Shark Fish­ing

New England Review - - Cultural History - Al­le­gra Hyde

There was a storm, a shipwreck. There were Pu­ri­tans look­ing for a place to pray. A reef—ser­rated and ris­ing from the sea—named the Devil’s Back­bone by those who out-swam the drown­ing tug of hosiery and buck­led boots, the swift dark­ness in a throat­ful of brine, who felt the soft foot­ing of a sandy shore. The is­land they named Eleuthera, a Greek word for free­dom. Then there was a cave like a yawn­ing mouth: a home, high-ceilinged, acous­tics of the finest church. A rocky pulpit—too per­fect for co­in­ci­dence—a sign to the Eleuther­ans: a gift from God. The is­land knelt be­fore them, a blank sur­face of sea and sky, wait­ing to be given a past and a fu­ture.

This is that fu­ture: the lo­cals call the is­land “Lu­tra,” as if sun and salt could erode letters too. They fish from docks stag­ger­ing rot­ten-legged into the sea, their bod­ies black against the hori­zon—like hu­man hi­ero­glyph­ics—and yet, how hard it is to read the mean­ing in their poses. To sep­a­rate de­fi­ance from de­feat. These chil­dren of chil­dren of chil­dren of slaves, shack­led and shipped to an is­land named Free­dom.

The lo­cals, they speak too quick for me to un­der­stand some­times, their voices like chim­ing bells. “Dats da ting,” they tell me, dark arms lift­ing slack fish­ing lines. “Groupa get­tin smalla an smalla.”

Be­fore long, the Eleuther­ans feared they’d failed their maker. The rye they’d planted hadn’t come. Their few spades cracked and split. They sweated, starved, dug graves for their com­pan­ions. Gripped scrip­ture with cracked and bleed­ing hands.

AF­FLIC­TION IS A BIT­TER ROOT, BUT IT BEARS THE SWEET­EST FRUIT.

“Got ’em,” says Ne­hemiah, reel­ing in a drip­ping fish, scales sil­ver. He knifes the belly open, shows me a fi­nal ru­bied pulse. He looks re­lieved. Re­morse­ful. “Only da old men do da dirty work now,” he says, toss­ing fish guts off the dock. “Da kids, dey all gone.” The sun hangs low, ham­mocked by the af­ter­noon. The sea swal­lows a lit­tle more of the coast.

Al­le­gra Hyde

BUT IT BEARS THE SWEET­EST FRUIT

The Eleuther­ans begged for help from north­ern churches, praised God when it ar­rived—bun­dled and blessed—on a char­i­ta­bly char­tered ves­sel. They un­packed crates of sugar and salted pork; axes, hoes, and saws; they un­packed mu­ni­tions and pewter spoons; beeswax can­dles, starched white linens, and sil­ver sewing nee­dles; they un­packed the mak­ings, or so it seemed, of a bold new civ­i­liza­tion.

To prof­fer thanks? The Eleuther­ans shipped ten tons of Braziletto tim­ber back to Bos­ton. The wood be­came pre­cious any­where but on the is­land. Red­grained, good for dyes and vi­o­lin bows, its sale en­dowed Har­vard Univer­sity.

I am at the same univer­sity hun­dreds of years later, in a room packed tight with stu­dents. I am here to speak of Eleuthera—an is­land frag­ment in the spill of the Ba­hamas—to speak of Camp Hope, our work there, a new era of en­vi­ron­men­tal in­no­va­tion. I have be­come like Braziletto: valu­able else­where. The stu­dents shift in their seats. Stare with cau­tious piety. I shift too, hands braced against the podium, wait­ing for my words to set­tle into or­der, the ones that have bal­looned and thick­ened, made me a new kind of evan­ge­list. “Thank you, I—” But my words, I feel them crowded out. “I—” The Eleuther­ans. They wan­der through my mind as if they’d col­o­nized that too.

Things dis­ap­peared on the is­land. The Eleuther­ans never met the Lu­cayans, a boat-build­ing peo­ple who walked its beaches be­fore them, who ca­noed be­tween coves, gold-cheeked and sable-haired. Who dis­ap­peared, some years ear­lier, when the Span­ish dropped an­chor and en­slaved them all. The Lu­cayans: the gold­est thing Cristóbal Colón could find. The Eleuther­ans roamed their new home, dis­cov­er­ing mounds of picked­out mus­sel shells, shards of pal­metto ware. They found Lu­cayan axe heads, ar­row­heads, skulls—eye sock­ets spilling sand—in the place they’d come to call Preacher’s Cave.

