MUSED
BellaOnline Literary Review
The King and I by Karen Sorbello

Fiction


Incident on Mt. Snow

Doug Stone

Calm blue water, close-cropped Bahama grass, then shimmering black asphalt ran in quick succession below Bonnie just before the turboprop’s wheels touched down. Now rolling on the runway, there was not much left to see in the grainy plane window but a reflection of her wispy brown hair and pale white face. She closed her eyes and squeezed her new husband Mike’s arm.

“We’re really here,” she whispered.

“Uh huh,” he replied sleepily. It had been a long flight from New York, and Mike had dozed the entire way. She had to plan the honeymoon, and then shepherd both of them through all the connections. Finally on the trip, he was just like the helpless folks in her office, always needing something. She had hoped for a vacation from her daily gotta’s – gotta do this, gotta do that.

The cockpit door opened and the moist air brought in the odor of salt spray and decaying vegetation. They slowly made their way down the stairway and onto the tarmac. A wagon was already filling with luggage and they spotted theirs at one end of it. Mike was awake enough to grab both bags and pass one along to Bonnie. Old enough now at 51 and 50, Mike and Bonnie had learned to pack efficiently. They went even lighter for their tropical vacations. Besides, it gave them the opportunity to shop in the funky little Caribbean markets.

They packed into the oppressive arrivals hall, echoing with multilingual babble. Looking past a German couple whose skin was even whiter than theirs, she could see way up in front of her several counters manned by immigration and customs officers. Similar to a bank’s queue, ropes and standards divided the main queue into smaller queues for each counter. She waited and waited, while the line sluggishly inched along. She thought back to when life was free.

Late at night, without permission, Bonnie led Royal Standard out of his stall into the aisle, and cross-tied him to the walls to prep for a run. He stretched; his front and back legs fully extended and his back arched. Her pulse quickened thinking about the risk of riding this thoroughbred again, alone in the dark. There was a small vertical scar below her left eye from when she had last snuck out with the frisky colt, catching an invisible piece of barbed wire with her face. At the doctor’s office, she lied to her dad, telling him a pitchfork had slipped while haying. Grimacing at the memory, she tugged harder on the saddle’s girth straps.

After tacking up, she unclipped him from the ties, traded his halter for a bridle, and led him out the barn door into the waning moonlight. The ghostly white rails of the track stood guard around its black dirt oval. Bonnie jumped into the saddle, and with a squeeze of her legs, guided him out at record speed, hooves flying, cool night air buffeting her face.

“Passport, ma’am?” prompted the immigration agent. Sweat from his large belly stained the front of his uniform shirt, contradicting any attempt at crisp formality.

Startled she was next in line, Bonnie looked up at the officer while her hands rummaged in her purse. No Mike in sight. Crap, she thought, where was he? He really is AWOL on this trip. And you’re not? She replied to herself.

“Here it is,” she replied, handing it over open to the photo page.

“Very well.” He matched her headshot to the face before him. “Hope your stay with us replaces that frown with a smile. Welcome to St. Somewhere.”

At least that is what it sounded like. She could never remember the real name of the island nor if it was British or French, or whatever.

“Are you traveling alone?” the official asked.

“No. I’m with my husband. Was he processed through before me?” she asked before she realized the agent wouldn’t know, their passports having different names.

“I’m afraid I don’t know. Perhaps roll your things to the taxi line and you will find him,” he said with a vague wave towards the corner of the building. “Next!”

Bonnie caught sight of Mike and rushed to join him in the long line near the exit. A tall, thin gentleman with a goatee approached, doffed his frayed baseball cap, and offered his card.

“I am 007. Please come with me to the most fabulous 007 taxi company.” He gestured for them to follow him and walked outside. All around them they could hear similar exchanges between tourists and other whimsical celebrities. Out at the curb was a long line of beat-up cars. Turning to the right, the driver popped open the trunk of a dented Impala, dropped in their bags, and slammed it closed while they climbed into the backseat.

