Shelba and I took a trip to Mexico. We had a timeshare in Mazatlán but hadn’t been there in years, a high-rise right on the beach built by a former president whose name I can’t recall. He lived in the Penthouse when he was there. We lived on the twelfth floor, a corner unit, much smaller, with a view of the air conditioner on the neighboring roof. But with the prices of timeshares these days, I consider it a steal.

I was on oxygen, emphysema, smoked a pack a day, sometimes two, for years. It started in the army: World War II. I’d been drafted to the Infantry. They gave us smokes for free, something to keep us warm, out all night in tents on frozen German battlefields or trenches under the stars.

I insisted we go even though Shelba felt it was a mistake. “It’s hurricane season,” she said, her green eyes enormous, betraying her fear.

I didn’t care. I loved Mexico: its beaches, its music, the Margaritas, tortilla chips and salsa, barbecued shrimp by the shoreline. I was so tired of dying on my couch with nurses poking and prodding three days a week. I could hardly wait to flee my homemade coffin.

The outskirts of Mazatlán are desolate, little shacks with metal roofs, a few chickens maybe, a goat, always a dog barking or sleeping beside a cactus. As we drove through the city, small shops appeared selling tortillas and shoes, candy, cakes, sodas and t-shirts for the tourists. There were money exchange booths on every corner, always with a better rate than the banks.

Soon we were on the Gold Coast. Resorts rose from Pacific beaches as if Aladdin had rubbed his lamp, waved away the poverty. Palaces appeared with marble foyers, fountains, and swimming pools gleaming gold in the sunshine.

Our driver skirted the traffic, honking and skidding past buses and trucks loaded with watermelons, guavas, papayas and pineapples. The sweet smell of ripening fruit wafted through the open window. I breathed more easily.

They unloaded me in the parking lot of our timeshare, Islas del Sol: Islands of the Sun. It had seen better days. Manuel, the manager, rushed from the lobby, tripping on the cracked stairway. “Señor,” he called, waving as he composed himself, “Señor, Señora, welcome to Mexico.”

I waved back, happy to feel the sun on my back, my knees, my hands which shook slightly as I rose from the wheelchair and shuffled up the ramp. Shelba followed, as she always did in case I fell.

I didn’t recognize the lobby. Once there were potted palms, elephant ears, bougainvillea and hibiscus. Now only the pots remained. The blue-tiled floor had faded, its floral design a scattered memory of a Mexican garden. Sand everywhere: floors, windows, tabletops. A salty breeze blew in from the Pacific. I gulped the air as if I were downing a Tecate. It thrilled me just to breathe.

“You are my only guests.” Manuel pressed his worn knuckles. “Everyone has cancelled. The hurricane, you see: Elena. They say she’s on her way. But you never know. She could get lost.” He picked a dead hibiscus, blowing sand from the petals. “One of her children arrived earlier leaving this mess.”

Shelba looked worried. But then, of late, Shelba always looked worried. Since I was diagnosed with cancer, she’s aged dramatically. She’s no longer pretty; wrinkles crease her once porcelain skin. Strands of gray dull her black hair. I didn’t understand her need for life, for joy, which I disregarded long ago, willing to serve my sentence on the couch, to envision my future with Hell’s Angels guiding me into the darkness.

“The elevator is slow.” Manuel pressed hard on the button. “Sometimes it does not work at all.”

“Like us,” I retorted, feeling a bit smug that I’d lasted this long.

“I think we should go home,” Shelba whispered, her voice trembling, “Before Elena hits.” But I wasn’t having it. We’d come this far. I’d survived the flight. I would survive Elena.

“Our therapist has…has arranged for oxygen to be delivered.”

“Yes, Señora, the hospital informed me. They will be sending a technician daily.”

The elevator creaked and groaned as it lumbered to the twelfth. “It is in a better mood today,” Manuel laughed, revealing a missing incisor. “Yesterday it would not budge, like an old dog wanting to sleep.”

“Sometimes I feel that way myself.”

“We all do, Senor. It is only natural.”

When we reached our floor, the elevator would not open. Manuel elbowed the button until the stubborn door finally shuddered apart. “Hurry,” Manuel urged, “before it changes its mind.”

With a heavy brass key from his ring, he unlocked the door to our rooms. Wind blew through the louvers, mussing Shelba’s hair. Her white peasant blouse was creased and sweat-stained from the trip, her linen shorts smudged with taxi dust. She looked haggard, as if all this was fulfilling some nightmare she’d tried to banish.

