Wednesday, September 2, 2020

How To Get Murdered Abroad, Zenya Prowell


Be young and walk “like a duck,” you’ll hear later. Be worthless. Pack everything you’ll need for a last month of life into one wheeled blue suitcase with fuzzy seams and a rickety handle. Let your friends and colleagues admire your gumption. Latin America is a good choice. Don’t forget all your electronics and jewelry.

Try the capital. Its gray will overwhelm and the prospect of an anonymous alley knifing will seem dreary. Reconsider. Look at some maps. Know some Spanish: enough to ask after a bathroom, or for water in a restaurant, but not enough, you’ll learn, to navigate an hours-long bus ride that will take you from the capital to a small spot on the coast. Be alone when you drag your luggage through the bus station. Be conspicuous. Request a bus ticket with words you remember from seventh grade.  Billete. That may or may not be right.

Ride the bus across the country. Be ignored. Ignore them back. When armed policemen get on the bus to check IDs, don’t look afraid.

Get off the bus hours from where you meant to. Decide you’ll take a cab the last few hundred miles. Flag one down. The driver will have a moustache. Pay attention when a woman selling keychains near a storefront catches your eye and gives you a grave and tiny headshake. Make an excuse to end negotiations. Not here, not just yet. Nod your thanks to the old lady. Don’t take it personally when she doesn’t acknowledge it. Do take it as a good sign when you make a deal with a new cabbie and she keeps her face blank and aimed elsewhere. Later, it will occur to you that you could have at least bought a keychain.

Appreciate your new driver’s can-do attitude and love of old soul music. He’ll hum along to the radio while you wind through mountains. He will tell you his name is Paolo. He’ll tell you long laughing stories about his daughters. At some point he will pull over the car to show you a hidden waterfall. It will be tall, skinny and green-blue, pink in some places. He’ll offer take a picture of you in front of it if you like. Squint at it from the car window. No lie: you will want to stretch your back. You will consider going near the water, smelling it, sticking your hand into fresh mist. But you will recommit to backseat plastic. Tell him, no thanks.

Arrive, finally. Paolo will give you his number, will suggest more than once that you call him “if you need a drive.” Of course. Lose it.

It will feel right: orange dust on the ground and water nearby. Check into hotel. Be the only customer at the bar. The bartender will be white, blond and grizzled, with a rigid mouth full of questions. His eyebrows will be white-blond and concerned. That, or he wants to fuck you. Offer nothing.

In the morning, up you go. You’ll want to find an apartment where you can live for a month or so. It certainly shouldn’t take longer than a month.

Hit the street. This is where that duck walk will come in handy. He will clock you in less than ten minutes. Who saw who first? You’ll never know.

He will have dark skin like yours and kinky hair dyed yellow-bronze at the tips. He’ll be thin and wiry and there will be a rip in the front of his t-shirt. He will have a lotioned glow and quick dimples. He will look at your face, chest, shorts, legs, legs, shorts, chest, face. He will speak Spanish, perfect English, and silk: “Hello, friend.” He will sound like that waterfall. Up close, he’ll smell unwashed. Smile.

Tell him you have to find an apartment. Tell him money’s not a problem; there’s loads of cash. Absolutely loads of it. He’ll have some things to wrap up with the tourists he was working. Agree to meet him in twenty minutes.

Andres, he said his name was, will show up right on time. Follow him to secluded wooded corners of a transient town you know nothing about. Let him make calls with your cheap prepaid phone. Things will start looking up when he borrows a machete, but that’ll just be to hack open a coconut for you. His dealings on your phone will turn up a back garden apartment in a small complex with flowers and a gate. Add the landlady’s stony expression to the tally. Have him go with you to an ATM across from a green but littered park. Have him by your side when it spits out hundreds of dollars. Count out the deposit for the landlady. Ask him to double-count it for you. Be impressed when he thumbs through to your number and hands it all back.

Thank him. Offer to buy him lunch in appreciation for his help. He’ll take you to a place outside of town. Where the real people eat, he’ll say. After lunch, let him kiss you.

Let him insist on helping you move from the hotel to the new place. You’ll have  a bathroom, a TV in a wall unit, and a bar with two stools separating the kitchen from a queen-sized bed. Let him be when he flops on it and starts snoring. Give yourself a pedicure in the sink. With him sleeping, and a neighbor’s music outside the window, and the kitchen bright yellow, and your feet soaking in warm water that smells like lemons, you’ll think of heaven. Soon, you’ll be vapor again, stardust again. Be excited.

He’ll like hot, soapy showers and never again smell like he did when you met him. When you take walks to the main road together, he’ll hang back to watch you from behind and laugh. He’ll say your duck walk makes him want to crow like a rooster.

