Ich verstehe Nicht

The plane touched down in the warm Spanish rain, palm trees swaying like drunken green tarantulas impaled on a row of bamboo stakes. I flashed my ID, collected my gear from the terminal and tossed it in the back of a brightly colored piece of rented plastic wrapped around a flimsy excuse for a combustion engine, wedging a well-worn snapshot into the visor as I strapped myself in.

A payphone in a dusty parking lot, a bicycle, the door of a convenience store.

No idea what it meant, but it was the only clue I had. Received it three days ago; turned it over. Postmarked from Spain, the date too faded to read. Across the back in my own handwriting: Cadiz. I didn’t remember writing it.

For the next few hours, my head was a frustrating soup of deja vu. I tried to ignore it, stay open to the experience. Felt as though I were going to drive off the edge of the known world at any moment, so extensive and winding were the roads, hemmed by dense emerald foliage on either side. The weather had improved, rendering the evening sky a cool blue. The sun flashed through the tree tops like a strobe light, warm and heavy like a blanket as it settled on my face, my shoulders, chasing away the chill of a long flight.

I felt as though I could hide here, maybe. My meager savings could go a long way toward a new life. I’d fix up a little cottage by the sea, eat my fill of fresh seafood, learn to speak the language, get covered in tattoos, and wash my hands of worldly concerns. The snapshot was proof that I’d obviously been here before. Hopefully I’d been smart enough to network, and mind my manners.

Decided on a bottle before I found my hotel room. The liquor store was lost along a lonely crossroads, encircled by more towering palm trees and low foliage. It looked so desolate and mournful, awash in the glare of cheap neon murals like a waitress at the end of a hard shift that I took pity immediately, venturing inside and purchasing a bottle of Ponche Cabelero, a local concoction sold in a large chrome bottle which tasted like a peaceful resolution of conflict between vodka and codeine.

Exiting with my purchase in a brown paper bag, I drove into town under an endless sky now the color of a subterranean forest fire, a light-blue ocean breeze filling my grateful lungs. I parked the car and walked for some time, searching for a landmark, something that might trigger a memory. Nothing. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe I should just go home.

I walked another hour taking covert nips from the bag. Eventually, I found the car again and drove to my hotel, unpacked my gear, checked my message service and flopped on the bed to gather my wits. Nothing to do but wait, I guess.

Streetlights carved golden glowing tetrahedrons through the settling dusk trapped against my window. I lay on my back with my hands clasped behind my head, trying to ignore the buzzing, aching hollow-boned sensation that filled my body, like a team of tattoo artists working overtime. The sensation pressed hard against my chest, shoving me down the dark stairwell of slumber….

The phone rang and I snapped it up before I was completely awake. “Er ist ein geneigter Träger?” purred a voice. “Betrachten Sie das Foto.” He is a vehicle inclined? Regard the photo. The line went dead. I sat up on the edge of the bed, vigorously rubbed my eyes until I saw the familiar ochre tunnels,removing the snapshot of the payphone from my passport, inspecting it closely. It was the same liquor store I’d visited, the fuzzy image of a ten-speed bike visible in the background. I dressed in a hurry and headed back to the store.

On the far side of the dusty gravel parking lot, I found the payphone in the picture. I began walking backwards and sideways, trying to determine from exactly where the shot had been taken. So intent in my examination of the photo that I wandered into the path of a long, lean, dark-haired masterpiece of girl on a ten-speed, tires crunching the gravel as she passed. She gave me a reproachful glance before dismounting the bike, and leaned it against the front of the store. I looked at the picture. They were now identical. A chill ran down my spine.

The phone rang with a sudden start, and I tottered over on nervous legs to answer.


“Betrachten Sie das Foto,” purred the same voice before hanging up. Regard the photo. I took it out of my pocket, and my hands began to shake.

The photo had changed. In it, I was talking to the girl as we stood in the liquor store entrance. I looked up. She was looking back at me expectantly, a puzzled look on her face, not sure herself why she was waiting for a bedraggled American to approach her. I doddered forward again, my mouth drier then a den of thirsty snakes. What was I supposed to say?

In the distance, a storm cloud rumbled. The musty smell of rain was in the air, and the palm trees began to sway…

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