Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2023    poetry    all issues


Susan Wilkinson

George Vendura
Water Uphill

Stephen Parrish
Bury Me Standing

Dustin Stamper
Chinese Finger Cuffs

Conor Hogan

D.F. Salvador
The Long Vacation

Elliot Aglioni
Mortimer Causa

Terry Mulhern
Watch out for snakes

O.T. Martin

Nick Gallup
The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Ian R. Villmore
Love Is an Anchor

Katrina Soucy

Dan Timoskevich
The Point

Conor Hogan


Adrian stepped out from the air-conditioned bus and into the muggy heat of the Puerto Vallarta afternoon. He’d asked the driver to let him off early, at the 7-Eleven near Emi’s house on the outskirts of town. The agave plantation behind the convenience store exhaled a humidity that concentrated the sun’s rays like a magnifying glass. Adrian blinked away the bright whorls stamped on his eyes, then ordered an Uber. When Fernando’s silver Camry parked in front of him, Adrian held up his duffle, and the trunk unlatched. But when Adrian tried to open the back door, he found it locked.

“Front seat, please,” called Fernando through the passenger window.

“Here too?” asked Adrian, sliding in up front.

“Unfortunately,” said Fernando. There was a basket of miniature water bottles between the seats. “241 Via Alvarado?” asked Fernando, dragging an index finger over his phone to see the suggested route.

“That’s it,” said Adrian, taking a water bottle. Adrian prided himself on always accepting complimentary offers. “So there have been some problems?” For the past year, newspapers had followed a rise in assaults against Uber drivers in cities like Oaxaca and Morelia, as clients grew scarce and taxi drivers turned to violence.

“A few,” said Fernando. Adrian waited, but Fernando didn’t continue. Emi had mentioned that Vallartenses were tight-lipped and cautious these days, after the latest wave of arrests opened a vacuum in the city’s power structure.

“Too bad,” said Adrian, pitching his voice a half-octave higher. He glanced around the car. An anime character dangled from the rearview mirror. The stereo played a DJ set he didn’t recognize. After a moment, Adrian asked, “From dust to dust, huh?” He pointed to the tattoo on Fernando’s forearm: Génesis 3:19.

Fernando looked at him, impressed. “You got the whole book memorized?”

“Just a couple parts,” said Adrian. “I teach Sunday school sometimes, and the kids love that story. Naming the animals and all that.”

“Kids are weird,” said Fernando, braking at a stoplight. “I think it’s about the freakiest thing ever written.” They watched a young man crutch out into the intersection and start juggling a soccer ball with his only foot. “So are you getting back from somewhere?” asked Fernando. “Or is this vacation?”

“My brother lives out here,” said Adrian, watching the teenage amputee balance the tattered ball on his forehead, then flip it onto his back. “You from Vallarta?”

“No,” said Fernando. “I moved here a few years ago, to help my cousin manage her hotel. But I’m originally from Metepec.”

“Really? I’m from Toluca,” said Adrian. He rolled down his window and handed the kid ten pesos as he crutched by. “We’re neighbors.”

“Neighbors,” repeated Fernando, smiling as he shifted into first. They came over a small rise, and the sea stretched before them, flashing as facets formed, then vanished, then formed again. “How is Toluca? Have they paid the garbagemen yet?” Over the past couple weeks, the police, firefighters, and trash collectors had been protesting in Toluca. They hadn’t received their salary for months on end, and images of black plastic bags piled two meters high across Paseo Colon had gone viral on social media. So had videos of federal agents arresting municipal police officers after the local cops set a city bus on fire. The memes had been ruthless.

“Who knows. I moved to Guadalajara after high school,” said Adrian. A taxi pulled even with them, and Adrian wondered how he could contribute to the illusion that he and Fernando were friends, not driver and customer. He decided to plane his hand through the air rushing past his window. “So is this what you do on your weekends, then?”

“And my weekdays,” said Fernando with a sigh. “The hotel went under during COVID. People stopped traveling, and we couldn’t afford the taxes.”

