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Chapter 1



Daniella has just found out that her ex-mother-in-law died last night of a sharp attack of hiccups. It wasn’t a sudden attack. The old woman had hiccups continually for two weeks until she died of exhaustion—at least that’s what the doctor said.

Daniella had never heard of anyone dying of hiccups before. She didn’t think such a thing was possible. That’s why when her ex-husband, Ismael, told her the news on the phone, she couldn’t help answering him with an incredulous laugh. Then she felt guilty.

“I’m sorry. How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Great. The funeral will be tomorrow morning. I’m throwing a cocktail party tonight,” he said.

Ismael is an art critic who works for the biggest newspaper on the island. God knows how he got the job. When he was Daniella’s husband, he was a starving artist. After their divorce, he married this rich older woman who shares a striking resemblance with Count Dracula’s wife and who collects torturing devices.

Ismael keeps blaming Daniella for his past failures and starvation, but basically they still behave like rational homo sapiens toward each other.

Daniella figures she’ll be attracted to starving artists—much older than herself, as a matter of fact—till she dies. It’s like a curse.

Now she’s living with Tony. He moved in with her a year ago. Tony calls himself a painter, but he’s working in the kitchen of a Chinese take-out called Los Chinitos. He used to have a much better job as a waiter for La Cueva, a swanky Spanish restaurant, but Tony got fired because they caught him too many times stealing food from the kitchen.

Sunstruck BCSo now Daniella’s getting ready for the party. She’s a little shocked by Ismael’s erratic behaviour; after all, the old woman was his mother. If it weren’t for Tony, she wouldn’t go out tonight—she figures this party will be good for him because Ismael’s new friends are all important art dealers, artists and journalists, and a starving artist needs connections.

Daniella lets her long hair fall in tousled waves down to her waist. At the moment her hair has a strange, unusual reddish hue. If you mix brandy, carrots, and raspberries in a blender you probably get a similar color. She puts on her favorite faded Levi’s, one of Tony’s white undershirts, and a black jacket with black satin lapels. She also slips through her lobes a pair of plastic tiger sharks—a gift from Tony three months ago on her twenty-fourth birthday. What appears to be the fraction of a human leg is stuck between the jaws of the sharks. As a final touch she applies black eyeliner and purple lipstick.

The first movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, dark and mysterious, is playing on the stereo. Thanks to her dad, who took off when she was a kid, Daniella knows about composers. He would lock himself in the music room for hours—God forbade whoever dared interrupt him. At times, he awarded her the privilege of listening with him. Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Brahms. Daniella absorbed them by mental osmosis.

Thoughts of her father make her grimace. She reels herself back to reality.

“I love the way those torn legs dangle against your cheeks,” Tony says when he comes from work. She can see particles of food stuck underneath his nails.

“Ismael’s mother died last night. We’re going to his apartment. He’s having a party.”

“What? I was planning to work all night on that painting. Didn’t you say you have a calculus test tomorrow morning? I thought you said you were going to spend the night studying.” He kisses Daniella on the lips; not really a kiss, but merely two mouths slightly brushing against one another. His lips are soft and full and sensual and he smells like sweet-and-sour chicken mixed with turpentine.

“A lot of important people will be there. It’ll be good for you,” she says. Very often she finds herself talking to Tony as if she were talking to a child.

Tony sneers. “You mean a lot of faggots will be there. On this damn island, the art world is completely controlled and monopolized by the faggot society. And the ones who aren’t gay are communists. I may be the only capitalist, straight artist around.”

“They’re not communists. They’re socialists. Communists don’t exist anymore.”

Tony snorts.

“Well, I still think we should go,” she says. “Who cares who they sleep with or what their ideas are? The important thing is to make connections. Besides, you should be a little more open minded.”

Commando steps out of the bathroom—he probably was taking a nap on top of the toilet seat—and hisses at Tony. Commando hates Tony and Tony hates Commando. Commando is Daniella’s cat, a Turkish Angora weighing at least thirty pounds, with silky white fur and odd-colored eyes; the right eye is blue and the left eye is amber. Daniella brought him from Istanbul eight years ago, during one of her trips across the Mediterranean with her mother. She paid $150 for it—a real bargain. She even had to get a passport for the cat, but it was worth it. Turkish Angoras are one of the most unusual cats in the world. Years ago, they actually were in danger of extinction. Daniella wishes men also were in danger of extinction. The world would be a better place.

“Stop feeding that cat like that. He’s turning into an obese monster,” Tony says. “God, those eyes. I can’t stand those eyes. He looks like the Devil.”

Commando hisses again. He gives Tony a surly, menacing look, then twines himself around Daniella’s ankles.

“Are you stoned again?” Daniella asks, disgusted.

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s still early,” he jokes, taking off his dirty shirt and tossing it on the bed.

“I bet Commando can look right into your soul,” she murmurs.


“Nothing. I wonder why he’s getting so fat,” Daniella says thoughtfully, more to herself than to Tony. “I only give him one meal a day, just like the vet told me to.” Horrific scenarios flash through her mind: Commando with diabetes, a thyroid disorder, a tumor. She makes a mental note to take him to the vet, yet again. Commando is one of the vet’s most popular patients, mainly because of Daniella’s tendency to overreact.

