Two of us on a raft in the middle of the universe

Photo by Arnav Singhal by on Unsplash.
Photo by Arnav Singhal by on Unsplash.

Friday, October 31, 2003, 4:34am ET, somewhere on US1 crossing Islamorada, Florida Keys, in a burgundy 1994 Toyota Corolla.

I had a dream that we were on a raft in the middle of the ocean. We looked like twins. I recognized you but you didn’t recognize me. The last thing I remember was the stars receding.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003, 2:45pm ET, a delicatessen in Miami Beach (95th Street and Harding)

Popping all different kind of pills under the table at the Jewish deli with Montes. These days we’re all about people watching and patience and letting the big score come to us. These fat, beautiful Floridians are funny to me. These angry Cuban exiles I find hilarious. And the girls with the fake tits turn maniacal, growing wings before your eyes if you pay attention. Our pungent meat smelling deli is mostly lazy and slow and the old give us nightmares when we’re sober. The only excitement comes from the septuagenarian Jewish servers roaring, unstoppable, taking orders and occasionally dropping plates.

I don’t miss Philadelphia. Maybe my mother. Don’t miss prison. My ex girlfriend left for Vetusta, Spain before I was released. She didn’t leave a forwarding address. So Montes and I decided to come to Florida which is almost like Spain and here everybody speaks Spanish. In Miami Beach we aspire for a new state of mind but the boredom still threatens to encroach, hiding below the sun and on the beaches pretending like it’s not there but it’s there. All we got is our DVDs, computers, and guns and we’re about as happy as can be. Our shoe box-sized studio is four blocks from the beach. What more could we want while waiting for our pennies from heaven? Are we on our way to nirvana? Are we already there?

We wait for our coffee refills before ordering our strawberry cheesecakes when a couple enters the deli and sits in a booth right in front of us. We are lounging in the middle of the dining room in a four top. We like the middle because we can watch all the action from any direction by just switching seats.

The man looks Hispanic or Caribbean but he speaks with an American accent. The woman is short with blond hair, and reminds me of this neighborhood lady who killed her baby with a pillow back in Philly in 2001. She has on very little make-up. They both study their menus. The man seems to be in an upbeat mood. The woman returns his glances and smiles. The man has a voice that vibrates over the entire dining room.

I’m not sure why they hold my attention. Is it because she’s white and he’s brown? No, that’s not it. On the contrary, the more I watch them, the more they look the same. Are they a handsome couple? I wouldn’t go as far as to say that. But they are an interesting couple. They’re definitely not married. The woman doesn’t have a ring, and the man doesn’t dress like a married man. I guess they’re just friends. They look about early 40’s or older. There’s no intimacy. You can learn an awful lot just by studying a woman’s body language.

They both order ice tea. And for their meal, the man goes with the pastrami sandwich and the woman orders a chicken salad. They are getting a little boring so I stop looking at them for a few minutes and stare at a sixteen-year-old girl sitting behind us with her grandmother. She is wearing tight, white shorts, and has some really nice, long legs and her skin is smooth, flawless like a brand new human about to enter the top of her game. I am certain dozens of boys are already hopelessly in love in their beds under the covers at night. Montes has been staring at her like a house cat going after a canary. He wants to eat her but the law doesn’t allow it. So he has to do it while the law isn’t watching. He’s really good at that.

While lost in the teenage girl’s thighs I half hear the words ‘care’, and ‘relationship’ and some other word that sounds really close to ‘love’ but isn’t. It’s the man that speaks them. He is wearing these John Lennon glasses and his hands are flat on the table as if he wants to reach for the woman’s hands. When I look at him closer, he starts to resemble an Indian more than a Latin but he can pass off for either one. The woman mostly keeps her arms below the table. She slouches, especially when she takes a sip from her ice tea. I freeze out the rest of the dining room and pay close attention.

The woman is pretty but you really have to look for it. The man seems normal but is loud.

-I really care about you, he says.

She appears uncomfortable. There is a cheap looking painting of a broken raft on a beach above their heads.

-And I want to take our friendship to the next level, he says

She stays quiet for a moment before responding.

-I don’t want to hurt your feelings, she says. But I would never have a child with you. Your mother has schizophrenia. Your grandmother also had schizophrenia. I cannot take that chance.

The man doesn’t say anything. He looks like he’s been punched in the stomach. Other patrons are eavesdropping too. People are trying not to stare, but they are listening.

-I want to have a healthy baby. You shouldn’t have kids with anyone. Maybe you can adopt.

-I don’t have schizophrenia.

-You don’t but it’s in your family tree, it’s in your genes. The possibility is there. And I’m sorry, but I don’t have any romantic feelings towards you.

-So who are you going to have this perfect genetic child with?

-Why do you have to say it like that? I was being honest with you.

-But I’m genetically inferior.

-You don’t get it.

-All I said was that I care about you.

She doesn’t respond. An old blue-haired waitress arrives with their food and their plates remain untouched.

Montes is listening but continues to be enchanted by the girl in the white shorts. The grandmother notices. He meets her gaze and she looks away.

-So who are you going to have this baby with? The airline pilot who doesn’t want a relationship?