Adrian was puzzled. “Taxes?” he asked. “But they stopped...ah.” Fernando slowed down as they passed the charred remains of a gym. He glanced at Adrian, then back to the road. The blackened skeletons of squat-racks still stood among the wreckage. “Those taxes,” said Adrian. He pulled up his sleeve and showed Fernando the verse tattooed on his own arm: Eclesiastés 12:14. “Well. God brings everyone into judgment.”

Fernando rolled to a stop and held out a business card embossed with the words, Hotel Trópical, followed by a phone number. “He sure is taking his time, though, huh?” he said. “Message me if you need another ride. You can’t be too careful these days.” Adrian thanked him and got out. An alert from Uber informed Adrian that he’d been dropped off. He gave Fernando five stars. After a vision of Fernando getting yanked from his car by vengeful taxistas flashed across his mind, Adrian also gave him a 30-peso tip. Then he called Emi. “Hey. I’m out front.”

Emi unlocked the gate and the two brothers hugged. Victor stepped out from behind Emi and wrapped his arms around both of them. “Reunited and it feels so good,” Victor sang in clumsy English.

“Are you guys already drunk?” asked Adrian. “Really celebrating having the house to yourself, eh?” Emi’s face was rosy beneath a few days of stubble. He’d grown thinner with each FaceTime, and now, standing before him, Adrian tried not to stare at Emi’s scooped-out cheeks. At the strands of muscle bulging from his neck.

“You think it’s a joke, asshole,” said Emi. “But this place is a warzone. Turns out the boys just needed a common enemy to bring them together, and since the move, they found one: me.” Emi had written the December cover story for Sociedad, about executives at PEMEX selling maps of their company’s subterranean infrastructure to huachicoleros. The article included emails from board members giving the thieves advice on when the gas flowed and where to puncture their pipelines. After the story came out, the police chief advised Emi to leave Guadalajara, at least for a couple years.

“And you,” said Adrian, turning to Victor. “You’re still fat as ever, thank God.” He pulled Victor in for another hug.

“Fatter,” said Victor. He’d shaved his beard into a brambly chinstrap, and Adrian could already hear the argument the two of them were going to have about this decision later on. Victor grabbed Adrian’s shoulders and stepped back. “You, on the other hand, managed to stay handsome, you son of a bitch.” The trio walked through Emi’s small house and out into the backyard. Emi handed each of them a beer, and they sat at a small table on the patio. A high wall, crowned with concertina wire, encircled the yard.

“So did your boys march yesterday?” Adrian asked. Ale, Emi’s wife, had sent photos of Marco and Luis dressed in robes to one of their family’s group chats.

“Come on, man,” muttered Victor, pinching his eyebrows together. “He just calmed down.”

Emi scowled. “Oh, they marched,” he said. He scooted closer to Adrian and showed him a jerky video, of Marco dragging a wooden cross through a crowded street. Colorful stalls along the sidewalk sold food and trinkets. Overhead, amusement park rides whirled gigantic metal arms. Marco hobbled from one patch of shadow to another, tears streaming down his face. From behind the phone, Ale called out, “Fuerza, mi’jo!”

“They still don’t let ‘em wear shoes, huh?” asked Adrian, taking a sip of his beer. He turned to Victor. “It’s like walking on a frying pan. Me and Emi thought we were smart, tried duct-taping the bottom of our feet one year. Melted off in like half an hour.” Emi swiped to another video, of Luis tripping beneath his cross and splitting open a red hole in his knee. “It’s a character-builder, that’s for sure,” said Adrian.

“It’s medieval,” said Emi. “Tell me, altar boy: why do we keep worshiping the guy who fucked this place up so bad? It’s like we’re a bunch of prisoners, worshiping the warden.”

“Woah,” said Adrian. He leaned away from Emi. “You trying to catch a lightning bolt to the head? It’s the day before Easter. He’s listening extra hard right now. Can’t the blasphemy wait a week or two?” Victor and Adrian laughed.

“Blasphemy? You wanna talk blasphemy?” asked Emi. “I’ve been working on an article about the Nesausser lawsuit. Remember? When they proved the runoff from the Monterrey factory was giving kids cancer? Well, the settlement package said that Nesausser had to buy chemo for anyone who got sick. All the medicine got delivered to the mayor’s office, and this bastard switched the labels. Sent bags of saline to the local hospitals and sold the chemo to China. 53 kids died before anyone found out. Know where the mayor is now? Me either. Some rat told him the National Guard was coming to arrest him, and he fled the country. Probably on a beach in Venezuela right now, laughing his ass off.”

