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Island Interlude
Diana Sherman Kash


I walk off the plane into sunshine so blinding I could be walking into Hell. Maybe that's what I see for myself, an exile for the damned. Our Caymanian taxi driver taps me on the shoulder.

"Mrs. Clark," she says and I forget my vow to insist that it’s Ms, not Mrs.

"How did you know we were the right people?" I ask the smiling, brown lady whose services were arranged ahead by the travel agent.

"Oh I can always spot you American families," she says with the lilt in her speech that makes the Caribbean language sound more Irish than English. Ah, so we're still a family. She holds a sign that says "The Clerks."

"It's the designer backpack," my son says, and I know the comment is intended for his label-conscious sister. Doug wears a Save the Whales T-shirt that could have been rescued from my rag bag.

"At least I'm not wearing Jesus shoes," Katie snaps back at him. Our driver wears shorts and rubber thongs.

I always expect brothers and sisters to be loving. I was an only child, a late life, unexpected baby born to older parents never quite able to figure out what to do with me. If I had an older brother or sister, I reasoned in my daydreams, they would drive me to school dances and brag to friends about their little adorable sister. If I were the older child, I would read stories to my younger sibling and teach it to play double solitaire. But Katie and Doug’s relationship is adversarial. They argue about everything from the value of recycled plastic to whose turn it is to sit in the front seat. I’ve learned to ignore this verbal volleyball, but this time I’m ready to do anything to keep the peace. You are too old for this, I think, not sure if I mean my children or myself.

Doug ignores Katie’s baiting and grins at her. I take his grin as an omen that this trip is a good idea. I've passed it off as my gift to my children, to Doug who just graduated from high school and Katie from college. Four years apart, just as George and I planned back when planning was viewed as sensible and not the antithesis of spontaneity. ("This way we only have to worry about one set of tuition bills at a time," we boasted to friends) The trip is a chance for us to be together before Doug begins his freshman year at Colby College and Katie starts law school in Boston. Of course I know the real reason for the trip is to assuage my guilt, to apologize to my children, especially my angry, self-righteous daughter for hurting them by walking out of my marriage in a brazen act of infidelity. (What an old-fashioned, high-minded word.) If we can be together, just the three of us this week, they'll know (or so I reasoned in order to justify an extravagance I can not afford) that my feelings for them are unchanged, no my feelings are stronger, than they were before I scrambled their lives.


The house, which I've seen only in brochure pictures, is small--one bedroom and bath, minuscule kitchen and eating area, living room with one sleep sofa, one chair and a television set, but it is clean and a sunny screened porch runs along the side. The only decoration is a wall clock, a big, no-nonsense, white Bulova with black hands, an odd choice, it seems to me, for a house where people presumably come to escape the accouterments of time. The back overlooks a canal. On the kitchen table is a note:

"Welcome. If you have children please avoid them from flower pots on porch. The cistern lies there. Sislyn Eubanks, Manager. Check-out is 12 noon." This is followed by a phone number.

Our driver, Frances, insists on helping with our bags including the one so loaded with pasta, rice and can goods it wears an orange stigmata, HEAVY, stuck there by the American Airlines agent who could not believe anyone would have a bag weighing 83 pounds for a one week trip.

"Your first time on the Kai?" she asks. We all nod.

"It's quiet," she says. "No night life." I nod again, although I know her remark is meant for Katie and Doug and not for me. I am the Mom. Moms have no night life.

When she leaves we stand in the front yard. All the houses along this strip of the Kai are pink and white doll houses with raked sand for yards and oleander bushes for fences. The blue-green water of the Caribbean is visible through the houses across the street.

"Just like the postcards," Doug says, looking at the outline of the palms against the backdrop of blue sky and water.

"Yeah," Katie says, "A Caribbean cliché."

According to the brochure, Grand Cayman Island stretches long before turning on itself like a curled finger. The tip of the finger is Cayman Kai. Unlike Seven Mile Beach on the main part of Grand Cayman which is lined with hotels and villas, the Kai is mostly residential. The houses are owned mainly by Americans who winter in them and rent them out for the summer. I learned this from the brochure as well. And the Kai is cheap, cheaper than anyplace else I'd looked into that didn't carry memories of vacations taken when we were still The Clarks, family of four. I knew I was taking a risk by dipping into my teacher’s retirement for this trip. "Spending your old age money," my accountant, who used to be our accountant, warned me. I know he thinks I'm naive, even stupid about money because I refused to ask for alimony (the kids, of course, are too old for child support) taking instead a small cash settlement from the sale of the house. But I wanted this trip. I wanted to go somewhere the three of us could form a new collective memory.


