Thursday, October 12, 2017

20. The Lonely Dog

Pajama-ed Anna sprinted into the living room, dumped a colorful children's book onto Mimi's lap and demanded, "Read to me."

"No, I have a better idea," said the teaching assistant.  She turned off the television.  "Why don't you read to me?"

Anna was stunned.  Adults were so unpredictable.

"Okay, we'll take turns."

The child grinned, sat down hard against Mimi’s thigh, and began to read.  It was an ugly-duckling story about a hopeful-faced dog who wanted to join the circus, but who was scorned by the other animals and told he couldn't be in the circus because he was only a dog, whose only special ability was his keen sense of smell, and no one would find a sense of smell entertaining.  He wasn't strong like the elephant, or fast like the horse, or fierce like the lions and tigers, or clever like the monkeys, or musical like the sea lions, or able to ride a bicycle like the bear.  Finally, tired of rejection, the dog gave up to wander the forest all alone.  In a very dark place he came across a little girl who was lost and crying.  Using his powerful nose, he led the little girl home to her family.  On the way there, to keep her from being afraid, he told her about the circus and its wonderful entertainers, the elephant, the horse, the lions and tigers, the monkeys, the sea lions, and the bears.  Everything was going well for the dog, who was happy with his new friend, until they arrived at the little girl's house.  Her parents were overjoyed to have her safely returned, and decided to celebrate by taking her to the circus to see the wonderful animals, leaving the poor dog alone again.  The little girl said no.  She said she didn't care about the circus animals.  She wanted to stay with her friend, the dog.  The parents, who seemed to Mimi very impressionable, even for characters in a children's book, instantly loved the dog and pleaded with him to live with them.  "The circus is not for everyone," the dog said, hugged by the little girl.  "This is where I belong."

Halfway through the book the abject hopefulness and deep disappointment of the dog reminded Mimi of Derek.  She tried to imagine what the dog would look like wearing mirrored, wrap-around sunglasses.  Then she tried to imagine Derek with two good eyes.   Just before the sudden change of heart in the lost little girl's parents, she wondered if maybe the lonely dog would become sullen and snippy. 

Anna pushed the book flat and eyed Mimi suspiciously.  "Are you sad?"

“A little bit,” she said.  “I think I miss Mister Cooter."

Anna backed off the sofa and bounded from the room.  Seconds later she careened back in, carrying a plush, pink and chartreuse giraffe as tall as she was.  "Here!"  She pushed the bug-eyed ruminant onto Mimi.

"Thank you," Mimi laughed.  "Is he going to keep me company?"

"Ah-huh!" said Anna.

"What's his name?"  

"Jeremy.  Jeremy Giraffe."

"That's a good name."

Michael came to retrieve his daughter.  "Say good night to Mimi," he said.

"Good night, Mee-Mee!" she squealed as her daddy carried her off to bed.  "Mee-Mee!"  A door closed.

She turned on the TV using the remote control.  She flipped around and found that Friday night TV in Bermuda consisted of the same empty programs shown in Toronto.  Most of the stations were North American, including one from Hamilton, Ontario, just west of Toronto, and another from Victoria, British Columbia.  She settled on that station, and was watching an old repeat of one of the Law & Order shows when Michael returned at twenty minutes after eight.

 "Excuse me, Mimi, mind if I check the tropical update?"

"No, here."  She handed him the remote and he clicked to the Weather Channel.  A kindly-looking, grey-haired, bespectacled man whose head seemed too big for his body was standing in front of a satellite image of the North Atlantic.  With his hand he was tracing the motions of a large, white, galactic swirl, which kept repeating its torrid rotation as a technician played the time-lapse film again and again.

"Hurricane Dexter is really picking up steam," the man said. "It has maximum sustained winds of ninety-seven miles per hour and by morning is expected to reach Category Three status."

"Where's Bermuda?" Mimi asked.

"Behind his head," Michael answered.