The Eleuther­ans dis­carded these scraps of the past.

Seated in front of my podium, a bone pale girl peers into me as if through wa­ter. You’re imag­in­ing it. Down, down, down through all the strata of civ­i­liza­tion. You’re just ner­vous. I’ve made this speech dozens of times—vari­a­tions on an en­vi­ron­men­tal

homily, an ode to con­ser­va­tion—i’ve spo­ken with­out pause or hitch, with­out grasp­ing for words, but now: time di­lates, my head throbs with the long­ings of ghosts.

You’re—

In­side the air­plane, in­side the sky, win­dow ovals open­ing into aqua­ma­rine—an ocean spread blank and bliss­ful be­low—ex­cept for a few dark patches I re­al­ize later are the shad­ows of clouds. The plane hovers there too: toy-sized and skim­ming the sur­face. And then, closer to land, sand­bars swoop up white and dreamy, like spilt milk. There, Eleuthera. That skinny spit. That fish­hook bathing. The toy plane glides over pink-peb­bled beaches and acres of palm trees, above the square stamp of rooftops and swimming pools re­signed to a viri­des­cent shim­mer. It dips to pineap­ple fields, bent and over­grown, to back­hoes aban­doned mid-push in the thick cop­pice that jos­tles cin­derblock set­tle­ments, right up to the tiny air­port in Rock Sound—the only one left af­ter Pan Am dis­ap­peared—and it feels as though I might dis­ap­pear as well.

I wound up at Camp Hope by luck. Or fate. In those days I didn’t bother with dis­tinc­tions: one minute I was in a sin­gle­bulb base­ment in Brook­lyn, print­ing pam­phlets on “Cli­mate Jus­tice in an Age of Cor­po­rate Ter­ror­ism.” The next, I was step­ping onto the parched tar­mac of the Eleutheran air­port, on my way to work for a man I’d never met, wish­ing I still felt the reck­less con­fi­dence I’d flaunted to friends back home.

Wait­ing on the tar­mac: Mr. Roy Adams. My new boss and Camp Hope’s founder, he was also—at least ac­cord­ing to the ru­mors on the ac­tivist cir­cuit—a for­mer Navy SEAL turned born-again tree hug­ger, bap­tized in the warm wa­ters of the Caribbean. He wore avi­a­tors, a crew cut, and steel-toed boots. Not my usual com­pany. Not by a long shot. “Your stuff?” Adams grabbed my duf­fel bag and chucked it in the back of a bug-smeared Jeep. Then, swing­ing him­self into the driver’s side, he called, “Let’s go.”

For a mo­ment I con­sid­ered re­fus­ing: catch­ing the next plane back to New York. How could I work for a man who didn’t even bother shak­ing hands? Hav­ing spent the last decade volunteering for Field­core—a loose col­lec­tive of ur­ban eco-ac­tivists, oc­ca­sion­ally an­ar­chic, al­ways up in arms—i was used to group-think ses­sions that be­gan with hugs and ended in drum cir­cles, not two­syl­la­ble com­mands.

“Dawn?” Adams was watch­ing me through the Jeep’s wind­shield, the way one might ad­mire an an­i­mal they’d cor­ralled. His pos­ture re­laxed. His gaze steady.

My body begged to bolt, and yet I thought of the of­fer Adams had made on the phone, four weeks ear­lier. “Dawn,” he’d said, “your work on that BP

protest—im­pres­sive stuff—but don’t you ever think of tak­ing things fur­ther? Ac­tu­ally liv­ing the so­lu­tion?”

Liv­ing the so­lu­tion. Sure I’d imag­ined it—we all did at Field­core—we’d talk about get­ting a “chunk of land,” start­ing an “eco-cen­tered so­ci­ety,” prov­ing one could ex­ist be­yond the Amer­i­can SOP of morn­ing com­mutes and dis­pos­able Star­bucks cups. But the talk had al­ways re­mained ab­stract. A hash-fumed fan­tasy. That is, un­til Adams called and of­fered me a job. “Camp Hope,” he’d said, “will be part school, part eco-base­camp. We’re aim­ing to be a hun­dred per­cent self-suf­fi­cient within five months, with wind tur­bines, aqua­cul­ture, the whole deal. And we’ve al­ready got a ros­ter of stu­dents—or more specif­i­cally, their tu­ition—now we just need teach­ers. Peo­ple who be­lieve in sus­tain­abil­ity. Peo­ple like you.”

