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About the author:
Peggy Barnett is the erotica pseudonym of a Toronto SF/F author.
What inspired you to write your book?
The novella was originally a request for submission from a publisher. The publisher loved the story, but it didn’t quite fit the theme of the anthology and was declined, and I decided to publish it independantly.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Going to resorts alone is a bit embarrassing. The concierge realizes immediately that she’s a mystery reviewer, they always do, and so not only is she alone but they won’t leave her alone. The kindness quotient goes through the roof, the solicitations and bonus luxuries become cloying, and the deference is grating. Abby is thirty-two years old, has no boyfriend, no husband, no kids, and a job she has grown to hate. She can’t even bring a friend along on these research trips anymore, because then she has to actually pretend that she is having a good time for ten whole days.
Abby is back on the patio by the pool this afternoon, deliberately sat in the chairs that the not-goddess is serving, because she wants a closer look at the woman. There’s no story here at the resort. Abby could write a whole magazine full of praise for the Riviera Luxuria and never have to get up off her arse to experience any of it. She’s done it all, and it’s never different. The snorkeling trips with the so-called authentic local meals on the boat after; the shopping bus-ride into some tourist-attracting market town; the zip-line and parasailing adventures; the walking tours of the local ruins; they’re all the same.
All carefully choreographed so that the tourists see just enough of the “authentic,” but never too much of reality.
It is a world populated by smiling cherub children and generous, gracious farmwives, and confident, competent artisans. And none of it is about what they watch on TV, and how they spend their Friday nights, and what they do when they meet someone they want to marry.
Abby could praise this resort to the high heavens and never have to leave her lounge chair, because it never changes. This pre-packaging of the exotic is disgusting. And it’s taken nearly ten years, but Abby’s just disgusted with herself for being part of the machine that perpetuates it.
She sips the last of a piña colada that is no better nor any worse than any of the thousands she’s drunk before, and taps her pen against her bare knee. Abby hasn’t written a thing about the Luxuria in her notebook.
Which, she’ll admit, is new. Usually she at least tries to put in the appearance of effort.
Maybe this really is it. Maybe this is the last assignment. Maybe she’ll go back home with her suntan and her empty notebook and get called up in front of the boss for failing to deliver an article. Maybe he’ll threaten to fire her and remind her how many other people are lining up for the chance to take seven all-inclusive vacations per year all around the world for the sake of a write-up. And maybe this time Abby will say, as she always longs to say, “Fine! Give it to them, then! I quit!”
Abby scowls up at the sunlight filtering down through the palm branches.
It’s a satisfying fantasy, but then what? She has a ten year span on her resume between graduating from the journalism program and now, where all she’s done is vacation and write fluff editorials. Then there’s the advice column where she answers the trite, inane questions from self-important people who don’t want real answers to their travel questions—they just want Abby to point them to the most convenient travel package that her company offers. That’s not the sort of thing that will get her a job with a real newspaper, doing real investigative journalism, writing about real lives, real tragedies, real triumphs.
Making a real difference.
She’s got to feed her cat somehow. She’s got an apartment to pay rent on, a car to keep up, a man that she has dinner and sex with but she can’t quite get to commit to committing, and the last trickle of student debt to kill off.
She can’t afford to quit, no matter how miserable she is.
And isn’t that an irony. Miserable in a fake paradise.
In the distance a group of young men holler and splash, trying to attract the attention of another group of young women in bikinis that leave exactly nothing to the imagination. Abby wants to be generous to the young men, but stereotyping wouldn’t exist if it isn’t wasn’t partially true, after all, and each of the young men radiates self-centered, self-important just-graduated douchebaggery.
‘All-inclusive doesn’t mean the staff!’ Abby wants to snarl when she sees one of them make a grab for a towel-boy as he walks by the edge of the pool, but she holds her tongue. They’d just laugh at her, call her an old bag with her one-piece suit and her wide-brimmed hat and her silly little notebook and then ignore her. Or begin pursing the staff more aggressively in retaliation.
Or get the towel-boy in trouble. And, for all she knows, ruin his lucrative side-business. It happens. Abby isn’t an idiot. She’s been to enough resorts, hung around enough of the right kind of tourist, who thinks that whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, so to speak. And who is Abby to judge if she’s seen some of the locals taking the tourists for a ride, milking a few extra dollars or a few extra orgasms out of the silly, selfish people who come to their countries and prance around like peacocks? Both sides know exactly what’s going on, after all, when money and bodily fluids are exchanged.
Abby’s never done it. She has to account for everything she spends on the resort, and she doesn’t make enough on the side to be able to afford a clandestine grope with a local.
