Monday, October 23, 2017

10. Mimi on the Beach

On the sliver of beach within the notch, Robert and Reginald hovered worriedly over the form of Mimi asleep in her sleeping bag.  They were whispering back and forth, unsure what it meant to find a motionless spirit on the beach, especially one so lovely, which Robert the previous morning had clobbered in blind panic.

"You should not have struck her, Bob," Reginald said.  "You have injured her."

"No," said Robert.  "She is asleep.  Keep your speech low, or you will wake her.  She surprised me greatly, appearing as she did."

"She's but a small girl," said Reginald, "surely no danger."

"She is a spirit!" said Robert.  "A ghost!  Let's take our leave of her, of this place, come on, back to the barracks!"

But Reginald didn't want to leave.  He crept closer and knelt on one knee.

Mimi was on her back with her mouth opened slightly, one arm folded across her chest, the other outstretched onto the beach, knuckles in the sand.  A small land crab had scuttled from the sea ox-eye growing at the cliff-edge and was about to scrabble across her open palm.

"No you don't, mate," said Reginald.  He flicked the hapless crustacean back to the rocks.  "No one perturbs our little missy ghost."  He bent low overtop her.

"Come away, Reg!" Robert pleaded.  "This is unnatural!"

Reginald shushed Robert.  "Look at her teeth, Bob."  "They're so even!  So white!  Look at her eyes, how they make little smiles."  He traced two small semicircles in the air above the seams of Mimi's closed eyelids.  He couldn't resist a careful touch.  He placed his fingertips on her hair, where it lay spread over the sand.  "Oh bless me Bob," he whispered.  "How can she not be real?”  He held up what he had found on the trail.  “Is this shoe not real?”

“Drop that. Put that down!” Robert lunged and grabbed Reginald's hand.  "Come away!" he hissed.  "She should not be touched.  We are in trouble enough!  It's more of the same!  More of this purgatory!"

Reginald took several grudging steps backward, but would not leave.  "She is not to be feared," he said.  "I think she’s not a ghost.  Ghosts have snaggled teeth, or no teeth, and foul grey hair.  That face, I tell you Bob, is angelic.  Perhaps she is here to take us with her, away from this lonely place."

"And the others?  And the boat?  That dwindled from beneath us?"  The boat had become weak and papery about them after Robert hit Mimi and pushed her below.  They wondered, What if they had been far offshore when it started to lose substance?

"I say, the next time we do not hesitate," said Reginald.  "We'll take the gold and the boat, get it to the nearest shore to St. George before it melts."

"And the gold sinks."

"I don't know," said Reginald.  "It's all peculiar.  Maybe we would be better off without it.  I ache for our old drills.  I miss our mates.  I miss the gun!"

"Aye, the gun," Robert agreed.

The soldiers stood silently, looking down at Mimi, seeking a hopeful sign.  Perhaps she was there to help them, to take them away in her boat.  But why a small brown girl?  And what was the meaning of the specter with the brass across his eyes?  Nothing made sense anymore.  They sometimes wished they had never discovered the gold, because shortly thereafter their garrison mates had departed without forewarning, and their island began changing back and forth in so many ways and so rapidly that they feared if separated from each other's sight they might lose each other too.  The gold had contained a curse.

"She's going now," Reginald said, sadly.  He moved forward and knelt again as Mimi faded in the growing light.  "Farewell little missy."  He waved a tired hand through the space in which she had lain.

Mimi was startled awake.  She was in her sleeping bag on the beach, with one of the loud birds screaming overhead, invading her pleasant dream of Englishmen talking about her.  She began to lapse back to sleep, but then opened her eyes, prompted by a staccato "pap!"  She rolled over.  Her long hair had gathered sand as she slept and dragged ropes of it into her sleeping bag whenever she turned.

As her thoughts organized and she recalled the events that led her to sleep on the sand, her anger from the night before returned.  Adrian, her Englishman, had done something behind her back, again, making plans for their future without first consulting her, as if her input were unneeded, unwanted.  He had done this several times before, including organizing this course without asking her if she would participate.  He knew she would want to, of course, but still, no one liked being taken so completely for granted.  Last night he went too far.

She had fled the rampart in the dark without a flashlight, with the intention of going to Derek's campsite to ask if she could sleep in his tent, or his hammock, whichever one he wasn’t using.  But she didn’t get far before tripping over her sleeping bag and tumbling down the slope.  She had landed on the bag and was unhurt, but as she rolled one of her flip-flops had flown off, into the jumbled leaves that lined the trail. She stood on one foot.  In the dark, among the trees, and the black shadows cast by moonlight, there was no point in even trying to look.  Over her shoulder the lapping of waves on the beach called to her.  That is where she would sleep, on the sand.