Peo­ple like you. Who was I ex­cept some­one who’d al­ways been will­ing to dream? Will­ing, rather point­edly, to make a fool of her own fear?

“Hot here,” I said, slid­ing into the Jeep’s pas­sen­ger side. The vinyl seat burned the back of my thighs, but I bit my tongue, adding, “Barely fifty when I left New York.” Adams grunted, then rum­maged in his pock­ets for keys. It oc­curred to me, then, that he might have his own reser­va­tions. On the phone he’d said I came “highly rec­om­mended,” but he’d also re­peated the need for “full-on com­mit­ment.” That he needed “do­ers, not just dream­ers. No wishy­washy hip­pie stuff.” Ap­par­ently sev­eral re­cruits for his eco-dream team had al­ready dropped out. With my rum­pled T-shirt and Me­dusa hair, I could hardly look in­spir­ing. Per­haps my ex-girl­friend—a lip­sticked NYU pro­fes­sor with a pen­chant for “soft bo­hemian women”—had been right to smirk as she watched me pack; per­haps she’d been right to re­mind me, in her creamy voice, that I’d never held a real job for more than a month.

I felt nau­seous. Heat shim­mered off the tar­mac, blear­ing the tan­gle of trees and blos­soms be­yond. Adams revved the Jeep’s en­gine. Un­ex­pect­edly, I smelled French fries. “That biodiesel?” I asked, out of habit. Adams turned to me, sun­shine gild­ing his avi­a­tors, so that for a mo­ment he ap­peared both blind­ing and holy. Then he an­swered: “They said you were good,” and stomped on the ac­cel­er­a­tor, send­ing us ca­reen­ing to­wards Camp Hope.

So full of con­vic­tion, the Eleuther­ans had sold nearly ev­ery­thing be­fore leav­ing Eng­land. Then they packed their re­main­ing pos­ses­sions—a few em­broi­dered linens, the fam­ily’s Geneva Bi­ble—and sailed blind across an ocean as vast as an idea. To Ev­ery Share­holder: lib­erty of con­scious To Ev­ery Share­holder: lib­erty of wor­ship

To Ev­ery Share­holder: three hun­dred acres of land

My first eye­ful of Camp Hope felt like a fever dream, a sight so gor­geous it hurt. Strung along a sug­ary beach were dor­mi­to­ries and class­rooms, the din­ing hall and li­brary—low breezy build­ings, all freshly white­washed—and be­side them gar­den plots al­ready flush with melon leaves, car­rot tops, pole beans. So­lar pan­els bowed to the sun. Wind tur­bines pirou­et­ted in the breeze. A ci­tadel to sus­tain­abil­ity. “You weren’t kid­ding,” I breathed, stand­ing be­side Adams. “This some­thing.”

Adams thrust his hands into his pock­ets, like an over­sized boy try­ing to be mod­est. “It’s get­ting there,” he said. “I’d wanted to have the hy­dro­ponic fa­cil­ity up—” He paused, hav­ing caught sight of his builders. They were sit­ting in the shade of some leafy bananas. “Are they lo­cal—?” Adams ig­nored me, in­stead call­ing, “Fin­ished al­ready?” as the men scram­bled up­right. “Don’t strain your­self, Devall.” Adams strode in among them, thump­ing the sweaty back of the slow­est. “I’m in the mar­ket for more shark bait.” Devall—or the man who’d been called Devall—stiff­ened. Adams re­leased a gun­shot laugh. “I’m just mess­ing with you,” he said, grin­ning un­til the oth­ers grinned with him.