Cooperatively, the hurricane expert backed across to the left side of the screen and stood over top the Gulf of Mexico.  He was huge next to the map, like a giant in earth-orbit, watching over everything like God.  The man said, "We're keeping a very close eye on Dexter, because if he keeps on his present course at his present speed, he'll pass below Bermuda by mid-week, say, Tuesday or Wednesday, and conceivably could track straight on into  Georgia or the Carolinas."

Bermuda was a tiny blip in the middle of the map, small enough to fit entirely beneath the man's superimposed hand, or within the bleary eye of the storm.

A voice cut in, "Tell us, Harvey, at this point it's still possible that Dexter could veer northward and dissipate in the North Atlantic without ever hitting the continent?"

"That's entirely possible," said Harvey.  "It depends a lot on what the continental systems do over the next few days, and at this point, it's hard to determine that.  We'll just have to wait and see with Dexter.  He could do anything."

The channel switched to other weather news, and Michael clicked back to Mimi's program.

"It’s okay," she said.  "I wasn’t really paying much attention to it.  Tell me more about the hurricane, what it means for us."

Michael turned off the set and raised his eyebrows.  "I don't know.  We might be in for a heck of a storm."

"What about Derek?  What if he still refuses to come off the island?"

"Like I said, I'll go get him, long before the storm comes.  He corrected himself, "If it comes."  He added, "Derek would have to be suicidal to want to stay on that island during an upper category hurricane."

“Michael?”

“Mm?

“He sometimes thinks about jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.”

“He does?”

“He told me.”

Her sofa-seat popped up an inch as Michael sat beside her.  He said, "What's going on with Derek?  Why did he seem so out of sorts this afternoon?"

She sat back, folded her legs and held her ankles.  "My fault."  She frowned.  "I hurt his feelings."  She looked at Michael.  "Promise you won't tell him I told you this?

He nodded.

"He told me he loves me.  Twice."

Michael winced and rubbed his eyes.  "But you don't feel the same way."  He felt strong disappointment for Derek, and for himself. 

"Maybe," she shrugged.  "I don't know.  I can't."  She stopped.  "I'm already involved with somebody."

"I see.  But you care about Derek."

"Sure I do.  A lot."  She tucked her hair behind her ears, one side at a time.  "I didn't mean for what happened to happen.  In fact, I wanted to avoid it, because I could see it coming, I thought.  But then it just happened.  I find Derek very interesting, very kind, usually — he appeals to me.  He's like a friendly but sad dog, or something."  She was looking at Anna's book lying on the floor in front of the television.

"I'm sure he would find that a flattering description."

She laughed, "No, no, don't tell him that either!  It's just—he makes me feel good.  I didn't want him to fall in love with me. I didn't realize he was so vulnerable."  She shook her head.  "I should've known.  I should have kept away."

"Nonsense," replied Michael.  "That would have been sad."

"Why?" she asked.

"Because Derek needed you."

"Me?  Me in particular?  Maybe somebody.”

"Or maybe just you."

She scowled.  

"You should have seen him before you came, sweetheart.  The difference is night and day."

"How?" 

"He's a boy who's taken a few wrong turns, got himself hurt, and now he's afraid of what to do next.  So now he's here, taking a rest from his troubles, getting his bearings.  You've helped him a great deal.  He's starting to open his eyes, both of them."
 
"Maybe he needed someone, but not me.  I think I've made his life worse."

"No.  You've been wonderful for him."
  
"But he's not happy now."

"What about you?  Are you happy?"

"No.  It hurt when he told me to come back here with you tonight.  He probably hates me now."

"He doesn’t.  That’s a fact.  But forget about Derek for a second.  Are you happy, otherwise?"

She squirmed at the personal question, and then dropped her head to her hands.  "I dunno, nothing in Bermuda makes any sense."  She looked up.  "At least for me that is. I didn’t mean to insult your entire country."

