Read Kristine’s short stories Truth Be Told, Everything for a Time, Island Granny, and a sample of Island Time.
TRUTH BE TOLD
© Kristine Simelda, 2019
Snow is falling outside the lobby of Fond Memories retirement home. A brisk wind blows huge flakes up against the revolving glass doors where they pause as if pleading to get in before melting in disappointment. Believe me; they’re the lucky ones. For them the end comes quickly. But once you’ve been taken prisoner by extended care, longevity feels more like a curse than a blessing. Abandoned by our families, robbed of our dignity, we old folks are condemned to a life of boredom, pills, and pain. It’s as if some evil warden has tacked an invisible message on the bulletin board:
ATTENTION SENIORS! THERE WILL BE NO MORE FUN HERE ON EARTH!
We’re expected to forget all about worldly pleasures of yore, like skating on moonlit ponds, or floating on the sea under the topical sun, or making love any way, any day. Well, I for one refuse to surrender and not remember! And since the name of this moldy institution is Fond Memories, what better way to pass the time than by recalling pleasantries from the past? I’d be willing to bet every one of us has a fascinating story to tell if only we had the courage to share it.
Humph. Entertaining ourselves by telling our stories might have been a good suggestion, but what I failed to realize was that most of us seniors revert to extreme fantasy in our old age. You’d be amazed at some of the tall tales that get passed off as the truth around here. So far this week we’ve run away to join the circus, been held captive by aliens from outer space, and beaten the odds at Vegas. And as if all that wasn’t outrageous enough, today it’s my turn to pander my stories from paradise.
Wrinkled faces atop feeble bodies gather around my hospital bed in search of deliverance from the tedium of assisted living at exactly ten o’clock. Rheumy eyes sparkle, chapped lips part, and sagging ears strain in anticipation of transportation to a warmer, more welcoming place despite our pathetic situation.
“Looks like it’s going to be a slow day for visitors on account of the snow,” says Julia, the nice old lady installed in the bed next to me. “How about spinning us one of your spicy yarns from paradise to get our blood flowing?”
I wink. “No problem. As we used to say on the island, ‘The Carnival’s not over until the last lap.’”
Actually, I did live on a Caribbean island during my pre-menopausal middle age. But these folks aren’t interested in the day to day particulars of what it was like to lose my cultural identity and surrender to unfamiliar whims of nature and fate. Except for a couple of disparaging old men, they want to hear a fairytale, a carefully embroidered lie that begins with ‘once upon a time’ and finishes with a happy ending. So who am I to disappoint?
“Once upon a time, there was a forty-five-year-old woman who outwardly enjoyed an ideal life. She was married to a handsome man, lived in a lovely home, had a good job, and two grown sons she could be proud of.”
Julia squeals. “I’ll bet that woman was you!”
“Maybe, maybe not,” I say craftily.
Julia cocks her head like an expectant dog waiting to catch a bone.
“The woman should have been happy, yet when she looked inside her heart, she felt something was missing. So she left her husband and her home and her family to search for a more meaningful existence.”
“She was a self-centered bitch!” Harry, a half-deaf gentleman leaning on a walker hollers.
I smile. “Let’s just say she traveled the world looking for a lifestyle that better suited her disposition.”
“Yeah. What was so wrong with that?” asks Julia.
“Ayen,” I say in Creole. “Nothing.”
When Julia giggles, her trust and her innocence spur me on. “When our heroine first laid eyes on the island, she thought it was the most beautiful place on earth. The emerald green mountains, crystal clear rivers, and thundering waterfalls spoke to her like nothing ever had before. The fragrance of the tropical flowers and the balmy sea breeze saturated her senses and captured her soul. Not to mention the handsome Creole people. They were so healthy and happy that she decided to make the island her home. So she gave away all her material possessions and moved south.”
“Why in the world would she do such a thing?” asks Ethel, an ancient snob bedecked with gold jewelry.
“She wanted to be free,” I say.
A sour puss in a wheelchair gives me the raspberries. I think his name is Walter.
“It’s true,” I insist.
What is the problem with these old folks, anyway? Have they forgotten the thrill of starting over, the excitement of embarking on a grand adventure? I decide to bypass the peanut gallery and speak directly to my roommate.