They chatted a bit with 007 as the cab bounced along the ancient asphalt highway from the airport to town. The road curved around the entrance to a small park. At the far edge of the grass, Bonnie could see a marked trailhead. She interrupted him to ask where it went.

“That’s Mt. Snow, ma’am,” he replied. “They like to call it that as on top of the hill there is some white sand left over from an ancient beach. Pack a lunch and go for a hike. There’s a great waterfall with a large natural pool. And you don’t need a suit.”

“Is it safe?” Mike asked.

“Oh yes, Mon. No lifeguard, but stay in the shallows.”

“No, I mean from muggers,” said Mike.

“Oh yes, unless you mean how they’ll rob you at the little market they set up in the park on weekends,” he joked. “We have only one homeless guy on the island who gets a little too pushy asking for a handout, but he’s harmless,” said 007.

Around the next bend was an old fort, and another series of questions and answers began between Mike and the driver. The soft lilt of 007’s voice and the long flight had Bonnie spacing out again.

Weep! Weep! Weep! The monitors chanted, a Greek chorus repeating the tragedy of her mother’s failing organs to the four walls. Little else occurred in the private room. Nurses deigned to look in now and then; doctors avoided a patient they could not cure.

Bonnie sat in the chair next to her father. She read and reread the same page of Calc 301. Her mom was dying of terminal cancer, and taking months to do it. She was in a good university hospital, but it was also the same university where Bonnie was a junior. She felt obliged to be available, if not 24 hours a day, at least as near to that as possible. She studied here, ate here, slept here. Her Dad did the same. She loved her mom, at least what her mom had been before this. Long ago she wished it had been over quickly. But she would do whatever it took to control the cancer no one could control. Trying to focus back on her textbook, she watched the complex equations lay down and die before her teary, tired eyes.

The slam of the driver’s door brought Bonnie back to the island. Their bags were already at the curb, and Mike was digging through the pockets of his out-of-place dark business slacks for a tip. She must have dozed off. She popped out of the cab, giving the driver an embarrassed look. Hand in hand, the couple strolled up the brick path, past a private garden, and into the rented cottage, dragging their tweed American rolling bags over the narrow threshold. Rays from the low sun bounced wildly off the brass hardware of the mahogany door as it slammed shut. Exhausted from the long flight, they curled up naked in the soft-spun sheets.

The next day Bonnie peeked out from the bedroom window at Mike sipping Jamaican coffee with his breakfast at the glass table in the garden. The cottage had come fully stocked with both American and Caribbean delicacies. She watched him slowly turn the pages of the local tourist guide, then take another sip. She had cursed him for having no energy, but today it was she who couldn’t get going. I’m fifty years old! And just getting around to marriage! What have I done with my life? And no hope for having kids at this age, she thought. An IT manager, she had spent her career doing computer coding and was now management. Events were always trying to throw off her plans, so tight control of projects and people was essential. Tight, tight, control.

Outside, the sun moved higher. It picked out a steeple, then a lighthouse, then a mast in the harbor far below. Letting go of the lace curtain, Bonnie stood up. She tossed on light shorts, top, and sandals, then wrapped her hair in a bandana. After using the bathroom, she sought the safety of the king bed for just five more minutes. But one step away from her sanctuary, she just managed to avoid the raised pincers and waving tail of a scorpion. Doing an about-face, her skin flushed and palms sweaty, she strode out the door and plopped down next to Mike. Trying to stay in control and hide her overreaction, she looked into his eyes and smiled.

“Good morning, my love,” said Mike as he leaned in for a kiss. “I was worried you weren’t joining the world today.”

“Good morning. No, I’m fine,” she lied. “Um, let’s do a little daytrip after breakfast. Get to know the island.” And it would give the exterminator time to do his business.

“Great idea. You seemed interested in that Mt. Snow place yesterday. Wanna go there?”