Michael smiled.  "Not to worry, no offense taken.  Don't worry about Derek either. He'll get over you, eventually."

She was unsure if his statement had been a gentle scolding or an inept attempt to comfort her.

Michael said, "Now may I confide in you?  You mustn't tell anyone, including Dr. Lyon, that I told you this."  He watched her eyes to see if she'd be surprised she would have to hide something from Adrian.  She didn't seem surprised.  "I'm curious what you think the Admiral's game is.  Why is he so interested in what your group is doing on Tea Kettle Island?"

"Well, he's an amateur historian," said Mimi, "and an amateur archeologist too.  From what I understand, he was keen on having us there.  He has goofy ideas."

“How so?”

“Buried treasure?”

“You’ve heard about that.”

“From Adrian.  He doesn’t believe in it.”

Michael said, "What do you suppose will happen to the course if Adrian gets the job in England?"

"Nothing.  The course will continue as planned.  The job wouldn't start immediately, I'm pretty sure."

"Whose idea was the course?" asked Michael.

“It was actually the Admiral’s.  He talked Adrian into it.  The treasure thing.
Adrian went along with the field course to keep his uncle happy.  His uncle funds a lot of his research.”

“How well do you know the Admiral?”

“Well enough to know he doesn’t like me.  Imagine if his nephew had a child with me.  Brown people aren’t welcome contributors to that gene pool.  They’re good at cleaning your house though.”

Michael laughed.  “I hear you, sister.”

“That's part of the reason I won't stay at his place when Adrian's away.”

"He wanted you to stay at his place?"

"Oh yes.  The students told me he was very angry the first night I didn't go back."

Michael tried to draw a picture for her:  "How does he react when people go against his wishes?"

"He yells, insults them."

"Would you call him vengeful?"

She nodded.  "Vengeful, vindictive, nasty..."

"Do you think he would try to take revenge against you for staying on the island, with Derek?"

Mimi had already thought about this.  She suspected that the attack had been organized by the Admiral but hadn't said anything to Derek, because she was embarrassed about having him suffer because of her personal life, more than he was suffering already.  She also suspected the Admiral knew for certain she'd been sleeping with Derek and would tell his nephew.  This was a problem, and she had yet to devise an excuse.  In a way she almost wanted Adrian to know—to test this relationship.  Maybe, she just realized, I've been trying to end it.  "You think he sent the men who attacked us," she said.  "That's what your secrets with Derek were about."

"It's a good possibility."

"I think you're probably right," she said.  "But don't tell Derek.  I don't want him to hate me."

"He won’t hate you," said Michael.

"Maybe," she said.

"Something else I found out, about the Admiral, and Tea Kettle Island."  He told her more about his visit to the library.  He had asked the librarian, an old family friend whom he referred to as "Auntie Mary," if she could help him research the history of the island.  She found several books, including one about Bermuda's buried treasures that contained an account of the alleged Spanish treasure, long-believed buried very near Castle Harbour, most likely on Cooper's Island.  Michael checked the card at the back and found that the Admiral had borrowed the book twice in the past year.  He mentioned this to Auntie Mary, who told him that the old Admiral had visited the library frequently during the previous few months and had spent entire days in the archives.  Michael took the treasure book to the nearest table, set it on its spine and let it fall open.  Staring up was a passage that suggested, among other places, Tea Kettle Island might be where the legendary booty was buried.

Michael said, in his rarely-used, official Fisheries Warden voice, "Do you know, any treasure found is the property of the Bermudian government?  It belongs to all of the people of Bermuda.  It's our heritage."

His tone caused her to sit up straight.  "We don't expect to find treasure. We’re archeologists, not treasure hunters.  All we expect and hope to find are day-to-day artifacts."

"But let's just say you do find it, what would you do?  What would Dr. Lyon do?  What would the Admiral do?"

