Sandy is a Spider is a novelette of eight chapters, posted over eight week days -- by me, your dactylographically ambitious host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Both of my son's incisors are breaking through the gum at the same time which is a fun-filled and hilarious state of affairs. Indeed, the way he screams through the night on account of it hurting his mouth when he tries to eat brings me back to the heady nostalgia of four months ago -- when he had colic.
Soon he will no longer look like Gollum when he smiles. Turn, turn, turn.
Enough rambling. I am so very tired. Let's do this thing.
And now, today's chapter:
Sandy and Ryan were led to a table by the patio-lantern guilded edge of the Yum Caax Restaurant, the only non-buffet option offered to guests of Ensenada de Arcos Iris Villas & Resort. The centrepiece of the space was an intimidating statue of a fierce warrior with what looked like a cat's head crouching on top of his human face. The warrior appeared to be carved from dark wood but was, in fact, fabricated from fibreglass.
"Who's that?" Sandy asked.
"Yum Caax," replied Ryan breezily, pulling out her chair for her. "A god of the hunt."
"He doesn't look very happy." Sandy sat down. "Thanks."
"Hunting requires focus, I imagine." Ryan took his seat and then appraised his companion across the candle-lit table. Her long chestnut chair was down, pushed casually behind her shoulders; she wore a yellow dress, chaste but fitted. "You look ravishing, Sandy. Will anyone else be joining us?"
"Um, no," she smiled hesitantly, touching her glasses. "Just me. Disappointed?"
They dawdled over their menus, Ryan staring fixedly at the pages while Sandy glanced up and down, anxious to seize the next cue for how to proceed. The names of the dishes failed to mean anything to her. Her gaze flicked across the beach, hanging on a couple walking hand in hand, their pants rolled up out of reach of the sussurussing surf.
She turned back to see Ryan watching her. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" he said.
"There's nothing like a tropical sunset."
"That's so true," she agreed readily. The sun had sunk behind a bank of thick, sagging cumulus clouds, illuminating them from within with a ruddy, golden glow. "This is the first time I've ever been to Mexico."
"Oh yes. I won this trip -- or earned it, I suppose. It's a reward for performance from the office; also, their not-so-subtle way of forcing me to take a vacation. And I'm glad they did." He looked at Sandy warmly. "What about you, Sandy? What brings you to Quintana Roo?"
Sandy covered the birthmark on her right cheek as she looked down. "Oh, my family just thought I could use a rest. You know: things get crazy sometimes."
"You have a stressful job?"
"Not really. I'm just a teller. A bank teller, I mean. But I've been on a leave of absence, um, looking after my husband. He was very ill."
"But you've come alone? He's not well enough to travel?"
"He passed away, actually."
"Oh sweet Jesus, I'm so sorry," said Ryan, reaching across the table and touching her hand. "I didn't mean to open a painful subject. Forgive me, Sandy."
"Nevermind. I'm sorry."
"Never be sorry," he said lightly. "Girls who are both kind and pretty have no cause. Do you mind if I select a wine for us?"
"I'm not pretty. Um. Go ahead, about the wine. Um, thanks."
Ryan chose a Chilean Merlot which arrived promptly. He swirled a dollop in the bottom of his glass, sniffed it. "Very nice," he told the waiter, giving the nod to fill the lady's glass and then his own.
Sandy played with the stem of her glass, watching ruby reflections from the wine slide on the tablecloth. "So...what kind of work do you do?"
"I work in adoption, actually -- arranging connections between orphaned children and prospective parents. I don't want to go on and on about it, but let me just say it's very rewarding work. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Every day is another chance to touch someone's life for the better."
"That's a wonderful thing to do," said Sandy. "God -- my job makes no difference for anybody. I have a sneaking suspicion I'm going to be replaced by one of those new automated tellers any day now."
"What's an automated teller?" asked Ryan, folding his hands and leaning forward with frank fascination.
Sandy blushed at his interest. "Oh, it's just a stupid thing -- a machine that gives out cash. They have an experimental one at our branch and it's always broken."
"Maybe I've seen them, never paid attention."
"They say they'll be everywhere soon."
"Isn't that something? You can't stop the future, can you? Back in New York they're moving all of us over to computers now. You'd think the office would be quieter without all those typewriters, but it's just as loud -- with people swearing at their computers."
Sandy laughed. "I bet. We're moving to computers, too, at the bank. It's such a headache. Did you say you work in New York?"
"Yes. Our offices are in Manhattan."
"Wow," said Sandy. "I've never been to New York."
"It's a spectacular city," Ryan assured her. "Where are you from, Sandy?"
