How Not to Become an Expat by Kara Vernor

for Annik

Fly to Costa Rica on a one-way ticket. Don’t think about the reasons you’re leaving, not now as your city shrinks beneath you. Now, you are a free bird.

Find a room in a house run by a local guy and stay drunk for a month. Have sex with local guy, and make out in the bathrooms of lesbian discos with women you can’t talk to. Learn to merengue. Smoke all the time.

Find a part-time job teaching English and make a monthly budget. When the balance comes to negative two seventy-eight, check your credit card limits. Swear off math.

Notice the flyer in the window of the supermercado announcing, “Assistant Wanted 12 Hours/Wk– Native English Speakers Only.” Rejoice! You are qualified. Arrive to the interview in what is now your interview dress, the only dress you stuffed into your backpack.

Sense the quiet of the house, a stranger world than the already strange world you bussed through to get there. Sense it’s not a good idea to say, “Dinah won’t you blow?” after she tells you her name. Be young. She prefers near girls or gay men. Smile and ignore the chunks of food stuck in her teeth. Don’t ask why the husband has his own wing.

When the husband drives you back to your place, don’t tell him to drop you at the white house. Beige? he’ll insist. You mean the beige one?

On your first day of work and every day after, change into chancletas immediately after closing the front door behind you. Scrub your hands and fingernails and display them for her to inspect. Wipe your chancletaed feet on the damp hand towels that lie before every threshold so germs won’t transfer from one room to the next. Mind which side of the knife has sliced the skin of the papaya and use the other side of the knife for the flesh. Do not address her on her left. That side of her aura was damaged as she exited her mother’s vagina. Not that she remembers it—That would be absurd, she’ll say—but a medium she consulted saw it all. Stick to the assigned route when you walk to the restaurant to pick up her food. When you glance over your shoulder, pretend not to notice her husband ducking behind a parked taxi. When Dinah defecates with the bathroom door open, narrating her progress aloud—just a little bit more to go, come on—keep dusting the Kuna molas that pave the walls of her cool tomb of a living room.

Don’t ask why she doesn’t leave her house. Don’t ask if she is under the care of a mental health professional. Don’t hint that the world inside is unlike the world outside. Remember you are the world outside, at least for now.

After a few months, do not spike her daily Pepsi with LSD. Do not shove her out her front door to revel in her flailing. Quit now while you still can on good terms, the terms of the young and resource-less. When she calls you a month later to see if you need work, count the cash you’ve tucked under your foam mattress on the floor and be tempted. For a second.

Remember her living room, the frame after frame of vibrant textiles, each a different hand-stitched maze, the walls they hang on a white grout between these neural maps, the wrapping mural of her brain, the only brain of reference. This is what it is to deny. This is what it is to hide away.

Have a couple more nights on the town. Fuck one more stranger. Forgive yourself for not learning Spanish. Buy your ticket home.

Kara Vernor’s fiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Green Mountains Review, Fanzine, No Tokens, and elsewhere, and her fiction chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press. She is the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation scholarship, and her stories have been included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions, the Best Small Fictions finalists, and Outpost 19’s Golden State 2017 anthology.

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