Mimi had no answers.  She shrugged.  Michael's questions were disconcerting.  Could Adrian be part of the Admiral's treasure-hunt scheme?  Was he cheating on her, worse than she had been cheating on him?  Unlike her activities with Derek, Adrian's cheating — if that's what it was — was premeditated.  He was using her to help run a sham course, and worse, was using the students to dig for treasure, for his pig-uncle.

"Can we go back early tomorrow?" she asked.  "I want to be there before the students arrive."  She wanted to redouble her efforts and give them all the attention and help possible.  She wanted them to slow down, dig carefully, follow proper archeological procedures.  Then she thought of a way to get back at the Admiral and Adrian.

"I'll do my best.  We'll have to be up by six, so we'd better get to bed early."

"Thank you, Michael," she said.

The radio was sitting on the recharger on the small end-table next to Mimi.  It crackled, then Derek's voice said, "Calling Fisheries Two, Come in, Fisheries Two."

Michael pointed at the radio.  "Go on, get it."

"Fisheries Two, Come in."

Mimi hesitated, then picked it up.

"Go ahead," said Michael.

"I don't know what to say.  I have to think.  Here."  She handed it to Michael, but not before Derek's voice emerged yet again.

"Yoo-hoo, Michael," it said.  She almost dropped it.

Michael pushed the talk button.  "Hello, Derek."

Mimi removed toothbrush and toothpaste from her bag and hurried up the stairs.  She paused one step past the landing, out of Michael's sight, she supposed.

The big man grinned.  He could see her feet from where he sat.  He turned the volume higher.

A muffled snort came from the radio.  "Derek?  'Oo the 'ell is Derek?  This is Reginald.  Bloody 'ell."  Derek was doing his best version of a cockney accent, which wasn't very good.

"I see.  Well, Reg old boy, how are things out on Tea Kettle?"

Derek started, "It's oh," He gave up.  "Just kidding, it's me."

"You seem to be enjoying yourself."

"No, not really.  It's pretty boring."

Michael saw Mimi raise a foot to continue up the stairs, then put it down again.  "I thought you wanted it that way," he said.

"Are you alone?"

"Yes."  Michael spoke a little louder, "Mimi was here, but she's gone upstairs now.  Why?"

"Oh, I don't know."  As consequence of a supper consisting of six Oreo cookies, one can of fruit cocktail and five cans of beer, Derek was speaking loosely.  "I was stupid, you know.  I wish I didn't stay here alone.  It's kind of spooky.  I wish my favorite archeologist was here."  He had his thumb on the button and kept talking.  "I made a mistake, you know," he said.  "I'm such an idiot sometimes.  I get flustered and I say the wrong things.  I think I’ve blown everything."

Certain Mimi had heard, Michael quickly turned down the volume.  He said, more quietly, "Yes, well, there aren't a lot of happy faces around here either."  He hoped his friend had understood, but Derek was on a roll, about to make a withering confession.

“Oh.  What’s wrong?”  He didn’t get it.  Michael heard him release the talk button and cut in.

“Nothing, it's okay Derek."  He changed the topic.  "We'll be by early tomorrow morning."

"For breakfast?"

"Sure," said Michael, watching as Mimi finally continued to the bathroom.

"Okay.  Good."

"Good night, my friend."

"Cheerio, mate," Derek-as-Reginald said.  
           
Michael waited until Mimi returned, and helped her unfold the sofabed.  The mattress was still swathed in the sheets from the night before, and Michael went to fetch her a pillow.  "Good night, Mimi," he said after placing it on the bed.  He tripped on the giraffe.  "Hey," he said.  "This is unusual.  Anna never sleeps without Jeremy."

"That's because Jeremy is sleeping with me tonight."

"I see," said Michael.  He placed Jeremy on one side of the mattress, and then went upstairs.
                       
