Lara gives the last of her spiced rum and coke a little swirl and the melting ice cubes tinkle and clink against the glass. Every woman needs a little spice in her life she thinks. A slice of lemon, a slice of lime. A phantom lover. An Adirondack chair with arms hot from the beating sun, holding her prisoner on the deck with her mother-in-law.
Oh God, scratch the MIL part of this day-dream please. Draw a big fat red line through that. She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes. Her handsome buccaneer, all shiny buckles, big black boots and wicked grin, walks up the hill towards her, stops at the edge of the deck to rest one foot on a keg of rum, plants the tip of his sword in the ground and cries “Avast ye!” Or some such pirate-speak nonsense. He has returned to her after months of seeking thrills and fortune in the Caribbean, he is home at last from the sea. He has come to lay his treasures at her feet. And his handsome head upon her breast.
Her captain is hot in every way. “Aren’t you hot?” she asks him and his grin widens. He tosses his red hat in to the long grass. Lets his heavy blue cape drop to the ground. Kicks off his big black boots, one by one. Reaches for the tarnished gold buckle on his breeches. Oh my….
“How many pork chops can you eat for supper? ” Mil wants to know. Jeez Louise. The captain goes into freeze frame. They have barely finished lunch. How in the world is Lara supposed to guess how hungry she’ll be later? But then she thinks it’s not such an unreasonable request, really, so she swallows her irritation with the last of her drink trying to think what her answer to this one is supposed to be.
Mil is the kind of lady one must tiptoe around and not annoy. The strangest things can push her buttons and put her in a pissy mood for hours on end. Lara has learned to think about what she says and what she does so that it’s not her fault when Jekyll becomes Hyde and proceeds to wreak havoc on their holiday. It’s been two weeks of pussy footing around all the issues that have come up, and so far Lara has survived them all. She’s kept mostly to herself and out of the way, read every book she brought with her, baked bread and made cinnamon buns at Mils request, even though no other sane person on earth would do such a thing in the middle of the hot summer at a summer camp, for the love of all that’s holy. But she did it. She has painted rocks on the front facing part of the island, obeying another order from on high, phrased as a gentle entreaty, but if Mil decides she wants rock faces painted, Lara must paint. She did if for her father-in-law though too, since he appeared to be so delighted with her stylized eagle and the giant frog face and the crazy stick people dancing across the steep flat rock just up from the dock. It also gave him a perfect excuse to keep her well supplied with beverages while she laboured in the sun. She blames the hockey nightmare goalie mask creation at the top of the path on one too many rums. Well, they can’t all be artistic treasures.
The pork chops in question are surely those little fast fry things with the bone still in them which will be cooked up tough and crisp on the barbecue because pork (and all other cuts of meat fated to shrivel up and die here) must be well done. “I think – two”, Lara says tentatively. It seems like a safe enough answer.
“I’m only having one”, Mil says. ” I’m not a big meat-eater at all, one will be more than enough for me. That will fill me up completely. When we get McDonald’s I always have the kids cheeseburger, that’s all I ever have, I could never eat one of those double patty things. I’m just not a big eater. I can make a meal out of appetizer chicken fingers when we go out for dinner. I just don’t know how some people can eat so much.”
Lara sighs. Wrong again. She is obviously one of those meat-craving over-eaters who doesn’t understand the appetizer-as-main-course concept. She wants to suggest that her two pork chops be tastefully arranged on a single lettuce leaf with three kernels of corn on the side.
Her father-in-law saunters up behind them and reaches out for Lara’s glass. Good old Fil, always puttering around in the background, happy as a lark, keeping an eye on things. “Ready for a refill?” he asks.
“You bet, thank you.” Lara hands the empty tumbler over with a smile. She never fakes her smiles when it comes to Fil. He’s like a little rum dispensing machine, always making sure everybodys drink is topped up and that the ice-cube trays are never empty. The eternal optimist, the even keel on the island; keeping everybody happily sloshed appears to be his mission in life. How has he failed so miserably with his wife? He offers to get Mil another iced tea, but oh my God, no, one is her limit. She couldn’t possibly drink another one. What a surprise.
The captain has been fading on the lawn, but once Lara takes a couple of refreshing sips of her second tall spiced rum of the afternoon, he is standing there again in vibrant living color.
“Arr! Ye be makin’ me hang the jib here, lass” he says as he readjusts his cloak.
“No, no, where were we? That giant buckle on your big leather belt. You were about to…adjust it I think.” The wicked grin is back in an instant and the captain removes his belt and lets it fall at his feet. He tilts his head to one side and winks as his fingers touch the top of his buttoned fly. There is suddenly laughter and screaming as Laras children race up the hill and right through the captain, scattering bits and pieces of him to the wind.
“Mom! Mom! Can we play that word game now?” They are both dragging towels that they haven’t used, soaking wet from their swim, throwing their life jackets on to the deck, dripping cold water on her warm legs and feet, never mind her sizzling pirate hallucinations.
The game they want to play is the one where she writes down a made up story, then leaves out nouns and adjectives and verbs everywhere so that she can prompt them for new ones to fill in the blanks. They take turns supplying them – a person, a thing, an action word, a color, an expression - and then they get to read the final revised work of brilliant fiction. They always consider the results to be hysterically funny. When they read the stories to their dad later he will look at them as if he wonders where these strange children have come from and what exactly they’re doing here.