“Julia, can you imagine living in a house without glass or screens in the windows, without locks on the doors?”
“Ah,” she sighs, “fresh air.”
“The shutters of the woman’s seaside cottage were always open to the sun and the trade winds, and the bamboo curtain that served as a door parted for anyone who cared to enter.”
Ethel frowns. “Like who?”
“The parade of local characters that visited was both colorful and amusing, especially a good-looking young Rastafarian who was eager to entertain the fantasies of a middle-aged white woman determined to go native.”
“Her boyfriend was a black man?” Harry asks obtusely.
I nod. “Yeah, man. He was a genuine West Indian.”
A look of total bliss wraps itself around Julia’s desiccated face, but I notice Ethel has started to drift off. Best I pick up the pace before I lose the rest of my listeners.
“Our heroine and her paramour had just finished another extraordinary round of early morning lovemaking when they heard the conch shell blowing the signal that fresh fish were on sale in the village. She wrapped her tanned body in a printed sarong, he pulled on a pair of cutoff jeans over his bare bottom, and they strolled hand in hand down to the beach to inspect the catch. There were many tantalizing species on display. They selected a large grouper, which she grilled with slices of plantain and rings of pineapple for breakfast. Then they stripped off their clothes and fed each other chunks of ripe mango, and she prayed that the juice dripping onto their naked bodies would help them stick together.”
Julia giggles like a child tickled ruthlessly, but the Walter is not amused. Grumbling something about my being a damned liar, he rolls his wheelchair down the hall toward the washroom.
“She left her lover sleeping and went for a swim in the sea. Tropical fish surrounded her while she snorkeled amongst the vibrant corals. As she emerged from the sparkling blue water, frigate birds and pelicans swooped overhead. Wandering the streets of the village on her way home, she stopped to chat with anyone who had something interesting to show or tell. Reggae music pounded along with her heartbeat in the shop where she purchased a bottle of local rum.
Harry snorts. “Probably an alcoholic.”
“Back at the cottage, a heavenly aroma greeted her. Her Rasta boyfriend, who was an excellent cook, had reinvented the grouper in a Creole sauce for supper. He relieved her of the bottle and kissed her in the style of the French before putting the finishing touches on the dish. She was relaxing in the hammock on the veranda, awaiting the legendary green flash, when he appeared bearing two coconut shells awash with rum punch. As she sipped her drink, he lowered his body beside her. She opened like a flower when he loosened her sarong. It was hard to say which was more brilliant; the flash of the sun as it sank into the sea or his smile as he nuzzled her bare breasts.”
Now I believe I have everyone’s attention. Even Ethel is wide-awake.
“When he tipped her gently from the hammock, she was as moist as the sea breeze and he was as hard as the tiles. Food forgotten, they lay side by side moaning in pleasure while moonlight danced uninhibited over the waves.”
Clapping her hands like a toddler, Julia pulls the sheet over her head. Walter returns from the washroom, followed by Melody, a young black nurse, pushing a cart loaded with what passes for food around here. While I wait for my lunch, I gaze out at the winter wonderland and take a sip of chemical water from a bent plastic straw.
“We used straws to drink punch from a coconut shells on the island,” I muse, remembering.
Melody grins as she adjusts my pillow. “I’ll just bet you did.”
“Did I mention there were flying fish leaping in the sea and fresh fruit falling from the trees?” I say, pushing the soggy food around my plate with my fork.
Melody pats my bony, age-spotted hand before swishing on. “You sure do have a great imagination, ma’am.”
She’s right, you know. I always did have a vivid imagination. Still, I knew how to draw a line between true and false—that is, up until now. But since I’ve been hanging around the rest of these impostors, I’ve noticed that I, too, have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction, especially in the realm of yesteryear. Locked in this concrete box, breathing stale, recycled air, memories have a way of adjusting themselves to fit the mood of the moment, to the point that forgetting is sometimes a blessing.
Truth be told, I’m hard pressed to remember that Rasta man’s name.
