*** It’s late on this cold and cloudy afternoon where Winter Storm Helen passed well to the south so there is no snow or ice. When the Men in Black arrived, the weight of their black, bulletproof SUV furrowed Catherine’s semi-muddy driveway. With nary a word spoken, except into their ear-mics, the four MIBs dropped off Darq—and started unloading her luggage—along with half a dozen boxes.
CATHERINE waits in the kitchen and wonders what Darq purchased on her visit and interview in Mexico.***
DARQ enters the kitchen, carrying two bouquets of flowers. Semi-squealing with joy, she says: Hola! (She hugs Catherine, who hugs her back.)
CATHERINE: Welcome home!
When the two part, CATHERINE glances between the bouquets Darq holds: For me?
DARQ shakes her head: Not both. This one is for you—Gerberas Y Tulipanes. That’s Gerberas daisies and tulips. (Catherine takes the bouquet.) But this one, it’s mine. It’s a very rare Dragon’s Breath Mum—actually it’s a type of chrysanthemum. (She folds the clear plastic wrapper back for Catherine to get a better look.) You won’t believe where this lovely thing grows.
Dragon’s Breath Chrysanthemum
CATHERINE: I might venture a guess, like, ah––deep in the bowels of the Dragon’s Cave?
DARQ: Bowels is close but not in the cave. In the poop pile outside the cave. His turds are the size of medicine balls and the methane is worse than anything I ever encountered at the Ly-quetzel training base.
CATHERINE touches the flower and frowns: Is it made of paper-mache?
DARQ: No. One of the MIB guys zapped the mum with a raygun of some kind, which plasticized it. Something about the flower being a rare species and USDA regulations, or was it the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—emphasis on explosives—
CATHERINE’s brows shoot upward in surprise: The flower explodes?
DARQ shakes her head: No, not according to Father Dragon’s dwarfs. They assured the MIBs it’s just a flower-flower. Just so you know, the MIBs zapped your flowers too. That’s so they don’t violate import laws. Which also means, I get to keep this lovely mum forever and ever, like the dragon’s scale necklace.
CATHERINE: Ah, the scale necklace, I remember that. Father Dragon’s gift to you during the interview last week. Are you wearing his gift?
DARQ: No. It’s . . . (She glances around the kitchen, now filled with luggage and containers from her trip. The last of the MIBs exits with a curt nod of farewell.) Darq eyes Catherine: It’s going to take me a while to unpack and find it.
CATHERINE: You look beat.
DARQ: Blame it on the extra long flight from that storm icing up things. (She yawns.)
CATHERINE: Let this mess set. Go and get a good night’s rest and tackle this in the morning.
*** And so mid-morning the next day, DARQ enters the kitchen and slides into the booth seat. She looks as limp as a wet dish towel.
CATHERINE, sets the daily newspaper’s comic section before Darq: What can I get you? Tea? Coffee?
DARQ: What I wouldn’t give right now for a cup of saguenay. Ah, ah, ah–don’t say it— Saguenay isn’t available on Earth.
CATHERINE: It isn’t.
DARQ: Any chance you have any Royal Chocolate?
CATHERINE: I can make you cocoa, but what’s Royal Chocolate?
DARQ: It’s dark cocoa with cinnamon and a slight hint of some other spice, I think. Not sure. Father Dragon had his chefs whip up a batch saying it was “Mayan chocolate.” It had enough kick to keep me wide awake half the night. But coffee will do. Black. Strong as you can make it.
Moments later, CATHERINE sets a steaming mug of coffee in front of Darq and goes and opens a box of donuts.
DARQ yawns loudly: You know, I’ve flown back-to-back-to-back-to-back sorties and never felt fatigued like this. I have the energy of a slug.
CATHERINE, nibble a donut and bring her cup of decaf to the table: It’s called Jet Lag. It’s a planetary thing. You know— gravity, time zone changes, the delays because of the storm. Your body’s clock just needs a day or two to adjust. You’ll be fine.
DARQ looks at all suitcases and boxes in the kitchen: What’s the status on the Jewels of the Sky blog photo-shoot you wanted to do today?
CATHERINE: I had planned doing it this afternoon, but you haven’t unpacked your loot.
DARQ: My loot?
CATHERINE: You know, all the stuff tourist buy and bring back. You left here with one carry-on. (She waves a hand, encompassing the luggage and boxes in the kitchen.) You came back with a whole lot more!
DARQ: Not so much. Besides, it’s winter here and summer in Mexico. It was just better to buy what I needed down there.
CATHERINE grins: And bring it all back here.
DARQ takes a long drought of coffee, draining her cup: Nothing like caffeine. I’m feeling much better. I’m going to start unpacking my loot, as you call it. Ought to be ready for the photo shoot late this afternoon.
CATHERINE: Sounds like a plan. So tell me about the trip. What’s Cancun like? Mexico? What did you see, do?
