He rolled over onto a pillow of sand, warmed by the late morning sun. His eyes squinting closed, he let the young days heat tickle his cheeks and forehead. His back stretched out catlike and a deep sigh of empty simplicity laughed across his shoulders. The little things. Why the little things? Everything was somewhere and somehow constructed of them and though blind to details his world walked upon them, waded into them, sipped them and forgot them in suicidal irony. The little things where unseen; unimportant, intimidating reminders of our finite littleness.
He understood this as the grains of sand tickled his nostrils smelling of the sea and unfathomable infinity. He rolled onto his back and harvested one grain of dark silvery sand onto the little finger of his rough left hand, swollen from pulling in the wet and salty nets all week.
He held the tiny grain of stone with great care in front of his nose, lining it up with the gentle morning sunlight, bringing it close enough to fill the center of the suns heart with its irregular shape. He blinked it into focus, his eyes refusing at first, then its insignificance swelled to occupy the center of the solar system. A planet for microscopic beings, his hand godlike holding it in rotation after its million year journey from the peak of a mountain to the bottom of the sea to be shattered and washed onto the shore, and found to illustrate the simple teardrop of a though that would change his universe in subtle ways.
The rising tide sent the waves frothing lips to kiss his soar brown feet and he giggled and let the grain of sand drop back into infinity on the beach. He sat and looked up and down the coast. To the south an expanse of pale white dunes shifted in the warm wind, sending a hovering cloud of grey to meet the oceans spray. The light played in
the salty air and flickered golden shadows in galloping ripples though the darkened sand at waterside. The waves were tame breaking regularly with a friendly cadence upon the silken shore.
He turned his burnt neck in the rising heat and ran a hand through his dark oily hair. The salt and wind teased it into unbridled curls and the unrelenting sun stained it into a hazy blond at the ends. To the north the coast was angered by the protruding jaws of breakwater cliffs. The waves raged around the sharp rocks in frothy lashing whips. Dark shades of mist rose from the irritated sea and coughed in great spewing laughter an all pervasive odor of kelp and the decaying ocean’s bowls. To the east lay the open sea. The thunder heads could already be seen rolling in malignant hordes. The occasional explosions of pale lightning illuminate the tiny fleet of ships racing before the open mouth of the mother storm. The boats seemed absurdly vulnerable on the darkening horizon.
The small things. His brother was but a small thing, more than a mile off shore and within the leaping grasp of the dark sea-born monster at his tail. His life was but a small thing to be lifted and crushed under the musings of angry water. He knew this to be true as did all those of the village. Their lives were small things, tossed to and froe by the infinite.
He felt a weighty panic splash around like a wild fish in death throes tearing at his stomach, it’s fins like muscle shells lacerating his entrails as he watched the storm engulf the small ships with a daunting quickness. His memories told him of such things; the lives of others spent like sardines over the sides in swells the size of Priest rock; the whipping lash of the sails tearing at bare arms and cutting frightened men in two; the cold flame of lightning slamming its fist into the mast and sending smoldering splinters raining on the deck. They were small things indeed.
Today Eli had taken his own sail down to port harbor to sell the mornings catch for his uncle and brother. The trip was short and treacherous and he had felt a swelling sense of self-importance tainted by resentment at the danger into which his family knowingly sent him. The danger, however, was not for him today.
His crossing of Holman’s estuary had been pleasant, the April wind coming from the creek warm and clean gave him enough lead to skirt a large path around the old steel belly battleship that claimed so many young skippers boats during riptide. The market was full of old toothless sailors that smiled drunkenly upon him and said nothing callous or insulting about his father and mother. He had sold all his fish before ten to Greeley and another wholesaler who worked for the hotels up coast and had time enough to offer Kalibs sister a ride home to Midstream.
Sheela was a year older than he and her breasts began pushing provocatively at her undersized Sunday blouse. She liked him and his brown eyes and always gave him kisses on his arms and chest once they were out in deep water. He dreamed of her dark nipples and wanted to call her his wife one day but Kalib was an evil bugger and spat at him and fought with him over a nothing, calling him the son of a pirate and a hooker. His father was a coolie for the state commissioner and had money enough to send Kalib and his sister to school but chose rather to make Sheela work evenings in the stinky inland pub and folks said he was fixing to sell her as soon as she had breasts enough.
She and Eli had a plan though, and his savings from the market were to help pay for a train ticket to Queenstown, for her 13th birthday next month where she had a catholic aunt who would see to it she had a fitting education.
Now Taylor would be fighting the eye of the storm. Uncle Jean was old but wise and would be yelling instructions in his Creole tongue and maybe they would be okay. Taylor was only 16 but as strong as any 25 year old and had saved the Mainstay, the family boat, on several occasions with his muscles and Jean’s brains.
