Excerpt from Forgive Me

One
Nadine hears the parrots. So picturesque in the evening, floating over the courtyard while she sips tequila and deciphers the day's notes, the birds make the hot dawn intolerable. Two thin pillows cannot block the cacophony. Nadine's sheets press against her body. She remembers the warm lips of a local journalist, but wakes alone.

A room at La Hacienda Solita includes breakfast. Slowly, Nadine makes her way to the wooden table outside the kitchen. She orders eggs, beans, coffee, and juice from the girl. The juice arrives in a ceramic glass filled with ice cubes, and Nadine drinks it, though she should not. The girl-no more than ten-stands next to the table, her bare feet callused. She watches Nadine.

There is a communal shower. Nadine uses Pert Plus shampoo, bought in an American Rite-Aid on her way back over the border: she was in a Laredo police station when the news of the twelve dead boys came in. Nadine travels light: a comb, shampoo, lotion, lipstick. Two T-shirts, two pairs of pants, lace underwear (her one indulgence). She has an apartment in the Associated Press compound in Mexico City, but hasn't been there in a month.

On the dashboard of her rental car, Nadine finds a rubber band. She pulls her black hair back with both hands, affixes the band, and puts on sunglasses. She opens her topographical map. Today, she will find and interview the boys' families. The mother of one boy told a local TV reporter that her son had worked in a seafood restaurant. Her large, two-story home and expensive clothes told a different story. The car's air conditioning is broken. Nadine punches the radio on and begins to drive. Her Spanish is good; languages have always come easily to her. She plays the music loudly and hums along. It's a song about a man who wronged a woman. "If you come back to me," the man sings, "I will never stray again." She thinks of the journalist's spicy cologne, his breath against her ear as they swayed to jukebox melodies at the cantina. She smiles. It took half a bottle of Herradura and a few kisses to get directions to the boys' tiny village.

Nadine drives slowly down the narrow streets. Men unlock metal doors and heave them upward, exposing bright fruits and vegetables, rows of shirts, videocassettes. Women sweep the sidewalk and children walk to school, holding hands. A donkey cart blocks Nadine's way, then lurches down a side alley.

Finally, she reaches the outskirts. Passing squat homes protected by latticework concrete, Nadine accelerates. The air blazing through her open window is little comfort. She heads toward the mountains. Ian made her promise to wear the bulletproof vest, but Nadine reasons that having it in the backseat is good enough. It's heavy and bulky, and for Christ's sake it's got to be a hundred degrees.

Nadine reaches the place she's marked on her map with an "X" and pulls off the road. At a gas station, she fills the car and takes out her list of names. The man behind the counter, old and overweight, looks at Nadine without expression. He sells her a warm Coke. When she asks to use the bathroom, the man gestures with his hand. She walks behind the store, positioning her feet on either side of the fetid hole.

The village does not have paved roads, and Nadine's head begins to hurt as she drives over uneven ground. She sees a group of men gathered outside one thatched-roof home. The men stare as Nadine approaches. Nadine slows the car and tries a smile. She is met with stone faces.

The thoughts flood her-something is wrong. You should have told Ian where you were going. You should not have come alone. Back away, put on the vest-but the thoughts will fade. Nadine sets her jaw and keeps driving.

The men look at each other, at the approaching Honda. By some consensus, they rush the car, and Nadine tries to stop, to reach the locks. It is too late, but she grabs the gearshift, smoothly putting the car in reverse.

As she presses the gas, a tall man wearing a Cookie Monster T-shirt opens the passenger side door. His sweat smells metallic as he climbs inside the car. He unlocks the driver's side door, reaching across Nadine. The door is opened from outside. Two men drag Nadine out of the car and into the street. She fights-clawing at the men with her fingernails, screaming that she is periodista, a journalist. Their fists hit her stomach, and then her ribcage.

Two
Nadine woke in a blue-and-white hotel room. There was a mini-fridge by the bed, a painting of a sailboat on the wall, and a telephone with instructions in English. The window framed a familiar ocean. Nadine closed her eyes, and opened them. Her body ached. Her left arm was bandaged, so she lifted the phone with her right and dialed Zero. A woman's voice answered and then said, "Oh my Lord!"

"Hello?" said Nadine. "Where am I?"

She heard footsteps on a staircase, and then the door opened. "Oh, honey," said a stout woman with a mushroom cap of blonde hair.

"I'm sorry," said Nadine. "Who are you?"

"Oh dear," said the woman. "Didn't your daddy tell you?"

Nadine had not spoken to her father in months, maybe a year.

"Where am I?" said Nadine.

"Why, honey," said the woman, "you're at the Sandy Toes Bed and Breakfast."

