Vessel

 

 

 

You left at eleven o’clock Saturday night. By eleven twenty I’d shaved off my beard and trimmed my mustache back to almost nothing. I remember being shocked at the result. I sent email at four the next morning, waiting for a cab to the airport…

 “…my god I look goofy.”

Now, I’m not sure if the beard or the clean shaven face is the façade. Flying over Dallas on the journey to Belize, I recall years ago I’d let slip I was going to shave the damned thing off. Routine. When I’m tired of trimming I remove it and when I tire of shaving I let it grow back. It’s the habit of a lazy man. You responded, “No! Don’t do that. I love your beard!”

Years earlier I had formulated a theory of how men and women interact, a sort of code that exists in some relationships. A woman will choose a man for his attributes, to breed, provide, or just be a companion, but the next step is security. Bury the treasure. One way to ensure fidelity is to make him attractive to no one else, make him appear inept.

It would go a long way to explaining the men you see dressed like idiots, walking and holding hands with their beloved. She’s thinking; “If he leaves me, he’ll spend his life alone, wearing that shirt.”

Of course you and I are above this kind of nonsense, but I did wear a beard for four years.

My communication with you has included many statements of my feelings of love and my impressions of where I am in life. Statements like “I will leave it to you to choose to drink, I fear I would choose to drown.” I remember standing and holding you in the street above my apartment. I said “My god, please dance with me.” 

My fingers went to your mouth to open your lips. My hands touched your face. I slid one down your back, inside your shirt just to feel hidden skin. I lay my palm at the base of your throat, felt the hardness of your breastbone and the beginning bulge either side. You kissed my palms, little sighs coming from your mouth.

Anyone who chooses to enter into a relationship with someone who is already committed rescinds the right to see into their eyes. You can’t expect to know the person you claim to love.

Near San Pedro on Ambergis Caye, beside a dive shop on the waterfront, there are vehicles that you can straddle and ride under water. Electric, shark nosed with handles and propellers. Torpedoes on the beach. On the boardwalk at the edge of the ocean children’s voices are chanting, carried on the wind from an open classroom. The teacher stands with her back to me gesturing, making rabbit ears and the children chant in rhythm. The wind takes breath from my mouth. I’m afraid.

God is Janus-faced. Both benevolent and belligerent. I am his puppet and I’m being very, very careful. Today for three hours I honestly believed I would never see you again.

I walk to San Pedro down the narrow, dusty roads dodging golf carts, vans and impossibly small children riding impossibly large bicycles. The buildings are packed together, with staircases between leading to hairdressers, masseuses and manicurists. The spaces below are reserved for dive shops and restaurants.

It seems to me there are too many people on the street. Dozens of uniformed children are laughing and running toward the primary school close to my hut. Golf carts with mothers and daughters and occasionally tourists hum through the street. One carries a brown-shirted police officer and is labeled accordingly. I wonder if it has a siren. I see no light.

You don’t make the rules that govern your life. The path you’ve chosen has associated with it, certain rules. These rules manifest themselves and you realize the magnitude of your decision to walk your chosen path. If you can keep that thought – understand it – hold it as truth, you will spend less time railing at your lot.

On a bartenders recommendation I search for the satellite downlink dishes so I can locate a shop and inquire about sending email. The door is open but I’m informed that services won’t be available until 9am. I consider sending you a message and plan to kill some time in town until 9, but I become distracted and as yet haven’t found my way back.

I am jumpy this afternoon. It’s because of the bank. I’m standing in a slow moving line waiting patiently for my turn. There is a decorated Christmas tree a couple of feet away with an ornament that plays “…Santa Clause is coming to town…” in an endless loop. Beside it stands a squat, stern guard and for a solid 10 minutes until I can move ahead another single goddamned foot, that loaded shotgun will remain pointed at my liver.

I have four large trees in front of my hut. The palm on the far left answers me when the answer is no. Palms are masochistic, they beat themselves in the wind. Great fronds slap at each other. The next tree over is a clown. It’s the “yes” tree. It stands straight and dances on the spot. The tree adjacent to that just watches me. It’s curious. The Palm on my right is the old man. It tries to talk to me but I can’t understand it.

I’ve seen some beautiful women here. There is one, very dark skinned, statuesque and elegant that intrigues me. Last night she was covered but the night before she was wearing a white sleeveless blouse, glancing around with a shy, enticing smile. She has tattoos. Blue on black. Secret writing. I asked the bartender, Eduardo who she was. He said only, “She must be mulatto to be so pretty”. No answer.

