I. His hat
Andy hadn’t been kidding when he’d said he would find a worthless old boat to fix up. When Red had been ambling up to him on the beach it had actually taken him a second to realize what he was looking at: from far away all he had seen had been a man squatting over some rusty-colored shape, a rock or an old pier or, Red guessed, the most run-down boat you ever saw, if you squinted.
The truth was that maybe it had looked exactly like Andy on a boat from far away, but Red’s eyesight hadn’t been great for a few years now. For forty years the furthest he’d ever had to look was across the yard, and glasses had seemed like more trouble than they were worth. When he was at the halfway house it had seemed more important to decide whether he was going to be able to get through another day than it had been to go to the one eye doctor in town. And now… well, now Red was going to have to decide how important identifying boats from far away was to him, he supposed, and whether glasses were finally worth the trouble.
Part of him hadn’t expected to find Andy. It had seemed too much like something out of a fairy tale, treasure buried under a big tree in a field under a rock from a volcano. The wind on his cheeks in the bus down to the border had been surreal, and the sun on his face now, the smell of salt and the fine grains tickling his upper lip, didn’t seem any realer. There was a trickle of sweat working its way down the middle of his back, damp sand clinging to his toes, and the ever-present feeling of being watched, even on this empty beach with no people to speak of, let alone guards.
It was Andy’s smile that convinced Red that he was in the right place: the lines in his cheeks, worn deeper by the sun; the smoothness of his brow, free of the constant, grave pinch between his eyes that had marked his face for the last few years.
“You remembered the name of the town, then?” asked Andy, and there was something funny about the way he was walking toward Red.
Even during the worst times in Shawshank Andy had been confident, something about the way he carried himself always communicating that he had his chin held high even if you couldn’t see it, even when his shoulders were slumped and he was curling into himself. It was among the many things that Red had grown to admire about him. Now, as Andy jumped off his rusty boat and onto the sand he seemed hesitant, slightly shy, as if he wasn’t quite sure of his welcome.
People were different outside of prison. Some for the worse, some for the better. Red hesitated, too, before his body caught up to what his brain knew and he dropped his suitcase and his coat, raising his arms. Andy didn’t hesitate, stepping forward to hug Red tight. Red forgot about looking over his shoulder for a minute, focusing his eyes on the beat-up boat and the blue of the Pacific beyond it instead, and hugged back just as tightly.
“It’s good to see you, Red,” Andy said, still holding on.
“You too, Andy,” Red said, though there was some part of him, now that he was down here, that was reflecting on just how strange this whole thing was, on the peculiarity of seeing this man wearing something other than a prison uniform, on the wider strangeness that had prompted him to follow Andy into this unknown.
“Come on, come on,” Andy said, stepping back and gesturing up to where a few small buildings were clustered on the beach some distance away. Red squinted into the sun.
“You just leave this nice boat here unsupervised? Aren’t you afraid someone will steal it?” he said, and Andy didn’t reply, but his lips curved up in a tiny, secret smile, eyes dancing with something unfamiliar.
“Just you wait, Red. She’s gonna be a beauty,” he said. He picked up Red’s suitcase. “I wasn’t sure when you were coming—” Andy’s voice hitched, almost imperceptibly, and Red wondered if he had been about to say if you were coming, “So your room’s not much, I’m afraid.”
Red considered that for a moment, the complete ridiculousness of a room not being much after being in prison for forty years, the slight awkwardness of seeing Andy again and the sheer pleasure of it, and he shot Andy a sideways look. He wasn’t surprised to find Andy looking back, and the two of them stared at each other, lips twitching, before bursting out laughing.
They laughed longer, Red imagined, than two perfectly normal friends who hadn’t spent two decades together in prison might. It was a recognition of the improbability of the situation and a celebration of the fact that they got to be in the situation at all, that they got to stand around laughing on a beautiful beach as free men. It was the relief of having made it over the border to a place where no one who knew them, or knew of them, would ever think to come. It was, if Red was perfectly honest, the slight hysteria of two men who weren’t quite sure what was next, but were convinced it would be better than what had come before.
“Let me just get my hat,” Red said, pointing at where the tattered old thing was spinning in the wind down the beach. Andy nodded.
Red went, turning his back to Andy without a care in the world, feeling the sun beat down on his neck.
II. Fanny Cano
Red’s room, as it turned out, was not exactly ‘not much’. Andy wasn’t the kind of person to spend carelessly, and Red knew that more likely than not he’d already found the best way to turn what money he already had into even more funds, maybe in a bank down in Mexico City. Red might not completely understand the math of it, but one thing he knew, no ifs or buts about it, was that Andy Dufresne could take one dollar and turn it into five without even having to work at it.
So Andy wouldn’t have spent the money without thinking about it first, but it was pretty clear that he had put time and some of the Shawshank dollars into the little house on the beach, which had three small rooms with big windows. Red’s and Andy’s bedrooms faced the sea, and they had a tiny spare bedroom for the guests they would probably never have. There was a cramped kitchen and dining room on one side of the house, and on the other there was a room with space for a television and a couch and a big desk for Andy to work, leading out onto a west-facing porch that had a view of the endless white sand, if not the sea. Red’s bedroom had a sturdy-looking bed and a chair with some colorful embroidered pillows on it, a bookshelf with a few books—a couple of detective novels, the sort of thing he’d mentioned enjoying to Andy over the years.
“Can you cook?” asked Andy, pointing at a lone pan sitting on the stove as he gave Red a tour of the rest of the house. “One of the girls in town, Alma, comes by to clean every other day.”
“My grandma taught me how to make chicken-fried steak and gravy when I was a kid,” said Red, shrugging. “Eggs. Grits.” He didn’t follow that up with the confession that no one had ever wanted to eat anything Red had had a hand in preparing, that even in prison he’d been taken off kitchen duty, but Andy seemed to get it anyway. He grinned.