Nadine touched her temple. The last thing she could remember was a man who smelled like rust. "You've been in a terrible accident," the woman said, putting a fat hand on Nadine's wrist. "Thank goodness you had your daddy's card in your wallet."

Nadine stared at the hand.

"He'll be here any minute," said the woman. "By the way, my name is Gwen." Nadine did not answer. Gwen bit her lip and then released it, leaving a bright pink spot on her tooth. "Your daddy and I are in love," she informed Nadine.

"Is there room service?" asked Nadine.

"What?"

"Is there room service," said Nadine, "at the Sandy Toes Bed and Breakfast?"

"Well," said Gwen, "of course there is."

"I'd like a tequila on the rocks, please."

"It's the middle of the day, dear," said Gwen.

"A ham sandwich, as well," said Nadine.

Nadine had not seen her father, Jim, since her journalism school graduation a decade before. After the ceremony, Nadine had taken him to the Oyster Bar for dinner. It was her favorite restaurant: dark, smoky, and to Nadine, glamorous. She ordered oysters and an expensive bottle of wine.

"I think you'll like this," said Nadine, when the wine arrived and the waiter began to pour.

"I'll have a Coors," said Nadine's father, covering his wine glass with his palm. He looked around at the businessmen and well-heeled New Yorkers. Jim wore jeans, a green windbreaker, a cap that said FALMOUTH FISH.

"So I've decided," said Nadine, sipping her wine. "I'm going to Cape Town,"

"Cape Town?"

"I'll be freelancing, of course, but maybe it'll lead to a job with the AP, or the Times. People are fighting the pass laws, standing up to the government. Remember that kid from Nantucket? Jason Irving? He was killed outside Cape Town last month. Everything is changing in South Africa. There's so much to write about."

Jim sighed. "That kid from Nantucket," he said. "Poor kid comes home in a coffin. This is your role model?"

"Dad," said Nadine, leaning toward him, "I could be in South Africa for the fall of apartheid!"

"Nadine," said her father, "for all I know, you're speaking Chinese."

"Come on, Dad," said Nadine. "Don't you get the New York Times? I renewed your subscription, I thought." "I'm busy, honey," said Jim. "I get home late. It's just so much paper."

"So much paper."

The waiter returned with a tray of oysters and horseradish sauce. "Flown in this morning," he said, "from Buzzard's Bay." He stepped back with a smile and a nod.

"If oysters is what you want," said Jim, "I've got a rake and a pair of waders for you in the garage."

Nadine looked down at her napkin. "I wish you could try," she said. She swallowed. "It's not that Woods Hole isn't great. I just-"

"What about working for the Cape Cod Times?" said Jim. "Your mom used to read the Cape Cod Times."

Nadine sighed. She drained her wine, and poured another glass. For forty minutes, they talked about housing prices on the Cape, the new pizzeria on Main Street, and the traffic problem at the Bourne Rotary. Declining dessert, Nadine gave her father a quick embrace, walked him to his midtown hotel, and took the six train downtown. At McSorley's, she argued passionately about the future of Romania with a grad student who smoked unfiltered cigarettes. They agreed that Ceausescu's regime was on the verge of collapse, and then pressed against each other in a dim corner, the boy's tongue hot in Nadine's mouth.

She moved to Cape Town the following week.

Ten years later, her father stood before her, his hands in what could have been the same jeans. "Hey, now, Deanie," he said, reaching out to touch Nadine's hair.

"What am I doing here?" said Nadine.

"You were in some Mexican hospital," said Jim. "You were beaten real bad. Your wrist and ribs got bunged up, you've got a nasty concussion."

"How long…."

"You'll be in Woods Hole a while," said Jim.

"Woods Hole?" said Nadine.

Jim put his arm around Gwen. "You can stay here as long as you need. Gwen and I own this hotel. We open for business in May, soon as the summer folks get here."

"The Sandy Toes," said Gwen. "I thought of the name."

"So the closest airport is Hyannis?" said Nadine.

"What?" said Gwen. She looked nervously at Jim.

"Nadine," said Jim, "you likely can't feel it, but your wrist is still very weak. Not to mention head trauma. You were attacked, Nadine, by Mexican thugs."

"Mm hmm," said Nadine. She reached for the phone, murmuring, "So Logan would probably be just as easy, or Providence…."
v "You can't go anywhere!" said Gwen. "You're very ill, dear!"

"What the hell was she doing down next to Guat-e-amala, is what I'd like to know," said Jim.

"May I make a long distance call, please? In private?"

"Deanie," said Jim. "Can't you give it a rest?"

"I'll pay you back, of course," said Nadine.

