Travels in Central America
by Clancy Martin, recommended by The Milan Review
EDITOR’S NOTE by Tim Small
This excerpt is taken from Clancy Martin’s Travels in Central America, a novella that constitutes the entirety of the third issue of The Milan Review, which also goes by the title The Milan Review of Adultery. This is because Clancy’s lightning-speed novella deals, primarily, with an adulterous love affair. It also talks about alcoholism, self-destruction, and what it means to love. The excerpt we’re running here takes place around twenty pages into the book, when the protagonist, Brett, a recovering alcoholic writer living in Mexico, has already begun a love affair with her husband’s banker, Eduard. Her husband is called Paul. They have two kids. Clancy Martin, a man, wrote a novella narrated from the perspective of an adulterous woman. Which, in my book, is pretty brave. Then again: I am scared of amusement parks, so there.
Clancy’s writing always struck me as being my favorite kind, which, I guess, is the reason why I ran his work in every issue of The Milan Review. I like it because it is transparent, it is smart, it is fast, it is true, it makes no apologies for itself, it isn’t self-aware or gimmicky, it doesn’t close into itself, it doesn’t explain, it simply shows you things and people and it hits you in unexpected ways and it cuts deep. And it does all that not so much because of the way it uses language to tell a story, but because of what that story is, of what characters inhabit it, and of what kind of moral world this entails. And that is not to say that the language is used rashly. On the other hand: it is calculated precisely, the sentences built so that the story flies by you and carries you with it, but then it occasionally stops and clocks you around the side of the head with something you hadn’t even considered possible. And it does all this without the slightest bit of pomposity.
Every time I read something by Clancy I feel as if I’m a little more grown-up. I feel as if I’ve had access to a sensibility that, while being different from mine — or maybe precisely because of it — allows me to relate to a whole new way of being a person, which is, in my mind, exactly what literature should do.
Editor, The Milan Review
Travels in Central America
Excerpted from the novella
“IT’S ONLY THREE NIGHTS, Brett. He’s my banker.”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I want to meet him. I’m glad he’s coming. I understand. It’s just that I am barely back from Cancun. And now you’ve invited a friend to stay. Not a friend. Your banker.”
“Brett, it’s not like I called him up. He has an appointment in town with Sergio.” Sergio was one of Eduard’s partners, and he handled all of our family banking. He actually looked like I remembered Eduard looking. “It’s business. I don’t want him to stay in a hotel. It’d be different if we had a place here.”
“What is your problem with Eduard?”
“I don’t have a problem, it just seems a bit odd to have him staying in our home. Did he ask to stay with us?”
Eduard and I had been talking on the phone almost every night. He texted me during the day. We wrote long emails.
It had snuck up on me. He’d come down to Tulum after the weekend with Sadie in Cancun.
It should have been a one-night thing, but we had both become fanatical at the same time. I was amazed at my own weakness.
“I told you. I invited him to stay here.”
“I couldn’t exactly tell him how long he’s allowed to stay.”
“Your dad’s going to be in town at the same time. It’s not going to be very nice for him. He wants all of us to spend time together.”
“My dad can’t expect us to drop everything every time he comes to town. He doesn’t expect us to.”
“Whatever. I’m just asking for a bit of help.”
“You’re asking for a bit of help.”
“I don’t like your tone, Paul.”
“I’ve had the kids all by myself for weeks, and you don’t like my tone.”
I didn’t remind him that the whole time I’d been gone, I was checking on his properties. I didn’t say he’d had Bella, his mom, and his eldest son helping him, but I thought it. The more in the wrong I was, the easier it was for me to feel indignant. But I knew I was not in a position of leverage.
And of course I wanted Eduard to stay at our house.
“You’re supposed to be off work for at least a few days. It’s Christmas. I don’t know why he has to come during the holiday. It’s just not considerate.”
“I don’t set his schedule, Brett. Jesus. This is all part of expanding our properties.”
