Author / Speaker

Chapter Nineteen

   Marty’s proposal was simple. Once a week, come hell or rough water, they would fly or dive. She could pick the day, but once the day was set there was no backing out. She’d had to look away when he made his proposal, the two of them watching the sunset from deck chairs on the dock. Despite his enthusiasm, she knew he was still afraid of the water.
  She picked Tuesdays. Twice a month, Marty dove. Twice a month, she flew. She progressed quickly. She liked the orderly step-by-step process of flying, the cozy cockpit and the instrument panel with its strange numbers she could now decipher. Marty did not progress as she did. He sucked down his tanks so fast Cedar wondered if she had filled them, and he bounced up and down in the water column like a skittish EKG.
   “Perhaps I was a cork in another life,” he offered.
   His ineptitude didn’t embarrass him. He tried his hardest, but as the weeks passed Cedar still found herself grabbing him as he shot up and sank down. Each time he shrugged and grinned through his face plate. It always made her laugh. It was the rare man who admitted to his shortcomings, much less saw the humor in them. But slowly he improved, until one day, finning along the edge of an atoll that dropped away into blue-black darkness, Marty swam the length of the reef without an egregious bob. When they reached the end of the reef, he floated, perfectly suspended, regarding her soberly before breaking into a mile wide smile.
  Back on board he kissed her with equal soberness, the kiss so gentle, Cedar actually wondered if it had happened. But he had been eating peanut butter crackers and she tasted peanut butter on her lips.
  “Thank you,” he said, “for making me a better person. Although I am still a crummy diver and you are already a fine pilot.”
   She was not surprised when she leaned forward and kissed him back.
   “Yours was a near flawless flight,” she said.
   Two weeks later when they returned to the dock from diving, Marty did not leave the boat. That night they re-learned a timeless skill.
   The next morning Santy hand-delivered her weekly newspaper. Usually she picked it up in her mailbox at the dive shop. Cedar was alerted to Santy’s presence by coughing up on the dock. Slipping on a bathrobe she went up on deck.
   The old man blinked uncomfortably. His embarrassment was amusing.
   Just for fun, she waited.
   Santy almost never spoke first.
  “I am a busy man. I need to go.” He thrust the paper out over the water. “Take this.”
   Cedar ignored his outstretched hand.
   “When did I start paying for newspaper delivery?”
   “Mock a man for his attempt at neighborly kindness.”  
   No doubt, they had drawn straws and he had lost. Cedar almost felt sorry for him. His eyes strayed to Marty’s dive bag on the camera table, and flicked quickly back to her face.
   “I hope you’re also coming back with coffee for two,” she said, taking the paper.
     The old man actually blushed. It was mildly endearing.  
   “Miss Irma put me up to it,” Santy growled. He scuffed at the dock with the toe of a weathered boot. “That damn woman is a witch.”
   “Since when have you been afraid of women?”
   “It is nearly seven. Since when have you lolled about?”
   “You’re an adult. You figure it out.”
   She meant it as a joke, but it sounded harsh.
   She had never seen Santy lack for a retort. His shoulders slumped as he turned away.
   “Santy?” she said gently. “What’s the matter?”
   “I am old.”
   “It’s still you I pine for.”
   “Too bad. I have lost my heart to Miss Klum.”
    He almost sounded serious.
    Watching him walk away, something nagged at her. Lately she had heard his engine idling out of the harbor late at night, and when she came to the fuel dock she saw how he moved away, occupying himself with another chore. There was a shiny new lock on the shed on his dock.
   She wished that instead of always making jokes with him, she had asked him how he was doing.
   When she returned to the cabin, Marty was propped up against a pillow.
   She held up the paper.
   “Courtesy of Santy.”  
   “Ah.” Marty smiled. “It would be interesting to hear his report. Perhaps he thinks I stayed to clean your windows.”
   She looked at him. His chest was smooth, the muscles defined. Last night, her hands running the length of him, every inch had been hard.
   The sheet rose to his waist.
   She felt stirrings. She let her eyes linger.
   She saw he was stirring, too.
   “You’re intoxicatingly beautiful,” he said. “Even with silk in the way.”  
    With a nudge, the robe slid away.
    When they finished they stayed entwined, breathing hard in each other’s ears.
    Marty smiled.
    “I’m glad Santy didn’t come back with coffee.”
   “I felt sorry for him. I know he didn’t want to bring the paper.”
   “The price of living on this island. I love my home, but I confess there are times when I grow tired of prying eyes and ears.” He traced the bridge of her nose. “It is not easy holding my breath in your loving presence.”
   “I have a solution.”

