The Summer House, Later
‘Because he was clicking his cigarette lighter,’ she said later, proud of her powers of deduction, and Kaspar remembers the pale shadow of her face, turning towards something and merging with it. Later, when he and Nora wanted to drive home, he called her name. At first she didn’t answer, then some minutes later she said, ‘Yes?’ in a very sleepy and soft voice before jumping up off the bench and silently getting into the Jeep. Kaspar knows that she kissed Cat and made him God-knows-what promises; he does not approve.
But it’s Nora and Christine’s first time on the Island. Kaspar doesn’t miss the chance to repeat this every day: he sings it to himself. After a week of this Nora says firmly, ‘Kaspar, enough now.’
‘You’re always so amazed by every little thing,’ Kaspar says. ‘“Look at those guavas,” and “Look at that sunset sky,” that’s ridiculous too.’
In the hammock Christine yawns sleepily and says, ‘Kaspar, you’ve simply been here too long, you live here, that’s what makes the difference.’ Kaspar, triumphantly, says, ‘That’s why I have to keep saying it – it’s Nora and Christine’s first time on the Island.’
Kaspar is no longer amazed. Guavas, mangoes, papayas, lemons big as a child’s head. Coconuts, lianas, azaleas. Spiders hopping through the room like frogs, the tiniest salamanders and poisonous millipedes. The fruit of the akee that looks like an apple and when fried tastes like an egg. Mangoes are cut open and then spooned out. ‘Are you thirsty?’ Kaspar asks graciously, getting a coconut from the garden, cracking it open and pouring the white, milky liquid into glasses. ‘Good,’ says Nora. She makes a face as if to say there’s a first time for everything, then says, ‘Kaspar, stop watching me.’
Christine collects everything. Coconut shells, black seashells, akee pits, palm fronds, matches, butterfly wings. ‘What are you going to do with that stuff?’ Kaspar asks. Christine says, ‘Well, it’s to show them. Back home.’ Kaspar replies, ‘They won’t be interested.’
Since Nora and Christine arrived Cat has been coming to see Kaspar almost every day. But this isn’t really anything new. Cat comes around often; he is a friend of Kaspar’s and he helps on the farm. But Kaspar is surprised by the persistence with which Cat – mangoes, papayas, and lemons in his backpack – now takes the steep and rocky road to Kaspar’s house every morning in the blazing sun, silently puts the fruit on the kitchen table, then goes to sit down on the porch, only to lapse into immobility. Kaspar watches Cat, who leans back in the blue porch chair, his eyes, as always, half closed, smoking a lot of hashish, clicking his lighter open and shut with his thumb and watching Nora and Christine. They remain unresponsive, noticing nothing; besides it’s hot, and they’re much too close to each other to be aware of a stranger’s attentions. In the morning they drink unsweetened black coffee, smoke five Craven ‘A’ cigarettes in a row, cadge some coconuts from Kaspar, restless to do something, then run down the meadow and disappear. Kaspar feels shut out and is angry. He would have liked to have more of Nora to himself; after all, that was the reason for her visit. He says ‘Back then’. He says ‘Remember’, he says ‘We’ and ‘We in the city back then’, such funny words. Christine raises her eyebrows mockingly and Nora looks away.
‘That was then, Kaspar,’ she says, kissing him on the cheek. She wants, perhaps, a new kind of friendship, perhaps nothing at all any more.
‘Why did you come anyway?’ Kaspar asks. Nora answers casually, ‘Because you invited us,’ or, ‘Because I felt like seeing you. How you live here, and if you’ve changed.’
‘Have I changed?’ Kaspar asks himself. ‘Did I come here to change?’ He has no answer and feels hurt, deserted.
Every day Nora and Christine take the Jeep down to the harbour and then one of the beaches. ‘Kaspar, want to come along?’ Kaspar stays behind, as does Cat, not even asked, immobile in the blue chair. ‘All right then, see you later.’ Not the slightest note of disappointment in Nora’s voice; she guides the Jeep in a serpentine line down the meadow to the little sandy road, Christine waving exaggeratedly. For two or three minutes you can hear the car’s engine, then there’s silence.
Kaspar lies down in the hammock and looks at Cat through the mesh. Cat draws in his left leg, extends the right one, scratches his head, sits still again. He’ll stay till evening, till Nora and Christine come back. He’ll stay till after supper, and presumably he’ll sleep here too, that’s what he did yesterday, on the old sofa in the kitchen. Cat’s sleeping in Kaspar’s house is something new. It doesn’t bother Kaspar. The islanders come, stay uninvited for a day or two, disappear again. It’s the custom. Kaspar could go to Brenton’s house, lie down in his bed, stay there four days, and then go home again; Brenton wouldn’t ask any questions. And Kaspar doesn’t ask Cat any questions either. But he wants to know whether Cat is thinking about Christine, or about Nora. Christine?
