I left the pearl farm four Wednesdays ago. Goodbye blood, sweat, and oyster iridescence. The Ahe airport was it’s usual party scene; beers before noon, dancing, giggling. Someone kept yelling “Biden stole the election,” into my American face. I smiled back at their French face with my lips sucked tight to my teeth. It was the day after the capital was raided. The tentacles of politics are far reaching.
The village nurse and her family were onboard my flight. Her daughter points to objects and says the word in French, then I say it in English- soleil / sun, fleur /flower, chat /cat/ meow. I wanted to know the French words for bird, reptile, baboon, but we never got there. Communicating with a child is very pure, until they want something from you. Communicating with all humans is this way actually. To throw them a bone, or not to throw them a bone, that is the question.
We took off and landed on the next atoll over, Manihi. We were there to fill the plane with passengers. That atoll seemed like bliss based only on it’s passengers. The mayor of the Tuamotus was there with his entourage of high-class men and women. Everyone with coolers of fish and pearls threaded into rainbow jewelry and boomboxes and flower leis stacked up to their hairline. The plane, a perfume of Tahitian tiare. Me -head tilted and huffing floral puffs until I am stoned.
Locked and loaded, the plane goes to take off, building speed, runway ending, an alarm beeping, red lights blinking, a loud noise, motion deadening. “Blah, blah, blah, blah,” the pilot says through static and fuzz. The Ahe village nurse turns to me and says, “There is a problem with plane, we have to get off.”
We climb down onto tarmac and everything is melting- the trees, the sky, the afternoon. We wait. And wait. And wait. A child, not even two, climbs into my lap. She can’t talk and neither can I, her parents smoking nearby. Cold beverages are given. I lose an opal somewhere- a white one on top of white pebbles, I crawl but I don’t find it.
After four hours we are told that there will be no plane until tomorrow. We pile into boats and motor across the lagoon to the main village. I was teased with the prospect of a bungalow resort, but am instead escorted to the mayor’s office or town hall where mats are laid out on the floor. We, the people of the plane, are to sleep side-by-side beneath the light of a Christmas tree which is decorated with plastic bottles.
The nurse says, “Follow me.” She takes me to a group of fishermen. She sips beer, she’s on vacation. She doesn’t want to sleep on the floor, neither do I.
We walk around the village made on top of coral. Everyone knows the nurse, so we walk and stop and walk and stop and it’s all very slow. The people of this atoll have to go to Ahe for healing, so the nurse is very famous. She makes new arrangements for us. We end up at the house of a Manihi police woman. When I ask if there is any crime there. She says no. I say, “It’s either the best or most boring place on earth to be a cop.” Another family from the plane is at her house. We watch the sun swim into the ocean. The cop cooks pasta and fish for us. We have a dinner party. I attend to it freshly showered, wearing my red pajama pants and over-sized glow in the dark shirt with constellations all over it. The words “Heavenly Body” written at the bottom. Nobody gets the humor in it. The nurse’s daughter points to my shirt and says “Etoile.” I say, “Oui, etoile, star.”
I sleep in the cop’s bed that night. She wass not next to me and I did not dream but I did have a fight with a flying cockroach in the middle of the night. In the Tuamotus you must worry about cockroaches climbing into your ears and rats stealing your pearls. Leptospirosis is another thing the rats carry along with them and that will kill you quick.
By 5 a.m. we are back on a boat and heading to the airport. The following day, I am all the way back in Little Rock. I am working and writing. I have a return flight for February 9th, but French Polynesia just closed their borders until March 31st and gave the rest of the world three days’ notice.
It’s a pickel really. I need a legitimate reason to return (home, family, work) and paperwork to prove it and written approval. The officials I have spoken to said the boat is not enough and I should hire someone else to move it to a safer location. But nobody really knows. I will try. I will fly. I will land. I will hand them my documents. I have boat paperwork and work paperwork. Then I don’t know what. They might make me turn around. They might quarantine me in a hotel. They might feed me oranges in jail. I know that I don’t really want to be here during this or there during this and I definitely don’t want to get my passport taken but I can’t leave my boat on that mooring and I don’t trust anybody else to move it and deep down all I really want to do is sail to the Marquesas so that I can go horseback riding. Is that enough of a reason to sail somewhere? There’s always a reason behind the reason and it’s a fantasy I have been salivating over.
Meanwhile, I am in Arkansas. Everyone is getting vaccinated and most of me is afraid to. And in other breaking news, a car full of bored kids keeps rolling by my neighborhood and shooting people with paint guns. It’s been happening for weeks. The paintball bandits. The thought of them shakes me every time I walk the dog, more than COVID, more than the rats. Then I wonder, what the world would be like if everyone walked around with parrots on their shoulders instead of dogs on leashes. I like that thought and it’s enough to forget the paintballs.
