HourglassShort Story by:
After graduating, I spent ten years working for various scumbags, morons, petty despots. A couple service industry gigs, intern at a PR firm, camming, some freelance production assistance. None of it really made any difference in my debt, financial or cosmic. But then a friend got me a job in the environmental resources department at city government. Everyone who worked there was a thousand years old. One of them was a lady named Linda Hoftstedt. She sat next to me. Every day I would spend the whole afternoon completely dissociating while staring at her poofy grey hair sticking above the cubicle wall. We eventually got to know each other. She was from a place called Woonsocket, Rhode Island, but had lived here for like 50 years. She was really easy to talk to and you could tell she actually cared about people. We became drinking buddies. By that I don’t mean we went to happy hour after work. No, no. Whenever we prepped our lunchtime rum and cokes—she pouring the flask, me on lookout—she would say in a high-volume whisper: “Remember Mercedes, a meal without a sweet is a story without a moral!” She didn’t know it but she was the closest thing I had to a best friend.
About a year after I started working there is when I started meeting with Arquímedes. His dumbass is always late, which is ironic because Arquímedes is always wearing that stupidass puka shell necklace. The one with the little hourglass. So I was standing there by the empty trellis, I think you know the one, and I lit my third cigarette. Smacked one of the stucco columns. I pictured the sun dappling me through the bougainvillea on the trellis, but there was no bougainvillea and there was no sun. Then I thought about the time when I was 10 or 11 and a jellyfish stung me a few blocks down. How, instead of pain, I felt like it gave me some kind of super power. I walked up to this little boy I didn’t know who was poking seaweed with a stick and asked him, “You wanna go behind the lifeguard tower?” How, in the middle of him peeing on my leg, he started crying.
By that point Arquímedes was a half hour late. I almost didn’t care; the skinny palms curved by wind and salt looked so good against that velvet sky! The knotted seagrapes, the pink promenade. The fine-ass Jamaican dude with like, a dozen abs rollerblading by. (I could tell he was Jamaican because he had this big Jamaican flag wrapped around his shoulders.) I almost hoped Arquímedes wouldn’t show, that’s how hard I was vibing. Some kids passed a bowl around in the alley of that condemned Art Deco chateau. Is that what you used to call it? A chateau? The stormwater pump was humming and its spray was balletic as fuck. I took out my phone and considered texting Arquímedes but instead I decided to scroll, then scroll some more.
His purple polo appeared in my peripheral. Tight grey sweatpants, Comme des Garçons, his beard a huge hornet’s nest of pubes. He’s got this silver cap on one of his canines that twinkles whenever he grins his gravelly “Oyeee?” Kisses me on the cheek. I simulate a smile. He looks me up and down and grunts approval, same as every time, and I harangue him for being a dog, a piece of shit. “Dis-cul-pame bay-bee.” I don’t hate him even though I want to.
We crossed the street for dinner at the restaurant attached to the hotel. The building used to be cake yellow with seafoam ziggurats along the edges. Now it was all white like every other building. We sat catty corner at a table on the patio and browsed the menus. I already knew what I wanted so I peeked over the hard plastic. His eyes were glassy, each nostril a rose of broken capillaries, big ass shit-grin. I went to high school with the puta. We never talked—he had his boujee clique, my tribe was the skaters stoned all the time. Senior year everyone talked about how his dad killed a horse.
Arquímedes’ family lived in Horse Country down in Kendall. Back then it was all huge estates and farmland. All the families were rich and had cooks. They made picadillo and fed it to the fat boys. They folded the fat boys’ laundry, tucked them into bed. Then they’d go to their closet-size quarters, clutch their rosaries and pray for their husbands, the tomato pickers and alpaca shavers. One of the rumors was that the horse his dad killed belonged to a neighbor who was his main competition in the chicken seed market. Another rumor was that it belonged to a mistress he was trying to send a message to. Everyone agreed on one detail: He’d killed it with his bare hands. How the fuck do you kill a horse with your bare hands?
All those years later I was sitting at my computer when the memory popped into my mind. It was so random. I googled “horse murder horse country miami” and was surprised to find a number of articles. Arquímedes’ grandfather was a pharma executive with a show horse named Fantasia. His son, Arquímedes’ father, was convicted of arranging the killing for insurance money. There was speculation about what really happened, since the payout was just a drop in their bucket. One blogger suspected that the grandfather, who’d gone senile, had actually ordered the killing. Supposedly the family had previously blackballed Arquímedes’ father (I forget why) and in exchange for taking the fall, he was allowed back in. I never asked Arquímedes about it. Soon after reading the articles is when I had the idea that would make us mucho fuckin’ dinero.
