Gemini Magazine
_______________
Judith Mercado’s
multicultural fiction
frequently explores the
tensions among
conflicting religious
perspectives, as well as
those between the Latino
and Anglo cultures. Her
short stories have been
published in various
literary reviews. Her
essays have been
published in Latina Voices.
She blogs at
Pilgrim Soul.
by Judith Mercado
ABOUT A
BOY
The rock-strewn peninsula jutted
into the inlet.  A wave detonated against
the bow of the aging trawler heading in.  
Spray leapt up and cascaded onto the
deck, spilling over the sides.  From the
promontory, Sarah measured the distance
the trawler had to travel before reaching
safe harbor in the bay.  For the barefoot,
tee-shirt-clad boy on the aft deck, it had to
be a far piece.

“He shouldn’t be barefoot and he should be
gathering the lines,” Abe said behind her.

Sarah turned her head sideways, enough
to hear her husband better, but not to see
him fully.  She bowed her head for a
moment before sighing and then turning
toward the picnic table.  She opened the
lid of the wicker basket and took out a
black oilcloth for the table.

“He should be coiling the lines and hanging
them neatly on a hook,” he said, walking
to the edge of the ledge.

She glanced at him and whipped the
oilcloth open before draping it over the
table.  She adjusted the ridge-like shoulder
pads on her blouse and reached into the
basket to extract a red thermos bottle.

Abe returned to the picnic table and sat
down, placing his elbows on the oilcloth.  
He clasped his hands in a fist.  “Someone
should teach him,” he said.

Sarah looked up from the fork and knife
she had just put on the table.  “Teach him
what, Abe?”

“There’s a right way to do things.”

“I see.”  She reached into the basket and
brought out two white plates.  A wave
crashed onto the rocks.  She heard the
thunderous sound but could not see the
water.  They were too high above.  It was
dry up on the ledge where they sat.  The
sun was hot.  Even if droplets reached up
here, the sun might instantly evaporate
them.

“Especially when you go out to sea,” Abe
said.  “If you don’t do things the right way,
it’s easy to get in trouble.  Even here—”  
He shifted on the bench to face the bay
and pointed.  “Even here in this bay, if the
line isn’t where it should be, and they need
it in a hurry, it could mean the difference
between life and death.  The boy should
know that.”

She unscrewed the cap of the thermos
bottle, poured lemonade into a glass, and
placed it in front of him.  She took another
glass from the basket and started filling it.

“Someone should have taught that boy.”  
He turned back to the table.  “The captain
or whoever let him come aboard.  His
father, maybe.”

She looked up.  Her glass overfilled and
lemonade splashed onto the black oilcloth.  
Abe grabbed his red gingham napkin and
started wiping.  Sarah looked down at the
overfilled glass, holding it very still.

Abe sat back and peered at her, his skin
crinkling around the eyes.

“Are we having your fried chicken?” he
asked after a while.

When she didn’t answer, he peeked into
the basket and reached in, bringing out
two plastic baggies.  He placed them in
front of him and opened the smallest one,
holding sliced tomatoes.  The larger bundle
held fried chicken thighs and breasts.  
Sarah remained standing, still holding the
glass without moving.

“I was just mentioning to Robert the other
day,” Abe said,  “how good you are at this.
‘No one makes fried chicken better than
Sarah,’ I said.”  He picked out a breast and
put it on the plate in front of him.  “You
know what that dummy said?”  He shook
his head.  “No.  I shouldn’t tell you.  You
won’t want to go to his parties anymore.”

Sarah slid the glass onto the oilcloth, not
spilling any lemonade.  Then she sat down
and reached for a thigh.  “Tell me anyway.  
It’s not as if any of us are honest.”  She
used the back of her hand to brush her
determinedly blonde hair from her face.  “I
mean, if we went to those parties because
we liked each other and not the drink—”

She turned toward the inlet. That trawler
was close now.  From the noise of the
engine, it had to be passing below the
promontory. She placed a hand on the
bench as if to get up.  Maybe she could get
a glimpse of the boy on the trawler.  What
was he?  Eight?

Abe let his chicken fall to the plate and
watched her.

Her eyelids blinked rapidly, but she hoped
her face retained its porcelain-like
smoothness that others always remarked
on.  She had seen that the boy no longer
stood on deck.  He must have gone below.  
Maybe his mother called him?  Sarah had
often thought, when she and Abe still
cruised the Caribbean in their sailboat,
how different—livelier?—it would have
been with a boy on board.  But Abe had
decided against that long before.  Now
they no longer lived on a boat.  So they
picnicked on this promontory and watched
boats come into the bay.

The engine’s noise began ebbing.  Sarah’s
shoulders sagged, and she gazed at the
chicken in her hand.  She put it down and
reached for the lemonade.  “Maybe we
should just confess that we go to Bob’s
parties for the drink and live happily ever
after.”  Liquid fell on her chest as she
brought the glass to her mouth.  “What did
he say? Tell me.”

Abe shrugged.  “Well, you know, Robert.  
He said, ‘Of course, she’s good at it.  She’s
got all the time in the world to do it.  It’s
not as if she has a pack of kids to look
after, is it?’”

She opened the red napkin, wiped her lips,
and refolded it.  She placed it by the side
of her plate, careful to align it with the
plate.  She smiled before looking up at Abe.

“He’s right.”  She reached for the chicken.  
She had just bitten into it when she
scowled, pulled a strand of hair from her
mouth and lifted it in front of her.  “Time
to recolor, I see.”

“You could just let it go gray.”

She laughed, hard and staccato, and threw
it behind her.  “I’ve got to keep some
memory of how it was before.”

“I remember how it was.”

“But I don’t.”

“Okay.  Then color it.”

“I will.  We’ve got cake, you know.”

“What kind?”

“República Dominicana Coconut Cake.”

He frowned and glanced at the picnic
basket.  “I don’t know. Have we ever had
that before?”

“No.  Well, yes!  I just reinvent it every
other year with another name.  Maybe I’ll
come up with a permanent name
someday.  It’s my yellow cake made with
shredded coconut and soaked in rum.”

“Oh.  That’s good.  A new name though?”

“Keeps it lively, don’t you think?”

“But why that name, República
Dominicana?”

He had been there with her and still had to
ask why?  “Remember that scrumptious
coconut candy you could buy from the
street vendors there?  So good it made
worthwhile the upset stomach that always
came after?”  It was also in Samaná,
República Dominicana that Abe found the
doctor who ensured they could continue
their Caribbean cruise uninterrupted by a
boy.  She laughed and pointed behind him
to the ocean.  “Look!”

Abe turned to where she pointed.  “What?”

“Another boat coming in!”  Her voice ended
on a high note.

He turned slowly toward her.  “Are you all
right, Sarah?  You seem a bit, well, I don’t
know.  Excitable?”

She shoved her glass from side to side with
one finger.  Lemonade spilled onto the
oilcloth, to be lapped up by the napkin.  
“Seriously, Abe, I’m fine.  You worry too
much.”