Emi pulled up another video Ale had sent. Each year, someone from Iztapalapa was chosen to play Jesus, and once all the teenagers had marched, everyone gathered at el Cerro de la Estrella to watch the reenactment of the crucifixion. After struggling through las viacrucis, the actor playing Christ was bound to a massive cross and his hands were nailed to the wood. Emi showed them this year’s Jesus, hanging above the crowd and shrieking, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” as blood ran down his arms.

“That’s where the whole story should have ended, far as I’m concerned,” said Emi. The video evaporated, replaced by an incoming call from Ale. Emi tapped accept. “Your ears must’ve been burning,” he said, walking inside.

Adrian pulled a baggie of weed from his pocket and started rolling a joint. “What’s his problem?” he asked. “He seems even pissier than normal.”

Victor opened the bulging Ziplock and inspected one of the small buds. “I guess Ale mentioned the d-word again,” said Victor.

“Damn,” said Adrian, licking the paper. “So we’re getting hammered? Tomorrow’s Easter. I wanted to go to church.”

“I’m sure the big guy will understand,” said Victor. “Sucks. It’s the last thing Emi needs.”

“Yeah, well,” said Adrian. He lit the joint. “You kinda get what you’re looking for, you know?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Emi, closing the screen door. He sat beside Adrian and took the joint.

“It means you’ve spent a long time searching out the devil, little brother,” said Adrian. “Writing about man and all his sins. You could always choose to focus on the way God shows his love instead.” Adrian pointed to the sink of clouds to the west, flaring pink and orange as sunlight drained over the horizon. “Maybe it’s a matter of perspective.”

“That’s what’s so confusing about you,” said Emi. “A couple pretty lights, and you’re satisfied. You don’t think we’ve been gaslit? Tricked into thinking all of this is our fault?” Emi blew smoke through his nose. “Tell me, who’s the real sinner: the disobedient children, or the deadbeat who abandoned them?”

Adrian chuckled. “That’s a good line. You’ve been preparing.”

“Always,” said Emi. He grinned. “What about you, Vic? You think the man upstairs is good, or evil?”

“I reject the premise,” said Victor, clapping a hand on each brother’s shoulder. “I think we’re home alone. And just like any kids left unsupervised, I only see one option.” Victor opened the bottle of tequila sitting on the table and poured three shots. “Now, since we’re tackling life’s thorniest questions tonight, next topic: who’s winning la Liga this year?”

After dinner, they decided to go downtown. Adrian called Fernando, but got no answer, so they took a bus to the city center and found a bar alongside a small plaza overlooking the sea. A band played beneath the quiosco in the middle of the plaza. Three women sat at the next table over, their words elastic with Yucatecan accents. One of the women, wearing a sash that read CUMPLEAÑERA, was telling the other two how Puerto Vallarta was overdue for a massive tsunami. How the obsolete tide gauges in place would offer just seven minutes of advance notice before the first wave hit shore, destroying every city within twenty kilometers of the Jaliscan coast.

“Another example of God’s benevolence?” Emi asked Adrian. The woman wearing the sash glanced toward their table.

“Please excuse my brother,” said Adrian. “He has daddy issues.” The woman smiled. She had a small swoop of a nose and bobbed hair.

“Don’t we all?” she replied.

Adrian held up his beer. “Happy birthday. How old are you?”

“Gracias,” she said, lifting her margarita. Her voice dragged over a slight rasp. She pushed her bottom lip into a pout. “I’m 32.”

“I don’t believe you,” said Adrian. He looked her up and down. “Well. Maybe.”

“Que grosero,” said the woman. She ran a fingertip around the rim of her glass, then licked the gathered salt.

“Sorry,” said Adrian. The band started playing El Preso. “Could I make it up to you?” he asked. The woman rolled her eyes. Adrian stood and took her outstretched hand. “What’s your name?” he asked, leading her onto the plaza.

