Richard & Paul

Unbelievable. So he finds this amazing artifact, and then just turns around and sells it the next day?

That’s right. Can you imagine? A piece of history, of his own history—for all he knows, it was his great-great-whatever uncle or something who carved the thing out of stone. And it was a real piece of art, a substantial thing. A statue this tall, Diego said.

From the ground?

From the ground. And with detail. Probably had paint on it at some point, though who knows. He said you could still see the face. And he just sold it off, like it was some trinket a kid had carved to sell to tourists.

Where did he find it?

You want to go hunting for your own, huh?

No, just curious. I mean, I can’t imagine something that heavy would just wash up
on shore, right? So did he dive for it, or how did he get it?

He didn’t offer any specifics, and I didn’t press him. I mean, I just hired him, and
it was clear he was only trying to make a good impression when he started telling me the story. You know, something he thought I’d like to hear. But I think he could tell from the look on my face that I was surprised—shocked is probably more like it.

Sounds like he’s told that story to other gringos, and probably with better results.

Maybe other people can hide their feelings better than I can.

Or maybe they didn’t think it was a big deal. Maybe they wish they’d been the one he sold it to.

Well don’t you? I mean, how amazing would it be to have a piece like that?

But you couldn’t keep it. You’d have to donate it to a museum, or give it to a university. Art like that belongs to the world. And it’s not just art. It’s history too. It belongs to everyone.

Well sure, I wouldn’t keep it forever. But you have to admit, the idea is appealing. Your very own Mayan artifact, right in the living room. Come on. Waking up, looking out over the lake at the volcanoes, walking into the living room to drink a cup of coffee grown right here in San Marcos—the San Marcos near Xela of course, not the one here on the lake—and then putting your feet up on a coffee table made out of, I don’t know, mahogany—

Caoba is what it’s called here.

Caoba, exactly! Caoba, how fucking exotic is that. Your caoba coffee table from wood grown locally, in some local rain forest or something. And sitting there looking out across the lake, with the waves coming in—

The Xocomil.

Right, exactly! Exactly! Sitting there watching the goddamn Xocomil coming in, and looking over at this crazy stone carving right in your living room, and the volcanoes way out there like two green pyramids rising up out of the water, with the Xocomil just churning and everything so—so—otherworldly. You have to admit, it sounds appealing.

It does. It certainly does. Did he say who he sold it to, by the way?

No. Just told me about finding it a while back, and that he got 300Q for it. He was proud of that last fact. That was something he wanted me to know.

But that’s only—

I know. Fifty bucks.




Julie & Paul

The gardener stopped by this morning, while you were out walking.

Diego? Why? And it’s guardian, not gardener. It means—

I know, I know what it means Paul. I just forgot to use it. He came by with his

But it’s a Saturday. Why did he—did he come in the house?

In the—no, why would he? He just knocked and was standing there. They brought
us tamales, they’re in that basket over there. I guess it’s a tradition to do that at Christmas, that’s what I was just reading online.

Did you invite him to eat them with us or, I don’t know, give him a drink or something?

I tried to—I mean, you know my Spanish. But they just smiled a bunch and left.

Incredible. That is kind, that is so kind. This place is just—you know, did I tell you I saw a water spout while I was on my walk just now?

A what?

It’s where the wind picks up and it sucks up water into it and makes like a little tornado, way out on the lake. It was amazing, with one of those huge volcanoes behind it, just bright green way back there and this water tornado shooting up into the sky in the middle of the water.

That does sound amazing. I’m sorry I missed it—you should have told me you were going walking. Did you remember to get tomatoes by the way? I told you, next time you go wandering, get some tomatoes.

No. I forgot. Or I mean, there just isn’t any. You should go up there to the pueblo, you’ll see.

There’s hardly any proper stores at all, just some tiendas with beer and candy and chips. Really only one place with any kind of produce, but it’s got flies buzzing all around it’s so rotten. Richard was telling me you really have to go to town if you want to get anything worth eating. That’s where they take all the produce they grow around here, to the market in Pana, is what he says.

