The Crack of Dawn


by Joseph Siess

…Mother Mary & the Morning of Terrible Judgment…Mad
to the Coast…Extreme Behavior on Av. Boa Viagem…

I came to around 6 am. The Pole sat on the far end of the couch, wide-eyed with a confused look on his thin face. A hazy morning light spilled onto the palm shrouded courtyard, and bizarre French music sounded from an unseen source.

“Good morning,” said the Pole through a wide, disheveled smile. “Just relax,” he added with a wave of the hand. “The coffee woman will be here soon.” He nodded in assurance, but his piercing stare confirmed my greatest fears. “Just take it easy, ok…”

“How long have we been here?” I croaked. I sat up, coughed and looked around the room, but my eyes remained heavy. I couldn’t recall anything from the past 12 hours.

Without answering, the Pole turned his back and walked into the kitchen.

I swung my feet onto the floor, ran my grimy hands through my tangled hair, took a deep breath and attempted to concentrate on the facts.

Splinters of memory seeped from my subconscious. I recalled four tabs, two of which were double-edged, a liter of Polish vodka and a jar of pickles. The faint odor of vomit jolted my memory and I remembered puking my guts out at some strange hour of the night.

Jimi Hendrix, Die Antwoord. The Argentines and the Australians. The Frenchman.

“Dear Lord,” I thought. “Here we go.”


The bizarre French music continued to waft on the salty, equatorial breeze that drafted into the room.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the mounted T.V. set in front of the couch, and to my horror, I saw a filthy, beach-combing wretch. I had slumped into a kind of tropical degeneracy during my time in Brazil, and the sight of myself filled my heart with loathing and disgrace.

I groped the dried juniper seeds hanging around my neck with quivering hands and bobbed back and forth. My legs were streaked with soot, and my straggly cut-off jean shorts were moist with perspiration. My stretched, loosely fitting t-shirt slid off my shoulder exposing my bony chest.

I was nervous, confused, and worst of all, completely whacked out of my skull on some of the most powerful shit I’d ever experienced.

The stuff had been working on me since the night before, and had not subsided in the least. “How long could this last?” I thought to myself. Grim thoughts plagued my twitching brain.

The Pole was fumbling around in the kitchen. A stainless steel frying pan crashed against the floor. I fell back onto the couch and started to doze off again. I could hear the Pole mumbling to himself in the next room. When the Pole realized I was sinking back into the dark sleep he shook me and hissed under his breath, “Get up goddamnit! We have to make this look right or I’m finished! Finished man!”

“Jesus,” I groaned. “I mean I don’t even know how this is possible…”

I finally jumped to my feet and searched for my flip-flops. I stumbled barefoot into the kitchen and fumbled for a coffee mug. “Shit.” There was no coffee in the thermos.

I pleaded with the Pole, “I need something. Anything. Coffee, a cigarette. Wake up the French guy… get a cigarette. Please… you don’t understand.”

“Listen,” said the Pole firmly. He placed his hands on my shoulders and fixed me with bloodshot eyes. “The woman is going to be here any minute. This has to look good, ok?” He looked around nervously. His wild locks fell over his eyes. “If she even suspects that something is going on here, that’s bad for me… understand?” I sheepishly nodded as he went on.

Standing in the kitchen listening to the Pole speak, my eyes locked onto something in the distance. A medium sized portrait of the Virgin Mary hung on the opposite wall and gazed upon us with terrible judgment. I was overcome with fear. “Oh Jesus!” I gasped. “We’ve got to get the hell out of here! ” Squealing, I nodded towards the portrait. The Pole looked confused, and his eyes darted around.

A moment later the front gate buzzed and rattled us into action. I snatched the portrait of Mother Mary off the wall and stashed it on top of the refrigerator out of sight. The Pole rushed towards the gate to let the coffee woman in, and I sank back down on the couch. Sitting in a cockeyed half lotus I groped my seeds like a destitute monk.


