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The tick bombs are everywhere: the underside of a blade of grass, fallen leaves, right there in the dirt. In every one there are a thousand or more seed ticks, all huddled up, the size of pin heads, plotting. They smell you from across and down the river and they move like ninjas in the night, over your ankles, up your legs. You won’t find ‘em until it’s too late, when they’re all fat on your thigh blood, hanging off your lymph nodes or the folds of your asshole. They’re too small to burn, these seed ticks, so you’ll have no choice but to scratch ‘em off, best you can, leaving you’ve-no-idea-how-many heads burrowed beneath the surface of your skin. And then it starts. There’s no before, no after, no feeling you hope to return to or break through to. There is only the itch. And right now, even though it only spans from the top of my knees into my groin, it’s everything—or the lens through which I perceive everything

Like myself, sitting here in this Caribbean jungle, on the northern coast of Colombia, with an ocean of space between my legs, on a slab of concrete, in a white plastic lawn chair, halfway up a mountain along Rio Guachaca.

Or Xi, on my left, behind a cinder block wall at the edge of the same slab of concrete, calling my name, “Corey!”

Corey, my name, ringing its way through this jungle I’m staring into. 

This jungle, so thick you get the feeling it was created with the hopes that even God could get lost.

This yet another temporary home, this just-for-now place.

This now, this itch, this all-there-is.

The sun setting over it all and everything else—Kubrick tones rising from the shadows.

Beside me, sits a tin of tiger balm. I scoop up a few healthy dollops and spread ‘em over my thighs, fighting the itch with hot then cold. In my hands is this pocket-sized notebook—a kind of distraction. I think about this morning, about last night. I think about Xi, about Xi and I, wonder how long it’ll last. I ready my pen to wax poetic, but all I write are questions:

What do I want?

How would I know?

Where are my cigarettes?

What’s that sound?

No answers come.

I scribble down what I can to capture this place, this now: 

Behind me there’s the skeleton of a house that I signed a handshake contract to finish framing. It’s being built over the cinder block corpse of another.

To my right, down a thin dirt path, is the kitchen: another rectangular prism of raw cinderblock, all burnt black from years of cooking over an open fire under a rusted tin roof with no ventilation. It has chicken wire windows and an opening for a door at either end, but no doors.

On my left is Xi, at the edge of the concrete slab, behind, yes, another cinderblock wall, calling my name. “Corey!”

That’s my name, and I am here, writing this.

Xi’s there, behind the wall, behind what’s left of a termite eaten door, on the toilet. Or standing beside the toilet. I can’t see her, can’t tell what position she might be in, but I can picture her face.


She’s calling my name.

I bet she’s got on some cutting-stare, jaw clenched, spinning Rieki circles with her hand trying to will away whatever is forcing her to have to reach out.


There’s a lot of swallowed-pride in the way she’s calling my name—a kind of resignation. We haven’t spoken for a few hours, not since we got back together a few hours after she left me this morning.

My guess is it’s an emergency.


It must be.

Over the last couple weeks any semblance of a plan we’d had for our lives had gone kaput. The only things left are a used 100cc motorbike, a commitment to sing at the wedding of one of Xi’s friends back in Lima, Peru, and our move to the treehouse, where we are now, where she’s calling my name.

This is nothing new. We are two people in our late twenties who are starting to feel the weight of a future we’ve both spent the better part of a decade ignoring. There are millions of us, all running around, asking the same questions (Who am I? What’s it all for?) experiencing the same frustrations manifest in petty bullshit, in our relationships or our jobs or lack thereof. 

Xi wants a plan, she wants some security and maybe a sense of permanence. That’s what she says. But when she looks at me, I know what she really wants is to know whether I’m wasting her time.

Too proud or fucked by the whole imposter shame to ever admit to wanting to be some type of writer, you ask me what I want and I might tap my notebook off the side of something, say, Time. Otherwise, Nothing. But if you look at me, like you really look at me, I’m sure my face says something similar to hers.

Corey are you wasting time?

How would I know?

I don’t know.