Christine and Nora watch Cat while he eats. Cat eats everything with the same expression on his face, a stoic fork-to-mouth motion with his head slightly bent toward the plate, his left hand lying flat on the table while he holds the fork in his right.
He eats everything without betraying the least emotion, and never says this is good or that tastes funny. ‘He eats because he’s hungry,’ Christine thinks, ‘because you eat to satisfy hunger, and that’s all.’ She watches him, and sometimes he looks at her with half-closed eyes until she lowers her gaze. She puts rice on his plate, akee and salt fish. She likes putting food on Cat’s plate.
The evenings are long, and Christine becomes restless. Nora lies in the hammock, plays the didgeridoo, blowing long, hollow, vibrating tones out into the night. She does this for hours, and won’t allow herself to be distracted even by Christine, who walks back and forth on the porch, arms crossed over her chest, nervous and bored. ‘Kaspar, why do you live here?’
Kaspar is on the lawn, watering the azaleas. Christine, an intent expression on her face, leans against one of the porch columns six feet away from him. Kaspar doesn’t like these questions. He doesn’t like Christine’s restlessness, but still he says, ‘I guess because I’m happy here. Happier than elsewhere, I mean.’
‘How come?’ says Christine, trying to listen to him, though she’s already bored again.
‘Look around you,’ Kaspar says, straightening up and pointing toward the jungle, toward the ocean, the fiery glow in the mountains, down in the inlet the misty, orange-coloured lights of the harbour. Christine follows his glance. Kaspar remembers how, on the first night after her arrival, she sat on the porch, her knees drawn to her chest, and stared into the darkness for a really long time, very quiet.
‘All right,’ she now says defiantly. ‘All right, I know. But still, you must miss something. Autumn, for all I know, snow and the changing seasons; you’re not a native. I mean, you must miss the city, your friends, your old apartment, all that – don’t you miss all that?’
‘No, I don’t,’ Kaspar says, sounding annoyed.
Christine slowly slides off the porch and walks along behind him.
‘What do they talk about here anyway, Kaspar. I wouldn’t want to spend my life talking about papayas and breadfruit. About mangoes. Sex, children.’
‘You don’t have to,’ Kaspar says. Christine replies, ‘One has to make up one’s mind,’ then turns and runs down across the meadow.
‘Christine!’ Kaspar calls after her in an attempt to be conciliatory. ‘The hang glider pilot is coming tomorrow!’ Christine, already out of sight, calls back, ‘And when is the goddamn hurricane coming?’
The hang glider pilot arrives early in the morning, but the islanders are already there. They must have started out at dawn, because when the hang glider pilot’s small red car comes crawling up the mountain the villagers from Stony Hill and Snow Hill are already gathered on the porch, silent. ‘Flyman,’ Cat says, as always sitting in the blue chair, and starts to laugh, Christine watches him out of the corner of her eye. Nora squats in the shade, smokes Craven ‘A’s and drinks black coffee; the hang glider pilot unfolds plastic tarpaulins, pulls out rods, perspires, inserts metal into metal.
It is hot. The sun beats down, and there is almost no wind. Kaspar wonders how the flyman is planning to lift off here, down the hill all the way to the harbour: he has picked the big taxi parking lot as his landing site. The flyman puts on a helmet and climbs into a harness bundle resembling a sleeping bag. ‘Flying bag,’ Kaspar thinks. The flyman now looks like an angry giant insect just before it emerges from its strange cocoon, and on the porch suppressed merriment is spreading.
‘Flyman fly,’ Nora sings softly. Christine squats down next to her and giggles. Eagles are ascending over the hill, and far out at sea a ship is blinking. Cat gently shoos away the flies and closes his eyes. The flyman starts to run, the grass rustling under his flying harness bundle. The glider lifts off, a murmur passes through the ranks of the spectators from Stony and Snow Hill, the eagles above the hill soar and glide. The flyman rears up, the harness bundle flaps, the glider flies for twelve feet and then, with a dull thump, drops down into the reeds at the edge of the meadow.
Someone gets up and runs into the house. Christine says, ‘I’m going to take a shower’; morning turns into noon, unnoticed. The ship far out at sea changes course and heads for the harbour. Nora is standing in the kitchen, squeezing mangoes and guavas and breaking ice into small pieces. Christine is singing in the shower; Cat in the blue chair lowers his head and opens his eyes. The islanders go around to the back of the house with Kaspar to check out the new goats, a light breeze blows from the mountains. The flyman kneels again, the glider rattles and rises. It rises three feet, then six, it shimmers blue, rises further, glides in a straight beautiful line over the meadow towards the jungle, glides at an angle, rises higher and higher. Only Cat sees it disappear, a small pair of wings above the trees, a steel strut catches the sunlight, glitters briefly, then it is gone, merging with the blue of the sea; Cat sees the ship, now nearly at the entrance to the harbour, a white banana freighter that will be heading for England.
