Notes from an Island
That evening, after the screaming next door, I walked through the faint sound of distant steel drums to that cafe, the one in the basement at 7th and Olive. The waitress saw me sit and brought a rum, neat, rocks on the side. I'd only been there twice before. Over beneath the back stairs sat a rich Cuban woman and her step-daughter with the scarf. Just east of the steel post under that bicycle statue with the LED lights was a Spanish ascetic wearing a Kiss t-shirt that he was given by a 19 year old American student when she studied a semester in Haiti. Before him was a glass of water and an onion, his supper. He glanced up and then stared at the Cuban woman as if knowing everything about her. She looked at him and blushed hotly. Closing her eyes, beginning to weep, she kissed her stepdaughter and rushed into the breeze and steel drums and the street. I left my rum and walked to my room.
The screaming is at sunset. I knocked on that door once. A Hawaiian woman with a broad face calmly opened the door and looked at me. Knowing why I had come she took my hand and led me to the balcony. There sat an old man, bearded and bearing a long scar on his thigh. He held a book to his chest and watched the sun sink into the water, keening and screaming, clutching his book. I looked at the woman. She raised her eyebrows. The Eyebrows asked "Do you see? Do you see now why he screams? Do you see that it is the greatest kindness to leave him alone to scream at the sea who betrayed him so?" I nodded to her eyebrows and we said nothing to one another. I let myself out and went in search of the sound of the distant steel drums and, after that, I did not listen to his screaming at sunset.
When you walk down Seaside Boulevard, Amber is usually there in front of Sailor Boy's in a sequined gown. She's the star of the midnight drag show, but the rest of the time she is out front hustling customers. "Come on in" she says. "You know you want to try it. No one can see, it's night on the island. There is no sun at night. Come and look at us. It is why we live." She tugs at your arm when she says this. No one ever admits to going in. But now, with your eyes glistening and your pulse raised, it is easy for the girl in shorts and a white polo at the club next door, also named Amber, to smile in that way that makes your right leg twist around left on its forward swing. You have to turn to keep from tripping and take another step to keep from falling. This takes you in through the front door. Amber is already smiling at the next person on the street and you walk up the creaking stairs to the bar on the roof of the third floor. There is music and the steel drums are much louder and there is a girl crying Lo Evoe! while tearing open her new lavender blouse.
On the crowded street where tourists go, there is a booth that says Tourist Information on a big sign across the top. The same young woman sits there every night, listening to the sound of steel drums and waiting for someone to come over and ask about tourists. "Where do tourists get those clothes?" you could ask her. Or "Why are all the male gay couples smiling while all the lesbian couples in their ergonomic shoes walking around holding hands scowling as if they're being forced to babysit their dotty aunt?" I've never asked her anything. She sits very straight and very still with her khaki clad buttocks hovering just a fraction of an inch above her plain wooden stool, watching the street. She must know a lot about tourists by now.
A boat is docked on the west side of the island that is the size of Jacksonville. I think that I will walk to it but then I see that the tiny structure at the very top is a three story slide into an Olympic sized pool. I can barely make it out. The ship must be a very long way away. So instead I go to a bar where a famous writer once spent a lot of time. I come here often, sitting in a different seat every time I do. I want to make sure that, someday, I will sit on the same seat that the famous writer once sat on. I look around for Jimmy Buffet, but he never comes here. I buy a rum, neat, rocks on the side, and close my eyes and listen very hard to the distant sound of steel drums.