Monday, January 25, 2010

The Perfect Moment

“I hadn’t had a Perfect Moment yet...and its very important to me to have Perfect Moments in exotic countries like that, you know, I always like to have them, because it gives you a good sense of closure, you know, kinda lets you know when its time to go home.” Spalding Gray, Swimming to Cambodia

Here’s something for you: I never met Goldfinger. Even though my husband worked for him on the island for two years, I never met the man who paid our way. Even though we sailed on his three masted schooner Fleurje, and went to the lavish company Christmas party held at the Sonesta Hotel, and to the Bermuda Ag Fair where Goldfinger rode his jumper horses, I only managed to see him from afar. Once or twice while driving, I saw him on his tennis court that sat near Harbor Road, wearing his long sleeved tennis whites with the matching long pants -- crisp white linen, like he was the Great Gatsby. He stayed covered up all the time because of the burn scars, the scars that came from the ANC fire bombing in Holland almost a decade before.

I considered it somewhat of a triumph to never have met him. Its not that I didn’t try to meet him, he just never showed up when I was there. My husband’s close colleagues thought it was funny that of everyone in the company on the island, the employees and the wives, I was the only one not to have met Goldfinger. And this offered me some anonymity. I suppose if anyone could write about him or spy on him, it would be me, because he didn’t know me. And what's even odder is that I had it all planned in my mind what I would talk to him about if I ever did meet him: Horses.

You see, he kept a beautiful stable on the island and it was filled with Dutch warmbloods; jumpers and dressage horses. He might have been a ruthless oil man, but he was a horseman and a patron of the feral cats of Bermuda. There was a shelter, a sanctuary for the cats in his stable. Bermuda was filthy with feral cats and Goldfinger was very sensitive to their plight. His cat sanctuary would fill up to capacity sometimes, because of course, he had a limited number of people who wished to adopt his cats, so you know what Goldfinger did? He put those cats, something like 50 or so at a time, on his private jet and flew them to a farm he owned in South Carolina where he kept all his retired show horses. And it was on this farm that he kept the cats enclosed in a multi-acre preserve that was surrounded by a ten foot chain-link fence with some sort of baffle at the top that kept the cats from climbing out. And there they lived out their lives with their own personal caretaker, who fed them and attended to all their cat needs every day.

My mother called me one night not long after we returned to the States to tell me about her new farrier. She said, “You won’t believe this but while he was trimming Flamboyana’s feet, he tells me of this farm that he goes to once a month to trim and shoe all these beautiful retired show horses and the farm has the damdest thing on it...a preserve for these wild cats that were flown in from Bermuda by the billionaire who owns the place. Its nuts, the cats have their own staff, he says! And I laughed and told him, "my daughter’s husband worked for that guy out on Bermuda!" And he puts Flamboyana’s foot down and looks up and me and says, ”No Shit!?“ and I replied, ”No Shit!“ and he shook his head and said, ”Well, ain’t it a small world!“

So Goldfinger’s benevolence toward the four-leggeds redeemed his soul in my eyes, even though he would cast us all out without any apologies only a couple of years after arriving on the island. A tantrum would occur and suddenly it was over in a blink of an eye. But its too soon to tell you of how we got home, there is still so much to tell you about my island in the sea.

But I will tell you this: Not long before Goldfinger would make us walk the plank, I would have my Perfect Moment, the moment that made leaving the island easier. The moment that made me feel as though I had completed my island mission.

Py and I had a fight. It was an early evening in late May and after too many Rum Cocos that afternoon, a match was lit. There were rumors flying about the company, among the traders and the wives that The End was near and we couldn’t decide whether to deploy the life boat earlier or later. Hell, we didn’t even know where the life boat was! And so this lovely May afternoon that begin with ideas of going snorkeling found us not snorkeling, but brooding over a game of Gin Rummy on our shaded veranda that looked out to the North Shore while fueling our Rock Fever with Rum Cocos. I don’t remember the content of the fight, it may have been about the Life Boat, it may have been about what to have for dinner, all I know is that it was Quick and Loud and Hurtful and it sent me down into the garage, where I pondered getting in the mini car to go for a drive, but as Jack the dog stood there looking at me with that ”Take Me“ spark in his eye, I realized that driving after three or four Rum Cocos was not such a good idea. And so I opted for my pedal bike.