After they’ve spent a laugh filled hour or two together on this creative literary pursuit and the kids have decided to tumble back down to the water to catch minnows in their nets, Lara finds herself halfway through her third (or is it her fourth?) spiced rum of the day. Fil just appears out of nowhere when the time is right, and then he wanders off again, this last time with his hedge trimmer. He never gets far enough away that the dwindling ice cubes can’t send their summons for him to reappear.
Mil has retreated to the inside of the cabin because she can’t abide the heat even in the shade. It makes her miserable. Like a hundred other things. Like the fact that Lara ignores her suggestion to go down to the water with her kids. According to the rules of Mil and the universe, a good mother would do that even if she were actually as afraid of the water as Lara professes to be. But the water does make her nervous, and her kids understand that, even though they’ve never actually put the thought into so many words. They know never to break Laras unbreakable rule that life jackets must be worn within twenty feet of the river. So they always put them on and then they’re on their own and can get up to whatever kind of shenanigans they want.
Lara calls through the screen to ask if she can help with anything, and Mil tells her no, you just relax; but what Lara hears in her head is ‘don’t bother to get off your lazy ass you drunken excuse for the mother of my grandchildren while I slave away in the kitchen counting pork chops and kernels of corn’. Lara tilts her face back to catch the last of the afternoon sunshine and welcomes the whisper of a ghostly touch upon her shoulder. She thinks she can smell the ocean.
“Blimey, but I be addled by your disdain” says the captain. Ah, there you are, she thinks, smiling to herself. All these interruptions are putting a serious dent in her delicious day-dream. “Have a clap of thunder with me, sir. I’m well on my way to squiffy and I’d really like you to come along with me.”
“Blow me down if you’re not loaded to the gunwale already me lovely. If there be fire in the hole I’ll give ye no quarter.” Lara has no idea what on earth that might mean to a real live pirate, but it doesn’t matter, she just likes to listen to him talk. Captain of the carousers. Blow me down indeed. He’s wearing his pirate hat and his boots now, but otherwise he’s stripped down to nothing else except black jockey shorts. That can’t be historically correct, but who cares. His chest is covered in soft black hair, he is leaning down close enough to touch her, he is reaching out, he is telling her she can take from him whatever she wants….
Gawd, that’s probably entirely enough rum for one day. And maybe a little too much sun. Time to put the captain back in his bottle before he carries her away. This is all Stans fault. He brings her here to a place with no privacy, holed up in the tiny cabin where everybody can hear everything that’s going on in the middle of the night. They can’t do anything unless they can time some sort of unsatisfying quickie with the crazy rumbling and whistling of a train going by and that’s been nothing but hit and miss. Mostly miss. Otherwise it’s been almost two weeks of abstinence. Stan goes off fishing by himself and leaves her here alone to either die from boredom or get seriously buzzed and conjure up immature erotic fantasies that would make a teenager laugh. She can’t see any other feasible alternatives under the circumstances though. Nobody wants to willingly die of boredom, so she’s reduced to this.
At home she rarely ever drinks at all, but here – what is it about here? Here she is a slave to this beautiful honey amber rum with its sweet taste, its subtle hints of nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla, its magnificent power to conjure up a sexy version of Captain Morgan right before her eyes. Why can’t she just drink a cold beer like a normal person and go on a scavenger hunt and take close up pictures of bugs and moss and be satisfied with that.
Stan is completely to blame for the fact that she feels totally fine one minute and then the next she can’t seem to properly stand up. He lets her set sail with the captain and she ends up with these unsteady sea legs without ever having left dry land. But the fact is, her spiced rum numbs her from the effects of whatever dear Mil throws her way. It keeps her relatively civil and mostly sane. Mil yells at her grandchildren to pick up their clothes, put their shoes away, hang their wet towels on the line, stay back from the ledge, put their crayfish skeletons in a safe place so they won’t get stepped on. When Lara suggests something innocuous like it’s time for them to get ready for bed, Mil tells her to leave them alone, let them have fun, they’re at camp, they’re on holiday, leave them be.
So instead of strangling her husbands mother, Lara pours herself a nightcap and wonders how hard it would be to drown herself. Who would try to save her? The Captain? Would Stan even notice if she disappeared?
Well, speak of the devil, here he is. Captain Stan, home from the river. “Ahoy Matey!” she greets him, and then she can’t stop laughing.
He has walked up the hill towards her, carrying his treasure from the sea – a stringer full of fresh caught pickerel. He’s wearing one of Fils beat up old straw hats on his head, because ball caps don’t keep the hot sun off the back of his neck when he’s in the boat. On his feet are shiny black rubber boots with the tops rolled down. The rest of his outfit consists of a ripped white t-shirt and striped boxer shorts. His legs are white and hairy. His wide grin is not wicked, it’s merely confused. He explains that his pants got wet in the boat so he took them off and hung them in the boat house to dry. What’s so f-ing funny?
“Shiver me timbers, you’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“You’re no waister yourself,” he tells her with a laugh, “but I think you might be wasted. Been in to the rum again without me?”
Yes, yes she has, but there are definitely some things she’s going to do tonight that will not be done without him. She tells him to fire up the barbecue, and whatever else he’d like to get fired up because it’s been a long lonely afternoon and he owes her big time.
“Well I’ll be a son of a biscuit eater – got some booty for me, have you?” He smells like a giant fish but it doesn’t matter. She gives the elastic on his shorts a playful snap and tells him to go away and pray for a really long train.
“Yo ho ho” is the best he can come up with as he saunters off to clean his fish. Her dashing scallywag in striped boxers. Not exactly the suave swashbuckler she’s been dreaming about all afternoon, but unless he suddenly disappears into thin air, she thinks he’ll do.