Oasis

Romantic Couple at Sunset

Leep got himself a ferocious sunburn on his very first day at the resort, and subsequently had to wear thick lashings of sunscreen, a hat, and cover both his arms and legs to protect himself, even when he sought refuge in the shade under a tree or umbrella or beach canopy.

He regularly submerged himself in tub of cold water until his steaming skin warmed it to soup temperature, and took two extra-strength Advil every four hours as directed, to deal with the stinging pain of the burn. He lay in darkened rooms until the buoyant nausea subsided.

He watched the swimmers and boaters and fishers and wind-sailors with wistfulness and regret, even though he couldn’t swim and wouldn’t dream of paying $185 to frighten himself by wind sailing. And so he became an observer of others on vacation, not a vacationer himself.

There was the self-conscious newlywed couple, desperate to make romantic memories but curiously awkward and restrained; Felipe the activities director whose bright encouraging expressions dropped from his face in seconds when he turned his head away from the giddy group learning to line dance or build leis or use flippers. There was Alejandra, lean and muscular, who patrolled the pools and cafes and restaurants in a navy staff bikini and black pareo; the blonde sisters who took pains to befriend the staff and ignore the advances of other guests; the quiet man and woman who spent long days in the sun in silence and stillness, growing black; and the young family whose children were more dignified and well-mannered than their parents.

And Leep, anonymous in a wide rimmed straw hat, behind dark sunglasses, in long sleeves and grey cotton trousers that covered him to his ankles, distant and unapproachable.

Then, one day, he fell in love. He didn’t kid himself: love among the palms was a fantasy of Leep’s, at least it was since he researched and booked his ten days at a lushly landscaped all-inclusive tropical resort. There were photos online of couples laughing together in an azure pool, sipping exotic drinks in candlelit dining rooms, silhouetted by orange skies as they strolled hand in hand at twilight. He understood, of course he did, that these were marketing ploys, alluring and fantastical and unreal, but he fell under their spell nonetheless. The silhouette of the man could be Leep, why not? The woman could be a blonde sister, or Alejandra in a black pareo, or someone seated next to him at the fish and chip lunch, or someone he encountered not far from the resort, while sitting on a stool in deep cool shade, sipping Dos Equis and watching the beach vendors hawking their silver and leather.

Yes, there.

She was tall and too thin and wore a gauzy embroidered top cinched by a leather belt over jeans so faded as to be almost white in colour. Her leather sandals had loops that surrounded her big toes. She was dark, naturally, since she lived in constant sunshine, and her voice, though soft, betrayed too many years of smoking cigarettes.

“I quit in 1990,” she told Leep. “Cold turkey.” She spoke in short bursts like that, which Leep liked since they made his halting manner of speech seem almost normal.

“Another beer, Leep?” She took his empty glass and smiled at him with slightly raised eyebrows.

He’d already had his usual limit, two, but he smiled back, shrugged and nodded, and Lacey laughed and pulled another frosted green bottle from the little refrigerator with the glass doors.

Reggie was at the far end of the bar as he was every day, setting himself apart because the fragrant smoke from his pipe did not please everyone. He sat with his back to the beach, facing the tiny bar and the banyan tree behind that and the modest whitewashed hotel behind that. Soon Camille would roll out of bed and appear in her rumpled sundress and open weave cardigan sweater, ordering an orange juice, then and orange juice with vodka, then a vodka straight up.

Tourists strolling the beach might spot the small, shady, set-back oasis, but Leep knew it looked like a black hole from the sand, appealing only to someone like Leep, sweating under his hat and his shirt and with an eye for the black holes of the world.

Sometimes the curious would appear anyway, and perhaps have a drink with pineapple juice or slices of papaya which Lacey served up with a flourish, before setting off into the real world again. Reggie and Camille and Leep would fall silent for a while, as Lacey bantered with the fresh faces, and when they finally left Camille might pick up the story of her ex husband where she’d left off, or Leep would ask Lacey another question about her travels, or Reggie might say, “When did shoulder pads come back in style?”

Leep and Lacey, Reggie and Camille. They were a group. A gang. A comfortable clique. A casual club. An exclusive society of dark sitters, nectar sippers, easy idlers. Leep had never been a member of a group that welcomed him by choice, not ever. Among these people, Leep was a swaddled stranger, a mysterious man of few words, a kindred soul, a fellow traveller. He had never been happier in his life.

In the evenings, before bed, as he lingered in the tub of cold water he would dream about calling Mr Duffy and quitting his job, taking an inexpensive room at the whitewashed hotel, banging out his stories on a typewriter, sipping beer and sharing experiences with his group, his club. His friends. His woman.

