Excerpt from A Face in the River

A FACE IN THE RIVER

© Kristine Simelda, 2015, River Ridge Press

SOMEWHERE IN THE CARIBBEAN

The familiar little turbo-prop flies out over the sparkling blue sea and gives a startled bump as the power of Emerelda’s green mountains lifts it skyward. I bid farewell to my adopted island home and then attempt to strike up a conversation with a titanic local woman who is crammed into the seat next to me.

“Just look at all those amazing colors out there” I spout, squinting out of the window. “I suspect I’ve become addicted to colors of the Caribbean.”

“Too much blue, too much green,” she mumbles.

“You’re probably right,” I agree diplomatically.

Digging into my well-worn bag, I pull out a pair of cheap sunglasses, remembering a time when I had worn only designers. “I’ve been advised to always wear shades down here to protect my vision. That’s why my mother named me Krystal, you know, because of the clarity of my eyes. She died a few days ago. I’m on my way back home to bury her now.”

The woman sighs.

“So where are you going?” I persist.

“As far from this place as possible,” she says, shifting away from me.

“Well, I, for one, love this island. I used to be married to an Emereldan. We had a small restaurant on the south of the island. But we’re divorced now and the café is closed.” Why, exactly, did I feel the need to offer up my life story to a complete stranger? Did I feel like a failure as a wife and businesswoman as well as a daughter?

The woman pries herself loose and moves toward a vacant seat in the front of the plane. I settle back into the now more comfortable space and continue to gaze through the scratched window. Below me, the color of the sea is changing as the shallows near the shore slowly give way to the depths; first to turquoise, and then to indigo, and finally to midnight blue. I close my eyes and think of the changes I too have undergone since I first landed on the island. How naïve I must have seemed to the West Indian characters I encountered before the super reality of island life sunk its teeth into me. And what a miracle I, Krystal Sutherland, survived to tell this story.

PART ONE: ISLAND FEVER

“Islands are like ships at permanent anchor. To set foot on one is like starting up a gangplank: one is seized by the same feeling of charmed suspension – it seems nothing unkind or vulgar can happen to you.” Truman Capote

TEN YEARS EARLIER

CHAPTER 1: THE TOUR

One especially cold and dreary winter afternoon, I was lying flat on my back on the floor of my office with both legs extended vertically up the wall when the ever-cheerful mailman appeared at the door. “If this is Lifestyle Gallery, I’ve got some mail for you.” His ridiculous though practical postal worker’s headgear and his frosted up mustache made me laugh in spite of my nagging back pain. “What happened to her?” he quizzed my secretary, handing her the mail.

“It’s the Inverted Rest Pose,” I answered before she got a chance to make one of her usual snide remarks. “Good for cramps. But then that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about, Jim. By the way, I love your hat. My father had one that he used to wear fishing in Canada just like it. His name was Jim, too.”

The mailman gave me a wink before heading back out the door. “What a coincidence,” he smiled.

Sally quickly sorted through the mail, placing all the import stuff on her desk and plopping the latest issue of National Geographic and a travel brochure from World-Wide Adventure Tours down on the floor beside me.

“This looks like all you’re going to be able to handle today.”

“Oh, you never know,” I said, getting up slowly.

“Well, just make sure you take care of business before you start planning another one of your hapless adventures,” she snorted.

We stayed busy right up until closing out on the sales floor. As usual, I was the last to leave. When I finally locked the back door it was after nine and the parking lot was a glare of ice. “Oh no, not again,” I moaned slipping and sliding toward Tricky, my exceptionally reliable Jaguar sedan. As I tried to chip through the half inch of ice that encased the windshield, I mentally prepared for the long drive home. Twice that winter Tricky had spun out of control on the treacherous overpasses between the gallery and my farmhouse. No matter how slow I tried to go, the weight of the Jag’s engine engaged something like centrifugal force once we started to slide. And once she was spinning, Tricky was almost impossible to stop.

After double the usual travel time, I reached home safely only to find it dark. My two sons from my first marriage were grown and had both gone off to find their own way in the world. Now I was brooding over an empty nest. A quick check of the barn told me the horses had been fed, but Brian was nowhere to be found.

“He must be working late again,” I said out loud.

I thanked God for Lean Cuisine and the microwave and opened my briefcase to see if there was anything pressing I should be considering. “Why yes,” I said to myself as the National Geographic Magazine and the World-Wide Adventure Tour brochure tumbled out together, “I should be considering my next vacation!”

While I picked at my supper, sipped a glass of white wine, and paged through the latest issue of National Geo, an article about a Caribbean island jumped out at me: High, Wild Emerelda, they called it. The next several pages were filled with beautiful photographs of the “The Green Island.” Indeed, the place looked amazing with its misty mountain forests, spectacular waterfalls, interesting dive sites, and handsome Creole people.

I forgot all about the winter ice storm that was raging outside, my nagging backache and my dinner, and spent the next half hour reading the article and gawking at pictures of the closest thing to paradise I had ever seen. Excited, but eventually satiated, I turned my attention to the brochure. Unbelievably, it was promoting W.W.A.T’s initial tour to explore Emerelda: The Green Island of the Caribbean.

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When I open my eyes again on the small plane bound for home, I am relieved to see that all those intense Caribbean colors are still there. I’m always reluctant to leave this lush part of the world behind. In fact, I have just returned from a disastrous trip up north. I stayed long enough for my mother, who was in the last stages of her battle with Parkinson’s disease, to break my heart and then hightailed it back to the island. Now I have no choice but to repeat the painful process.

Wiping away a tear, I notice that the color of the water below me has changed from deep blue back to turquoise, a sure sign that the island of Antigua is coming up next. The plane lands smoothly, and as I pass through the newly renovated airport bar I can’t help wondering what has happened to my long-lost friends Tim and Jan from the infamous World-Wide tour. Grateful that I no longer feel the desire to pad my life with the cushion of alcohol, I pick up my pace and think of my ex-husband Sham. It seems just yesterday we stumbled through this place armed with our potent love potion, a bottle of Bois Bandé. Glancing up, I notice that the Love Sees No Color poster is still there; a little tattered and faded, but still hanging around just like me.

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