Most folks nap, play cards, or watch TV after lunch, but the storm has intensified and we invalids are off balance. The lights blink, and then they go out altogether. When the generator kicks on, a friendly fire springs to life in the artificial fireplace, but apprehension hangs in the air. A nervous audience regroups around me. Even Harry and Walter seem anxious to hear more of my story from paradise.
“A few years later, the woman moved away from the seaside and bought an abandoned estate in the mountains that needed lots of work,” I continue. “Luckily, her next boyfriend was quite the handyman.”
“What happened to the Rasta man?” asks Harry.
“He got his Green Card and moved to the States.”
Julia has dreamy look in her eyes. “But did she really love the handyman?” she asks.
One glance at her tucked alertly in her bunk gives provides the answer. “Of course she did.”
She snuggles down deeper in bed, apparently pleased.
“Life in the country was sweet. Coconuts, avocados, and citrus abounded on the property, so there was no danger of starving to death. And when they were thirsty, they drank clear, cool water from the river.”
Walter sucks his teeth. “I’m surprised she didn’t die of dysentery,” he mumbles.
“The handyman had plenty of energy and was ready and willing to help her renovate the old wooden house and restore the land. She appreciated his enthusiasm, and was forever finding appropriate ways to compensate him—new tools, work boots, a pick-up truck—”
“How was the sex?” asks Harry.
But in reality keeping the handyman satisfied was almost as exhausting as trying to keep my stories straight while entertaining these pitiful seniors. Julia appears to be fast asleep, so I decide it’s time to disable the happy ending once and for all.
“But paradise had its price,” I say, sighing.
Ethel arches one of her painted on eyebrows. “What do you mean by that?”
“The woman wanted too much. She continued to invent projects when she should have been content with what she already had.”
Walter is delighted. “Naturally,” he says.
“The house and the garden were looking good, but all that water from the river was wasting, so why not build a swimming pool? The handyman only needed to mix about a hundred bags of cement by hand. And since there was so much unused pastureland, why couldn’t she have a horse? All he had to do was fence in five acres and build a stable. And while he was at it, why not add on a guest cottage now that eco-tourism was in style so she could have someone more like herself to talk to?”
Harry nods. “Same old story—insatiable woman takes advantage of hardworking man,”
There is grumbling from the other members of the posse while they consider his point. Walter deliberately passes gas and then pilots his wheelchair down the hall again. Ethel and her entourage, who have probably decided the story sounds too much like real life, follow him.
Only Harry, who is perched on the edge of his walker like a vulture waiting to pounce, remains. “Needless to say, the handyman soon became disillusioned,” I say confidentially. “No matter how hard he worked, the woman always demanded more. When he brought his friends home to enjoy the fruits of his labor, she made it clear it was her place, and she made the rules.”
“Let me guess. No smoking, no drinking, and no carousing,” says Harry.
“Correct! But the lovely lady who owned the neighborhood rum shop was more than delighted to welcome him and all his thirsty partners. Needless to say, our heroine was furious. Yet the more she ranted and raved, the longer the handyman stayed away. Eventually he moved in with the local lady, took over the rum shop, and sued the white woman for the loss of his time and his talent. Bankrupt and humiliated, she left the island and ended up locked in a dreadful institution that reeked of urine and bleach.”
Harry pounds his walking apparatus up and down in mock applause and clomps away.
“Have a nice day,” I holler after him.
When I check the clock, I’m surprised to find there are still three more hours until dinner. I spend some time rearranging the ugly synthetic nightgowns in the metal drawer beside my bed wishing I could trade them in on sexy sarongs. Lord knows I try to keep my spirits up despite my depressing surroundings. But I still resent the way my children whisked me away from the sun-drenched tropics (for my own good, they said) and installed me in this gloomy dungeon. That’s the younger generation for you. They think they control how the world turns with their money, gadgets, and technology, but they know nothing of the ways of the heart. One thing for sure, people on the island would never abandon a close relative to the care of total strangers. They had too much respect for their elders, no matter how inconvenient or embarrassing they might become.
Well, the good news is that I forgive all of them—my children, my ex-husband, the Rasta man, the handyman, even Walter the cynic, Harry the heckler, and Ethel the snob. Why would I make waste time wallowing in resentment now that it is so short?