Why not?

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Like a Tourist

Prompt: Shipwrecked


Dear Wednesday,

It’s cartoon day and a chance to dip in to the many desert island cartoons, which seem to be a staple of cartoonists everywhere. Why, I wonder? I feel the urge to overanalyze creeping over me…

Don’t we all harbour a secret wish to start fresh? With none of the trappings, baggage, burdens of our daily lives? Maybe retreat somewhere isolated, simple, free from the roar of social media and day to day noise and distractions? Of course we don’t get to be shipwrecked with all our favourite books and cocktail ingredients, but… details, details.

Yet the desert island dwellers in cartoon land, for all they’ve been released from the worldly grind, keep reverting to the familiar, the comfortable, the normal, no matter how nonsensical.

So there’s the conundrum, the dilemma, the perplexity: We want the new, the adventure, the do-over but also crave the familiar and the predictable.

People are dumbasses.

cartoon island network

cartoon island tourist

cartoon island camera


I have to admit the islands do look peaceful. And warm.

Love and peace,

~~FP

Roman Summer

Prompt: Tourist
This is another excerpt from my Nanowrimo novel about twin sisters Isabella and Catrina.

sidewalk-cafe-piazza-navona-rome3

It was as if a spotlight suddenly shone on Bella. She brightened, straightened up in her chair and I knew Santino was approaching. I put my cigarette out in the ashtray on the table and brushed damp hair away from my forehead. This was the first time I was meeting him outside the environs of his workplace, the hotel bar. I was cool. I would be cool.

“Bella,” he said, in a fine deep voice, just like a man. He seemed a man to me, though he was not any taller than Bella, rather thin, and was so close-shaven that he looked like he was too young to have started a beard. He wore his dark, not entirely clean hair in a pony tail tied at the base of his neck. He leaned over and brushed her cheeks with his lips, European style, then turned to me.

I stood up and he took my shoulders, and we exchanged air kisses on each cheek. He smelled strongly of cologne, something very citrus, very forest, and made a tiny grunting sound when he kissed. I wondered if I had tobacco breath.

He sat in the wrought iron chair next to Bella, and I saw her seek out his hand. That was bold of her I, thought. I think she did it for my benefit, to prove she was brave and their relationship was powerful. He grinned at me. He had perfect, perfectly white teeth.

I had only seen him in the muted light of the mirrored bar, when Mama and Bella and I had our pre- or after-dinner glass of wine. I saw that Santino had downy hair on his arms that caught the light. He wore a short-sleeved white shirt, like the one he wore while bartending, minus the black vest, and a pair of rather tight jeans.

Bella had burgundy-coloured fingernails; we both did, having painted them that morning. We tended, naturally, to embrace the fact that we looked alike. We harboured the idea that we could substitute each other out, at any time (this was called The Game), and no one would necessarily be the wiser. I had a sudden longing to swap with Bella right now, to be the one sitting close to a man, holding hands in a cafe in Rome, his thumb rubbing my palm, his knee nudging mine. I longed for this even though I found him rather repulsive and fearsome… all the hair, the pores, what lay between his legs, so foreign.

I wanted to be the one to stand up with him, blow a kiss to my sister still in her wrought iron chair, with her coffee on the yellow tablecloth, and steal away with Santino to his parents’ house, where he lived, and where he brought Bella after his parents returned to their jobs after the long break for lunch. I would be there instead of Bella, lying on the couch with him watching Italian television, lazily wrapped around each other. I would hear him whisper in my ear about how beautiful I was, how much he wanted me, how I made him crazy. I would feel all the flushes, all the tingles, my flesh would move by itself when he touched it. I would feel his fingers on my scalp, as he buried his face in my hair, whispering now, and his had running down my shoulder, down my arm, and around my waist.

He often whispered in Italian, and Bella had no idea what he said. “He could be saying, oh, you are such a boiled egg,” Bella said. “I’ll secretly learn Italian and see what he is really saying.”

“How could you love someone that calls you an egg?”

“He has other good qualities,” Bella told me.

We were about to turn sixteen, and I had only been kissed in the basement of Jimmy Russell’s basement, when I was eleven , and there was no love. Jimmy was fifteen and I suspect he wanted to practice his kissing skills for more worthy prey.

I didn’t know what it felt like to get down and dirty. I wanted to know. I hatched a tiny little plan.

First, I ran it by Bella, sort of.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” I said to her that night as we dipped kleenex into nail polish remover and made the burgundy polish disappear. “If we played The Game with Santino?”

Bella burst out laughing and, unfortunately, she didn’t take me seriously.