Did I want to feed the eel? The moray eel? Sure, why not? I was feeling lucky! I had come through dinner with The Wives. How could a moray eel be more dangerous than the über girls?
This was not just any moray eel, this was theeee moray eel. He had lived in his own special tank in the Bermuda Aquarium for close to 20 years. He was a celebrity - he was a movie star. That’s right, he had been in the movies. If you are of a certain age, you might remember a movie classic called The Deep. It starred Robert Shaw (of Jaws fame), Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset and Jacqueline Bisset’s exquisite tits in a wet white t-shirt under her scuba gear. And it was filmed almost entirely in Bermuda!
I’m a girl, but even I can appreciate that the whole reason for that movie was to display Bisset’s tits in that t-shirt. The Deep was based on a Peter Benchley's novel of the same title...and here’s where I get to veer off a little -- Peter Benchley was my father’s next door neighbor in Princeton, NJ in the seventies- this was during my father’s second marriage and so my sister gets to tell everyone that she grew up next door to the author of Jaws...I met Benchley once, in my stepmother’s kitchen, all I remember is that he was tall.
So anyway, I will veer back now. So next to Mz. Bisset’s tits, the other stars paled in comparison, except for our Moray Eel. He steals every one of his scenes...all terrifying attack scenes, curiously combined with Mz. Bisset and her t-shirt. He never received the accolades he deserved really...no Oscar nominations. But he did live out his life in the Bermuda Aquarium and so my connections to The Deep equals Two - a random kitchen meeting with Peter Benchley and my feeding of a fish to the Moray Eel. The random kitchen meeting with Benchley was simple and in no way a threat to my well-being. The feeding of the Moray was another story entirely....
Patrick and I made our rounds - like stage hands we walked the hidden scaffolds and lofts above the tanks, out of Aquarium visitors’ view - while the visitors peered into the tanks to observe tropical fish, squid, sea horses, green turtles, hawksbill turtles and coral, we trudged along with our smelly wonderful buckets and dropped breakfast from above...the tanks from above were reflective and it was sometimes impossible to know what you were feeding, and so everything was well labeled.
But the Moray eel’s tank was distinct and there was no mistaking who you were dealing with. His tank was off to one side and twice the size of the other tanks. He had a lair made of limestone and coral and he spent most of his time in that lair, much to the consternation of visitors. Patrick and I peered down into the well-lit tank -- the clear water barely rippled because Himself, was sound asleep in his lair. My pulse was beginning to flutter a bit...was it the hangover or the idea of feeding the eel? Patrick gave me the most beautiful whole mackerel - his silver sides glistened with promise. “First I want you to just dunk dat mack into the water - dat way he gets the scent, dat’ll wake him up!”
I hold the Mackerel and I look at my tan bony hand, I love that hand, my right hand, I consider switching to my left hand, if the Moray takes my left hand, then I still have the skilled right hand, but I decided to live life to the fullest, and retain the mack in my right hand. I look to Patrick for any doubt in his eyes, but he feeds Himself every day, if I don’t want to do it, he’ll do it, its his job, he’s payed to feed the movie star.
So I do as Patrick tells me, I dunk the mackerel into the water, I waive him like a lure and Patrick touches me quickly, “Dat’s enough, bring him out!” So I lift the mackerel back out and I am dangling him over the water, and Patrick grabs my arm, “Don’t hold him dere like dat! you want to lose an arm?!” So I bring the mackerel back to me. Patrick and I peer down into the water which is beginning to stir now...He’s awake! The moray knows that breakfast is about to be served. I am hypnotized by the sound of the aquarium tanks around me, the bubbling of water filters, the murmur of visitors below us, and the distant constant call of the zoo peacocks, they are like volunteer sirens.
Patrick sends me back to the edge, “Okay, now its time. I want you to hold dat mack right over the water. Hold its tail between your thumb and your index finger, no more fingers dan dat. And stay still, don’t move. He’s gonna come up real slow but den he’s gonna be a demon when he takes dat fish. Don’t you flinch or he’ll take your fingers with the fish. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Patrick, I understand.” I feel lucky but I also see myself in the Bermuda Hospital, a place that all expats fear more than repatriation! In my mind I rehearse the words, “airlift me back to the States please...to the nearest coastal medical facility...anywhere but the Bermuda Hospital!” For a moment I consider swinging my arm toward Patrick and handing the mackerel to him, but then I remember The Wives, I don’t want to be one of The Wives, I want to feed the Moray Eel.
I hold my unusually long and tan thin arm, the one that some used to make fun of for its bony elbow, its stringiness, the one with the fine blonde hairs on it, I hold it taut. I count my fingers and admire their fine build as though this will be the last time that I can gaze upon them. My eyes descend from the loveliness of my arm and my hand though, and move past the sterling museum-quality mackerel to the tank. I do as Patrick instructs, I hold that mack between my thumb and my index finger and I dangle him ever so, a foot above the surface of the now quivering tank water.
Himself emerges from his lair - he is dragon green and he lumbers, if one can lumber in the water. He rolls one eye up to the mackerel but he has a lot of mass and little space to maneuver in. I hear the heightened murmur of tourists below -- I see the flash of a camera! Patrick says, “Don’t let dat worry you --- ignore dem -- hold dat fish!” My arm is strong, I am nothing but my arm and my eyes on Himself.
He lumbers and coils and uncoils and recoils and then he begins to come up. He is following mackerel pheromones in the limited currents of his environment -- I notice the waving of his sea grass and the whiteness of the brain coral that is installed in his tank. His huge flat green sides like a beautiful green ribbon move in slow motion back and forth and back and forth.
My arm is aching -- this mackerel is becoming the heaviest thing I have ever held. I want to adore my hand and my arm just one more time but all I can do is adore the dance of Himself...the emerald swirl of his hips, if a moray eel can have hips. And with that, like a bolt of lightening, he rockets out, to leave the atmosphere of his tank, and he is THERE, out of the water in full-on burn, and I see the flash of his white tusk-like teeth and the mackerel is just a memory. There is not even a tug, just a disappearance!
My arm -- my hand remain relieved of their task. I hear the brief call of angels...and realize it was the astounded tourists below. I pull back my arm, my beautiful bony hand and hold it to me as though it was a released hostage. “Thank you Patrick! That was cool man! totally cool!” Patrick was grinning a lovely Bermudiful smile. Time to move on and feed other less dangerous residents...still though, I thought "Eat your heart out Mz. Bisset!"