by Kathryn Christman
Cover painting by Nate Herth
Sebastopol, 2004, 28 pp.


“Why do you want to live in a place like this?” Benny asked Dante, staring at the blue-painted wall of the posada which glared in the sun like the bottom of an empty swimming pool. Both men, from the States, had been wintering in the small Mexican town for years.
“Nobody much stays here but me,” Dante said. “I like my privacy. I’ve had a couple of bad decades.” He flicked his cig into the street and stared up at the building “It’s got a kind of peeling charm.”
Benny laughed. “Nice name for a band, Peeling Charm. What kinda music, do you suppose?”
“Ska,” Dante snorted, thinking this was funny. “No, actually, it’s probably a garagey punk pop thing, with a little prog thrown in.” Dante used to be a musician in the old days, before being sidelined by personal problems.
“If you ever start playing again, you oughta call yourselves that,” Benny said. “The Peeling Charms.”
Dante shook his head. “No, man, it’s Peeling Charm. Or more like Peeling Plaster.”
“You mean from your drinking days.” Benny snickered and coughed. “Sorry, it was a joke.”
But Dante had already moved around the corner to gawk at the posada’s south wall where a large fish was painted in bright primary colors. It sported a human-like face, smiling, in full frontal view. “It’s a little too womanly,” Dante said. “See the mouth, those lips. I’d like to revamp it.”
“Don’t even think it, man,” Benny said, following him. “That fish is so permanent, it’ll out-live the town.” It was true. The posada with the fish had been here as long as they could remember. Thus, the hotel’s name, Pescado Azul. Jorge Armando’s family had owned and lived in it for two generations. His wife’s mother, Lupita Luz, had painted the fish herself, or so the story went, to lure tourists and camera-shy individuals to the posada, giving them something to be photographed beside. And there were literally hundreds of pictures with people standing by the blue wall with the grinning fish. The posada was nearly as world-famous as Memo’s hole-in-the-wall and Dear John’s book exchange. This fish, though, looked more like it had just eaten a lure and was smiling anyway than some happy dancing canned-food logo. The shady quality lent it its charm.
“It is kinda the Mona Lisa, isn’t it?” Benny remarked, holding the flat of his hand up to cover one side of its mouth.
“It’s definitely gay,” Dante said, a phrase he used a lot from his musician days. Musicians joked about nearly everything being gay, including themselves.
A beep-beep sounded nearby and they turned just in time to avoid being plowed into by Lester on his beater bike with its tin horn. “Hola, compadres,” he said, teetering to a stop. Lester was a long, skinny man with a rope of dark hair down his back. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Benny said, waving at the wall. “We were just checking out the old gal up there to see if she’s still intact.”
“It’s a gal?” Lester asked. “I always thought--”
“Oh, could be,” Benny said. “Who knows? What’re you up to?”
Lester mopped his brow with his arm. “No mucho. Just had a beer at Memo’s with Jake and Randy I’m headed over to the pool to see if the boys are jamming. I heard they might.”
Dante stuffed his hands in his cutoffs and jingled his pesos. “Where’re you off to after that?”
“Siesta,” Lester said.
“I could use a soda,” Dante said. “I’ll walk with you to the pool.”
Benny checked the sun, now encamped behind the church spire. “Jeez, it’s getting late. I gotta run.”
“Walk,” Dante said.
“Always,” Benny said. “I’m meeting the gang at Lulu’s new place on the beach. We’re making holograms for the big shindig.”
Lester put up his hand to shade his eyes and stared at Benny. “What shindig?”
“Don’t worry, man, you’re invited. At sunset, Saturday night. Cary’s fiftieth. There’s a band and a cake and I heard even a stripper.”
“Better get her in Las Pilas,” Dante put in, “because all the strippers in Las Cruces are transvestites.”
“They know that,” Benny said.
“Well, sounds like a good time,” Lester said.
“It’s a potluck, so bring a dish. No sluffing.”
“I am a dish,” Lester said, his palms out. “Hey, girls, eat me up.” He waited. “I will bring a dish, my famous mole al fresco. It’ll move you deeply.”
“Oh, I bet,” Benny said. He walked backwards away from them and waved “I’m off.”
“Hasta,” Dante said, and strolled off beside Lester. “Nice cog’ing with ya.”