Bright Red Glow

We went to Costa Rica when I was young, younger than now, but I was old enough to be on the edge of adulthood but still frightened of men for different reasons than now. we flew, like Amelia Earhart into the warmth, but we flew with others, we flew and were recognized and remembered and found on our arrival. we went because my family had read that it was the Switzerland of central America, because they were more like the Germans than the French, that the travel was easy and beautiful and wild but still safe. My parents told me so, but I had never been to Europe, so the security of which countries were our lens were lost on me.

We landed and I tried to ask the driver to take us to the edge of San Jose, but I could only ask questions and I couldn’t understand what he said back and I thought I had failed them. But we had addresses. Everyone was silent on the way there and the city was all neon colors and noises, but it not in the oppressive way that I remember New York or Baltimore, howling like those who agreed with Ginsberg, who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy.

We had a night and then a van and then a bus and it was hot and we were anxious. Or I was anxious. I was not yet best friends with my family. We got there at low tide. Our hotel was orange and was on the beach and we weren’t sure, (everything was open to the outdoors), but then the bats started swooping in, not defensively, but rather to eat the moths and bright flies that bit the lights. There is no better welcome to a place than to be ignored, and in so, be recognized as part of the environment.

We watched the bats and the iguanas and the sun as it parted the ocean with tangerine arms, and my mother cried for joy and I stopped being as afraid. The darkness came with the bangs of the iguanas pummeling their bodies to the ground, to other tile roofs, to fights with each other. We fell asleep through the cracks and the howls and the humidity. The dryness in our skin from our desert home started to kiss back at the air.

The hotel was on the beach, full of pebbles, full of ghost crabs, (they live by the millions and they match the rocks and they are conglomerate in their fear. When you approach, they know the danger and they all move as one, they move like aspen, like clonal trees. We would walk up and the whole beach would scatter as a single plane back into the waves). We would read under the palm fronds and drink sodas while the smell of weed wafted from the surf huts next to the hotel and the music of trumpets and discos and cumbias and Tex-Mes would add layers on top of us. The rock on the beach next to the hotel were full of crabs and green glass. The iguanas stayed away, stayed with the foreigners, where they were safer to sun themselves, where they wouldn’t have to wade through the ghost crabs.

We drove to the jungle and the brown and mottled ghost crabs stayed on the beach. We drove and our van followed clouds and winds and windy roads but the wheels ignored the lines on the cliffs, the lines at stop signs. We passed lines of coffee bushes, with bright lava berries and farmers walking the crops like shepherds. There were alligators below our bridges and burning red flocks of macaws and we drove higher over the dead volcanoes to the other side of Switzerland. We would talk to Tican guides who told us their names were Steve and Randy and Mike, (no last name save but the hotel brand), and we reached the other beaches, the ones with sand for the Americans and Europeans, but we didn’t reach it right away. Instead we had to park outside the walls of the protected jungle and then walk on the high path. The path lifted us from the jungle, away from the bugs and the poison and the monkeys we thought, but no it was actually from the sea of bright lava crabs. Are they dangerous? No, they just bite a little and can tear flesh with their sharp claws? Are they legion? Of course, crabs are always legion. What to they eat? They eat decay. The decay of trees or animals or fruit or people. They eat the bodies of the dead and dying. They are not like the capybara that offer some softness some options for unconscious, no the crabs peal back your layers, bits at a time. The books told us the screams could be heard still from the battles two centuries ago, that the doctors thought the crabs were at first just eating the rot and the infections of the wounded, but while they dawdled on their way to the battle, the crabs found the fresh and new muscles and heartbeats and cleaned the men to the bone of their lives. The best minds of their generations destroyed by madness and crabs

This is a troubling story to a child on the edge of adulthood, and we walked above the crabs and then down to the boats where the men paddled us to other islands where the crabs were fenced out and the monkeys were fat and not aggressive. My sister built a sand castle and my mom looked at a yellow spider the size of a smile, and I sat in a ball, watching the ocean, not yet afraid of jellyfish or sting rays, but now recently aware of the dangers that blot out the pieces of bodies like a Jackson Pollock painting. I watched as a monkey rifled through my lunch, eating on the best parts and picking at his elbow and trying to attack his peer after. Steve and Randy and Mike made phone calls, talked with the man in the boat, counted their sheep and guarded their watches and spoke to themselves in Spanish with worried faces and then smiled in English at all our questions and our itinerary questions.