"Just a little place called Sackville. Outside of Halifax."
"That's in Nova Scotia, right? In Canada?"
"Beautiful country up there."
They sipped their wine and were considering entrees when a young, sun-burned couple approached their table. "Mr. Billing!" said the woman, smiling. "We were just going back to our villa and we saw you and thought we'd say hi. And thank you."
Ryan stood up. "Why don't you join us for a glass of wine? This is Sandy, a fellow Canadian. Sandy, these are the Cuthbertsons, from Ontario."
"We don't want to interrupt your dinner," said the man, offering Sandy his hand to shake. He was muscular, and filled with a certain anxious energy that caused him to continually shift his weight from one foot to the other.
"Nonsense," said Ryan. "I've been helping out Kate and Jules with an adoption situation, Sandy. I know I'm on vacation but -- well, I just couldn't help it. They've had such a run of bad luck."
"We really appreciate everything you've done," gushed Kate. "I've been on the phone with my mother all afternoon, and so we should have that certified cheque ready for you by tomorrow."
Ryan nodded. "The important thing is that we've started processing the application. I had the papers you signed couriered off to New York this morning."
"This is so exciting," said Kate.
"Why don't you sit down?" Ryan invited again, reaching for a spare chair.
"No no," said Jules, shaking his head. "Enjoy your dinner. We'll talk tomorrow."
"It was nice to meet you, Sandra," added Kate.
"Have a nice night," said Sandy. As the couple departed she said to Ryan, "They seem nice."
"I'm expediting their adoption process, putting it through our own private screeners. It costs a bit more, but it'll save them a lot of hassle in the end. They're trying so desperately to build a family -- I just couldn't leave them hanging. It's my job, after all."
"That's very kind of you," said Sandy. "It must be amazing to be able to help people like that."
"It makes me feel good as a Christian," agreed Ryan earnestly.
Sandy touched her crucifix absently. "Do you have kids?"
"You know, it's funny," said Ryan, eyes cast out over the darkening water. "I spend all my time helping people put happy families together, but I don't have one of my own." He turned back and shrugged. "I suppose I'm a bit of a workaholic. I never seem to find the time to meet someone."
"That's too bad," said Sandy.
"Let's not brood," he interrupted, raising his hand. "We're having a nice dinner. We're in paradise. Aren't we supposed to leave our problems back home? In fact, I propose a toast."
Sandy picked up her glass and held it aloft, watching him expectantly.
"To new friends, and helping make dreams come true," pronounced Ryan seriously.
"To new friends," echoed Sandy. They drank.
After dinner they took the meandering way back to the villas, walking along the beach and then among the fragrant gardens tended by elusive Maya in matching polo shirts who bowed out of sight at the sound of Ryan and Sandy's footfalls on the flagstones, keeping to the shadows like faeries.
"I think there's somebody in the bushes," whispered Sandy.
"Don't worry. He probably works here."
"Do you speak Spanish?"
"Yes, but they don't."
"What do they speak?"
At the walkway between the rows of villas they slackened their pace. "I had a really nice time tonight, Ryan," she said, swinging her purse distractedly.
"I think that's the first time you've said my name, Sandy."
He could feel her blush, even in the dark. "I guess we're even now, huh?"
"I'm still in your debt, for your fine company tonight," said Ryan breezily. "I'm not trying to push anything on you, but -- you know, I'm around. If you ever need a friend, I mean."
"That's very nice of you."
"As a matter of fact I'm thinking about taking a tour to see the ruins at Xcaret tomorrow. Have you already been?"
"I haven't, actually."
"Well, think about it. You know where I'll be. But there's no pressure: you're on vacation -- do whatever suits you best."
He bowed courteously and then turned toward the walkway to his villa. Suddenly remembering something Sandy wrenched open her purse and fished around inside. "I still have your key!" she called.
Ryan paused. "Ah, yes. I'd been wondering where I left it."
"I'm sorry. I guess I just wasn't thinking, earlier, when I had it in my hand. I'm so stupid. I hope I didn't cause you a big problem."
"Not at all. The front desk loaned me a spare."
Ryan waited patiently until Sandy stepped closer and held out the key. He took it gingerly, allowing their fingers to briefly meet. Sandy shivered, then looked around awkwardly. "So, goodnight I guess. Thanks again. And sorry about the key."
"Goodnight, dear Sandy. And God bless."
Sandy waved, hid behind her hair, and scurried up the walkway to her own villa. Ryan watched her go, a smirk flickering across his lips an instant before he turned on heel and sauntered home.
After a brief lull six short Maya materialized from the shrubbery and resumed sweeping the walk.