We had bought several hotels in resort locations a year before — some in excellent condition, some a mess — and we were still deep in renovations on a big place in Guatemala and a beachfront place in Panama. Paul’s family had lots of money, but Paul had to make his own money, naturally.
“We have plenty of money,” I said. “We can live on the income from your trusts if we just turn over Los Imperealos. Just the way it is you can sell. Or let’s have a party and bring some private people in. That’s what your mom did. She always says. Private investors.”
“I’m not ready for this fight again,” Paul said. “I promise while he’s in town I will make time to be home. I wish he weren’t coming. Nobody wishes that more than I do. And Bella can take care of all the meals — or we’ll go out.”
“No,” I said, “have it your way, Paul. If he’s coming, he’s coming. We’ll do it properly.”
I had lived in Mexico for twelve years, but I had never made love to a Mexican man before. Most of the other ex-pats of a certain age had affairs with young Mexican men and I thought it was obvious. “Torreador,” Viola called hers; Becky’s nickname for hers was “Rabbit.” I tried “The Goat” on Eduard but it never stuck. His name was always Eduard. His features were masculine: he had rough skin around his cheeks, his shoulders were broad, and he was not muscled but he was beautifully shaped and he was tall. He had been a boxer when he was in high school and college, and sometimes he’d stand on the bed and use my arms from behind to show me how to throw punches. He was awkward though and I knew many of my friends would be surprised if they knew. On the outside there was something about the two of us, if you looked at us, that didn’t quite fit. But he would stop in windows and hold me and say: “Now that’s a beautiful couple” or “Look at the young lovers,” and kiss me. He could hold me by the back of the neck and toss me like a puppy. When he wore one of his suits and it was the cocktail hour and he took his first drink, my stomach turned, even after I knew him a year.
We could talk on the phone for five hours. One morning we started talking at just after eight and didn’t get off the phone until he had to go home at six my time. He asked unexpected questions that made me see everything from a perspective that I had not even imagined before. It sounds insincere, but he worried about Paul and the boys. One night, on the phone with him, in the car on the way back from the grocery store, I broke down crying and said, “I’m a terrible wife. I’m as bad as everyone says.” He said, “Don’t flatter yourself. You’re no better and no worse than anyone else.”
Sometimes, after we’d had an argument, he’d leave the hotel room and come back with a cut cheek, bruised ribs or a split lip. He was a grown man but he’d go get in a street brawl, in his suit and tie. I was never physically afraid of him. He was the most intimate lover I’ve ever had. “I listen to you,” he’d tell me, when I asked him how he knew to do the things he did.
He didn’t believe me when I told him I had a past.
“Well, I won’t let you read my new book,” I said. It was a book I had been working on for five years, and would never finish. “You’ll think I slept with half of New York, and every-able bodied cowboy in Texas. Of course those were my drinking days. Most of that was before I met Paul. I mean it was all before Paul. Or before Paul and I were serious. There was one guy, a lawyer. I forgot his name. This was a decade ago. He was a friend of Paul’s. We were out at lunch, and when Paul left the table, I told him we should have a French affair. I suggested we meet in the afternoons for sex.”
“Sounds like a good deal for him.” Eduard didn’t like to hear about my former lovers. But I didn’t care. It wasn’t a casual affair and I wanted him to know me.
“He wanted to meet at his apartment. He was too cheap to pay for a hotel. I stood outside of his building for nearly an hour, wearing a new dress and these stupid Chanel sunglasses — ”
“I love those sunglasses.”
“Well. I finally called him. He didn’t answer. Then I got a text message. It said, ‘I forgot this is my laundry day. I only get one day a week to do laundry. Maybe next week?’”
“I don’t believe you.”
“That was the text. Word for word.”
“Did you meet with him the next week?”
I bit him on the shoulder.
“You honestly think I would meet with him after that?”
“I don’t even know why I’m asking. I don’t want to know.”
“He was astonishing. He had a whole toolbox. It was better than a porn movie.” I said it with a straight face. I was the one who’d introduced him to YouPorn. It took me a while to convince him I was joking. I said, “All of the women over twenty-seven are whores.” Of course I might have just been talking about myself.