If you buy, he’ll cook. Have one little candle on the table during your lunches and dinners. Let him put his fingerprints all over you and your things, in case he’s the serial kind and it might help someone. He’ll play you videos of his favorite songs. Dance with him in the tiny one-room apartment. He’ll light up and encourage you  when you speak your broken Spanish. Out front you’ll have a little patio where you’ll sit in white chairs and have beer and cigarettes in the mornings, him shirtless and you barefoot. When he says “I love you” and “I dreamed we were married,” you’ll think: of course you do and of course you did.

He’ll have nightmares even in the middle of the day. When he wakes from them, he’ll reach for you like a child. Pay attention when he lays with his head close to you and tells you how he has no one, how sometimes he wishes he’d never been born. Trauma makes for good murderers.

When it’s been a few days, you’ll get bored with his constant mellow presence. Ask him, “Don’t you need to go work?” When he does, go out to lunch in town with another man you met, an American with a reptile’s wet eyes, who knows your landlady and saw you moving in. He’ll be middle-aged and use the word “pussy” three times in one hour. Go back home. Andres will knock on your door once he’s made some money. Tell him what you did that day. Tell him he’s overreacting when he gets upset. Kick him out.

Watch a movie. Have a snack. Do your nails. Feel pretty good.



Answer a knock on the door at midnight. You won’t have been sleeping, and your light will have been on.

Andres will look tired and troubled. He will sit on the bed and put his head in his hands. He will ask you if you can talk to him in Spanish because speaking English all the time makes his head hurt. Don’t.

In English, he’ll ask, “Can I just stay here tonight?” Tell him no.

He will ask you why you’re treating him this way. He will ask you what he did wrong.

He’ll say, “You don’t want me because I’m poor.”


Sit beside him and say nothing. His face will close up to cold rock.


Get up and go to the door. Say, “I think you should leave now.” Watch him sit.


Repeat yourself. Watch him watch you back.


Be alone halfway through a black night in a secret corner of a back town, oceans away from anyone who knows you, in a cotton dress, rebuffing a homeless (you’ll realize now) man you met on the street three days ago. Hold the door open. Watch him rise up. He’ll loom over you. Repeat: “You’re not listening. You’re not respecting me. You need to leave now.”

Something like derision will arrive on his face. Your heart will start to move in a way you’ll have never felt before.

He’ll mock you with soft menace: “What are you going to do, scream?” Say nothing.

He’ll relish a long moment of your fear. And he will leave, but the last glance of contempt he will flick at you on his way out will warn you: for now.

Once you close and lock the door, what your heart is doing will hurt your chest and inside your ears. It will overtake your stomach and throat too. He could come back at any time.

In your mouth you will taste destruction and understand that this is new, that nothing that happened before (even that) ever tasted like this. This new pain will roil through your whole body as if trying to break through you to get to him, wherever he went, as if whatever created you - your mother, or the moon, or the ocean - above all will not tolerate its creation threatened. You will feel dwarfed and deafened by this presence of cosmic maternal rage that you did not know existed until now. You’ll feel stupid.

And small. You will start to shake. You’ll think of the keychain lady, of Paolo, of the white bartender, of your landlady. You will remember them looking at you and seeing their daughters. You will wonder if they went home to beat the shit out of them for ever even thinking of doing what you have done.

You will lie rigid in your bed to wait for the sun to come up. At some point, you’ll make a run to turn off the floor lamp and back to the bed because being in the dark will feel safer. At least in the dark you can hide, theoretically, if he busts back through the door.

But then it will be dark when it occurs to you to make another run to the kitchen for a knife.

It will take an hour, maybe two, maybe five minutes. You’ll hear a key in the door. You will hear the door open and jam against the inside chain. There will be a pause before the chain gets busted from the frame without much difficulty. Your heart will overtake you, will be made of the whole ocean now, a hysterical lullaby in your ears.

The shadow will be of average height and chubby. It will move with surprising speed for its bulk. It will smell like liquor and meat. Its weight will break a few of the cheap wooden slats under your mattress; you’ll hear splintering and cracking and feel yourself drop an inch closer to the earth. You will feel slick skin that has never touched you before. The dark you thought would protect you will hide the knife from you when you lose it in the bedsheet. Panic will blot out most pain - a small grace, maybe. It will invite you out of your body and up to the ceiling to wait. Up there you will feel nothing but sadness.

Watching him with it, you will miss your body already. You’ll wonder who you could have lived for, if not yourself.

You’ll think of the long line of women you must have come from.


You will be amazed to feel them gathering around you now, shielding you with skirts and covering you with blankets. You’ll feel now how many of them were there in you, how much of their strength you let atrophy, how many gifts they left in you that you didn’t open, how many letters they left that you didn’t read.

But they won’t be angry.

You will wonder if he has been watching your door, if he saw Andres leave, if the police, such as they are, will be looking for Andres tomorrow. You hurt him and he scared you, but Andres has no money and no family.

You will think

oh God. I’m so sorry. And 

she will say

It’s all right. Just come home.

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