I should say right away: agreeing to the wedding gig was a stupid idea. I’m not a musician. I’m a dabbler, if that. And while Xi technically is, I haven’t heard her sing or play in months. But it’s a girlfriend of Xi’s getting married, someone she used to perform with, and  the girlfriend offered to buy her a round-trip ticket between Santa Marta and Lima to play at her wedding. I said right away, “That’s a stupid idea,” but Xi was touched, she lit up, like maybe I’m still that person. She also thought it would be a good excuse to visit her family for free. She sold me as her guitarist and got us a second ticket.

Then I had an even stupider idea: pocket the cash for the tickets and we’ll ride the bike there. Leave the second I finish framing this house.  

The wedding is still two and half months out, and it's already bringing us nothing but stress.

I blame the wedding gig for everything, because it’s there and it’s easy.

Like this morning:

This morning was hell.

Resentment from last night, stress from the wedding gig, lack of money and life-plan worries, the manifest petty bullshit...

We were in our cinder-block rice-cooker of a room, packing our bags to leave for the tree house. It’d been eight months living and working on the same ranch, and we’d reached our limit. The sound of pots and pans and fast bickering Spanish of the shared kitchen was all coming in in waves with the Caribbean heat through the torn screen of our room’s open window.  Xi was mad I wasn’t taking this wedding gig seriously and that instead of rehearsing with her last night, I’d abandoned her to drink and write. Which is fair. But she wasn’t saying any of that, she was just kneeling at the end of the bed between two piles of her clothes beside our open bag, making broad strokes, saying I don’t do anything.

I tried to explain to her that that wasn’t the case. I said, “Are you kidding me? I do everything.”

“Clearly we have different ideas of what constitutes everything.”

“And what’s everything to you?” I said. “Sitting there crying in a pile of your clothes? ‘Porquè a mi, dios?’” She could never make the tough decisions when it came to what to keep and what to leave in order to fit everything back into our bag. I’d already finished with my stuff and was on the bed taking a last look at a novel I’d discarded.

“It’s more than laying on the bed, playing with your dick and pretending to read!”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck me. Exactly. And I’ll just take care of packing all this stuff.”

“My stuffs ready.”

“What about the rest of the stuff?”

“What stuff?”

Our stuff.”  She made a knowing gesture toward a pile beside her on the floor: an array of soaps, a bag of pills and creams, our blue-tooth speaker, some auxiliary cords, an amethyst stone she’d given me once upon a time.

I picked up the amethyst stone, closed my eyes, gave it a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss, then put it in my pocket.

“And these Epi-pens?” she said. Of course—there they were, all phallic-like, standing on their stupid orange ends. Perfect poster boys for my fragile mortality.

“And all this?” There was another, smaller bag, full of miscellaneous things: colored stones, feathers, seashells, old phone chargers, dead lighters, functional lighters, strips of ripped cardboard from old business cards and cigarette packages, a few pens.

“Well, most of that shit is yours,” I said.


“Seriously, I’m not out there collecting rocks or rolling little bits of trash into my doobies every twenty minutes.”

“No, it’s just beers and shit talk and books and more beers for you.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to take this seriously and I want you to pull your weight.”

“I take everything seriously.”

I said to her once, “STDs are fine. If you give me an STD, I’ll get over it but if you give me lice, I think I’ll leave you.” We were living together on a construction site at the time, some soon-to-be hostel on the beach, sleeping on a flattened foam mat with one rotten bedsheet and two dogs. In the end we weren’t sure, though based on the size of the lice crawling around my head and the fact that she only had the eggs, it looked like I was the one who had given them to her. They took two weeks to get rid of, going to bed every night with vinegar in our hair, but she never left me. We’d only been together about a month at the time and looking back it really was a romantic period in our relationship. But man, I say a lot of stupid shit. 

“Ok Mr. Serious? Did you have a good time last night? Hmm?”


“Yep. You see?”

 I could see just fine. I could see she was pissed and getting more pissed about being alone in her being pissed. She wanted me to join her, and that was pissing me off. “I thought you said you didn’t want to rehearse anymore.”

“Ha. Meirda.”

Mierda. Fine,” I said. “It was fucking useless. Nothing was being accomplished. Kind of like now. So, if you want me to do something, you need to tell me what you want me to do.”

“Why do I have to tell you what to do?”

