One Clear Day
“Shhh. They be like da Barracuda and da Orca: ‘lotta times like to hunt in da pairs or da packs and they tend to be on da shy side… exceptin’ da teeth and claws, now.” Tres whispered the admonitory message to Cal Al. From the boys’ perch on a sun-etched boulder, under the lip shaded by a tall overarching breadfruit tree, Cal felt hidden even though the older boy assured him their body odor pervaded the entire area.
A cool mountain breeze caressed this early morning, making bare skin tingle by prickling tease. Whitewater crashed crisply a hundred feet below, where Privassion Creek rushed and tumbled through stacked highland rock ledges and alleyways. The arboreal conundrum of evergreens mixed with lowland commoners such as breadfruits offered a contrast of peculiarity to the landscape.
Cal combed the expanse with both ears and eyes alert in attempt at pinpointing elusive ‘prey’ the two early-risers sought. Since hearing the scream of a jungle cat the night before while sharing the huge bed with Tres, Quatro, Cinco and Coy Al, his curiosity had been piqued. Tres had noticed when Cal’s head perked up from its nestled site inside the new friend’s arm. Peeping between half-opened eyes, the lanky sixteen-year-old wordlessly signaled the visiting boy to meet at the wide, screened aperture demarcating indoor enclave from the deck outside.
Sneaking away without disturbing other crashed teenagers--- not a particularly difficult feat--- they had sat bent-kneed on the edge of the expansive deck in awe of myriad stars and crescent moon bathing the mountainous compound. Even without any more cat calls from a surrounding rainforest, the diorama was more than enough. Midnight hour tended toward the exotic, Cal had noticed, what with aroused and lurking nocturnal denizens inhabiting such remoteness. A lesson on strange flora and fauna was imparted to the young Georgia boy new to upland wilds of Blancaneaux Estate. Two boys were forging an easy bond despite a year-and-a-half age difference.
By Tres’ tale of dichotomies, Cal learned how Nature had forced a combined contradiction of the tallest mountain range in Central America with a robust riparian treasure trove. Mixed alpine evergreens and rainforest attributes. Animal life drawn to such a fusion made the bizarre very commonplace. Wide variation in resident rodentia, by example, thrived alongside reptilian leftovers of bygone epochs. Flying squirrels, guinea pigs, voles and woodchucks existed with hog-sized capybara and coypu populations. These lived alongside and in competition with bluejean frogs, barking geckos, basilisk lizards and tree iguanas. Coneys and hedgehogs flourished adorably beside defense-oriented tuco-tucos and porcupines. Marmots, chinchillas and, from the winged world, red Macaws, lent beauty to a unique ecosphere.
Diverse jumbles of animals had emigrated northward from a once-isolated South American continent as the bridge that became Central America arose during the Cenozoic Era. Rare predatory species like large cats, caimans and feared crocodiles had followed, all able to sustain their species by existence of the fore-mentioned. Cal was amazed to learn all this while Tres had been elated to meet an interested listener.
On that big deck under innumerable stars, it had felt like more than two days had elapsed since the Broadhearst family’s arrival to a jungle-cleared airstrip via sputtering single engine Cessna piloted by the talkative family friend, Fred Lansing. Best man at Cal’s parents’ wedding, and Cal’s shared godfather, the majordomo of Francis Coppola’s estate had chattered amiably throughout an hour-long flight over rugged terrain between Belize City and Blancaneaux.
Tres had met the plane, guiding the landing in experienced fashion, then escorted the three oldest Broadhearst brothers to a roomy, thatched-roof boy lodge. The round cabana, constructed of huge mahogany timbers native to the area, sported a thirty-foot-tall pitched ceiling. A large open sleeping zone was furnished by round beds and flanked by a humongous walk-in pool-like shower with bath sector. A sitting area with adjacent bookshelves graced the remainder of the interior. Tiled in colorful Guatemalan mosaic, the sunken communal wet space took up a quarter of all square footage and lent itself more to a high school gymnasium shower room than private domicile. By fact of six regular occupants sharing the lodge with frequent visitors, it sufficed.
Cal, Coy and Doy were enthralled by exotic flavors of the place, not to mention the estate. Twelve-year-old Doy had latched on to his age-range Lansing ‘cousins’ from the outset. Namely: Seis, Siete, and Ocho. The middle set of a large Lansing brotherhood, ranging from eight to almost thirteen years, suited him fine. Elder twins had buddied up to the older boys, happily hanging with their teenage set.
Coy almost immediately disappeared with Quatro and Cinco, exploring the agrarian sector of a 75-acre estate. The cash crop cultivation drew his twin. That had perplexed Cal. He had never known Coy to like anything farm-related. The boy avoided yardwork back in Georgia at every turn. The oddity would bear exploring at some point, Cal sensed.
Recounting the introductory days to the spectacular place, Cal had sat, awash in silver-toned celestial-scape on an overhanging deck, going over it all in his head. Tres had brought focus back to the spangled scene that second night, furthering a riveting evolutionary tale by describing an existence amongst fifteen siblings--- and two more on the way--- over the next hour. Immersion of the large family with an amazing Belizean Maya Mountain sanctuary, which the tribe managed, was enigmatically interesting in its own right.
From an atypical set of two mothers and their seven daughters, who cooked and cleaned the multi-cabana compound, to eight brothers aiding Father Fred--- Papi--- in upkeep and oversight of the Coppola family’s hidden gem, the Lansing clan led an idyllic lifestyle unknown to most of the wider world.
Tres told of tracking jaguar through mountainous terrain on a fairly common basis. Cal could not believe the strangely patterned feline really populated the area he was to call home over a coming six-week sojourn. The roar of a large cat in dead of night had dispelled incredulity. Better than knowing of it, he had reveled in thoughts that in a short time from then, in dawn hour, Tres would fuel fantasy by trailing one of the elusive cats, Cal in tow…
…Cal’s tracking buddy pulled the tall slim fourteen-year-old from a perusing lookout by a surreptitious finger-point across the small clearing the two presently overlooked. There, not thirty feet away, crouched a prowling form of dappled grandeur indigenous to this region: the fabled Jaguar. The big male seemed to be scoping out their very hiding place atop the boulder. Feline eyes, golden in hue, stared in slit hunt mode.
