Their type was easy to spot — the guy with a wife to cheat on and a family to ruin. Jaime, who preferred the English pronunciation because it made him feel more American, whatever that meant, and Yessi — Yessica only to her parents and grandparents — staked out bars together. Sometimes it went like this: A man would approach Yessi porque se ponía unos vestiditos that made her body sit nice and right in all the obvious places, and she’d tell them that the only way she’d go home with them was if they could find another guy, que she was a freak like that. Enter Jaime. Yessi would pretend to scope out the place until she caught sight of him, usually hanging at the end of the bar and smiling at an imaginary passerby.
“How about him?” she’d say. “He’s cute, and I like his aura.”
Usually the men hesitated, excited by the prospect of a threesome, but only on their terms. Their idea of a good time involved being worshipped like the last remains of a god. But Jaime was good-looking in that way where everyone knew it except him, not because no one told him but because he didn’t believe it. If he and Yessi were out dancing, it wasn’t rare for another woman or two to shimmy up between them, which made Yessi laugh because it was Jaime getting hit on by women, and Yessi would entertain it until she pulled Jaime away as he wiggled his fingers under his chin, dispelling the charm they’d cast.
Jaime hadn’t known about the hummingbirds until he and Yessi went to a botánica one day looking for agua de Florida, which he’d been prescribed after una consulta. He was skeptical at first, even though he grew up with warnings and respect for the things forever unknowable and unreachable to him, but when the woman asked him who Felix was and why Jaime was still thinking about him, he’d relented. Another customer was making her purchase, and the clerk at the register held out a small package wrapped in red satin. She handed it over delicately, like something sacred. The other customer left in hurry, saying nothing. Jaime set his items down: the bottle, one red candle and one white one, and oil for attraction. The woman had suggested these for the baños he took at home. Yessi offered to buy the flowers.
“Para el amor,” said the clerk with an assured nod, leaning across the glass desk, where charms and gold chains sat on satin sheets. “O para que regrese alguien.”
According to the slip of paper from his consulta, the ingredients were for un baño de puteria y uno de amor, but at the clerk’s words, Jaime leaned close. She held up a finger and flitted through a curtain, returning with a cardboard box full of small bundles all wrapped in the same red fabric.
“Chuparosas.” When Jaime didn’t respond, the woman said, “Colibrí.”
He shook his head in confusion. The woman unwrapped one of the pouches, then laid the contents in the palm of her hand. The thing was dead, its tiny legs curled in what Jaime imagined was terror. The jewel of its throat caught the light in a dull shimmer. A hummingbird. Because of his grandparents, he’d grown up calling them zunzúns, a name for the sound their wings made.
The woman explained their powerful properties, how their little bodies were put into bottles of perfume to attract partners both new and lost. Burn incense alongside them at an altar; use them in baths. Boiled with various herbs, their hearts were said to cure nearly any illness. Cash only, of course. All Jaime could think of was Felix, the memory of the love between them like ivy against a brick wall.
One night, Jaime aimed for a man with salt-and-pepper hair. In the bar’s dim lighting, he caught enough of his hand to see the tan line on his ring finger. Men weren’t tricky. Straight men especially, he’d learned. He left the man up to Yessi, who spun words like darts. For every two compliments, there was one biting line, a playful tone, a laugh and a flip of her hair. It drove them nuts. She was bold. They knew it, and she knew it, and that made Jaime’s job easier.
Jaime watched her work, una cabrona hechicera. The music was loud, but he felt Yessi’s words, telling the man how nice he looked, that she couldn’t believe he was single, and that, yes, of course he could buy her a drink. Oh, he was in town for the weekend on business? And what business was she in? Social services, she said, which always sent Jaime into a giggling fit. It wasn’t long until Yessi approached him with the man behind her.
“I noticed you,” she said. “I love your energy. Can we buy you a drink?”
And Jaime said yes. They improvised bits here and there but never strayed too far from their predetermined scripts. It worked like this: Yessi paid more attention to the man than she did to Jaime, pulling him into her orbit.