“I can’t fucking read minds!”

“Ah puta huevòn. Read the situation.”

“My read says, All good.”

“Ok, niño. We’re moving. That means all our things need to be packed, our tabs need to be paid—is the motor bike ready to go? —the bathroom could be cleaned, these sheets need to go to the laundry—”

“Fuck! Ok!”

“Ok what?”

“Ok: can I finish this chapter first?”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck me? Fuck you. It was a joke. What happened to your sense of humor?”

“You’re not that funny.”

“I’m pretty funny.”

“You’re pathetic.”


“You are. You’re acting like a child.”

“You’re acting like a bitch.”

“Puta! Don’t call me a bitch, imbècil.”

“I didn’t call you—no, you’re right. Only a bitch would act like a bitch.”

And with that started her unpacking of our shared bag and the packing of our individual bags and my asking, “What? Are you leaving?” and her saying, “Well, my bag is packed, I might as well,” and her continuing to get her things together and my clarifying, “Are you serious?” and her saying, “I don’t like the way you speak to me. I don’t have to put up with this,” and my attempting to flip it, saying, “I don’t like the way everything becomes life and death with you, like last night, it’s not a big deal, we’ll learn the songs, and this morning, we have to pack, so what? It’s not that big of a deal either, and now, we have a little fight and you’re going to fucking leave? Are you kidding me?” which lead straight into two hours of us lying silently on the bed, staring up at the ceiling all woebegone, until eventually, without saying anything, we unpacked our individual bags and packed all our things into one shared bag again.

Our shared bag.

Small enough to fit on the back of our 100cc motorbike.

She hasn’t spoken to me directly since then, until now. She’s calling my name, and I’m writing, I’m writing it all down.

Past Xi, at the end of another dirt path—this one, curving around the concrete septic bed and continuing along the crest of the mountain with cascades of darkening jungle on either side of it—sits the tree house: a six-by-six cockroach nest, built by the new property owners as a temporary place to stay while the new house is framed and finished. The bed basically fills the thing. Off the front is a meter-by-meter deck, facing the river. Around the edge of the deck are empty wine bottles covered in melted candle wax. 

“Mierda! Corey!”

Xi’s still on the toilet, or standing beside it, still calling my name.


The treehouse is the sort-of payment for my work framing the house-house: a place to stay—as long as I’m working.

To get there, we had to take the bike off the main road and onto a dirt and rock path that traces Rio Guachaca up into the mountains. At the beginning, there are still a few shops and shacks near a shallow part of the river. Past that, it’s all jungle. The path thins to the point that it’s only wide enough for one motorbike, going one way. When you hear another motorbike coming contra, you either pull off to the side and wait or roll the dice hoping the other bike will.

We entered the property of the treehouse through a barbed wire gate, leaving our thin, dirt and rock path for a thinner, steeper, dirt and rock path, which zig zags up the side of a mountain away from the river. The path was shit and it was dangerous, but it was going somewhere so we kept on. We kept on looking forward, inching forward, ignoring the death drop on our left, the Caribbean sun pressed down like hot steel on our shoulders. Xi was sweating, with our life on her back, in our yellow nylon bag and I was sweating with our lives in my hands, re-acquainting myself with the handlings of a motorbike. 

For the last few days as we shopped around for a motorbike, people asked, “You know how to drive a motorbike, right?” I said I did and that I had one growing up. But the moto I had growing up was my brother’s, and it was stolen ten years ago. Xi and I ended up buying an old 100cc moto-taxi bike off a Costeño with green eyes who went by Gringo. The speedometer didn’t work, the tires were bald, and I wasn’t feeling much of a response when I’d squeeze the front brake, but what did I know? I stalled the bike twice on the test drive and told no one. “We’ll take it,” I said and so far, it’s met our needs. 

The treehouse turned out not to be a treehouse at all, but a small wooden room, beside the base of the tree. As soon as I opened the door, I saw a cockroach the size of my palm scaling the wall. I managed to swat it out of the window before Xi saw, but that only bought me a couple minutes. When I lifted the mattress to put on the sheets, ten of them scurried down the posts of the bed frame. Xi started screaming, saying, “Shit,” and “Mierda,” and, “Concha tu madre,” and saying to herself, “I can’t live here.”

