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By the time the plane lands in Puerto Vallarta, both Alice and Morris are drunk. The four scotches, Alice reasons, were necessary to dispel anxiety. Better than sedatives — you get addicted to those. Morris has gone one further. He averts his eyes, but she can see the beginnings of a conscience in the red rings, the shiny pupils.

“We're here, honey,” she says and forces a smile. “I wonder if it's changed much.”

“Most likely turned into another American tourist trap.” Morris stares, gloomy, out the window, as if reluctant to disembark. Deplane, as the flight attendants say. Always makes Alice think of Jonah and the whale. Open the fangs; spit them out. And before they know it, they're in a taxi, heading for . . . what . . . a honeymoon twelve years ago?

“Estancia San Paolo,” Morris tells the driver.

“Is new, senor? You know what street?”

Morris hands him an address. The cabbie shrugs and drives. Puerto Vallarta has certainly changed since they were here last. It is now a maze of shops along the cobblestones, advertisements in English. It could be southern California, only the air is more humid, the heat sticky. Everyone's on holiday here, Alice thinks, it's not real. She knows that's not true, of course. There's an industry keeping all these tourists fed and watered and sheltered and amused. Like marriages, she thinks. There are tourists even there. She stares out the window, reads signs: COTTON CANDY, DANONE YOGHURT, PERRIER. WE VACUUM-PACK FISH FOR AIR TRAVEL. CALIFORNIA SUN, LE CHATEAU BLANC, MAMMA'S PIZZERIA, EMPRESS OF THE EAST, KATAI SUSHI. Make it all feel like home. Alien, untrue.

Then, they cross into old Puerto Vallarta. Alice takes a deep breath. April is perfumed with familiarity: she and Morris arriving here twelve years ago. They've been married one day, and touch is so exquisite it hurts. His hands brush her arm, her shoulder, stroke her hair; his fingers wind around hers. She is intoxicated with love and desire. Everything's an aphrodisiac: the heat, the shimmering bodies, the music, the scent of tanning lotion, salt water, tortillas, filets de pescado. They had little back then, except each other.

“It was right here,” Morris says, and looks at her, bewildered. The taxi has stopped in front of a mini shopping mall with a cafe on the second floor. “I told you we should have made reservations.” His voice is brittle, accusing.

“We never did before.”

“This isn't then,” he says with such finality she's not sure whether to press him, make him say what he really means. For once, couldn't they be honest with each other? No. It's too soon, or maybe too late. “Alice, for God's sake, let's just go to the Holiday Inn. It's not as if we can't afford it.”

She looks up the street, at the old hotels that resemble the San Paolo — most of the Mexican ones do. “I want to stay in one of those,” she says, stubborn. “Try the one up the street.”

Finally in a room, while they unpack, Alice exclaims at the old fixtures, the bedspread, the table and chairs, the rusty refrigerator; calls them “quaint and charming”.

“It's a pile of old junk,” Morris says. “Stop romanticizing it. This is not Wonderland. We'd be a hell of a lot more comfortable in a new hotel and we wouldn't have to worry about sanitation.” He sits gingerly at the edge of the bed as if it were a precipice. Alice waits. But he lies down and closes his eyes.

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From "Los Desesperados"


© Genni Gunn, 2002
Reprinted by permission. All Rights Reserved

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Alice continues to unpack, determined not to let him bait her. Maybe if he sleeps a bit, things will be different. She lies beside him, takes his hand, but he turns away from her.

Alice is not neurotic, helpless or dependent. While people her age were backpacking and finding themselves in Europe, Alice, with the help of a loan from her father, was busy pursuing a vision. By the time she and Morris met, she had paid her father back and owned (with the bank) her whimsical gift shop, Alice in Wonderland. Since then, Morris has bought into the store, and handles all the paperwork. Alice is the whimsy, Morris the practical.

She watches him sleep, the rise and fall of his chest, and for a moment, she imagines herself falling down a well into a Wonderland where Morris catches her at the bottom like he did the night they drove, frenzied, to Stanley Park — eleven thirty, full moon — parked the car and ran to the wolves’ enclosures, because Alice wanted to witness their midnight howling. Which they didn’t do, because the wolves were either hiding or sleeping. So Morris suggested it might be werewolves who bayed at the moon, and they both made monstrous faces and howled and bounded through the woods, until they reached the seawall. The tide was out and the moon’s yellow finger split the water. Morris jumped onto the wet glistening stones, while Alice stepped on the wall and balanced three, four steps, before falling into Morris' arms and lips and laughter. Was it so long ago? Alice can't remember exactly.

They used to work well together, “building their future,” they always said. Alice looks at Morris, at the sweep of his indifference to her. The future, she thinks suddenly, is an attitude. Enigmatic, undetermined, unnamed.

She knows he agreed to the holiday because he could see she was dangerously close to a hysterical showdown. Maybe in Mexico, she thinks, away from Susan, they will talk it out, resolve it. He must know she knows. Or does he really think her so naive?
Genni Gunn