Ghosts

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“I saw a ghost,” he said, just before his pal called him over to the bar. Lets call him Bill. “Excuse me, I usually buy the drinks and this time they’re coming back my way.” Returns with a shot of anise-tasting liquor and another beer to partner with his other, dripping beer.

He has a gigantic something, a scab? on his forehead which makes us polite, prudish canadians have trouble looking him straight on as we sip our sodas. He, completely unabashed and in fact, slightly insane seeming, is picking at it as he talks.

“The northeast tip of the island is one tip of the Bermuda triangle, you know?” That explains something, James and I both thought, looking at each other.

He needs to show us on a map. The man who bought him the drinks sits down with a beer in each hand, and Bill’s dog starts freaking out, nibbling at his tail and ears and anything around, then jets out across the road spastically, nearly getting hit by passing cars. Bill chuckles ominously.

“I don’t worry about that one, he’s already died a few times- seen him get completely run over by a car and stood up just fine ok!” Snorts. “Same with this guy-” tipping his drink at his buddy- lets call him Jack- “he’s already died 9 times.”
Jack shrugs. “I don’t mind,” his big, blue eyes and toothy grin all earnesty and long years of hard work. Jack (no names were given), gets up and runs across to the grocery store to get one of those tourist maps of Vieques. I think I’ve seen him walking the town, near sunset, leading two small, modest-looking cows on a rope.

“Anyways, I used to work up there,” Bill goes on, “was building a house. This little old man Charlie lived next door in a tin shack. Every morning at the crack of dawn I saw him, in his patchy ole straw sombrero, walkin slow down to the beach, gettin in his little wooden row boat to go out fishing for the day. He had never married, you see, and had been born in that very spot, fishing first with his father when he was young, then on his own for the rest of his life. Every day, same path, same sombrero, out to sea and back at dark, slow, up the path to the tin shack. Always smiling, every day, up and back. At 93 he died. We were all sad to hear it, guy like him. Sort of a clock, a constant, you know. This was a few years ago. My buddy was hauling cement on the other side of the property, I was waiting for him up the hill, when I got a real cold feeling. Freezing cold in the Viequan summer! And I saw it: Charlies old sombrero, floating down the hill to the beach, real slow. A minute later my buddy came running up. Did you see that, he said, freakin. He had seen the ole sombrero bobbin down to the sea from the other side too.”
Just then Bill’s scabby thing, maybe a cancerous mole?, fell off, and his dog jumped to eat it. My jaw dropped, I didn’t know whether to laugh or vomit. I looked away. I think James and I both realized we were sitting with 3 ghost-zombies at that moment, and the creeping anxiety flashed into panic to get away.

“My flower fell off!” he said, casually. “Its a homeopathic treatment, its healing my sunsore.” Sure enough, he had a huge sore on his forehead where what turned out to be the purple-black flower had been scrunched up. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a small pink flower, sticking it carefully on his forehead. Jack returned with the map, and Bill stood up to rest his hand on my shoulder, gesturing towards the map till he found the bermuda triangle tip of the island, where he sees Charlie still plodding slowly to the sea every day to fish.

Later James told me that Bill was ex-army, like so many on this island. These broken men, drinking away their nightmares on this shifty tropical island, hungry ghosts and zombie children of the endless empire wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan.

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Vietnam

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On Red beach, a man walks over to me watching the sea from the shade, noticing the little white crabs with funny eyes above their head run about. He is Louis. He holds a beer, and walks slowly.

“Can’t be too fast, got gout,” he explains smilingly.

We begin small-talk, except it isn’t very small. He is sick, he says, drinks too much. A widow, he explains, tears in his eyes, he lives alone with a dog and cat.

“Thats not alone,” I say, to be reassuring. I like him. “From here?” I raise my eyebrows.

Yes, Viequan, not Puerto Rican. Been here all his life, except for when he was in Vietnam, Goa and Cambodia fighting in the useless war. “I had to choose- faraway swamps, or 5 years in jail here.” Wet eyes, again, but always a somewhat smile, he’s trying, showing he’s friendly.