Eli had a pit in his stomach today, however, and after a morning of bliss he wondered at their smallness. So small and insignificant that they could be swallowed by a dark knot of clouds, or disappear into the bowls of a military prison like his parents.
Eli waded into the water until his hands floated at his waist. A deep sadness rolled over him and the rhythm of the gentle waves lifted him slightly with each passing swell. His eyes remained fixed on the horizon, and he advanced until all but the roll of his shoulders and his head were submerged. The storm that had engulfed his brother was now a snarling mass of reddish black thunderheads spinning angrily toward the coast.
Those at port harbor would be battening down the stands and boarding up the store fronts, and Holman estuary, normally a bustle at mid day after the market would already be deserted. He could imagine the errand boys running too and fro to deliver the last crates of fish and inland vegetables. The wind was already picking up to the south, the coastal forest shedding ripe fruit under the burden of what locals called the Saint Marie of the widows, and the sailors knew as the widow maker; the south easterly wind that came like a whiplash at the forefront of an unpredicted mother storm.
Eli floated on his back now, staring at the sky and watching as the forerunning tendrils of high altitude clouds bled in lean brush strokes into the darkening blue sky above him. Their invasion was an ominous prelude, an eerie reminder of storms past.
Calisto the lost
Calisto sat quietly cultivating the idea that he was harmlessly insane. He sat at a dirty white table in front of the dilapidated Calamari café. Its graying façade was shamelessly sunk like exhausted eye sockets into the line of loud colorful buildings to its left and right. Calisto himself added to this pitiful impression in his torn pinstriped suit two sizes too large and severely tattered around the edges giving him the aura of a has bin pirate rather than a harmless wanderer…lost in endless trails of unwinding thought. He reread a national newspaper for the third time since he had resentfully occupied the old teak chair upon which he sat, grumbling for a refill of his coffee and after over two hours of caffeine induced frenzy he ordered Ital stew for brunch before the rush.
The rush consisted of Ernesto, the retired harbormaster fat and intellectually impotent but relatively good natured and inclined toward sympathy as concerned Calisto, Carmen, the aging but ever luscious drag queen of the Timble Street Cabaret, Simon the mute spike driver working at the local grinding station rebuilding the rail system after last years sabotage attempts, and Emanuel.
Emanuel was slim and wore well fitted grey suits of cheap synthetic materiel. He sweated profusely and wore a grin that inspired a foul breed of distrust while giving his observers the impression of a harmless, toothless snake. As they began to arrive Calisto buried his nose further into the news and grumpily announced: “propaganda!”.
Carmen, dressed in high heals and a shimmering green bodysuit brushed past him, tickling his nostrils with the tail of a fox fir scarf that contrasted hideously with the shamrock sparkle of the tall she-man’s attire. Despite alarmingly poor color coordination Carmen remained enticingly seductive for members of both sexes, smiling and winking while changing demeanor at will to sway the potential dinner date into seeing beyond certain uncomely details, like, a poorly shaven chin for a woman, or a overly pink attire and lipstick for a man.
“You gay fool!” Calisto barked trying to hide a smile in his now creased and greasy newspaper, stained with bits of fish gravy and banana.
“mabey so, lost boy, but not fooled by you.” Cooed Carmen leaning over to reveal slightly hairy cleavage and the beginnings of an old sailors tattoo. Henri leaned out the open window of the kitchen smoking the giant stub of what by the smell of it was a rather old cigar.
“Just in time to beat the rush sunshine, come and have a seat in the shade before you burn poor Calisto.” He said motioning to a corner table.
“No little man, if it doesn’t ruffle your feathers, I’ll have a bit of Calisto today.” Drawled Carmen while pulling out a chair having neglected to ask Calisto’s opinion on the matter.
“Won’t find me complaining about one less table to clean.” lulled Henri into his scruffy double chin in guise of nonchalance
“Because you clean the tables now chere Henri?”, piped Ernesto as he waddled onto the creaking wooden terrace in a cloud of uncharacteristic wit. “Careful old boy, you might cause a riot among the cockroaches.” He said guffawing at his own majesty with a wink at Calisto who couldn’t help being amused by the fat mans good nature.
Within a minutes time Simon slid silently into place at a corner table and nodded proudly at the other patrons. He wore his habitual grey overalls over his lean mulatto skin and was cleanly shaven and shiny with hard earned perspiration and metal shavings.
Ernesto leaned over from his nearby table and reached out a chubby pink hand towards Calisto’s newspaper.
“You won’t mind if I liberate you of our small nations finest literature seeing as how you have such lovely company today?” he mused
“Finest toilet rag and national propaganda vomit.” Spat Calisto slipping into character.
