An Unknown and Specific Direction by Shannon Lell

I wasn’t terribly concerned when the taxi driver pulled off onto an unmarked dirt road, pointed a 9 mm Beretta at my head and said, “Dame tu dinero!“ I expected this to happen, really. I’d read travel message boards warning of this sort of thing in preparations for my sabbatical to Central America. It is precisely why I hand-sewed a pocket on the inside of my cargo shorts to hold my credit card, ATM card, and passport.

        I handed the driver my cash, exactly 3,650 cordobas, or $80.50. It was the exact amount I’d need to get from San Juan del Sur to Granada, pay for a sight-seeing tour, and then another taxi to Managua. There, I’d find another ATM and replenish for the next leg of my trip. For the entirety of my three months in Central America, I planned to carry only enough cash to get from point A to point B. Again, the best practices of the wizened traveler. If only I could have sewn a pocket big enough to hold my Nikon Monarch Binocs and my SLR camera which is what the driver took next when he pointed the gun at my backpack and demanded, “Dejar la bolsa!” I was reasonably sure he wouldn’t shoot me. By the way his hand shook as he pointed the gun it seemed more of a prop for intimidating the average gringo. In my limited Spanish I attempted to negotiate for my backpack. This only served to frustrate us both with my inability to speak his slang dialect. He started screaming, “A ver! A ver!” That’s when I stepped out of his rusting Ford Fiesta and left my bag behind. Had my wife been there to translate, like we had planned, I might have gotten away with my equipment. Hell, I probably wouldn’t have been robbed at all! But she was back home, and ready to have a baby any minute. When I think of it, it still ruffles my feathers.

        Before he let me walk away, he pointed the gun at my shorts and said, “Bosillos! Bosillos!” I began to empty my pockets and it was then that I realized I forgot to put my credit card back in the secret pocket. He snatched it along with my cell phone, a utility knife, a spare key I forgot to return at my last hotel, and a USB with my latest photos on it—the latter he tossed in the dirt.

        With some careful acting and sleight-of-hand I was able to get away with my tiny 8” Bushnell spotting scope that was at the very bottom of a long pocket on my right leg. This would get me by until I could find another way to Managua. But first, I needed to get to a phone and cancel that credit card and I can only think of one option which unfortunately, indirectly involves my wife.

        This was supposed to be one of those “bucket list” trips. My wife and I were coming to look for the wintering grounds of the Eastern Painted Buntings and we’d been planning this trip since she was granted tenure over a year ago. I made tenure the year before and her appointment made us two of the youngest tenured professors at North Carolina State; she in religious studies, me in law. Mostly, we lived in a refurbished colonial in historic Raleigh, but we spent as much time as possible at our cottage in Cape Hatteras. It is there that we got married on the lawn at sunset. It is there that we planned our careers over mimosa’s in the afternoon and Rum Sours at night. It is there that we first discovered the Eastern Painted Buntings. EPB’s, or what we affectionately call “bunties” are a rare, small, migratory song bird. The males are as big as an over-sized finch, and brightly colored like a parrot. The females are smaller and a yellow-green. Like eagles, they are believed to be a monogamous species. The Eastern seaboard is a spring breeding ground for bunties, but much of their wintering behavior is unknown. They are believed to travel as far south as Central America because they have been reported on migratory paths in Cuba. But much of what these birds, or any animal, does in Cuba is unknown. My wife and I believe that Nicaragua, specifically, Rio San Juan, is a prime spot for their migratory path and could be a likely wintering ground. We planned to go there this January and spend three weeks together, alone, in a jungle hut on the banks of the river searching for our beloved bunties day and night. It was going to be terribly romantic.

        But that was last April. Then everything changed.

        Last April we were sitting on the wrap-around porch of the cottage picking away the shells of fresh shrimp and lobster tails reminiscing about the pair of bunties we spotted that day who frequent Hatteras. We believed they were a monogamous pair because we’ve seen the same pair in this nesting area for the last three years. The male seems to have a couple of missing tail feather.

        That evening, just as I was about to suggest a couple of rum sours she leaned over, touched my hand softly and said, “Darling, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see this pair in San Juan in January? Wintering together? Wouldn’t it be, sort of a miracle?” I said I would love nothing more. I said that the best part of my life is spending time alone with her and I would be happy even if we never found the buntie’s wintering grounds. That’s when she smiled, stood up and sat on my lap, and put her arms around my neck. She leaned in close and I thought she was going to nibble on my ear but instead, she whispered that the sabbatical would have to wait because we were going to “have a miracle of our own.” That’s what she called it “a miracle.” That’s how she described her infidelity.