She can’t be older than twenty. She has heavy black hair tied tight back from her forehead. She sits at the bar and hugs one bare leg. Where the calf muscle bulges beneath a bent knee there is a supple roundness that makes me wild.

Over the course of the long, hot days I sit on a barstool and watch the workers at the edge of the pool. They sweat and speak Spanish. The surrounding deck is being constructed from the hardest wood that God can imagine. When the hammer hits the head of the nail, all the force in the man’s body, the force of the blood in the thick, veined arm and the force of the weight of the head of the hammer is concentrated on a single steel point. God yields, and the nail is driven.

Cold this morning (the temperature gauge said 68f). I put on my jeans and a sweater to go to breakfast. I like variety in my meals and even if I decide to repeat a menu choice I am rewarded – here you can order the same selection two days in a row and still be surprised by what you get.

I met Rob the night I arrived. He is a slim, rugged, tanned American with a wave of navy cut black hair and angular features marked by suntan wrinkles. This is the crisis time for Rob. He fights his age with arrogance and sex. His conversation is ladled out in secret spoonfuls, morsels fed in confidence and conspiracy. Maybe it’s a flattering offer, to be invited into his world. I suspect the delivery is more significant than the message. This morning he walked to my table and sat down to drink coffee and chat. I’ve watched him at the bar at night trying to seduce the black goddess. Her name is Sally. The tattoos are all over her body. He is leaving on Friday and tells me to look for her at the disco.

He explains to me that he’s married,  but “not at all happily.”

I’m amazed at the things that people say here. Everyone allows you the trust of a confidante.

 “When I married her, I took her to Vegas.” A sideways glance, as if someone might overhear, “I remember saying – I’ll marry you, but you keep your shape. You understand?”

 Apparently she didn’t.

“I’ve watched you talking with Sally,” I venture. “She’s a very attractive woman.”

When we got up to leave he said he’d let Sally know of me. Let her know I have written about her.

 “She’ll go home with you,” he says.

Hummingbirds scoot through the trees in pairs, single file. High-speed, right-angle turns in three dimensions, like they’re being shot through a clear glass pipe.

At the far reaches of this valley the walls come together. This is where the water begins its journey. Tiny fingers splay seaward into cavernous clefts. The birds come from the sea and fly up the valley floor. There is freedom between these walls and carelessness in hidden flight below the level of the ground. Further they fly and closer the walls come together. Where the water begins to carve the land the walls are close enough so that the cats can take the birds in mid-flight and these crevasse floors are littered with feathers.

The cats can be seen as hunters or survivors. It’s all a matter of perception. As I wait, in love with you, I fear your perception. I am alone – a survivor. And I swear I’m not hunting. But you, you must take into account the nature of the cat. That’s the nature of the bird.

Yesterday at a little bar on the beach I was approached by a young boy. I was reading Amandala, the Belize daily. The boy was part of a group. There were a couple of siblings and a mother. The boy walked behind me and paused at my right side. When I looked at him he said “Abrigo”. That’s what I thought I heard. His eyes were clear and I sensed compassion but I couldn’t understand. He smiled and walked away. After he left I opened my notepad and wrote down the sound of the word.

I use the notepad when I’m out walking. Sometimes the thoughts come so fast that I’m embarrassed. People see me pull it out and scribble quickly. They’re curious, but they don’t ask. If I do this three times in five minutes it seems to really fuck them up. 

There are big red flowers with dangling pistils beside my deck. In the daytime the hummingbirds drink from them. My feet are up on the railing and I spread my toes to let one pistil lay in the gap between. I close up and pull away and the pistil strokes it’s way out of the grip.

I met Lisa and Adam at dinner. There was a keyboard player fighting with his instrument, singing Eagles tunes. I left early to kick back on the porch with a drink of scotch. Later I hear Lisa and Adam in the cabin next to mine and hail them over for company. Adam is Mexican and I ask him what “Abrigo” means. “Shelter” he says, “or haven”. Adam was with the airborne. Special forces. He now has a bad back

A little boy walked up to me yesterday at a bar. I was reading a newspaper. He stopped at my right side, looked at me and said, “Shelter.” In Spanish. Abrigo.

You say that I am a good, decent man. Perhaps I demonstrate some qualities of that level of evolution but I know I also possess a carelessness that would allow me to deeply hurt your man if given that choice. I could easily sacrifice his happiness in action and reason if I had one indication from you that you wouldn’t find it reprehensible.

You guard your soul with such respect. Realizing that, I couldn’t possibly fault you for refusing me. And even if your wish is to see me, I have through situational necessity encouraged you to bear that weight alone.