“Eva,” said the woman, her hand warm in Adrian’s as he caught the drumbeat and drew a tight circle. Adrian was an excellent dancer, and always relished the first moments with a new partner. He marked a turn, touched Eva’s hip, and sent her back beneath his arm. She frowned as he whirled her through a series of spins. “Where’d you learn to dance?” asked Eva.

“The internet,” said Adrian. He led her through an enchufla, then cocked his head toward Emi. “My brother and I used to watch videos online and trade off being the girl.”

“Funny,” said Eva. Her bare back pressed into his stomach. She looked up and shifted her hips, then pointed to one of the women at the table. “That’s how my sister and I learned to kiss.”

Adrian missed a step. “Really?” he asked.

“No, pervert,” said Eva. Her aquamarine eyes flashed. “Are you always so gullible?”

The song’s momentum carried Eva an arm-length away. Then she was back, her chest against his. “I’m pretty sure I’d believe anything you told me,” said Adrian. A pale delta fanned out from the moon and across the black ocean.

Eva’s face broke into a grin. “Well,” she said, and stepped further into his arms. “That could be fun.” The song ended, and the band struck up another. Victor offered his hand to Eva’s sister. After a minute, their other friend dragged Emi from his seat. Soon, more couples joined them on the plaza, clapping and laughing. Two toddlers held hands and bounced to the sob of the trombone.

Eva was a hydrologist and worked for a nonprofit bringing clean water to rural communities throughout Jalisco, Adrian learned over a shared cigarette. Her contract was about to expire, and when it did, she would begin her new job as vice-president of planning at Energía Paradiso. Adrian asked if she needed a trophy husband. He said his goal in life was to be a kept man. Eva squeezed his thick arms and said, “Maybe.”

After the cigarette, Adrian walked into the restaurant, to find an Out of Order sign pasted on the bathroom door. A busboy crouched in front of the toilet with a toolbox. “Damn,” muttered Adrian, turning around. A pair of police stood outside, near the restaurant’s entrance. “Excuse me,” said Adrian. “The bathroom here is broken. You know where I could take a piss?” The rest of the shops surrounding the plaza had closed hours ago.

One of them glanced over while the other watched Eva dance with Emi. “Yeah,” said the cop. “Just go up the promenade a bit, to the rocks.”

“Thanks,” said Adrian. The cop nodded. Adrian’s head swam pleasantly. He wandered up the promenade, until slime-bearded rocks abutted the cement. A few meters below, waves dragged small stones over big stones with a hollow, toe-breaking percussion. “This can’t be right,” said Adrian. Then he chuckled. A cop telling him to piss on the sidewalk did seem to fit the mood of the night. He unbuttoned his pants and settled into a wide stance, facing the sea.

After a moment, a voice behind him said, “What are you doing, idiot?”

Adrian zipped up and turned around. A new pair of cops walked toward him, one shining a flashlight in his face. “Sorry,” said Adrian. “But I just asked one of your compadres and he told me I could piss here. Our restaurant’s bathroom was broken. I swear, he’s just over there.” Adrian gestured toward the plaza.

“Really?” asked the officer with the flashlight. “You’re sure he didn’t mean those?” He pointed his light across the promenade, illuminating a sign that read Baños Públicos, above the entrance to a bathroom.

“Híjole,” said Adrian. He grimaced theatrically. “Honest mistake.”

“Hands on your head,” said the other officer. Adrian looked toward the sky, and felt palms work their way up each leg, then around his waist, before the cop pulled the Ziplock of weed from Adrian’s pocket. “Ah. What’s this?”

“I have glaucoma,” said Adrian. He blinked a few times, then squinted, as though suddenly half-blind.

“You have enough for intent to distribute, is what you have,” said the cop with the flashlight. “I hope you’re local. Our jail is not fun for out-of-towners. Unless you really like acupuncture, I guess.” He unclipped his handcuffs.

“Acupuncture,” his partner repeated, chuckling. “Que culero.”

“Listen, guys,” said Adrian. “Is there any way to take care of this between us? Save everyone the hassle?” Adrian was certain he would be let go. Here they were, three people occupying the stations life had swept them into. Law, and lawbreaker. But beneath their uniforms, these were good men, just like him. They didn’t actually want to make him suffer.

“How much do you have?” asked the cop holding the bag of weed.