As I watch the counterfeit flames dance merrily around the fake logs in the fireplace, I begin to feel sleepy. I roll over to face the wall anticipating the blessing of a catnap. Whew. It’s a good thing Julia wasn’t awake when I related the unhappy ending to the heckler. It would probably kill her if she ever heard a routine liar like me tell the truth.
I toss and I turn, but sleep just won’t come. When I peek over to see if Julia is awake, I notice the blanket covering her body is completely still—no twitching, no snoring, not even rhythmic breathing. “Julia, are you alright?”
I press the button for the nurse, and after what seems like an eternity, Melody glides into the room. I point at Julia. “She isn’t breathing!”
When the nurse peels back the sheet, my roommates face is an unnatural shade of blue. Melody checks her pulse and shakes her head. I watch helplessly while she administers CPR. Someone calls for an ambulance, but it’s delayed because of the weather. By the time the paramedics arrive, it’s too late. A gang of voyeurs assembles by Julia’s bedside as they attend to her body. I am so dismayed that I lash out at the nearest living person.
“Take a good look, Harry! You caused this with your habitual cynicism! Let’s just hope that Julia had already passed away before you goaded me into actually telling you the truth!”
Harry bows his head and turns away.
“I’m so sorry, Julia,” I whisper after he’s gone. “I didn’t mean any harm. I just wanted everybody to feel like there was still a reason to be alive . . . and then I blew it.” Tears roll down my cheeks. “You were a good friend and a great listener. Even though I’m sure you suspected my stories were too far-fetched to be true, you never let on; you stayed right with me all the way to the end.”
When a male nurse rolls the gurney bearing my roommate’s body through an exit reserved especially for such purposes, I call out so everyone can hear. “But maybe the story doesn’t always have to be so dramatic. Maybe a happy ending can consist of a simple pleasure like a soft pillow or a kind word, even if things didn’t turn out as expected.”
Julia’s body disappears from view when the metal doors, propelled by an icy wind, slam shut. The snow that has blown inside the room swirls around the foot of my bed as if bidding me farewell, and then it rises as luminous vapor in the suddenly balmy air.
EVERYTHING FOR A TIME
© Kristine Simelda, 2015
“What happened to the beach?” Laura asked a local fisherman. She and her boyfriend Chad were on holiday from their jobs overseas; the fisherman was pulling in an empty net.
The fisherman shrugged. “Things tight,” he said.
“My family owns a condo nearby. We always swam in this cove when I was small,” said Laura. “The beach was so beautiful back then; it seemed the sand and palm trees went on forever.”
“Yeah. I remember,” he said. “But they taking sand day and night to build back the beaches at the fancy hotels.”
“The sea was such an awesome color back then—clear and aquamarine,” she rambled on as if she hadn’t heard him. “We used to snorkel here. The fish and the coral were fantastic. My dad said it was one of the best reefs in the Caribbean. Now the place looks filthy and disgusting.”
“Everything for a time,” the fisherman said vaguely.
Laura took a deep breath and continued talking. “I wanted my friend Chad to taste a jelly nut. But the trees where the boys used to pick them are halfway underwater and the coconuts are shriveled and rotten. There’s dead fish scattered all around the trunks.”
The fisherman sighed. “The sea just keeps coming in closer and closer.”
“Okay,” Chad piped up. “So there’s no beach. What about cooling out in the river?” Although he was wearing a straw hat, sweat was dripping off the tip of his sunburned nose. Dark, wet circles stained the armpits of his pink polo shirt.
Laura pulled a sour face. “It looks as if the river is all dried up. There used to be a waterfall.”
The fisherman nodded. “Since the drought.”
“I don’t get it,” said Chad. “If the river is low, then why is the sea level extra high?”
“So all you think it’s our little island alone that affects the sea?” the fisherman chuckled. “No, man. The Almighty have a bigger plan than that.”
“Like what?” asked Chad.
Laura didn’t want Chad to get started on religion. When he talked about God, it was as if he was the only person on earth who was enlightened and everybody else was still in the dark. “What’s your name?” she asked the fisherman to change the subject.
“Jefferson,” he said.
“So tell me, Jefferson, why don’t you catch any fish?”