After a brief, muffled conversation in broken Portuguese the Pole came back into the room and we exchanged concerned looks before he disappeared back into the kitchen.

A second later, a short, brown haired Brazilian woman glided past me with a grey bag slung over her shoulder. “Bom dia,” she said with a smile as she made her way towards the kitchen. Attempting to conceal my palpable, drug-riddled angst, I forced a composed grin and croaked a shaky, “bom dia, senhora”.

Another Brazilian woman emerged through the door and followed her companion into the kitchen. The Pole returned to the living room and sat on the couch.

“Now, just act normal,” he said leaning back into a cushion. “Just sit here and wait patiently for the coffee, ok?” The look on his face was anything but calm and collected. He looked like he was about to crack any moment. The faint smell of vomit lingered in the air, and the place reeked of drug-addled debauchery.

After the coffee we bolted for the front gate and decided we would be safer down on the beach.

We had to get our heads straight, and we had to do it quick. After exchanging a few awkward mutterings with the girl who was scheduled to work the reception desk, we speed walked to the Shell station to buy a pack of cigarettes.

At the gas station I was overcome with the sense that I was tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole into a different world. An old Volkswagen was parked out front, and the eery morning silence seemed unnaturally serene. It felt like I was dropped into a watercolor painting of ‘somewhere in South America in the mid-fifties‘, I remember thinking.

Continuing down towards the beach, we chain-smoked Marlboro Reds like two nervous crackpots, toasted to mad, jabbering crisps under the tropical sun.

Once within sight of the coast we stumbled across Av. Boa Viagem and onto the palm-dotted boardwalk. Cyclists zipped past us, and the din of early morning traffic whooshed all around our heads. The rustling of the trees and the crash of the sea were almost too much for the senses to handle in the state we were in. I could feel myself slipping into manic weirdness.

I followed the Pole over to a small thatched hut of a seaside watering hole, and we plopped down on two wooden bar stools.

The weather woman was chattering in Portuguese on the screen suspended overhead, and the barman suddenly materialized from somewhere in the back.

The time was about 7 am, however I felt like we had been struggling through the day for several hours. Time was perceptibly and frighteningly skewed, and the union of powerful substances and sleep deprivation was gnawing at my sanity.


The early morning sun was beating down on Av. Boa Viagem in Recife, Brazil, as we ordered our first drink.

With suspicious eyes, the man placed two ice cold caipirinhas in front of us. “Looks like we’re the first customers,” the Pole mumbled. He settled in and lit a cigarette.

“Jesus, looks like it man,” I said. A shudder of nausea flickered up my spine.

I examined the sweating beverage sitting in front of me on the bar, and with trembling hands I picked it up. Once the nausia had passed I started drinking the thing. The cold, citrusy-sweet beverage smacked me in the gut with a violent slug of cachaça and I came to.

Resting my elbows on the bar I said, “Ok man, we’ll play by your rules. You’re out of your goddamned mind you know.”

“Whatever,” muttered the Pole, “just take it easy.”

“Look at these fucking people,” I hissed, “They think we’re crackpots… Look at the fear in their eyes.” The Pole looked at me through a screen of cigarette smoke, turned towards the sea and continued drinking in silence.

The weather woman’s jabbering started nagging at my brain, and I desperately needed to latch onto something. I needed something solid to wrap my mind around or risk the dark tumble into a state of foaming delirium and raving madness. The human mind can only take so much abuse, and I knew I was getting dangerously close to the edge.

I had never felt such intense fear and loss of control as I felt in that moment.

The Pole broke the silence. “How easy would it be to take this goddamn beach,”he said. “I mean, this could be our beach man. I’m saying all we need is a good plan. Nobody would suspect a thing. Two foreigners. Not a chance man.” The Pole spoke with a sharp Eastern European accent.

