Some island scraps:
One afternoon, three little girls poke their noses in my door – Morly, with the broad, half-Spanish face; Chelsia, in cornrows; and Leah, barely five, with swinging bottlecurls. Earlier in the week I had given them a set of colored pencils; now each clutched her share, three or four apiece, nibs chipped and splintered. I had made them promise not to try and sharpen them themselves – this to girls who have already learned to chip coconuts with a little machete.
Their fraternal counterparts come around at evening – Shenon, Shelmar and Dennis, the eldest at thirteen, still called Cranky by the others for a slight wobble in his walk. They’ve all taken their shoes off, but loiter coolly in the doorframe with their dinner plates heaped with lobster tails until I invite them in. It’s a charade of manners; when I’ve closed my door for the night, they rap sharply on the windows, giggle furiously and disappear into the banana tree shadows like goblins.
Trolling a line from Elvis’ little under a steel-gray sky. He sits facing me, hand on the tiller; his gray-stubbled face looks drawn and serious. The sea is high, too high for fishing, and the motor is burning dollar after dollar of island-priced gasoline. We’ve been out for two hours in deep water searching for kingfish and come up with nothing but the occasional bare hook. Sidney, gold-toothed, perches next to me, squinting up at the sky from under his camouflage hat. “Big squall,” he intones. Sure enough, the clouds are thickening over the sunset. It’s just the three of us and one surly tourist, who paid fifty dollars to be in this boat with tangled line and a cold rain beginning to patter. A wave crashes into the skiff; Elvis bails with half an old plastic jug; a powerful tug nearly tears the rod out of my hands – “She got a fish!”yelps Sidney – “Reel it in quick! Dat right, play wit it…” I turn the crank, pull the pole, feel the strength of the fish’s resistance as it bolts under the prow. Will it be a kingfish? Jack, with the huge unblinking eye? When I finally heave its thrashing body into the boat, it’s a barracuda, longer than my arm and glinting silver with dark stripes, saw-edge teeth gnashing. I remember how a pair of these fish watched me last time I swam, appearing suddenly and close, hovering motionless with menacing lower jaw protruding. I think of the fisherman whose fingers are mangled with scars from a barra bite – all of us in the boat are watching our toes. I think of dense, white barracuda flesh, thick as beefsteak, sizzling in the pan. I feel evenly matched to this fish. And when I walk up the dock at sunset with my fingers hooked under his gills, parading my prize, the little boys applaud – Kennedy, Dennis, Rambo and Roger, who catch barracuda off the pier at night when they swarm under the lamp at the end of the dock, with nothing but bits of wire and string.
(Photos also by Kate...I also hope to see these Island Scraps in a book some day.)