At the man’s hotel room, they ordered a bottle of whiskey. While Yessi sat on his lap on the balcony and sweet-talked him, Jaime swirled the drugs into the man’s glass until they dissolved. They toasted. They were high up on Brickell. The city stretched alive beneath them with its golden streetlights, a faint pulse of deep bass, the distant sound of a police siren. Jaime slugged a single shot. Usually, Yessi kissed the man’s neck and stroked the back of his head until the drugs began to take hold, but the drugs were working slowly, and Yessi had to keep the man distracted.
“You know what would really turn me on?” she said, watching the man’s glazed eyes wander over to her. “If you kissed this friend of ours.”
“I . . . I’m not a faggot,” said the man between gulps of air.
“Neither am I,” Jaime lied.
“Don’t you want this?” said Yessi, placing the man’s hands on the small of her back before pulling away the fishing rod of her body. She turned his head toward Jaime, who closed his eyes, not because he hated it but because he wished it were Felix. The man’s lips against his were dry like potato peels. Jaime imagined the man was overcompensating for his ultimate reward, the kiss hesitant, then forceful. The man finally wobbled. Jaime and Yessi put him on his side on the bed, and Jaime left a trash can next to him in case he had to vomit.
“That watch looks hella nice,” said Yessi.
“Only cash,” said Jaime.
Traveling businessmen usually had cash on them. They planned for shit. Jaime looked through the man’s luggage. There was a bank envelope with several bills, so he took just enough to make it seem like the stash hadn’t been touched. He took forty dollars, nearly enough for a single hummingbird, and was careful to leave everything else as it had been. Yessi rummaged through the man’s wallet and slipped a few bills into her bra.
“He travels with a picture of his wife,” she said, then turned the wallet over to show Jaime. “Do you think she’s prettier than me?”
On the surface, Jaime thought Yessi was objectively prettier, but the wife probably never did what he and Yessi were doing, and that made her beautiful.
Three days after acquiring the hummingbirds, Jaime almost ran into Eddy, a former lover from a whirlwind ago. Things had ended poorly, in dramatic silence. Jaime still remembered Eddy’s phantom touch from the last night they spent together. He took Yessi by the hand and fled the bar. It would be impossible for them to pursue a man of unknown origins with Eddy there. Jaime had hesitated with the birds, afraid to use them in a ritual, afraid of what they might return to him. Felix’s face bloomed in Jaime’s mind, the possibility of his return like a hummingbird to a flower. He imagined how one would feel unwrapped in his hand.
They’d met on one of the apps, you know the one. Jaime saw Felix looking at his profile first, so he did the same. In the picture, Felix wore a dark-green shirt. He posed in front of a full-length mirror, cropped to show himself from torso to face. His hair looked done for the occasion, and there was the faintest trace of a closed-mouth smile pulling a single dimple on his right cheek. They went back and forth until Jaime figured Felix was either too good or too chickenshit to send the first message, so he did it himself, even if it made him seem eager. Jaime couldn’t trust a man to do anything right. The apps had never worked for him in the past, and he was convinced that some important part of him, visible to all except himself, was flawed.
Felix shared a place near downtown with a sister. He came from a big family with many siblings, all scattered across the States, and he occasionally had the apartment to himself when his sister spent the night at her boyfriend’s place. The first time Jaime was invited over, they’d been circling each other for three months, which Yessi thought was weird.
“What the fuck’s he hiding?” she’d asked.
But Jaime wanted to be patient with Felix. The plan was to cook for each other, though Jaime burned everything he touched. He made honey-roasted figs, slightly scorched along the edges but edible, and they fed them to each other one at a time, their fingers lingering against lips rough and shiny with sugar. Then they fucked for the first time. Jaime had thought it was sweet that Felix wanted to wait. They’d gone dancing at the gay bars, rubbed their legs against each other while surrounded by bodies begging to melt into the sun. That night with Felix, Jaime learned to let himself be touched and held.
The day after the run-in with Eddy, Jaime followed the recipe from the botánica. He kept a bird tied in a pouch on his person, spritzed with his own perfume to open the road. He wrote Felix’s name on a tiny slip of paper and added it to the pouch. Jaime wanted Yessi to know nothing of the ritual, but one Sunday morning she discovered the birds.