The fisherman draped his net, which was shaggy with algae, across the hull of his overturned boat and indicated the dozens of juvenile fish that were decaying by the shoreline. “The sea too warm. The young ones die, and the old ones move way off,” he said.
Laura waved a plastic bag she had brought along in his face. As she did, the hot, dry wind whipped it from her hand and sent it flying down the beach. “You mean we can’t even get some fish? When I was a kid there were always jacks and tuna and snapper. One time we even ate some turtle meat.”
The fisherman sucked his teeth. “I told you, nothing can make it in this soup.”
Laura stuck a well-pedicured toe into the murky water as if to test it. “You’re right. It’s totally revolting.”
“So what’s all that brown stuff floating around and clogging up everything?” Chad wanted to know.
Jefferson opened his mouth and then shut it. It appeared he was tired of answering questions.
“It looks like Sargasso,” Laura volunteered.
“That sounds like some kind of Italian pasta,” Chad joked.
“Well if it is, I’m not eating it,” she said.
“Too bad,” said Chad. “I’m starving.”
Laura smiled. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. We’ll just stop and get some KFC on our way back to the condo.”
Chad guzzled the last drops of imported water from a plastic bottle he had carried with him. “I’ll drink to that!” he said, tossing the empty container into the stagnant lagoon.
Of course Jefferson didn’t have the option of dining on fast food. No fish, no money, no supper. When he got home, his wife, Bernice, was dressed in her maid’s uniform waiting to walk up the road to work. She had a part-time job tidying up after rich folks who flocked to the island despite the drought. She said most of them didn’t seem to mind the heat and the dust. Neither were they bothered by the lack of fresh water or fresh fish or fresh fruits and vegetables. They just turned up the AC, cracked open a soda or a beer, and chomped down on whatever version of junk food they happened to pass while they were out touring the island.
“Has the baby been fed?” Jefferson asked Bernice as she was leaving.
“What you think? We have a cow in the backyard? I’ll stop at the shop and get a tin of milk on my way home.”
“But what if she starts to fuss?”
“Give her some biscuits. Soak them in water first, and don’t forget to clean up afterwards.”
Jefferson turned the radio on real low. It was time for the lunchtime news, and the Minister for the Environment was talking gloom and doom as usual.
“In the past ten years, we have experienced three major droughts on the island,” she said. “But the current dry spell is by far the most prolonged. The temperature of the sea is at an all-time high, and now that we’re in the hurricane season, we have to be on the alert. If and when it starts to rain, persons dwelling on low-lying areas should be on the lookout for storm surges, coastal flooding, and rising sea levels.”
“Right,” Jefferson groaned.
“Additionally, the public should be aware that several small earthquakes have been reported in the last seventy-two hours. Persons are advised not to drink water directly from wells due to possible salt water intrusion.”
Jefferson rolled his eyes. “Best we get used to it.”
“In the future,” the minister continued, “one hundred percent of portable water will have to be the product of desalination. The agricultural sector, which is already severely impaired, will naturally suffer the most, and fisherfolk should consider seeking other forms of livelihood.”
“Tell me something I don’t already know,” Jefferson said, flipping off the set.
The baby started crying as soon as he did. Her diaper was wet, so he changed her into a brand new Pamper. He threw the old one into the ditch drain that ran along the side of the shack. If and when it rained, as the minister put it, the diaper, like countless other pieces of discarded plastic, would eventually be washed into the sea.
By the time Bernice reached the complex of condos, she was sweating and covered with grime from the road. The paper slip in her box instructed her to clean #307 and #308. “What they think, I some kind of robot?” she said. Bernice took a handkerchief from her uniform pocket and wiped her forehead. She sat down on the step to catch her breath, and then gathered her supplies and shuffled down the hall to the elevator.
When she knocked at 307 and hollered “Housekeeping!” there was no response. Bernice unlocked the door. The occupants were passed out on the couch, stark naked and surrounded by empty bottles of rum. “I’ll just come back later,” she apologized as she tiptoed back out into the hall.
At 308, Bernice was more cautious. She had already knocked several times before Chad, fresh from an extra-long shower, answered the door with a towel wrapped around his waist. “Hi there. Come on in,” he said.
“I don’t want to disturb,” said Bernice.