Were boys being stalked, instead of the reverse? Cal’s nerves prickled in sudden wariness. The two watched with morbid fascination as a hundred-pound bundle of balled muscle silently commenced slinking straight in their direction. No words were spoken, but Cal noted the older comrade’s hair raise slightly off his scalp as the beautiful cat closed the gap.
Without warning, the sinewy beast launched in a flurry of fur, covering remaining feet in three bounds before erupting into an arcing airborne missile apparently intent on human breakfast. Both boys rolled, instinctively, away from oncoming weaponry. As they somersaulted together to the sunny side of the big boulder, a magnificent hunter arrived at the spot just vacated.
Through a terse snarling growl, two carnivorous jaws clamped together. Razor sharp claws then assisted an athletic grab of a previously unseen three-foot tree iguana just a breadfruit limb height above where the duo had lay spying. Big cat crunched into leathery hide of a startled tree lizard, the doomed thing shrieking a death knell of reptilian horror, finding itself instantly dismembered in a vicious display of nature at its most raw. The cry of the cat’s prey cut short as head and body were detached, Jaguar intent on ingesting this delicacy on the hoof… and on the spot.
Cal lay, spumed by syrupy green iguana guts and crimson blood in wretched disbelief of a cold-blooded kill. Occurring within two feet of them, the perspective proved morbidly riveting. Next thing he knew, the cat reached out a set of warning claws toward him, cautioning against interference. Tres seized his torso in a sharp yank outward and away from the ‘crime scene’. Tumbling down five feet into a copse of flowering bushes, they luckily struck a soft-bedded landing.
Eyes met in wide-eyed terror of the close-up slaying. Open-mouthed, both absorbed the macabre exhibition in mute astonishment. Scrambling up, they hustled in clumsy retreat, back up the mountain path from whence they’d come a half hour before. Thoroughly freaked, the duo headlonged away from continued burbling scrunches narrating the hunt’s finish.
So, Cal speculated again, who really had been the role-playing entities just then? He struggled to make sense of the attack as Tres held tight to his fourteen-year-old guest. Newly enlightened artless trackers absconded with mostly unscathed hides intact. Mucked by butchery scents and juices, they absented themselves.
Fifteen minutes up a rough, rocky trail, the two dove into the benign confines of crystalline Big Rock Falls pool. Submerging, peering at one another from an underwater refuge, Cal and Tres sluiced around the watery hollow. Suspended breath permitted bubbly scrutiny of the other as they counted limbs and fingers, helping wipe stubborn gory entrails from naked bodies.
That interminable minute later, two breathless beings emerged. Scoping a perimeter of the pool for signs of proximate claws or fangs, newly bonded friends sank to frazzled respite on the edge of the bowl. Sheltered behind the fall’s water curtain.
Cal fixedly jabbed Tres, “Shy, huh? I’m just glad he didn’t order the main course.”
“What is that smell?” Cal sniffed at cloying wisps wafting through air around them as they entered civilized edges of the compound two hours later. They let their guard relax now, having detected no sign of stalking predators since departing the blood-bath scene. Between the smell about which he was curious and a delicious aroma of grilled meat bathed by marinating Caribbean spices, both boys experienced salivary responses on steroids. Ladies in charge were obviously busy. Yet the sweeter smell of the smoke awakened Cal’s curiosity. Unidentifiable.
Cocking his head, Tres sampled fragrances as well, patterning a discriminating look as he speculated. “That would be either… Alfred Ganga Khan or… maybe, Fredinand deSparkos.” A couple of lip smacks refined the mental search. “Ye-yuh, it be deSparkos, a’ight.” He smiled toward the younger boy, knowing of the goings-on by essence. Hiking drawerless shorts, he adjusted still damp junk and jostled Cal’s shoulder, “Why, boy? Do you have permission for partaking o’ da herb by your Papi?”
The funny return look brought him up short. “Ya don’t even know if ya’ do, now, do ya, Cal?’ Another questioning face made Tres snicker. “Well, maybe we should be finding out before long, then. I imagine it’ll be jus’ fine, what with your and my Papi both partakers themselves. A mite early in da day to be doing, of course, though ya are company. And da Broadhearst elder boy… but newcomers be best warned o’ da potent packin’ our stuff carries… we should ask, first.” Tres was plainly torn.
“Am I supposed to follow what you just said, Tres? None of that makes any sense. I’m wondering about the smell of that sweet smoke coming from over there. Somebody burning bananas?” He was head-pointing toward a copse of banana plants arching suspended clumps of unripe plantains a hundred yards from them, down a rolling lawn toward the rushing creek.
Gobs of colorful flowers surrounding the grouping were a draw by themselves, something else in which Cal was interested. Tres seemed quite desensitized to the beauty. Too commonplace in his eyes, the riot of pastels and bright hues were not a focus. However, as Cal began moving toward the funny scent, Tres followed, explaining.
“Cal, my bra, we do cultivating of da cash crop for da plantation here on da mountain. You are noticing our harvest. It’s being da highest quality ganja found anywhere. Mr. Coppola been seeding da venture before I was born. Now, da enterprise be very fruitful indeed. Peoples from far and away come a’runnin to fill their stores with our wares, and we be a’fillin da coffers by da venture.”
“Your true bro, Coy Al? He been helping my brothers in this work these past days--- it’s da why for him not bein’ around much. He is taken by da science.” Tres smiled as he said this; Cal wanted to ask again about misunderstood Belizean dialect as the two edged around the banana grove.
On the far side, a breath intake accentuated the view before him. Wider, gently sloping lawns of St. Augustine grass flowed down into a pretty picture of multi-level water cascades: Privassion Creek on its cataracted traverse toward lower lands. Mature evergreens and other trees dotted the lawn, each perfectly manicured by flowerbeds rife with rainbow colors beneath. Large igneous boulders also populated the area, similar beds augmenting their edges as well.
One especially huge chair-shaped boulder lay silhouetted before Tres and Cal. This one pulled on Cal’s eyes. Seated on the gargantuan plinth was his twin, Coy. Clutching a cannon-sized cigarette in his fingers, he reclined while seeming to gaze out on the vista expanding before him.
In leisure calm, he sprawled comfortably on discarded, sweated-out shorts and shirt, smooth dark legs hanging off one edge. Left flexed, right in full extension. Interestingly, Quatro and an aged gentleman were sharing the rock, too.