“Is this some abuela potpourri type of . . . ?” she said, holding them up to her nose, then turning away when she inhaled their scent. Jaime had no choice but to tell her. He felt it was only right, since Yessi was letting him crash with her and her cousin in their cramped two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. A large pink rug covered the majority of the original terrazzo floor. On it, the white pleather couch where Jaime slept. A collection of Yessi’s shoes lined one corner. Pothos plants draped over cabinets framing the TV in the living room. Paintings ranged from abstract nudes to pastel splotches and congealed into intentional decor.
“This is weird, bro,” said Yessi. Such an easy compromise was a privilege.
Before the baths, the oils, and the birds, Jaime had tried to win Felix back. He’d sent him messages asking how he was doing. Sometimes Felix engaged him, and that made Jaime feel wanted. Other times there was no response, only the cold silence of the virtualscape between them. A few times, Jaime went to the bookstore that Felix liked. Though Jaime had unfollowed Felix on various social platforms, he still typed his ex’s name into search bars, if only to see the phantom forms dance along his screen.
It wasn’t that Jaime believed he loved Felix more than Felix had loved him. Instead, he told himself that Felix had his own way of showing it. Felix was thoughtful, careful like a large dog. This was what Jaime wanted: to be with a gentle man after all he’d known was the touch of sharkskin.
Things changed once he began using the birds. When he opened the app one afternoon, Jaime saw that Felix had checked out his profile. Because Felix wasn’t the most recent viewer, his picture appeared blurry, but Jaime had committed the colors to memory: the dark green of Felix’s shirt against a beige background. Jaime touched the bird at his chest, nestled in its satin bundle, and thought for a moment that the hummingbird’s wings were moving in rhythm with his own fluttering heart.
He decided he needed more birds. The botánica’s clerk smiled when she saw him enter.
“I have new ones,” she said before he could ask. Black-chinned hummingbirds, their neck feathers a deep purple. Coppery rufous hummingbirds. White-eared hummingbirds with turquoise throats. Ruby-throated hummingbirds with bloody, rosy gorgets.
“You need un macho y una hembra for stronger spells,” she said. Jaime selected two males of different species, their throats brilliant. They fit comfortably in his palm. Their eyes were shut, severe and tight. The clerk wordlessly wrapped them in their red satin pouches. Because of his bulk purchase, she added tiny vials of oil for his troubles — one for love, may it find him, and one for him to be found, may it be so.
Before he was to meet Yessi at the evening’s designated hunting ground, Jaime placed the birds facing each other on his makeshift altar. First, he bathed himself with the oils, then honey, milk, and cinnamon. He doused himself in his favorite perfume, then Felix’s favorite. Notes of sandalwood, nutmeg, ginger, and citrus, heavy and sharp, pricked his nose. Jaime wondered if he should pray to Santa Clara for guidance and direction. Then he went out into the night where Yessi waited for him, two drinks in, in love with a world on fire. He still struggled in knowing why Yessi needed him to do things that he felt she could do by herself. It was his idea, but Yessi had latched on to it. Red-bottom shoes were expensive.
“Men love a challenge,” she said. “Tell them they can’t have something and watch them try everything to get it.”
She led his gaze over to a man. Jaime felt immediately bored by him. He was exactly the type they’d play, the easiest to catch, ogling every woman who walked by. He wore a gaudy watch, and his hair was slicked with too much product. If he dressed in better-fitting clothes, he could be good-looking. But across the bar was a man more handsome than any in Jaime’s memory: dark hair and a light scruff that would send shivers down anyone’s neck. Jaime thought the man was too attractive to fall for stupid tricks. He ignored Yessi hissing behind him. After a shot and chaser, the warmth down his throat, Jaime bumped into the man hard enough to draw his attention. It surprised him — how he could bloom into another person when the situation called for it, how he could conceal his own self and present an imagined copy to be manipulated as needed.
Jaime asked him what he was drinking, ordered one for each of them. When the man placed a hand on the small of his back, Jaime realized the stranger looked as he imagined Felix would look in his late forties. It was in the profile, the way they both styled their short hair, and the angle of their noses. As the man, who said his name was José, turned to face him, Jaime stroked the length of his arm and slipped the pill into his drink.