Returning last night, about to describe the worm sex and explain why Derek kept hitting himself, she had been cut short by Adrian, who said, coldly, "Miriam, sit down and listen."

She took off her shorts and t-shirt and burrowed into the sleeping bag.  "Tell me here," she said.  Why had he used her full name?

"Listen!" he said.  "Stop fooling about!"

"What?" she asked, frustrated by his persistent lack of humor.  She sat up and stared at him.

"You're not going to like this I'm afraid," he said, "but it's the test of your abilities you came here for."  Then he told her about a fax he had received at his uncle's estate that morning.  He was the favored candidate for a position at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, England, the Directorate of the newly formed Centre for the History of Archeology.  The university was impressed with his work and the selection committee wanted to meet with him immediately.  Adrian had agreed to fly from Bermuda as soon as possible, which would mean leaving the course in Mimi's hands for a week or so.

"A week?  How am I supposed to teach alone for a week?"

Adrian said it would be easy.  He would leave lecture notes for her, and besides, this was really just a practice course anyway.  It didn't matter if it didn't go well.

That irritated her.  "It's not a practice course for the students," she said. "They're working hard."

He continued.  "I believe we can trust Drek.  I believe him, he won't damage the dig.  No one need spend the nights here to guard it."

"What about the man who hit me?" she said.  "Maybe he'll damage it."

"You banged your head on the doorframe.  There is no other man.  If there were, then you certainly shouldn't stay here.  It wouldn't be safe."  Then he explained that the job in England might turn into a wonderful opportunity for her too, that through him she could become a member of the mainstream archeological community — in the British tradition.

Mimi had not contemplated leaving Toronto in the near future, or ever, really.  One move across the world was enough in anyone’s lifetime.  And if she were to move, it would not be without her mother and sister.  Although Adrian had not masked his dislike of Toronto, complaining endlessly about the weather — either too hot or too cold — she had never expected him to leave.

"I doubt you'll find anything of real significance while I'm away," he said, "but if you do, remember, you must immediately inform my uncle, and he’ll contact me.  Keep an eye on the pits at the corners of the barracks, where Joanne and Brian are working."

"You expect me to live in England?  Dreary, rainy, England?  Boring, bland-food England?"

"The history, Mimi.  Canterbury is spectacular!  A cathedral one thousand years old!  There are Roman ruins right at the edge of the city centre!"

"It’s old.  It’s too old."

"That’s a strange opinion for an archeologist."

"I like new old, recent old." 

"The university isn’t old — it’s relatively new, and growing.  And the city is more cosmopolitan than you would expect.  Is that what you’re really worried about?  You won’t be the only oriental."

"Why didn't you tell me any of this before?  When did you apply for this job?"  He didn’t reply, and she sat quiet and angry for a minute.  "It’s not fair for you to decide to change our lives without talking to me about it first."

"It, oh, it’s for the best, Mimi.  I’m sorry, it came up so quickly."

"I hate the whole idea of it."

"Dear, please?  Think about it.  We won’t have to be secretive anymore.  We won’t have to pretend we’re not together.  Obviously we’ll be together, and no one will mind.”

"So I wouldn’t be your student?"

"You’ll be my co-worker, my research partner."

"What about my degree?"

"You won’t need one."

"I’m staying in Toronto, and I am getting my doctorate."

"And then what?  What were you going to do once you got your doctorate?  You were planning to stay in Toronto after that?  And do what?  Be the first candle-maker at Fort York to hold a Ph.D.?"

She didn’t have an answer.  It was something she had been avoiding thinking about.  She didn’t like that he was waving it in her face now, or how he was waving it. "I don’t want to sleep with you tonight,” she said.

“I don’t see that you have much choice.”

“Well, wrong, I do,” she said as she zipped the communal sleeping bag apart, took her half, grabbed her shirt and shorts, and exited the tent, which had become more uncomfortably hot than usual.  

"Miriam, oh for God’s sakes.  Get back here!" 