At least, Cal believed it was Quatro. A wild sprout of wavy hair flowed over his face, head laying across the man’s chest. The swarthy older man’s shock of silver curls flared around a grey-bearded visage. The pair lounged in adjacency to his twin. They were intent on what appeared to be adjustment of an old-fashioned shortwave radio. A long antenna stretched upward over the compact device which balanced on the gent’s stomach.
Crackles and whistles distorted various stations in a noisy scrolling of airwaves. As Cal looked on, a strong signal was caught. One which focused loud and clear. “Ah, my Grea-oupa is with ‘em. Dat answers da why of them doing da smokin’ at this time of day. Papi doesn’t allow smokin’s during da daylight hours--- says it be too distractin’ for everyone’s concentration.” By the look of Coy Al, such would appear to be truthful, Cal noted. He lazed, hypnotized.
“Oupa being the only other person besides Papi who might allow them to be doing it now…” The newcomers heard music jingle and call letters identifying a Johannesburg, South Africa station. A voice followed, welcoming listeners back in heavily accented Afrikaner pidgin English. Tres told Cal of the strange mixture resultant from centuries of Dutch, German, French and Zulu/ Xhosa influences, yet Cal found he could follow a good portion of the words.
Beside the facing rock stood a tiny mulatto male. Naked too, the dark-skinned, skinny, pot-bellied youth watched in enthrallment while Quatro and Grea-oupa whisked across the radio spectrum and settled on the particular station. Like magic was being performed. Quatro, Oupa, Coy and the mulatto boy familiarly shared tokes on the large blunt.
“Well, be a’lookin’ as if our blood brothers are acquaintin’ well enough, doesn’t it?” Tres grinned. “And da stray Guatemalan boy a’stumblin’ on us last month--- Jyp--- I see is a’helpin’ out. That boy be lucky he stopped here instead of keepin’ on up the road through Mexico.”
Cal’s perplexed look prodded Tres to give background. “He ran away from all da gangs in Guatemala City as be takin’ over down there, now. It’s truly a question which be more dangerous: his hometown or da trip he was attempting… be very risky a’doin’ that, now. Da boy was starvin’ when he showed himself.”
“He musta taken a lucky wrong turn when he popped out o’ da forest into our ganja field awhile back. Da boy be amazingly backwards in his education, and not understandin’ o’ much in da ways o’ da modern world, as you may see.” Cal was grasping about half of all these goings-on at this point, so much was being presented of a sudden. He stayed quiet, listening and absorbing.
Tres waltzed closer. Hesitant to interrupt what Cal deemed an intemperate display, he nevertheless followed, though more slowly. The blunt in his twin’s fingers was only a third burnt and upon reaching the engaged trio, Tres surprised Coy by tipping the fagot out of spellbound teen fingers.
Rather than a sky-high leap in busted embarrassment, which Cal anticipated, the twin dreamily angled his neck and face toward the new arrivals. A shit-eating grin lit up a blitzed mug upon recognition of his womb-mate. Not a shred of chagrin did the stoned boy evince. Quatro and tiny Jyp didn’t even notice the arrivals. Their bemused faces, happily intent on a broadcasting radio interview, continued listening to an apparently engrossing show. Grea-oupa took note however, moving his great-grandson’s head and radio from himself, sitting up.
A mostly unclothed octogenarian smiled warmly in arising, welcoming both boys. The rock occupants seemed recently freed from strenuous toil, disrobed and covered in caked saltiness. Cal deduced work had been finished and a break was in the making. Again, it dawned on him how unusual for Coy to be willfully involved in manual labor. Past tense, as observation showed.
Grea-oupa lithely slipped off the big boulder, hopping nimbly to grass. Also in an Afrikaner dialect, he elucidated new arrivals about the ongoing show. Letting them know of having arrived in time to share in the broadcast from his homeland. They were hearing the voice of a dear old friend’s son--- or daughter--- as the case may be, he laughed.
Cal remained mystified…Tres just took a long toke. Obviously interested by what he was hearing. Turning to Cal, he exhaled a deep breath of some of the finest smoke in the Western Hemisphere. Already affected. Eyes dilated, shoulders slightly sagging as the stuff infused his brain, he handed the oversized roach to Cal in offer of an inaugural Blancaneaux hit. The fourteen-year-old wavered. He hadn’t done this before and though the taboo scene no doubt tugged on him, he wasn’t at all sure circumstances were right.
Tres placed a glowing blunt to Cal’s lips, however, encouraging him. Cal tentatively took his first-of-a-lifetime toke. Harsh smoke made him cough. Instruction helped and by the third attempt he managed to hold a mid-size breath for several seconds. Tres and Coy silly-giggled at the inept tries. Quatro only squinted one eye toward them long enough to finally register their presence before resuming attentive infatuation.
Having had no significant communication with Grea-oupa heretofore, Cal was interested in knowing the elder. The laid-back atmosphere here seemed to be opportune, though he was unsure of the situation. Seeing Cal’s bafflement, Oupa drew the new arrival under his wing and put him more at ease. While the others listened to both the show and great-grandfather, they were offered rudimentary synopsis of the foreign radio transmission.
He told of the interviewee, one Pieter-Dirk Uys. Aka: Evita Bezuidenhout. Son of his old friend, Hannes Uys, a fourth-generation South African of Dutch and Belgian Huguenot stock who was a musician and organist in Grea-Oupa’s local church from long past days living at the tip of the Dark Continent.
Pieter’s mother, Helga Bassel, was a German concert pianist whom the Nazis expelled from the Reichsmusikkammer in 1935 as part of their campaign to root out Jewish artists. She later escaped to South Africa where she met Hannes.
A very determined woman managed to pack her grand piano in hasty departure from Hitler’s takeover, with which she taught her daughter, Pieter’s sister, Tessa Uys, now an accomplished concert pianist based in London.
Bassel spoke little about a Jewish past to her children. It was only after her suicide that they discovered she was fully Jewish. Pieter-Dirk and his sister had an NG Kerk upbringing. Their mother encouraged embracing of Afrikaner culture. Upon reaching maturity, Pieter had rebelled against such strictness, making his way onto the volatile scene that was an ending period of apartheid in his country.
He crafted a way-of-life for himself, Oupa told Cal, even playing an instrumental role in apartheid’s downfall. Taking to stage, he had assumed a preposterously edgy role as pioneer in an underworld of gay culture using the guise of a drag queen. Over several years, a young man developed the evolving persona who strangely captivated a country. Ergo, ersatz bombast betokening Evita Bezuidenhout.