“That woman’s been looking at us,” he said to José, nodding his chin at Yessi, who flashed her razor eyes and walked over.
“I’m sorry for staring,” she said, repeating one of their scripts. “You’re such a handsome couple.”
“We’re a couple?” asked José.
Yessi made a show of apologizing. She didn’t mean any offense, but she saw how well they complemented each other, how natural it seemed. The rest of the night was a blur. They went back to José’s place on the north side of the beach, with an entire mirror wall and black leather couches. A local, regrettably. He stumbled around and mumbled about wanting things to look tidy for guests. Jaime fell over him onto the bed, and José giggled. In another version of this scenario, Jaime would have laughed, too, thought it to be romantic. Like the time he’d fallen asleep drunk with Felix and awoken the next morning, his head cradled in Felix’s arms.
José reached for Jaime’s shirt buttons. Jaime stopped him, remembering the bird hanging in its pouch. He held himself aloft, afraid the bird would be crushed. Jaime struggled to make out José’s broken speech, but he heard the shape of the words cute and date before José fell into the pit of sleep.
Jaime heard the click of her heels before Yessi walked into the room. She pushed her thick hair from her face, cut by crosses of moonlight through the blinds.
“Not bad, tigeraso,” she said. She spanked Jaime’s ass, then pulled the wallet out of José’s back pocket.
“It’s true what I said back there,” said Yessi, counting out bills. “You looked like you were a real thing. It almost looked like love.”
Jaime had once wanted to believe that two people could find each other and an unspoken recognition would pass between them, an electrical current through the earth. It was so goddamn unfair. How do you tell someone you miss them when you really miss the reason you’re ruined?
Out in the streets, a haze of humidity hung like a sheer curtain over the city. Jaime pulled his phone from his pocket and called Felix. It rang until it went to voice mail. The sky opened, raindrops like violent pearls against the streetlights. Jaime sent Felix a message, reaching again for the hand in the dark.
After two weeks without a response, Jaime returned to the botánica. He felt he needed to double his efforts.
“Take a pair of underwear belonging to the one you love and wrap two birds in them, one representing you and the other your love. Listen, and this is important, place that in a jar of warmed honey, sugar, rose petals, and wine.”
“Can it be another item?” said Jaime.
“No, niño. This is how things have to be.”
In the parking lot, he called Yessi to ask her for a favor. Felix and his sister lived on the second floor of a three-story walk-up, an ivory building nestled between tall palms and fiery phoenix flower trees somewhere in one of the older neighborhoods whose houses were metamorphosing from coral-like walls to terrifying boxes of light. It was a Saturday, which meant Felix and his sister would not be in.
Jaime climbed up to the window and asked Yessi to keep watch. He jostled the faulty window and hummed in relief when it opened. He pulled himself into the bedroom. Everything was as he remembered. There was the full-length mirror they’d posed in front of to take pictures of their outfits before a night out. The closet door was open just enough that Jaime could see shirt sleeves hanging from the opening. He opened the dresser, flipped through different pairs of underwear, and chose a pair of black trunks. Jaime recalled how they hugged the curve of ass, which Felix was self-conscious about.
There was a creak farther back in the apartment, and Jaime nearly flung himself out the window, the underwear tucked into his back pocket. The window jammed when he tried to close it, and he wiggled it to set it right, even as the light in the hallway turned on. Shadows stretched through the door. The window righted itself and shut, and Jaime ducked into darkness to see Felix step into his room, pulling a man with him.
Jaime watched them in the amber light. He held himself tight as Felix pulled the belt off the nameless man. The man did the same, then unbuttoned Felix’s olive shirt from top to bottom. The fine hairs on his chest caught the light’s glow. Jaime imagined himself as the nameless man, remembering Felix’s lips against his, the muscles of their jaws like electric machines. This he would make into reality.
The bars became a bore. Jaime only thought about the birds. Even Yessi grew impatient with him.
“You know I love you,” she’d said. “Pero you have to stop. Enough with this shit, papo.”
With every outing, he willed Felix to appear before him, but every night he was disappointed. There were doppelgangers, but when Jaime followed these figures, they weren’t Felix, and his chest ached with the embarrassment of desire.