Richard. He knows everything.

He knows a lot more than us. I was telling him what Diego said to me, about selling that statue—the one that was this tall, remember?

How could I forget? It’s all you talk about.

He thinks they dove for it. That they must have got diving gear. I guess there’s a submerged city on the other side of the lake, they just found it in the last few years or something. Ancient Mayan city, they think it could be over a thousand years old. Richard says that’s the only place Diego could have gotten the statue.

But how could Diego afford that, diving gear, and a boat and everything? He must have just found it.

That’s not what Richard thinks.
Oh, Richard can think whatever he wants. I’m tired of hearing all the things that Richard thinks.

Even still. Richard says the statue must have come from the submerged city. Amazing, isn’t it?


Paul & Richard

Richard my friend, I’m chartering a boat. I’ve decided.

Chartering? Paul, you don’t charter boats here. You just get them. You call a guy,
and he picks you up.

Exactly. That’s what I’m doing, and I want you to come with me. You and me,
we’re going to dive together. I figure the dive shop down at the Iguana will rent us their equipment if we give them enough advance notice, and we can go on our own excursion.

Is this—are you trying to get me to go hunting for ruins with you?

I am a certified dive instructor. Did you know that? I can teach you—

Paul, I know how to dive just fine. I’ve been living on Lake Atitlán for eighteen
years. The question is, are you trying to dive to Samabaj? To what?

The submerged city. Samabaj. Or Pa’Jaibal’, as the Tz’utujil would call it. Samabaj was just the name given to it by the man who found it. Some say that its existence proves the theory that this lake, Lake Atitlán, is the axis mundi.

The what?

The center of the world. For the Mayans anyway. And for others too. Did you know the Mormons bought land here for that reason? They believed this might be the headwaters of the chosen land.

The ones on Santander, with the signs, you know, What does the Bible really teach us?

That’s actually the Jehovah’s. The Jehovah’s Witnesses? But anyway, the Mormons, I guess most of them decided they were wrong. They sold the land and got out of here. The ones that are left are just a fraction of the original contingent.

So are you saying you’ll go with me or what? You’ll do a dive out there? And see the axis mundi or whatever with me? And I want to say that you shouldn’t worry, don’t worry about me keeping—I’m not going to try and keep anything. Though I may just, you know, just have it for a short while, until we can locate the right place, the correct museum or whatever for it to—

Tell me something, Paul. Why did you move here?


Why did you and Julie move to Guatemala?

We—well we. Why are you asking? We were just tired, I guess. Tired of the US. Tired of working all the time. I had worked so hard for so long, and then one day we just kind of lifted our heads up and realized that we had a lot of money—not rich, you know, but still, plenty to be comfortable in a place like this—and our kids were grown and I was still killing myself to make more money, and at that point I was just making it out of habit. Or to prove something, to show that we could get even more of it, I don’t know.

And so we said to hell with it. Started traveling around, found some great places but it wasn’t until we got here, to Paxanax, that we felt something. Something like, this is a place we can stay. And then we started meeting people—met you, and your wife, and you know, got connected a little.

You never told me that. Not like that.

Well. I don’t know if I had actually thought about it like that, not until just now. Until you surprised me with that question. I think I usually just say, we were looking for a new adventure, or something like that. Something that doesn’t, you know, get into it too much.

Right. That’s what you’ve said to me in the past. And if you said that now I may have decided not to dive with you. Just thrill seeking. I’m not interested in that. But something else, changing your life—looking for something real . . . Look. I’ll go. I’ll do the dive. But you have to understand—first, it’s illegal.

Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. But how serious—

Not very. I mean, they can’t very well set up guard posts out there in the water, can they? But you should know that, from a certain perspective, it’s tantamount to grave robbing, what you’re proposing.

I hadn’t thought about it like that. But if it’s just sitting there, all those ruins just sitting there on the bottom of the lake and no one else is doing anything about it, isn’t that a waste? No one gets to look at it or, or to know what could be down there. I mean, it could be huge what we find.