‘You must learn to wait,’ Cat says that evening; Nora and Christine are disappointed because they didn’t see the flyman’s take-off. ‘For minor events too.’ Christine stares at him: it is the first time that Cat has ever spoken to her, and she doesn’t know whether she should consider it impertinent. She says, ‘What do you mean – minor events?’ Cat doesn’t answer, but Kaspar laughs and says, ‘Slow motion. Like a ship on the ocean.’ Christine leaves the kitchen, insulted.
The radio station has increased the number of its hurricane reports to twelve a day. In Costa Rica the first evacuation measures are being taken; the Germans down in the port are contacting their embassy and booking flights to the United States. The eye of the hurricane, Kaspar says, is stationary. He buys alcohol, candles, gas, iodine and adhesive tape, canned meat and rice.
‘When the hurricane comes,’ Christine says hesitantly, ‘I won’t be able to fly home.’ Nora, who wants to stay longer anyway, says nothing.
Cat waits seventeen days. On the eighteenth day he leaps out of the blue porch chair and grabs Christine, who, with paper and pen in one hand and a cigarette between her lips, is about to go inside; he holds her by the wrist.
He says, ‘I like you.’ His voice sounds rough and unused. Christine stops in her tracks, takes the cigarette from her mouth with her free hand, and stares at him: his eyelashes curve upward in an unreal sweep, the whites of his eyes are yellow from smoking hashish, his face is very close to hers. Christine shudders; he smells good.
Cat repeats, ‘I like you,’ and Christine laughs quite suddenly and says, ‘Yes, I know,’ twists her wrist out of his grasp and runs into the house.
Kaspar says, ‘Cat has a wife and child.’
Christine, barefoot, her knees, as so often, drawn up close to her body, is sitting next to him on the porch, scraping the remaining pulp from a mango pit. She says, ‘I know. Brenton told me.’
Kaspar says, ‘And what are you doing about it now that you know?’
Christine lowers the mango pit and looks at him with irritation. ‘Nothing. What should I do about it – I simply know. I suppose I don’t care.’
Kaspar says, ‘His wife’s name is Lovey. She isn’t here. Two weeks ago she went back to her family because Cat started something with another woman.’
Christine picks at the mango pit, licks her fingers and looks absentmindedly down toward the harbour. ‘Brenton says Cat would deny it.’
Kaspar kicks the pit out of her hand and expects her to be indignant, but Christine doesn’t react. The pit falls into the grass. Kaspar says, ‘That’s not the point,’ but he might as well be shouting into Christine’s ear; he has the feeling she isn’t really listening to him. ‘Lovey was going to come back after a week, but she isn’t back yet, not even today. Cat is waiting. Whether he lies about it or not, he’s waiting, you see. For her and for his child.’
‘Waiting for minor events, right,’ Christine says cynically, then suddenly looks straight at Kaspar with childlike surprise. ‘He would never go after her to get her back, right?’
‘No,’ Kaspar says. ‘That isn’t – usually done. He would never go to fetch her, but still he’s waiting. When she comes he’ll go home.’
Christine fishes the pit out of the grass and feels a brief pain in her stomach. ‘He says he likes me.’
‘I know,’ Kaspar says, getting up. ‘You are what they call “a white lady” here. It’s isn’t about you, it’s about your skin colour. You should keep out of this.’ Christine shrugs and puts her head on her knees.
The banana freighter stays in the harbour for a week. Kaspar wonders whether the long layover has something to do with the hurricane reports; the bananas were loaded a long time ago, but the sailors are still hanging out on the docks, scrubbing the deck, lying around in the shade, sitting motionless and silent in the bars. They look Mongolian, almost like Eskimos, their faces round and dark, their eyes slanted. Nora and Christine sit on the pier and look up at the huge white ship. In spite of the heat the sailors up mere on deck are wearing red coveralls with hoods they’ve pulled over their heads.
‘They’re going to Costa Rica and Cuba,’ Christine says. ‘Past America to Europe. I would love to travel on a ship like that sometime. Now. We could ask them if they’d take us along.’
Nora says nothing. She looks up at the Mongolian sailors, would like to be able to see their eyes properly. Christine leans her head on Nora’s shoulder and feels close to tears.
‘Oh, Christine,’ Nora says. ‘We’re here on holiday. Visiting, understand? That’s all. You pack your suitcase, and three, four weeks later you unpack it again. You arrive and stay and leave again, and what is making you sad is something entirely different. You’ll be flying home soon, and we’re not going to sail to Cuba and Costa Rica on that banana freighter.’
‘Are you coming back with me?’ Christine asks, and Nora says, ‘No. I think I’ll stay with Kaspar a little longer.’ Christine looks at her sideways, then says, ‘Why?’ and narrows her eyes.