“Well, the good news is that there are lots of people in town who can cook, including Alma’s mother. I tell her how many meals I need a week, and Alma brings them by.”
“That’s probably better for our health than trying to eat anything I make,” Red said. He didn’t know what prompted him to say it, but when he opened his mouth and spit it out he discovered how true it was: “I’d like to learn to cook, though.”
“You’ll have time,” Andy said, and there was something about his tone, like it was something he’d said to himself a few times since getting out, too.
There was nothing in Zihuatanejo, not really, just a tiny central square with a fountain, a small morning market, and two or three family businesses. Really friendly people, and a few roads with potholes that hadn’t been repaired after the last rainy season, or so Andy said. The Mexican Government was in the process of laying down highway to lead to the town as part of a plan to build a huge tourism resort just down the road. A huge group of people didn’t sound like a good time to Red, but Andy had reassured him that it would be years.
“Nothing down here moves particularly quickly,” he’d said, like he was glad about it.
There were two small buildings a little further down the beach from the house, like Red had thought he’d seen. They weren’t in great shape, but Andy had plans to turn them into a guesthouse.
“We’ll fix them up when we have time, maybe put two small kitchenettes in,” he said a day later as he and Red were watching the sun go down from their porch, beers in their hands. “Things’ll go quicker now that you’re here, but… you can do whatever you want, you know that, right, Red?”
He looked right at Red, and didn’t look away until Red answered, “I know what you’re saying.”
Andy had nodded, settling back into his chair with a satisfied grunt. “I’d like to have a place for people to stay, to start with. When the plan for Ixtapa down the road takes off it’ll probably be easy to get business from tourists at the hotels, but it would be good to be established by then.”
Red nodded. It made sense to him. Once people knew you were the person to come to for something, business would keep coming your way without you having to work any harder at it.
They sat in comfortable silence and didn’t go back inside until the mosquitos made too much of a nuisance of themselves. Andy got them two more beers from the fridge.
“If you’re not too tired, we can play a game of chess.” There was a strange pause, and then Andy said, “Or we could watch television.”
Red shrugged, a quick up-to-you motion of his shoulders, and Andy walked toward the television and suddenly rushed out, “All you can really get out here is two channels, Canal Dos and Canal Cinco. The second one is the kid’s channel; I like that one. They play educational programs for high school kids and cartoons until the afternoon. It stops broadcasting at night, though. Canal Dos has the news and the telenovelas, which you can understand even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish because they’re mostly about people being angry at each other. They’ll play Yesenia in a few minutes. It’s about a gypsy girl who falls in love with a guy from the military. The guy’s just been sent on a mission, and he sent Yesenia a letter with money explaining that he’ll be back for her, but the messenger who had the letter got murdered so now Yesenia will probably go back to the gypsy caravan and marry this other guy, Bardo, but she doesn’t love him.”
Red looked at Andy for a long moment, just to make sure he wasn’t making fun of Red. Andy’s slight blush suggested he was, against the odds, actually serious about the gypsy soap opera, so Red said, “Sure. I’ve never really watched television before. I mean, the one in the prison, after they got it, sure, when they’d let us, but you know what I mean. I haven’t ever really watched it.”
It was the kind of thing that marked him out in the real world, something he would have been afraid to say to anyone else, but Andy knew. He knew about Red and he knew about Red’s life inside: he knew what Red meant when he said he’d never really watched television before, and he knew why it was hard to say.
Andy turned on the TV and they sat next to each other on the overstuffed couch, watching some kind of opening sequence with people with flower headdresses that didn’t seem like particularly authentic gypsy clothing to Red, but what the hell did he know. He watched Andy’s rapt attention on the screen, which made slightly more sense when a beautiful woman with light-colored eyes came on the screen.
“Yesenia!” screamed someone on the television, so Red assumed this was the main character.
“If I go into your room and look around,” said Red, watching Andy’s face as he followed the incomprehensible dialogue on the screen, “Is there gonna be a poster of this woman somewhere in there?”
Andy laughed. “No,” he said, looking away from the TV a second to smile at Red. “I’ve had my fill of posters on the wall, I think.”
Red knew exactly what Andy meant, and it wasn’t that he was tired of looking at pictures of pretty women. So the next time they sat down to watch the gypsy soap opera Red looked carefully at the opening sequence, and armed himself with the knowledge that the woman was (probably) named Fanny Cano. He had to sit right in front of the television to make sure he saw the letters clearly, so he made a production of turning the TV on himself and then fiddling pointlessly with the cabinet doors for a few seconds.
Andy looked at him strangely, but didn’t say anything: that was Andy, full of quiet acceptance, and it was why it was possible for the two of them to live in a tiny house and scrape together at the rust on a boat all day long without wanting to kill each other.
Andy didn’t say anything about Red’s strange behavior, and Red didn’t say anything about Andy’s strange investment in a soap opera. Andy was a bookish guy; Red was sure it had cost him something to admit his investment to Red in the first place.
The next morning was an Alba day, and she bustled into the house in a bright blue cotton dress and said, “Hola, señor Redding,” and Red said, for the fifth time since Andy had taught him, “Solo Red, por favor.”
She laughed a low, pleasant laugh and ignored him, and Red looked quickly over his shoulder to make sure Andy’s door was still shut. Then he said, “I need to buy,” and pointed at himself before making a motion with his hands like he was taking money out of a wallet and giving it to someone.
Alba looked at him curiously, so Red continued, “A photograph,” making a square shape with his fingers in the air and miming using a camera and smiling.
Alba began to look alarmed, like she might call for Andy with his two-cent Spanish to help, but Red shook his head and pointed at himself again. He looked around, eyes finally landing on a small painting Andy had on the wall, a portrait of two women carrying flowers that he’d probably bought somewhere in town. Red pointed at the frame and said, “Fanny Cano,” then pointed at himself again, and though he got the clear sense that Alba was only barely restraining herself from laughing at him, she nodded gravely.
