The Poet’s Se­cret

Luxe Beat Magazine - - Contents - By Ken­neth Zak

that sim­ple, re­mote, fleet­ing spec­ta­cle had cap­ti­vated him. He had never seen an­other since, even though he had re­turned to the is­land sev­eral times. But the im­age he now en­vi­sioned wasn’t that frag­ile blos­som. He couldn’t get her out of his mind. He opened his eyes.

Writ­ing could wait.

He jumped up. His feet planted on the cool dirt floor. He pulled his note­book off the ta­ble and glanced at the hec­tic scrib­bles from the pre­vi­ous night. There she was, star­ing back from ev­ery slash­ing word. She even filled the spa­ces in be­tween.

He yanked on a pair of shorts and stretched his torso into a thread­bare T-shirt. He grabbed his scratched sun­glasses, slid on san­dals and ran from the hut, track­ing her foot­steps down the path to the sea­side vil­lage. He re­called her pen­sive look as she turned away to leave.

His san­dals clapped against the dirt. By the time he reached the vil­lage he was drenched in sweat. The vil­lagers seemed in a hyp­notic lull. The sea lazed against the shore. Be­neath that calm he knew the sea floor dropped so quickly that yachts of­ten moored barely a spit from the sand. But there wasn’t any ves­sel in sight.

He ram­bled past a dozen shanties, rick­ety houses stacked no more than three deep from the wa­ter, all loung­ing in a per­ma­nent re­cline in the un­for­giv­ing sun. A steel-haired woman beat­ing a rug out­side her win­dow shook her head as he passed. He prowled streets noth­ing more than al­leys, streets so nar­row they didn’t war­rant names.

He scoured the small open-air mar­ket. Weary ta­bles clus­tered un­der spin­naker tarps over­flowed with is­land bounty. Here he slowed. This was where he first saw her just the day be­fore. He caught his breath and picked up a bunch of green ba­nanas, squeezed sev­eral man­gos and mulled over some guava, won­der­ing if her fin­gers might have graced th­ese same fruit. He stood in the same spot she had been when he first no­ticed her, next to a bushel of pomegranates. He wanted to in­habit the space she had filled. What the hell am I do­ing?

But the is­land boy had told him the blos­som lasted only days.

A bone-skinny, rus­set-skinned woman of­fered him a pomegranate. She looked to be one hun­dred years old, but her eyes tracked him like a hawk.

“No thanks,” he said.

She broke into a gummy grin.

“You lookin’ all ob­zo­kee. Maybe you need it. This one’s sweet too bad,” she said and sucked at her gums.

“Yes­ter­day, the woman?” he asked.

“Gone like a dup­pie?” the old woman asked and chuck­led.

“Please,” he said. Her grin dropped away and she shook her head back and forth.

“Peong,” she said un­der her breath.

“Where? What’s that?” he asked.

She tapped her hand against her chest, pointed the pomegranate at him and smiled. “Your heart peong,” she said.

“If you see her, tell her Cameron was here.”

She nod­ded. He ran off to the cantina. He peered through a broke-open shut­ter. The ta­bles were empty. The stale smell of beer wafted through the win­dow.

Why did peo­ple come to Mataki? To dis­ap­pear, or maybe to forget, he thought. Was that why she was here? He had come to find some­thing, to re­mem­ber. He had come to fin­ish that short story about the but­ter­fly orchid, to res­ur­rect his voice.

His stom­ach be­gan to knot. His head felt light. He started to feel sick in­side. Man, pull your­self to­gether.

He asked a fat old man who rented rooms by the day. The bald land­lord swat­ted at spar­row-sized mos­qui­toes while he shook his head. He hadn’t seen her.

Cameron jogged past a young boy fish­ing along the beach. The boy watched him pass, squint­ing in the sun to re­veal a miss­ing front tooth be­fore turn­ing back to­ward the bay

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to eye his line.

Cameron fi­nally col­lapsed on a bench. He pushed back the sweaty strands of hair mat­ted against his fore­head. The sun had nearly reached its late morn­ing peak. The sleepy vil­lage would soon deaden even deeper into si­esta. Back­track­ing to the mar­ket, he bought a mis­sile of bread, a palm-full of goat cheese and a cheap bot­tle of wine, all the while ob­sess­ing over how she had van­ished with­out a trace, con­vinced he had blown it. He doubted sleep.

Stink­ing from the search, he dropped the plas­tic sack of food on the sand and waded into the bay. The fish­ing boy had pulled his line and was sit­ting in the shade of a droop­ing palm. Cameron glided be­tween two de­crepit fish­ing boats rest­ing af­ter the morn­ing catch. The skiffs re­minded him of Hem­ing­way’s The Old Man and the Sea. With each stroke he stretched fur­ther, try­ing to calm him­self into a rhythm, but her face re­mained right in front of him. He re­called San­ti­ago’s bat­tle with the great mar­lin. He thought of the old man’s per­se­ver­ance. He felt ca­pa­ble of the same. But would he get the chance?

A navy of blue tangs parted be­neath him.

It seemed use­less. He swam ashore, picked up his sack and hiked back to the hut. The af­ter­noon sun dried him. His sweat soon smelled of brine.

Sev­eral miles away a yacht’s en­gine rum­bled.

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