-There’s someone else.

-Who?

I stop listening for a minute to watch couples strolling down the sidewalk. I return to their conversation.

-Please don’t give me that face. You look depressed.

-How should I look? Should I be happy?

-I’m sorry for being honest.

-You’re 45. And you wanna have a baby with a guy you’ve only gone on three dates with?

-Can we just forget I said anything?

The painting of the broken raft above them starts shining. It’s moving, or there is movement in it. The raft is rebuilding itself!

The man is beat but he still tries.

-We’ve known each other for twenty years. We don’t see each other for ten. You don’t think that after ten years of not talking and then running into each other like the way we did that there is destiny playing a role in all this?

-I guarantee that you will meet somebody. I promise. Just not me.

They both stay quiet for a while.

Montes and I smile at each other like if we’re in on the joke.

The woman says something interesting.

-And with all that money your mother left you I’m sure you’ll meet somebody. You just have to put yourself out there.

Montes and I perk up.

-Money doesn’t mean anything if you have nobody to share it with.

-You’re a nice guy, and you have to believe that there’s someone else out there.

-I need to go outside. I don’t feel good.

-Okay, she says.

He stands up and goes outside. The woman asks for the check. After paying she goes out too and stands next to him in front of the big restaurant window.

We can’t hear them but we imagine what they are saying to each other. The woman tries to put her arms around him but he pulls away. Everyone in the restaurant is watching.

Montes makes eye contact with me.

We ask for the check and wait until they get in their car. The heartbroken man drives a Ford Taurus. We try not to tailgate. They don’t speak much the whole ride. But the woman watches the man as he drives.

I’m lost in their interior car silence. Montes grabs our guns from the glove compartment and I can tell he’s still thinking about the sixteen year old girl even before he speaks.

-We should go back to see if she’s still there after.

-She’ll be gone.

-But what if she’s not, then it’s meant to be.

We laugh.

I let them pull away from us, I don’t want them noticing that we are following them. When they slow down, we slow down. The measured chase finally comes to an end when they park in the rectangular driveway of a 1-story pink house at the end of a Cul-de-sac.

We don’t want to waste our time so as they both get out of their car I slow down to a crawl in front of the house allowing Montes to hop out with gun in hand. He lets the passenger door close behind him and I make a U turn and pull behind the Ford Taurus. It’s all very Hollywood and movie-like.

By the time I’m out of the car with my own gun in the back of my pants, Montes has already escorted them inside. I enter the house to find the man sitting on the floor rubbing the back of his head. The woman is sitting on the couch crying.

-Please don’t hurt us.

She looks at the man.

-Tell them they can take anything they want.

-You can take anything you want, just please don’t hurt her.

Montes laughs. It doesn’t really matter to him.

We tie them to two wooden chairs back to back. We search the house for money and jewelry. We don’t find anything we can flip for quick cash except for books, DVDs, and a couple of computers and an old flat screen television.

-Where’s the money, I ask the man.

-All the money I had was in my wallet, and you already have that.

-He’s lying, says Montes.

-I’m not lying, there’s no money here. You have my debit card, I gave you my PIN.

-There’s no jewelry in the house? How can you not have jewelry?

The woman starts sobbing uncontrollably.

-Tell her to shut up, Montes says.

-Don’t cry, it’s gonna be okay. Just take whatever you want. Please, everything here is yours.

The woman doesn’t stop crying. It’s annoying, and it’s annoying us equally for some reason. I start thinking about the painting of the broken raft above their heads back at the deli and how everything is boring to me now. I sleep most of the day. Some days I can barely get up. I seem to have turned a corner. When I close my eyes I can see the raft in the painting rebuild itself and go back out to the sea and it’s empty.

It’s not the crying, but the situation. They know what we look like and we’re violating probation by just being in Florida.

We search the house once more and there’s nothing. They continue crying because we aren’t leaving. They know the robbery is over, so why are we still here? The not knowing is what really hurts. We go to the kitchen and drink a couple of Pepsi’s. After finishing our sodas in silence, Montes ties their mouths up with white T-shirts he finds in a hamper.

And they still try to talk. Followed by more crying. There’s nothing left of me. I’m an empty raft.

We stand before them and Montes looks at me and says shoot them.

-I don’t want to shoot them.

-Do you want to go back to the hole?

-No.

-Let’s make a deal, we’ll both shoot them.

I glance at the now haggard looking couple tied up and hopeless.

-Okay, sounds fair I guess. Let’s both shoot them.

-But at the same time. On a count of three.

-You start.

-Okay, ready?

-Yes.

-1…2…3…

-Shoot now?

-Yes, shoot now.

About the Author
Fawzy Zablah was born in El Salvador but raised in Miami. Among his works is the short story collection CIAO! MIAMI and the novel RARITY OF THE CENTURY. His fiction has been published widely at Hobart, 3AM Magazine, Acentos Review and Expat Press. His short story, THIS MODERN MAN IS BEAT, was adapted into an award winning short film in 2015 currently playing on Amazon Prime. He is hard at work on a novel about the Arabs and Jews of Latin America with the working title of GITANES.
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