I had optimistically brought the pedal bike with us from the States with the plan that I would tool all over Bermuda with it, wearing nothing but my bathing suit and a large brimmed hat, because isn't that what Expats do? But I soon found out that Bermuda was a hostile environment for the pedal bike. First there were the hills, of which there were many and we lived next door to the highest point on the island, so leaving with the pedal bike was a breeze, but coming home was a different story entirely, one that required much pushing. Which brings me to what they call bicycles in Bermuda, Pedal Bike is one term, because most islanders ride Motor Bikes, but most called them Push Bikes, because one had to constantly push the Pedal Bike about to get anywhere with any sort of efficiency. The roads were hazardously narrow, and so to ride a Pedal Bike or to walk for that matter was really quite risky. So there you have it, my romantic ideas of pedaling about my island in the sea were dashed and my lovely pea green Pedal Bike remained in the garage for almost two years, until that night, the night of my Perfect Moment.

I patted Jack on that spot on top of his head where his hard skull creased. The spot that sometimes felt hot to the touch from emotion, and told him, ”I’ll be back Jack, I’ll be back.“ He knew that meant that I was venturing out without him and he stood in the garage and watched me wheel down the driveway. I could feel Py’s eyes on me from the lime green terrace above and I didn’t turn around for fear that I would turn to stone. I turned left at the end of Casa Verde’s little drive and headed south on Lolly’s Well Road with no plan, no plan at all. I knew I was going to end up on South Shore Road and I had never taken the bike there, never. It had only been to the Aquarium and back, and so I felt unfettered by this decision to go south. I rode past Malcolm and Christine’s house and by the little farm fields that were full of spring broccoli now. I pedaled through the sandy section of the road without a care and skirted the home of Champion Ridgeback, a very bad dog, very bad dog indeed, despite his owner’s insistent refrain to me every time I walked by with Jack, who was just a common Pond Dog in her eyes, that Ridgeback was indeed Champion Ridgeback of all of Bermuda, to which I wanted to reply, but never ever did, ”How many Ridgebacks could there possibly be on Bermuda?“

Ridgeback was nothing but a brute as far as Jack and I were concerned, exploding through the screen door every time we walked past, flashing those Champion teeth, and me grabbing hold of Jack and Jack never taking the bait. Finally one day though, Jack bit Ridgeback on the nose, ever so deftly, and this sent Ridgeback into the speediest reverse. And Jack looked at me and I looked at Jack and we said, ”well, that settles that, Champion Jack!“

But Ridgeback was obviously unawares of my pedaling by, perhaps my being without Jack was the reason for his indifference to me. And so on I went into the shadows of the lane that I so loved to walk with my dog every day. Where our footfalls on the sandy road were so quiet that we took up no space in the sound of our neighborhood. We were constantly like spies walking that lane, observing the neighbors, and the cows and the little palms and the comings and goings of various birds and the flowers...Jack was a dog of flowers and would put his nose to any flower he could and breathe deep of it....nasturtiums, and morning glories, pink bermudiana, hibiscus...frangipani was his most favorite. When the Time of the Loquat would come, I would find him, just like the school children, beneath the Loquat tree in our yard, standing on his hind legs to pick loquats and then, once he had one, he would lay down in the grass and delicately separate the fruit from the pit and eat the Loquat meat with more joy than if he had caught a mole.