Again I felt doubt, its nau­seous blos­som—but there was lit­tle time to dwell. Adams had me meet the other fac­ulty: in ad­di­tion to a small pla­toon of bi­ol­o­gists, he had re­cruited a trio of women fresh from lib­eral arts col­leges, who looked com­pe­tent and overe­d­u­cated, and who—per­haps not­ing my cropped hair and cargo shorts—promptly in­formed me that they “loved Ju­dith But­ler.” Then there was a gan­gly ex-mor­mon named Char­lie, who knew as­tron­omy, trigonom­e­try, and CPR. A busty scuba in­struc­tor named Jac­quelle. Two silent Nor­we­gian cooks, who van­ished as soon as they were in­tro­duced. And me, pre­sented as “a vet­eran en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist,” a ti­tle that made me blush. I didn’t ar­gue with it, though. “In six days our stu­dents ar­rive,” said Adams, as we gath­ered un­der palm trees for our inau­gu­ral fac­ulty meet­ing. “Camp Hope, though, should be more than a school. It’s our head­quar­ters. The nerve cen­ter of an eco-revo­lu­tion— not just here, but ev­ery­where. If we can end over­fish­ing on Eleuthera, end the is­land’s de­pen­dence on fos­sil fu­els, the coastal rape of mega re­sorts, we can be a model for the world to change.”

With toes scrunched in sand, trade winds teas­ing our hair, all of us nod­ded— nearly amened— but Adams waved us quiet.

“And change is pos­si­ble,” he said, his voice tight­en­ing. “Look at me—at who I was.” He folded his big arms across his chest, again the Navy SEAL. “In Panama they asked me to blow up reefs, just to make ex­tra har­bor space. And I did. I blew them up.”

He paused, gaz­ing out at the per­fumed col­ors of a post­card sunset, as if

wait­ing for ad­mon­ish­ment, some cen­sure. Only the del­i­cate lap of waves an­swered. The shy susurra­tion of palm fronds. “Now, though—” Adams’s voice soft­ened, “now, I pro­tect them.” A week later, our first stu­dents tip­toed from a small me­tal plane, look­ing for some­one to tell them what to do.

Ne­hemiah re­mem­bers when she came smil­ing off that plane: Princess Diana, on her hon­ey­moon. There were re­sorts on the is­land then, cling­ing to Eleuthera’s coasts like bar­na­cles. Coves full of yachts. Billy Jean King swat­ting balls across ten­nis courts. Mu­sic drift­ing from the bars.

Then there was a storm; re­sorts wrecked. Hur­ri­cane An­drew pum­meled the is­land flat. Af­ter the storm, in­vestors looked away. The big air­port closed. No more tourists. No more jobs. Just empty af­ter­noons, the bark of stray dogs.

“Mamma, she worked ina of­fice,” Ne­hemiah says, spit­ting off the dock. “And Papa, he worked in one nexta hers.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of Camp Hope’s stu­dents at first. There were thirty in to­tal, each about fif­teen years old, well-nour­ished, ath­letic—tak­ing a se­mes­ter so­journ from New Eng­land prep schools—the beau­ti­ful sons and daugh­ters of bankers and doc­tors and politi­cians. Chil­dren of wealth. Adams needed their tu­ition, I knew, to keep Camp Hope afloat, but it dis­turbed me: serv­ing the al­ready priv­i­leged. Be­fore classes be­gan, I imag­ined my­self be­ing stern with them, yank­ing the sil­ver spoons from their mouths. Giv­ing them a bit­ter dose of re­al­ity.

I sup­pose I was jeal­ous, too. Or em­bar­rassed. The stu­dents brought to mind my own scat­ter­shot up­bring­ing—angsty and ugly—my mother’s sigh of re­lief when I told her, at sev­en­teen, that I was leav­ing for New York and never com­ing back. And my fa­ther? Who knows what he thought. The stu­dents, though, were a bright cheery bunch. Hard­work­ing. De­spite my best ef­forts, I liked them. Still, when Adams asked for sug­ges­tions dur­ing a fac­ulty meet­ing, I brought up the pos­si­bil­ity of a schol­ar­ship fund. “For, you know, some di­ver­sity.”

My pro­posal made Adams stand up and sigh. He paced the small of­fice, then paused and pounded the ta­ble. A pot­ted fi­cus jumped.

“Hell!” he said. “I’d love to el­e­vate all hu­man­ity. But some ghetto baby isn’t go­ing to knock Exxon off its throne.”

At ghetto baby, the lib­eral arts girls looked as though they’d been Tasered. Char­lie cupped his chin in his hand, brow fur­rowed. The bi­ol­o­gists blinked. I leaned back in my chair, arms crossed, but Adams con­tin­ued un­per­turbed.