“That’s okay. We were just getting ready to go out. Laura! It’s the housekeeping woman.”
Laura, still in her robe, appeared from the bathroom looking like a freshly boiled lobster. Her face was red and swollen and her legs were dotted with insect bites. “I can’t go like this! How did I get so burned and bit up?” she whined. “I mean, I was slathered with a super high powered sunblock, and had bug repellent on the whole time.”
“The mosquitoes and the sun plenty wicked these days,” said Bernice.
Laura stuck out her lower lip. “I used to get such a beautiful tan. Now I look like just another rookie tourist,” she pouted.
“Just put on some makeup and a long dress,” said Chad, “and the problem will be solved.” He tried to give her a hug, but Laura backed away.
“Ouch! That hurts!” she cried. “Why don’t you just go ahead without me?”
“No way,” he said. “Hurry up and get dressed, and I’ll do the same.”
Laura stood around moping after Chad left the room. Bernice reached into the pocket her uniform and withdrew a plastic bag. “Here. Try using some of this Aloe Vera. It’s good for burns and itching. I grow it at home in pots on the veranda, and always keep a few blades handy in case of emergency. Just split the leaves in half and rub the gel on the hot spots.”
Laura raised an eyebrow and regarded her suspiciously. “And what’s the cost for this miraculous local remedy?”
Bernice smiled. “No charge for you, Miss Laura. It’s on the house.”
Laura disappeared back into the bathroom. When she reemerged a half-hour later, she felt much more comfortable.
“Thanks,” she said to Bernice. “That Aloe is amazing.”
Chad followed her, smelling mightily of men’s cologne “How do you feel?” he asked.
“Better. How do I look?”
“Good enough to eat,” Chad grinned.
“I swear,” she giggled. “Everything is about food for you.”
“Yep,” he said.
Laura spent the next several minutes posing and adjusting her elaborate flower trimmed hat in front of the mirror in the foyer. “We’ve been invited by the governor to a cocktail party at the State House,” she explained to Bernice. “It’s to be held outdoors in the rose garden. I just hope it doesn’t rain and spoil everything.”
Bernice swallowed thickly. The entire island had been praying for rain since the beginning of the year, and now it was July. “No telling what could happen, Miss. It’s the hurricane season, you know.”
“Come on, Laura. Stop primping. We’ll be late,” Chad interrupted.
Laura turned to Bernice and said, “Help yourself to what’s left of the takeout. We have reservations at the club for dinner after we finish with the governor’s hors d’oeuvres.”
Chad grabbed a drumstick from the red and white striped cardboard bucket on the table on their way out. “See you later, Bernice.”
The condo was a mess. It was well past five o’clock by the time Bernice finished cleaning. She was locking the door when she spied the half-empty bucket of KFC on the dining room table. “Best I take it home for Jefferson and the baby,” she said wearily. As she waited for the elevator, she felt the building shudder and shift. But then again, Bernice had been lightheaded all day; she hadn’t had anything to eat since morning. Outside, a strange sense of foreboding hung in the overheated air. The sea was dancing a crazy jig, and the sky was an odd shade of green. Dust stung her eyes as she headed back down the road.
When she reached the shop, the place was in an uproar. “Bernice! You not hearing? There had another earthquake! Tsunami on the way!”
Bernice left the bucket of KFC on the counter and hurried home. Jefferson was standing in the yard, holding the baby and gazing out to sea. “Something not right,” was all he said.
On the drive around to the other side of the island, Laura noticed that the surface of the sea was covered with a net of miniature waves like something was boiling down below. An occasional fish, covered in Sargasso, leapt into the air as if trying to escape from a hot frying pan. A couple of large seabirds wheeled in the air, watching with interest as the poor creatures floundered and died. Laura was attempting to focus her attention elsewhere when a jet ski bearing two scantily clad tourists zoomed into the bay. The machine screamed like a banshee and belched toxic exhaust as it plowed through the choppy, gray water. A sole lethargic dolphin dove out of its way in the nick of time.
Laura shook her head. “I think this will be my last trip down to the island.”
“Why ?” Chad asked distractedly.
