The Angel Esmeralda - By Don DeLillo


It was an hour’s drive, much of it a climb through smoky rain. I kept my window open several inches, hoping to catch a fragrance, some savor of aromatic shrubs. Our driver slowed down for the worst parts of the road and the tightest turns and for cars coming toward us through the haze. At intervals the bordering vegetation was less thick and there were views of pure jungle, whole valleys of it, spread between the hills.

Jill read her book on the Rockefellers. Once into something she was unreachable, as though massively stunned, and all the way out I saw her raise her eyes from the page only once, to glance at some children playing in a field.

There wasn’t much traffic in either direction. The cars coming toward us appeared abruptly, little color cartoons, ramshackle and bouncing, and Rupert, our driver, had to maneuver quickly in the total rain to avoid collisions and deep gashes in the road and the actual jungle pressing in. It seemed to be understood that any evasive action would have to be taken by our vehicle, the taxi.

The road leveled out. Now and then someone stood in the trees, looking in at us. Smoke rolled down from the heights. The car climbed again, briefly, and then entered the airport, a series of small buildings and a runway. The rain stopped. I paid Rupert and we carried the luggage into the terminal. Then he stood outside with other men in sport shirts, talking in the sudden glare.

The room was full of people, luggage and boxes. Jill sat on her suitcase, reading, with our tote bags and carry-ons placed about her. I pushed my way to the counter and found out we were wait-listed, numbers five and six. This brought a thoughtful look to my face. I told the man we’d confirmed in St. Vincent. He said it was necessary to reconfirm seventy-two hours before flight time. I told him we’d been sailing; we were in the Tobago Cays seventy-two hours ago—no people, no buildings, no phones. He said it was the rule to reconfirm. He showed me eleven names on a piece of paper. Physical evidence. We were five and six.

I went over to tell Jill. She let her body sag into the luggage, a stylized collapse. It took her a while to finish. Then we carried on a formal dialogue. She made all the points I’d just made talking to the man at the counter. Confirmed in St. Vincent. Chartered yacht. Uninhabited islands. And I repeated all the things he’d said to me in reply. She played my part, in other words, and I enacted his, but I did so in a most reasonable tone of voice, and added plausible data, hoping only to soothe her exasperation. I also reminded her there was another flight three hours after this one. We’d still get to Barbados in time for a swim before dinner. And afterward it would be cool and starry. Or warm and starry. And we’d hear surf rumbling in the distance. The eastern coast was known for rumbling surf. And the following afternoon we’d catch our plane to New York, as scheduled, and nothing would be lost except several hours in this authentic little island airport.

“How neo-romantic, and how right for today. These planes seat, what, forty?”

“Oh, more,” I said.

“How many more?”

“Just more.”

“And we are listed where?”

“Five and six.”

“Beyond the more than forty.”

“Plenty of no-shows,” I said. “The jungle swallows them up.”

“Nonsense. Look at these people. They’re still arriving.”

“Some are seeing the others off.”

“If he believes that, God, I don’t want him on my side. The fact is they shouldn’t be here at all. It’s off-season.”

“Some of them live here.”

“And we know which ones, don’t we?”

The plane arrived, from Trinidad, and the sound and sight of it caused people near the counter to push in more closely. I went around to the side and approached from behind the adjacent counter, where several others stood. The reconfirmed passengers began filing toward the immigration booth.

Voices. A British woman said the late-afternoon flight had been canceled. We all pushed in closer. Two West Indian men up front waved their tickets at the clerk. There were more voices. I jumped up several times in order to look over the heads of the assembled people to the dirt road outside. Rupert was still there.

Things were rapidly taking shape. Freight and luggage out one door, passengers out the other. I realized we were down to standbys. The people leaving the counter