We change quickly so we can catch the last hours of afternoon sun. The Caymanians do not observe daylight savings so the sun sets early. I put on the two piece modified bikini I've bought for the trip and look at myself in the dresser mirror. Not bad, I think and run my hands down along the sides of my hips. This makes me think of Rick and I'm embarrassed. Those feelings don't belong here in this little house with my children.

"You're not wearing that?" It's as if Katie has read my thoughts. She's wearing a red and white striped suit far skimpier than mine. Her figure is slim and firm, her blond hair, the Clark hair, is back in a pony-tail.

"Why not?" I answer, hoping I sound self-assured. I used to welcome conversations with my daughter, pride myself on my skill at communicating with young people. Pride goeth before the fall? If Katie really could read my thoughts, she would know I’d give anything to undo that one conversation, the one that ruined our Christmas and destroyed her innocence.

"You're going to wear a cover-up aren't you?" Katie says, in a tone eerily like her father’s. George's moral superiority has always irritated me. He has neither tolerance nor forgiveness for weaknesses of the flesh.

"Of course." Katie seems relieved.

Doug heads out the door carrying snorkel, swim fins and mask purchased with graduation money. Doug and Katie have both brought their own money. ("For fun stuff like renting a float or pina coladas," Doug had said when he found out there was no drinking age in the West Indies, although as far as I know he has never had a pina colada in his life.) I assume the money comes from checks sent from George's mother and brother and assorted aunts and uncles. I haven't asked although I am curious. For nearly a quarter century, I took on George's extended family in place of the one I lacked, and they treated me as one of their own. Sometimes I think it was George's family I fell in love with at twenty. I miss anecdotes about the personal and familial quirks of the assorted Clark clan. I tell myself they are fond of me, maybe even love me, but I don't blame them for keeping their distance. George is theirs. He is blood. I am the dark-haired interloper who married into the fair-haired family.


The part of the beach open to the public isn't, strictly speaking, a public beach. It is owned and maintained by the Hyatt Corporation who runs daily ferry service between their hotel on Seven Mile Beach and Rum Point on Cayman Kai. Since the inhabitants of the Kai are few, the Rum Point facilities are open to anyone willing to spend money at the restaurant and gift shop or to rent sunfish or jet skis. Katie and I find lounge chairs near the water while Doug goes off in search of reef fish. Katie opens her book about women lawyers and settles in. I have dragged my old Norton Anthology with me to the Island hoping it will re-inspire me for the Fall.

I teach English Literature in the evenings at a community college near our house. The students are mostly low or middle level white collar workers earning enough credits to be promoted to the next level at work. Some are there because they haven't been able to get into a four year school and this is their last chance. For both of these groups, literature is a requirement, something to be endured. It is always a struggle. I want to talk about imagery; they want to get through with at least a grade of C. To most of my students, my class is a means to an end. And because it is taught at night, it became the vehicle that enabled me to meet Rick, after class when it was natural for me to stay late to conference with my students. Thus the class was a means to an end for me as well.

I watch the few people on the beach and try not to think about the muscles in Rick's legs as he walked up and down the sidelines coaching the high school soccer boys, one of whom was my son. There is a sordidness that I don’t like to dwell on. I had tried to convince myself I was caught in a love affair that carried me beyond the boundaries of decorum. Ah, most fervent passion! I was Lady Genevieve swept away by the good Lancelot who meant no harm to King Arthur. None of this was true, of course. Rick was no Lancelot. He was my son’s soccer coach: sexy, sweet, not super bright, out for a good lay. And instead of noble Genevieve, I had been pathetic Madame Bovary.

I can’t concentrate on my reading so I watch a young boy of seven or eight splashing in the water, flipping and twisting his skinny body like a loosely hooked fish. He reminds me of Doug at that age: the same gawky movements, the same dark hair. My hair. Gypsy hair, Grandmother Clark called it. Parents claim to love their children equally, and I've never questioned this maxim, but there has always been something in my relationship to Doug that is missing with my daughter. It's not just the striking resemblance he bears to me, it's a bond that began at my breast. Even then I felt the sensitivity his father still has difficulty accepting. As a little boy, Doug would come into my morning kitchen with Pooh pajamas and his Raggedy Andy doll that was the first of many conflicts, ("Does he have to carry that damn doll?") and my heart fluttered. Fluttered. There's an old-fashioned word right out of the romance books. It occurs to me that my son is the only male that ever did that, made my heart do those crazy flip-flops you read about in Gothic novels.

The boy in the surf dives under a wave and comes up with a clenched fist.