I took a violent hit of my beverage and cleared my throat. With a cigarette in my mouth I struck a match and said, “Well, you’re right about one thing man,” I leaned into the flame to get the cigarette going, tossed the smoking match onto the bar, and added, “They’d never suspect us.”

“It’s not like there’s anybody staking a claim here. Easy. We’ll call you the tubarão. Yah. The shark. Talk to the shark buddy….”

Several minutes went by and a jungle of empty glasses, cigarette butts, lime chunks, and peices of wet cocktail napkin had sprouted up around us.We were losing composure and it was becoming obvious to the natives.

I sprang into action and in a shaky voice I muttered, “order a cold coconut.” “What?”snapped the Pole. “Now damnit… A cold fucking coconut… Do it now.” I grumbled urgently under my breath so as not to alert the barman.

We desperately needed a psychic anchor. We were floating into madness. Untethered to time and space. Our speech degenerated into a blathering aphasia. For a brief moment I felt as though the tiny thatched roof hut of a bar was suspended in a perpetual limbo of weird, meaningless dialogue and stiff beverages.

Thoughts began rushing into my weary head.

“Would we ever come out of this? Had our minds snapped? Are we permanently suspended up here on the grinding gears of time, in a stupor; dribbling drunk, destined to yak and howl like cracked March hares for eternity?”

Moments later a freshly cracked coconut materialized on the bar and I grabbed the thing and poured the contents into my face. I passed it to the Pole and he followed suit. His eyes lit up with curiosity.

“Psychic anchor,” I gasped. “Vitamins man. We need vitamins. I know Poles don’t do vitamins, but there was no other way.”

“Stop being a pussy and finish your drink,” the Pole said with coconut water dripping off his beard. “I’m getting in.” In a moment the Pole was shirtless and barreling towards the sea like some kind of crazed, rum-soaked castaway.

“Oh dear,” I thought. A jolt of drunken exhaustion wrestled with the powerful substances coursing through my brain as I attempted to remain calm in public.

I finished off my drink and looked around nervously. Moments later the Pole came back huffing and dripping and bumbling about diamond lights and white mountains. I desperately needed to snatch reality. To get a grip. The Pole groped around on the bar for the Marlboros and produced a box of matches.

“That’s it!” I thought. I knew the only way out of this was to witness the Pole light the cigarette. I thrusted my face into the Pole’s magnetic field, and attempted to focus on the cigarette dangling off his bottom lip.

I waited anxiously for him to strike a match.

The Pole struck several matches, all of which were caught in the wind, failing to light the cigarette.

My head began to spin, and I felt I was about to lose composure. The Pole was beginning to get nervous. He frantically struck match after match in a futile attempt to light the cigarette. “Oh my God…” I said with clinched teeth. I could feel the veins in my neck swelling with blood.

“Grab… reality. Do it… Please… Light the Cigarette…,” my voice grew shakier and more agitated.

Match after match continued to sizzle out, and the fateful cigarette remained unlit. I hissed into the Pole’s ear, “Light… the cigarette…now!” He shuffled awkwardly and a bead of sweat slid down his cheek.

I knew the snapping point was near, and my heart was beginning to race. The matches continued to fail, and little wisps of black smoke spiraled around, as if taunting me. My upper lip quivered and finally I roared, “LIGHT!… THE FUCKING!… CIGARETTE!!”

The barman looked up from his duties and fixed us with a grim stare. A cabbie leaning on a white sedan parked on the other side of the avenue, cocked his head in our direction. “THE CIGARETTE! THE FUCKING CIGARETTE! LIGHT IT GODDAMNIT!!”

I was foaming mad.

Miraculously, the cigarette caught the flame and started glowing. I exhaled and fell over the bar in exhaustion. I laughed madly and fumbled for my glass. “O…K” I said calmly. The Pole was breathing heavily and the barman quickly looked away. The weather was on in the background, and bicycles zipped past the bar. It seemed as though we had managed to regain control. We had achieved a psychic anchor for the time being.

But what comes next? What now?


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