She moved to Mexico after she got cancer, she told me. She had lived in Boston and worked as a nurse. After she recovered, she left. I wanted to get away from it all, she said. From my life there. And the cold, I hated the cold.
She had two brothers. One had died in a car accident. After she moved to Tulum, she met a man from Mexico City. He was a diver. His name was Roberto. They lived in a cabana he had built himself. They met because he had a diving business and took tourists underground cave diving. It was dangerous. The first time she had met him, when they went on a diving trip with two other tourists, they had gotten lost in the underground caves.
She told me all this over spaghetti and wine. Her name was Margot.
She was sure they were going to die in those caves. She was trying to stay calm. Better than dying from cancer, she thought. Their oxygen tanks were low and they were trying desperately to find a way out when she saw her dead brother.
He motioned for Margot to follow him, and he led the way. She didn’t think it strange. She didn’t recognize him until the end, when they were back where they started, when he turned and looked at her, took off his diving goggles, smiled, and swam away. It was her brother, she was sure of it. The others hadn’t seen him, only followed her. That was the only time Roberto had gotten lost. He was a very safe diver. He had a good record.
Tulum was changing, Roberto said. When I moved here there was nothing really, just the Mayan ruins. But now it is completely different. It is very popular with New Yorkers. They are ruining it, he said and smiled at me.
Margot taught yoga. But she was telling me about the summers, the heat, the hot hot heat you couldn’t escape, surrounding you, wrapping you like a wool blanket, pressing all around you. The ocean brought no relief. The heat seeped into the water. It was like diving into a Jacuzzi. They had no air-conditioning, but the house was airy and protected by the shade of the trees.
They had two dogs: Nico and Chiara. Nico following me around; he liked to play tug-of-war with his toys.
Right after I almost died in the caves I found him, Margot said. I called him Nico because he reminds me of my brother. That was my brother’s nickname: Nico. I think his soul or life spirit went into this dog, because he was always following me around right after I almost died in that cave, like he was protecting me. He’s very protective of me. My parents were horrified I named a dog after my brother. They said it’s not appropriate, but he loved dogs, so why shouldn’t I?
Her brother had liked to play tricks on her, and Nico was the same way. He took her stuff and hid it. He would distract them and create a diversion and then jump on the table and grab the food off. He was very mischievous, that dog. He looked over now, could tell we were talking about him. He went back to sleep.
I went to a cenote. I put my feet in the water and let the fish eat my dead skin. Their nibbling felt like little kisses. I jumped in and the fish scattered. I was going back to the States the next morning. I didn’t want to go back. My mother had cancer. She was going to have surgery. My two sisters were going to be there as well, but they had their kids to take care of. I was going to stay with my mother for two weeks to help in the recovery. I wanted to stay in Mexico and go swim in the warm ocean and take naps on the beach and eat tacos. I had met a girl in Cancun and told her to meet me in Merida in two weeks. I was supposed to go back there after Tulum. I hadn’t gotten her number or email. I only knew her first name. Meet me at El Cangrejito, I had said, at noon. They have amazing fish tacos.
When I got back to the house they were surrounding Nico in the front yard. They were picking up his lifeless body to put him in the back of the truck. Margot was crying.
Nico, Nico, you’re going to be okay, she said.
They drove away.
I packed my bag that night. I drank beer as I waited for them to get back. They were gone about two hours. At midnight I saw them pull up. They got out of the truck. Nico wasn’t with them. Margot was still crying. I fell asleep and left at dawn.