“These kids, though—our kids—you get these kids hug­ging trees now, they’ll be writ­ing the laws later.” His voice shifted, dropped lower. “You know

ve­g­an­ism to stu­dents like dogma. Adams de­fined my teach­ing role vaguely. “Just talk,” he said, “don’t think about it.” So I gave stu­dents the ideas I’d been kick­ing around for years. I spoke about in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness. Di­ver­sity as re­silience. The webbed limbs of a banyan tree, dol­phin pods, ant colonies: they were my in­fra­struc­ture, my de­mo­graph­ics, my guides. “It’s all tied to­gether,” I told them, “ecol­ogy in all di­men­sions. Past and present. Re­al­ity and imag­i­na­tion.”

My old life, I re­al­ized, had been filled with so much neg­a­tiv­ity. Print­ing pam­phlets that no one would read—protest­ing Mon­santo, BP, or Pe­abody Energy—it had been more of a penance, a kind of mar­tyr­dom, than an hon­est ef­fort at change. But now: I liked the way the stu­dents nod­ded. I liked the way the palm trees nod­ded in the breeze, as if they agreed, too.

The Eleuther­ans tried to till the soil with plows gifted from Bos­ton char­i­ties. They fought the sweat on their brows, fought back ques­tions of worth­while­ness. IDLE HANDS ARE THE DEVIL’S WORK­SHOP Hop­ing for an­swers, they looked to the sun, blaz­ing hot and bored. Their linen shirts, their pet­ti­coats, they wore them stained and tat­tered.

“Curry soil,” the lo­cals call it nowa­days. So full of rocks. Hard work. Dirty work. A farmer feeds his cow two man­goes, eats the third him­self.

Camp Hope’s wind tur­bine broke first; its small ro­tor cor­roded.

“We’ll hook back up to the grid,” said Adams, know­ing Camp Hope’s so­lar pan­els couldn’t han­dle the load alone. “But it’s just tem­po­rary.”

And it was tem­po­rary, ex­cept a week later we had nine days of rain— in­clud­ing a real trop­i­cal slasher that tore the roof off the bike shed and flooded both dor­mi­to­ries.

Adams, though, al­most seemed pleased by the de­struc­tion. “Lock and load,” he called to the stu­dents, as they car­ried sacks of rice from the store­room to soak up ex­cess wa­ter. Heft­ing a sack on each shoul­der, he strode through the swill of flooded books and pa­pers, splash­ing the sacks down be­fore vault­ing back for more.

That was the first time I re­ally no­ticed Fitz Ober­man—or no­ticed his be­hav­ior. While the other stu­dents fol­lowed Adams with sol­dierly en­thu­si­asm, happy to be un­der his bark, Fitz stood un­der a drip­ping tan­gle of pas­sion fruit vines, sulk­ing.

“Buck up,” I said, slap­ping him on the back, so that he stum­bled for­ward a few paces. Camp Hope’s daily ex­er­cise regime had made me stronger than I re­al­ized.

Fitz stared at me from un­der the brim of a large floppy hat. A pale kid, his

The heavy rains did not re­turn, but in their wake the sand­fly pop­u­la­tion ex­ploded. Ev­ery­one’s legs and arms be­came spot­ted with bites, itchy red welts like chicken pox that lasted days at a time. Most stu­dents han­dled them well; they made an ef­fort not to scratch; they made a game of it. But Fitz—i pulled him aside one day af­ter class, hav­ing no­ticed his welts were clawed at and oozy. “Scratch­ing just makes it worse,” I said, as the class­room emp­tied to only us. Fitz bent over and be­gan scratch­ing in front of me. I drew in a breath, know­ing I needed to ap­proach Fitz with “pos­i­tive al­ter­na­tives,” as Adams had sug­gested in our most re­cent fac­ulty meet­ing. “Take him spear fish­ing, crab hunt­ing, free-div­ing,” he’d said. “Let him know he mat­ters.” In the grow­ing hu­mid­ity, Adams had taken to con­duct­ing the meet­ings shirt­less, so that while the rest of us sweated and swat­ted flies, he looked like Rambo, at ease in a desk chair, a shark tooth neck­lace slung around his throat.