“It’s fine,” I told her. “I can sweep them away.”

“No fucking way.”

“We have a bug net.”

That’s really the only time today she looked directly at me. She looked at me and she said, “They live in the fucking bed, Idiota.” 

We realized then that there was nothing we could do, at least not for tonight—there was nowhere else we could go—and as helplessness sometimes does, it came with a wave of detachment, and the whole scene became sort-of funny. I saw that she was fighting off a smile, which is maybe the only thing prettier than her actual smile, and with that, I thought, Ah, the resilience of our love, just like these goddamn tick bombs and cockroaches. Maybe we’ll make it after all.

I wanted to invite her to bed but the thought of going there, even as a joke, still made me nervous.

Xi walked out onto the deck and stared through trees at the river. I came up behind her, I wanted to see what she saw, but when she felt me coming, she sucked in and twisted her body so we could pass each other without touching. This is a healing dance we do, getting close enough together that we can hear each other breathe, but without touching, without talking. When she left me this morning, she meant it and that’s hard to come back from. I get it but I hate it. I hate that we put ourselves in these positions. I hate that I force myself into these corners and instead of owning up I talk the world into shit, then I mold the scene into her overreacting and leaving me, causing me to talk more shit to convince her to stay. It’s sad and it’s stupid. I know her staying with me ends up feeling, for her, like an admission of defeat. Not to mention a cliché. I end up telling her I love her, and she says she knows, which she does. She knows I love her, but the thing is she doesn’t know what that means to me, if anything.

But it’s never really a question of love, is it?

More a worry of what that love is going to cost.

I can be a real prick, and like she said, a fucking child. Since the beginning there’s been the comparisons to her dad, with the drinking and the drugs and the penchant for endless nights.

I moved to the edge of the deck. The jungle was all around us, but in the distance, between the trees, you could see the river playing in the sunlight, like crystals hanging on the leaves.

“Corey, mierda! Can you not hear me?”


“Shit. Sorry. No, I can hear you, I was just writing.”

There’s probably something crawling around in the washroom, in the toilet bowl, and she’s afraid to sit down, or maybe she’s sitting down and whatever it is is getting closer to her feet. A cockroach. They’re rampant around here too. They’re the size of old flip phones, always flapping their shell-like wings, landing in your hair, in your food, crawling up the side of your drink—

“There’s a cucarachona in the toilet!”

“There’s a cockroach in the fucking toilet.”

“I need you to come here.”

“I need you to fucking

“Ahorita! Meirda!”

At our last house it was a tarantula nest under the bed. Occasionally, like they could sense the tension building in the room, they’d go rogue and start ripping across the floor or making their way up the wall. Xi would get into the center of the bed, knees up to her chest, like a ball, with one index finger pointing out, following the thing around the room until I’d taken care of it. Whether I killed it or shooed it away, once the thing was gone, so was any tension between Xi and I. It was like nothing had happened before that happened, at least for a little while.

I pocket my notebook and walk over to the bathroom. Xi stands by the door pointing her cellphone flashlight at the toilet—a little seat-less thing in the corner, green ceramic, spotted brown.              

“He’s huge,” she says.

I walk over to the toilet. The entire floor is dramatically sloped towards one corner of the room. There’s a pipe sticking out of the wall.

“I guess this is the shower? That’ll be interesting, huh?”

“Can you please do something about the cockroach?”

She gives me a look like, this is the person I’ve attached myself to, this is the person I have to count on—the kind of look she’s great at, that makes me feel like a million bucks—and so I think, fuck you, and entertain the idea of just walking out, just walking past her and off the concrete slab and into the jungle and leaving her there with her cell phone light like a beacon calling forth an army of cockroaches, a jungle’s worth, out from under the leaves and off the branches, crawling and flying until all she can see, no matter where she looks, where she points her light, is that shiny black-brown of their backs and all she can do is scream but I’d be gone and she’d be wishing for someone there to attach herself to, someone to count on.

“I need to pee,” she says.

“I need you to shine your light on the toilet,” I say.

She extends her arm and directs her light down while keeping her distance. As soon as I see him, I see that we are in his house—all our shit, all our baggage, two bladders full of piss, two bobble heads full of questions, unasked, unanswered—

What’s that sound?