We left the beach and we drove more, drove across the divide and the glow of sunset turned out to be the glow of volcanoes and we drew closer to them in the night. We stopped and climbed ropes to the tops of the trees, (the canopy layer of rain forest, I explained, from my years of loving the jungle from the wall of my bedroom and the pages of my textbooks. The canopy where crabs and alligators can’t reach, but macaws and howler monkeys shuffle in the beams of sun). I cried a little from joy and the wind tearing at my face. We flew down the ropes and we drove more and the macaws followed us and the alligators followed us and Steve and Randy and Mike pointed out the bridge where the dinosaurs wait in the Tárcoles river for men like Quentin Compson to try to find their pocket watches in time to run away from exams and the police and depression. The best minds of their generations destroyed by madness and crabs and tourists and alligators.

Men are missing in the river, on the floor of the forest, but they are kept company by the crabs and the alligators and the monkeys and the macaws.

We drove and tried to kayak in the ocean, my sister and mom were able, but I ate too much fruit and my body turned to stone and my dad went to get medicine to let me move again. I laid in bed for that day and thought about what the kayaking would be like. My sister came back later to tell me about the sunshine fish, the dolphins that my surrounded my mom, the bright lava coral. I wanted to get lost in the ocean but I was a statue with no macaws for company, but could sleep because my dad was nearby and he kept me safe.

I melted from stone and we all got back to the road. The vans swallowed us whole and we climbed for the skies again to the west. We left Steve and Randy and Mike and we went into the stream, up the country from the Tárcoles, where the water boils up from the bones and blood of Volcán Arenal, boils up and pours out into the jungle. I sat, pounded by shallow rapids, pounded by small waterfalls, listening to the screams of a howler monkey and the cracks of branches and the monkey hurled her body to see more like Kierkegaard’s leaps. My family read books in the steaming water and my sister tried to unbraid the history of the southern latitudes, of who was there first and who came later, or who was alone and who was legion. She asked about the Ticos. The country fought itself and bled and decided its armies should dissolve in 1949. It decided to try to lift up all people, lift up all animals, lift up all plants. The governments of the tourists all look favorably upon Costa Rica. My sister asks about the aviators. I listen through the list for Amelia Earhart. I am young but I have decided to cling to her life and dreams. She has short red hair and goggles and fire in her heart, or so it seems from my books. Was she brave? Yes, but she didn’t realize she had to be brave about the danger, she just thought she was brave enough to step into the nation’s gaze and the sponsors’ needs. Did she love flying? Yes, she said so and she tried to help other women learn to look to more school and learn to fly. Did she die alone? Yes, probably. Did she have sisters? Yes, two. Did they find her? The rescuers found a skeleton, cleaned to the marrow by the giant coconut crabs. Her sisters always said she was missing. Why didn’t her bright lava radio work? They switched it out for a cheaper one that paid more from advertisements from sponsors.

I pulled my head back into the waterfall and waited for the sun to go down. You couldn’t see the lava at the top and sides of Arenal, it was protected by clouds until the sun went down and the clouds couldn’t hold back the glow. There were no crabs or spiders or alligators in the glow floating down to the waterfall. The waterfall tore at my bathing suit and the Sulfur stung my skin but the water was warm and full of flowers and leaves from upstream and the macaws landed near to me and the water pounded out the cries of the howler monkey, the songs of the American pop music from the loud speakers, and the stories of history in the pool to my right.


Sarah Glady

About Sarah Glady

Sarah Glady writes, teaches, hikes, and lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She holds an MA in literature from Arizona State University. Her recent work can be found in McSweeney's, PANK, and Cartridge Lit.
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