"No, it's fine," said Gwen, flustered.

"Thanks," said Nadine. She picked up the receiver.

"Maybe we can visit later," said Gwen. Jim snorted.

"Okay," said Nadine, dialing quickly. Her father and Gwen exited the room, and Jim pulled the door shut with a thud that shook the Nantucket basket on the windowsill.

"You are on mandatory vacation," said Ian, when Nadine finally reached him. In the background, Nadine heard the sounds of the New York office: typing, shouting, televisions tuned to CNN.

Nadine sighed into the phone. "I've got to get out of here," she said.

"You've been beaten within an inch of your life by Mexican drug traffickers. I talked to your doctor. You can't even use your left arm for two weeks."

"You think they were traffickers?"

"Whoever they were, they didn't want you nosing around," said Ian. "Some shopkeeper called the embassy. You were found in a ditch. They could have killed you."

Nadine looked out her window, at the placid sea. A large vessel, the Atlantis, was docked in the harbor. "How long?" she said.

"Six months."

"Ian!"

"Three months. You need to rest."

"I know you don't believe me," said Nadine, "but I feel fine. I do, really."

"Wander along the beach. Have an affair with a lifeguard. Whatever it takes, Nadine. Don't call me until March."

"I can't believe this."

Ian was silent. Nadine could picture him stroking his snow-colored moustache. "I've known you a long time," said Ian, finally. "And I've told you this before. You let the wall come down, you can never go back."

"I didn't let the wall down," said Nadine.

"Nadine, I'm trusting my gut on this one."

"What am I supposed to do all winter on Cape Cod?"

"Write a novel," said Ian. "Write a memoir about your hair-raising adventures around the world. If all else fails, watch TV."

"Lord help me," said Nadine.

"Talk to you soon," said Ian. "Not that soon," he added.

Dr. Duarte had olive skin and a rich voice. Nadine hit mute but continued to watch Law and Order as he listed her many bruises and lacerations. "When can I get out of here?" she asked when he stopped talking.

"Out of bed? A week, maybe ten days. I'm most concerned about the head trauma, and we'll just have to keep an eye on that."

Nadine lay back and sighed.

"Can you turn off the television, please?" said Dr. Duarte.

Nadine hit the power button as Dr. Duarte told her how lucky she was to be alive, how her body needed time to heal. She nodded, eyes on her intertwined hands. There was a pause, and then Dr. Duarte said, "What's it like?"

Nadine looked up, into his brown eyes. "Sorry?"

"What's it like?" he said. "What does it feel like, being a reporter, putting yourself in danger? I guess I've always wondered what that feels like."

"You just think about what you need to do," said Nadine. "Warnings, they come into your head, but they go away. You do your job." Nadine's voice sounded confident. She did not say that some evenings, after her story was filed and she was safe in a hotel room, taking a shower, her legs shook so hard she had to sit down, letting the water rain over her until she calmed.

"You get used to being terrified, basically?"

Nadine looked out the window. She still remembered the dark winter days of her childhood, the sense that life was happening elsewhere. The thought of staying on Cape Cod was unbearable. "When's the last time you were terrified?" she asked.

"Senior year," said Dr. Duarte. "Right before I called to ask Suze Phillips to the prom. No, wait, my boards." He paused. "No, Suze was scarier."

"What did she say?"

"She said yes," said Dr. Duarte. "I hung up the phone and almost cried with happiness."

"That's it exactly," said Nadine.

"So being a globetrotting journalist is like asking Suze Phillips to the prom," said Dr. Duarte.

"It's like asking her, and having her say yes."

He nodded, pleased. "Well," he said, "I'll be back tomorrow. I can bring you some books, if you want. Might help pass the time."

"Thanks," said Nadine. "But I'm fine, really."

"How many Law and Ordersdo you think you can watch?"

"Seven?" said Nadine. "Maybe eight."

"Wow," said Dr. Duarte. "My limit would probably be six."

Gwen ministered to Nadine as if she were a child home from school. She made chicken soup and lasagna. She brought gossip magazines and crossword books. She went to Wal-Mart and returned with a night shirt featuring a grinning cat. "I'm thirty-five," said Nadine when she opened the bag.

"No one's too old for Garfield," said Gwen.

Nadine slept and talked on the phone. Fellow journalists and off-again lovers sent flowers. Nobody called, however: what had happened to Nadine was the thing you didn't allow yourself to think about. All of them were playing a game of chance, and even the best luck ran out eventually. There was a point at which many took a desk job, for love or family. But Nadine, with the exception of Jim, had no family.

As for love, there had been Maxim, shot by a stray bullet in Cape Flats. One love, one bullet. Nadine learned her lesson.



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