“About a thousand, I think,” said Adrian.

The policemen shared a look. “I suppose we could look the other way, this once,” said the cop with the flashlight.

“I appreciate it,” said Adrian. He pulled a sheaf of pesos from his wallet, counted the bills, and handed them over. “1200, actually. For your trouble.” After a pause, Adrian asked, “So . . . can I have my bag back?”

The policemen glanced at each other again. “Don’t be a moron,” said the cop with the flashlight.

Adrian unclipped his watch from his wrist. It cost four times what the weed was worth. But convincing the cops to return his drugs seemed important. It would prove things were the way he thought, and not some other way. Adrian smiled. Held out the watch.

The cop handed Adrian the bag of weed, then clipped the watch to his wrist. “How does it look?” he asked his partner, turning his hand.

“Pretty cool, actually,” said the cop with the flashlight. They all laughed. On the other side of the promenade, white spangles trembled on the dark water. Above the horizon, the moon beamed. Adrian bid goodbye to the officers and walked toward the brassy sound floating from the plaza. “Where were you?” asked Emi.

“Just enjoying the pretty lights,” said Adrian. Emi shook his head and grinned as Adrian grabbed his hand. Everyone cheered while the two brothers pressed cheek-to-cheek and waltzed back and forth across the cobblestones.

After the band struck its final chord, Adrian asked Eva if he could see where she lived. She rolled her bottom lip between her teeth, then said, “How about I give you my number? And we can go on a proper date?”

Adrian thought about pushing, but didn’t. Instead, he handed Eva his phone and wondered when he’d next be in Puerto Vallarta. He’d brave the seven-hour bus ride from Guadalajara to see her again, he decided. Who knows, maybe he’d move here for her. “Expect a call,” said Adrian. Eva narrowed her bright eyes.

Adrian, Victor, and Emi walked toward the street, pawing at each other and laughing. They staggered, playing up their drunkenness for old time’s sake. Adrian told Victor that he was going to shave his beard the moment they got home. Emi said he thought it looked distinguished. Adrian scrolled through his phone and found Fernando’s contact. But this time, when he called, the line went straight to voicemail.

At the other end of the block, a taxi driver was talking with the same pair of police who’d frisked Adrian. The cops looked over, and the one wearing his watch pointed toward them. Adrian waved. The cops waved back as the driver walked over. “Where to?” the taxista asked, his eyes darting back and forth along the ground as though searching for something.

“Via Alvarado,” said Emi, fluffing Victor’s beard with his fingers.

“70 pesos,” said the driver. A muscular flatulence, the smell of a punctured colon, wafted from an open sewer line running out to sea.

“Deal,” said Emi, and slid into the back seat. Victor followed. As Adrian started to climb in after them, a hand caught his arm. He looked around to find Eva. She glanced toward the policemen, who were watching a commotion in front of a bar down the street. Men tumbled out, shoving each other. One of the cops tapped a baton against his thigh.

“I changed my mind,” said Eva. “It is my birthday, after all.”

Adrian turned back to the cab. “See you guys tomorrow,” he said, and slammed the door on their catcalls. The lock clicked, and the cab pulled away. “Where to?” asked Adrian. Emi shouted something, his arm waving through the window. The cop with Adrian’s watch turned to his partner and laughed.

“It’s just a few blocks,” said Eva. Adrian pulled her to him. She tasted like fruit, and her body fit neatly against his. They walked arm-in-arm along the promenade, listening to the waves lift toward the moon, then fall. The sea still determined, after all this time, to one day touch that shining light far, far above.

In her room, they undressed quickly and tumbled into bed. Eva wrapped her smooth legs around his hips. She kissed his neck, gripped his back. “Que quieres?” whispered Adrian, looking down.

“Tú,” said Eva, and breathed.

Adrian awoke to Eva tracing the tattoo on his forearm. “Good morning,” she said, examining the stylized letters. Adrian pushed the comforter down. The sheets released an artificial sweetness, sharpened slightly by the briny pheromones of their sweat. Eva’s studio was small, with a balcony that overlooked the ocean.