*And now for a piece of Fiction
It was a Wednesday of all days. Smack dab in the middle. Everything was so sapphire. The sky. The sea. The ships orbiting the seafoam spewing from Poseidon’s lips. Silver fish floppin like flapjacks on cream-colored sand, hives of jellyfish, buckets of crabs, blue and surf. Then at noon o’clock, while I was building my third castle in the sand, there was a long green flash in the sky, then a pop and a boom chitty chang-chang with black smoke and everything. It was like one fat firecracker.
Next thing I knew everybody was running every which aways, all awkward like a baby giraffe looks when it’s trying to use its legs for the first time. When all the giraffes faded like a tan on the sun-blitzed horizon, I ran too. I ran with my heartbeat bu-bumping towards home. Wet sand flying between my toes, sea oats and salt grass and seashells.
Took me twenty minutes to make it to the front porch with its chipped yellow paint. That’s when I saw mama and the Playboy. They were standin’ there with faces as white as the ghost of goblins and I was s-c-a-r-e-d. Scared straight down to the bitty bitty bones. More scared of them than all the other giraffes.
Mama’s dress was pulled all the way up to her ta-tas, disheveled, hair like an old birds’ nest, big black rock in her hands, dark purple bruise on her tummy, the sweat, his palms, the space scattered grains.
“Mama, why does it look like an octopus has been suckin on your belly for seven years straight?” I asked with a head toss. They don’t call me Strawberry for nothin- I’m sweet and sour.
Mamma started fanning herself with the cardboard of an empty frozen pizza box and she was shakin’ like a lizard does when it’s losin’ it’s tail. Then the tears came. Typical. The Playboy was lookin at me and her like he was lookin’ at a puzzle that was missing a bunch of pieces. Also typical. He looks at everything that way. Mama has a thing for weak men that look like Ken dolls. I asked mama once why she keeps the Playboy around and you know what mama said? Mama said, “’Cause he’s an attractive distraction – like a good TV show, Strawberry.” I told Mama that I think TV turns people into fat zombies and she’d be better off being with someone who felt more like a book.
The Playboy is still starin’ at me like a dum-dum. Doesn’t he know that nothin’ ever changes if you stare at it? I look at Mama, “Did he do that to your belly, Mama?” All Mama can do is gulp air and moan and drip water out her eyes.
I look at the Playboy, “Did you do that to my Mama. Were you tryin’ to put a baby inside her or somethin?” I don’t know exactly where babies come from, but I know they grow inside mama’s bellies and mama’s moan a lot when the baby is getting put in there and the whole things got nothin’ to do with a stork as all the giraffes would like me to believe. Babies don’t come from birds, birds come from birds and flowers come from birds. And you know what I thought about the other day? What if earth gets so hot that birds stop migrating? What would happen to all the flowers then? That makes me sad to think about.
Anyhow, The Playboy yelled, “Strawberry this black rock flew through the roof, blazin’ like a fireball and hit your mama. It hit your mama! Outer space is fallin’ down.”
I open the screen door and say to Playboy, “Well if space is fallin, then I hope you get ripped towards the sun and melt like butter in a microwave,” then I let the door slam behind me because the Playboy hates it when I do that.
Inside the house there’s a hole in the ceiling and I can see straight through the roof to heaven. The house is a missity mess – dust and dishes, toys and trinkets, clothes and clouds, all broken. Snow is playing loud on radio. I turn the knob until I find me some Johnny Cash, “I fly a starship across the universe divide.” I love Johnny and if I’m not bare-butted, then I’m in black underwear, just like Johnny.
I pick up the phone. I need someone to save Mama from the Playboy and outer space. The only person I can think of to call is Sheriff Fishman, that’s who Mama calls for everything. One time there was a squirrel stuck on the ceiling fan and that’s who Mama called and you know what Sheriff Fishman did? He turned the fan on and that squirrel held on until it couldn’t, then it flew clear across the house and Mama chased it out with a broom.
Anywho, I get the 9 and a 1 dialed, when the song ends and a woman on the radio starts blabbing about a media-orite landing near Cocoa Beech and she’s all hysterical. I dial the last 1 and it rings and rings and rings and then “911, how can I help you today,” It’s Ms. Tootsie Pop’s voice. Ms. Tootsie Pop is Mama’s best friend and I call her that ‘cause she always gives me candy and I like candy almost as much as I like Johnny. Ms. Tootsie Pop works for the sheriff, but Mama said she doesn’t need to work ‘cause her last husband was 50 years older and filthy rich and when he died he left her the golden keys to everything.
I say, “Ms. Tootsie Pop it’s Strawberry, tell Sheriff Fishman to get out here quick. Outer space is fallin’ like London Bridge is and either mama got pregnant from that media-orite they’re talkin’ about on the radio or from the Playboy. I can’t tell which, but she don’t want that baby ‘cause she’s cryin’ like a tea kettle and she’s got a big bruise on her belly and she don’t look like a songbird no more, she looks like a hot trash sinkhole.” Then I hang up, without even waitin’ for Tootsie Pop to respond with her bajillion trillion questions. I hang up and twirl in circles until the big blue lights of Sheriff Fishman come to save my mama from that baby in her belly.