Besides, she isn’t sure she has the guts for it. Casual sex, orgasms with another person just for the sake of orgasms, hasn’t ever appealed to her.
She toys with the straw of her depleted drink, rolling it between the pads of her fingers, and wonders what it would be like to be confident in one’s own body, in one’s own sexuality. To feel as if the skin and muscle she pulls around herself every day fits properly. That there are no odd wrinkles in the seams, that every gesture and posture is the result of awareness and deliberation.
That’s the way the not-goddess moves, Abby realizes, and as soon as she thinks of the woman, her eyes find her in amid the sea of turquoise patio chairs and yellow sunshades. She is wearing a fabric neckerchief today, like the rest of the employees—patterned in a tacky neon pink and yellow tropical design. What surprises Abby is that, when she reaches out to clear off the empty plastic glasses that the group beside Abby has left by their patio chairs, she turns and looks directly at Abby.
“Something for you?” the not-goddess says.
Abby jumps, forgetting that the object of her fascination probably knows that she’s been staring.
“Ah… water? Please? And, here,” she holds out a folded bill. It’s too much for a tip, makes it look like she’s trying to buy the not-goddess’s attention for the rest of the day, to ensure that she gets quick and quiet service. Well, so what if it does.
What Abby really wants is for the not-goddess to have to come closer and hover by Abby long enough for her to read the woman’s name tag. The server smiles, and her teeth like pearls against the brown-purple of her lip-gloss. Abby rolls her eyes at her own clichéd comparison, but its suitable nonetheless. Abby can’t tell the woman’s age—somewhere between twenty-two and forty is her best guess.
The not-goddess takes the bill and it vanishes discreetly into her breast pocket.
Ixazaluoh, her name tag reads. That is a very, very non-Spanish name.
Is that a first or a last name, Abby wonders. She’ll have to look at some other employees’ name tags to find the pattern. If this is her first name, why on earth would a girl’s parents name her something so complicated and obviously historical? Was it meant to be a finger at the man? Or to celebrate their heritage? Or…
But staring at a nametag also looks a lot like starting at someone’s breasts, and Abby realizes it too late. She flicks her gaze away quickly, ashamed at being caught out, and more ashamed still to be behaving like one of those douchebag tourists who think it’s their right to be lewd to resort workers. As if skin colour and wealth, and country of origin, gave you the right to treat the employees like accoutrements and added luxuries, instead of human beings.
Ixazaluoh smiles, a sort of secret curling of her purple-brown lips that means that she finds Abby’s mortification amusing—if a bit juvenile—and sashays away toward the pool bar.
“Oh, god,” Abby groans and covers her face with her hands. She can’t look away for long, though, because Ixazaluoh walking with her back turned to Abby will afford her the chance to figure out just why the way she moves is so enthralling.
None of the other tourists seem to be staring at Ixazaluoh as she passes by. None of them even look at her. Abby would have thought that Ixazaluoh would have been flagged down to fetch more drinks, at least be wolf-whistled by the douche bags in the pool, but they all behave as if they can’t see Ixazaluoh.
It’s as if Ixazaluoh is only real, only visible to Abby. Which is ridiculous, the stuff of blockbuster films and scary books. But no, look, Abby tells herself. The way that the child in the water wings skirts around Ixazaluoh without looking up at her, the way the bartender doesn’t acknowledge or speak to Ixazaluoh, just puts a glass of water down on the bar that Ixazaluoh herself transfers to her serving tray, the way the drunk man in the tilly hat weaves to the side, leaving just enough room for Ixazaluoh to squeeze between him and his wife without touching either.
Goose pimples march up Abby’s arms and despite the clear, bright sunlight and baking Mexican heat around her, she is suddenly, inexplicably chilled. Abby curls up on her lounger, pulling the gauzy wrap from the back of it to curl over her shoulders.
And then the strangest thing yet: as she passes the pool, Ixazaluoh dips one sandaled foot into the water. Just a brief touch, the kind you’d use to rinse the sand off your toes, and it catches Abby’s attention. Why? Such a strange motion, why would she…?
Ixazaluoh looks up at Abby, looks right at Abby and grins. She walks toward Abby, the cup of water balanced expertly on her tray, and it takes a few seconds for Abby to realize what is strange about it. It’s not the way she walks, the way her hips move and the way her feet don’t seem to touch the ground. It’s not the smoothness of her step, nor the deliberateness of every gesture.
No. It’s the way that despite the fact that she just had her foot in the water, she is leaving no footprints behind. It is the way that Ixazaluoh has no shadow.