        I stood and began packing before the smell of boiled shrimp and spices left the kitchen. That’s where my wife is right now. Until the divorce is final, she gets the cottage. She said she won’t sign the papers until the baby is born. She said that as soon as it’s born, she’s getting a DNA test. She said that she will prove the child is mine. It’s just a formality. I already know the results. I have been infertile for almost 20 years. Something she merely suspected, but I knew for certain. She’s due to give birth to that baby any day.

        She was right, her sabbatical would have to wait, but mine didn’t. I was going to see the bunties live and frolick, wander and be wild in the wild places of the world; in the joyous time of their carefree bird lives where resources were abundant and worries, few. It was always my plan and I was going to stick to it; with, or without her.

        Before my scheduled stint along the San Juan River, I stopped off in the San Juan del Sur, a touristy beach area on the sunny Pacific side for some R&R and Internet access. This was all part of my original itinerary but I decided that I needed to cut this segment short to get to Managua sooner. The change in schedule made me uneasy, which is probably why I was off my game with the driver, but I lost my primary set of eyeglasses while hanging above a 1000 foot ravine on a zip-line, which was making me even more uneasy because without my glasses, I am legally blind. A few years ago my eyes began rejecting contact lenses and without my prescription, my natural vision is like looking through a telescope. I can only see a four-foot-wide sphere about twenty feet ahead of me. I must have my glasses if I’m going to navigate through this third world country, and particularly while I’m flying solo on a remote bird-watching expedition. Having only one set of eyeglasses in my possession is incredibly unnerving and ultimately dangerous because should I lose this pair, it would be more than just fish out of water. I’d be a flamingo in the Arctic Circle in winter; unable to speak the language or even read the street signs. Easy prey, a sitting duck.

        I know what you’re thinking, why didn’t I just have Lasiks? And furthermore, why would I be on a zip-line? A guy who buys insurance for his insurance? First, my legal expertise is in tort reform. I have read enough briefs on medical malpractice to prevent me from ever having unnecessary surgery, and if I’m not in imminent danger, it’s unnecessary. No Lasiks. And before April of last year, me on a zip-line was as improbable as spotting a Harpy eagle in Costa Rica, but now I’ve done both in the last month and only one was pleasurable.

        The beast was flying high above the jungle canopy in the expanding light of dawn. I was blurry-eyed after having been up all night on a watch for Pigmy owls. I spotted the raptor just seconds before it shifted into an arrow and dove straight into the jungle canopy with a bead on prey. Oh, what I would have given to have been camera-ready! In that moment, in the simmering light of dawn, for the first time on this trip my thoughts went to her. In my unadulterated delight I forgot reality and I wished to the heavens that she were there with me; my arms wrapped around her delicate shoulders, my chin resting on her ruby hair glinting in the new light. She would have said, “Darling, isn’t this perfect? Isn’t the world just so perfectly perfect?” I would say, “Yes darling, it certainly is,” and I would mean it even if I didn’t believe it. I felt like weeping until the barbs of betrayal raked down my spine and the feeling turned sour like a rancid bone-picked animal carcass. I brooded for days.

        When I got to the Pacific-side, just to spite her, I chose to do something she complained I never do. “Go outside your comfort zone, Henry, and live a little.” I can just see her with her hands on her hips in the doorway of our kitchen with that sideways smile saying that very phrase after I objected to Vietnamese takeout or bowling. Well it’s because I went outside my “comfort zone” that I hung motionless above a 1000-foot ravine with nothing but a few nylon straps and cheap metal clips standing between me and undeniable death. When the tour guide came to pull me back in, he had to pry my leather-gloved, vice-gripped fingers off the cable. As he did this, his arm brushed against my face. My eyeglasses fell silently, reverently like the free-fall of a baby bird pushed out of its nest into the jungle below. I didn’t see a single bird worth its weight in feathers on that stupid excursion, particularly after rendered blind, but I proved her wrong and me right at the same time which was almost worth the trouble. Indeed, Henry P. Jacobsen, esquire was capable of doing asinine things, but I had enough sense to know that flying is strictly for the birds. I didn’t listen to that jezebel then, and I shouldn’t be listening to her ghost voice now!