“Yes, yes, fine then, I can see you having your usual bitter root salad today dear Calisto, will you come for a bit of chess this evening, I’ve procured a bottle of rum from our dear governors ration shop down the way for a mere seven dollar bribe.” Ernesto finished his phrase in a blinking stare brimming with rotten teeth. His shiny cheeks made Calisto thing of a baby with a fever but his globules eyes did a poor job hiding excessive fatigue. He daintily plucked the greasy newspaper with two fingers and before plunging into the sports section directed his bellowing voice over his shoulder at Henri:
“You really should invest in some good hemp napkins Henri dear, our poor Calisto has no option but to sacrifice this fine symbol of democratic expression to cleanse himself after consuming your greasy Ital. By the way, dear Henri, Ital is not really supposed to be greasy.”
“Va manger les excrements de ta mere pauvre con.”
“Flattery in exotic langues may work on Carmen, Henri, but remember than I am a cultivated man and have made a point of avoiding Creole for my moral sanctity.”
Henri puffed “il me fatigue” before ducking back into his kitchen to fetch plates for his nearly full terrace.
Carmen drew Calisto’s attention from the daily spectacle of neighborly animosity by placing a soft hand on his. His/her eyes drew him in by their dark light and a flicker of fear he had never noticed in this fearless creature. He drew in a breath and began to pull his hand away but Carmen squeezed it with alarming strength and bared polished teeth in an angry sneer.
“I need your help.” He said in a mans voice without affectation through gritted teeth. “no games, just help.”
“I can’t help anybody sister…” he stood to leave reaching in his frayed pockets for change.
“listen Calisto, it’s about Monique.” He froze in place looked briefly at Henri to see if he had heard, than at Ernesto, immersed in the paper. His glare slid over to Simon who was staring right at him unwaveringly, a bowl of stew untouched on the table before him. He nodded slowly motioning with his head toward Carmen as if to say, listen to the Lady.
He looked down at Carmen, once again insolent looking and oddly out of place in a world of red dust and virility, yet a perfectly integrated piece of the landscape, like so many things, Calisto thought to himself. He had grown up here but after more than a decade of absence no one left from the old days remembered him. Now tanks rolled down the streets and the fat land owners rode among them in spotless new American made limousines without fear of “terrorists”. Now the old men had new memories of how things used to be and hid their pasts in shades of their own mediocrity, telling stories of their heroic youths and when they had fought the “rebels”.
In truth, it wasn’t as old as the old men, and they were already old when Calisto had been Sorel le Pecheur. The things of the past remained dangerously vivid to him and he often woke in the night with their bitter taste in his mouth and a muted scream on his face.
Monique was it, he thought and walked to Henri’s window to order a sour rum.
“Amer, vieux frere, make it bitter, make it peel my lips back around my gums, and he laughed uncontrollably. Emanuel strolled up and Calisto went to him still laughing and scratching his neck convulsively, “have me a smoke from you do me, eh? Be nice, like a little rodent and we will forget you’re a cat Senor Emanuel.”
Emanuel spat into the dust near his left foot still in the street as his right stood proudly poised on the terrace, displaying imitation alligator shoes that shone of high plasticity in a place where leather was cheaper. He pulled a small brown pack out of the breast pocket of his dark grey and uncomfortable looking suit and let it drop to the deck.
Calisto unhesitatingly dropped to the floor. “oh thank you Senor” and spat on the man’s shoe and began rubbing it with his dirty sleeve.
Emanuel pulled away in convulsive and theatrical disgust. “don’t try me pauvre fou! I’ll have you cremated if you ever touch my shoes again.”
“That’s quite an offer senor, you pay for my funeral ? What they say is true then, you have friends in high places.” Said Calisto with a gesture of mocking prayer, eyes raised toward the heavens.
Emanuel gave a weary look around the other tables, hesitating at Simon’s dark stare, before disappearing into the back room with Henri to accept his weekly bribe. Emanuel had indeed made friends in places where money flowed like urine after a night of boozing. His friends liked to beat people into a catatonic state of belief in their political and economic agendas and they had the entire country forgetting about things like legality and honor.
Calisto held his small cigarette between shaky fingers and sat next to Carmen who offered him a light. He wondered how Emanuel with tailored suits and weekly haircuts could seem so awkward and phony when Simon, silent in the corner, shirtless in his dirty overalls bathing the terrace with a still and inquisitive regard could emit such stoic dignity.
“Meet me for a drink at the Timble tonight after my shift, we’ll go for a little walk if we need to.” Said Carmen deftly slipping a folded paper between Calisto’s legs under the table, all the while shaking out the match that lit his cigarette with the other hand and stating loudly, “looks like a storm’s coming in from the East.”