Some might say that’s exactly where those ruins should be. Left alone. Preserved. But I do want to see them. To see the city. Frankly, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Maybe since I moved here—maybe even long before. Sometimes I have these dreams . . . But look, I’ll go with you. If for no other reason than to make sure you don’t get yourself into trouble. I’ll go with you.


Julie & Paul

I don’t like it Paul. I really don’t like it. You haven’t been diving since Roatan, and that was, what, four years ago? At least? And who knows how deep those ruins are. The whole thing sounds half-baked, just really half-baked.

Don’t worry honey. Richard knows what he’s doing. He’s been living here for—

I don’t give a fuck how long Richard has been living here. Everyone around here always says that, how long they’ve been living here, as if it has anything to do with anything. As if just living here means they’ve acquired special skills, magic powers. Do ever hear an indigenous person say they’ve been living here however long and that’s why they know how to do something? All these gringos living here fifteen years, twenty years, and then they still don’t speak any Spanish. At least I’m taking classes. At least I’m trying.

Hey, I speak Spanish. And Richard does too.

I’m not just talking about him. All of these busybodies, these local experts. I’ve been living here ten years, I know all about the Mayans, a simple people really, the Kaqchikel, the Tz’utujil, all they want is corn. They just pray to corn, and that’s all they want. Do you ever stop to think why? It’s because it’s food! That’s why. There’s nothing to the corn itself. I mean, did you hear Miranda talking the other day, the way she went on about how simple they are and how we have to protect them and try to integrate with them so they can learn from us. The people up in the Santa Cruz pueblo are so simple and kind, they’re just like children—it’s like a cartoon of real people. Like they don’t get jealous or angry or, or have any interiority at all, or their own culture that doesn’t need to integrate with ours, a culture that’s outlasted the Spanish conquest and we think they should change now, that they need to catch up with the times, be competitive to survive, I mean how fucked up is that, and in reality they don’t have much time to think about anything but survival. I mean do you see these women carrying firewood every day on their backs, all the way up to the pueblo? Loads and loads of it, every day. They hike past our homes with it—

Leña. It’s called leña.

Leña, whatever word you want to use. What I’m saying is, they’re collecting firewood just to cook their meals, just to subsist. They’re fighting to survive here, just right up there—you see, right there, up above us?—and we’re down here talking about how simple they are, and how kind it is of Diego to bring us tamales for Christmas when for all we know he had to take food out of his son’s mouth to do that, to be respectful toward his employers, toward us, and we’re making plans to go dive where their ancestors had a city and we’re just going to cut them out of it altogether, just keep what we find or give it to some museum, some Spanish-descended man from Guatemala City who will come in and say, They’re really a very simple people, it’s a great thing we saved these ruins from them, they would never know what to do with them. As if the same people who made the things don’t know what to do with them. As if they don’t deserve to have them.

You heard Diego. He sold that statue. Probably just to some rich guy from Guatemala City, who has it in his house now.

But isn’t that his choice to make? More than ours, anyway? And what are you going to do that’s so much better? At least he made a little money out of it. You and your adventures, always you and your adventures, and then you find some explanation to hang on it. Any explanation will do.

That’s not fair, Julie. This is nothing like Mesa Verde.

I didn’t even bring that up. I wasn’t even thinking of that, not until you said it.

All I’m saying is, what I’m saying is, this is completely different. I promise you. I promise, this is important. Are you listening to me? I promise this will be different.


Julie & Richard & Paul

What the hell happened out there, Richard? Why is Paul bleeding?

Oh Julie, try to calm down. Paul is going to be just fine. It was just my nephew, he—

Your nephew? Who the hell is your nephew?

Sam. He came along at the last minute. He’s been living in Antigua studying Spanish for the last month.

So what does he have to do with why my husband is bleeding out of his head?

Julie. Calm down. Tranquilo, please. It’s very simple—head wounds bleed more than other types of wounds because there is so much circulation in the head. It looks much worse than it is.

Really I’m fine, honey. It’s nothing at all. It wasn’t Richard’s fault.