        But it was precisely that voice that led me to Randy’s after the robbery. We met Randy on our honeymoon in the Galapagos. My wife and I had been desperate to see the Blue-Footed boobies up close. Each time she said “boobies” she shook her shoulders like a flamenco dancer. It was incredibly endearing and a tad naughty and I should have known then. Back then Randy was also married. His wife, Sasha, was a yoga and meditation teacher, but on that trip she was a big, round boil about to burst forth with their first child. I remember trying to hide my grimace as she wobbled from foot to foot down the rocky beaches. I felt terribly sorry for her. And him.

        Randy was her Jesus-sandal-wearing birthing coach. After Galapagos, the two planned to have the baby in an inexpensive hospital in Managua, and then settle in a burgeoning tourist and beach community which is the precise location of where I was now standing, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. They were going to open a yoga retreat. Randy would be the business guy and Sasha the instructor. At the time, my wife was finishing her doctorate in Eastern religions and was experimenting with khundalini meditation. They became fast friends, and I became the butt of every joke. They fashioned bow ties out of leaves and made me wear them at dinner. They stuck Sasha’s naked, protruding belly next to my face and took pictures. My expression was not one of amusement I assure you. A couple of months later my wife mailed them a tiny, blue, cotton blanket with the word Namaste embroidered on the satin trim and they have corresponded through email ever since. When the plan for this trip was hatched, it was a foregone conclusion that we would stay with Randy and Sasha and their now three children. Lord help me. But this was all before both women left their mates for other things.

        Obviously, I decided not to stay at Randy’s, but something I could not articulate made me call him when I got to town. I’m sure my wife told him what happened and my curiosity outweighed my better judgment. I wanted to know what he knew. I wanted to see if he would give me that sad, dog-eyed look and avoid saying her name, or if he would convince me that I made a mistake. I met him for coffee just before my zip-lining mishap. After coffee, he drove me out to his retreat for a tour.

        “You see this pool? We’re going to expand it into a salt water lagoon with waterfalls at each end,” he said as he kicked a cement pot in the shape of a Buddha’s head minus a nose which had crumbled away. “She’s coming back in six months after she finishes nursing school, you know.” He shoved his hands deep into his pockets.

        I nodded politely and told him how great everything looked already as I tried not to stare at the broken glass in the bathroom windows and the sinks stained with streaks of rust.

        “How’s Anna?” he said nonchalantly.

        “I don’t know. Maybe you should email her, or better yet, her baby’s daddy,” I said flatly not betraying my incredulity. “Isn’t that what they’re called?”

        “Henry, she says she didn’t cheat on you—"

        “How many years is Sasha’s nursing program again?”

        Sasha wasn’t in nursing school. Anna told me that she got an email from Sasha seven months ago. She said she was tired of Nicaragua and tired of Randy. She said that they were bankrupt and she wanted to move back to the states to be with her parents. She said Randy wouldn’t let her take the kids but that was okay because motherhood hadn’t turned out to be as “fulfilling” as she’d hoped, or something like that. I don’t blame her, really. I didn’t meet the kids, but Randy is a moron. I spent exactly an hour and a half with him that day and I remember being irritated to have wasted even that much time. But right now, I am in need of a phone, another pair of eyeglasses, an ATM, transportation to Managua, and Randy’s was the only reasonable place to go. As I approached his house again, this time on foot, the smell of cooked bacon aroused something primal in me. I would say it was something like anger, but felt more like regret.

        I knocked on the faded red door and it opened seemingly by itself. It was eerie. I was taken aback by this but I still leaned inside. Just then I heard a scream coming from my midsection, “Daaaaaaaaddddddyyyyyy, there’s a gringo at the door!” I looked down to see a boney, blue-eyed, honey-colored little girl with a nest of sun-bleached hair sticking out in all directions. She looked prehistoric. The tops of her cheeks were bright pink and sprayed with dark brown freckles. She wore a man’s t-shirt as a dress with a belt made of a tasseled curtain tie.

        “Henry? Is everything okay?” Randy said rushing to open the door and pull me inside.

        I didn’t feel distressed. Actually, I felt numb, but I quickly realized that I was very sweaty, dirty and looked dehydrated from walking all the way to Randy’s. This explained his concern. As I told Randy what happened, the room began to fill with screeches and howls. It sounded like a tin room full of superb lyrebirds but turned out be just a seven-year-old, a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and an emaciated mutt named Gringo. The noise was making it hard to think.