“But why can’t we just let him go home?” one of the lib­eral arts girls had asked. Mar­jorie—an over-sun­screened thing—she’d also had an un­for­tu­nate run-in with poisonwood ear­lier that week, the rashy re­sults of which she still sto­ically en­dured.

“Let him go home?” Adams’s fore­head puck­ered. “We give ev­ery per­son 110 per­cent.”

In my old life—my New York life—i might have quipped, “why not 125 per­cent?” But Adams’s meth­ods were mak­ing more sense ev­ery day. I’d seen some real progress with many of our stu­dents: kids whose dads owned banks talk­ing about get­ting so­lar pan­els for their schools, wind farms in their com­mu­ni­ties. And while ev­ery­one at Camp Hope had played a role in these trans­for­ma­tions, I also knew that many of these changes were my do­ing—my teach­ing—and I wanted Adams to rec­og­nize that fact: to see that I was the change-maker he’d brought me on­board to be.

“I’ll work with Fitz more,” I said, at­tempt­ing to sound con­fi­dent. “He came to me first, so I’ll see about get­ting him in more lead­er­ship roles, get­ting him en­gaged.”

Adams nod­ded, that was all. There were other things to dis­cuss—like the ru­mors of a new cruise ship de­vel­op­ment on the is­land—and yet, I’d sensed him study­ing me, reeval­u­at­ing me, even as he said, “Great. Prob­lem solved. Let’s talk fundrais­ing.”

Ac­tu­ally deal­ing with Fitz, how­ever, was another mat­ter. Stand­ing in the empty class­room, the kid con­tin­ued scratch­ing, fin­gers dig­ging into his flesh in long slow pulls. “Cut it out.” He stopped and straight­ened up. A smile wormed onto his lips. “You know,” he said, as if our con­ver­sa­tion were en­tirely ca­sual, “the lo­cals spray these things.”

Of course I knew the lo­cals sprayed. I’d taught a les­son on it: by killing these in­sects, we would kill the birds that ate them and thereby poi­son the food chain.

Fitz re­turned to scratch­ing, this time with a thought­ful rhythm. I felt an itch­i­ness ris­ing in my own spot­ted limbs, then an urge to lash out, to scream into his smirk­ing face.

I slapped some salve onto Fitz’s bare skin. He cried out once, his eyes look­ing some­where I couldn’t see. How far away did the Eleuther­ans feel, watch­ing the first ship splin­ter on a reef, the boat’s wooden belly lac­er­ated, drown­ing sailors cry­ing out? Did Eng­land feel dis­tant? Did the Eleuther­ans feel far away, as they stood knee deep in the sea, a salted breeze muf­fling the acrid burn of lan­tern resin?

Or was the Old World sud­denly close?

At din­ner, the stu­dents asked when Adams would be back. “Soon,” I told them. “But when?” re­peated a pony-tailed dis­traught.

I ig­nored them and scanned the din­ing hall, hands on my hips, pro­ject­ing the fiercely com­pe­tent woman I’d just re­al­ized I could be. No more wispy Brook­lyn burnout. Two months of sun and ex­er­cise had turned my skin leath­ery, my mus­cles hard.

In a cor­ner of the din­ing hall, I caught sight of Fitz talk­ing in­tently to sev­eral wide-eyed boys. While I would have been pleased, a week ago, to see him mak­ing friends, now I wor­ried he was try­ing to or­ga­nize some kind of coup. “Ta­ble seven,” I called, as Fitz’s jaw froze mid-sen­tence. “Fif­teen pushups.” “But, we—” “Fif­teen. Or I’ll raise it.” With­out fur­ther protest, the boys dropped to the floor—even Fitz—their skinny el­bows bending to ninety de­grees. The other stu­dents, hav­ing noted my tone, be­gan fil­ing to­wards dish­wash­ing duty or com­post brigade.

Mean­while, the bi­ol­o­gists hud­dled to­gether, chat­ter­ing about their long­lined hooks. Re­cently, just off the coastal shelf—a two thou­sand–foot drop not far from shore—they’d hauled up the head of a tiger shark, its toothy jaw im­paled on their bait. Just the head, though. The rest of the shark was chewed off.

“It’s down there,” I heard a bi­ol­o­gist say, mean­ing an even big­ger shark, more an­cient. More im­pos­si­ble. The lib­eral arts girls talked about eat­ing ice cream. As soon as I could get away, I went div­ing.