“Está bien,” she said. She pointed at herself, then at Red, and said, “Vamos al centro cuando acabe la limpieza”.
Red recognized “centro”, what Zihuatanejans called their tiny downtown plaza, and “vamos”, which meant “we go”. He nodded firmly and said, “Thank you.”
“De nada,” said Alba, and then, unable to keep the smile off her face any longer, shook her head and said, “Fanny Cano.”
Red shrugged, as if to say, What can you do, because he suspected it would be years before he had the Spanish he needed to say, When the two of us had only the things I could get and the things he could make between us, when what things we did have could be taken away any moment, the constant was always the pretty girl on Andy’s wall. Neither of us wants to remember the hope and the despair those girls represented, but I don’t see why we can’t have a nice picture of a beautiful woman to go on the fridge if that’s what we damn well want.
It would be a fine addition to their little house, if you asked Red.
Andy laughed out loud when he saw what Red had managed to get—a glossy picture that was a little worse for wear from where Alba and Red had ripped it out of a magazine they’d bought downtown, and which clung lopsidedly to the refrigerator where Red had affixed it with a magnet—but it was clear that he agreed.
“Thanks,” he said, trying to set the magnet in the right place for the picture to hang straight. “But how did you even know you were bringing me the right thing?”
“What do you mean?” Red asked. He’d never had trouble understanding what kind of woman Andy found attractive, not after Rita.
“Red, you can barely see three feet in front of your face,” said Andy, pointing at Red as he squinted to get a clear view of the beach from the window. “And I’m not going to tell you that you have to go through life wearing glasses if you don’t want to, but just in case you’re interested, I got the details of the ophthalmologist for you from Alba.”
“Hmmph,” Red said, which wasn’t really any kind of answer. He hadn’t thought Andy had noticed.
Andy smiled, tapping the picture of Fanny Cano on the fridge door, and didn’t press him further. It was just like him, like he’d been with Tommy and Heywood and all the rest (and how he’d probably be with Red until Red got some damn glasses already): Andy said nothing, which meant you couldn’t stop thinking about it, which meant Andy got his way.
III. Permiso para la prestación de servicios en vías navegables, con embarcaciones en navegación interior o de cabotaje
Red had never had occasion to discover whether he might be good at learning a language—well, he supposed he could have tried to teach himself, because by 1964 the Brooks Hatlen memorial library had had a language section—but it turned out he had kind of a knack for it.
Andy was good with numbers and kind to others, but Red, whose numbers left something to be desired, had always known how to work people. It had been tough going, at first, making friends in a different language, learning to trust people again, remembering that people could be nice without there being a catch.
He’d started by sticking around the house when Alba did the cleaning, pointing at things and asking questions and going with her when she went to the market downtown, pointing at more things. The language had come more quickly than he’d expected, and as for remembering that people wanted, fundamentally, to be good to each other—her gentleness and laughter had taken care of that.
Eventually Alba’s mother, Doña Xanic, had invited Red and Andy down for dinner at their house in town, and after what they both agreed was the best meal of their lives, Red had been happy to fumble out a halfway-decent thank you for the dinner in Spanish. He was thanking them for the delicious food, sure, but also for treating them like people who deserved friendship, who were welcome in another’s house.
Red started walking around town, after that, helping the owners of the small stores downtown when they got deliveries, helping Alba’s brother-in-law with his stalled truck. After the truck Mauricio, the town mechanic, had offered Red a job via hand signals, which Red had regretfully had to turn down, via the same medium, because there was still too much to do at the house.
It turned out that Andy had three boats. A small speedboat, which was in pretty good shape when Red arrived and in perfect working order after they replaced the motor. The train wreck that Red had seen on the first day; he now knew that Andy kept that one around more as a project than anything else, and Red couldn’t say he didn’t agree that it was a good idea. He’d worked out more than one set of nightmares on the train wreck, scraping and sanding before the early morning light even really lit the shape of the boat against the horizon. Sometimes he’d look up from where he’d been scraping and Andy would be there, face set as he scrubbed sand over some other part of the metal: there were things about Shawshank that they never spoke about, but when they worked on the train wreck together, it was, somehow, as if those unspoken things were being heard.
Then there was the sailboat, bright red like something out of a kid’s bedtime story, crisp white sails rolled tightly against the masts. Andy had taken it out twice since Red’s arrival, but he hadn’t invited Red yet, and Red wasn’t about to ask. A man had to have things for himself.
When they weren’t working on the boats, they were working on the guesthouse: painting the walls, putting in a small stove and a sink in each building, cleaning the windows. It was a full-time job but they were their own bosses; they could stop for beer when they wanted and take a day off when they pleased, and over it all was the great warm pleasure of knowing that when they were done with everything, it would all be Andy’s to keep.
“Quieren sacar turistas a pescar en la lancha?” Alba asked one day as she and Red were coming home from the market, pointing at the speedboat bobbing in the ocean in front of the house.
Red had caught tourists and boat, and he had also thought he’d heard fishing, which she confirmed when she mimed reeling something in. She then made the first motion Red had ever made to her, someone taking money out of a wallet, and Red got it.
“Sí,” he said. “But… Andy dice permiso necesitamos,” he got out, some approximation of Andy telling him that they wouldn’t be able to start taking people out until they had a permit from the Ministry of Transportation. Red didn’t know who exactly Andy thought was going to come all the way out here to bust them for not having a permit, but Andy was a by-the-books kind of guy and Red was the kind of guy who trusted Andy to handle the books, so that was that.
“Andy dice que necesitamos un permiso,” Alba corrected gently, and Red repeated it under his breath. She said, “Mi primo les puede ayudar,” of which Red caught cousin and help, and he nodded enthusiastically.