Are you wasting my time?

“This fucker doesn’t want to leave,” I say.

“He has to.”

He’s lounging at the water’s edge, soaking it in, all shiny black, with that hard-shelled confidence. His tentacles casually survey the air around him. Neither our presence nor our light seems to affect him.   

“Ah man, but he seems so comfy here.”

“Fuck him. Chucha. I need to use the toilet.”

“He’d probably enjoy that.”

“Can you please get rid of him?”

“I don’t want to touch him.”

“Flush him.”

“Damn, really?”

“A la mierda. He loves poop. He’s hanging out in a toilet. Send him to where all the poop goes.”

All the poop.”

“Ya, pues.”


“I need to pee.”

There’s no flush button but there’s a dirty old bleach jug with the top cut off sitting beside the toilet. I fill it up at the shower tap and dump it over him, into the bowl. The poor bastard. The water sends him spinning around, then he’s gone. Down the drain. Along with all the tension between us. At least for a little while.

“A martyr for our love,” I say.

Xi pushes past me. “Ok. Get out of here,” she says, pulling her pants down. “Actually, can you stay and hold the light for me?”

I hold her cellphone while she squats over the bowl. 

“But don’t listen.”

“I’m listening.”

“Don’t listen.”

“Ok,” I say, and I pick at the paper-like shell of a door frame. It was painted black once upon a time and now that’s the only thing holding it together. Inside the paint it looks like a maze of dust, endless tunnels to nowhere. I pick at a piece and watch as a few transparent termites run deeper into the dust.

“Oh, por dios!” Xi screams. “Now there’s a spider in the toilet. I can’t pee here.”

“You haven’t peed yet?”

“Did you hear me peeing?”

“I wasn’t listening.”

She shuffles away from the toilet before pulling her pants up. “How could I have bent over naked with that spider in there?” She gets her pants on and stands up with a full body shiver. “It could have jumped into my underwear and be in my vagina right now.”

I hand her the cellphone and walk back to my chair. “Forget that dirty little crapper,” I say. “You can pee anywhere around here. The whole jungle is a toilet.” I pull out my notebook and try to write down what I can remember of the exchange. Xi walks by and scoffs. She has her own idea of what I’m doing in these notebooks and so whenever I have ‘em out, she gets nervous, especially when the air between us is as it is now. I think she thinks I’m building up some type of arsenal to use against her. Maybe one day it will be a weapon, but for now it’s just good company. 

Things Xi says that I love:

Whenever I fart, she asks, “Did that come with poop?”

Whenever I’m wrong and I know it, she says, “Yepp, you see?”

Whenever I hold her when she doesn’t want to be held, it’s not the holding she objects to, instead she says, “Don’t breathe me.”

Whenever I continue breathing her after she says don’t breathe me, or doing anything else she doesn’t want me to do after she tells me to stop, she says, “Ya pues!” (which I take to mean, Asshole, stop it!)

Whenever she’s spooked, or frustrated, she says, “Concha tu madre!” (Your mother’s pussy!)

Whenever something is delicious or beautiful, she says, “De la concha su madre.” (From her mother’s pussy)

Whenever she sees a fallen leaf or flower on the ground, she says, “Hay, no!” (Why must all beauty be so fleeting?)

Whenever she’s scared, like truly fucking scared, she says nothing, she just looks at me, dead calm, sucking the whole world in through the browns of her eyes, and nods her head subtly, as if to say, here we go.  

And here we go: tonight, will be our first night in the treehouse. There will be wind-broken branches landing on our tin roof, creating the feeling of being inside a snare drum. There will be the sounds of engines approaching, stopping, passing, turning around, motorcycles idling on the river’s edge and indecipherable screams heard, down a path, bending around the trees. Neither of us will sleep. We rarely do our first night anywhere.  She’ll have that here we go look on her face and I’ll be avoiding it at any cost, staring out past my feet, through the bug net, off the porch and into the black and moon-blue jungle. I have this thing where I pretend everything is fine—it’s fine, it’s all fine—but inside I’m running, I’m sprinting, but at the same time second guessing every step, like why are we fighting to stay together if being together just means more fights?