You go sit down Paul. You sit down and put pressure on that. And Richard, what is this about your cousin? Why was he even there in the first place?

Everything was going just fine out there, at least at first.

Really it was, sweetheart. We found the submerged city!

Sit down Paul! And you, Richard, you tell me what the hell happened.

I’m worried about you, Julie. You’re acting hysterical.

Don’t you tell me I’m hysterical, Richard. Don’t you fucking tell me that when you come home after I said I didn’t like this whole scheme, diving for buried treasure at your age, the two of you, with no one there for safety, no one there, and then you come home and Paul’s bleeding out of his head and you tell me I’m the hysterical one? Maybe your wife will take that from you Richard, but I won’t.

Julie. Listen. Please, just listen. We found the city just fine, is what we’re trying to tell you. We found the submerged city! Are you listening to what I’m telling you? It’s right there, in front of Volcán Tolimán—can you see it way across the water there? Can you see the volcano?

It’s a big fucking volcano, Richard.

Right in front of it, not more than fifty meters from the shore, is the spot. Just outside the bay of Santiago. You know Santiago?

Of course I know Santiago.

You know, I’ve been living here eighteen years, and I’ve never been able to dive there. I never made it happen. Today was just—it was pure magic.

Amazing. I’m so glad to hear it, Richard. Now tell me, tell me how Paul got a head wound while diving. Explain that to me, please.

We were going to take turns going down. Paul and I were going to go first, and Sam—

Who the fuck is Sam, anyway? Why was he there at all?

Sam is my nephew, who’s been studying Spanish in Antigua. We’ve been over this. Really, Julie. So Sam was left with the boat and the boat driver—the lanchero

I know the word.

So Sam was left with the lanchero while we dove, and I guess Sam could see that people were waving at us from the shore. And they asked the lanchero to go in, but he wouldn’t leave us, which was the right thing to do. So as soon as we came up Sam, before he even got his first turn diving, he insisted on taking the boat right over by the shore before we could even say that it was a bad idea, because he wanted to see why everyone there was waving at us and yelling and making such a commotion. It all happened so fast, we zoomed over there and they were yelling and shaking their fists and someone threw a rock—maybe lots of people threw them, I don’t know, but I just saw the one—and it hit Paul right in the forehead, a very lucky shot. It must have been some people from Santiago who suspected what we were up to. They can get very angry, you know. They’re a very proud people, the Tz’utujil of Santiago—they got the worst of it in the war. Lots of violence over there, lots of tradition.

And then, after Paul got hit, you came straight home?

Well that wouldn’t have been fair to Sam, now would it? To come all that way, and then not even get to see the city?

Fair to Sam! Are you fucking kidding me!

It’s OK, honey. It’s not Richard’s fault. I told them I didn’t need to come back. It’s actually a really long ways to get out there, longer than you’d think, and it didn’t make sense to just turn right around and come back. I mean, we’d only been there twenty minutes or something when all of this happened. And I was fine afterward, really I was just fine. I wrapped my T-shirt around my head, and I’m just fine.

Julie, please. Listen to me when I say that, first, I never would have allowed Paul to be at risk. If I thought his injuries were severe I would have taken him straight to the hospital. They have one over there in Santiago, in fact, and I would have taken Paul there straightaway if I was concerned.

I’m so glad to hear that. How incredibly reassuring.

But I could tell that it wasn’t serious. Yes, it was bleeding a lot, but I knew he’d be fine. I’ve been living here almost twenty years, and I know a thing or two about head wounds. The thing here Julie, the really incredible thing, is that now we know where it is. I saw the city. And it was—it was unlike what I had imagined. Unlike what anyone has imagined, I would venture to say. It was just incredible.

And I think I saw it too, honey! There were these huge stacks of stones, shaped kind of like a pyramid beneath us.

Yes, but then beneath that—

It was hard for me to see because it was a little dark, and I didn’t quite feel comfortable going all the way down, at least not when I dove the first time. And I didn’t go again, for obvious reasons. But beneath that . . .

