Friday, December 18, 2009
Fisher staggered out of the unfamiliar bed and tried to figure out where he was. A horn was blasting from somewhere. Christ, what the hell? He pushed away the curtains, opened the glass door and shielded his eyes from the glare of the tropical sun.
“The Bahamas. That's right,” he mumbled staring from the hotel balcony out at the island's busy harbor. It was all coming back to him; the presiding official, the ceremony... He lifted his hands and stared at his fingers, wondering what in hell had he done. He fidgeted with the unfamiliar jewelry.
“If it's bugging you so much, take the ring off,” said a voice from behind.
“It's not bugging me.”
“Like it's a pair of handcuffs.”
“You could always pierce your nose, put the ring in, and I could lead you on a rope.” she said, and laughed like a schoolgirl as he chased her back into the bedroom.
They found a secluded cove, undressed and spent the day swimming and sunning. As she lay in his arms twirling her fingers through the hair on his chest, Jo reminded Fisher that in all their months in Florida they had never once gone to a beach.
“Because you work too hard.” said Fisher.
“Like you'd ever go to the beach.”
“What do you mean? I love the beach. That's why they call me 'Fish'.”
They were late for dinner. Many of the other couples were already out on the parquet floor dancing to the music of the steel drum band. When Jo caught Fisher frowning at a particularly amorous pair, she asked “Is it that bad?”
He stammered “Not, not, not at all.”
“It's only a piece of paper. We can always burn it.”
“That's not it. It's just...”
“...you'd never thought it was for you. The house, the picket fence, the every day normal train.”
“Well...” He said staring at the bubbles rising in his champagne flute.
When he looked up he saw Jo's eyes were clenched shut. “Jo! Are you all right?”
“I'm fine. I should have worn a hat on the beach.”
“Do you want to go back to the room?
“No, I'm fine. Let's dance.”
“Are you sure you're...”
“Yes. Come.” Jo held out her hand and Fisher followed her onto the floor. Her body felt damp with sweat, but she smiled and held him tight, putting her head on his shoulder. Fisher could smell the sea in her hair. And as the beat of the steel drums picked up Jo shrugged off her malaise and swiveled her hips. Fisher was right there with her. She found that Fisher was surprisingly light on his feet. He spun her away and twirled her back.
“I didn't know you could dance.”
“When the wind is blowing in the right direction,” he said. Jo laughed and stood on her tip-toes to kiss him. They danced every dance, the fast, the slow, they even joined the obligatory Limbo line, tying for second place in the “how low can you go?” contest. A soft Atlantic breeze jostled the colored lanterns, and the steel drum beat slowed to a last waltz.
Jo and Fisher looked around the empty dance floor. They were the only couple left. “Where did everyone go?”
“To bed,” Jo said. “That's what honeymooners do.”
They explored each other's bodies as if it was the first time. Her breasts seemed larger to him, but she cried out when he squeezed them.
“I'm sorry,” Fisher said.
“They're just a little tender from the sun” she said.
He kissed them softly and gently. They made long, slow, love, and when they were finished and he started to slip outside her, she whispered “Don't, darling. Wait.” He stayed inside her until Jo fell asleep murmuring “I love you.”
Fisher lay awake listening to the waves hit the shore and thinking about the "sanctity" of marriage. His parents' brutal life sentence together was hardly a heavenly model. He remembered hiding under the bed with his hands over his ears while they screamed at each other until the neighbors called the police. “Biggest mistake of my life”, his father told him one night when he was stone sober. “Biggest fucking mistake of me life.” But his parents had never killed anyone.
Fisher slept late and woke to find room service breakfast and Jo waiting. She noticed his odd expression.
“You all right?”
“I'm fine,” he said. “You?”
“Tip-top.” She kissed him and handed him a cup of coffee.
They ate on the terrace and watched the boats heading out to sea.
“There's a boat... 'The High Water'. I think I've seen it at the Manatee marina,” said Fisher.
“What's so funny?”
“You. Talking about anything nautical.”
“You told me you'd never been at sea in your life.”
“Hey, you don't know. Maybe I'll get a boat someday,” Fisher said.
“What would you call it?”
“The Normal Life.”
They were getting ready to go to the beach when Jo said she didn't feel well. Something she ate disagreed with her and she started vomiting. Fisher picke up the phone to call the hotel doctor but Jo told him not to bother. She just wanted him to sit with her. "A little nap, and I'll be fine,” she said. As she fell asleep she mumbled that he should “Go have some fun.” He sat by her side for an hour watching her sleep. His legs were stiff and he decided to go for a walk. "Have some fun", eh? What did you do as one half of a couple in a place built for twos? He circled the pool twice, watched a group of honeymooners climbing aboard a catamaran before he drifted into the perpetual dusk of the hotel casino.