Alba’s cousin turned out to work at the one government office downtown, the municipio, and spoke just enough English for his and Red’s interaction to feel very slightly less like a Marx Brothers film than Red’s adventures in Spanish usually did.
“Me and my friend want to get the permit to take tourists out on his boat,” Red said, and Diego thought for a few minutes, seemingly working through what Red had said, before reaching for a form in a file cabinet behind him.
Permiso para la prestación de servicios en vías navegables, con embarcaciones en navegación interior o de cabotaje, said the paper in front of Red, which seemed promising.
“It is to lend the services, on any barges, on the sea or in rivers,” Diego said.
“Gracias,” said Red, and meant it, because Andy had mentioned the permit as if he were talking about something that he would get around to in some faraway future, when he had time, and here Red had the opportunity to be the man who got this for them, and who did it now.
“What are the requirements?” Red asked, assuming there were requirements, because prisons and governments always had requirements.
“You must mail, to Merchant Marine in Mexico City, these things,” said Diego, pulling a pencil from a desk and writing down a list for Red:
National public marine registry number of barge
Other details of barge
Proposal of route
Extense of trip and stops
Red pointed to RFC and extense of trip and stops and asked, “Qué es esto, por favor?”
“RFC is national tax register number, and extense of trip is how trip will… cuántos días o cuántas horas durará el recorrido?” Diego answered. Red only got how many days or hours, but it was enough.
“Ah,” said Red, and corrected extense to length on the paper, turning it around so Diego could read it.
“Muchas gracias,” Diego said, which Red had found was always the way: people wanting to learn a little bit of his language as he learned theirs.
Red asked Andy to see the papers he had for the boats when he got home, and was able to fill out most of the form using just those. Randall Stephens had an RFC, it turned out, and an official signature that Red got right after a few tries, and an official address in town, somewhere that wasn’t the house. Red wasn’t surprised.
Red asked Diego for help mailing the papers, trying to ignore the feeling of dread in his gut that filing for a boat permit in a tiny town in Mexico under a different name might somehow be the thing that brought the FBI to their door. He wondered whether this was why Andy had spoken about the permit like some distant process, some thing to put off, but if Red had learned one thing in years of smuggling small and bigger things into a prison, it was that the only way to get what you wanted was to take a few risks.
For two months Red heard nothing back, and he was just thinking about going to see Diego again, maybe with Andy this time, when someone called out, “Señor Redding!” while he was at the market with Alba and Doña Xanic one day.
It was a woman he didn’t recognize. She held out her hand and said, “Hola, soy Pilar Vazquez. Trabajo con Diego Villaseñor. Su permiso llegó ayer pero no le pudimos llamar porque no nos dio un número de contacto.”
Red tried to parse as much of that as he could—her name was Pilar Vazquez, she worked with Diego, something about yesterday and a permit and a contact number.
“El señor Redding y el señor Stephens no tienen teléfono,” said Alba—Mr. Redding and Mr. Stephens don’t have a telephone—and suddenly Red managed to make sense of the rest of it: your permit arrived yesterday but we couldn’t call you because you didn’t leave a contact number.
“Voy, voy!” he said, so excited for a moment that all he could get out was, I’m coming; I’m coming. He looked at Doña Xanic and Alba, who made a shooing motion with her hand, and he shook Ms. Vazquez’s hand before heading to the municipal offices at something that wasn’t a run if anyone else asked.
He knocked on Diego’s office door and had barely stepped inside when Diego stood up, an envelope in his hand and a grin on his face.
“Felicidades!” he said, congratulating Red with slightly more enthusiasm than Red might have expected from a stranger, though he supposed very few people in Zihuatanejo thought of each other as strangers. He was beginning to feel a corresponding sort of affection for them, the same kind of camaraderie and appreciation that he’d had for Heywood and the others, without the constant fear that something might happen to them, that the guards or the warden might do something to scrape away the balm that brotherhood provided against the realities of life in Shawshank.
“Muchas gracias!” he said, shaking Diego’s hand with enthusiasm, and Diego smiled wider. “Señor Stephens ser muy feliz!”
“You say, Señor Stephens estará muy feliz, he will be very happy,” Diego corrected.
“Ah, gracias,” said Red, filing it away as usual. “This means we can take people fishing on the boat?”
“Yes,” Diego said. “It means. My wife, she work in tourism office of the town, you want I should say something?”
“I have to speak to Andy first,” Red said.
“Señor Stephens,” Red corrected, not too worried that he’d slipped up because Andy introduced himself to people as Andy wherever he went, though he did use Stephens instead of Dufresne.
“Ah, yes, Andy,” said Diego, smiling at Red with something peculiar around his eyes. It wasn’t the first time Red had gotten the sense that the Zihuatanejans didn’t know what to make of him and Andy and their house and their train wreck boat on a patch of beach, but Red was a black ex-convict who’d done 40 years for murder, so whatever the town people thought, it couldn’t possibly be anywhere near the worst thing someone had ever thought about Red.
The people here never had any malice in their voices when they said it, either; if anything, it always sounded like an invitation to get to know Andy and Red a little better, somehow.
“You and your wife should come to dinner tomorrow,” Red said, and Diego made an alarmed face.
“What?” asked Red, wondering if he had misinterpreted Diego’s easygoing tone.
“Alba say you and señor Stephens make horrible foods,” Diego admitted, sheepish, clearly embarrassed to have been caught grimacing, and Red laughed out loud, head thrown back and probably too loud for a government office.
“We’ll ask Doña Xanic to cook something, of course,” and Diego’s face cleared. He smiled and patted Red on the back.
“If my aunt cook, then we are happy for dinner.”
“Sounds good,” Red said. Then, “Thanks again, Diego.”
“You are welcome, Mr. Redding,” Diego said, and when Red said, “Solo Red, por favor,” Diego smiled wider and said, “Okay, Red.”
Red shook his hand one more time and headed home, envelope clutched in his hand and already thinking about the look on Andy’s face.
