Kak rolled onto her side and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She waited as long as she could before opening her eyes. It would hurt. Penalty for the excess of the evening.
She didn’t recall closing the curtains the night before. If they were open the morning sun could be like a dagger. She willed her eyelids to lift ever so slightly and allow in the first fuzzy light. Though it bounced off the Gulf waters and threw scattered reflections of waves onto the ceiling, no direct light entered the room.
Not so bad. She sat up. Her head immediately ordered her to lie back down.
“Somebody slipped me a Mickey,” she groaned. Another five minutes passed before she willed herself up and into the bathroom to confront herself in the mirror above the sink.
Her bruise did not appear to be advancing south to give her a black eye. Lucky. But like her brain it hurt like hell. She found Motrin in Rudy’s shaving kit and washed down six of the tablets with three glasses from the tap. The hot shower tempted her to stay longer but she had work to do. In twenty minutes she eased out the French doors into the sitting area.
Rudy slumbered on the sofa. He hadn’t bothered to open it to a proper bed, if you could call a sleeper sofa a proper bed. He hadn’t even removed his shoes.
She got her hand wedged into his shorts pocket far enough to reach Evelyn. “Is that a hermit crab in your pocket,” she whispered, “or are you just happy to see me?”
He didn’t stir when she extracted the crab. Evelyn’s larger purple claw still blocked the door to her little home. Poor girl. She’d spent more than twenty-four hours in one of their dark pockets. Hadn’t complained once.
The timepiece slipped from his pocket onto the sofa. She must have dislodged it drawing Evelyn out. A woman’s watch bracelet. Slim. Gold with silver trim. It had been beautiful once, before the tarnish. Now corrosion ruined the dial inside the elegant octagonal case. She held it up to her ear. Silent as her heart, the hands frozen at 4:23.
She carried Evelyn into the bathroom and set her in the sink, closed the drain and ran a puddle of water from the tap so the crab could at least get a drink. “Sorry, honey,” Kak told the crab. “We’ll do better when I get back.”
In the sitting room Rudy still hadn’t budged. He’d be gone from the world for some time. Still, she didn’t want to risk waking him by replacing the watch. She lay it on the couch beside him as if it had fallen from his pocket while he slept. He’d dropped a room key on the breakfast table. She picked it up and closed the door as quietly as she could.
Her bike was easy to distinguish from others in the rack. Even if she’d forgotten the number, the scrapes from her accident gave it away. How had it gotten here? She had no recollection of locking it here, bringing it here, nor even of leaving the bar. Undoubtedly, she had Rudy to thank. She unlocked the cruiser and eased herself onto the seat. First things first. She turned her phone on. There were too many texts and calls from Philip and Stammer to count. She tapped on Stammer’s most recent call and muted her microphone. It answered in one ring.
“Hello?” Stammer said.
Kak tapped the red button to disconnect. Done. This was the first rule of running away. The call meant she was alive, in contact, and therefore not missing in the official sense. She’d learned the trick at eighteen. As long as she made that call she could not be reported as missing. Each call to her mother gave her another twenty-four hours. Stammer answered. Kak hung up. The clock reset. She’d never seen the point in speaking so she never had. It would only cause a fight. Given her current situation and location what could she possibly say to Stammer anyway? She powered the phone off.
It felt good to pedal. She followed Front Street over to Simonton and steered south on it. She had no desire to travel on Duval and certainly not on Whitehead. Only poor judgment and failed opportunity waited on those avenues.
The air did her good. By the time she pedaled across Caroline Street she felt almost human. She didn’t want to think about what was happening on Sanibel. The phone call to Stammer notwithstanding, the Temple clan would be in full freak out by now. They’d have descended on Stammer when Kak missed the couples shower the previous afternoon. Evelyn, the human, would have demanded information on her whereabouts, what Stammer knew, on and on. She imagined her mother facing the rapid questions and rebukes, attempting to answer in her halting manner, Evelyn cutting her off before she could complete even the shortest of replies. All the more reason to tell her nothing. It gave her plausible deniability. She didn’t know why she felt guiltless over leaving her mother in that position. She knew she should. Kak pedaled on, putting it out of her mind.
She crossed Angela and Petronia before taking a left on Olivia. Cruising along, she imagined herself living in one of the small, well-kept homes. Writing in the morning and walking down to the Olivia Street Grocery for a gallon of milk and a pound of coffee. That was all you needed really.
The high fence encircling Key West Cemetery began sliding past on her left, drawing her thoughts away from that make-believe life as she started checking street numbers. She stopped in front of an old conch house that, judging by the segregated mailboxes, multiple doors and numbers, had been cut into three small apartments by the owner. Either clever or foolish depending on your perspective. The address matched the hand-written script on Mama Zamira’s business card.
A familiar anxiety rose in Kak’s throat. She found the doxepin in her backpack and what was left of the water. She was getting off schedule with it. Missing the dose last night was stupid. She dumped the blue capsules into her palm and counted them as she slipped them back in the cylinder. By the time her palm emptied she’d only counted thirty-five. What the hell. She’d counted forty on the boat the previous morning. When had she taken five capsules? That was 750 mg. Far more than the 300 mg she’d grown accustomed to.