        “I wasn’t planning on going to Managua until next week. STOP HITTING YOUR SISTER! But for you—what honey? Daddy’s talking—I’ll make an exception.” Randy screwed the top on a primary-colored plastic cup. “But look dude,” he bent down on one knee and handed the cup to the smallest child. “I need a part for my truck before we go—now go play sweetheart—I need to ride into the next town over to get it. It will take me half the day and that’s if I can find the part. We won’t be able to leave until tomorrow at the earliest. I SAID STOP DOING THAT!” He turned and yelled and then turned back to me with a smile. “But that’s if I leave right now.” He turned again, “WHAT DID I JUST SAY?!”

        “Would you mind if I stayed in one of your bungalows for the night? I can pay you when we get to an ATM?” I said with my hands in my pockets rocking back on my heels. I wanted to escape that room as soon as possible. I just wanted to shower, rest and be alone.

        “I would never take your money amigo. We go way back, bro.” He said putting his arm around my neck and jostling me unnecessarily. I put a hand up to my eyeglasses for fear he’d knock them off my face. As I wrestled free from this intimate embrace he added in a monotone voice, “I’m sorry Henry, but every bungalow is under construction, you know, for the grand reopening in a couple of months, but you can stay in Dylan’s room.” A high-pitched scream came from the adjacent room followed by sobs of “Daddy! Dylan is sticking his butt in my face!”

        “DYLAN STOP TERRORIZING YOUR SISTER!—It’s a good thing we just got Dylan bunk beds,” he said grabbing me around the neck again and laughing and forcing me, again, to reach for my glasses.

        I grit my teeth so hard I thought I was going to lose an incisor. I faked another smile and stepped a little further into the chaos. He led me to the room where I’d be sleeping with Dylan. The blanket on the bottom bunk was half off the bed and I could see some kind of stain on the sheet below. The room smelled of maple syrup and feet and still I just wanted to lie down on that mess and take a nap.

        “Oh, one more thing,” he added so casually I thought he might ask me what I wanted for dinner. “Do you mind watching the little munchkins while I run to fix the truck? It will be faster and easier if I go by myself. I should be back in about three hours.”

        He knew what he was doing. He had me down in the dirt with a foot on my throat. Nothing burns me up like people who ask questions when they already know the answer. But he was doing me a favor and of course I would have to watch his children to pay for this. My cheeks flushed with that primal feeling again, as if my body could sense that I was about to make a huge mistake. I wanted to walk out on that chaotic mess and into my vague notion of the direction of Managua, but I touched my hand to the corner of my glasses and agreed to watch his pack of three-foot-tall ankle biters for a few hours.

        Ankle biters. My wife used to poke me in the ribs with her finger when I used to say that about her nieces. I never wanted kids. Fortunately, when I was twenty-four I was struck with a variocele. It’s a painful condition where blood backs up in the scrotum and can only be alleviated through surgery. My surgery was botched and it rendered me irrefutably neutered. The subsequent lawsuit resulted in a hefty settlement. It’s what inspired me to study law. I was also what paid for my degree, the honeymoon in the Galapagos, the cottage on Hatteras, and everything else nice in our lives.

        When my wife and I were dating I told her that I was probably sterile. I told her that the chances of me having biological children were highly improbable. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth—that the doctors said in affidavits that I would never have children. To be fair she said she was ninety percent sure she never wanted kids either. Study of the animal world has taught me that maternal instincts are innate and undeniable in almost every species besides humans. If she was ninety percent sure she didn’t want kids when she was thirty-three, she would never be one hundred percent sure by the time she was beyond the maternal age. It was a safe bet that we would be happy together, just the two of us, for the rest of our lives. It was a bet that held true until nine months ago when she turned up pregnant. She said the word “miracle.” She said God works in mysterious ways. She said I should be happy that we were so blessed. When I left I didn’t tell her why. She didn’t deserve an explanation that cheating—nevermind. A month ago just before Christmas I left on my sabbatical alone. Late January is my best bet for spotting the bunties and so that is my very next stop after this ridiculous detour.

        The minute Randy left the house those muskrats began circling me, prodding for weaknesses. “Why do you keep touching your glasses?” The middle girl, Dallas, said immediately as if she had the ability to sniff out a handicap.

