Rafter Dance

The deep, occluded wells of unconscious discontent that drove Xchab’s inchoate struggle to be anything else but what she was born to be roiled in conflict as she watched the redheaded newcomer strut around the floating island. On the one hand, Copper presented the most exciting template she’d seen yet for her thwarted will to become. Her skin was white as bleached clamshells, her hair a red and toxic as fire coral. She had the whole offhand post-punk, alt.worldly thing nailed: the biker boots, the jeans turned into artless sex lace by tears and burns, jewelry that blurred pre-Columbian with urban slasher in a puzzling but unmistakable manner…and total self-assurance in her every movement and glance.

On the other hand, she was obviously a bitch from some sleazy suburb of hell and patently bad news for the shaky domestic situation Xchab dreamed of dumping but suddenly felt the urge to defend against feline predators slinking in from the night.

Winston had greeted the hussy in an affectionate and familiar manner to say the very least. He’d yowled with pleasure and run halfway across their rickety bridge to embrace her, laughing and spinning her around. She’d responded like a veteran whore, turning the embrace into something laughably lascivious: wrapping her foot around behind his ass and feigning moans of ecstasy. When she glimpsed Xchab over his shoulder–standing flatfooted, topless and stunned on the bamboo catwalk beside the eco-flimsy Gilligan shack–she’d done a little fake embarrassed “oh” with her lips and winked.

Winston finally pried himself loose from the arms and loins of this cocksure bitch and led her off the bridge to the “beach”, scuffing through the painstakingly ferried sand spread on the old campaign signs supported by hundreds of thousands of old soft drink bottles. He was spieling his improvements in the home-made jungle madhouse, but when they came to Xchab he waved a hand and proclaimed, “Meet Xchab, my main squeeze.”

The slut smiled with what had to be professional dissembled friendliness and leaned forward to offer her hand. “Hi, I’m Copper.” No response of any kind whatsoever.

She smiled wider and said, “Hola, me llama Caridad.” That completely fried Xchab, who turned and fled, unable to put words to the sardonic irony of the doubtless false name the red ruiner had tried to hand her.

As she headed for some other part of the tiny islet, Copper noted admiringly that her buttocks were as firm and round as her tits. Winston said, “Typical indita, shy and mulish. I’m sure she hates your guts from go.”

“Well, I’d hate for that to be a problem for you. Or her.”

“Ahhh,” Winston, longtime squaw man and hippie chick fancier, was philosophical and unattached. “She’ll get over it when she gets to know you.”

Copper shot him a wry grin and he amended, “Or not. Hey, lemme show you the papayas I grew right here. This place is really coming together.”

“Wasn’t the other one down in Playa coming together really good before the hurricane made it come apart?”

“Well, yeah. That’s what hurricanes do. But since you didn’t notice, this one’s in a lagoon. Nicely protected. Rode out Dean.”

“Which diverted down south, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, went into Chetumal and trashed a bunch of Maya villages instead of their cash farm up here. This guy told me God had saved us from damage. I asked him what God had against the villagers who died down there, but he didn’t get it.”

“It’s fabulous, Win. I could retire here. Let me know when you have condos and are selling citizenships.”

“We’re already citizens of the same country, Cher.”

“You know it, pedo viejo. Ambassadors of the rainbow.”

“Potentates of the Horizon.”

The tour of the island had drawn ooo’s and ahh’s from her, some complimentary, some genuine. This was Winston, all over. Scrounging up garbage and turning it into floating unreal estate. Living on air and vibes, and always some young, baffled honey living it with him until she either came to her senses or took total leave of them. There was no sign of the little Maya chick during the tour. It wouldn’t be easy to hide on this nutso raft, but she managed.

And continued hiding, freaked-out and broody, while Copper stowed her gear and strung a hammock up out over the catwalk. Xchab, regarding them silently through chinks in the palm thatch, was grudgingly pleased that she hadn’t installed herself in the big hammock/trampoline/playpen she shared with Winston. But still. No idea what to make of the intruder, or how to get rid of her.

She listened to what she could make out of the pair’s past together as they slugged down wine and passed a bong back and forth. Vagabonds. Sexual outlaws. Drug-soaked pirates. They kept talking about burning a man in a place called Nevada. She had a vision of a man burning on a snowy field, Winston and puta roja dancing naked around him in a savage ritual. Her loathing for the woman was growing, but so was her treacherous admiration. She moved self-confidently, laughed and touched and snorted like a man. Then the bitch opened her big, sinister pack and pulled out two chains with cuffs at the end. And charred balls at the other! Xchab found herself charting her easiest path of retreat.

“You’ll love this,” she was telling Winston. “My new number. Nothing like anything you’ve seen.”

“Hey, now,” he said, expressing his doubts without a trace of worry or tension. “Let’s keep in mind you’re in a grass shack on a flammable island here.”

“I’m a professional, Winston,” she told him solemnly. “Do I go around burning down my performance venues?”

“I can think of three.”

“Well…” As Xchab watched warily for any movement that smacked of arson or imprisonment or kinkiness, she unclipped the black balls of carbon and clipped on two small plastic devices. Then glanced at Winston. “If you’re so concerned about fire hazards, why don’t you blow out that lantern?”

He chuckled and raised the glass chimney to whuff out the mantle’s flame and plunge the grass shack into darkness. Xchab had known it would come to something like this. She readied herself for God knew what.

Suddenly two dots of red light appeared in the darkened shanty. Like eyes of demons straight out of Xibalba or the Christian hell was Xchab’s impression. Moving wickedly in the darkness, dropping down almost to the floor, where they stared: seeking her out with their hot red glare.

“LED’s?” Winston asked calmly.

“High tech pocket flashlights for yuppie scum. Check this out.”

Suddenly the two red motes swung into motion. They streaked through an arc a meter wide, trailing threads of red blaze in the black air. There were two whizzing red wheels in the room, turning together like the drive train of some satanic chariot. Then the wheels tilted and merged, spinning through each other. Xchab, who’d been ready to bolt, was frozen, staring at the ruddy gyres in the night.

The arcs spun overhead, carving out glowing disks just under the cane rafters that supported the thatch. Then turned into figures of eight, zipping and winding. Then they sped up, spinning more and more solid circles as they began a complex, hypnotic interaction. Without willing it, Xchab parted the fronds that made up the “wall” in front of her and shuffled into the room.

The arcs were so fast now they seemed solid, red balls spun out by the two sizzling red dots. She could see faint flickers of Copper’s hair, lit by the glow as she spun: a nucleus effortlessly weaving electron orbits around her. Atomic city. A living alien generating in front of her eyes. Xchab realized she’d never really seen the light, reached out her hand as unconsciously as a child. She wanted to touch the surface of the red spheres, stroke the light. Suddenly a chain whipped around her finger, a little plastic cylinder slapped into her palm, glowing red like a trapped firefly. Copper’s face was right in front of her, bottom-lit into creepy, lurid angles. She was laughing. Winston was applauding. She turned and ran, this time to dive into the bed and burrow into the cotton blankets. She was aware that her embarrassment was tinged with wonder, less so that her disgust and distrust of the redhead was now sprinkled with sparkles of awed admiration.

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