by Steve Frederick

A cluster of fruit dangled like three moons from the lemon tree outside my balcony. The real moon was nowhere to be seen, obscured by the thatched roof of the hotel, perhaps, or simply too low on the horizon to see.

Brassy mariachi rhythms blared from the town square below, rising fog-like through the turgid tropical air. I lit a Cuban cigar and watched the hips of the cleaning girl sway in time as she swept the stones of the plaza. The watchman had already swung shut the heavy gates, and I pulled the cork on the cheap cane rum I`d secured in the square during the heat of the day.

I had no ice, but with a slice of lemon I could manage to swill the stuff tequila-style. I speared a ripe fruit with my Buck knife and sectioned it neatly into eighths.

I couldn`t make out the words, but it was clear the mariachis were yelping a bawdy lyric. The girl stepped livelier in the torchlight, lifting her skirts with one hand and swirling about the flagstones. By the time I finished the first lemon, the rum was seeping through my muscles like a tonic, and I ached to join her.

I plucked a second lemon and sliced it less precisely, then tossed aside the plastic cup and began drinking from the bottle. Deep in the shadows, I was unsure whether the girl was aware that I`d been watching her. If she was, she was being coy about it. She kicked off her sandals and loosened the braid in her hair, letting the knotted end whip at her buttocks. The humid night air and the rum brought beads of sweat to my forehead, and the music filled my veins like a slow-acting hallucinogen. I peeled off my shirt and let the breeze trace feathery hieroglyphs on my chest.

I drew deeply on the cigar, and she suddenly stopped and faced me. She drew a finger to her swollen lips and mocked me, her cheeks sucked inward as if she were drawing me in. I tipped the bottle back and swallowed deeply, grateful that my night had taken a promising turn. The girl laughed loudly and opened her buttons, jiggling her cleavage in my direction. I flicked the cigar butt aside and beckoned to her, and she opened her arms wide.

The music slowed to a dreamy waltz. Out of the shadows below me stepped the watchman, and she floated lightly into his arms. I watched in disbelief as they swayed to the slow, sinuous rhythm, both oblivious to the deluded fool in the shadows above.

I plucked the third lemon and hurled it hard over the wall. A chattered curse answered from the street below, giving the lovers pause for a brief, distracted moment.

Steve Frederick is a journalist in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. “La Luna de los Tres Limones” is his first published fiction.