She clicked off the table lamp and scrunched down into the springs.  She rolled onto her back.  Derek didn't hate her.  That was different.  She wondered what was going through his head, what he thought he had said that was wrong.  She wished he were here with her.  She missed him, his easy-going way and dependable horniness.  It was not just sex.  It wasn’t.  That wasn’t even the best part of it. Maybe tomorrow they could pick up where they had left off, before the arguments.  They could stay very close, like people who cared for each other and have a lot of great sex, but without the sex.  That would be great, because it would prove to him that she didn’t just like him for the sex.  It would prove to him that she deeply cared for him, and after Adrian came back to the island, and then after that when she went away, he could remember her warmly, not hate her.  She wished she could talk this through with Ruby, tell her everything she knew about Derek, but after thinking for a few minutes of how that conversation would go, guessed what Ruby would say, so perhaps it was better she couldn’t.  Ruby would say, “That guy sounds cool.  Keep having sex with him and dump Adrian.”  Ruby hated Adrian.

Her fiancé’s name now felt heavy and confining, like the big backpack she hadn't been able to escape from the first night here, had a lot of explaining to do, this buried treasure business.  He also owed her an apology about the course.  He owed the students an apology too.  She didn't want to think about him anymore.

How crazy it had become.  How could she not think about her future husband?  So she doubted her own doubts about their relationship — and his motives — and remembered the things he'd said to her over the weeks leading up to this trip, about how he would take her to a beautiful island where she could gain experience as both a teacher and researcher, where she could learn how to work a site thoroughly under a tight time constraint, a necessary skill for an archeologist.  He was inconsiderate sometimes, but maybe that was only because he was always thinking ahead.  Perhaps he had been secretive about the job in England, thinking that she would have become excited over the prospect of moving there, and he had been shielding her from false hopes.  As for the treasure, maybe he was just accommodating the Admiral, humoring the old lunatic.  Only a lunatic would believe the myth about buried treasure on Tea Kettle Island. 

Then she surprised herself by saying, "Derek," out loud.  She had thought of having her ankles gripped and wrapped her arms around the long, spongy neck of Jeremy the Giraffe.  He smelled slightly of urine, apparently a bed-wetter.  She thought to herself, sorry Jeremy, you're certainly not my type, and tossed him onto the floor.  He lay ignominiously with legs splayed, gazing up with one oversized eye, obviously wounded.  Mimi rolled away and stared at the mirrored wall.  In the dim light she saw a dark reflection, a troubled woman alone in a sofa bed.

She closed her eyes.  He thinks he loves me, she thought.  Then deep inside a mental door opened and a worry she had locked away charged out.  Adrian had never once looked her in the eyes and said spontaneously, without prompting, the simple English words, "I love you."  She felt a pulse of confusion, almost panic.  Her mind back-peddled furiously as it tried to prevent itself from believing that he had been using her, as a cook, secretary, maid, and lover.  Suddenly she knew without question that she didn't want to see Adrian, not for a while, until she knew what he meant to her.  (She no longer knew what she meant to him.)  She didn't want him to return in three days, because she needed more time to make sense of her feelings.  She thought, It would be very helpful if his flight were canceled or postponed, or if the Bermuda airport were closed—to keep him away a few days longer.

And how could that possibly happen?  She knew the answer.  She imagined the kindly, grey-haired man on the weather channel, up in the sky, above the earth.  She rolled onto her back, and whispered, "Please God, if you're going to send the hurricane this way, please make it soon."


The king-sized mattress listed to starboard as Michael slid beneath the covers next to his wife, an early riser who usually went straight to bed once certain that Anna was asleep.

"And what have we been up to?" she asked, drowsily.

"Putting the moves on Miss Mimi," he said, proudly.

"Izzat so — tell me — how'd it go?"

"Putty in my hands," he said.  "No female is a match for the Mid-Ocean Love God."

Evie reached behind her back, grabbed a roll of flesh at his waistline, and tweaked it.


"Yow!' he yelped.

Continued...

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