Tony fetches a cold Budweiser from the refrigerator. That’s one of the advantages of living in a studio-apartment; there are no halls to cross and everything is at reach. The only problem is that Tony’s junk is all over the place: finished paintings, unfinished paintings, blank canvases, tubes of paint (mainly oils and acrylics), dirty brushes and palette knives, carbon pencils, glass jars filled with moldy water, paint-stained rags, old newspapers and magazines.

And the cockroaches, some close to three inches long and with wings any bird of prey would envy. Tony’s infinite messiness offers them endless opportunities for hiding, exercising, and procreating. Daniella loathes them, keeps the place sparkling clean, buys all sorts of sprays and devices promising to eradicate the little armoured beasts. She has them under control—almost. It’s the old building’s fault, not hers. Ever since she saw a documentary on TV about cockroaches living inside caves (hundreds of thousands form a shiny, throbbing carpet on the ground, feeding on the endless droppings of bats), she has a recurring daydream: being attacked from head to toes by a swarm of the fiends, their wings, the texture of flaky croissants, fluttering against her flesh.

Daniella tries to ignore Tony’s red-and-white-hearts boxer shorts and stands by the window. She pokes her head out and squints into the distance at La Perla, a poor section of Old San Juan crammed with prostitutes, drunks, drug dealers, rapists, killers, and other kinds of cozy criminals. Beyond La Perla lies the green-blue sea, acting feral and oblivious to everything around it.

Even though Daniella’s apartment is in a reasonably nice and safe area, her mother is always telling her that a person has to be crazy to live in a place like this, at the mercy of roaches and so close to La Perla. But Daniella isn’t afraid. The reason for this is that most of the criminals who live in La Perla do their treacheries in other sections of the city. In other words, even though they are criminals, they have a little respect for the concept of Home. Also, she finds Old San Juan very cute, with its old Spanish houses and small European-looking balconies, its colorful cafes, its narrow cobbled streets filled with strolling art students, bohemians, tourists.

The name has always intrigued Daniella. La Perla means The Pearl, and a pearl is a valuable and lovely and elegant thing. The person who named the lowest, nastiest section of the city La Perla must have had a diabolic streak. On the other hand, if you consider that a pearl is nothing but the excrement of a mollusk…

Down on the street a blonde woman with a big straw hat and a black camera hung around her neck scolds a small fat boy. The boy, looking mean and dangerous, lurches forward and bites her leg. Giving off a scream, the woman stumbles backward and bumps against an older man who is about to hand a little girl an ice-cream cone. In the tumult, the ice-cream collides with the little girl’s face. The little girl howls, stomps her feet again and again, then, white-hot with fury, runs off into the busy street.

An approaching car abruptly halts to avoid killing her. The street is filled with the honking of horns while the older man runs after the little girl. Tires screech. Far off, Daniella hears the persistent wail of a police siren, adding to the great symphony effect.

Daniella gives a deep sigh, her thoughts vaguely revolving about possessed children, the law of cause and effect.

Tony flops face down on the battered bed (the center of the bed looks like a poltergeist is sleeping on it) and gulps the rest of the beer. He belches and says, “I had an awful nightmare last night. Really weird. I was at this house, you know, one of those fun houses where you have to cross turning tunnels and things like that. The thing is that in this house everything was real. Once you bought the ticket and went in you really had to fight for your life. The turning tunnel was full of spikes and I had to swim across a pool filled with white sharks and there were hungry wild animals everywhere. There was a creature with the body of a kangaroo and the head of the Governor. A tiny Madonna was in its pouch. It’s given me an idea for a painting. I think it’s that damn cat. Ever since I’m living with that monster I’ve been inhaling contaminated cat hairs and having nightmares.” He stares at Daniella. “You’re wearing my last clean shirt.”

Daniella sighs and looks down at Commando. He’s purring artfully between her legs. She picks him up in her arms, keenly aware of his dense, heavy stomach, and plants a kiss on the tip of his wet pink nose. “Tell me something, Commando. Why do I—a well bred, honest, sensitive person—keep associating myself with weird people?”




Daniella is an architecture student living with her narcissistic artist boyfriend in San Juan. Abandoned by her father at an early age, Daniella always falls for the ‘wrong’ type of man. Her most enduring male relationship so far has been with her cat.

Several strange mysteries are threaded through Daniella’s everyday life: her ex-husband, Ismael, has just opened an outlandish hotel for animal lovers that has her distraught; Ismael’s wife, a rich woman Daniella fondly refers to as ‘Lady Dracula’, has some gruesome ways to keep her skin looking young; Daniella’s mother is founding a revolutionary, feminist society called The Praying Mantises; the island’s national forest is being depleted of hallucinogenic mushrooms; meanwhile, young girls are disappearing and there’s a nut loose dressed as Zorro slashing the rear ends of women who wear miniskirts.

Oppressed by all these eccentric characters, Daniella feels herself falling into an abyss. Then something terrible happens, making Daniella wake from her stupor and take charge of her life.



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MC PictureAbout The Author:

Award-winning author Mayra Calvani has penned over ten books for children and adults in genres ranging from picture books to satire to paranormal fantasy novels. She’s had over 300 articles,  short stories, interviews and reviews published in magazines such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal  and Bloomsbury Review, among others. She has lived in America, Asia, the Middle East, and now lives in Brussels, Belgium.



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