November 1st, 2001

What follows is my first day’s output from my first NaNoWriMo. It’s rough. It’s the first draft of the first day of my life as a novelist, day one of a story that I have not bothered going back to read. It was tempting to repair the obvious errors, to tweak the repetitious phrases, and to generally smooth things out, but that would not be in the spirit of NaNoWriMo. Even the flagrant misspellings remain. I’m not entirely certain that I have the right end point for day one; seven years later it seems like the loss of the umbrella girl was more poignant back then. There is another moment later, but that’s a hell of a lot of words in. In any case, there’s no point inflicting any more than this on you guys.

Rio Blanco

The plane banked sharply as it made its way through the clouds. I was generally nervous when I wasn’t the one flying the plane, and descending into the airport, knowing there were mountains out there, and not being able to see the ground was nerve-wracking indeed. Down, down, we went, and I wondered how close we were. It seemed like we should be below sea level by now.

Suddenly we broke through the deck of the clouds and I could see the lights of a small town about 1500 feet below the belly of the plane. Although the sun would rise soon, the clouds kept the land below dark. By the layout of the town I guessed that it was Ciudad de la Santa Fe del San Domingo, or San Domingo on the map. We were almost to the airport at Rio Blanco, my destination. If anything, I noted, we were coming in high. The pilot began to drop more quickly, scrubbing off as much speed as he could on the way in. The attendants defied reason and continued to move about; had I asked, I probably could have had another tequila. I didn’t ask.

A few minutes later the last stewardess strapped herself in moments before the wheels of the plane bounced once off the runway and settled back down to stay. The engines roared as we slowed to taxi speed and pulled off onto the taxiway. As we approached the terminal, I noted that there was one other plane, smaller than ours and apparently deserted. With a lurch we rolled to a stop just as the clouds opened up and the rain started to fall with vigor. Beyond the airport the lush greenery of the rain forest bowed and waved under the buffeting of the gravid raindrops.

Ground crew members rolled the stairs up to the plane and a flight attendant opened the door. A breath of the air outside replaced the stale air around me, and I inhaled deeply, savoring the clean, damp air. A good rain can even make an airport smell good. The ground crew undertook the task of getting the tourists off the plane without getting them too wet. The efforts to escort passengers down the stairs while holding umbrellas over them was the culturally correct thing to do, but was laughably ineffective. They were escorting the passengers in stages, first getting them under the shelter of the wing of the plane, and from there another crew was escorting them to the terminal building. I declined escort down the slippery stairs, and dashed under the wing of the plane. From there I intended to jog to the terminal unprotected, and save everyone the trouble of keeping someone dry who didn’t really care that much about it.

I was in no hurry to depart that place, however. I have an affinity for machines and was distracted inspecting the engine, now quiet except for the tiny pings the metal made as it cooled off. Over the sound of the rain, I was probably imagining those sounds as well. As so it was, so it was meant to be, that it became my turn to be escorted to the terminal.

“Sir, if you will come this way,” she said politely.

I hade been vaguely aware that one of the ground personnel escorting passengers through the rain had been a smaller woman with a nice figure, but contrary to my usual nature I had not really paid her any attention. My, but I had been distracted by the air, and the airplane. Now, suddenly, those things vanished. She was beautiful. She was small, but had a nice figure. That paled in comparison with her round, brown smiling eyes and her sweet, almost-sincere smile. “I’m going wherever you’re going,” I managed, and I meant it. I realized that I had responded in Spanish.

Her smile grew a little more (white perfect teeth lined up like dominoes, red lips full) and her eyes crinkled at the edges in a way that suggested playfulness. “Well, I’m going to the terminal,” she replied in credible English. With a suggestive swish she turned and raised the umbrella over our heads. I picked up my bag and we headed towards the terminal. Her perfume added to the smell of the jungle close by, and it was perfect; a blend of the exotic and the alluring, with just a hint of the cheap. She was the goddess of Rio Blanco come down to Earth; she was all that the town promised, all that the town dreamed of. I was in love with my umbrella girl.

I tried to walk slowly, to prolong the moment, to cheat one extra breath of the perfume, to feel her hip brush mine once more as we walked under that tiny shelter, but mostly to earn one more smile. I needed something to say, anything, to get her to smile once more, to turn towards me with that swishing motion, to give me a glimpse down into her blouse just before swishing away again and looking at me over her shoulder in mock scolding for how I teased her.

That’s the way it would have happened, had I thought of the right thing to say. I did not.

As we reached the building, I touched her arm, the one not holding the umbrella, smiled at her and said, “Thank you.”

She returned the smile with one that made mine seem like a horrific grimace (but a sincere horrific grimace, I hoped), and said “You’re welcome.” Before I could ask her if she was going to be at the festival she turned, making my heart stop for a moment with the pure grace and sexual suggestion of the motion, and headed back to retrieve the next passenger. I watched her for a moment, and I hoped she knew I was watching, hoped that she liked the idea that I was watching her, but just standing there waiting for her would be too obvious, too lame.

The interior of the building was much like the perfume my umbrella girs had been wearing, filled with things you have never before seen or smelled, but somehow cheapened by the entrepreneurial spirit that is America’s primary export. The airport had been built in a different time, by people with different priorities than the airports of the States. I stood under a wide roof, next to a building whose walls served as doors and were currently wide open, letting the tropical air move through the space unhindered. People also moved about the space; there was about an even mix of travelers and those whose purpose was to separate the tourists from their money. Sprinkled here and there were police in neat uniforms, carrying serious-looking weapons in their white-gloved hands. In two hours, after the plane had finished exchanging its passengers for a new set, most of the businesses here would pack up and head back into town. I picked up my bag and moved into the flow of people.

Near the opening that I entered the shelter through, there was a folding table staffed by three middle-aged women with a full set of teeth between them. On the table were some bottles of the local rum and a stack of small paper cups. There were several cups arrayed on the table, each filled about 1/3 full with the booze, and a sign, neatly hand-lettered, which read “Free Rum. Welcome to Rio Blanco.” There was no sign that said the same thing in Spanish.

I paused to sample the local drink, testing it as if I had never had it before. It had been a long time, but the stuff still didn’t taste very good. Still, there is something to be said for supporting the local industry, especially if that industry is a distillery. At the behest of one of the women I had another sample. She didn’t realize that she had already closed the sale. I allowed her to offer me one more before I bought a bottle. I didn’t want her to think I was easy. The bottle cost three times what I could get it for in town, but I wasn’t in town. Location, location, location. It’s the key to a successful business.

I looked back towards the plane, and it seemed that all the passengers had finally been safely ferried to the terminal. I looked for my little umbrella girl, but I couldn’t see her. I convinced myself that could feel her nearby, but people can convince themselves of just about anything, and I’m no exception.

One thought on “November 1st, 2001

  1. Reading more, I realize that I wrote quite a lot more on that first day. This is less than half. But for us, here, now, this is enough.

    Though I will share the last sentence from that first day, after we have met Consuela:

    Her face was impassive, except for the eyebrow. “¿Porque no?”

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