   It took thirty minutes to reach the spot. It was a tiny islet, smothered in jungle and graced with an equally tiny inlet big enough for one boat. Raucous birds rested in the trees like white fruit.
   She anchored the Wendell Holmes so that they faced out to sea.
   She had slipped on jeans and a t-shirt to guide them out of the harbor. Bending to make sure the anchor line was set, she felt trickling sweat.
   Fingers deftly unsnapped her jeans.
   As she turned Marty’s hands slid everything down to her ankles and pushed her up against the railing.
   “Too hot for jeans,” someone mumbled.
    Still on his knees, he kissed around her, ignoring her encouraging moans when he glanced close. Finally she made sure his lips were where she wanted them. Her head rolled back to blue sky, and when she wanted all of him, she spun around so that she now looked down into blue. The sun flared against her nakedness.
   That there could be so much heat and pleasure was too much to ask.
   Lovers and birds cried out in joy.

   That night Cedar crowned their altered standing by sliding “King Kong” from the bookshelf.
  “Justin and I watched it,” she said. Every Friday. Date night. “It was his favorite movie.”
   She did not miss the tense. It made her a little sad.
  “Then I know I will like it.”
   “You’ve never seen King Kong?”
   “I confess I see few movies. Actually, any movies.”
  “Well that’s going to change.”
  They sat close, picking popcorn out of each other’s lap.
  She cried again at the end, but this time she couldn’t stop.
   Marty pulled her close and kissed her slowly.
   “It was beauty who gave herself to the beast,” he said.

   All but a hint of hollowness is gone. This is evolution of a sort. I should draw hope from her adaptation. I have been unable to accomplish this in my own life. My own darkness continues to yaw and ache without end in sight.
   I have reconsidered. I will tell you what became of my mate. I tell you not because I am past the pain of remembering, but because, when I work to look at it objectively, I see the lesson in it, a lesson for the both of us.
   In the time we shared, my mate and I were often apart. In the early going, it was simply impractical for two apex predators to share the same territory. Overharvesting as it were: the tragedy of the commons instinctually averted. My mate would disappear for long weeks to hunt and feed. Later, as we evolved and our motives became more complex and less self-absorbed, he again disappeared for long periods to monitor our world’s progress and, slowly, its decline. There came a time when his absence stretched far beyond the conventional. I went looking for him.
   He was long dead when I found him, impossibly tangled, a riddle without answer, in a mesh of netting on the sea floor. He had left his shell in a futile attempt at escape. The ropes had cut deep into him. I know he died slowly. Feeding began before he died. Many were feeding when I arrived. I did not go close. I could not bear it. But from where I drifted I could still see giant isopods (think crab, but nearly three feet from head to tail) crawling over his ravaged form, tearing and gorging, plucking at folds of white skin waving like listless flags of surrender.
   Did this make me angry? As I said, we do not blame. But it did make me infinitely sad, a sadness that nearly sees me forget my point.
   The takeaway lesson? My mate and I, we ate giant isopods like jellybeans.
  Remember. A throne atop the food chain guarantees nothing.
   I drift in the night water, away from the boat.
   She no longer needs my dreams.
   She has pulled herself up by her bootstraps.
   I wish I could follow her example, but I have no one to rescue me.
  He and I. Together in the eggs.
 The thought lifts me just a little.