IV. Beginners’ Danish, by Nete Schmidt
Red thought it would only be fair to say that there was a kind of magic to Zihuatanejo. Even if nothing else were true, the town would still be the first place Red had felt truly free in his entire life. Not even as a young man, before he and Doreen had gotten married and before things had gone so wrong between them, had Red felt the sense he got when he opened his eyes in his bed every morning at the house on the beach, like he could do anything he damn well wanted to that day, and the day after that.
But it wasn’t just that. Zihuatanejo was a place where a boat had slowly emerged where a hunk of rust used to be, like a slow-motion magic trick. It was a place where people left food on their kitchen table for no reason, a place where, when the time had come to re-roof one of the guesthouse bungalows, fifteen people had showed up one morning to help without being asked.
“Leticia Robles down at the tourism office says she might have some clients for us,” Andy said over dinner a few nights after they finished work on the bungalows, one more rabbit out of the Zihuatanejo hat. Leticia was Diego’s wife.
“Did you tell her to look?” asked Red.
Andy gave him a wry smile and asked, “What do you think?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” said Red, shoveling more rice and chicken and mole into his mouth.
“You think we can do it?” asked Andy.
Red gave it some thought, chasing the spicy sweetness of the mole around his mouth with his tongue.
“You don’t really need to take tourists out on the boat, right? I mean, money-wise.”
Andy gave him a strange look. “No, we don’t.”
“Well,” Red said, “If you’ve got the money to do nothing except sit around whittling and carving and watching telenovelas all day, then I figure the question is—do you want to do something, just for the fun of it?”
Andy didn’t answer straight away. Red ate some more food and hoped for the millionth time that Doña Xanic’s cooking wasn’t going to make him die a fat old man.
“Red,” said Andy, “You know the money’s yours too, right?”
Red waited to feel funny about it, offended or angry or scared, but when he didn’t feel any of those things, he said, “How do you figure?”
Andy shrugged. “It’s all of ours, really. I wish there had been a way to give each of the guys something, and Tommy’s family. I may have kept the Warden’s books, but the money doesn’t belong to me. It’s ours. The guys from Shawshank.”
Red leaned back in his chair to think about it. Finally, he said, “I guess I see it. That doesn’t mean I have to help keep the books, does it?”
Andy laughed, “I hope not, for everyone’s sake.”
Andy Dufresne was a good man, Red thought, a good friend to share the last decades of a life with.
“I think we should tell Lety that we’d like her to say yes to those tourists,” said Red.
Andy nodded. “Yeah, me too.”
The tourists were Danish, Lety said, a family of four. They had originally thought about staying at the hotel a mile away, until Lety had thought to mention that Red and Andy had a guesthouse available. Nobody in the entire damn town liked the hotels, which were owned by two families from Mexico City and some millionaire from Morelia. Red couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like when the Ixtapa resort opened up and hotels started cropping up all over the beach, but Andy had been right, back when Red arrived, to tell him nothing would move quickly. Companies kept threatening to break ground on the new hotels, but Red hadn’t seen so much as a single bag of cement yet, let alone a construction worker.
“My wife and I are glad you get business,” Diego told Red when they were having sopes in the market a few days later. “Not hotel of asshole guy from Morelia.”
“Thanks,” said Red, using the last of his sope to mop up some requesón and salsa from his plastic plate. “Andy spoke to the man on the phone, all the way from Denmark—said it sounded like he was calling from the moon. They’ll stay three nights. Want us to take them out fishing twice. The kids are twelve and eleven. Gotta hand it to these people, daring to bring their kids all the way across the world like that.”
Diego nodded sagely, which was a telltale sign that he had understood less than fifty percent of what Red had said. Red rephrased. “Denmark is very far from Zihuatanejo. The children are very young. The parents are brave, no?”
“Sí,” said Diego, who had a five-year old terror with adorable ringlets and dimples named Deyanira. “I will not take Deyanira to Acapulco. You have to pay me three millions of dollars to go on any airplane with my daughter.”
Diego mentioning Acapulco gave Red an idea, and after lunch he went down to the Agencia de Viajes where Lety worked and asked her to call around the Acapulco travel agencies to see if any of them had a line on a Danish phrasebook. A couple of days later someone called back and said one of the hotels had found a copy of something called Beginner’s Danish by Nete Schmidt, and they could send it up to Zihuatanejo by bus if Red wanted, though they were afraid it was an older edition.
Red widened his eyes at Lety and she rolled her own eyes in agreement—as if anyone in the whole damn state could possibly need enough Danish that the age of an edition mattered.
“I don’t even want to ask how you’re still managing to get things like this,” said Andy a few days later, after Red had been to the bus station to pick up the package. “Are you responsible for some underground cigarette trade in Guerrero? No, wait, you know what? I don’t want to know. I value my plausible deniability.”
He smiled at Red to soften the blow, because there would never be enough years between Shawshank and the two of them for jokes about prison, however indirect, to be funny.
“Yeah, well, I wish I had plausible deniability about the fact that you crawled through a shit tunnel once, but there you have it, Andy,” said Red, and Andy coughed out a laugh, turning away to set up the chessboard.
V. Family secrets
They were never going to have the kind of schedule that had them taking tourists out every week, but over the next three years they slowly built up a respectable client base. They’d started getting business from foreigners by word of mouth, but as Red’s Spanish got better they also got more and more Mexicans, people from all over the country. The first hotel finally began going up in Ixtapa, and three more followed at a speed that Red would have previously put money down on not being possible.
Red and Andy talked briefly about relocating closer to Ixtapa when the resort started to grow, but it was the kind of half-hearted conversation that made it clear that neither of them had any intention of going anywhere any time soon. Andy had mentioned it as a possibility, and Red had sort of answered that they might consider it, but then Andy had said something about having too many things to move, and Red had mentioned something about not leaving during Alba’s first pregnancy, and that was pretty much that. Neither of them ever brought it up again.