My neighbor saw Jack performing this surgery on the sunny fruit and said, ”its a good thing he does it that way, the pits are poisonous you know! “ For a moment I thought of stopping Jack from eating the loquats, but then I caught myself, and realized that eating loquats was Jack’s perfect moment, something slightly dangerous and wonderful all at the same time.

The sun was thinking about setting by the time I reached South Shore Road and I sat at the intersection for a moment wondering if I just might turn back, but I looked back up the hill I had just coasted down and then I looked at the dairy cows, who seemed to be in cahoots with me and I decided that I would keep going. ”And besides,“ I thought to myself, ”I was just beginning to forget about that row I had with Py. If I go back now then it will just hang in the air above us all night.“ So I took another left and felt the bike do my bidding quite nicely. There seemed to be a sea breeze at my back and now I was on the flat South Shore Road with the sea on my right and the green rise of the island on my left. There was no traffic to speak of, rush hour had passed and it seemed as though the island had cleared its throat for me...all I could hear was the whir of bike chain and the sea echoing in my slightly dizzy Rum-Coco-mind like I had a conk shell pressed to my ear.

Can I explain it? I will try...for two years I had driven on that South Shore Road in the mini car or on our noisy motor bike to get myself to the Portuguese grocery or to take Jack for walks on Spittal Pond or to go lay on the pink sand of John Smith’s Bay, our neighborhood beach. I had traveled those curves and miles on noisy wheels with a motor talking in my ear like some annoying woman for all this time and now? Now I was seeing that road like it was the very first time. I wasn't a tourist and I wasn't an expat. I was something else entirely, perhaps the person that Hemingway was when he hiked the mountains of Switzerland.

It was like I was dreaming that road, and my pedal bike and I seemed to own every inch of it. I rode down the center line, sat straight in the saddle and took my hands off the handle bars to reach out, to spread my long tan arms that felt like the fronds of the palms that I was passing by. Time was standing still as I passed Watch Hill and rounded the sharp corner to have John Smith’s Bay open up in front of me. Perhaps it was the Rum Cocos or perhaps it was that I was finally doing what I had dreamed I would do when I lived on an island in the sea...I was overwhelmed with a moment of complete and utter freedom. I think I felt like a sea bird must feel on a day when the wind is with him and the fishes are in clear view for his taking.

I stopped the bike and decided to sit on the grass underneath the Hollywood-worthy fan palms that shaded one end of the bay. There was a long stone and coral wall there that was inhabited by taxi drivers during the day. They parked under the palms, and drank elephant beers and took off their pork pie hats to wipe their black sweaty brows. I would hear them laughing and telling stories when I was floating in the water off of John Smith’s. Their warm sing-song voices would come out to me on the water and keep me tied to the shore. But on this night, the night of my Perfect Moment, the taxi drivers were all gone for the day, they were back in Hamilton now for sure, driving tourists from the cruise ships to a restaurant, repeating the sights that they repeated every day, ”and over der we have de Governor’s House and der is de Botanical Gardens...“ And so I sat there, cross-legged with my arms at my sides watching the last of the swimmers drying themselves off and packing up their things to go home for the night. The beach seemed like a waitress to me, her feet were tired and she wanted the diners to leave so she could wipe down the tables, straighten her hair and return to her little apartment where she might have a tall cold beer and a sandwich before bed.

In that moment, sitting there alone with my bicycle, watching the island all around me, watching the sea rolling over like a lover, I was perfectly content. I wasn’t looking for the Spanish Galleon on the horizon to come save me, I wasn’t wishing for anything other than the moment not to end. Yet everything was so fine that even the moment's ending didn’t bother me. I saw that the sun was tapping its foot and urging me to ride home before the moon came on duty. And so I heeded the coming darkness and pedaled all the way up that big hill to our half empty lime green house . And that night before we went to bed, I told my husband that no matter what came, we were going to be okay.


Jarret Liotta said...

Your writing just makes me want to compare my insides to your outsides. Keep up the good work!

Beth Livingstone said...

Beautifully told.