The way it was… remembrances by L. E. Taylor
WHEN I FLY, I GIVE MYSELF over to the existential envelope of the moment. Four hours across the continent to SFO or LAX – it’s all of a piece to me for the duration of a flight. The whole episode is an extended nano-fragment, like a dream, improbable, unnatural.
Illogically, I’m hurtling in near silence through the sky in a silver tube. So I take a hike to Planet Larry.
The flight from Miami to Jamaica one day, however, was more like the puddle-jump from Detroit to Chicago – barely worth the angst. A bus ride. Yet there was something niggling at me. All in my mind, of course. The sky was clear, the sea below a sensual aquamarine, like the Mediterranean, the Adriatic…our own Great Lakes.
This trip was supposed to be an exotic escape. Delores and I had been together now for a couple of years, each of us dealing with the distracting residue of earlier lives. This would be a departure into a bubble.
As soon as we were airborne, I was restive. Was it guilt for leaving my responsibilities en route to a self-indulgent retreat? Doubt about this unsettled relationship? Annoyance at the brainless rowdiness among our fellow passengers? What?
The customs bureaucracy in Jamaica provided no comfort. We were herded into an open processing pen. Hot and humid, noisy and crude, the dump seemed a cliché for third-world-banana-republic-spy flicks. All I needed was a rumpled linen suit and a crushed Panama hat.
They took our passports, stamped them and kept them.
We made our way through the wilting Caribbean heat to a “taxi” stand. Our destination was the far end of the island, a village called Negril. My Michigan travel agent, a liberal who mistook me for a vagabond writer-artist type, had selected this off-grid venue to suit what she assumed to be my bohemian tastes.
The beat-up old VW van was crammed with twenty-something guys and one girl, in addition to Delores and me. We wound our way up the narrow road to a lookout over the bay. Pretty. But I’ve seen bays and water before. We stopped. Outside the vehicle, the driver had a few private words with the college bums, and we continued on our way. Almost immediately, we were in a jungle. A few minutes on the road, and unaccountably, the driver brought us to a stop at a roadside dive. Most of the riders got out and went inside.
Hot breezes blew, birds cawed. Delores looked sideways at me. I was staring straight ahead. I only know this because she told me later.
The temperature was ninety-plus, the humidity about the same. Bugs buzzed. Our jitney-mates were having a Red Stripe in the jungle. I was having an out-of-body experience. My heartrate was down to about 58.
The rest of that drive was like my cross-continent flights. Dreamlike. I remember shacks and naked Negroes with babies, and an interminable ordeal of winding one-lane auto-pathways carved into a drab rainforest.
Then we were… there.
The grim little clearing on the sea may have had a name; if so, it has long since been expunged from my psyche. Santo Anus would be apt.
Our “suite,” actually one room on the second floor of a paint-peeling clapboard house accessed by way of stairs up its sides to an outdoor deck, was almost as nice as the British prisoners’ quarters in Bridge on the River Kwai. But with worse management.
The mountainous woman (I think) who ran the joint was straight out of central casting – mumu-clad, with a silky black moustache, and barefoot with coarse wires sprouting from both big toes.
Delores and I climbed the outdoor stairs to our nest. There was no key because there was no door. Only a louvered screen and within, a curtain of beads to keep out the scorpions and mosquitoes. (And snakes?) The view of the emerald waters was lovely.
I yanked on my Speedo, and we went to the beach. I dove in, swam around, and was unceremoniously stung by a jellyfish.
Madame Hairtoes said, no big deal; Here. Take this shot of rum and rub it in. See you at dinner. Seven o’clock.
I drank the rum, washed off the ocean salt at the property’s only working shower (beachside), and Delores and I went up to our cell to dress for dinner.
Dinner was in an outdoor lanai. A tropical rain came straight down. Delores was in a colorful sundress, blond hair nicely up; I wore a blazer and a silk tie. Everyone else wore the same filthy togs they’d arrived in from the airport. Humidity soaked into our clothing. The fare was prawns, rice, a green vegetable (seaweed, I think), and lukewarm white wine. Everything tasted exactly the same – peppery-hot and vaguely curry-ish.
The morning brought fried plantains, thick french toast, and harsh black coffee. Delores settled down on the beach with a book while I took off on a run through the soft tepid surf. Immediately, a native girl accosted me. “You want aloe massage?” she smiled. I demurred. “What is-a-you wife-name?” she pressed. Stupidly, I replied, “Dolly. Wh.. ?) She was gone before I could think, and I continued along the shoreline. I came to a village, probably Negril, and a sort of market on the beach.
Tie-dye tee shirts, Red Stripe beer, tourist junk. One puzzlement: I had no idea why they would be selling mushrooms on a beach.
When I got back to Delores, she said these dread-locked girls kept coming by. ‘Hello, Do-ley,’ they would say. ‘You want aloe massage?’ She said, “How did they know my name?” I told her. I asked, what did you say? Delores replied, “I told them no and to get the hell off our beach.”
Glistening with Coppertone and sweat, we reclined on beach towels and squinted at a blue-green sea under a cloudless sky. “Beautiful,” I said.
Delores glanced at me. “Almost as nice as…”
“Yep,” I mumbled, “… a day on Lake Michigan.” We watched the ragged parade of natives crisscross between us and the ocean-sea. “But more crowded.”
Still, the tropical paradise wasn’t through with us.
[To be continued...]
Next, Part Two: Fight or Flight.