“You two have people arriving next week?” Alba asked in Spanish, dusting enthusiastically with no concern for her very pregnant belly. The baby was going to be named Pedro Sebastián, and Red planned to be a particularly extravagant grandfather figure.
“The Hatfields, from Maine,” Red said in English, before switching back to Spanish. “We have to take the boat out all day this week just to make sure it’s in good shape. I think he wants to go marlin fishing.”
“No hay un solo americano que no quiera pescar un marlin enorme,” Alba said. There isn’t a single American who doesn’t want to catch a huge marlin.
Red shrugged. “It’s not just Americans. What about Pepe el Calvo?”
Pepe el Calvo was as much of a regular as Zihuatanejo had: a banker from Mexico City who visited every summer and winter, like clockwork, with the hope of catching a fish he could mount on his wall. As far as Red knew he had yet to catch anything impressive enough for the purpose, but the entire town liked him the way one might like a strange uncle. Even his nickname, Bald Pepe, had taken on a strangely affectionate tone in the last few years.
“You have a point,” Alba said in English, shrugging one shoulder as she ran a cloth over the windowsill.
“Hola qué hacen?” asked Andy as he came in the door, a new fishing rod base for the boat in his hand. Hello what are you doing?, abruptly delivered in the painfully careful American accent that he would never, Red now knew, outgrow.
“We’re talking about Bald Pepe,” said Alba in English, in an accent that sounded like she could have grown up down the street from Red or Andy. Red was torn between envy and pride, thinking about the agonizing, crawling way in which the two of them had taught each other their respective languages.
“You have time to help me set this?” Andy asked, holding up the rod base in one hand.
“Yeah, sure,” Red said, standing up and trying to ignore the tweak in his back that reminded him exactly how old the two of them were. “Alba, do you need anything?”
She waved her hand dismissively, and Red tried not to take it personally as she zoomed around their kitchen with her eight-month pregnancy sitting on her like a very delicate hat.
“That kid should not be moving around that way,” Andy said as they walked toward the ocean. Red stopped to grab the toolbelt off the porch, and Andy handed him the rod base briefly so he could reach up and rub at his bad shoulder.
“I think we’re just angry because we’re falling apart slowly,” Red said, smiling. “Or not so slowly.”
Andy grinned back.
The ocean floor dropped steeply a few yards in, so Andy and Red waded out that far and then swam a few strokes to the boat, holding the toolbelt and the rod base out of the water. Andy pulled down the ladder that they’d had to install so they wouldn’t have to heave themselves into the boat every time, and once they were both in and settled on the bench on the side they sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the sun and letting it dry their clothes.
Red looked at their matching beat-up shorts, their threadbare shirts. It was the kind of thing Red wouldn’t have been allowed out of the house in, by either his grandmother or his wife, though he imagined Andy might have run around like this as a kid during the Portland summer. It was pretty much all they wore now, and as the 70s spun on more and more of the expats that arrived in Zihuatanejo adopted the same outfit, long hair tickling the tops of the ratty band shirts the younger ones wore.
Andy stood up, taking the screwdriver out of the belt to unscrew the old base from where it was set in the back of the boat. Red watched him, wordlessly taking the long screws as they came out and passing over the resin to fill the holes they left.
These were their days now, lazy unspoken teamwork in the sun and conversations with tourists that were interesting roughly thirty percent of the time. The conversations with the locals were better, though there were definitely some people to avoid: Red and Andy had learned the hard way that Francisco down at the market was never to be engaged in conversation unless it was a life or death situation, and even then, Red would probably think about it. Thanks to Doña Xanic, Red could cook now—well, he could cook enough to get by, and he was getting pretty good at cooking fish and preparing ceviche that people actually looked forward to eating—and so his and Andy’s working afternoons usually rolled into long dinners, longer chess games, and conversations on the porch that sometimes lasted into the time of night when the sea was the only sound left.
Red held down the new base at the right place, and Andy screwed it in, handing the screwdriver to Red to see if he could get the screws any tighter. Once they were both satisfied that the thing would hold (Red wasn’t much for fishing, even after years down here, but even he had caught some marlin that had to be seen to be believed, and a loose base wouldn’t do for those), they put the tools back in the belt and made their way back to the house.
The Hatfields seemed like a nice enough couple. She was sandy-haired and quick to smile, and he had dark curls and spoke in the measured, careful voice of people who think deeply before they speak.
“So what do you do?” Red asked them, making small talk as he pointed out the linen closet in the guest bungalow and explained that Doña Xanic would be down to cook in the afternoons.
“Oh, I’m a copy-editor at the Portland Press Herald?” she said, flashing another smile at Red. Red smiled and tried not to let his nerves show: he had known they were from Maine, but hadn’t realized they were from Portland specifically. “Pete’s a sergeant down at the PD.”
Red smiled at her woodenly, hearing himself say something about fresh orange juice and milk in the fridge before beating a hasty retreat back to the house.
“Andy,” he said, and Andy looked up from where he was reading a Cortazar book, a dictionary on the table next to him.
“What is it?” he asked, probably seeing just how on edge Red was.
“They’re from Portland,” Red said, jerking one thumb toward the guesthouse and telling himself he was being ridiculous. “And the husband’s a cop.”
Andy looked out the window toward the bungalow. He closed his book, looked back at Red, and said, “It’s been a long time. People have short attention spans. The news cycle keeps rolling.”
“I damn well hope so,” Red said, and Andy shrugged at him philosophically, a quintessentially Dufresne gesture. It had been enigmatic back in prison, even charming, but out here in the long slog of Mexican marine tax bureaucracy and a shared bathroom, sometimes it made Red want to punch Andy in the face.
