Sunday, October 22, 2017

11. Hurricane Anna

At ten AM the Admiral arrived to pick up Adrian and Mimi.  Derek watched through binoculars from the spout, and was at first amused by the lack of cooperation.  The Admiral rowed the little skiff ashore and threw a line, which landed at Mimi's feet.  She stepped away from it as though it had absolutely nothing to do with her, and allowed it to slide into the water as the boat drifted.  The Admiral pulled it back and threw again, this time to Adrian, who caught it.  He pushed it into her hands and leapt into the skiff, then ignored Mimi as she showed trepidation on the rocks, unsure how to board the small, bouncing craft at this low tide.  She finally jumped, landed off balance, tumbled over the seat, and only because of the Admiral's quick reach was prevented from falling hard against the gunwale.  Adrian could have assisted simply by extending his hand.

"Asshole,” said Derek.
                       
Shortly after noon, Derek brightened at the sound of a familiar outboard coming in on the breeze.  He was expecting Michael, Evie and their daughter, Anna, for a picnic.  He had been looking forward to their company and was pleased they hadn't brought Sally Pettibone this time, or anyone else.

Anna was an extremely energetic five-year old.  Michael lifted her up to Derek on the rocks, and she immediately started kicking.  "I want to go swimming!" she cried.  Derek clumsily set her down.

"Anna!  Mind your manners!" Evie scolded.  "Say Hello to Mr. Coulter."

"Hello Mr. Cooter," Anna said, and then was gone.

Evie stepped ashore with a plastic bag containing towels and sunblock.  "Hello Mr. Cooter," she laughed.  She gave him a hug.  He hugged her back, hard.  "Ooh-wow," she said, and then exclaimed, “Michael!  Why don't you go fer a drive and come back in a few hours!"

Everybody laughed.

Later, on the beach, Anna was playing in the shallows as the adults talked.  Derek asked Michael about hurricanes.  He was interested about anything natural and powerful, and was aware Bermuda had a history of hurricanes and that August was when the hurricane season kicked into gear.

Michael described the damage from the last significant hurricane a few years earlier.  It was only a Category One, but had been a direct hit.  A lot of trees, especially non-natives like casuarinas, were taken down.  "The best thing to happen," Michael said, "was that one of the sleazier resort hotels got destroyed.  The storm pretty much blew straight through it, side to side.  Cleaned it right out.  It was up high on a hill north of the airport.  You can still see its big pink carcass."  Derek knew the building Michael was talking about.  It was visible in the distance from any high point on Tea Kettle.  "That was Hurricane Anna," said Michael.  "We named this one after her."  He nodded at his daughter, who was crouched in the water, swishing sand from an eroded seashell.  "We conceived her during the storm."

"Michael!  Evie shook her head.

Derek said he would like to experience a hurricane.  He added, “As long as nobody got hurt in it.”

"Well, you might," said Michael.  "There's still a chance before you leave, but Tea Kettle would be the wrong place to be.  A big one, Category Three or greater, would rip almost every living plant off this rock.  The reason the ruins are ruined no doubt is mostly because of two or three big ones in the past hundred and fifty years.  If one appears headed this way, we'll come pick you up long before it gets near Bermuda.  A nice thing about hurricanes is you can see them coming.  They're not like earthquakes."

Then they talked about earthquakes, which Derek knew a lot about, until Evie said, "Look, we have visitors."

Two rock lizards had ventured onto the beach from fissures in the limestone.  They could smell the beer and food.  Too shy to come forth when jumpy little Anna was on shore, they now were edging toward the slow-moving adults, who cooperated by becoming as still as possible.  The lizards darted erratically, almost randomly it seemed, slithering left, then right, forward, then back.  Between bursts of movement they paused and raised themselves high on straight-elbowed forelimbs to sniff the air.  Gradually their inefficient travels brought them within a few feet of the three humans.  Michael flicked a piece of cheese.  Both lizards dove at the spot where it landed, and one gobbled it down quickly, adhering sand and all.  It lashed its stumpy tail as if celebrating.  Four or five more emerged from the rocks.  Most bore traces of Derek's vulgar nail varnish on their rumps, which pleased the herpetologist.  His censusing technique was working.