Awake at night, I’ll see only the worst things: sign language signaling from behind bushes, trained feet seeking silence in moss and leaf. If anyone is out in the jungle in the middle of the night, I’ll assume they’re local Colombians and they know this jungle. I’m a stupid gringo and I’ll remind myself of that and feel guilty for being afraid, but I’ll wonder, are their voices getting closer?

I’ll imagine the lacquer on our treehouse, illuminated in the moonlight, through the leaves, up there, like a neon open sign.

Right now, the still setting sun guards me from myself, but horizontal, in the dark, I won’t be able to help it—someone could have seen us driving up here. Two foreigners unprotected in the middle of nowhere. Screams trapped forever inside the drum.

Nothing will happen. Except my shame will amplify. Light will enter the darkness. Xi will fall asleep and I’ll stare up at the ceiling. No longer afraid and over the prospect of sleeping, I’ll probably do something stupid like get horny. I live my whole life like a teenager with a hard on in the hallway of his high school. I’ll look up at the ceiling and tell it to fuck off, even though I already know all it’ll do is laugh.  

Another morning and maybe I’d groan and sidle up beside her. I’d hide my morning breath behind closed lips and walk my fingers up the inside of her thighs until she wakes up. She’d point her chin to whatever patchy bug-ridden ceiling we lay under and, eyes still closed, pull my hand from between her legs and place it between mine. She’d make a casual pass over my cock and either grab it herself or guide my hand to it, leading the first strokes, as if to say, its ok, go for it, and then slip back into a half sleep, imitating my fingers with hers, walking ‘em back and forth between my legs. I’d let my legs spread in that unconscious, instinctual way. Our eyes would still be closed, both of us pretending to be asleep, both breathing through our nose, hiding that ashtray dog breath neither of us wants to endure nor subject the other to. On another morning—one that didn’t follow a sleepless night or a day in which we fought then barely spoke—I’d eventually kick the blankets down to the bottom of the bed, bury my face in her chest and come all over the both of us. That’d act as a sort of alarm clock. We might lay there for another minute or two but eventually we’d get up to wipe ourselves down and like that, the morning would begin. I used to do this a lot, but now less and less. And especially tomorrow, after no sleep, and today. . .

Tomorrow, I’ll roll away from her onto my stomach, folding myself under myself. I’ll stare past my feet out the open wall of the treehouse, watching the leaves turn over in the breeze, waiting for her alarm to go off, hoping there’ll be enough time for my hard-on to subside.

Tomorrow, we’ll make plans to pack everything we own back into our shared bag and strap it onto the bike. We’ll tell each other we’re sorry and say nothing of the questions that keep us up at night, like what’s it all for? And are we wasting our time? We’ll track down helmets because this time we’re not just staying on these nowhere roads of the coast. We’ll say this movement, this running, is just for now, just to get us to Peru, to play the wedding gig, to visit Xi’s family—just until we figure out what to do next, until we know, until we’ve chased certainty down, until we’ve got a foot on its throat. It will be a plan and with it will be our purpose and it will be exciting and feel like a good thing, the right thing, and we’ll ignore our hunger and our questions and our worry that they will never wane. We’ll ignore the thin, balding tires and loose-change sound of our 100cc motor-bike and we’ll go through all our pockets and the pockets of our bags and count our money and estimate the amount we’ll be given for the tickets and figure out a budget for food and motels on the way. Nothing is going to stop us. We’ll wake up and we’ll make a plan and that plan will bring us close again and we will be strong. At least for a little while.  

“Concha tu madre,” Xi says with a huff as she sits down in the white plastic chair beside me. “We need to frame this house so we can leave.”

“I can do that.”

“And we need to kill the spider in the toilet.”

“You haven’t peed yet?”

“I peed right there.” She points to a wet spot in the dirt beside the kitchen. “But we use that path,” she says. I match her serious expression and nod my head in agreement. “I also don’t like squatting over the dirt naked. I keep getting images of a tick jumping into my asshole.”

I scratch at my bitten thighs.

“What would happen if that happens?”

“I hope it doesn’t.”

“We need to kill the spider in the toilet.”

“I can do that.”