"Mommy, look," he says to a woman nearby, "I caught a shell."


We decide to share duties, and on our first night Doug cooks. He serves up our dishes, pasta in a sauce of olive oil, tomatoes and mushrooms.

"I hate canned mushrooms," Katie says.

"It's the only kind we have," Doug says. "We're not exactly a gourmet kitchen."

"Well you could've asked."

"And have to fix your dinner special? Christ, why don't you just go along with the group for a change?"

Katie slams her fork down and goes into the bedroom. Children are the bane of our existence some philosopher once said. Or maybe my mother said it. Doug and I finish the meal in silence. Later Katie comes out and washes the dishes in the little kitchen that only holds one person at a time. Afterwards, I dry.

We decide we're not going to watch TV for an entire week, instead we play Word Madness, a card game that is a faster version of Scrabble. Katie challenges me on buss and loses. Thank goodness we’ve brought the dictionary.

"Only Mom would know some obsolete form of kiss," she grumbles. I challenge Doug on fart and win.

"But it’s in the dictionary," he says.

"Yes but it’s slang. Slang words don't count." We open up the sleep sofa for Doug and a spider scoots out.

"Kill it," Katie yells but Doug corners it and scoops it up then takes it outside.

"You know..." he begins but Katie cuts him off.

"I don't want one of your lectures. It's a bug. Bugs in houses deserve to die."

"Spiders eat other bugs."

"They have no feelings, Doug. They don't take it personally when you squash them."

"Well, maybe they aren't sentient beings like mammals, but some Eastern religions....

"Sentient beings? Oh please, forget it Doug."

"What about lizards?" I ask. I'd noticed several in the yard.

"Lizards too," Doug says.

The package deal included airfare and villa. It did not include a car rental and the nearest grocery store is, according to the brochure, about four miles away. I know we'll need milk, margarine, maybe some fresh fruit, so early next morning Katie and I go in search of a bike rental. We leave Doug sprawled on the sofa, deep in the sleep at which teen-agers excel. The sports staff at Rum Point tells us there may be a rental shed near the fuel docks and points us down a nearby road. After two or three hot miles, Katie has a headache and I've got blisters. It occurs to me that the Rum Pointers thought we had a car. Who'd be foolish enough to walk in this heat? The road is twisted and around each bend we've renewed our hopes so often that by the time we see water and fuel pumps, I think it's a mirage. The Bike Rental shed is next to a restaurant, both deserted except for a man painting a boat who, as we get closer, turns out to be a woman painting a boat. She shrugs when we ask if she knows when the bicycle shed will open. Katie and I sit at a deserted table under a cabana thatched with palm leaves pleated like paper fans. Blackbirds watch from cabana tops and adjacent tables, waiting no doubt for crumbs from winter tourists.

"Spooky, isn't it," I say, "such an off-season look." Katie grimaces.

"Like The Shining," she says. A woman comes at last to clean the restaurant which will open for lunch. She makes a phone call to summon the keeper-of-the-bikes ("They don't come regular in the summer. Didn't they tell you?") and gives us water to drink. We amuse ourselves while we wait by naming the feral cats peeking from behind breadfruit trees: Mangy Cat, Scruffy, Grubby. Forty five minutes go by before a white pick-up truck pulls into the drive. I start toward the truck but Katie waves me away.

"I'll handle this," she says.

The bikes are chubby pink Huffy's. They lie on their sides under the shed, chained together in rusty bondage. The driver, American with a New York accent, apologizes for the condition of the bikes but not for keeping us waiting.

"We got new bikes on order," he says.

He quotes a price in Caymenian Dollars glancing at Katie then sideways at me, not sure who is in charge, not ready to take seriously the cute blond with the ponytail who looks like a cheerleader. He is in shorts and thongs, the Caymanian uniform.

"That's ridiculous," Katie says, "these old bikes aren't worth that much."

"But the management..."

"When's the last time the management rented one of these junkers?"

"Well in the winter we expect..."

"This isn't winter. It's July. Those bikes can sit there rusting all summer or you can collect this unexpected windfall."

The driver gives in. He seems as fascinated with Katie as I am. I note the determined jaw of her father. I imagine her as she will be in five or ten years when she will become Kate or Katherine. Damn, I think, she'll make good lawyer. The driver gives us a ride back and Katie shows off our pink bike to Doug as if it is a trophy. Doug names it Bubble Gum.