They were passing by a dump that was stinking to high heaven and swarming with flies so the answer should have been obvious. “Things aren’t how they used to be,” she said. “The beach and the river is messed up, the sea looks ugly, and it’s too damn hot.”
“Yeah,” said Chad. “Just like back home.”
Their rental jeep was the smallest car in the State House parking lot. The rest of the vehicles were gas-guzzling SUV’s, mostly black with tinted windows and official license plates. After cruising around the perimeter, they were able to squeeze the undersized vehicle into a wedge-shaped space left between two badly parked monstrosities. Laura adjusted her hat and smoothed her dress as she and Chad stepped up to the gate to the courtyard.
The doorman asked to see their invitation, and then ushered them inside. Copious rum was flowing and the pitch of the conversation was deafening despite the early hour. Chad guided Laura through the crowd to a table near the corner. A waiter brought them each a “Welcome to Paradise” rum punch and a plate of fancy canapés while they waited for the governor to acknowledge them.
“Which one is he?” Chad whispered.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t seen him in years. I think he’s the one puffing on that humongous cigar.”
Just then, the table where they were seated started to shake violently. Rum sloshed over the rims of their glasses and soaked through the cloth. Chad waved at their server and pointed to their soggy hors d’oeuvres. When he finally arrived to replace them, Laura asked if earth tremors happened often.
“Of course,” the waiter replied brightly. “No cause for concern.”
But when she stole a glance at the governor, the extreme look of alarm on his face told her otherwise. One of his aids continued to whisper urgently in his ear as he extinguished his cigar in a potted palm and headed upstairs. “Carry on without me,” he announced to his guests as the building continued to rock and roll.
In a flash, the courtyard erupted into chaos. Women crammed canapés into their handbags, and men grabbed bottles of rum from behind the bar. Chad, who at one time had been in the Air Force, recognized the whir of chopper blades revving on the rooftop and leapt to his feet.
“That sounds like a helicopter getting ready for takeoff,” he shouted over the racket. “What the hell is going on?”
“Tsunami!” hollered one of the staff.
Laura’s hat was blown into the swimming pool in the confusion. She was trying to retrieve it when Chad grabbed her roughly by the arm. “We’ve got to get off this island! Right now!”
“But how?” she bawled.
Chad looked up to the roof as if it held the answer. He and Laura galloped up the stairs two at a time. But when they tried to climb aboard the chopper, the governor pushed them back. “Diplomats only,” he said, slamming the door in their faces.
Laura started to cry. She could hear the giant wave coming in the distance. It sounded like a freight train that was plowing a tunnel through the sea as it roared toward shore. “Oh, my God!” she wailed.
“Maybe we can outrun it!” Chad panted. “Get to the car!”
“But there’s nowhere to go!” cried Laura. “There’s no place higher than a mole hill on this whole island!”
Chad grimaced. “We’ve got to try something.”
The rental jeep was racing toward the condo when they passed Jefferson and Bernice standing by the roadside. The baby, who had sensed the gravity of the situation, was screaming her head off. The local couple waved frantically as the vehicle whizzed by in a cloud of dust.
“Aren’t you going to stop?” said Laura. She couldn’t believe Chad was so hardhearted as to leave them stranded.
“It’s every man for themselves!” Chad ranted.
Laura was stunned by his callousness. “But what about the women and children?”
Chad stared straight ahead. When they careened into the condo’s parking lot, he left the keys dangling in the ignition and bolted toward the elevator. “Our only chance is to get to the top of the building.”
“You go on. I’m going back for them,” Laura said. Chad looked at her as if she’d lost her mind as she slammed the vehicle into reverse.
Jefferson and Bernice and the baby were waiting just where they’d passed them. “Hop in!” she instructed. The tsunami, bearing its load of trashed vehicles, capsized boats, parts of destroyed buildings, and, yes, even the governor’s helicopter, was right behind them. So instead of turning back, Laura headed toward an 18th Century fort that she had explored when she was a kid. It was situated on a rise that overlooked the entire island. “We might be safe here,” she said without conviction as they skidded to a halt.
The group rushed up the old stone staircase and positioned themselves at the lookout on top of the stronghold. They were just in time to witness the condo building across the way being demolished by the huge wave. “Chad,” Laura exhaled.