“They made me kill people I didn’t know.” Pause.
“I live alone. I can’t drive- my driveway is filled with cars I can’t use. ‘Cause I’m crazy. Loco. You know ‘loco’?”
“Crazy.” I laugh, “I know loco.”
“You know Obama?” he asks.
Hahah. “I know him.”
“He pays me, 4 cheques a month. But I have nightmares.”
“Its understandable,” I say, again, try to be reassuring.
“You want a beer or coke or something? I’ve got lots.”
“Yes, gracias! Muchas gracias!”
As he walks by, he stops. “Don’t tell your boyfriend I said this, but you are a sweetie,” looking me up and down politely-ish. He wanders back to his crew, a large group, family looking, people of all ages.
While he’s gone I look out again at the ocean, watching a group of very young children running into the waves again and again, giggling. Trying to think, what gives this guy joy?
He returns and hands me a beer, saying he’s got lots if I want more. And he anwers my unspoken question, gazing towards the playing kids.
“Children make me happy. Babies. I have 4 grandchildren.”
He doesn’t finish his beer with me, but says he must return to his crew. Mucho gusto, Louis.

Vieques

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day 1, vieques. the first time woken in the night, horses banging on pots and huffing. second time, light filling the sky and boom boom like never before the thunder of the caribean. james was more scared than me. actually, he says, “i wasn’t scared about thunder, i was scared about dengue.” we are alone here, with some beer and instant rice and lots of loose-leaf tea (and the sneaky mosquitos). and the wind. this doesn’t have to be anything important, thats what i like about it. just writing. define “doing nothing”, i said. james worries about doing nothing. i typically would too. but there are so many books along the top of the wall, and this little typewriter, and even a boggle set.
you can go up on the roof, where the water catcher is. seems like a good spot to do yoga if i wasn’t so white that the sun would take advantage of me there.
we have no power, so headlamps were a good idea. the candles were romantic, sticking to the sheets with sweat not as much. cuddling must be a cooler climate thing. think, bears. you get used to the cockroaches quickly.
so much wind.

A new day. day 2.
A new day. Or is it? Tucked into the bedsheets, the dawn and our discarded fears. Rising, ducking out from under the mosquito net, they stick to us, as a second skin- though, the first that meets the world. What kind of questions should we be asking ourselves? As if questions could heal; as if healing could free us and loosen the dead skin, the fear-suit we wear most days. His arm is a battlefield of bites, and they hit the nerve. He is awake and crying on the front porch, watching the Caribean sea miserably afraid of the diseases everywhere spread by mosquitos. His delicious blood. I wake and shake my arms to the sky, mimicking the wind. I don’t have as many reasons for my fear, it just rumbles in my belly like a tropical thunderstorm, shaking the windows and causing the children to hide in their beds. You could say fear is endemic to him, to us. What about the old happy days? Not that I wasn’t anxious before, or that he didn’t live in fear, but that it was never holding the reins like today.

day 5.
so i am trying not to fear the sun. trying not to fear everything. day 5 and tired of rice and beans. tired of walking into town everyday, down the hot hill with all the horse shit, and still the nice strangers, friends of the mountain, pick us up or don’t pick us up. its the lizards who rustle the banana trea leaves and the roadside bushes. its the heat that makes us bicker, or its the bickering that makes us hot. Either way, here we are. On a strange island feeling best with the yerba mate morning brew. And how hand-washing our sweaty clothes and my shirt (shat on by a white bird) felt good. Ward off insanity by doing chores.