“What’s happened?” She hesitated on the threshold observing the unmade beds, the torn curtains, the dust motes in the corners.

“The maids have left, gone back to their villages.” Manuel wrung his hands. “We are pretty much on our own.”

Shelba seemed about to cry.

“It is not so bad, Señora, Elena might die before she arrives or change direction. Like women, hurricanes are temperamental.”

Much like Shelba, I wanted to speak, but remained silent wondering what we would do if the elevator stopped running, leaving us stuck on the twelfth floor.

“There are some brooms in a closet somewhere, a few dust rags. The maids couldn’t have taken everything.” He started opening doors and closets as if the cleaning items might magically appear.

“I’ll find them.” Shelba finally took charge.

“I apologize for the inconvenience, Señora. If there’s anything I can do, just call my office. I believe the phones are still working.” He backed out the doorway bowing slightly, his eyes downcast, as if he were responsible for the whims of nature, for what could not be avoided should nature decide to unleash its wrath.

Shelba rushed around closing windows. “I don’t know why they left them open. It’s such a mess.”

“The air-conditioner, Señora, it had stopped working like most everything else.”

Just then, we heard a knock. We looked at each other wondering who…

The knock again. The door opened slightly. “I hope I’m not intruding,” the voice said in impeccable English.

“Come in.” Manuel retreated as the stranger entered.

“You ordered?”

“At last,” Shelba said. “I was beginning to worry. His canister was almost empty.”

The trim young technician, sporting a starched white hospital coat, entered with my oxygen replacement. His little son, brown eyes sparkling, danced beside him as he delivered the rest of the hospital gear. How I envied that child: so supple, lithe limbs somersaulting across the slick marble floor.

“As you can see, he is not shy,” his father apologized.

“It’s wonderful,” I smiled, “if we could only stay that limber forever.” I took another drag on my cigarette before he replaced the canister.

“This smoking is not such a good idea. You could blow yourself up.”

“That’s just what I’ve been telling him,” Shelba interjected.

“This is serious, Señor. Your wife is right.”

“She’s always right. That’s a woman’s prerogative.” I inhaled, breathing more easily with the fresh canister.

“I will return tomorrow. Please refrain from smoking. It is a short fuse until—“

“Yes, I know, a short fuse until—“

“Come, Pablo.” The child skipped out the door, waving his chubby hand.

Shelba opened a window she had just closed and leaned out for some fresh sea air. A line of pelicans flew by going somewhere, north or south, to their next destination. What would be my destination?

“I don’t like it here.” Shelba turned from the window, her eyes no longer bright. “There’s something eerie about this place now that everyone’s gone. The only people on the beach are that vagrant family and the drummer who’s always been here when we visit. Only he wasn’t drumming. They just sit on those rocks looking out to sea, as if they’re waiting for Elena to arrive. We’ve got to go home, Paul, before it’s too late.”

“We’re staying. That’s why we came here: to wait it out.”

“To wait what out?

“You know.”

“No, I don’t. I don’t know what you’re talking about. And furthermore I don’t want to know.” She escaped to the bathroom and locked the door. I heard the shower running for a very long time. It was as if she were trying to drown herself, drown the misery I was putting her through. I stared at the white plaster walls. All the pictures had been taken down, probably stored somewhere in anticipation of disaster. The room seemed sterile, sepulchral. The humidity increased, bathing me in a rancid sweat that fogged my glasses and dripped from the bald spot on my head until I felt I was underwater struggling for land. The sky grew darker. Bloated clouds drifted past. The breeze increased until it was no longer a breeze, but a gale stinking of putrid fish and rotting kelp on the shoreline. I tried to get up from the couch and cross to the windows to shut them, but the wind was too strong.

“Shelba,” I called. “Shelba, I need your help. I-I think we’re in for it. I-I think Elena’s arrived. God damn it, Shelba, answer me.”

Gales smashed the windows, blew the cigarette from my hand. Rain pounded the condo until it shook. I heard a tremendous crash. It had to be the beach wall fracturing. A roar of waves rushed the broken structure, undermining the earth beneath it. How much longer before the building collapsed?

“Shelba,” I screamed into the whirlwind as darkness descended. “Shelba, the power’s out. We’re stranded.”

Silence from the bathroom, behind the locked door.