The sassy South African patterned her version on iconic Australian drag diva, Dame Edna Everage, who provided a template. Evita, Grea-oupa explained, portrayed the former ambassadress of Bapetikosweti, from fictitious Bantustan--- or black homeland--- located outside her home in affluent, formerly whites-only suburbs of Johannesburg. Evita Bezuidenhout was named in honour of Eva Perón.
Under apartheid, Oupa waxed on, Uys used humour in comedy to criticize and expose absurdities of the South African government’s racial policies. Much of his work was not censored, indicating closet approval of his views by many members of the ruling party, who were not so bold as to openly admit mistakes or criticize policies themselves.
Now, years afterward, the performer ‘held court’ as a Madame of considerable influence, currently weighing in on the new democracy through her popular television show and book, ‘Funigalore’. It was this subject that Cal heard being discussed which so enthralled four youths bent over a shortwave radio.
All this information broadsided a fourteen-year-old boy as he ascended an inaugural climb into the clouds. Grea-oupa’s interest was understandable, he reflected. But were these teenagers truly interested in politics of an African nation a wide ocean away?
Oupa carried on, chatting insightfully about a confidant’s progeny’s direct effect on a hierarchy hastened toward demise at the ballot box two years ago, when President Mandela took office. Grasping basics of the explanation, Cal found himself interested despite disparate stimuli lambasting him all at once.
This was the first time to converse directly with Grea-Oupa, hear of a distant land’s power machinations, or learn about this Evita character. In the air-headed state-of-mind now possessing him, he considered the whole of it queerly compelling.
Cal found himself concentrating on her interview and Oupa’s paired narration, learning over the passing hour of Pieter-Dirk’s activism, so revered throughout South Africa as well as much of Europe and Asia. The role of an outlandish cross-dressing transgendered personality had integrally aided transfer of power in the African nation from white elitist class to its first black president and government. The subject had never been broached in the narrow confines of the boy’s history classes back in the States. He became spellbound by the subject and wondered for the first time about a wider world’s affairs. This great-grandfather figure, so obviously respected by the Lansing youths, also caused conjecture.
All of it wrapped together: truly mysterious. Cal absorbed more than information during the time; he enjoyed listening to the elder man who had lived through so much. A boy’s heightened awareness prompted question upon question after the radio show concluded. He wanted more from the font of wisdom before him.
As the others gradually became distracted by separate conversations, Cal found himself alone with Grea-oupa. His mind raced with ideas, feelings, thoughts. This seemed, indeed, a perfect time to pick the man’s brain. He came away from the Oupa-narrated radio interview beguiled by an exotic land of Humanity’s origins; particularly the southern country populated by such an odd polyglot.
Oupa, reading the boy’s interest, graciously expounded for the inquisitive youngster, glad for attentiveness. The idea of a serendipitous alighting in Blancaneaux, just where he should be in this twilight portion of life, crossed a great-grandfather’s sagacious mind. The deSparkos had opened a moment, he reckoned inwardly.
When the far-seeing man quizzed the jaguar tracker on the morning’s harrowing experience, the query once more engendered clumps of spreading goosepimples across Cal’s anatomy. A sensation becoming a common one in this mountainous retreat… for neither Tres nor Cal had mentioned the adventure to anyone. Things that make you go, ‘hmmmmm’.
Conversation gradually waned while the dissimilar pair rested back on the sunny rock. The others had forsaken the site, wandering in explorative haze. Quiet befell them and Cal became more introspective. He noticed the agedness of the great-grandfather. Crepe-like skin, manner of stretching and flexing old joints, raspy voice. It bumped against his consciousness that this was a rare experience: being so close to a person of such advanced age. His own grandparents lived far away from the Broadhearst Estate, seldom around. There were no great-grandparents living.
Out of the clear blue, Cal blurted a question. “Grea-oupa, what is it like being so old?” In such an uninhibited state of mind, the teenager found no insult in it. A bemused look infused Oupa’s face. He sat taciturn for a few minutes, making Cal conjecture whether he had overstepped some boundary. The wizened countenance, at length, peered sidelong at a youthful interrogator.
“Well, Calumet Alfrederic, son of same… I guess it be like having a million gorgeous pieces o’ life all floating around ma body--- and mind--- and I’m trying to reach out and grab them. There be great big bundles already clutched, stored away for me to try and search for where I put them; they get mislaid a lot more now.”
“When I feel ma grandson’s head resting on ma chest, I try to memorize the touch and rumble of his laughing voice as it rolls up from his throat, soaking through me. And the way my great-granddaughter falls asleep in my lap: I try to hold the feeling tight to me so not to lose it. I harken upon an old, long-lost friend and try to relive a certain shared tick in time.”
“I reminisce and revel when someone actually hears me tell of that reminiscence.” Here, the gray-hair stared deeply into Cal’s eyes, “You see, no one of clear mind desires to depart this world without leaving at least a trace of where they have been… what they’ve experienced.”
Cal felt his body nestle closer to the old man, inhaling the arresting aroma of age. A headful of youthful kinked coils scraped comfortably against an old man’s bare chest. A wrinkled arm wrapped around his own, drawing him in welcome to an old man’s lonesome, often touchless existence. Cal comprehended the octogenarian’s unspoken sense that no person would any longer want his touch without acquiescence.
“But the pieces are flying faster now and I am unable to catch very many. I can feel a great number of them slipping right through my fingers. Soon, I know, those feelings and those gorgeous shards of life, they will flee me… and there will be nothing.”
Gnarled fingertips prodded into Cal’s silky skin, “I know how it must seem that you have all the time in the world, young mandrake,” the unfamiliar word sent a tingle through Cal, “but you don’t. Catch the moments of your life. Grab them while you are young and quick. Hold them close and savor the happenings. File them safely, with intent. Because faster than you think, you will look around and realize that you are old… and slow. Then, there will be no more of them to catch.”
“And, Calumet Alfrederic, when you discover the person--- the one person--- that makes you whole, don’t hesitate. Grab them the closest of all and hold tight. It is the luckiest person who ever finds that one. That one will send your roots deep.” Grea-oupa fell silent. Cal focused on weathered breathing and feathery thump of the sage’s heart. He felt unexpected tears spill from his fourteen-year-old eyes in regarding the idea and for an instant worried what Oupa felt by the spillage. Then he thought on the profound premise being discussed and divined differently. Silence spoke volumes between the pair; those watery wells bit by bit fluttered shut, losing the idyllic visual surrounds. Offering a yield of fragile inner bounty for the chest beneath him.