She counted again, slowly, and got thirty-five again. What was going on? Was she subconsciously popping them without realizing? There was no time to figure it out and no going forward without it. She lay a capsule on her tongue, feeling the smoothness of it against the roof of her mouth. The last of the water flushed it down her throat as she walked her bike up to the door with the number 2 on it.
There was no chime when she pressed the doorbell. Would it even ring in the correct apartment? Or was she summoning some tired person in 1 or 3? She waited with her knuckles an inch from the door and had just pulled them back to knock when it opened.
She hardly recognized Liliana without her skull cap and white robe. Her long dark hair fell on her shoulders in such luxury it was a wonder where it all hid the day before.
“I thought you’d come by,” Liliana said.
Beyond her, in a corner of the darkened room, the mobile massage and Santeria rig was tucked away as compactly as possible. The umbrella had been rolled tightly around its pole and lashed to the table. The bike, freed from the slim trailer, snuggled in beside it to preserve the already limited floor space in the sleeping room.
In the opposite corner a dark, snoring mountain range of a man hung over the edges of a twin bed. Carter’s sprawling body. A modern-day Gulliver dominating Liliana’s tiny mattress. Liliana. Lilliput. Normally, she’d play with the idea in her head to construct something clever. The memory of Liliana staggered by Carter’s blow stopped her. She found it too kind to allow him to be Gulliver.
“And you were afraid of me,” Kak said. She could detect color on Liliana’s cheek bone, the corner of her mouth ever so swollen.
“He was upset,” Liliana said.
“Well. He’s good at it.”
Liliana wore her impatience without a trace of apology. “So?” she asked.
“I came by to see if you needed anything,” Kak said. Carter stirred on the bed. “Like a can of gas and a book of matches.”
“Before you sign up to be my social worker, he never hit me before.”
“And you think he won’t do it again.”
“You didn’t come here to check on me. You came here to make sure I don’t say anything to Rudy.”
The Santeria priestess wasn’t stupid. “Okay,” Kak admitted. “Yes.”
“How do you know I haven’t told him already?”
She hadn’t thought about that. Last she remembered she was dancing. Anything could have transpired between then and waking this morning. “Have you?”
Liliana retreated far enough to slip on a pair of sandals and scratched up Ray-Ban sunglasses. She took the handlebars of her bike and rolled out, pulling the door closed behind her. “I need a cup of coffee.”
Four minutes later they leaned their bikes against the low fencing around the multicolored picnic tables of Cuban Coffee Queen. The open air shop sat under a series of large black tarpaulins stretched over a wooden framework of white, peaked to allow for airflow and shelter the tables from sun and rain.
“Dos bucci,” Liliana called out.
A handsome brunette at the ordering counter beamed. “Si, Lili.”
They waited while the beans were ground and the hot water pushed through them. He set the two plastic shot cups on the counter.
“Pay him,” Liliana said.
Kak took the two dollars from her Aruba envelope and put it on the counter while Liliana found a picnic table. Kak sat opposite her. She couldn’t start too fast. Liliana had already stolen her thunder and with the sunglasses on there was no reading her mood. Kak bought time, sipping the golden brown crema covering the espresso. Hot microbubbles clung to her upper lip until she swept them in with the tip of her tongue. Underneath the crème the liquid was the color of unrefined oil. Liliana tipped hers, emptying the shot into her mouth. She used her lips to grab a bit of foam from the edge of her cup.
“I like my coffee like my men,” Liliana said.
If this was funny Liliana didn’t know it. “I need another bucci,” she said.
“You can’t tell him about Sanibel.”
“Can’t tell who?”
“I would like another bucci.”
Liliana downed the second shot of espresso as she did the first. When she’d licked the crema from the edge of the cup she said, “What are you playing at with Rudy?”
“I’m not playing at anything. He’s helping me.”
“Does he know he’s helping you?”
“He has the gist of it.”
“Does the gist include your Saturday wedding?”
Kak inspected her empty espresso cup. “No.”
“Do you know why I was afraid of you yesterday?” Liliana stuck her tongue in the bucci cup to mop up the remaining drops. “Sometimes the osogbo. The evils predicted? They are for the unborn.”
Kak understood then. “You thought I was a threat to your child.”
“Sixteen mouths down. Twice in a row. It doesn’t happen.”
“Why aren’t you afraid of me now?”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t.” Liliana let the Ray-Bans slip halfway down her nose. She considered the crescent moon bruise. “But I’ve seen enough to know you’re only a threat to yourself and the people closest to you.”
“Listen. I already know I’m screwed.”
“Then why take Rudy with you?”
“It isn’t like that.”
Liliana pushed the beat up sunglasses back in position.
“Because he’s my only chance,” Kak said. She wanted to tell Liliana about how she and Rudy were temporary binary stars whose mutual gravity pulled each other toward their true destinations. It would sound implausible outside her own mind.
“See?” Liliana said, getting up. “When you tell the truth it makes me want to help you. Come on. I’m taking you to see Cooper.”
“Cooper. He provides resources to those making ebo.”
“What’s ebo again?”
“You’ll find out.”
Click the link below to get the book for 99 cents.
The Gods of Sanibel – Kindle edition by Cook, Brian. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
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