“Sure. Hey, I just saw a scorpion near the bed. Perhaps we can call an exterminator while we’re gone?”

“What? The service promised to take care of everything before we got here.”

“Well they missed one. I’ve got their number in my cell. Will give ‘em a call after we eat,” she said.

“Okay.”

They both finished their toast and coffee, and while Mike brought in the dishes, Bonnie made the call. After applying some sunscreen, they hopped on the scooter the agency had provided, and went back down the airport road to the park. Upon arrival, they saw four older men at a card table playing dominoes and listening to reggae beats on their beat-up radio. A short distance from the card players, a large man sat wrapped in a blanket. He was roasting a chicken on a stick, feathers and all.

“What a stink!” said Bonnie.

“I think he’s in a rush to eat his ill-gotten booty,” replied Mike. “Let’s go.” Leaving the scooter at the start of the trail, they started down it holding hands.

The couple’s lean, strong bodies ate up the mile of ascending jungle path. Soon they came upon the promised pool with its waterfall at the far end. The water spilled down about twenty feet onto a flat boulder. The sound rose and fell with the breeze. As promised, the shore was white sand, interspersed with large volcanic rocks. Bonnie slipped her hand from Mike’s.

“Race you to the falls,” called Bonnie, kicking off her sandals and pulling off her top before diving in.

“I’m gonna beat you,” called Mike, also peeling off his shirt and shoes and diving in. Both of them stroked hard and reached the boulder at the same time. Heaving up onto it, they kissed and lay still a moment to catch their breath.

After another kiss, they slid back into the warm water. For 20 minutes more they splashed and played, finally making their way back to the sandy beach. Bonnie was squeezing out her bandana and Mike was reaching for his wallet when the chicken man stepped out from the trees, holding a giant rock over his head. His eyes were glassy, his arms already shaking with fatigue. With him came the stench of greasy smoke and body odor. They froze.

“Eh now, lemme have your wallet,” he said, brandishing his improvised weapon and leering at Bonnie.

Mike still didn’t move. Bonnie wrapped the bandana around her chest.

“Is money what you want?” she asked.

“Yes, yes, here you go,” Mike answered for him. He began to toss his trifold, but Bonnie grabbed his arm.

“Wait. We can stand up to this guy.” She looked back at the bandit. “Look, we’re strong, we don’t care what you do,” she said.

At this, chicken man stepped closer and raised the rock. They both backed up. “Come on, don’t got all day for this crap.”

“Okay, okay,” she said, deciding to take a chance. “But what do you really need? A hot meal? A place to stay? Some dope? Maybe we can take care of your needs and ours too.”

Their mugger looked thoughtful for a moment. His arms weary, the rock lowered. “Some herb be good,” he answered, pronouncing the “h.”

“Okay, we can split our cash with you. Maybe get you some real chicken fingers, no more burnt bird. We can get you a place for the night. You must have family, or a special girl? We can help.” Bonnie continued to talk slowly and rhythmically until she could see the bandit losing focus, the rock slipping lower and lower, his eyes turning into slits from the fatigue and the drugs. She and Mike gingerly edged towards the trail.

“Now!” she cried. Mike tossed twenty dollars American in chicken man’s general direction, and they both fled down the trail. Looking back, Bonnie could see a startled bandit lose control of the rock in his haste to pick up the money.

Reaching the park winded and scared, the two jumped on their scooter and headed back past the erstwhile domino players. At the house, Mike called the police from his cell phone, while Bonnie changed.

The police stopped by to take their statements, said the mugger was known to them, and, yes, ma’am, he would be picked up, as where could he go on such a small island? Afterwards, they both fell into the soft sheets for a long nap after their adventure.

Bonnie woke up first, and tiptoed out to the private garden. She could see the sun sinking into the western waves of the harbor, and stars glowing in the darkening eastern sky. Things had worked out. Maybe taking a chance now and then was a good thing, she thought.

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