Cal’s inverting mind’s eye conjured distant things… things out of focus. Yet, somehow of great import. The young man grasped this, yielding himself to a trice of moment, then filed it away. An old man: even more. He grasped this lovely slice of life, gently clutching it close.*
Jyp roused Grea-oupa with a tug of the old man’s leg. The napping pair finally arose and disengaged. The foundling drew Oupa toward the deserted field in search of tools left propped there. Cal drug his mind to focus. Still pondering profundity, he watched the wise elder disappear.
Tres and Quatro led the twins to the cascades, showing how to use a rushing torrent without being drug down into it. Heads’ hazy, the four next wisely opted to relax on the lawn awhile before engaging others in conversation; something native god-cousins understood pretty well. Twins took the cue, seeing the reasoning for it.
Even so, the grass tickled as Cal stretched out. His mind wiggled in itches, still and again full of some zillion questions. Grea-oupa had awakened a cogitating monster. The cohorts were just about nodding off, exhausted and high as they were. Cal wasn’t having it. The present zoned-high was now revving him, not putting him back to sleep. He had just resurfaced from there, thanks very much.
“So, this is a marijuana ranch?” He grilled. “Does that make you brothers pothandlers?” The witticism caused laughter, yet Cal had been purely serious. This had proven an unbelievable day so far. His curiosity was stoked.
Coy piped up, “Bro, that is funny. Have you missed that these whole first three days? Yo, you have some catchin’ up to do. I’ma start a branch franchise up in Rome when we go back. Quatro’s gonna supply me with the seeds… super, huh?” Even in continuing mental fog, Cal knew this to be a piss poor idea, but couldn’t grasp proper syntax for making the point. So, he laid back and sunned, listening a minute now that he had incited the others.
Tres, always informative, picked up the idea now, explaining how this enterprise differed from Central and South American operations. Illegal ones. Belize law held no animus toward the propagation and sale of their product. Years before, the method for controlling illicit farming and therefore drug cartel operations had coalesced into workable policy. Without the illegality and downside black markets, the young country had avoided being ripped apart by underground forces such as had built up elsewhere in response to worldwide demand. Misguided attempts at control of it, undertaken by international powers-that-be, continued to miss the lesson.
There was no exportation of the quality produce. Notoriety of Blancaneaux’s crop elevated the equation to similar market forces for a plethora of other high-end markets: buyers sought them out. The legality factor removed the onus of need for underground trafficking, hence the attainment of normalcy which surrounded the tiny, family-driven operation here.
The side effect of consistently hearty appetites melded well with growing bodies, yielding little downside consequence, what with parental oversight of the usage by minors here in the mountain enclave. “That meat is a’smellin’ mighty hot-damn good, ain’t it?” this from a stupidly high Quatro, not grasping which end was up yet. “Mater and Shady be grillin’ da Caribe recipe, because o’ our good cousins bein’ here. We should go on up.”
Tres nixed the idea immediately. “Quat, it won’t be ready to munch for hours. You sure know who’s gonna be haulin’ and peelin’ and who-knows-what else if we show our stoned butts anywhere near that cookhouse. We wouldn’t get a nibble. Ya know how da mamas be ‘bout their special feasts--- da Broadhearst feasts are the most special ones o’ all. Give it up, my brother. By da by, we get busted for smokin’ before da end o’ da day, Grea-oupa or no, and Papi’ll have our asses strung to da plane prop for take-off tomorrow. Settle those fat lips down a bit an’ wait for da trangle, a’ight?”
Meaning the call-to-dinner triangle, Cal deduced. Not understanding the hierarchy here on the estate as yet, his mind wandered further. The last visit was when he and Coy had been five. There had been no nuance back then. Tres raised the idea by his comment. “I don’t get the family ladder you guys have, Tres. You all keep talking about Mater and Shady, and how both of them are somebody’s blood mother…what’s up with that?” He had been puzzled by it while clear-headed. Now, in a fog of lost inhibitions, the question ate at him.
Tres smiled at that, looking at Quatro. The two traded funny looks. “Well, ya see, Cal, things be a tad different here in da uplands than back in your States, boy. Let’s see, now…” and Tres internalized a minute before going on. Cal was totally taken by the lilting mixture of Creole and British accents. The aberrant thought hit him during the pause. He waited.
“Ya probably noticed da fact of things: that there be fifteen o’ us Lansing sibs, a’ight? And, both Mater and Shady be getting ready to pop again in some months ahead. Then there be t’other fact o’ da matter, if you pay attention, dat there be several of us who have da same age but not twins. Y’see, Papi has been married to Mater for all these years and Shady showed up five years after her. Da two of them made a pact to lasso da patriarch o’ da family and share da duties…So, we’re numberin’ at fifteen and soon to be seventeen. Papi likes it--- he be trained proper now by da powers behind da throne but don’t be even knowing it--- and da mamas bein’ extra happy to not have all dat pressure.
Everybody is thinking it be Papi that did all da finaglin’. It ain’t da case. These wise women thought this all through and made Papi think it’s all his idea,” Tres sniggled in the knowledge. Quatro concurred.
“OK, I get all that, it makes sense. But where did their names come from? And, how about all your names? Ya’ll are numbered, right? What’s up with that? I mean, it’s good, I really like them, but…?” Cal’s hanging question stood awhile before the Lansings continued. In amusement.
“Da wisdom and simplicity is a mighty wonder, be sure. Da truth is that Papi, whose name is Frederick, knew he be plannin’ a big load o’ baby makin’ from da beginning. His idea was to make sure that we would all have a sense of family even with so many. That’s why he made da rule: all o’ da babies were to be named da same: Frederick. Fredericka for da girls. We don’t any o’ us have a middle name or a number after ‘em, like da third o’ da fourth. Just those.”
“But, da mamas, they knew there had to be a system, so there ya have da number-names. And, da girls all got da letters, now. ‘Twas Shady’s idea to do it in Spanish…it threw Papi off da track for years before he figured it out. But he still calls us all: Fred. Girls and boys. And mamas. Oh, that’s right--- da mamas are both named Fredericka--- Papi tells everyone he did that, too. But he didn’t, either. We call Mater that because she’s da Matriarch. Shady’s da lady who be a’shadowin’.”