The humans tossed more scraps, which the lizards pursued vigorously.  Derek was unsure if the lizards understood the process of being fed by humans.  Certainly they were attracted by smell and motion, but it was unclear whether they recognized that the food was being thrown to them by larger creatures.  Unlike park squirrels they didn't beg; they would run, stop, run, stop, see a scrap land, then pounce.

Then Derek told them of his chilling discovery.  Anoles ate them too.

Michael was shocked.  "This changes the whole equation," he said.  "How will they survive?"

They fell silent, pondering, until Evie started laughing.  "Now look at what these silly creatures are doing!"  She was pointing at a bag of Oreo cookies she had propped against the rocks out of the sun.  The bag twitched and a sharp, orange face popped out with Oreo cream squishing from the corners of its mouth.

Anna tore from the water, causing the lizards to flee back to their crevices.  She grabbed Derek's wrist and pulled.  "Mr. Cooter, come play with me!"

"Anna," Evie reprimanded.

"No, it's okay," Derek said.  "I could use the exercise."

"Not this much exercise," said Michael.

He ran into the water and fell forward, submerging up to his neck, careful to keep his eye and sunglasses above the water.  Anna dog-paddled to him and wrapped strong little arms around his neck.  She demanded, "Throw me!"

Derek caught on, and carried her into slightly deeper water.  There he crouched so she could stand on his thighs.  He put his hands on either side of her body and heaved her into the air.  She screamed with delight and landed in a belly-flop.  Derek was worried she might have been hurt, but she surfaced, spitting and laughing.

"Again!" she said, paddling back.  Derek obligingly threw her again, this time backward.  "Again!" she cried gleefully.  Derek invented and reinvented many methods of child-tossing as Anna's parents watched happily from the beach.  They enjoyed their daughter's hysterical giggles when someone else was doing the strenuous work of entertaining her.  Then, just as Derek tensed to throw Anna yet again, a naughty grin formed on the child's face.  At the instant he heaved her outward, she reached up, cat-like, and snatched his sunglasses.  She sailed with them into the water.

"Uh-oh," said Michael, "she got his sunglasses."  He braced on elbows to yell at his daughter.

Evie touched his arm.  "No, wait," she said. 

Derek's back was turned, but the Spencers could see Anna's face, which showed fright and concern.  Straining to keep her chin above water, she pointed at Derek.  He was shading his eyes with his hand.  They read Anna's lips as she said, "What happened to your eye?"

Derek said something Michael and Evie couldn't hear, and Anna looked sad.

They saw her say, "Does it hurt?"

He said something else.

With arms outstretched, the sunglasses in one hand, Anna bounced over to Derek as he remained hunched, still shading his eyes.  She crawled onto his lap and put her arms around his neck, then shifted her hands into the tangle of hair on the back of his head, and stood on his thighs.  The Spencers watched their daughter press her young, perfect face against the front of Derek's battered head.  She held it there for several seconds.  "Oh my goodness," said Michael.

Anna sprang backward into the water, and yelled convincingly, "All better!"  She handed the glasses back to Derek, who put them on.

"Oh my goodness," Michael repeated, smiling.  "She kissed him better."

He was still for a moment, visible only from the shoulder blades up.  Then he turned to the child, who was circling behind him, giggling.  He growled, leapt at her, and grabbed her by the waist.  She screamed joyously as he roared like a lion and hurled her into the air.  They continued to play.  He swam farther out, the little girl clinging to his shoulders.  Michael and Evie could hear them laughing.

Eventually Derek came ashore with Anna hanging from his wrist.

"More!" she screamed, wriggling.

"Here, I'm tired," he said.  "Time for Daddy's work-out."  He lifted her and the child vaulted toward her father, who was walking into the water.

"Daaa-dyyy!" she screamed, landing and sticking like a gecko on a door.

Derek laughed and walked to the cooler.

"You have a natural way with children, Derek-boy," Evie said.  "You’d make a good daddy.”

Since before they married, Laura had expressed a desire to have a baby.  She would say, "Derek, let's have a baby."