“Here it comes!” yelled Jefferson. “Grab onto something heavy and hold on!”
He laid the baby lengthwise along a cannon barrel and pushed his wife down to cover her. Then he wrapped his arms and legs around both of them with the determination of someone trying to climb a coconut tree during a hurricane. The baby shrieked and Bernice began to pray, but Jefferson lifted his head and kept his eyes wide open. The initial surge pummeled his back with stinging salt water and loose stones. Debris rained down on his head with hard, unrelenting blows. At one point, he and his family were completely underwater. There was a moment of reprieve when he was able to catch his breath, but the backwash, when it came, was even worse. It was as if the undertow wanted to turn him inside out— rip his limbs clean from their sockets. Yet through it all Jefferson held tight to the two most important people in his life.
After it was over, he peeled his wife and daughter off the lifesaving cannon and fell on his knees. He was so busy hugging them and thanking God for their salvation that he forgot about Laura. When he finally got around to looking for her, she was nowhere to be found. The fisherman hung his head and remembered something he had said earlier that morning. “So all you think it’s our little island alone that affects the sea?” No, man. The Almighty have a bigger plan than that.”
Yesterday was a very hot day in Dominica, so my good dog Zion and I went for a sea bath. At first we thought we were the only ones on the beach. But as we reached our usual resting spot under the trees, Zion started barking at a big pile of coconut branches. When the branches started to move, we realized we were not alone. Yikes! What in the world could it be: a giant Iguana, a huge Boa? It turned out to be an enormous sea turtle that had crawled onto the beach to lay her eggs the night before. She was about five feet in length and must have weighed over 300 pounds! Some wicked person who wanted to steal her eggs and butcher her for her meat had turned her on her back, tied her flippers with a heavy rope, and covered her with trash.
Island Granny to the rescue! Zion stood guard while I untied the rope. I tried to flip her right side up, but she was way too heavy for me. So I called the local police for assistance. While I was waiting for them, I found an old plastic bottle and poured seawater over the poor turtle. She got very excited when she tasted the sea, and the dog started barking. The commotion alerted a boatload of fishermen who suspected we had discovered their hidden treasure, which was worth a lot of money when sold by the pound. If it hadn’t been for Zion, I think I might have been in big trouble. The police arrived and were amazed by the size of the turtle. I tied the dog to a tree and convinced them to drag her to the seaside where we flipped her over and off she went! The police took the rope as evidence; there is a big fine for disturbing nesting sea turtles in Dominica. We have four species who visit us on the island: Leatherback, Hawksbill, Green, and this turtle, the Loggerhead, which with luck has a life span of 47-67 years. Its scientific name is Caretta Caretta, and I’m glad this one got a second chance.
Blessings from Island Granny
The antiquated aircraft had been up and down at least a half a dozen times since it had rumbled into the hot, blue sky. So far none of the islands had even slightly resembled Isaiah’s childhood home. This was definitely not the tropical paradise he remembered as a kid. What had happened to the puffy white clouds? A metallic gray haze floated under the shadow of the wing. Where were the towering green mountains? A monotonous parade of shrunken atolls dotted with a few scraggly coconut palms loomed below. When had the sparkling blue water turned brown? Ash from the frequent volcanic eruptions combined with global warming had submerged the coral reefs and white sand beaches into an unappetizing soup of primordial muck.
Isaiah stared out the window at the bland scenery in disbelief. It was as if the vibrant landscape of his youth had virtually disappeared. Now he understood why island hopping, once a favorite past time of the nearly-rich and semi-famous, was no longer in fashion.
“Leewards to Windwards, Windwards to Leewards” the steward complained in a singsong voice. “Boring, boring, boring.”
Isaiah was inclined to agree. Lulled into a kind of geographic trance, he had been dozing for most of the flight. He was dreaming of his mother, when he was jolted awake by a sharp explosion. The turbo-prop stalled in mid-air and then made a violent u-turn. Though his seat belt was buckled, his body was whipped around like a puppet cut loose from its strings. His head smashed into the window with a mind- numbing crack, and the so-called present moment paused at a set of foggy crossroads. A Mystic directing traffic at the junction offered him four choices: to go back, to go forward, or travel left or right in time… read more