243 Treasure Harbor Road
Islamorada, FL 33036
Located at Mile Marker 86.5
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"Looks like you did." Even in the mellow remains of the day's light, her breasts were a mottled raspberry. She began to squirt cream on them from a bottle. "Wow!" she said, and laughed. I laughed, too, engaged by her air of easy candor as she exposed first one nipple then the other, dousing them with Johnson & Johnson's. I thought that the sheer size of her body had a lot to do with it. It was something like the state of Arizona: a rolling, sun-baked landscape, plenty big enough to accommodate the gaze of many strangers without anyone feeling remotely crowded or intruded upon. Together, the woman and I stared at the red hills and valleys under her dress, and marveled, like the tourists from the north that we both were, at the effects of the fierce sun on that strange and magnificent terrain.
A dented hatchback with Indiana plates pulled into the lot. "Here's Duane," the woman said. Duane brought out a big fish, closely wrapped in tinfoil, which he laid on the grass at the woman's feet.
"Grouper," he said. He was a year or two younger than the woman. She was flesh, he was bone; skinny, straw haired, with the pale shadow of a mustache on his upper lip.
She pulled her halter top down for Duane to see her sunburn. Smiling, he squinted at her enormous breasts with the pride of a landlord who is comforted each day by the sight of his own acres.
"You caught it bad," Duane said.
"I was telling this gentleman ..." the woman said.
"I was just looking to see if anyone had a corkscrew," I explained to Duane. "I was trying to open a bottle of wine--"
"We had wine," the woman said. "Yesterday. We didn't have no corkscrew. Duane opened it. With his thumb. Pushed the cork right down into the bottle. Got wine all over his pants."
"I could go see if there's a corkscrew in the room," Duane said.
"I looked in mine, and couldn't find one," I said.
"You wait right there," Duane said, holding his hand up to me like a traffic cop.
"Duane always finds things," the woman said. As she shifted her weight I saw that she was many months pregnant.
Duane came out from their room, beaming vacantly. "No corkscrew!" he said, as if he'd found something. Maybe he just had the manner of a man who was always making important discoveries: as Columbus might have cabled to the King and Queen of Spain, "No America!"
The woman said: "You could open it like Duane did. Push the cork right in. I don't think they bother too much about things like that around here. I get the feeling they don't bother much about anything around here, on the Keys.
"Back in my room, I got at the wine Duane-fashion, with the blunt end of a fork, then sat behind the shutters, watching. All the doors of the hatchback were now open, with the radio tuned, at full volume, to a country music station. Under the coconut palms, the fiddles and accordions were going at it, hammer and tongs, while a man sang that he'd made a lot of money but it didn't buy him dreams; he'd thought he was rich, but he was only in between; when he'd met his darling, he couldn't resist. Oh! Love couldn't get any better than this!
Duane, standing by the open trunk of the car, was carefully removing a portable barbecue from on top of what first appeared to be a heap of white tissue paper then resolved into a lacy wedding dress, now severely crushed and much the worse for wear from its forced intimacy with the barbecue. Duane set up his instruments on the grass, moving with a deliberation and solemnity that made him look like a young priest celebrating his first communion. His matronly bride watched over him with fond approval as he readied himself with charcoal briquettes and can of kerosene. Finally he raised the silver fish from the grass with both hands and laid it reverently over the flaming coals. Then he joined the woman on the bench, where they sat together without touching, in silence, their mouths both slackly open.
I tried to guess at who they'd been before they came to the Keys. Had they come from Muncie? Indianapolis? I could see them living, on sufferance, in a single room in Duane's mother's house, where Duane's stupendous girl would be spoken of, through gritted teeth, as her and she. I could hear Duane's mom: "She's finished up the milk"; "Her hair's clogging up the shower drain." When I looked into the couple's future, all I could see was diapers and food stamps.
But here and now they were on parole from the real world. The Florida Keys were about as far beyond reality as anyone from Muncie, Indiana had ever dared to go; and in a few weeks' time, with the baby squalling on the foldaway bed, this evening would take on the disbelievable glamour of a sequence from a TV movie about the kind of life that only actors in fictions ever get to live. Duane, gaunt and sulky in his new fatherhood, would see the canopy of palms, the purple water, the great fish on the barbecue. Unreal. Somewhere on the foggy edge of the frame there'd be an absurd detail: a man with a foreign accent begging for a corkscrew. It was unreal.
I left the Ragged Edge to find something to eat; when I came back, the place was dark and the barbecue had been folded away and put in its place on top of the wedding dress. I stood by the motel dock, listening to the whisper of a feeble tide inching its way up the beach, and watched the buoys that marked the Hawk Channel down to Key West flash red, white and green. The channel was a wide marine highway, sheltered from the real Atlantic by a long line of coral reefs, half a dozen or so miles offshore. The ocean never showed its teeth on the keys. Inside the reefs, it was more lagoon than sea; tame tropic water that went from pretty ruffles to mirror calms. I ached to be out there. A big ship, moving slowly up-channel, showed as a quadrangular patch of mat black against the moonlit gleam of the water, and the night was so still that I could feel the ship's engines drumming under my feet. Close by, a leaping tarpon fell back into the dock with a crash like that of a jettisoned fridge freezer, and the wash of its ripples made the moored boats lurch and saunter on their ropes.
I walked back to my room. The shutters of the room below were lit by the mercurial synthetic colors of the television inside. There was a burst of studio laughter, then the sly, self-preening voice of Johnny Carson telling a story from a cue card. The honeymooners were busy, catching up on the reality they'd left behind.
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