Hotel Santa Clara, short story by Mary Williams

Heat.
A gecko hauls up the wall; hides under the sticky Havana Club rum bottle fixed to the display behind the bar. A tiny breeze rattles the palms beyond the veranda, carrying a scent of warm, stale water. It is three o’clock and the air is sodden with moisture. Sweat hangs in beads from the greasy faces of the two men who wait, bellies straining against too tight trousers, as they lean back against the cushions of the creaking bamboo chairs in the lobby of the Santa Clara Hotel.

One man eyes the bartender with annoyance and speaks to him in Spanish. The bartender mutters a minimal response, shrugs, and carries on wiping the glasses.
The fan has broken; there is no air in this place despite the open doors. The man orders a Cristal beer. The bartender reaches into the fridge; his fingers reluctant to let go of the cool, condensation-wet can. He upends a plastic cup, puts it over the can and pushes it across the counter. The man presses the can to his forehead before opening it. Ah. That’s better. Sitting, he tears off the tag and sips the Cristal slowly, straight from the can.

The other man stares at the tiled floor of the lobby, on which he can see a small insect - an ant? on an expedition to hunt for sugar grains under the glass topped tables. He opens a packet of cigarettes and lights one, thoughtfully. Inhaling, he leans back. The ant vanishes.

Outside the grey clouds of the tempest that is riding up the sky build up upon one another, heaping high beyond the mountains, driven by the hurricane hurling along behind them. Everyone waits for the storm to break. The palms shiver.

Then a young woman enters, a young woman with sleek black hair and red lipstick. She raises a hand in greeting to the men and waltzes in her spangled sandals towards the reception desk, where Emilia the politely bored receptionist is adding up bills on her little hand held calculator. She and the barman have an understanding. She looks up at this smart young woman and greets her in Spanish. The young woman


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