Oh Paul. You poor thing, how is your head? How are you feeling?

It’s fine. Really I’m fine, honey.

Paul had to stay on the boat, and I dove again. I’ll admit, I felt compelled to go
again. Like something was pulling me down, pulling me back into the water. I stayed down much longer the second time. And there was—I saw—but I don’t want to say just yet. I want to let it sit in my mind. But I can tell you right now, I know that I am going back.

Well whoop-de-fucking-do. But I can tell you that my husband is not.


Paul, you and I will talk later. Richard, do you need anything?

Need anything?

Before you leave. A glass of water? An aspirin? Because I’m not sure when we’ll be seeing you again. Not after today.


Paul & Julie

Did you hear? It’s terrible, honey. Just terrible. Hear what?

Richard. They—I guess his body was found.

What? What do you mean?

That’s what I just heard at the market. Everyone is talking about it.

What happened to him? God, I didn’t like the man but I didn’t want him to—for his body to be found. What an awful phrase, his body was found. As if that’s somehow better than just saying that he’s dead. Where did it—where was he found?

In the reeds is what everyone is saying, over by Santiago. I guess he went back. That’s what it looks like, anyway.

Back to see the city. By himself? What else did people say?

By himself. That’s what it looks like. No one really knows anything else, just that he’d been identified, the body had been identified, I guess by his wife, and that he had probably drowned though no one is sure yet. I guess he was only in his underwear. No diving gear or anything else was found with him. No one even knew why he might have been over there, and I didn’t say anything. You know how small this place is. I just didn’t want to get into it.

I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. His poor wife. She must be—I just can’t imagine how she must be feeling.

I know. But the thing is. The thing is when I heard, it actually didn’t surprise me. I mean, did you see his eyes that day, after we got back and I was bleeding everywhere? He didn’t look like himself. He looked . . . strange.

He did. He looked like he was already diving back there again, if that makes sense. Already gone.

I just keep thinking, what if I had gone back with him.

I’m glad you didn’t. I know I was worked up and, and yelling, but I’m glad you actually listened to me. It’s awful but I’m just thinking that it could have been—that it could have been your body. Both of your bodies, or just yours, I don’t know. How awful I am, to be feeling grateful, instead of sad, or shocked or whatever you’re supposed to feel when someone dies.

You’re not awful. I’ve been thinking the same thing. I was thinking it the whole walk home, that I am so lucky. Lucky I didn’t go on the adventure this time, that I decided not to. But then I was also thinking that I don’t believe it’s actually me any more. I think, in a way, I’ve already found what I needed, whatever it was I kept looking for, just by moving here with you. It felt, I don’t know, courageous of us, just to move here.

I love you.

I love you too, honey. Who could that be now?

Oh, it’s Diego, I can see him on the porch knocking. Here on a Saturday again.

Can you go out and talk to him? I’m not really decent right now.

Sure, sure. Hola, Diego! Que pasa? Que es eso?

What is it? What does he have?

Oh, Julie you have to come here. You have to come see this. Throw something on
and come out here.

What is it Paul?

Diego has another statue! He has it under a—wait. But it’s just wood. Solo es de madera, Diego, no de piedra. Pensé que—

What is it Paul? What’s he saying?

He says his cousin made it. He says his cousin made five more of them, just like the first one, after he saw how excited I was. He’ll give us a special deal, just 200Q each. He says—oh my god. I need to study more Spanish. Oh my god, what an idiot I am. Poor Richard—

Are you laughing or crying? I’m putting pants on right now—but what is it? What does he have?

Oh but this is incredible! It’s actually—it’s actually better than what I imagined. Even more beautiful—more real somehow. That he made this . . . it’s just incredible. But Julie, you have to come out here! You have to see this. Come and see for yourself, the ancient ruins I’ve been making such a fuss about. Come and see this, Julie, oh come and see.

Zacc Dukowitz holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Florida. His writing has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, the American Literary Review, PANK, and a number of other literary magazines. He is currently living in rural Guatemala.