“Oh, almost be a forgettin’. Papi names all da Rottweiler dawgs da same. Yup, Fred.”
“Like I said: simple.”
“Israel Silvas Osoriol, 6 Avenida Condesa, Caye Ambergris.” Tres re-read the name and address out loud at the stop sign in San Ignacio. The fast friends were free, he thought, glancing at his young ‘kissin-cousin’, Cal, over in the passenger seat. Not only had his Papi signed off on the trip, Cal Al’s Dad had also. Most importantly, the Mother Triad hashed it over for a few days before giving their blessing.
When that final hurdle had been tackled, the duo had packed and been ready for a predawn departure the following morning. The jeep was rough but dependable. What with the recent securing of an official license for driving without an adult, Tres had navigated the boys down a tortuous route to San Ignacio on their way to Belize City and then on to the Caye. Their Uncle, Israel, had resided there for a good six years now, purchasing a small Robles Beach home offering an unimpeded view looking out toward the barrier reef. Past that: the Atlantic, and then Africa. Water taxi from the City took them a final leg to the Caye. Escorted by a small pod of dolphins, much to their delight.
Uncle Israel stood at the dock awaiting them. A misnomer--- Uncle Israel was only twenty-six--- he slouched against a weathered dock post, huge straw hat shading his handsome visage, wavy black shoulder-length tresses blowing lazily. He wore only cargo shorts and old-fashioned high top sneakers. How retro, thought Cal. The man’s slim physique filled the ugly ‘straight-boy style’ fashion statement in a way that was hard to mask.
Even at this point in his life, Cal recognized maleness in a way he knew was not the ‘normal’ one. He just didn’t have courage or wherewithal to address such a verboten subject. Though he didn’t shy from physical contact amidst the boys in the boy-lodge--- none of them did--- Cal had no ability at the age of fourteen to process hormonal flare-ups in any cogent manner regarding lifestyle choices. All the non-sexual body contact amongst brothers and these Belizean ‘cousins’ was just that. Body contact. Not a nasty or even hormonal thing; it wasn’t given a second thought by anyone. Boners, notwithstanding.
So, when the youth noticed the svelte older male awaiting Tres and him, Cal registered only: pleasing. Tres obviously felt similarly, “My uncle be da bomb big man, now, just sayin’. Can ya believe we are here for a week, Cal?” The older boy was away from the estate for the first time since a parent chaperoned trip a couple years before. A parentless traveler for an initial time, Tres was feeling his oats… Cal smiled at the realization in his own right, too.
The taxi craft sidled expertly to floating halt at dockside, a dock boy securing it. Uncle Israel grinned greetings as he helped the two jump to the marina deck. Grabbing their sparse baggage---what did teenage boys at a beach-week need, after all--- the three headed for Robles Beach and bachelor pad existence enjoyed by Israel.
A late-in-life lovechild addition to Mater’s family, the youngest had been doted on and spoiled. Israel had weathered that impediment without self-centered absorption commonly resultant with the type. Inherent magnanimity put family in the front-facing bedroom. Touring them for familiarization of the place, the all-important fridge, shower, can, and the surrounding area, he then informed that they were on their own for the day.
An unexpected call had come from Hol Chan Marine Reserve where a junior-level marine biologist such as himself passed typical work days. The ‘work’ obviously agreed with the man. He displayed easy congeniality and an unassuming nature around nephew and god-nephew, affording immodest views of his athletic self, disrobing in front of them while uniforming up.
Tres inadvertently licked lips, watching without compunction, in clear admiration for the idolized ‘uncle’ baring it all. The smooth-skinned man clearly felt no misgivings for doing so. Cal wondered a bit at their familiarity yet chalked it up to the familial thing he had accepted so easily among the large cadre of close-knit brothers in the boy lodge cabana. After all, he had five brothers as well.
“All right, now, you two. I hadn’t planned leaving you on your own this soon after your arrival,” the sexy-voiced college grad Britishly intoned, “but it is what it is, so… just be careful and don’t do any stupid kid stuff while I’m gone, OK?” He grinned while saying it, but the message was clear: your parents entrusted me with your safety. Don’t go kill yourselves. The boys got it. Their promise to be careful echoed back on them as the screen door slapped shut behind him.
Tres looked around, rubbing hands together in anticipation of a day on the beach. He was in heaven. The two unpacked in split seconds, pulled on speedos, then proceeded to explore. They found snorkeling equipment in an outdoor storage shed. Packing it and a sack lunch of pbj sandwiches from the pantry, the two took off. Several miles north, past any overt sign of civilization, they sat down in remarkably white sand, wiggling toes while scoping both reef and habitat of the spot.
Large sea boulders were strewn in attractive formations around them, not only on the beach and back past the dunes, but in the crystal-clear water. Several emergent islands rose and peaked jaggedly some fifty feet above water level. Bird life was rife around them. It was noted almost immediately how much dolphins liked the site. When the boys pulled on flippers and donned snorkels plus masks, they found themselves escorted into calmer sea past the surf line. Happy talk evinced by several aquatic clowns gave distinct conversational impressions. Cal quickly perceived the seeming friendship overtures were, indeed, that. And these new friends loved games.
Over the next hours, two boys swam and played with a pod numbering more than a dozen. They sought bodily contact with the teenagers, bumping, rubbing and flirting in their vivacity, even offering dorsal fins for exhilarating rides. Probing deeper into a diverse underwater biosphere uncovered richly teeming realms matrixed by the reef. Much color and blooming vitality surrounded them; an overarching rumble of ocean dialogue pervaded the boys’ senses.
Tres pointed out elusive barracuda several times. Barely able to visualize the vicious-looking toothed denizens who hovered, inspecting, on the very perimeter of his vision, Cal became wary of sneak attack. As it turned out, the nasty looking ‘hyenas of the sea’ were notorious cowards, not known for hunting. The boys learned to ignore the timid scavengers who skittered away at slight provocation.
Labyrinthine coral beds proved delicately lethal. Quickly deduced by a few scrapes against the razor sharpness. Schools of rainbow-colored fish swarmed them in exhibitions of complete trust. Larger fish, manatees, sea turtles and even stingrays, with a couple good sized sharks, mingled with the boys as the afternoon transpired. All amazingly at ease with human presence. Acts of curiosity were frequent, as if introducing themselves. Cal was charmed.
