I could never get bored underwater. No saltwater landscape looks the same. I swim 100 yards and everything evolves like sky. The light. The coral. The creatures. The seagrass. The sand. The saltwater breaking against it all. Then again, nothing in nature is identical, from every cloud down to each blade of grass. Eyes that see it all alike, aren’t looking close enough.
I’m looking close, I’m looking through the looking glass. I’m down here diving near Musket Cove. Soaked in the tenderness of the scene like a sunken submarine. It’s my first plunge this side of Fiji. A pinnacle dive, with a swim through cave and the promise of an octopus, topped by an anemone-covered peak filled with clown fish bouncing up and down like rubber balls in slow motion.
I’m with bombshell Anna and poker-shark Martin. They’re a hot item. Lollywater Lucy is free diving above us. Sometimes she drops deep enough to glide like a mermaid, upside down, in front of our faces. She scares the everliving out of me when she does.
I’m breathing on a borrowed tank. A boat back in Viani Bay filled mine with their compressor, but the last time I dove the air was off. Tasted burnt, like I was inhaling all the dirt-laden puffs of a smoke-filled pool hall. It was so rotten that I pulled my regulator out of my mouth- lips shaped in an O, exhaling bubbles- and switched over to my octopus. I still couldn’t get the fire off of my tongue, so I didn’t descend past 20 feet. The deeper you go, the dirtier the dirty air will do you.
A few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. To pluck the source of air out of my own mouth. My heart would have been pounding as fast as a rabbit humps and I would have just rushed to the surface, risking everything.
I’m thinking back to all those times I had panic attacks underwater. All those hands I used to have to hold; Vincent in Fakarava, Tina in Paradise, Marina in Viani. I no longer think about what could go wrong under the sea, because I have faith that I can do what I need to do if it does. My head is flying free. I can see all the stripes. I can hear all the songs. I can absorb all the colors.
After diving, we’re all bubbling with wanderlust so we hatch a plan to cruise 100 nautical miles to Kadavu and dive some more. Off we go; Juniper, SeaGlub, and Pandora. Stopping first in Port Denarau to re-provision.
In Denarau, the slips are double slips; two boats in one berth with nothing but a strip of water between them. The marina assigns me one next to a cobalt blue mega-yacht and I don’t want to hit it. People wait on the dock to catch my lines as I do my butterfly turn into it. I dock Juniper all silk and smooth without any ache in my head.
Denarau is popping. I know almost every boat on the dock. I’m seeing people I haven’t seen since September. A woman walks up to me and says in a Missouri accent, “Oh you must be the solo sailor I’ve heard about.” Me, “I guess so.” Her, “Well surely you could have found a girlfriend or guy friend to sail with you.” Me, “I truly tried. I lifted every stone, even asked all the grasshoppers, but for the life of me I couldn’t find a soul to sail with, so here I am, alone.” I’m howling inside. People amuse the hell out of me.
All day long these two little blond-haired girls are running around the dock with nets, fishing jellyfish out of the water and dropping them in a green bucket. They both have New Zealand accents, braids all over their heads, and there must be 4 years between them. One of them says, “Are you laughing at me,” and the other says, “No, of course not, you are my best friend, why would I laugh at you.” I want to shrink in size and reduce the experiences of my mind, just to be their little friend or at the very least something they collect for their bucket and observe with wonder, but I’m not as interesting as a jellyfish.
I do the Denarau hustle. La-di-da. I buy new fenders and line and masking tape. I order anchor chain, again. I get my scuba tank inspected, and when the man smells my air he says, “This is really funky, it’s a miracle you are still alive.”
I eat traditional food that I’ve never heard of with flavors my tongue has never tasted. I catch up with people. I look at the burnt buildings of Baobab. I lose at another night of poker. I wash everything I own in a machine, including my salt-soaked feather pillows, and afterwards they smell more atrocious than the scuba tank- like a thousand wet-haired animals with hot breath, licking my face. I place an order with Farm Boy, a service that delivers the plumpest fruits and veggies to you anywhere on the west side of Fiji.
Juniper is the dirtiest boat on the dock. Her white is as brown as dishwater. Her waterline has grown a green beard. Her deck is stained in rust. Her varnish is a disaster. Her stainless steel is smudged and fogged. So when I see a group of young Fijian men detailing a boat, I hire them to spruce her up. I don’t even ask for a quote. She’s a small boat, it won’t take long… right?
Eight sexy guys are going to town on Juniper with music blasting. Removing rust, removing varnish, polishing the fiberglass, tooth-brushing between the cracks, bleaching the wood. She’s getting prettier and prettier and I’m loving the sight of their muscles amidst the spank of her sparkle. Eight hours later I’m slapped with a bill, by a man named Happy, for $1,100 Fijian dollars. After peeling myself off the concrete, I pay it, but inside I’m still spinning out.
1- Don’t ever let a bunch of hot men distract you.
2-Don’t ever agree to boat work without first getting a quote.
Sailing longer distances and working full time turns me to mush, so I decide to leave Juniper in Denarau. I’m nervous about this because the boat I rescued Ellie from is anchored just outside of port. Rumor has it that the captain has got a burr in his saddle and he wants to do me dirty and he’s crazier than a loon and he could sink my world without blinking.
