There were papers and matches in the wood box and he laid the fire, checked the damper, and lit the papers. Within five minutes flames were leaping from the wood and the chill that had crept in was gone. When he looked through the glass wall it was almost dark. Only a faint afterglow hung beyond the distant peaks. He could smell the cooking coming from the kitchen and wondered what they would eat and hoped it would not be Iguana. They said it was like chicken but people said that about all kinds of bizarre food from animals.
This is all very surreal, he thought. A beautiful woman has had me kidnapped, threatened to kill me, and is now cooking us supper. Whatever the rite of passage, I must have passed.
A few minutes later she came in by the fire carrying two plates with food, rice and beans and slabs of a white meat covered with cooked vegetables.
“Pollo, —chicken,” she announced.
“Tree chicken or ground chicken?” he asked with a smirk.
She set the plates down on the dining table. “True pollo,” she said. “But it wouldn’t matter. They taste much the same.”
Then she ordered him to follow her to the kitchen. There she gathered silverware and napkins from a drawer and told him to open a cupboard and choose a wine. “One to be good with chicken. I don’t know about vinos,” she said.
He was amazed. There were forty or fifty bottles laying on their sides, separated, whites from reds. He thought about a Chardonnay but decided on Pinot Noir. Among the reds, he found a nineteen seventy-eight Chambolle Musinay Bonnes Mares. He was astounded to find such a premium wine and thought it was too good for chicken but then realized he had no idea what would be after tonight. The Dragon Lady had brought two wine glasses from a cupboard and laid a corkscrew on the counter.
He opened the bottle and sniffed the open neck. “You know vino, pretty teacher?” she asked.
“Quite a bit. I traveled in France one summer during my college vacation.”
“This is a good vino?” she asked.
“Excellent. How is it that you have it here?”
“It is not for you to know, pretty teacher.”
She went to the dining table and placed the napkins and silverware. He followed with the two wine glasses and the bottle. During dinner when she sipped her wine she looked at him over the rim of her glass with desiring eyes and he felt the flush come again. The only light in the room was from the fire and then he realized there was light from a bulb in the kitchen.
“How is it you have electricity?” he asked.
“Too many questions from you teacher,” she replied.
When they finished eating she got up and went by the fire carrying her wine glass. “Bring the wine and come where it is warmer,” she ordered.
She took a cushion from a chair and sat on the floor. He found another cushion and slipped down next to her and poured some more wine into her glass and drained the bottle into his. They sat, without speaking, for several minutes watching the capricious dancing of the flames, sipping their wine. It was not long before the urgency was with them both.
She spoke first. “You said you were a real man, pretty teacher. I think now it is time for you to prove it.” She stood up and began to disrobe. “The bedroom?” he asked.
“No, aqui —here, now!” she commanded.
He had been with four women before, two girls at college, clumsy first times for each, and later a prostitute in Boston and recently another in San Pedro, both too perfunctory. He had wondered if sex with a woman was not to be the exquisite pleasure he had anticipated. But now, with the woman he chose to call the Dragon Lady, it was different, warm and generous with no questioning or guilt.
She was the first to get up, rising slowly stretching up like a cat. She looked down at him and smiled and he looked back and thought there could be no woman on earth with a body as beautiful.
“It is time for the bed now,” she said. “Time for sleep. Put the screen for the fire and come to bed.” And she walked away to turn off the kitchen light and then close the bathroom door behind her. For the first time, he realized the pistol was nowhere in sight.
He was asleep when she slid in next to him. When he awoke he was alone. He could hear her in the kitchen and see the morning light through the window. Even though he needed to use the bathroom he did not get up for several minutes. There had been a frustrating dream he had been glad to leave. It was still vivid to his recall and he felt compelled to search for a significance.
He had stepped out of a forest into a clearing. In the sky far off an airplane had begun to stall and suddenly it fell straight down beyond a hill. There was no sound but it must have crashed and then black smoke had curled up from behind the hill. He had stood watching and thinking what he should do. Other people must have seen it, people much closer to where it fell, he had reasoned. They would not need him and there had been no way to communicate. In his mind he had known he was fearful to witness the carnage and he had no training for dealing with such a disaster. But, after a few moments, he had started to run through the fields toward the hill, determined to do whatever he could to help. His legs seemed to be made of lead, he could barely lift them. Then suddenly the hill, which had seemed so far, was right in front of him. He had labored to the crest, fearful of what he would see, but he was certain there would be others and he would do what he could. At last he had stood on the summit and looked down and there had been nothing but fields as far as his eyes could see.
He lay a few more moments unable to sense a meaning and then he got up naked and walked quietly into the bathroom.