day 7.
Last night we walked into town, had dinner and watched a free play in the town plaza. So many people were there! Families, all dressed up (you should see the heels in Puerto Rico- even on 6 year olds!)- old folks, toddlers, teens with skateboards, young’uns happily scooting around on their little scooters, flirting (or I imagine them flirting- dressing up, telling their friends- I hope Jorge is there tonight!) and the pre-teen girls on parade, way too high-heels, long skinny legs and short shorts, circling the plaza, their hair done, imagining they are mature (they aren’t). The older men pay them no attention (thank god). 2 fat police men come to lurk with their batons out; telling kids to get down off benches and shit like that. Meanwhile, the toga’d actors come out and speak in a language we can’t understand (probably the only two there who couldn’t) and the young men ride around and around on horses (with uncomfortable faces- their balls must be getting hammered) and the drug dealers with their loud, du, da-du-dah, du, da-du-dah beats, wasted, cruising ominously, exerting their power over the plaza and everyone in it.

day 9.
I think that lizards remember being dinosaurs. And long for their former power. Smugly gnawing on cockroach heads, leaping to catch mosquitos, they refuse to watch the sky for bird predators. Insulting, that other former dinosaurs, the ones they used to make a game (strangely akin to basketball come to think of it) of catching and tossing, and ultimately eating the wings of like chips and blood salsa- would be a threat to them now. This little brown lizard here, with the lightning streak down its back, watches me carefully. Or I watch him carefully. We have a tenuous relationship, though I respect him and recognize our complimentary goals- we cannot communicate. Finally I realize that more than wanting to become my “friend”, he came over the my stool, eying my little toes because the mosquitos were swarming my ankles and he was hungry and strategic. Leaping little ally.

day 10.
I wonder what the ants think as their morcel is swept away. What is a broom to an ant? Those tiny ants and their gigantic treat, moving under heavy bristles and- wheooosh- out the door. Maybe they feel like a family as their home is blown away in a hurricane? But its different than that.

Peppo, the handyman, sat on the porch (the one not blown away with hurricane irene) with us for many hours. He says, hurricanes are not only bad. They are nature’s spring cleaning. They clear out the stagnant water, pests and diseases that would otherwise sit and multiply. The heat and sun, all year, need hurricanes. The people need huriccanes, in a way.

Some day.
I want to be a swallow. Have you ever seen a more ecstatic creature? Swooping, swirling, you can imagine them giddy, feeling the wind on their face, little mouths open to easily catch their dinner. And how suave, how graceful they are in their ecstacy! Like a gentleman, or gentlewoman, dressed impeccably in white with a black velvet cape. They move like flamenco dancers, the sky their ballroom. The sky giving them everything they need- wind, food, grace. I want to be a swallow.

day 11.
Later, walk to Mambo’s to get canned corn and beans so to have at least some form of vegetable. Its around 4 oclock, and how sweet that time can feel. A few hours before sunset…. everything wants to be purple or silver-gold, and my heart just felt open and glowing from my chest. Down, down the mountain road, curving, hello beautiful horse you have nothing to fear. Hello beautiful flowers, wow, swirling pink and folding my eye into the ever spinning center; then the dangling yellow bliss balls. I actually got so distracted by the magenta flowering bush that I went the wrong way, happily continuing the way the bush directed me. Oh the artist in me, the dreamer, the happy hippy. Thats one thing about this trip- I’ve got my laughter back.

day 12.
This is a moment of historical importance: let it be known that on October 12th, 7 moons were seen in the sky above the Ecological Reserve on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. They varied in translucence and position in the sky. But let it be known that it was spectacular. In fact, the more we moved our heads around, the more or less moons there would be. Amazing. When we first saw the second moon, we reflected how maybe in our lifetimes we would be old people on another planet with 2 moons. James piped in that in fact, Mars has two moons and earlier that day he’d felt excited about the possibility of living there one day.

Dreams now seem like grand recyclers, bits and morcels from days gone by (people, places, things) all floating around, flotsam-like, propelled up and sinking down, like in a lava lamp. And somewhere there is a weaver, a spider perhaps, sitting at the top and choosing bits from the flotsam to weave into a dream tapestry for that night. So your ex-boss is at your childhood home and needs you to interview Jude Law who apparently secretely has a bipolar son- “for the movement”. And in the morning you wake, your dream weave stuck in your hair, your eyes foggy and barely remembering. A black horse? Where was I? Why was that woman so angry?