Early on, eager to please, Derek would answer, but hesitantly, "Okay, we'll have a baby." 

And she would say, "Soon?"

And he would answer, "Yes, soon.  As soon as I get a real job."  Of course, that was a while down the road, and Derek hoped that in the meantime Laura would cool her maternal jets.  Unfortunately, she didn't.  Throughout Derek's graduate schooling, until about a year before she left him, Laura expressed her parental desires, and so frequently that looking back on it he realized he should have sensed impending disaster when she stopped.  Derek always gave the same answers — okay, soon, when he got a real job — but over the years the hesitation in his answers became more pronounced.  He grew to fear the topic of parenthood, and at some point knew he was no longer answering truthfully.  He had decided he didn't ever want to have a child.  Even before he was injured, he found human reproduction a worrisome concept, the introduction of a new, helpless life into this dangerous, unjust world.  As a biologist, he believed himself more aware than other people of the most serious problem on earth: there were already too many damn people.  He didn't want to add to the problem, or risk creating a person who might be as sensitive about the on-going death of his planet as he was.  That would be unfair.  By the time of the injury, he had convinced himself that having a child was about the worst thing any human could do, to the planet, or the child.

He was trying to refasten the top of the cooler, and answered Evie's comment.  "I don't think I'll ever be a father now."  He was recalling the reasons he'd had when still with Laura, and now added to them the fact that there was presently no one in his life with whom to carry out the child-manufacturing procedure.  Of politeness he added, "But if I were going to be, I'd hope to have a kid as much fun as Anna."  He sat, and they watched Michael swimming with Anna on his back, out beyond the tip of the spout.

"Hah!" Evie scoffed.  "You don't know what she's like most of the time.  She's exhausting.  It's quite suitable we named her after a hurricane, you know.  You're only seeing the eye."

The word hung in the air.  He pushed his glasses farther up his nose.

Evie saw, and it bothered her. 

Derek opened his beer and bent to slurp the foam.

Like her daughter, without warning, Evie ripped off his sunglasses.  Before he could react, she pushed him onto his side, pounced on him and rolled him onto his back.  She pinned his wrists to the ground like a young girl tormenting her little brother.  She weighed as much as Derek, and was strong.  The can was trapped between them and the cold fluid gurgled out, fizzing down one side of his neck into the sand.  He resisted weakly, but was too flummoxed to put up much of a fight.  He relented and closed his eyes, weary of being attacked.

"Open your eyes," she said.

He opened his good eye.

"Now open the other one."

He did as he was told.

Evie examined it closely, her face expressionless, like a dentist yet to find anything wrong.  Her breath flowed around the ragged edge of the lid, causing him to blink.  "What do you know," she said.  "It is better."  She got off and placed the folded sunglasses on his chest.  He clutched them like a lily and lay silent and motionless, unsure whether to be angry, humiliated, or relieved, feeling a little of each.  Evie screwed a fresh beer into the sand next to his head, then walked into the water to join her family.

That night, Derek swung into his hammock and looked at the sky.  There were too many twinkling, cavorting stars overhead for an inebriated herpetologist to comprehend.  The Spencers had departed long before sunset, but Derek had stayed on the beach, eating leftovers and drinking until the beer was warm and he was cold.  He let the stars fade from focus and talk among themselves.  They had buzzy little voices, like telephone calls between bees.

He noticed that even here, on a tiny speck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, city lights intruded, from St. George to the northwest and Hamilton to the southwest.  The regular sweep of Gibb's Hill Lighthouse, far at the other end of the atoll, pulsed against slow-moving clouds.  He watched the light with his right eye and then his left eye, and then his right eye again.  It was equally blurry.  One eye was as bad as the other, and as good as the other.  Kissed all better by the little gnome.  He fell asleep.
           
In what seemed not more than half an hour later he became conscious in bright sunlight with his head feeling like a shaken melon.  He pinched the bridge of his nose and moaned.  He almost touched his eye to determine if it truly had been healed, but was afraid.  With the good eye closed, he squinted at the tree beyond his feet, at the grooves in its trunk.  He perceived that they looked clearer than they had before, that there were more of them than he had previously been able to see with that eye.  This was a good sign.  He held his sunglasses above, but their distorting surface would not reveal the truth.