She heard him and left the kitchen holding a terry cloth robe like the one wrapped around her. When he came out she held the robe out to him looking only at his face.
“Here pretty teacher. Put this on,” she said. “Breakfast is ready. We will eat outside on the balcony and talk.” —-
He carried their tray of breakfasts from the kitchen following her to the sliding door in the wall of glass. When he stepped outside he was astonished to find the balcony was cantilevered over a deep gorge. At the base of the gorge a river with pockets of white water cavorted southward. He could see boulders rising up through the foam. He set the tray on a bistro table and waited for her to sit in one of the two chairs before he sat down opposite her. He sipped his glass of orange juice and stared out at the clouds and the mountains.
“Eat your eggs and gallo pinto before they get too cold,” he heard her say and for a moment he thought it was his mother’s voice. Then he realized and smiled.
He looked at the tangled yellow of the scrambled eggs and the rice and beans on his plate steaming in the cool morning air and thought about summer mornings at the cottage on Lake Michigan and wondered when that might be again. What if she were to come home with him or follow later and they would get married and he could teach and they would have a couple of kids. He knew his family would accept her and his friends too and wherever they went people would look at her and think what a knockout.
She watched him eat and sensed his far away thoughts and asked, “What is it in your mind, pretty teacher?”
“Nothing really. What did you think of the United States when you studied there?”
“I was only in Florida. The weather was the same but there were too many people and too many cars. Everything was too fast.”
“It’s different where I live.” He said. “It’s a small town not much bigger than San Lucas and we have four kinds of weather; cool and wet in the spring with trees getting leaves and the grass and flowers beginning to grow, and the summer is warm and sunny like here, and then there is the fall when it gets slowly colder and the green leaves of the trees turn red and yellow and drop to the ground. Winter starts just before Christmas, Navidad. It gets quite cold from late Deciembre until the end of Marzo and we have snow, nieve.”
“I would like to see snow,” she said. “It is very cold to have snow?”
“Sometimes fifteen below zero, diaz menos centigrado.”
“Oh! So cold. How do you stay warm in the time of snow?”
“We dress with heavy coats, boots and gloves and hats.”
“I think I would like to see snow but not stay long when it comes with such cold,” she declared.
She left the table and went to the kitchen. He sat staring at nothing, thinking about their cultural divide. He knew he would probably remember her for a long time and that would have to be enough. He had been thinking of her as a trophy, someone to show off. This was her land. She would never leave and he saw his future with another woman someday, far from here, in the United States, in his own culture. But for now he would take what was offered and hope things ended well.
The Dragon Lady came back with a steaming pot of coffee and poured their mugs full. They sat quiet now watching hawks sail in and out of the shape shifting clouds and listening to the faint rolling sound of the river far below.
“You like the river, pretty teacher?” she asked.
“Yes, rivers, lakes, oceans, all bodies of water.”
“Good. I will make some almurezo and we will go down to the river later and eat. We can also swim. I know a trail.”
Later that morning she packed a hamper of cold chicken sandwiches and fruit, melon, bananas, and watermelon and told him to pick a wine.
The trail was only a narrow path serpentining down the side of the gorge. She went first and cautioned him several times at particularly precarious spots. He heard the rising sound of the rapids and wondered where they could swim safely. At the bottom of the gorge the trail broke out onto a flat area of boulders and sand with the river just ahead only lightly turbulent now in a broad channel. She set the hamper down on the stretch of sand close to the water, took out a folded piece of oilcloth, and laid it out placing the plate of chicken and the fruit at the center. Next she removed the knife from the sheath on her hip and handed it to him.
“Cut the fruit into sections, pretty teacher,” she ordered.
He did as she told him, noting she had been comfortable to give him the knife and wondering if she had the pistol in the hamper. The air just above and over the river was filled with the flutter of butterflies; red and black, vivid yellow, and blue morphos. He caught sight of a toucan winging along the far shore. He laid the slices of fruit, rind down, on the oilcloth and placed the two bananas next to them. She divided the chicken pieces onto two waxed plates and handed one to him.
“Cut your chicken into pieces to eat and give the knife back to me,” she told him.
They began to eat when she looked at him and smiled. “And what about the vino, teacher?” she asked.
“I put it in the hamper but I’m afraid I forgot the corkscrew.” She handed him the bottle and then the opener.
“Was last night too much for your memory, pretty teacher?” she said. “What good vino did you chose?”
“A nineteen eighty three Gewurztraminer from Alsace, in France. It’s very good,” he declared. “I don’t suppose now you could tell me how you have so much good wine.”
“No,” she answered.