Ultimately needing a break, they beached it again. Sharing drinks and sandwiches plus fresh mangoes off trees behind the dunes satisfied growing bodies. A dozy stretch under beating rays extended the idyll by a sun nap in repose on wave beaten rocks, drowsing between conscious study of stupefying natural artwork and meandering dreams. Cal had never fancied such splendor could exist. The bridge between wakefulness and fantastical imaginings wrought during the daydreams grew blurred by an astounding array of catalysts. He was overawed by the encounter.
That first evening, drained by events and activities of a full day under taxing sun, the two found themselves feted to a veritable seafood feast by Israel. Teasing mercilessly until they dropped the ‘uncle’ moniker, he insisted he wasn’t old enough to be saddled that way. Besides, he alluded, many fewer rules and restrictions might deem merit-able in absence of the term… Absorbing the advantages, an opt for acceding to his preference was ultimately granted.
Coal-baked, succulently flaky whole tilapia and amber jack, prepared on an open fire at the beachside El Norte Bar and Grill, augmented by fresh local vegetables and wild rice, were washed down with locally brewed tea and ale. It satisfied ravenous appetites. Israel snickered pleasurably while listening to the reggae band and observing the wolfing of several fish each. He gathered a friendly competition was in play and sat back in disbelief as the two gorged themselves.
Under a rising golden gibbous moon, nursing full-bodied dark ale, Israel lounged contentedly in contemplation of a day’s hard, satisfying efforts. Familiarizing anew with this surprisingly mature nephew frosted his day. How gratifying was the revelation. The younger American, Calumet, came across appealingly inquisitive and articulate, too.
Engaging and pleasant by emerging self-awareness, the effect was enhanced with vicarious sharing of innocence. Revisiting the day’s events from their fresh, unblemished perspective renewed his spirit. It was alluring to regain sense of novelty in a day-to-day world… exactly why the family baby had settled here. Time and routine had dulled some of the pleasure.
The week’s stay unfolded in continuation of the theme. Daily discoveries whammed the visiting youths with something else unbelievably eye-popping at almost every turn. Dolphin friends became a daily diversion. Names evolved for pod members. It is said to be a facile ability for young minds to absorb alien languages into which they are immersed. The concept was certainly cogent regarding Cal and Tres, acquiring sea mammals’ language nuances by the hour.
The dolphins mentored the process. After all, their mental abilities far outstripped humankind. Only simpleminded ignorance and a touch of human arrogance denied the fact. Cal was heart-warmed to hearken upon the dolphins’ dubbing of himself. A poetic lyric reprising a peculiar staccato click and twirl combination broadsided the youth to shocking clarity when Flipp and Flex performed it at him time after time… until enough. He had a name amongst the dolphins. Things that make you go, ’hmmmmm’.
“Dr. Tyson says that there are more stars in the universe than there are people on Earth, Tres.” Cal was contemplative under the myriads above them as they waned together sleepily. The beach blanket was secured at each corner by rocks for inhibition of the resolute night breeze’s attempt to muss it.
Prostrate and sprawled, his propped head undulated with each of Tres’ slow breaths. Cal enjoyed the draped arm wrapping him and fingers languidly rubbing his belly. Having worn themselves out during another filled day in sun and water, tacit agreement had been reached for passing a night peaceably on the blanket rather than expending energy to relocate indoors. That they both failed to dress after showering earlier was a luxury. Israel had decamped to the house after a leisurely dinner of boiled eggs, fruit, cheese and crunchy-crusted potatoes baked to inner fluffiness on beachside campfire coals.
Speculating on profound things, they considered the winking moon’s halo. Wispy clouds caused the effect in drifting past during nocturnal progress. Twitters and chirps arose from nearby night creatures scurrying frenetically on obscure quests. The wholeness of it lent a soothing quality of melding tranquility. “I believe it to be da truth,” Tres whispered drowsily, mouth an inch from Cal’s ear. “Do you think they be talking with each other--- da stars?” The premise was interesting.
“I don’t know… but I always wonder if each galaxy, with millions of stars; and each star, with its own planets; are just specks in another existing universe. And, if each grain of sand has its own teeny universe somehow fitting inside of it, too. Like a big nested pack of little-to-bigger universes all intertwined and ignorant of others. If I ever meet Neil deGrasse, I’m going to ask him.” Cal was casually firm in the intent. Two drowsed into contented oblivion. The night sky traversed…
…Cal’s dreamscape unfolded in lifelike parallel. In it, he turned away from Tres, re-positioning for comfort. But, in doing, his big piece slipped over the hand fingering his belly. An immediate unintentional response was spawned. The big boa involuntarily filled with blood, inching upward, rubbing over the hand just bumped.
“You be talkin’ to me, now, Cal?” Tres’ dream speech couldn’t miss the heat of the appendage arising. He grasped it lightly. The thing bounced to rigidity by that digitalization, now straining against the hand. In fluid motion, Tres rolled out from under Cal’s shaggy head. His own leaned down over the now-arching organ, peering at a draping cowl as it receded lazily from a barely visible eye with ever-present pearl of adolescent goo.
After another second, a seeking tongue tipped the thing clean. Lips caressed phattening elasticity, causing it to jump even more by the touch. Another warm hand cupped the tight dark ball sack, torqueing gently, raising the pole to a more convenient angle. Then the shaft slipped inside an oral cavern begging for company. Tonsils were pushed aside in sliding passage to a deeper place; succulent labia felt hairless pubes and balls nudge them.
Cal’s hands lifted up and over silky skin covering Tres’ back and neck, coming to rest, one each, on head and cheek. Synchrony of opposing movements wended upward in a slow arc toward mutual climax, Tres’ own piece never leaving the proximity of his companion’s rasping calf. Copious eruptions juiced them both, inside and out, as the next period felt pleasurable drippings ease past paroxysmal stages of pulsing satisfaction.