        “My dad said you left your wife because she’s having a baby,” the oldest boy, Dylan said.

        I didn’t know what I was more shocked by, the fact that he asked me such a personal question, or the fact that Randy had told him about it.

        “I just don’t want to lose my glasses,” I mumbled, “and I did not leave my wife because she’s having a baby.” I restrained an urge to call him an idiot. “It’s not even mine!”

        “That’s not what dad said,” he said cocking his head to one side like he knew something I didn’t. “Dad said that the baby is yours but you don’t like kids so you left. So that means you don’t like us. Why don’t you like us?”

        “I don’t dislike kids, or you, it’s just…” I tried to explain like he was a rationale adult, “it’s impossible that the child is mine because… good God what am I saying? Don’t you have some sticks to play with or video game to rot your brain?” I said, knowing it was a bit harsh. “Leave me alone.”

        “But don’t you like babies? Babies aren’t kids. They’re cute and slobbery, like Dahlia.” Dallas pointed to her baby sister sitting in the corner. Dahlia was coloring her feet with an orange marker. When she stood up she looked like a little duck. Then she waddled over to me and the filial imprinting began.

        Dahlia duck followed a half a step behind me wherever I went. She crawled on my lap when I sat, and drank from my glass as if it were hers. She climbed up my neck for protection when the other two came near. Those two were like a pair of fighting roosters.

        Shaking the little one off was impossible. When I called the credit card company she yanked the phone away five times to ask the lady if she liked the color pink. When I hung up the phone the lady said my daughter was adorable. I indulged in this illusion until it was time for me to use the restroom. That is where I drew the line. I was going to piss alone. When I got out she must have lost my trail, but I have to admit I stayed in there for quite a long time doing nothing.

        I poked my head out like a spy looking for my tail. All seemed quiet and well so I headed for the rocking chair on the front porch. Before I walked out I checked on the kids. They were entranced in some sort of cartoon featuring a sponge. For the next hour of relative quiet I sat on the veranda keeping guard and waiting for the sun to signal the ending of this horrible day. I closed my eyes and listened to the calls of the native birds trying to discern the different songs. A warbler. A lark. I took off my glasses, folded them gently and placed them in the breast pocket of my shirt. I nodded off to the predictable rhythm of a loon’s song. The next thing I knew Dylan came running at me screaming something about Dahlia.

        I had totally forgotten about the little duck. I sat up and felt for my glasses but they were gone. I gently patted my lap and began to grope the ground when suddenly, I was being pulled by the hand off the steps of the veranda into an unknown and specific direction.

        As I stood on the edge of what appeared to be a darkened, cavernous hole, Dylan told me that he was positive Dahlia was playing here the last time he saw her. He pointed down to the ground to a group of brightly colored sticks which I assumed were markers. They sat at the edge of this hole—their well. My throat went dry. I knelt down in the dirt and blinked into the darkness as if I would be instantaneously granted sight. I prayed that I might. “Dallas, go to the veranda and find my glasses, they must have fallen out of my pocket. Look everywhere!” Then I screamed into an echo, “Dahlia! Dahlia! Can you hear me?!” No answer. My first instinct was to check the house. When Dallas came back reporting that she hadn’t found my glasses, I gave this task to her as well: “We need to call the first department” My next thought was: The fire department?! In rural Nicaragua! There was no such institution. The police! Surely they had police. “We need to call the police!” I shouted to Dylan.

        “I’ll go!” he said as he ran away.

        “How could I have been so short-sighted as to not get instructions on emergency procedures before Randy left? It hadn’t occurred to me (and this is quite the exception) that anything catastrophic could happen in the span of few hours. I instantly wanted to blame my wife. Had I not gone zip-lining, had she not gotten pregnant, had she not lied to me about who she was and what she wanted … I wanted to blame her for hot sun, the deep well , my far-sightedness. My stomach began to liquefy.

        Dallas came back and reported that she couldn’t find her sister anywhere in the house. My heart relocated to my throat. “Dahlia, honey!” I called again into the darkness. Silence. I asked Dallas for a rope, anything we could put down the hole. “Do you know how deep it is?” I asked trying to stave off panic by gathering more information.

        “How deep is what?” she said as calm as a hen.

        “This hole! Your well, how deep is your well!?”

