“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.