Now wide awake on the beach in the very early morning, she wondered what to do.  She didn't want to return to the rampart yet, thinking it would be best if Adrian opened his eyes next to an empty space.  He would have to conclude either that she had died, or had spent a restful night without him.  It would serve him right, she thought, distressed that he hadn't come to find her.  He had shown a startling lack of concern, even by his standards.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the thunk of a bird landing on a bare branch overhanging the beach.  It screamed the crazy laughing call she'd heard the other mornings.  She wondered what species it was and reminded herself to ask Derek, who most certainly would know.  How convenient to have a biologist here, she thought, who could identify bones, knew about interesting things like fireworms, and who knew the proper technique for removing cactus spines.  She frowned, regretful their arrival had not been equally rewarding for Derek, a guy who had come here hoping to feel better about something, but had been displaced and physically attacked.  She remembered she hadn't prayed for his ears.  In her fury at Adrian she had forgotten her prayers entirely.  How can he be so thoughtless? she asked herself, then, angry again, decided to inform him she would be spending the nights on the island without him.

She suspected Derek wouldn't mind, that he might even welcome the company.  He had admitted to being lonely, and Mimi could tell he liked her.  For a minute last night, on the trail, she thought he was about to kiss her.  She knew Adrian would be furious, because despite his cooperative turn last night, he clearly didn’t like Derek, and didn't want her to be friendly with him.  He might even be jealous, she realized.  Maybe that would keep him from going away, and ruin his chance of getting that job.
           
Derek crashed through a tangle of buttonwoods onto the far end of the beach and was caught off-guard, not expecting Mimi, or anyone, to be lying a short distance away.  He quickly turned to battle back through the branches, but she propped herself up on her elbows and smiled.  "Hi there!" she called.  "What are you doing?"

"Oh, hi."          

"Come over and talk to me. I'm not sleeping."  She patted the sand, as if inviting him to sit on her bed.

"I don't want to disturb you." 

She smiled, but then looked troubled.

He wished he had thought fast enough to stash the rifle.  Too late, she'd seen it, so he tucked it beneath his arm and ambled as casually as possible across the sand.  The kiskadee kept warily ahead of him, flitting silently from tree-top to tree-top.  It perched on a cedar spike slightly above and beyond where Mimi lay.

“Are you shooting something?”

No plausible lie came to mind, so he told her the truth.  "I shoot the birds, the kiskadees, you know, the noisy yellow and brown ones."  As he spoke, the bird flew away, over the trees.

"Why?"  She sounded dismayed, even betrayed.  "I like those birds.  They seem so happy all the time."

He explained that they were an introduced species, known to eat baby rock lizards.  What had previously seemed reasonable now sounded hollow.  "Well, the bird left.  I guess I should be going too."
           
"Wait!"  She wanted to ask if he would mind if she spent the nights of Adrian's absence on the island.  She hoped he would say "Fine with me," because this was what she intended to tell Adrian he said. She sat up in her sleeping bag, pulling on her shirt over her bra. Then she stood, letting the bag drop away.  She plucked up her shorts, which along with her shirt she had used as a pillow, and shook out the sand.  Then she dropped them.  “Hey! “ She picked up one of her flip-flops and stepped fully out of the bag.  She walked sideways up the beach, back to Derek, staring intently at the sand, and said, “Where are his tracks?”

He watched, a mesmerizing woman on a beach in a t-shirt and panties.

“Come and look.”

He could not not follow, but after a few steps said, “I think you should put your pants on.”  What if Adrian arrived and found his girlfriend half undressed, next to Derek.  That would not help things.

“This is my flip-flop!”  She brandished it at him.

“The other one is over there, by your pants.”

“No, but I lost this one last night on my way here, in the forest.”  She pointed at the sand. “See here?  Here’s where I came onto the beach, with only one flip flop.  And here’s where I took it off, and my tracks go over to my sleeping bag.  How did this one get there too?  Did Adrian follow me and find it and put it there?  If he did, where are his tracks?”

“Maybe he threw it.”

“It was lined up perfectly with the other one, on the far side of me.”

“Mimi, your pants?”  He pointed. 

“Yes?”

“You’re talking to a guy you don’t really know all that well, in your underwear.” 

Facing him, standing straight, she said, almost laughing, “Yes, but look at you.  You’re not wearing much more than underwear either.”  She pointed at what he was wearing, which wasn’t much.  Apart from his sunglasses, Derek was wearing only the very short and out-dated pair of filmy nylon jogging shorts he preferred to sleep in, which provided less coverage than a pair of boxers.  She was, by default, pointing at his crotch.  He swung the rifle in front, a very awkward fig leaf.  She said, “Besides, after last night’s conversation we’re no longer complete strangers.  I trust you, and we’re here, an island that isn’t a public place.  Plus there’s the fact that you’ve already seen way more of my body than this.  I was wearing way less when you were spying on me with your binoculars.”