Pete and Alicia Hatfield proved to be polite, enthusiastic guests; it turned out that it was Alicia, not Pete, who wanted a big marlin, and Red was pleased for her when she managed to reel in a decent three-footer. It was on the smaller side of average for their stretch of the Pacific, but the Hatfields didn’t know that, and Red smiled as her husband took picture after proud picture of her.
“You guys want to get that ready to mount, take it back home?” Andy asked as he steered them back toward the house. “There are some people down in Ixtapa who will do a rush job for you.”
The Hatfields looked at each other before Alicia grinned and said, “Nah. I don’t actually want some huge fish in my living room. You have someone who can cook it for us?”
Andy looked at Red, and Red said, “Actually, if you’re willing to try something new, I can make it into marlin tostadas for you. They’re pretty popular down here, and I happen to have the best recipe in town.”
“Sounds good,” said Pete. “Won’t you guys join us for dinner? I mean, it’s a pretty big fish.”
“If you want, sure,” Red said placidly, not missing the significant look Andy was shooting him. He thought he knew what Andy wanted to know. “That’d be nice; thank you for offering. And if you’d be open to it, some people in town will be glad of the leftovers.”
“Of course,” Alicia said. “That’d be great.”
The minute they walked into the house after sending the Hatfields off and telling them to come back around seven, Andy hissed, “When the hell did you get Doña Xanic’s recipe for tostadas de marlin?” sounding so affronted that Red had to turn away to hide his laugh.
“I asked her last week,” he said, putting the fish down on their tiny counter and trying to sound as casual about the whole thing as he could.
“You asked her last week?” Andy cried. “She guards that recipe with her life! She told me it was a family secret passed down through generations! I had to hear a story about the Mexican Revolution, Ellis. I had to hear a two-hour story about the adelitas and she still wouldn’t tell me.”
Red shrugged. “Guess she just thinks I’m more trustworthy, Andy.”
Red turned the fish over to decide where to make the first cut to de-fin it, hearing Andy spluttering behind him and enjoying it an awful lot.
The truth was that Red had spun Doña Xanic a yarn about Andy’s birthday, which was coming up, and she’d finally agreed to give him the one recipe from her impressive arsenal, under pain of death if he revealed it to anyone. Red had had plans to wait until Andy’s actual birthday, as a surprise, but here was this beautiful fish courtesy of the Hatfields, and Red knew better than to waste it. The sea could be fickle like that, give you a huge catch when you didn’t need it and nothing when you did.
“I’ve said this before,” Andy told him, “But I just don’t want to know how you get these things.”
Red grinned at him, brandishing the bloody knife he was using to clean the fish, and shrugged again.
The Hatfields were right on time, and Red was just setting out a plate of tostadas and pulling the marlin hash that would go on top of them off the stove. Andy had already put the onion and salsa and oregano and lettuce and limes on the table, along with some of yesterday’s rice and beans, and the Hatfields, despite the slightly uncertain looks on their faces, starting eating readily enough once they saw how Red and Andy put their own tostadas together.
The conversation during dinner was pleasant, the four of them skipping lightly around the great weather that Zihuatanejo had for most of the winter, how great the langostinos were in a city that didn’t have lobster like Maine did (not that anywhere did, according to Andy). They had just finished their food and were sitting back in their chairs, drinking their beers, when Pete looked between Red and Andy, and then at his wife, before clearing his throat. Andy had been looking like he’d been about to clear the plates, but it was plain from the sudden tension that Pete wanted to say something, so Andy settled back into his seat, looking at Red.
Red shot a mild look at him that he was convinced communicated his absolute panic, and Andy smiled blandly back, the same way he had the day he’d practically sawed off his own thumb while setting a new mast in his sailboat, walking into the kitchen and telling Red they’d better go to the hospital, didn’t Red think?
“We just wanted to say,” Pete said, in his measured cadence, “That we’ve had a great time down here. We think…”
He looked at his wife. Red looked at Andy. No one said anything for a moment.
“Well, we hope you won’t mind if we say, but we think it’s very brave, living down here together, and you seem very happy. My sister Louisa and her partner, Jen, they’ve been together for nearly eight years and they’re thinking of having a baby soon. Sometimes when they travel they don’t feel entirely comfortable, and we were thinking we’d tell them to come down and see you guys. They’re not much for fishing, but they’d love the beach. I don’t know if they’ll take us up on it, but… well, you’ve just been great. We’ve just had a great time. A great time.”
Pete stammered out the last few words, probably looking at Andy and Red’s frozen faces and thinking he shouldn’t have said anything. But this wasn’t the first time someone had thought the two of them were together—it never bothered them when people mentioned it, and just now, when they’d both been irrationally expecting these children to accuse them of a prison break, it was so great to hear that they both broke out into huge smiles, first at each other and then at the Hatfields, who looked bewildered but pleased.
“Thank you,” Andy said, finally, a little more gratefully than was warranted, but the Hatfields seemed to take it in stride. “And do tell your sisters to come down here any time. We’d love to have them.”
Red and Andy stood up to clear the table, getting more beer for the Hatfields and telling them they’d be back with dessert. They crowded into the tiny kitchen and carefully put the plates in the sink, and Andy turned the faucet on to give the dishes a quick rinse. Red had already turned away to put some leftover marlin in the fridge when he felt Andy shaking next to him in the tiny space, and he turned, startled, only to find that Andy was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down his cheeks, one wrist pressed to his mouth so he wouldn’t make noise.
The terror, irrational or not, was still too fresh for Red to laugh with him, so he bumped Andy companionably with his hip on the way out and left him to it, bringing some sliced mango out for the two unsuspecting people in their dining room.
V+I: (de) nada
A few months later Red arrived home to find a book on his bed. Sailing Knots for Beginners, it said on the cover, and Red, who had never been invited on the sailboat in almost four years of living in Zihuatanejo, picked up the book and took it outside to the porch with an agua de limón.