Our days slow to the island pace. In the mornings I take Bubble Gum for a four mile loop past lantana and freesia bushes, sweet-smelling mock almond, brilliant Poinciana; past houses named Sky Hai Kai, Bali Hai Kai and Ec-sta-sea; past the previous night's road-kill of birds, snakes and crab. One morning a crab darts under my wheel and is crushed by my front tire. Next morning, near the same spot, another crab rears its claws as I pass. The avenging family member? The wind sings in the spokes of my wheels and the music becomes a refrain. How could you? How could you? How could you? I push myself faster and harder until my fingers are numb from clutching the handlebars and sweat runs down my back. I return to the house and breakfast with my children, my body odor mingling with the smells of their morning wakenings.

Our sense of time meshes with the comings and goings of the ferry; the positions of the sun. We go to the beach; we swim; we snorkel. We read while trying to tune-out Jimmy Buffett on the Rum Point speakers, but the music will not be denied and I find myself humming "Cheeseburger in Paradise" while chopping onions for supper. We make up stories about our fellow vacationers. The honeymooners are easy to spot: the girls with French manicures, the boys self-consciously twisting their gold bands. They hold hands in the water and sunbathe side by side in over-sized hammocks provided courtesy of the Hyatt. But it's the other families that intrigue us: A black father and white mother, two black children, one slightly older white one.

"They met when she was a flight attendant," Katie says. "He's an international businessman."

"No, they met on vacation. He was recently widowed and she comforted him."

"Doug, you're such a softie. She was obviously his affair and his wife found out." Is it my imagination or does Katie look over at me?

"Maybe she was already pregnant with the boy."

"The daughter is definitely his to a previous marriage."


This becomes our favorite past time. We make up all sorts of permutations. We invent tragedies and melodramas. We examine traditional families, two adults and kids, to see if the children really look like the parents. Maybe the kids are adopted. Maybe they were kidnapped and taken out of the country or they're aliens (this from Doug) or they're a blended family: the older one is his; the younger one is hers.

I can’t help wondering what the others think of us. Do they think me widowed? A governess perhaps (no, too strong a family resemblance) or an aunt taking my recently orphaned niece and nephew on holiday? Most likely they see me for what I am: a recent divorcee with her children. A woman who took her cue not from the classic heroine, but from the plot of pulp fiction: a sordid affair with a man of convenience. (Is there such a thing or are there only ladies of convenience?) I wasn't even creative in my rendezvous choices. A Quality Court off the Interstate. The trashiness of my act embarrassed me even as I seized it as my chance at freedom.


I blame my college friend Jeanne Blake for my marriage to George. For most of my junior year I had a crush on a boy named Nick who sat next to me in my English classes. Seating was alphabetical; I was Anderson to his Anson. Nick was going to be a screenwriter. We never really dated, as dating was defined back then, but we met in the little cafes on campus that pre-dated the big student union built after we graduated. We smoked Marlboros with black coffee and ate cheese on English muffins and talked about repression, Victorian influences and Freudian interpretations. We created a world of literary allusions.

"Could Nolan Archer have existed today?" Nick asked with wild eyes that may have been Heathcliff's if not Lady Chatterley’s gamekeeper. I was in love with those eyes, but also frightened by them. Some nights I woke up in my dorm bed with clenched knuckles and red finger-nail moons on my palms and realized I'd been dreaming of Nick.

My few dates in high school had been with boys from the debating team or my fellow National Honor Society members. My mother taught me about boys by a series of warnings: Don't let a boy put his hand on your knee in the movie theater; don't wear clothes that might provoke a boy; (she was never clear about the kind of clothes or what constituted provoking) and above all, stay away from the shop boys, the ones with the slicked-back duck-tailed haircuts who worked on car engines and took wood or metal shop instead of college-prep algebra. I would go out of my way between second period history and third period gym to pass the hallway where the shop boys hung out in their blue jeans and tight tee shirts. I'd never seen my father in anything but a suit and tie. He must have worn casual clothes on week-ends, but I remember him most in the navy suit and red tie he wears in the photo on my dresser. The low whistles and shouts of the shop boys--"Whatcha say string bean," "Hey guys it's Bony Maroney,"-- made me uncomfortable. Yet I was drawn to their territory as a person who fears snakes is drawn to the reptile cage. This was how I would later feel around Nick.

When I met George Clark he looked just like the high school honor society boys: crew cut, madras shirt, khakis, skinny neck, an Adam's apple that bobbed up and down like a yoyo. I agreed to go with him to some fraternity parties and thought he was nice. I let him kiss me good night before curfew, but had no desire to linger the way some couples did. Then Jeanne Blake said, "George is so cute. He's got the prettiest dimples." And so I began to look at him differently. Studying across from George in the library, I noticed his dimples. He was cute. When we stopped under the trees on the way back to the dorm, I let him slip his tongue in my mouth and brush his hand against my breast and I liked the way it felt. Nick Anson did not return for our senior year. The word was he had gone to Los Angeles to break into films. George and I were married two weeks after graduation.