“What?”  He didn’t think they had seen him.  He had only looked for a second, which had been more than long enough.  And in the configuration they had been in at the time, they could not possibly have seen him.           

“When I was in my teeny blue bikini, you know, the one that’s cut high, like this?”  She reached to the leg openings of her panties and yanked them toward each other, turning and bending slightly to provide full effect.

“Oh God,” he said. “Please don’t do that.”  He clamped the rifle tighter and looked away.

“—and you moved the towel along the wall so I would have to walk a long way to get to it?”

“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.” Even if she didn’t believe him, he was relieved, slightly, that she didn’t know what he had really seen.

“Honestly?  The first morning after we arrived?  You didn’t come to the wall and move my towel?”

“I did not.  Scout’s honor.”  He briefly raised a hand.

“Were you a scout?”

“No.”

“Then it doesn’t count.”

“I could have said yes, but that would have been lying. I haven’t lied to you about anything.”

She scowled.  “Okay, I’m sorry if I offended you.”  She walked back to her sleeping bag, adjusting her underwear along the way.  She pulled on her shorts and fastened the snap and said, “You’re a funny one.  You’re unusually shy for a guy who seems comfortable about being naked.”

He said, “You’re a funny one too,” but wasn’t sure how to elaborate.
           
And then the reason for this encounter, the recently widowed kiskadee, landed back on the on the cedar spike overhead, continuing the search for its mate.  "Excuse me," he said, looking up.  "I've got to do this."  He needed to kill the bird.

He took a few steps and crouched to get a line between two branches.  He pulled the firing pin.

She said, "Please don't kill it."

He let his breath out. "I have to."

"Don't?" she said hopefully.  Her voice was nearer and softer.

He watched the bird through the crosshairs.  It was difficult to hold the gun steady because of cramps building in his thighs.  The bird called again.  Its body shook with the force of its crazed song.  Had Derek squeezed the trigger, it would have been dead before it finished its name, "KIS-ka-..."

"Please?" she said, almost in his ear.  It was a small, breathy, voice.  He groaned lightly, with eyes watering.  She jiggled his shoulder, causing the bird to bounce in the sight and then disappear.  Derek lowered the gun.  The kiskadee had flown away.  He exhaled and, partially squeezing the trigger, eased the firing pin into its resting position.  He propped the gun against the beach-washed log, sat beside it, and extended his legs.  She stepped back to her sleeping bag to gather it up.

"Mimi," he said.

"Yes?  Thank you for not hurting him."  

“No, thank you,” he muttered. This was becoming far too complicated. He watched her fold the sleeping bag into a configuration suitable for carrying, and he said, “There’s something important.”

“Yes?”

“You were sleeping on the beach, alone.”

“Yup.”

“Do you think that’s safe?  After somebody hit you on the head?  On an island, there’s no way to lock the door.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to be saying this. It was actually a positive development.

“I wasn’t planning on it, but as I was telling you, I lost my flip-flop on the way to where I was going, in the forest, up there.”

“Where were you going?  Why weren’t you…”

“Forget it,” she said, her face soured.  Then she beamed a smile at him. “I hope you have a nice day.  We won't be here to bother you.  We're going ashore to take the students to some big tourist beach."  Walking backwards, her flip flops pinned beneath her arm, she smiled again and waved, a friendly, grabby gesture, and disappeared up the path, having forgotten to ask her question.  He watched from above his slumped sunglasses.  The last he saw was the pink sole of a sand-covered foot disappearing between the trunks of two palmettos.

After several seconds he said, “If you want to wear the teeny blue bikini again, I could probably handle it.”


He looked at the sand.  His eyes followed her tracks back to the compacted, rounded depression left by her body, her sleeping spot.  He crawled over to examine it closely.  The imprinted wrinkles of the sleeping bag were superimposed on the deeper dents formed by her head, shoulders and hips.  He ran his hand across the complicated swirl from her hair and gathered a wad of sand in his palm.  He squeezed it out between his fingers like fresh dough, and then ran his hand down one side of the main depression, the bowl where her hips had rested.  The sand was warm, and it was too easy for him to think this was her heat, from her body, the same heat he had felt from her hand on his elbow or her scalp beneath his fingertips.  Then he was distracted by a curious feature.  There was the busy trail of a land crab that seemed to have walked up to her as she slept, and vanished.On the sliver of beach within the notch, Robert and Reginald hovered worriedly over the form of Mimi asleep in her sleeping bag.  They were whispering back and forth, unsure what it meant to find a motionless spirit on the beach, especially one so lovely, which Robert the previous morning had clobbered in blind panic.