He told himself he was “just watching”, he had no intention of playing. He never liked casinos, anyway. There was no sense of sport here, you couldn't size up a roulette wheel like you could a thoroughbred at the paddock. But when a roar went up from the fifty dollar minimun craps table Fisher bought chips for five hundred and found a spot next to a man whose glasses were askew over his face.
"What's the point?" Fisher asked the man.
"When in Rome," said Fisher betting fifty dollars each on the six and the eight and hedging his bet tossing a ten dollar chip on the two. The hot shooter was blowing on the dice, shaking them in both hands like a cocktail. C'mon, buddy. Let it roll.
In less than twenty minutes Fisher had lost half his stake. The table was cold as death. Time for a smart man to walk away. “Fifty on the eight and six,” Fisher called tossing the chips for the dealer to put in play.
Fisher sat alone at the bar letting the Bahamian rum soothe the beating. Easy come, easy go. Have some fun. Sure thing. The bartender gave him change for the single fifty dollar chip Fisher had left from the five hundred. Fisher stared at the twenty thinking about a story Jo told him back in Rosehill.
When she was a girl, Jo said, her father would leave her all day at the shore while he played cards. She was a natural swimmer and competed with the other beach kids, body surfing and seeing who could stay under water the longest. An older girl bet her twenty dollars she could hold her breath longer. Determined to win, Jo decided she would stay under until she had counted to one-hundred. She planted her self, sitting underneath the surf, counting in her head. “One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three...
At fifty, she felt light headed, but she could see the other girl was still there holding her breath beneath the waves. At seventy-five, Jo bit on her lip to fight off the pain in her air-starved lungs, at eighty-five she thought she saw dolphins dancing on the other girl's head, at ninety she blacked out. When she came to on the beach, she tasted blood from where she had bitten through her lip, a worried crowd had gathered around her, she could hear the siren of an ambulance from up on the boardwalk, and in her hands...
Fisher called his hotel room on the house phone but there was no answer. Huh. Still asleep? He walked along the docks. Evening was falling, and the sound of laughter mixed with the clink of cocktail glasses from the decks of the moored yachts. A small fishing boat eased between the bigger boats, its nets filled with flying fish fighting to free themselves. A face from the helm of a cabin cruiser watched Fisher as he passed by. But Fisher had turned his back to the dock to look up at the hotel hoping to see the light on in his bedroom. He was surprised to see Jo out on the terrace.
He waved to Jo, but she didn't see him. She seemed to be looking at something behind him. Fisher turned back and saw only the line of bobbing boats; the face at the helm of the “High Water” had stepped back into the shadows.
Jo thought she felt well enough to join him at dinner, but she barely made it through the appetizers before she needed to go back to their room. And when she woke up in the night again vomiting, Fisher rushed her to the island hospital.
The facility was small and pristine. Fisher could see his reflection in the floors as he criss-crossed the waiting room talking to himself. “She going to be fine. A stomach flu, that's all it probably is, she's going to be fine. Please God, please.” A hand tapped Fisher on the shoulder. He looked up into the calm face of the doctor.
“Are you the husband?”
“Yes,” said Fisher, fiddling with his ring. “How is she?”
A broad smile creased the doctor's face, his teeth gleaming like the
floors. “Congratulations. Your wife is pregnant.”
“I didn't know what you'd think.”
“How long have you known?”
“I didn't for sure. I thought...”
“You should have told me.”
“I didn't know what you'd think,” she said for the second time.
“I don't know what I think.” He ran his hand through his hair. Pregnant? Pregnant! "I think I think it's great."
"Oh, Fish." She reached up and kissed him. "It's going to be fine. I swear."
While Jo dressed, Fisher stood by the window looking out at a group of boys playing cricket on a field across the street from the hospital. Daddy Fish? What were the odds of that?
“Funny,” Jo said buttoning her blouse.
“Find out about the baby in Nassau Hospital.”
“That's where I was, Nassau County Hospital, that's where I was when they told me Jack was...”
“Don't think about it.”
“No, Fish, I wasn't thinking... I was thinking, I don't know, thinking about the balance. We took a life and now we can give one back. Do you... do you know what I mean?”
“No.” He didn't want to think about it, he refused to think that there was any connection, that this baby would be stained with their sin. “They have nothing to do with each other. Nothing.”