DARQ: You want a boring itinerary?
CATHERINE: Boring to some, but not to me. Remember, I was here, in cold, frigid, snow-covered Pennsylvania.
DARQ: Envying me?
CATHERINE nods: Woman you went to the sunny Mayan Riviera and your e-mails were brief to nonexistent. Just begin with arriving in Cancun.
DARQ: All right. First, you were right, I didn’t fly commercial. I don’t know which agency the MIB borrowed the private jet from, but I had a window seat. So, when the plane circled to land, I had a great view of how flat the area was—and how sprawled out the Cancun International Airport was. White, modern cement buildings. Well, modern to your standards.
CATHERINE pours Darq another cup of coffee and gets herself a second donut: Did the MIB have a limo take you to a hotel or did you have to go through a custom’s check?
DARQ: No customs. Just dwarfs. I was met by Father Dragon’s own—a pair of dwarfs. The eldest, Tassin, had silvery-white hair, and a very bushy beard and mustache. Even his eyebrows were ultra-bushy. It’s a wonder the man could see out from under all that brow hair. (She pauses. Her voice mellows.) The other one was his son. Sessin . . .
Hearing the wistfulness in Darq’s pronunciation of Sessin, and recalling Darq’s e-mail about a bouquet Sessin had given her at the Cancun airport farewell, an inner alarm dings in Catherine’s mind. She studies Darq’s bemused smile, sees the sheen in Darq’s earth-brown eyes, the iris’s widening: Is he the guy with the dark brown hair, the one with the mustache that got singed in some kind of Father-Dragon-mishap in the kitchen? The one who wore a welder’s helmet during the interview preparations the day before your interview?
CATHERINE: Considering the reputation of Latin American men . . . Please tell me you weren’t seduced by Sessin.
DARQ sobers: No, I was not. And don’t look at me that way.
CATHERINE: What way?
DARQ slides her cup aside, sets one forearm on the table, and uses it to leverage forward. Her voice comes out military gruff: I am happily married, Catherine, but I am not blind and I certainly am not dead! I merely— Looked. He’s good looking.
DARQ inhales, seeming to fight her rising ire: And what about you?
DARQ: Yes, you. What about that box of pictures you keep in your office, the ones of men you cut out of magazines and catalogs?
CATHERINE (sputtering): Those are pictures for possible story characters. I have to see a face to describe it.
DARQ smiles like a crafty fox: And what about those posters at the bottom of the box? Kevin Sorbo as Hercules? Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard? Or Nathan Fillion as Firefly’s “Mal”—
CATHERINE (cheeks flaring a hot pink): I’m a fan! Fans get posters— How about a donut? A refill on the coffee?
DARQ (grinning) leaves the table, heading upstairs: Soon as I change, I’ll be down to unpack and help you set up the photo-shoot.
THE PHOTO SHOOT
Darq stands among her treasures (i.e. loot) brought back from her Mexico trip ~~~
DARQ: Well, Catherine, what do you think?
CATHERINE: A sombrero? How touristy can you get?
DARQ: And here I thought you’d castigate me for the blouse I bought with the “I love Mexico” logo.
CATHERINE: That’s a given. I buy tee-shirts when my husband and I go on camping trips to touristy places. No big deal, but the sombrero?
DARQ (grinning): It’s got bling!
CATHERINE: Yeah, I know. Likely enough to blitz back my camera’s flash. It’s going to be tricky photographing that sombrero on you.
DARQ: Not to worry. You’re a great photographer.
CATHERINE: I’m an amateur making do with what I have available, ye-dining room. (She then says with finality): And don’t even suggest I convert my sewing room into a photography studio. I would rather sew!
DARQ: And craft?
CATHERINE nods, then peers through the viewfinder of her Cannon EOS digital camera at Darq: Snazzy shoes.
DARQ: What, you only now notice my these shoes?
CATHERINE (trying to hide a teasing smile): Hard to miss those caution-stop-lights.
DARQ’s jaw slackens and then her brows furl: These leather shoes are not stop-light yellow, they’re mustard-gold and hand made from the finest leather.
CATHERINE, still behind the camera: At least you only bought those, the green shoes, and a couple pairs of sandals.
DARQ doesn’t reply.
CATHERINE lowers her camera and studies Darq’s face: Darq?
DARQ: I, uh, well, that is . . . (She takes a breath and whooshes out her words): I bought eight more pairs.
Although shocked, CATHERINE manages: Eight pairs? Where are the rest?
DARQ: To be shipped here.
CATHERINE: Do you realize how long it takes to get things delivered from Mexico?
DARQ: I do, but Father Dragon said he’d have his dwarfs see to it that I got the shipment before the month is out.
CATHERINE raises the camera again and looks through the viewfinder: You know you can’t wear sandals in winter.
DARQ: Of course I know that. And I know it was an impulse buy, but they were so cute and colorful.