He dropped from the hammock and became Mr. Comfortable-About- Being- Naked-Guy. The pristine morning air was not yet heated, and the glistening dew on grass blades was not yet suspended as that day's humid blanket.  He stretched, and filled his lungs, something he would never dare do in San Francisco Bay's caustic brown summers.  He tramped to the rampart and back, feeling like Adam in the boring, uneventful days before Eve.  "Hey," he said lightheartedly to Mimi's god up in the sky, "it's kind of dull here."  He added apologetically, "No offense."  Then, hearing the engine, he regretfully returned to his campsite, pulled on shorts, t-shirt and shoes, and went to spy from his usual perch.  The students were very pink.  The Sunday sunshine had had its way with the northern people.

Mimi was first out.  She wasn't pink.  She was the same as before, which was to say, perfect.  He watched as she directed the unloading of supplies and the loading of students. She laughed when she talked to them.  She touched their arms and shoulders.  She pushed her hair back over her head and it immediately resettled forward again. This was wrong. He shouldn’t be watching her.  He was becoming obsessed.  He needed to tell Roy.  He was about to leave when Adrian arrived in the second skiff load and strutted this way and that on the rock, but didn’t bother picking any of the boxes at his feet.        

"Don’t wear yourself out," said Derek. 

Wandering back to his campsite, he contemplated what to do today.  He was sure he had captured and measured most of the rock lizards at this end of the island, and even if there had been no one else about, he wouldn't have felt steady enough to shoot at anything.  He thought about mashing more anoles with his spade, but knew he hadn't the heart for much of it, much less the blood chemistry to deal with blood and guts.  "Maybe I'll spend some time over at the Canadian end of the island," he said, "set out a few sample traps.”  He would usually set a short trap line in an area to see if it contained any lizards at all, and if it did, he would do the hard work of plotting a sample grid and digging in traps.  If he ran into the Canadians, it shouldn’t be a problem.  He said to himself, “We're friends now, almost, sort of, mostly."  He had forgiven them for the trespass and no longer cared that the strange one had attacked him.  As long as he didn't have to spend time with her alone it would be okay.  Adrian?  A moot point.  Derek could easily ignore him.  He said, "I'll census lizards along the edge of the ruins at that end."  Then he thought impulsively, and I won't wear my sunglasses when I meet them.  I'm all better. 

With four greasy skink traps pinched between fingers, and his glasses dangling under his throat from a nylon cord looped around the earpieces, he whistled down the slope into the grove, where he heard Canadians ahead on the path to the rampart.  They were just beyond the water tank, the Chinese girl nearest, carrying her backpack and, again, the large shovel.  The stranger girl was in front of the Chinese girl, and ahead of her was the good-looking blond girl.  Derek rushed to unburden the smallest student.

"Hey there!" he called.

They turned as one.

Before he could speak, his right hand released its grip on the traps and flew up to thrust the sunglasses onto his face.  His intentions were nothing compared to his reflexes.  The traps rolled away making hollow sounds.

"Hello," said Molly as quietly as damp moss.

"Uh, let me take the shovel for you," he muttered.  She smiled weakly and handed it to him.  The others turned and hustled on.

He walked in silence behind, watching the blue labels on the backs of the child-sized sneakers.  What happened? he asked himself.  At the rampart he joined the circle, forgetting he was not one of them, not a Canadian.  Adrian, also not a Canadian, spotted him immediately.  "Why are you here?" he asked.

"I was just helping."  Derek put the shovel down, looked at Mimi, and couldn't breathe. 

She gave him a bewildered smile.  "Thank you." She smiled more brightly, and said, "Did you miss us?"  Stew and Shana laughed.  The herpetologist turned to the smirking faces, which made his eye throb.  These sunburnt Canadians were laughing at him.  The gnome had not cured him after all.  He had a hangover.  His ears were ringing.


"Excuse me," he said.  He hurried into the palmetto grove, and, once certain he was out of earshot, threw up.

Continued...

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