One hun­dred feet down your mind gets scram­bled. Ni­tro­gen nar­co­sis it’s called: a giddy phantasmagoria. To Cousteau: “the rap­ture of the deep.” That far down, it’s harder to draw air from a reg­u­la­tor. Harder to see. Col­ors go dim, red es­pe­cially.

“Ain’t good to be alone,” Ne­hemiah had told me. “A man shouldn’t be by his lone self. Or a fee-male, in your case.”

Alone, un­der­wa­ter, I run my flash­light over the in­flec­tions of fan coral, the glint of eyes stowed in rocks. Sea grass quiv­er­ing like souls be­fore God. I see the open mouth of a crevasse—an un­der­wa­ter cave—slip in­side, care­ful not to let my fins touch the polyps lin­ing the walls. The crevasse turns into a tun­nel that falls

away into dark­ness. I hover above the coastal shelf, an aqua­naut, weight­less in three di­men­sions.

My mask be­gins to fog. I have an urge to tear it off, as if that might help me see, per­haps even glimpse the deep-sea sharks the bi­ol­o­gists be­lieve are swimming be­low. I stare into the chasm, re­mind my­self to breathe.

Only the air bub­bles know where to go. They stream past me, to­wards the sur­face.

In a world even older than the Eleuther­ans’, the Lu­cayan peo­ple told sto­ries to ex­plain them­selves. Their an­ces­tors lived in caves, they said, but only caves. They could not leave, be­cause the sun would turn them into a rock or a tree. But one day a hero tricked the sun. The hero con­vinced the sun to stare at its own re­flec­tion: the im­age cast in the sea. The sun looked and was blinded. The peo­ple were set free.

Then, La Niña, La Pinta, La Santa Maria. Span­ish galleons thread­ing their way through the ar­chi­pel­ago, black-prowed nee­dles sewing up fate. Colum­bus must have known not to look at his re­flec­tion: the proud nose cast in Ba­hamian wa­ters.

The Eleuther­ans saw theirs but years too late.

With Adams away, ev­ery­one was rest­less. The lib­eral arts girls, aban­don­ing their usual shy­ness, ap­peared in my bed­room, twit­ter­ing and ef­fer­ves­cent. They wanted to go danc­ing. “Please, Dawn,” they said. “Please, please, please.” Down is­land there was a vil­lage bar. Rum and ginger beer. Luke­warm Ka­lik. “It’ll be fun. We won’t be gone long . . .” Adams ex­pected the fac­ulty to spend their nights at Camp Hope—and tired as we usu­ally were, we had no rea­son to ar­gue—but that evening the is­land beck­oned, its beaches and blos­soms swathed in shad­ows, like many dozen satin veils. And any­way, Adams didn’t have to know. At the bar, Caribbean refrains trick­led from a three-man band, one guy stroking a rusty saw. Some lo­cals seemed amused by our pres­ence, while oth­ers be­came tight-lipped and wary. Bat moths flut­tered to the ceil­ing. Photos of celebri­ties lined the bar­room walls. A bat moth landed on Madonna’s face, like a big black mous­tache.

I got drunk easily. Maybe it was the heat: the small room warmed by so many bod­ies, by heavy breaths and side­long glances. Soon enough my T-shirt was soaked with sweat, even though I barely danced, just stood sway­ing in a cor­ner. Out­side, a moon ripened. I felt out-of-body. Dis­placed. I be­gan won­der­ing what had hap­pened to that warm­hearted woman from Brook­lyn: the one who loved to love. When was the last time I’d even thought about sex? When had sex be­come just another word for com­pro­mise?

Al­le­gra Hyde

It was still dark when I rat­tled the bunks of sev­eral stu­dents. They snapped to at­ten­tion, shak­ing off drowsi­ness to ask, “Did we miss roll call? Are we in trou­ble?”

I told them no, but to get mov­ing. To gather their note­books and cam­eras. “We’re go­ing on a field trip,” I an­nounced, in spite of my head-claw­ing hang­over. “I want you to see the site of the pro­posed cruise ship port—a pris­tine cove—i’ll be ex­pect­ing an es­say.”

Re­ally, though, the trip wasn’t for them. I’d wo­ken need­ing to see what Adams called “un­speak­ably im­por­tant”: the beach that would oth­er­wise be en­crusted with tiki huts and rub­ber slides. I needed to re­mind my­self what we were work­ing to save.