Five hundred yards offshore waves break on the reef. They die prematurely before they can touch the shore. Boats dance on the water between them and me.

These American divers are a rude bunch. They come from every region of the United States and in the morning crowd together on one corner of the deck. From across the way it’s impossible to believe they have anything in common so plain are the differences in dialect and accent, but draped with pride they become tribal. Guardians of pressurized air. It’s clear no outsider is welcome at their table. 

Reggie is the talk of the Oceanside pub this morning. He’s been to Shark Alley to snorkel with the Rays and Sharks. They’re not aggressive and will swim around you in circles. You can feed them too, with small bait fish, however, you have to be careful. Reggie has been an arrogant little prick and he’s not receiving sympathy. He’s sporting a bandage the size of a small baseball mitt on his right hand. Can’t even pick up a drink. It seems no one explained to Reggie that you’re supposed to let go of the fish.

When we’re together I have to ask if I can kiss you. That’s not me you’re seeing, it’s not my passion – it belongs to your relationship. My passion just takes you. It slips my palm to your cheek and pulls you to me so I can feel your body against mine and drink from your mouth. Without permission. Greedy.

The maid says the flowers are called – “Tulipan. In Spanish. I don’t know how to say it in English. You going back to the States for Christmas?”

“I’m from Canada.”

“Canada! We’re not used to that cold. I watch the weather channel and get to see the temperature.”

“You think of me when you see the temperature in Canada.”

“Your title is Mr. McCormick?”

“Yes,” I smile. That is indeed my title.

“Canada.” She says, separating the syllables, and walks away.

Yesterday I saw the church and cemetery. I was walking the road and came upon it suddenly. I had the urge to go read some headstones, but didn’t want to offend. Then this morning I saw it from the beach side. There are smashed tombs and broken crosses all along the waterfront. Someone had said of hurricane Mitch that “We got no wind and no rain, but we got the ocean bad.” It tried to resurrect their dead.

God is Janus faced. Both benevolent and belligerent. You may be lucky enough to have him pass over your indiscretions by supplicating yourself in prayer or by laughing at the very idea of judgment. But then success depends on his demeanor. So it’s a coin toss. You can expect to be smitten, rewarded or completely ignored. All reliant on his mood of the moment.

In the past I’ve always held the coin.

I dreamt last night of “layers of blue”. A picnic of fat nude women. They stand in a line and leer as I walk by. And one naked siren by the edge of an ocean. I knelt down, reached out and cupped her breast. She smiled.

Maybe there is a set amount of angst and aloneness in the world. If that is so would it be reasonable to say that a certain number and size of vessels are required to hold it? Lots of little vessels, or maybe just a few very large ones. Depending on God’s mood.

Bring it on you bastard. I choose to be here, I have courage, and I cannot be defeated.

She came to my cabin. 7pm. She wants to see what I’ve written. We talk for an hour about her life in Belize City then order dinner. She inhales the shrimp and the fresh flour tortilla. She reads the paragraphs that include my impressions of her and then I have her speak into the microphone on the laptop so I can record her voice.

“Say, I love you. In Spanish.”

She leans forward toward the keyboard. “Te amo.”

I play it back and she smiles.

It wasn’t easy, seducing her. The only way is to understand that she must be seduced. She knows why she is in this room, but her youth requires that you play this game in aid of honor. In the end I think what she liked best was being held with her face at the nape of my neck and her arm draped over my chest. She slept that way between times.

I loved her hair and her slick black skin.

It’s taken a week to build the swimming pool. When I arrived it was just a huge hole in the sand. The rhythm of hammering, the scream of power saws and the workman’s Spanish banter and laughter has been the background to every conversation. They work fast, these men. I’ve been places where it takes three of them to hammer a nail – a year to dig a hole. These are professionals. Precise and fast.

They put the final coat of blue sealant on it this morning and filled it with water. It’s finished. It must hold a million gallons. Imagine the weight. It looks ready to burst, like one drop would do it. If you put in just one more drop it will explode, huge cracks opening with a gush of escaping fluid.

This is my last hour on the Caye. There is a small single engine plane waiting at the dirt strip up island. I walk out of the door of my cabin, past the wise old palm on my right. The sun glints through it’s fronds and flashes – a silver disk suspended and rotating in the air. I walk through a gate into the blinding, searing heat of the day. I feel numb. I want desperately to let you go – to be able to laugh and walk with other humans, washed and clean. Instead, I walk by the pool and when I am sure no one is looking, I spit into the deep end.