"You should not have struck her, Bob," Reginald said.  "You have injured her."

"No," said Robert.  "She is asleep.  Keep your speech low, or you will wake her.  She surprised me greatly, appearing as she did."

"She's but a small girl," said Reginald, "surely no danger."

"She is a spirit!" said Robert.  "A ghost!  Let's take our leave of her, of this place, come on, back to the barracks!"

But Reginald didn't want to leave.  He crept closer and knelt on one knee.

Mimi was on her back with her mouth opened slightly, one arm folded across her chest, the other outstretched onto the beach, knuckles in the sand.  A small land crab had scuttled from the sea ox-eye growing at the cliff-edge and was about to scrabble across her open palm.

"No you don't, mate," said Reginald.  He flicked the hapless crustacean back to the rocks.  "No one perturbs our little missy ghost."  He bent low overtop her.

"Come away, Reg!" Robert pleaded.  "This is unnatural!"

Reginald shushed Robert.  "Look at her teeth, Bob."  "They're so even!  So white!  Look at her eyes, how they make little smiles."  He traced two small semicircles in the air above the seams of Mimi's closed eyelids.  He couldn't resist a careful touch.  He placed his fingertips on her hair, where it lay spread over the sand.  "Oh bless me Bob," he whispered.  "How can she not be real?”  He held up what he had found on the trail.  “Is this shoe not real?”

“Drop that. Put that down!” Robert lunged and grabbed Reginald's hand.  "Come away!" he hissed.  "She should not be touched.  We are in trouble enough!  It's more of the same!  More of this purgatory!"

Reginald took several grudging steps backward, but would not leave.  "She is not to be feared," he said.  "I think she’s not a ghost.  Ghosts have snaggled teeth, or no teeth, and foul grey hair.  That face, I tell you Bob, is angelic.  Perhaps she is here to take us with her, away from this lonely place."

"And the others?  And the boat?  That dwindled from beneath us?"  The boat had become weak and papery about them after Robert hit Mimi and pushed her below.  They wondered, What if they had been far offshore when it started to lose substance?

"I say, the next time we do not hesitate," said Reginald.  "We'll take the gold and the boat, get it to the nearest shore to St. George before it melts."

"And the gold sinks."

"I don't know," said Reginald.  "It's all peculiar.  Maybe we would be better off without it.  I ache for our old drills.  I miss our mates.  I miss the gun!"

"Aye, the gun," Robert agreed.

The soldiers stood silently, looking down at Mimi, seeking a hopeful sign.  Perhaps she was there to help them, to take them away in her boat.  But why a small brown girl?  And what was the meaning of the specter with the brass across his eyes?  Nothing made sense anymore.  They sometimes wished they had never discovered the gold, because shortly thereafter their garrison mates had departed without forewarning, and their island began changing back and forth in so many ways and so rapidly that they feared if separated from each other's sight they might lose each other too.  The gold had contained a curse.

"She's going now," Reginald said, sadly.  He moved forward and knelt again as Mimi faded in the growing light.  "Farewell little missy."  He waved a tired hand through the space in which she had lain.

Mimi was startled awake.  She was in her sleeping bag on the beach, with one of the loud birds screaming overhead, invading her pleasant dream of Englishmen talking about her.  She began to lapse back to sleep, but then opened her eyes, prompted by a staccato "pap!"  She rolled over.  Her long hair had gathered sand as she slept and dragged ropes of it into her sleeping bag whenever she turned.

As her thoughts organized and she recalled the events that led her to sleep on the sand, her anger from the night before returned.  Adrian, her Englishman, had done something behind her back, again, making plans for their future without first consulting her, as if her input were unneeded, unwanted.  He had done this several times before, including organizing this course without asking her if she would participate.  He knew she would want to, of course, but still, no one liked being taken so completely for granted.  Last night he went too far.

She had fled the rampart in the dark without a flashlight, with the intention of going to Derek's campsite to ask if she could sleep in his tent, or his hammock, whichever one he wasn’t using.  But she didn’t get far before tripping over her sleeping bag and tumbling down the slope.  She had landed on the bag and was unhurt, but as she rolled one of her flip-flops had flown off, into the jumbled leaves that lined the trail. She stood on one foot.  In the dark, among the trees, and the black shadows cast by moonlight, there was no point in even trying to look.  Over her shoulder the lapping of waves on the beach called to her.  That is where she would sleep, on the sand.

