against his palm. It was a New Yorker, one of ten back issues he had brought with him on the trip.

They spent the next fifteen minutes closing all the windows in the guest house.

“Do you think we should leave?” she said. “I think we should leave.”

“We’re going to be fine,” he said. “And where would we go anyway?”

She stared at him. We are not going to be fine, she thought.

They had come during the off-season, and hadn’t known it till they got there. The whole island was dead. Most of the restaurants weren’t even open. They had been living on ham and cheese sandwiches for five days. She had picked the place, and he had picked the date, and no one had thought to check if it was a good time to visit, and now there they were, stuck in a dark room together, waiting for the men to start spraying.

“I’m leaving,” she said.

“Leave,” he said.

She went into the bedroom and cracked open the window a bit. And then she left.

She drove to the ferry in their rented jeep and parked there. Wild dogs raced in circles on the streets. It was the first time she had been alone in five days. She kept the motor on and blasted the air conditioning. She listened to the local classic rock station. She scratched her bug bites.

When she returned home two hours later, he had started on another New Yorker.

“I held down the fort,” he said, and those were the last words he said to her for the rest of the day.

Later on as he hacked and vomited through the night, she stood over him in the bathroom. “Hablas espanol?” she said, and kicked him once with her foot.

About the Author

Jami Attenberg is the author of Instant Love (Crown/Shaye Areheart Books, 2006) and The Kept Man, which will be published by Riverhead Books in January 2008. Her work has appeared in Jane, Print, Nerve, the San Francisco Chronicle and others. Visit her at jamiattenberg.com.

This story appeared in Issue Nineteen of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Nineteen

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