They had a family staying at the bungalow, two parents and their three kids from Guadalajara, and when the seven of them were out on the boat fishing Andy turned to Red and, out of nowhere, said, “It’s easy getting where you want with a motor on a boat like this, but when you’re sailing, you want to make sure your sails are making the most of the wind that you have. It’s called trimming the sails. So if the wind’s behind you, you want your sails out to catch as much of the wind as possible. If you’re sailing into the wind, you want your sails tucked in tight, to get the most amount of lift. When the wind is somewhere in the middle you want your sails trimmed to meet it.”
It didn’t make complete sense to Red, who’d never really been on any boat in his life before he’d come down here, but he filed it away anyway, the way he used to store small fractions of Spanish when he first started, trusting that in time things would come together enough for Red to understand the whole picture.
Andy didn’t take Red sailing that week, or the week after, and Red would have forgotten about it if it hadn’t been for the fact that Andy kept dropping more sailing facts into conversation without any prompting, throwing out information about the wind and sheets and cleats that complemented what Red already knew about tying a boat safely to a pier, about the currents near their house, about letting enough rode out with the anchor to stop the boat from straining.
When Red had first arrived in Zihuatanejo in 1968 he hadn’t even known what a rode was: Andy had mentioned going into town to get rodes and Red had agreed, assuming they were talking about some guy named Rhodes and not about the fancy ropes on their anchors. He hadn’t grown up on the water like Andy had, sailing practically before he could walk, but he was proud to say that he knew his way around a boat now, around the ocean off the coast of their home (as much as anyone could know the ocean). Plenty of people in Zihuatanejo had sailboats, more now that Ixtapa’s tourism had increased the market for day trips, but Red had never taken anyone in town up on the offer to go out on a sailboat. He figured if he got old and Andy had never asked he’d make someone else take him, because sailing looked like a kind of peace Red had seen precious little of in his life, but he wasn’t old yet, and this was one more thing he’d rather do with his friend. He wanted to go out sailing with Andy, to feel whatever it was that made Andy lope back into the house, relaxed and smiling. And now, after years of waiting to see if this was something Andy wanted to share, it looked as if Andy was finally asking.
Red had plans to have dinner with Diego that weekend, and he walked into town on Thursday to ask Diego if he could bring his brother Gustavo along. Gustavo worked at one of the water sports companies in Ixtapa, owned by one of the big American hotels but run by an all-Zihuatanejo crew, and Red had a few questions.
The day that Andy finally asked, Red wasn’t prepared for it: it was already early evening, light enough outside but, Red had thought, too late to head out. He was watching a re-run of Rubí, another Fanny Cano special, and eating a ham sandwich when Andy came in the door and said, “Hey, you want to go sailing with me?”
Red turned the television off and put his sandwich aside, and instead of making some big production of it, he just said, “Okay.”
They got out to the boat and climbed on. It was early enough in the year that the water was warm even toward the end of the day, and when they clambered on board Red could see that Andy had put some old blankets in the hold, a couple of big flashlights nestled on top.
“Pull the tiller over the back,” Andy said, and Red leaned out all the way behind the boat the way he had seen Andy do, pulling the tiller out of the water and up over the side of the boat. It was harder than it looked, the wood dragging heavily in the other direction.
Red watched as Andy carefully unwound the rope holding the sail to the mizzenmast, lowering the boom and threading the bridle through the tiller. He unfurled the sail and raised the sprit before going through a similar process with the mainmast, and Red watched carefully, filing it away for the next time Andy brought him along.
Andy could no doubt do the whole thing himself—he did do it all himself, every time he came out here alone—but he went out of his way to give Red small tasks as he worked: tying figure-8 knots and threading ropes through the cleats, pulling the buoys in from the side, setting the compass in the right place.
It probably took longer than it would have if Red hadn’t been there, but the fact that Andy let Red help meant that by the time the anchor and its rode were dropped neatly in the anchor well and Andy let the sails catch the wind, Red felt as if he’d had a hand in getting them going.
The light above them was fading into deeper oranges and pinks, but Andy sailed them confidently along the coast, seemingly with some destination in mind. He would sporadically ask Red to pull on or release a rope—“These are the sheets; like I said, you use them to trim the sails”—before cleating it efficiently, keeping the boat moving steadily through the water.
The wind was cool against Red’s face, and abruptly Red remembered his very first day on this beach, in this place, before he knew the warmth of the people who lived here and when Andy was just the best friend he’d ever had, before he knew Andy was the friend Red would ride out his days with.
The water against the boat sounded different, the lapping of the waves not obscured by the sound of a motor, the wind pushing the water gently against the bow. The Pacific could be a trickster, but the night was calm and the sea was even calmer, a placid mirror as far as Red could see.
“I thought we could spend the night out here, tucked in the inlet,” Andy said, steering the boat around the last stretch of beach you could see from their house. “I have some boards I lay across the thwarts. It’s not the most comfortable place you ever slept, but it’s also not the most uncomfortable, if you know what I mean.”
Red did know what he meant, in that way that the two of them had earned through blood and sweat and the crushing pressure of walls in every direction and, in later years, through sunburn and the sting of salt water in their eyes. The beginning of Red’s life had been one long set of terrible decisions capped by him causing suffering that he could never undo, not in this world or the next, three deaths that he could never erase. He had spent most of his years after that in a rotten, cramped hell of a place, where he became the man who could get things partly so that no one would ask him questions about anything else. And then, miraculously, by the grace of god or something else, he had somehow ended up on a long, peaceful stretch of sand with a friend who did not ask any questions, but who didn’t need to—because Red wanted to be known, and did not wait for Andy to ask.
“Sounds good,” Red answered. He smiled at Andy, a flash of teeth in the almost-night, and Andy smiled back.
Red couldn’t see him smile—it was getting dark fast, and the last of the light was behind Andy’s back, throwing his features into shadow; all that was left of him in the gloom was a long silhouette, deftly steering the boat into its makeshift harbor—but he knew.