CATHERINE: Yeah, and by the look of the things you bought, you fell for Colorful Mexico. Now—hold still and— Smile! You’re on candid camera.
DARQ: Cheeeeeezzzz. (The flash goes off once, then twice more.): I’m blind!
CATHERINE: Blame it on the bling. Now, say ‘cheese’ again. No, wait. Cookies.
DARQ: Cookies? You want me to say ‘cookies?’
CATHERINE: No. I just remembered that the one photo you e-mailed me yesterday mentioned a cookie tin. I remember seeing a green tin on the counter. What happened to it? Or did it contain something else edible?
DARQ doesn’t look directly at Catherine: I enjoyed Mexican food. The Devilfish was superb. Then there was Sessin’s Fish ‘a la Tikin-Xic, his Tepache . . . Don’t look at me like that.
CATHERINE: Like what?
DARQ: Sessin is a great chef. So is his cousin Milin. The two cook for Father Dragon!
CATHERINE: Seduced by food, huh?
DARQ’s face goes crimson under her dark skin. She clears her throat: Back to not bringing food with me. There were other considerations. One being I would have to declare fruits and such, which the MIB didn’t want to know about because that would delay our flight, something about red tape, whatever that is. Not to mention doing so might draw attention to me being in Mexico. If the news media ever latched onto that, well— Suffice to say, I only brought back the flowers.
CATHERINE: Then why did your cheeks just flush so brilliant a red?
DARQ seems to stiffen her spine: Shitfire. If you must know, Sessin gave me a tin of Butterfat Cookies at the Cancun airport. He made them especially for me, which I intended to share with you, but— I ate all the cookies.
CATHERINE, a faint disappointment tinging her words: A couple dozen cookies is no big deal.
DARQ: Five dozen. There were five dozen.
CATHERINE: Five! Geez, Darq, you’re as bad as my husband when it comes to cookies.
DARQ (brightening): Not all is lost.
CATHERINE: How so?
DARQ: Sessin gave me the recipe. (She picks up the sheepskin that’s been hiding the cookie tin. Once she has the tin open, she takes the recipe card our and hands it to Catherine.
CATHERINE takes the card, reads it, and her jaw slackens: This is a butter cookie recipe, one I make a couple times a year!
DARQ: Small world.
CATHERINE: Evidently. Now let me finish taking the close-ups. (She sets the card on the dining room table) and readies her camera. When finished with the photo-taking, and Darq is stacking her souvenirs, Catherine hears Darq humming a tune and asks: What song are you humming?
DARQ: It’s Mexicanisimo–the traditional farewell song—
Mexicano soy asi, soy amoroso, soy feliz
soy Mexicano, cariñoso frenesi
Mexicano hasta morir
vivo la vida sin sufrir
soy amigo, tengo mucho gusto y qué?
CATHERINE: Pity I don’t understand Spanish.
DARQ: Trust me, it sounds much better in Spanish—
Mexican, I am like this, I am loving, I am happy
I am Mexican, loving frenzy,
Mexican to death,
I live the life without suffering,
I am a friend, I am pleased, so what?
CATHERINE: Definitely, give me the Spanish version anytime! (She chuckles). How about one more picture?
DARQ: No thanks. You have what you need for the blog. Besides, I had scads of photos taken of me and the flowers and the dwarfs, sightseeing, the tours to the Mayan pyramids. I need to get them organized into a digital album.
CATHERINE: You bought a camera?
DARQ: No, I used a cell phone the MIBs gave me. One that links to what they called The Cloud—whatever that is. Say, how about you make another pot of coffee and I’ll fetch the phone. We’ll sit and sip and I’ll show you all my pictures.
CATHERINE: All your pictures? How many are we talking about?
DARQ: Two hundred and twenty some. (Darq heads upstairs to get the phone.)
CATHERINE mutters to Darq’s back: Why does everyone who takes a trip feel the need to show EVERY PHOTO they took?
Postscript from DARQ: For those who want to know more about my blog-visit to Mexico, go to Father Dragon’s blog at http://fatherdragon.blogspot.mx/ and scroll down to the interview of January 10 (and do read the January 9th entry about the preparations for the interview and meet the dwarves).
To view the Mexican sights, and others, in Cancun, check out:
Cancun International Airport (Quintana Roo, Mexico)
Grand Velas Riviera Maya
–my hotel. Very decadent. My room: Zen Grande Suite, Jungle Section, which included a pool! The hard wood floors gleamed, and I loved the dark red colors of the bedspread and curtains.
Xcaret, the archeological park
Tulum, the ancient walled city
Xel-Ha – http://www.xcaret.com/
Plaza Caracol, Cancun
–shopping/tourist attraction (from which I bought my sombrero, Mayan Sunrise rug, and my clothes for the Father Dragon interview)
***Here are links to music that I liked:
Classical Mexican Music:
Wishing you all the best—