Our van chugged down is­land, trail­ing French-fry fumes. Fitz sulked in the back, but the other stu­dents bab­bled, bright-eyed, which took the edge off my headache.

A MAN DIGS HIS GRAVE WITH HIS OWN TEETH, the Eleuther­ans once told one another—even with mouths full of gravel, their tongues coated in sand—as YOU SOW SO YOU SHALL REAP.

“Pole bean, mel’n, goat peppa.” The air stings with ash from slash and burn. “Cab­bage, tomata, cas­sava” But you can’t eat ethics, can you? “Lo­custs, they chewed all them holes.” Can you?

I pulled the van onto a sandy side road, spilled out with the stu­dents. Bro­ken glass crunched un­der­foot. In the dis­tance: the weath­ered ce­ment shells of sev­eral build­ings, wa­ter wink­ing through the crooked legs of a stilted life­guard chair. “I thought we were go­ing to a pris­tine beach?” said a stu­dent. I checked my map again, just as be­wil­dered. This was def­i­nitely the place. Fur­ther on, the ground was tiled, cracked stairs lead­ing to a swimming pool filled with brack­ish wa­ter. A drowned golf cart.

“C-l-u—,” said a moon-eyed boy, peel­ing back a cur­tain of vines to read a tiled wall. “Club Med.”

I knew I should say some­thing about the re­silience of na­ture, but I felt sud­denly tired. My hang­over crept back. I wanted to curl up in the ru­ins and sleep a hun­dred years. “Where’s Fitz?” said another stu­dent. There’d be no sleep­ing: of course Fitz would wan­der off. I cursed silently,

“Make a speech,” he said. His pale face leered, spec­tral in the half-light. The other stu­dents, by then, had drifted into the cave as well. They wan­dered about, necks cran­ing back to stare up at the high ceil­ing. What­ever Fitz was get­ting at, I de­cided to ig­nore. “Okay, show’s over,” I said, “ev­ery­one back to the van.” “Make a speech,” Fitz re­peated, this time louder. The other stu­dents stilled, went quiet. “You’re not feel­ing well, Fitz.” I tried to sound calm, even bored. “You have sun­stroke—that’s why you got lost—we need to get you back to school.”

He didn’t move. I glanced at the rock again, its un­usual shape. Was there some­thing mag­netic about it? I imag­ined my hands on its sur­face: smooth and cool.

“Come on, Ms. Var­gas.” Fitz’s voice echoed and ex­panded, as if chan­nel­ing a thou­sand voices, a cho­rus of the dead. “Tell us about par­adise, about a bet­ter world.”

The other stu­dents stared at me, wait­ing.

The Har­vard stu­dents stare at me, wait­ing.

If I could, I would say this: af­ter Colum­bus pushed his way to the boat’s bow for the first view of land, af­ter the last Lu­cayan died hud­dled in a cave and the Eleuther­ans starved, then baited ships; af­ter the plan­ta­tion fields—rows of cot­ton, spires of pineap­ple stalks, the whip crack of progress—af­ter the rum-run­ners, the Navy base, the re­sorts that burned cop­pice for golf course grass, named them­selves “Cot­ton Bay,” “Pineap­ple Point”; af­ter the hur­ri­cane; af­ter tar­macs be­came land­ing sites for drug planes in­stead of princesses and ten­nis stars; af­ter set­tle­ments emp­tied to only slaves’ an­ces­tors and Haitian refugees and a few sun­burnt whites se­questered up in Gre­go­ry­town, all of them—black or white—drunk on nos­tal­gia; when all that was left of the Lu­cayans was a few chipped bits of pal­metto ware, there was us.

“Don’t you be­lieve?” said Fitz. “Aren’t you a be­liever?”

He be­gan laugh­ing—or chok­ing—his head lolling back, the gut­tural noise crowd­ing the cave like the beat­ing wings of bats.

“Sun­stroke,” I told the other stu­dents, as I wrenched Fitz to his feet and hus­tled him back to the van. “Sun­stroke,” I told my­self.

In the dark of night, wa­ter pours from the sky, slips through lime­stone like a sieve. A joke no one seems to get. Ne­hemiah holds out his hands and looks to­wards heaven. Wa­ter leaks through his fin­gers too. The drop drop drop of tears.

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