Returning last night, about to describe the worm sex and explain why Derek kept hitting himself, she had been cut short by Adrian, who said, coldly, "Miriam, sit down and listen."

She took off her shorts and t-shirt and burrowed into the sleeping bag.  "Tell me here," she said.  Why had he used her full name?

"Listen!" he said.  "Stop fooling about!"

"What?" she asked, frustrated by his persistent lack of humor.  She sat up and stared at him.

"You're not going to like this I'm afraid," he said, "but it's the test of your abilities you came here for."  Then he told her about a fax he had received at his uncle's estate that morning.  He was the favored candidate for a position at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, England, the Directorate of the newly formed Centre for the History of Archeology.  The university was impressed with his work and the selection committee wanted to meet with him immediately.  Adrian had agreed to fly from Bermuda as soon as possible, which would mean leaving the course in Mimi's hands for a week or so.

"A week?  How am I supposed to teach alone for a week?"

Adrian said it would be easy.  He would leave lecture notes for her, and besides, this was really just a practice course anyway.  It didn't matter if it didn't go well.

That irritated her.  "It's not a practice course for the students," she said. "They're working hard."

He continued.  "I believe we can trust Drek.  I believe him, he won't damage the dig.  No one need spend the nights here to guard it."

"What about the man who hit me?" she said.  "Maybe he'll damage it."

"You banged your head on the doorframe.  There is no other man.  If there were, then you certainly shouldn't stay here.  It wouldn't be safe."  Then he explained that the job in England might turn into a wonderful opportunity for her too, that through him she could become a member of the mainstream archeological community — in the British tradition.

Mimi had not contemplated leaving Toronto in the near future, or ever, really.  One move across the world was enough in anyone’s lifetime.  And if she were to move, it would not be without her mother and sister.  Although Adrian had not masked his dislike of Toronto, complaining endlessly about the weather — either too hot or too cold — she had never expected him to leave.

"I doubt you'll find anything of real significance while I'm away," he said, "but if you do, remember, you must immediately inform my uncle, and he’ll contact me.  Keep an eye on the pits at the corners of the barracks, where Joanne and Brian are working."

"You expect me to live in England?  Dreary, rainy, England?  Boring, bland-food England?"

"The history, Mimi.  Canterbury is spectacular!  A cathedral one thousand years old!  There are Roman ruins right at the edge of the city centre!"

"It’s old.  It’s too old."

"That’s a strange opinion for an archeologist."

"I like new old, recent old." 

"The university isn’t old — it’s relatively new, and growing.  And the city is more cosmopolitan than you would expect.  Is that what you’re really worried about?  You won’t be the only oriental."

"Why didn't you tell me any of this before?  When did you apply for this job?"  He didn’t reply, and she sat quiet and angry for a minute.  "It’s not fair for you to decide to change our lives without talking to me about it first."

"It, oh, it’s for the best, Mimi.  I’m sorry, it came up so quickly."

"I hate the whole idea of it."

"Dear, please?  Think about it.  We won’t have to be secretive anymore.  We won’t have to pretend we’re not together.  Obviously we’ll be together, and no one will mind.”

"So I wouldn’t be your student?"

"You’ll be my co-worker, my research partner."

"What about my degree?"

"You won’t need one."

"I’m staying in Toronto, and I am getting my doctorate."

"And then what?  What were you going to do once you got your doctorate?  You were planning to stay in Toronto after that?  And do what?  Be the first candle-maker at Fort York to hold a Ph.D.?"

She didn’t have an answer.  It was something she had been avoiding thinking about.  She didn’t like that he was waving it in her face now, or how he was waving it. "I don’t want to sleep with you tonight,” she said.

“I don’t see that you have much choice.”

“Well, wrong, I do,” she said as she zipped the communal sleeping bag apart, took her half, grabbed her shirt and shorts, and exited the tent, which had become more uncomfortably hot than usual.  

"Miriam, oh for God’s sakes.  Get back here!" 