        “I dunno.” She said without an ounce of urgency. “Daddy says we aren’t supposed to play around here. He says that if we fall in, we’ll drown.”

        Her voice began to ring in my ears. I knelt down and felt the rim of the hole. Its blackness appeared big enough for my frame to fit. It felt like a two-foot diameter with rock walls. I stuck both feet inside and suspended my body weight over it trying to feel for a foot hold to support me. Just as I was about to lower myself down another step I heard, “What are you doing!?” coming from the doorway to the house followed by a suppressed giggle from Dallas and Dylan. I looked up to see a tall, hazy figure.

        “Randy? Is that you? Help, quick I think Dahlia fell into the well! I’m going to—"

        “Dude. Dahlia’s right here.” Only then did I recognize he was holding a bundle in his arms. “She was asleep in the hammock on the back porch.”

        A screech of laughter erupted from the boy who was standing precisely in my one spot of vision clarity. He was smirking and twirling my eyeglasses around by their frames with one hand and pointing at me, halfway sticking-out of the well, with the other. I glared at him feeling the rage of volcano fire.

        “Good news, bro. I got the truck fixed and I can have you in Managua by tomorrow afternoon,” he said setting down the bundle in his arms which came running toward me at full speed. “Dylan, give ol’ Hen-ray back his glasses you goofball.”

        I worked my way out of the hole just in time for Dahlia to jump into my arms. I had to brace myself from falling backward into the well. As I hugged her tiny body and kissed the messy curls on the top of her head I didn’t know what I felt more, relief or rage. Either way, I still wanted to blame my wife.

        I couldn’t sleep that night while lying under that deviant, obnoxious crow. I was sure that monster had filled my bed with scorpions or snakes or smarmy Central American vermin. I was waiting for the moment pee would come raining down on me. I held onto my glasses like they were an oxygen mask in a gas chamber. I refused to eat a crumb. Everything I touched became suspect. Every step was tentative. I was sure that four-foot mongrel was stalking me behind every corner. I kept telling myself that I just needed to get through the three-hour car ride with this flock of cuckoo’s and I would be secure again. I would find an ATM, an optometrist, a decent pair of binoculars, buy my camping supplies and be on my way to finding the bunties in Rio San Juan in a couple of days as scheduled. My world would be right again and I could leave these deranged cuckoo birds to deceive some other unsuspecting gringo.

        When I woke the next morning (if I even slept) my glasses were still tucked neatly under my pillow. On the drive the boy was relegated to the truck bed with his sister, which give us a little peace and quiet inside the cab. Dahlia sat on my lap. I used little Dahlia duck as a decoy to avoid talking to Randy. I asked her all kinds of questions. When I asked her what her favorite bird was she said, “Bwu ones. Day like fwowers.” She meant the hummingbirds and hibiscus. The sound of it coming from her elf-like voice was sweeter than a Central American Little Hermit hummer. She played with my spotting scope pretending to see “big bwu birdies” in the “twees.” She said she even saw, “A Hoppy eagle” and took a picture of it for me. “Thank you, Little Hermit.” I said.

        “Have you called Anna to tell her what happened?” Randy said as we approached the second hour in the car. I was now a captive audience. Indebted to him for helping me and feeling obliged to answer without sarcasm.

        “No. Why should I tell her?” I struggled not to sound annoyed.

        “Because she’s your wife, dude.”

        “Not for long.”

        “You mean you’re going to divorce her because she accidently got pregnant with your child?”

        “It’s not my child.” I said in a clipped tone, although I didn’t mean to.

        “C’mon bro, Anna wouldn’t have cheated on you. She loved you.” He took his eyes off the road to look at me. I looked back and only then had I seen how worn Randy looked. Sure he spent many years bare-faced in the sun, but it was more than UV rays and harsh climates. It was the look of a man broken… or stolen. I turned away. He went quiet for a moment then said in a near whisper. “I wrote her an email last night to tell her what happened. She wrote me back this morning. She wanted me to give you this.” He handed me a white sheet of paper folded into a rectangle. I stared at it and my mouth went dry. “It’s a picture of the baby and some test results. I didn’t look. I promise.”

        My hands tingled. My tongue went numb and my ears pounded with the sound of screeching breaks. I took the paper and slipped it into the lower pocket of my cargo shorts. I demanded that Randy not utter another word about my wife. Mentally I began making a list of the supplies I needed for the three weeks alone in the jungle hut.

