There had been a time when she was too squeamish to touch a spider, when she would cry at the sight of a dead bird, but not now.
She had thought she’d spend the lockdown making sourdough starter like everyone else, not sitting in a ramshackle beach bar in Central America. Funny how hearing one word freed her to cash in her savings, to hop on a plane and soak up the warm sunshine.
The sea glitters brilliant blue, and she shades her eyes from the glare. Looking at the beach this Easter Day, she can pretend the pandemic hasn’t stretched into its second spring. Families gather at tables laden with food and drink for the long holiday weekend. The men silently gulp their cervezas as the women offer plates of arozzo con pollo.
Two full-bellied men sit across from her, their American voices loud, careless. They order more drinks. One notices her watching, smiles and lifts his glass in a salute. She doesn’t smile. He shrugs.
Children bob in the warm water like so many tan beach balls. Their mothers stand at the exact point where the ocean’s fingers drag across the sand, arms akimbo, the universal stance of motherly vigilance.
A soldier in gray fatigues strolls the beach, watchful eyes behind mirrored sunglasses that reflect the children in the water. His hand casually rests on the M16 slung over his shoulder. She watches until he disappears in the distance.
Behind her, the beach shops are empty. The shopkeepers lean forlornly against the doorways. No cruise ships deliver pale tourists to wander the malecon now.
The two men sitting across from her drink their cervezas and talk politics, as ex-pats sometimes do. A small brown boy, toothy white grin, tries to sell them pieces of gum, but they shake their heads. When he doesn’t leave, the men wave their arms, shoo him away like some annoying pigeon.
The men wear watches that cost more than a month of chemo, eyes hidden behind dark glasses. Snatches of conversation drift towards her. hide the profits, keep the money in the Caymans…that’s where big pharma went wrong…left a paper trail…
The doctors gave her six months, she plans to use them well. There had been a time when she was too squeamish to touch a spider, when she would cry at the sight of a dead bird, but not now.
These men sitting across from her, these corporate drug dealers, are smug. They believe they have escaped justice, that when they die, it will be peacefully in their beds, but they are wrong. She will see to that.
Life has hardened her. No, not hardened, liberated.
The muzzle of the gun hidden under her warm-up jacket feels cold against her skin.
Barbara Buckley Ristine escaped from the law years ago and hasn’t stopped running. Her work has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, FlashBack Fiction, Milk Candy Review, and the 2020 NFFD Anthology, among others. She lives with her family in northern Nevada.