Now wide awake on the beach in the very early morning, she wondered what to do.  She didn't want to return to the rampart yet, thinking it would be best if Adrian opened his eyes next to an empty space.  He would have to conclude either that she had died, or had spent a restful night without him.  It would serve him right, she thought, distressed that he hadn't come to find her.  He had shown a startling lack of concern, even by his standards.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the thunk of a bird landing on a bare branch overhanging the beach.  It screamed the crazy laughing call she'd heard the other mornings.  She wondered what species it was and reminded herself to ask Derek, who most certainly would know.  How convenient to have a biologist here, she thought, who could identify bones, knew about interesting things like fireworms, and who knew the proper technique for removing cactus spines.  She frowned, regretful their arrival had not been equally rewarding for Derek, a guy who had come here hoping to feel better about something, but had been displaced and physically attacked.  She remembered she hadn't prayed for his ears.  In her fury at Adrian she had forgotten her prayers entirely.  How can he be so thoughtless? she asked herself, then, angry again, decided to inform him she would be spending the nights on the island without him.

She suspected Derek wouldn't mind, that he might even welcome the company.  He had admitted to being lonely, and Mimi could tell he liked her.  For a minute last night, on the trail, she thought he was about to kiss her.  She knew Adrian would be furious, because despite his cooperative turn last night, he clearly didn’t like Derek, and didn't want her to be friendly with him.  He might even be jealous, she realized.  Maybe that would keep him from going away, and ruin his chance of getting that job.
           
Derek crashed through a tangle of buttonwoods onto the far end of the beach and was caught off-guard, not expecting Mimi, or anyone, to be lying a short distance away.  He quickly turned to battle back through the branches, but she propped herself up on her elbows and smiled.  "Hi there!" she called.  "What are you doing?"

"Oh, hi."          

"Come over and talk to me. I'm not sleeping."  She patted the sand, as if inviting him to sit on her bed.

"I don't want to disturb you." 

She smiled, but then looked troubled.

He wished he had thought fast enough to stash the rifle.  Too late, she'd seen it, so he tucked it beneath his arm and ambled as casually as possible across the sand.  The kiskadee kept warily ahead of him, flitting silently from tree-top to tree-top.  It perched on a cedar spike slightly above and beyond where Mimi lay.

“Are you shooting something?”

No plausible lie came to mind, so he told her the truth.  "I shoot the birds, the kiskadees, you know, the noisy yellow and brown ones."  As he spoke, the bird flew away, over the trees.

"Why?"  She sounded dismayed, even betrayed.  "I like those birds.  They seem so happy all the time."

He explained that they were an introduced species, known to eat baby rock lizards.  What had previously seemed reasonable now sounded hollow.  "Well, the bird left.  I guess I should be going too."
           
"Wait!"  She wanted to ask if he would mind if she spent the nights of Adrian's absence on the island.  She hoped he would say "Fine with me," because this was what she intended to tell Adrian he said. She sat up in her sleeping bag, pulling on her shirt over her bra. Then she stood, letting the bag drop away.  She plucked up her shorts, which along with her shirt she had used as a pillow, and shook out the sand.  Then she dropped them.  “Hey! “ She picked up one of her flip-flops and stepped fully out of the bag.  She walked sideways up the beach, back to Derek, staring intently at the sand, and said, “Where are his tracks?”

He watched, a mesmerizing woman on a beach in a t-shirt and panties.

“Come and look.”

He could not not follow, but after a few steps said, “I think you should put your pants on.”  What if Adrian arrived and found his girlfriend half undressed, next to Derek.  That would not help things.

“This is my flip-flop!”  She brandished it at him.

“The other one is over there, by your pants.”

“No, but I lost this one last night on my way here, in the forest.”  She pointed at the sand. “See here?  Here’s where I came onto the beach, with only one flip flop.  And here’s where I took it off, and my tracks go over to my sleeping bag.  How did this one get there too?  Did Adrian follow me and find it and put it there?  If he did, where are his tracks?”

“Maybe he threw it.”

“It was lined up perfectly with the other one, on the far side of me.”

“Mimi, your pants?”  He pointed. 

“Yes?”

“You’re talking to a guy you don’t really know all that well, in your underwear.” 

Facing him, standing straight, she said, almost laughing, “Yes, but look at you.  You’re not wearing much more than underwear either.”  She pointed at what he was wearing, which wasn’t much.  Apart from his sunglasses, Derek was wearing only the very short and out-dated pair of filmy nylon jogging shorts he preferred to sleep in, which provided less coverage than a pair of boxers.  She was, by default, pointing at his crotch.  He swung the rifle in front, a very awkward fig leaf.  She said, “Besides, after last night’s conversation we’re no longer complete strangers.  I trust you, and we’re here, an island that isn’t a public place.  Plus there’s the fact that you’ve already seen way more of my body than this.  I was wearing way less when you were spying on me with your binoculars.”