We ordered daiquiris. “Do you want the totopos? You want the totopos don’t you?” He’s so annoying. We sipped the daiquiris and snacked on the chips without saying much to each other. I watched him flip his hourglass, then locked eyes with the lemon wedge pinned to the sky. “Minuteglass,” he’d corrected me once. Gave me a sour look after I told him to shut the fuck up. I just can’t with him sometimes.
Another round of drinks and we were in his SUV. He was parked next to the library, under the lone lamp of the parking lot. Mom used to turn into there when she needed to get high. “Time for a pit stop,” she’d say. Do you remember that? To be honest I was glad when Arquímedes pulled out of there with a little screech. He drove slowly down a side street behind the Walgreens. Three parrots shifted on their perch, the fronds lightly rasping as they watched. “Where are you going?” I asked. He said he needed to see somebody.
Arquímedes parked and got out, walked through a gate, and disappeared. I put the window down because the car smelled like Cohibas and Axe Body Spray. The bouquet always gave me a shot of teenage nostalgia, that funny mix of nausea and longing. I lit a cigarette I didn’t want. Halfway through he was back.
“This lady is crazy. You text her what you want. You show up at her crib, she buzzes you in. It’s just you in this Florida room, right? The door that goes into the house—that shit is reinforced steel. And there’s lockers on one side? Like the small ones in middle school.”
“You’ve never met her?” I asked.
“Never. She gives you the code, you get your shit from one of the lockers.”
During our meetings Arquímedes was always telling me stories about buying or doing some research chemical, some of which I hadn’t touched since college, most of which I’d never even heard of. I never saw him balls-to-the-wall fucked up. Though I heard about it plenty.
He drove into another lot across the street, slowly through the flooded parts, and parked. He took out a small baggie filled with about a dozen capsules, cracked one open, sprinkled some lavender colored powder onto his studded tongue.
“Mercedes you wanna hit it?”
At first I declined. These days I’m more interested in your run-of-the-mill oblivion. But it was Saturday. So I tipped a tiny bit into my mouth. We sat and listened to the radio, a full 10 seconds of air horns.
Finally, down to business. He popped open the center console and pulled out a half-gallon Ziploc bag filled with white, white sand. As he handed it to me, he said, “This that good raw shit.”
I cupped its contents, feeling for softness and granularity. Cottony and uniform, as promised. I clicked on the light above and Arquímedes looked around nervously. I told him to relax and took a whiff from the bag. The sand was sweet, a little salty, a little musky.
“Looks pretty good,” I said, handing it back, cloaking my excitement. He threw it back in the console, switched off the light. We bumped fists, the signature of choice on our felonious contract, then stepped out into the hot winter night.
I hung out with guys like Arquímedes in college. I spent so many nights in dimly lit apartments, sitting Indian style on stained beige carpets, the TV on with nobody watching except for me and the other one or two girls. The boys were always gathered around the bong and scraping resin for their shitty spliffs. They’d have longwinded arguments about Žižek then smack each other in the nuts while doing a Cartman impression. Everyone was either secretly depressed and anxious or openly depressed and anxious. It was around the time when the end of the world became this tedious thing.
Bikini Bar was my kinda spot. One long bar, two poles at both ends. The poles were on small platforms. Their brass had gone patina about two feet up, the high water mark. The girls danced—you guessed it—in bikinis. The owners probably couldn’t afford whatever license you need for women to take all of their clothes off. It seemed like a pretty sad attempt at depraved fun. That’s why I liked it. Arquímedes and I took a seat in the middle of the bar closest to the bartender. She had this highlighter green baseball cap on. When she turned around to make our drinks, we saw her black thong pulled high above the waist of her white jeans. Arquímedes raised his eyebrows at it. She reminded me of me.
“Check this shit out,” Arquímedes said, chinning at the entrance. Six members of a mariachi spilled in, stoic and dignified, ready to let loose. Their outfits’ intricate embroidery and fraying cuffs, the silk red scarves, their air of post-gig glory—all of it made my heart swoon. I was definitely coming up on whatever it was I had taken earlier. My jaw tightened and slackened. The room tingled.