I was chubby as a kid. My mother told me, “Don’t worry your time will come.” Once, on an airplane, flying to Copenhagen where my grandmother is from, a handsome man sitting beside me spread a blanket across my legs and his own. My mom was asleep right next to me. Everyone had their chairs all the way back. I had closed my eyes. The man slipped his hand under the blanket onto my knee, and then slowly worked up to my thigh. I was wearing jeans and after fifteen minutes or so with his hand between my legs, he unbuttoned them.
“Did you come?” Eduard asked me. “How old were you? How old was he?”
“Oh this was just a few years ago,” I said. I knew he had pictured me as fifteen or sixteen in the story. “He was about your age, I’d guess. He had a beard and a nice tan. He had wrinkles at the corners of his eyes.”
“Did he ask for your number? Did he say anything? He must have known you were awake.”
“No, he just pretended like nothing had happened. I watched him get off the plane. I waited for him to look back.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“He didn’t,” I said. “Of course.”
I did not tell him about the time I was in London. I had been drinking and I was unhappy. An American man came up to me and said, “I’ll give you fifty pounds to suck my cock.” He had been drinking too. He was handsome and I went to my knees. He couldn’t come, and I started to give up. Then he took me by my hair and one arm and pulled me into an alleyway. He pushed me over a trashcan, pushed up my dress and pulled down my panties.
“I didn’t say you could fuck me,” I said. “You shouldn’t be doing it like this.”
He said, “You’re right,” and raped me in the ass.
There a lot of stories like that. Once I begin, I want to tell them all.
Sitting here in a small, borrowed room in Galveston, I want to forget the whole history of Brett and Eduard and tell each and every one of my other love stories and lies. But there are things I can never tell anybody.
“I have most of what we need,” I said. I was making dinner for Eduard, who had arrived that morning. It was a warm day. I had the windows in the kitchen open and you could smell the flowers from the courtyard, the wet flagstones and our big cypress trees.
“But what don’t you have?” Paul asked. He took a handful of grapes, and Eduard stood in the doorway to the kitchen. He wore a T-shirt and a pair of jeans.
“Some onions and carrots, a leek, two bottles of red wine, and something for everyone to drink. Some limes for your dad? Gatorade if they have some, and maybe tonic water.”
Paul and Eduard went to the grocery store. I hadn’t been able to look at Eduard yet. If I could drink it would be easier. I broke down and went up to the medicine cabinet for some of Paul’s father’s klonopins. I took three, which might have been too many. When Paul came back half an hour later, I was relaxed. He put the bags one the counter and put his arms around me and kissed the nape of my neck. I said, “Where’s Eduard?”
“He’s in the car,” he said. “I remembered egg noodles and thyme.”
“Why doesn’t he come in?”
“I invited him to the races. Also I think he picked up on your feelings about his visit. He said he would switch to a hotel.”
“That’s crazy. Should I go out and get him?”
“No, let’s just leave him alone.” I didn’t know whether or not Paul had any suspicions about me and Eduard but I complained about him as often as I could.
“He is high maintenance. No more weeklong visits for Eduard.”
“He just got here, for crying out loud.”
“You haven’t been cooking the past eight hours.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just because he doesn’t have kids. He’s practically a kid himself. He has to be entertained all the time. Speaking of. I’m late.”
“You forgot the wine.”
“Shit. I did. Do you need me to go out again and get it?”
“Okay, it’s just that we’ll be late.”
“I don’t want to interrupt the boys’ games with the ingredients for their dinner.”
He kissed my forehead. “I’ll go.”
I knew that I could get the wine while his dad watched the kids. Or his dad could get it. Or the kids and I could get it. But for some reason I felt indignant.
I didn’t think, well, after all, I’m making dinner for my lover, who is staying in our home. Or, if I did think that, I thought as quickly, “There is no way for Paul to know that.”
I said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t make a daube without wine.”
Later Eduard often told me: “That day with the wine, when Paul and I had to make two trips. That’s when I knew you were in the wrong relationship.”