I tell everybody including the security, that if a long-haired, wild-eyed, tattooed-man gets anywhere near my boat, they best start releasing the hounds.
I pack a bag and hop onto SeaGlub, a 46-foot Hylas that was built in Taiwan, just like Juniper was. It’s the boat that I buddy-boated with up to the Yasawas. I met the captain two months ago in a dream. His face wasn’t clear in the dream, but the feeling was. When I watched him reel in that sailfish on our way to the Yasawas- the fish fighting for an hour, him hopping off the boat to free the fish and fishing line from the rudder- I knew he was the man from the dream. I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. I’ll tell you about the dream another time.
His boat has all the bells and whistles, and it’s got ice, and an inverter, and a T.V., and two heads. It’s a real performance boat too. The first question I ask is, “What’s the fastest way to spill air out of your sails?”
We set sail behind Pandora. There are dolphins and sea birds and sea turtles. The sun is setting and whoever tosses the clouds into the sky has tossed some corn-row close, some galaxy far, some bull-dog fat, some caterpillar long. All layered just like paint peels. The water is the color of dragon fruit and there is the sweet lemonade taste of soursap in my mouth.
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SEA FOAM & BLUE
Everybody knows that lies eventually catch up and eat you like a crab, especially the lies we tell ourselves. And right now, the lies were catching up.
Betty Lou was blue in the face, breathing like an orangutan, and all of a sudden, the 70-foot boat felt no bigger than a banana.
Matias leaned towards Betty Lou, shouting against the wind, “Amorcita, you’re as guilty as I am. If I go down, you go down. Two outlaw lovers on the ocean bound.” The scent of rum fogged the air up like dishwater after he spoke.
The waves were higher than a hot air balloon. Suspended in mid-air, spraying sea and foaming fangs. Somewhere, beneath it all, an oyster was giving birth to a pearl.
Betty Lou’s head was as full as a honeycomb and He, Matias, that He, was the bee in her bonnet. Betty Lou shouted back, “Meow,” and she made sure to smile like the joker and show her teeth after she said it. For the past seven hours this is the only word Betty Lou had spoken.
She wondered how on earth she had ended up out here in his muck. She thought about the day they met. Back in Georgia only 8 months ago. Betty Lou was aspiring to be a chemist, but her parents were dirt poor, so she was making her way through college as a dancer of an unmentionable caliber. Primal in the limelight.
A bombshell with a brain, turning tricks with her tutu for two bits among crowds of drunken sailors and fishermen, and Matias was one of them. Matias was the best thing she’d seen in a long while. He had a foreign accent that she pegged as South American. He dressed like a show pony in clothes that reeked of exotic islandswith skin so sun-kissed that it sang “the skies the limit.”
He had money too, but it was his eyes that sealed the deal, midnight blue and full of juju. It was his eyes that got her skinny dipping in wet dreams and swimming past the truth. He was not like those other men who played too rough in the sea and came in scraggly toothed, stinking to high heaven, with one eye missing, and sandpaper fingers. No, not like those men at all.
When he walked up to her and said, “Mi sirena, I must know every inch of you.” It melted the clothes off her body like a block of ice beneath the summer sun. An hour later she was handcuffed to his queen size V-berth and the romp was good enough and wild enough to put a baby in her belly.
His sailboat had more cabins, and bells and whistles than a mansion, including a piano and a hot-red heart-shaped bath tub. Betty Lou never thought to ask where his money came from, because she didn’t care as long as it was there. Nor had she thought to look beneath the floorboards and see what was lurking down deep in his bilge. But now that she had seen it, she couldn’t unsee it.
She rubbed her belly that was rounder than a lollipop, wishing that a wave would wash her overboard and take her into the torpedo of an undertow.
When Matias invited her to cross an ocean and shower her in all the gold wonders of the world, it had been easy for Betty Lou to say yes. To give it all up. She was so over the only fried chickin’ lickin’ town she’d ever known. Plus all the women she knew grew up to be fat hippos and she didn’t want to be one of them. Plus if she had to shop one more time at the Five and Dime with mean Mrs. Flat-Frog-Face judging her up and down for the way she made a living, she might shoot herself or somebody else.
Betty Lou’s thoughts snapped when a flying fish flew out of the sea and flapped it’s cold wet wings straight across her face. The flying fish reminded her of her mama. She could hear her mama yelling at her now, “I done told ya to never trust a man who didn’t own a pair of boots! And what did I tell ya time and time again about real love? Real love won’t ever waltz in lookin’ the way ya think it should.”
Why did Betty Lou look beneath the floorboards? Why? She was such a sucker.
Betty Lou thought about her options. She could throw Matias overboard, but she didn’t know how to sail the banana, then again neither did he really. She could throw herself overboard, but she didn’t have the guts to drown the baby. She could press the emergency button on the EPIRB. It would send a signal to every passing plane and ship, eventually somebody would come to rescue them, and eventually they would look under the floorboards and discover what she had discovered.
Betty Lou would be standing there looking like Bonnie to Clyde, and she’d tell the people the whole sob story of how she was just a girl who was tricked into bed with this devil. She’d tell them how she lied to herself, make-believing that he was “the real one.” She’d tell them that she had nothing to do with all the drugs and deaths, but who would believe her, a pregnant stripper from a one-horse town. Meow. Meow. Meow.