Arquímedes, wiping grease on his sweatpants, started telling me a story about a story. Before bed, his mom would tell him a version of The Sand Reckoner. In her version, Archimedes (the philosopher) was walking around in a swamp, whistling a tune and bounding over cypress knees, plucking tillandsia, when all of the sudden, Archimedes’ head started ringing. A bell struck by an idea. He realized he could figure out how many grains of sand it would take to fill the entire universe. So he went to the beach and started counting: one, two, three, four… He was still counting as little Arquímedes fell asleep, his mother tenderly placing a kiss on his brow.
My partner in crime’s eyes twinkled with love and inebriation.
“So it’s funny that you and I have been, uh, doing this thing, you know? The sand thing.” I shot him a muting glance, as if to say, not here, too public. I let some time pass, let the sentimentality sink in, then reminded him to message his guy in New Delhi. This would be the largest shipment we’d ever arranged. I wanted to make sure he did what he was supposed to do before he got too fucked up to do it right. I kept an eye on his crafting of the text till I was assured of its sober-seeming syntax. After the New Delhi guy got the go-ahead, he’d coordinate with whatever goons in whatever sand mafia to secure the delivery. As I stared into my empty shot glass, I imagined, or maybe hallucinated, a Rolodex of all the shady developers and contractors I knew. Who would bid the highest? I politely said to our bartender, “Another round, please.”
The period was barely on the sentence when, from the corner of my eye, I saw a man quickly approaching. In that split second I knew for sure that he was coming towards me specifically, and that it was not friendly. It’s funny—first the animal in you knows. Isn’t there something so pathetically human about a delayed response? That lapse between reality, perception, and interpretation sometimes feels like the only space I get to live in.
By the time I turned he was already yelling in my face. The words at first were just hot blasts of breath that stung my eyes. The only word I could make out was “phone.” His face was a mask of white, contorted. Maybe a Chad.
“What? Excuse me?”
I scooted my chair back so I could stand up and gain some distance from this asshole. I didn’t feel too threatened, but I’d learned to not always trust that part of me. It was then I realized this guy was holding a pool cue. I shot a glance at Arquímedes. His mouth was an O of useless, crippled surprise. The dancer at the end had stopped her routine and her polka-dotted top was glowing. All six members of the mariachi were standing up from their stools.
Before I could respond, the bartender was up and over the bar, a flash of green and authority. “Not in MY FUCKING BAR.” The bouncer came up with stealth and speed from behind, a dark suit who moved with the grace of a dancer. In an instant Chad was on the floor, then out the door.
The bartender held my shoulders and asked if I was ok. All I could do was laugh. She explained that someone had been stealing phones at Bikini Bar a lot lately. He must’ve confused me with someone he suspected of stealing his. Or maybe he had some other shipwrecked thought in the churning seas of his brain.
“Dude. Where the fuck were you Arquímedes?”
“I… didn’t even understand. That was so crazy!”
I sat down. The bar eventually settled back into its normal rhythms. Arquímedes pointed to the door at the back of the bar and whispered to me,
“I hear dudes can get a HJ back there.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“What?? You prolly could too!”
We settled up. On the way out, one of the mariachi guys gave me a head nod. I smoked a cigarette outside and texted Linda about what happened while Arquímedes stared at a tree. I decided the night was almost over.
On the Rocks was a bar that had no door. They closed for a single hour at 5 a.m. to clean the place up. El viejo would sit on a stool guarding the entrance like a gargoyle. The AC was broken that night, so it was especially humid inside. Sitting at the bar were some piercy-eyed Portuguese women, and a thruple of parrotheads in tie-dye. Everyone was dewy. Arquímedes went to order our drinks as penance while I found a table in the corner.
I sat down and looked at my phone. Linda had texted me back. She’d sent a link to some news story about a village on the coast of Russia called Shoyna. Shoyna, which meant “cemetery” in their local language, was a fishing community. At one point they had 1,500 people living there, a fleet of over 70 fishing vessels. Mostly mackerel, pollock, haddock. But now the whole village was just completely entombed in sand. Linda liked sharing weird sand stories with me. It was a nice respite from boring erosion reports and coordinating with dickheaded vendors.
Linda sent another text: “Crazy story! So sorry re ‘macho’ man. Was reading this when you sent. Plz try to enjoy the rest of your night <3.”
I sat there thinking about what led me to my life. I smiled as Arquímedes came back with two ridiculous looking beverages. Another song had come on the jukebox, a song I recognized.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing, bro. Nothing.”