“Hi,” said Adrian. He braced for the familiar morning-after polarity reversal, when he would want to do nothing more than leave. When a list of invented obligations he could be late for would ticker through his head. Instead, Adrian wondered if Eva might want to go to Mass with him that afternoon. He propped himself up on his elbow and looked down at her nude body. She had a tattoo of her own, a delicate serpent uncoiling along her ribs. “Dios mío,” said Adrian, shaking his head. “He took His time with you.”

Eva swallowed a grin and fixed Adrian with a stern look. “Just so you know,” she said, walking her fingers across his chest. “I’m not usually this easy. Last night was an anomaly.”

“I’ll propose right now, if it would make you feel better,” said Adrian. He was surprised to find that the idea didn’t seem crazy, hanging between them in the daylight. “As long as you don’t make me sign a prenup. I want some of that Paradiso money if we don’t work out.”

“Hmm,” said Eva. She palmed Adrian’s stomach. “You are very pretty.” She slid her hand up his torso, then gently pushed his head toward her waist. “But what else can you offer? I need more than just a pretty face.”

Afterwards, Eva went to the bathroom. Adrian heard water running, and Eva singing Di Mi Nombre. He turned on the television, stood up, and began gathering his clothes. His shirt was draped over a chair, his pants in a bundle beside the nightstand. Adrian fished his phone from the back pocket. Eva came out of the bathroom wearing a towel wrapped around her head and nothing more. She walked to the kitchen and began to slice an apple, quietly humming.

Adrian watched her and imagined a lifetime of mornings spent this way, naked and content. Then he looked at his phone. The screen was covered in an outbreak of small red numbers. 47 missed calls, 105 unread messages, 387 new WhatsApps. Like anyone born in this country, Adrian had long ago learned to fear unexpected notifications. He locked his phone again. Then he unlocked it.

There were messages from people Adrian hadn’t spoken to in years. 19 missed calls from his mom. 32 WhatsApps from Ale. Random words from the truncated previews in his inbox seemed to glow: sorry, best, help. Adrian sat down on the bed. A professional voice cut through the static building inside his head. A renowned journalist, Emiliano Gomez was best known for his work exposing corporate corruption. Adrian looked to the television. Easter Morning Massacre, read the chyron. Two bodies hung beneath a bridge. One heavy, one thin. Both half-skinned, like fruit on display at some hellish market. Channel 7 would only show this footage once before the RTC threatened to censure them, Adrian heard himself think. A sheet flapped beside the bodies. A warning painted in blocky letters.

Mistaking them for out-of-town drug dealers, sicarios of La Nueva Generación once again demonstrated their ruthlessness toward any perceived competition. Adrian tried to push away understanding. Already, other journalists are alleging law enforcement’s involvement in the murders. The television displayed side-by-side pictures of Emi and Victor, pulled from somewhere on the internet. Behind him, Eva gasped.

Adrian turned at the sound of her voice. She looked at him. He looked past her, out across the ocean’s surface. Beneath that steely sprawl, noxious chemicals, known nowhere else in this or any other universe, seethed. Eva walked over and sat beside him.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. Adrian braced for the acid-wash of guilt, or rage, or grief. Instead, he felt a different kind of toxin spread across his mind. Comprehension, pure and searing. The entire race’s slow awakening, distilled into a single second. “Should we get dressed?” asked Eva, putting a hand on his forearm.

Adrian stared a moment longer toward the horizon. A dark mass of thunderheads concealed the line where sea transformed to sky, but somewhere beyond that gathering storm, Adrian now knew, chaos gave way to void. Struggle dissolved into apathy. Orphans, all of them, left to this impossible task. Adrian met Eva’s eyes. Even in her sorrow, they appeared backlit, as though refracting some muted glow within. “Yeah,” said Adrian. His own voice sounded bizarre, distant and bulging with anguish. Eva wrapped her arms around him. Adrian, shaking, covered himself with the sheet. Never before had he felt so exposed, so unprotected. He leaned into Eva and said through the first, racking sob, “Yeah, I guess we should.”

Conor Hogan is a smokejumper with the U.S. Forest Service. After graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in English and Spanish, he spent two years on a Fulbright scholarship in Mexico. His writing can be found in Dreamers Magazine, The Hamilton Stone Review, and Overtime, among other places. He currently lives in Washington state.

Dotted Line