One night, Jaime was at a gay bar on the Beach, the only one with a patio. He leaned against a wall. The fan overhead cooled him while he waited for Yessi. He scrolled through his phone. Smoke rose into the air. Palm fronds bristled in the stale, humid wind. Then from the metal stairs in front of him, Felix descended, and Jaime’s throat closed. The cloying scent of sweat and cigarettes. He instinctively touched the delicate bird under his clothes. Felix focused on Jaime and stopped in front of him.
“Hi,” said Jaime.
“Hey,” said Felix, taut-jawed.
“How are you?”
“Don’t think I didn’t realize you were there,” said Felix.
“What do you mean?” said Jaime.
“I saw you from the window that night.”
The wings inside Jaime’s chest froze. Around them, drinks were sweating in hands, and a haze of cigarettes danced between them.
“You’re going to have to tell me that again,” said Jaime.
“It’s always about you,” said Felix. “Even when it isn’t. You make everything about you.”
Jaime remembered what Felix had told him the day they broke up, the shift in the ether like a cold sting against his nose: that he was too much. Too much what? The answer was too much everything.
“You want it all,” said Felix.
“I want you.”
Felix shook his head and scoffed. Jaime laid his hand against Felix’s cheek. Short stubble slick with dew tingled against his palm. Felix flinched, and that’s when Jaime knew he’d treaded beyond a boundary to an irreversible reality.
“Does he make you happy?” said Jaime.
“Of course he does.”
“Felix,” said Jaime, “did I make you happy?”
Jaime swallowed hard, and his tongue felt papery against his teeth. Between them was care, messy but alive. Jaime ached, and still he craved more, but neither could be the person the other needed them to be. Before he could say anything, Felix cut him off.
“Don’t come looking for me.”
Felix did little to push through the crowd. Men parted for him, and Jaime tracked him until he opened the door to the back alley, where the nameless man waited. Neither of them had noticed Yessi, behind them, watching the scene wither.
After that, Jaime avoided Yessi, mostly out of shame. He left the apartment when she was there and arrived when she left. Instead of going out with her, he’d go to a gay bar where he’d watch couples grind their bodies together on the dance floor. His encounter with Felix made him think of all the men he’d fallen for — Cristian and Albert and Edwardo and Victor, who had traveled on roads with him, all leading someplace none of them knew, but there was always something that made them stop, though Jaime didn’t know what.
Yessi even offered to take him out, pay for drinks or have some man pay for them, but Jaime declined every time.
“You have to get over this,” she said.
“What’s it to you?” said Jaime.
“Do you really? Or is it because I can’t help you make money?”
“You’re a little bitch, you know that? A fucking little bitch who can’t crawl out of the hole he dug for himself.”
“You’re looking in a mirror.”
Jaime knew he’d hurt her, but that didn’t matter. The next morning, he woke to a fast fever, sweating under the blankets. No amount of ice water seemed to cool him. He thought he saw Felix staring at him through the dark living-room window, but when he blinked away the fog, there was nothing there.
Jaime took all his remaining birds into the kitchen. He set a pot of water to boil along with the herbs. Then he unwrapped the birds from their satin pouches and did something not listed on the spell’s recipe. He prayed. He wanted to be cured of the lovesickness devouring him like a swarm of wasps. What he did next he never told anyone, not even Yessi, and he would undo it if he could. The birds felt so tiny in his hand. Their gorgets caught the morning light. Shimmering feathers like oil slicks in water. With a paring knife and a set of tweezers, he parsed through their open bodies and pulled out what he needed. He was surprised how large their hearts were, nearly half a pinkie nail. The tiny pearls of muscle soon floated in the ocher water. A buzz began in his ear, like something whipping. Heat flushed his cheeks. He felt the phantom sensation of Felix’s hand against his own as he stirred. The ghost of longing caressed his shoulders. He scooped the hearts into a mug and, like coins flung into a wishing fountain, drank them. Flame passed down his throat. Violent sunlight poured through the kitchen window, harsh and illuminating. Outside, Felix looked up at Jaime, and Jaime saw him, and through their bodies went the bitter hum of dying, incarnating desire.