Wordless reverie banked the fantasized episode. After, even with less-than-conscious awareness of only dream-state virtuality, the two relaxed back to repose, luxuriating in slippery ooze. Breathing resumed normal flow… four heads slooped downward into deep, slaked slumber…
…Fifteen degrees of moon arc later, Tres awoke. It must be close to dawn, he drowsed. Cal was still nestled into the crook of his arm, deep asleep, never having budged once. Tres’ eyes lifted to a shifted moon. Night breeze wafted more gently than before, still caressing bare skin. Illuminated puffy clouds danced a slow jig around the pregnant lunar body. Eerie silhouettes of radar-guided bats dipped and dove in careening pursuit of night-flying insects.
A faint scraping sound chafed his left ear. Peering to the side, he viewed a tiny struggling turtle. Its nose was strangely hooked, like a bird’s beak. Miniature flippers furiously attempted a rowing climb up Tres’ face. The close-up gave a weird view of the little face set in determination for achieving an uphill goal. The boy watched the misguided ordeal, then observed three more of the pygmies come flippering toward him on the heels of their leader. Each appendage was tipped by double teensy claws, aiding their efforts.
Tres was certain he and Cal had seen and swam with bigger versions of these--- the adults had stretched to over two-feet in length, more colorfully marked in bright greens, yellows and reds on a dark carapace. The denizens of the reef had been feasting on sponges amongst coral, deftly extracting delicious morsels with large, talented hooked beaks.
Jostling his sleeping god-cousin, Tres urged, “Cal, wake it up. Ya gotta see what’s chasing us now.” He elbowed the boy’s neck up, rotating his chest onto the sand to force the issue.
Call sprang from sleep, wary of sea monsters, “What is it?” He vainly struggled to rise and flee from whatever was upon them. The grin caught him and he elevated to tiptoes upon Tres’ warning to trod carefully. The boy softened as focus on the tiny beings registered. A dozen more of the sprites had paddled on to the blanket, whirring those little flippers as they swarmed the two.
“Wow, Tres, aren’t they flyin’ the shade?” Studying them a bit more, he broke out, “Hey… aren’t these the babies Israel told us about in the big project he keeps getting called to help out on? We need to tell him!” Saying this, his eyes suddenly widened in disbelief at seeing a strange raccoon-like animal at vision’s edge, unmistakably slobbering over the mini-meals-on-the-move.
Too wary to chance a direct encounter with humans, it nevertheless expressed every bit of the desire by its body language. Then, the bristly beast darted suddenly at one corner of the blanket, nabbing a lagging tyke, racing off with the snack already disappearing down an open gullet.
“Quick, Tres, go get Israel! I’ll get him away,” Cal was frantic to stop a massacre in the making. He hopped upright, junk flopping around his crotch. Tres reflected that a good weapon was present right here before him--- just sling it around some more. The mental picture made him guffaw despite himself, scarpering for the nearby house.
Cal proceeded gathering little turtles into the blanket’s safety net, shouting and gesticulating at the predator. By peripheral vision, he espied glowing red eyes of several more hunters. Apparitional as Sherlock Holmes fiends. The eyes evinced malevolence in unblinking scowls. A few remaining coals in the fire ring allowed just enough glow to give reflection to a strange ‘Lion King’ re-enactment of Scar’s hyenas. So ugly.
Coatimundi. The name of the animal sprang to mind. Known as a hog-nosed coon, the avid hunters were common to the area, but Cal had only seen pictures. The thing hissed at him in dismay at being blocked, bottle-brush tail switching in frustration. It appeared ferocious, looking more like it would overcome its fear and attack any second. The beast eyed toiling babies with determined purpose.
Dozens of flailing thrashers were all moving like a herd of cats toward edges, on various paths, forcing Cal to leap multiple directions for collecting them. Coati wasn’t pleased. Raising blanket corners together in net fashion kept them somewhat bunched. This move tumbled little ones toward the center, buying Cal time. He continued shouting and waving, grabbing more of the crawling herd as he worked. Some outliers weren’t lucky enough to reach the safety net.
At the very moment Cal observed several sets of darting red eyes lowering toward the sand, as if gathering for a group launch, bright lights harshly burnt across the setting. Upsetting a concerted plan. From behind, there came a running Tres, with Israel. Both waved powerful beams like laser weapons, scaring and dispersing now visible night predators. Not only the coatis, but traditional raccoons, night birds and rodents of sizeable stature dashed for shadows, only reluctantly giving up a moving feast. At least for the present.
“Cal, keep rolling up the blanket--- we’ll get the stragglers. You’re doing great!” The young marine biologist took control of the situation, instructing both boys in succinct fashion. Mere minutes transpired as a greater majority of just-hatched nestlings were rounded up. Next, they were carried closer to their distant goal: the safer waves and reef. Israel named them as Hawksbill Sea Turtles, a severely endangered species imprinted to Robles Beach for untold generations.
Protection was a must, Israel told them. Not only natural predatory danger but human trophy hunters, too, were swiftly wiping out the beautiful creatures. Getting hatchlings to water was a giant step. Though still hunted even there by humans and sea predators, it was all the three protectors could provide. Israel emptied the blanket twenty feet from surf’s edge, explaining the need for all hatchlings to imprint on beach itself to assure return in two to three years for repeating the breeding and nesting process. The Cycle of Life.
Taking Tres’ light, he next floodlit the mess of babies, drawing their attention. Then he used candlepower to direct a path toward waves. First one, then a dozen, then the entire herd turned to a track paved for them. The scientist explained during the odd traffic duty how normally, glints of reflective stars and moon off water provided instinctive pull for untried neonates.
A major factor decreasing survival rates for many different sea turtle species arose from manmade light sources which misdirected babies away from water. Sending the boy’s outward on either side of the queue, reef-bound, they waved away the alert and hovering land predators. Protected passage, at least to the water, was secured.
Afterwards, seated lifeguards huddled in satisfaction by the impromptu Underground Turtle Railroad, jesting over success and the scenario leading to it. “It is way lucky that you two decided to camp this night of all nights, Tres and Cal,” Israel was elated by the fortuitous favor.
Statistically, one in a thousand hatchling turtles survived to maturity. Though only a short part of the tough road, the three could feel extremely gratified to attain such a high rate of survival for the herd of almost one-hundred and fifty on this leg of their journey.
“Well, the bigger luck was that they didn’t hatch two or three hours earlier… we may not have noticed them,” Tres smiled over at Cal as he spoke.
“Think you would have slept through them, huh?” Israel seemed oblivious, scribbling notes into a log.
“You could say that, ah-yah,” came the dreamy reply.