“What?”  He didn’t think they had seen him.  He had only looked for a second, which had been more than long enough.  And in the configuration they had been in at the time, they could not possibly have seen him.           

“When I was in my teeny blue bikini, you know, the one that’s cut high, like this?”  She reached to the leg openings of her panties and yanked them toward each other, turning and bending slightly to provide full effect.

“Oh God,” he said. “Please don’t do that.”  He clamped the rifle tighter and looked away.

“—and you moved the towel along the wall so I would have to walk a long way to get to it?”

“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.” Even if she didn’t believe him, he was relieved, slightly, that she didn’t know what he had really seen.

“Honestly?  The first morning after we arrived?  You didn’t come to the wall and move my towel?”

“I did not.  Scout’s honor.”  He briefly raised a hand.

“Were you a scout?”

“No.”

“Then it doesn’t count.”

“I could have said yes, but that would have been lying. I haven’t lied to you about anything.”

She scowled.  “Okay, I’m sorry if I offended you.”  She walked back to her sleeping bag, adjusting her underwear along the way.  She pulled on her shorts and fastened the snap and said, “You’re a funny one.  You’re unusually shy for a guy who seems comfortable about being naked.”

He said, “You’re a funny one too,” but wasn’t sure how to elaborate.
           
And then the reason for this encounter, the recently widowed kiskadee, landed back on the on the cedar spike overhead, continuing the search for its mate.  "Excuse me," he said, looking up.  "I've got to do this."  He needed to kill the bird.

He took a few steps and crouched to get a line between two branches.  He pulled the firing pin.

She said, "Please don't kill it."

He let his breath out. "I have to."

"Don't?" she said hopefully.  Her voice was nearer and softer.

He watched the bird through the crosshairs.  It was difficult to hold the gun steady because of cramps building in his thighs.  The bird called again.  Its body shook with the force of its crazed song.  Had Derek squeezed the trigger, it would have been dead before it finished its name, "KIS-ka-..."

"Please?" she said, almost in his ear.  It was a small, breathy, voice.  He groaned lightly, with eyes watering.  She jiggled his shoulder, causing the bird to bounce in the sight and then disappear.  Derek lowered the gun.  The kiskadee had flown away.  He exhaled and, partially squeezing the trigger, eased the firing pin into its resting position.  He propped the gun against the beach-washed log, sat beside it, and extended his legs.  She stepped back to her sleeping bag to gather it up.

"Mimi," he said.

"Yes?  Thank you for not hurting him."  

“No, thank you,” he muttered. This was becoming far too complicated. He watched her fold the sleeping bag into a configuration suitable for carrying, and he said, “There’s something important.”

“Yes?”

“You were sleeping on the beach, alone.”

“Yup.”

“Do you think that’s safe?  After somebody hit you on the head?  On an island, there’s no way to lock the door.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to be saying this. It was actually a positive development.

“I wasn’t planning on it, but as I was telling you, I lost my flip-flop on the way to where I was going, in the forest, up there.”

“Where were you going?  Why weren’t you…”

“Forget it,” she said, her face soured.  Then she beamed a smile at him. “I hope you have a nice day.  We won't be here to bother you.  We're going ashore to take the students to some big tourist beach."  Walking backwards, her flip flops pinned beneath her arm, she smiled again and waved, a friendly, grabby gesture, and disappeared up the path, having forgotten to ask her question.  He watched from above his slumped sunglasses.  The last he saw was the pink sole of a sand-covered foot disappearing between the trunks of two palmettos.

After several seconds he said, “If you want to wear the teeny blue bikini again, I could probably handle it.”

He looked at the sand.  His eyes followed her tracks back to the compacted, rounded depression left by her body, her sleeping spot.  He crawled over to examine it closely.  The imprinted wrinkles of the sleeping bag were superimposed on the deeper dents formed by her head, shoulders and hips.  He ran his hand across the complicated swirl from her hair and gathered a wad of sand in his palm.  He squeezed it out between his fingers like fresh dough, and then ran his hand down one side of the main depression, the bowl where her hips had rested.  The sand was warm, and it was too easy for him to think this was her heat, from her body, the same heat he had felt from her hand on his elbow or her scalp beneath his fingertips.  Then he was distracted by a curious feature.  There was the busy trail of a land crab that seemed to have walked up to her as she slept, and vanished.

Continued...

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