"The First Warning" photo by Elizabeth Dickinson
Heed The Warnings Of The Natural World
by Elizabeth Dickinson
The ocean’s roiling waves were in a fury, angry beats on fields of sand, the sand caving into itself like a boxer’s stomach after a bloody punch. The fight went on as I watched, taking pictures of high, heavy pounding. An electric sky exploded, lightbulbs shattered, the sound on delay. High season had ended in Cabo Polonio, Uruguay and the elements delivered warnings to the few tourists still coming for a visit. The remote beach wanted to sleep without interruptions from laughing weed and stumbling wine.
Ignoring the threats, I sat with other drifters drinking wine that was only a few hours from becoming vinegar. The guy from Italy took particular offense, but as that was the only option in a virtually barren market, he filled his plastic cup. Our small crew gathered in a dank living room, seated on moldy, sunken furniture. Water slid through cracks in the hostel’s slatted roof. We drank and talked and listened to the girl from Slovenia educate us with her knowledge of dicks around the world and what continent was identified as the dirtiest. Her conclusive research selected Europe, given a common lack of circumcision and not washing oneself after urinating. As the booze and conversation dried, a gradual fade drew people to their mildewed mattresses.
Since my rogue life through South America had begun, I hadn’t met up with so many adolescent late thirty-somethings. With the Slovenian girl lecturing about foreskin, and the poor Brazilian in chasms over an ex-boyfriend, I had spent most of the evening hanging from a depressed roof, a bat trying to swat sound from its ears. Left alone with the Italian, we chatted about home and away. I gasped when a tiny drop landed on my face and smiled as he wiped it with the back of his finger. We laughed about our cracked Spanish, the roll of the tongue stopping short. He admired my legs with his hands, humid from the storm-fired sauna, and opened buttons in steady sequence.
I was bare-assed on a wet couch, an Italian on top, condom applied only to be removed about 45 seconds later. His drab apology was suffocated by my bell-ringing disbelief. I hadn’t finished yanking up damp jean shorts before he was off to the dorm. My atheist roots encouraged not to forgive but to forget. The tempered wind grumbled as a torrent of endless water pounded the small village by the sea.
Morning came, sun slipping through the same cracks rain had found the night before and I stepped from my bunk bed into a foot or so of the ocean’s anger and the sky’s disappointment. The storm had bogged a hostel that was built for summer. Each of us sloshed out to reception receiving gifts of large plastic cups, mis-matched soup bowls, and beer-soaked water pitchers. I got the aluminum pan I’d used to prepare pasta with marinara the night before. We all helped fill the kitchen wares with the flood, tossing water on the front lawn scattered with lakes and streams and slicks of mud. I was grateful for the work, averting eyes that could turn a truly strange morning into an awkwardly polite one. The owner arranged 4x4’s to take everyone to their respective buses, and we left him the task of mopping up heartbreak, discarded continents, and some dignity. Italy went to Montevideo, and I, to Buenos Aires. His goodbye seemed a bit smug considering he could fill a condom in the time it takes me to fill a seat. There was little consolation save my own encouragement. It was a night of bad sex. You’ve survived worse, and now know to keep an eye out for Middle Eastern men, whom you have been told, on good authority, are very clean. What certainly awaited me on the other side of Rio Plata was the passionate tango and some brilliant wine.
In Buenos Aires, there was a kiss on each cheek as a greeting, charming and charming again. There were proper drunks from flirty wine, and mounds of gelato. There were lurid tangos with romantic lifts, and fitful rejections. With each embrace, craws scratched at backs, and despondent turns of the head quickly became reuniting stares. Every pass of the foot, smooth of the cheek with a careful hand, and dip, head almost touching the ground, leg kicked up as an offering to devour, I thought, Yes, that.
Coffee and medialunas became an afternoon ritual, and while enjoying one al fresco, I received a message from Italy on What’s App. In my vinegared haze, I had given him my number. He was in town. Dinner? I poured more excuses onto his shortcoming, and promptly cursed the tango. Jealous for an enthusiastic dip of my own, I agreed.
We had steak and ripped the flesh from the bone. Pasta twirled in spoons, the last bits pulled through puckered lips. We sipped wine. He caught my eye over the lip of his glass. The waiter brought out a thick chocolate cake with dulce de leche filling. Each bite was sliced with the side of a fork, cake falling on top, filling dripping off, finger catching it. The meal was clearly an attempt to assure me that Uruguay was five hours behind the Italian Time Zone. We walked together to his hotel. With dulce crystals still falling from my fingertips, and covered in a sheet, I watched him remove a condom and take it to the bathroom. He returned to the bed, and lay with hands behind his head, wearing that arrogant smirk.
Turning to look at me as though we were chatting in a saturated Uruguayan hostel, he asked, “Have you ever tried BASE jumping?”
“No. I never would. It’s the most dangerous sport in the world, with the highest death toll.”
He laughed. “No, you have to do it. It’s incredible. The most amazing feeling I’ve ever had.”
“So, when you’re looking over the edge, it’s like you encompass power and powerlessness being there. The adrenaline makes your heart beat like an attack is seizing your body. The beginning feels crazy.” He was sucking air through his teeth and smacking his chest with his palms. “You need a minute to catch your breath,” he smiled looking at me. “Inhale, exhale”, mimicking his words by sucking air through his teeth again, closing his eyes. “One final look out at the distance and jump! And then you’re just diving. Fuckin’ free fall.” He began pumping his legs, knees spread to the sides, and panting. “In flight the wind presses hard and you know in a split second it could turn and smash you into the side of a cliff, a building, whatever, and you’re…, “ and he snapped his fingers.
Legs still pumping, he covered his face and uncovered another smile. “It’s like the Earth is daring you to survive and I’m screaming, “I’m king of the world, the most powerful. I own my destiny!“ He was actually screaming, standing on the bed with an erection, arms outstretched. “When I land,” he said looking down on me, “and look up at what I did, to beat the odds, I know my life is the most important.” The last line was delivered through gritted teeth, almost growling. The panting continued, and his body had stiffened, but his erection had softened. He had finished.
I sat motionless, the sheet wrapping me in a cocoon, while he described in vivid detail his exchange of a natural ecstasy for an unnatural one. I realized then, his odd, discomfiting smirk wasn’t pride in his attractiveness or potency. It said, “Your life means nothing.”