        A silent hour later, past mud-colored terrain punctuated by oxen carts, tin shacks, the occasional sprawling banyan tree and lots of whooshing hot air, we reached Managua. Randy parked the car on the side of a busy street and came over to my side to retrieve Dahlia. When he opened the door Dahlia reached her arms out for him and squealed, “I wuv you, Daddy!” as if she hadn’t been sitting a foot away from him for the last three hours. The sudden lightness of where she sat on my lap was almost unbearable. Blood rushed back to my legs and when I went to stand up they nearly collapsed underneath me. They had fallen asleep at some point but I hadn’t noticed.

        “Dylan will show you to the bank. I’ve got to take Dahlia and Dallas to el bano.”

        The look on my face must have betrayed me because then Randy said, “Don’t worry. I’ll warn him. He’ll be on his best behavior.” I’d almost forgotten about keeping my eye on the little trickster. “I suppose you’re anxious to get on your way after that, huh, Henry?” he said tickling Dahlia a little while she giggled. “Gotta get to those Painted bunions, right?!”

        “Um, I, uh, yes. I’m very anxious.”

        Dylan was still in the back of the truck when his father said, “Take him to el banco on Madras Street, buddy. We’ll be in the ice cream shop across the square waiting for you. Seriously. No funny stuff or you’re going to get it, you hear me?!”

        “Got it Dad!” Dylan said perched on the edge of the truck bed like a chicken ready to hop onto the pavement. “I promise!”

        I watched them walk away down the sidewalk. Randy was holding Dallas’s hand with Dahlia on his hip. Both girls were looking at him with big fat smiles on their faces. They looked like something out of a post card. Then Dahlia turned to look at me, “Bye bye, birdie man!” She sang flapping her arms high in the air.
        “Bye bye, Little Hermit.” I said softer than I tried. They disappeared behind the corner.

        I took a step backward without looking. I was still watching the empty space where Dhalia disappeared when I reached up to give the boy my hand. At that very moment jumped. He came crashing into me knocking me to the ground. My glasses flew. As the people rushed by us I heard a crunch, and that was it—they were broken. “No!” I yelled and then Dylan began to cry. I don’t know why but I reached out and pulled him close trying to calm him, and maybe me too. “Shhhh, it’s okay Dylan. It was an accident.” When he realized he wasn’t going to get in trouble he started giggling and my rage returned.

        “Just take me to the bank!” I said straightening my shirt trying to hide my rising anxiety and sudden blindedness.

        “How much money are you going to pay me?” he said.

        “I’m sure your father will be happy to hear that his son is extorting his friend.”

        “You’re not his friend. And you would never find him anyway. You’re blind as a bat!”

        “I’ve got his email address right here in my pocket.” I pulled out the piece of paper as proof. The moment I get my glasses I will email him and tell him what you did.

        “I don’t believe you.” Unable to see it coming and unable to stop him, he snatched the paper from my hand.

        “Give me that!” I said as I heard him unfolding it. I wondered if seven-year-olds could read.

        There was silence. An ocean of silence. The boy handed me back the paper, took my hand and led me down the street with a tug. I leaned back with equal force to slow his pace and give me time to check my one spot of visual clarity. My thoughts raced with where he would take me, what he saw on that paper, if he was going to leave me to fend for myself on the streets of a third world city where no one spoke English. All I could do was hope we were going in the right direction. He stopped pulling me when we came to what I perceived was an intersection. I heard horse hooves and wooden wheels creaking under wagons. Muffler-less cars came and went drowning out everything else and the buzz of motorcycles vibrated in my belly. Old, solid church bells rang out in the distance while I felt the whoosh of automatic doors opening as we passed by store fronts. It was the sound of two worlds, the old and the new slamming together trying to make sense of one another. Negotiate the chasm. I felt a pull of my hand. Before I could think to look into my one spot of clarity, I stepped off the curb and into the fray.



About the Author, Shannon Lell: Shannon Lell was thrown from the corporate ladder in 2010. Shortly after, she started writing. Now, in between folding laundry and corralling two small children, she writes at www.shannonlell.com and is the editor and social media manager of the popular mom-focused website, Mamapedia. She writes introspective pieces on personal and social issues and she tries to use just enough sarcasm so you don't think she's emotionally unavailable. She studies literary fiction at the University of Washington and is writing her first novel. Over-thinking everything is her special super power. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+