On our last full day we decide to forego the beach and hang around the house. Katie drags a lounge chair out to the sandy back yard and Doug takes his snorkeling gear down to the canal. I'm in the hammock on the screen porch leafing through Norton and trying not to doze when I hear Katie screaming,

"Oh my God, oh my God." My first thought is a shark or barracuda has grabbed Doug in the canal, but I see him walking behind Katie who is hopping up and down, holding her ear, shrieking in the hysterical voice of childhood nightmares,

"Oh my God; it's a bug. A bug flew in my ear. It's alive." I start to laugh, but see Katie's face and realize it's no joke. She is scared.

"Get in the water," I yell.

"That's what I told her Mom," Doug says, "but she won't do it."

"I can't put my feet on that icky bottom," she cries.

"Let your brother hold you off the bottom. Okay Doug?"

Doug lifts Katie and carries her into the canal. She holds her breath and dunks her head in the salty water three, four, five times. Each time she comes up crying.

"It's not working. I still feel it flapping around in there. It hurts."

"We need some kind of suction device," Doug says, "like that thing you use to baste turkey. Or maybe a straw."

"I'd be afraid we'd suck too hard and damage something," I say. "Try the water a few more times while I think of something else." I go into the house so they won't sense my nervousness. Come on, I say to myself, it's just a bug in her ear. No big deal. It even sounds funny--bug in my ear--like a line from an old stand-up comic routine. But hadn't someone in George's family, an uncle or cousin, once had a bug fly in his ear? It had to be surgically removed or maybe it wasn't removed and there was some kind of damage to the eardrum. I can't remember. I dial Sislyn Eubanks's number, but there is no answer. I find the yellow pages, look up doctors (see physicians) and call a clinic that advertises an eye, ear and throat doctor in occasional residence.

"She definitely needs to be seen," the nurse tells me. "The ear must be flushed out or there could be infection." I explain our no-car status. They are located on the other side of the island, but they give me the number for the North End Clinic which is nearer the Kai.

"Bug?" The young male voice at the North End clinic sounds casual. "Yes, you probably need to come in."

"Can you flush it out?" I ask, thinking they may not have the proper whatever was needed.

"Yes I tink so," the young man says. "Hold on and I'll check with the nurse." There is a brief pause. "Yes, she say come in, she can do it."
Again I explain about the car and ask if they provide emergency transportation.

"Just the ambulance and it's very expensive. Maybe one hundred dollars. But if you can get to the clinic perhaps someone here can give you a ride back."

He takes my name and phone number and wishes me luck. I look toward the yard and see Katie sitting in a chair looking tense. Doug is kneeling beside her, holding her hand. I know without listening that he is urging her to breathe, to relax. I consider the options for getting a ride: the honeymooners next door with their rented Jeep, the sports staff at Rum Point, the horribly expensive taxi. I've about decided to try the neighbors when the phone rings. It's the man from North End Clinic.

"There's a woman here who says she will drive you for only a little money. Maybe twenty dollars."

"Great. That's great."

"She'll be there in ten minutes."

"We'll be ready." I give him directions then hang up and race outside.

"We're being picked up in ten minutes," I say. "Move-it." Doug pulls on shorts over his wet bathing suit while I wrap a towel around Katie. I grab pretzels and sodas; it is noon and none of us has eaten. In nine and a half minutes we're outside waiting for our ride.

"Jesus, Mom," Doug says, "I've never seen you move so fast."

I'm about to ask Katie to update me on the movements of the bug when a gray car of an indiscriminate make stops for us. Katie and Doug cram into the back among assorted detritus. I sit in front beside the driver, a pleasant woman who smells faintly of citrus. A stack of what appears to be junk mail keeps sliding off the dashboard into my lap. From under the dash, a button hangs down on a loose wire like a dangling eyeball, and in an open space where there once may have been a radio, there is a wadded blue plastic package shaped suspiciously like a used sanitary napkin. Despite it’s decrepit appearance, the car gets us to the clinic

No one is around when we walk inside. Our driver disappears then reappears as the nurse. She's put on rubber gloves and a white apron. She takes a tray to the sink and fills it from the tap (shouldn't she be using sterile water?) then brings out a syringe that resembles a turkey baster. Doug gives me his told-you-so look.

"Have you done this before?" Katie asks. The nurse pauses as if deciding how to answer.

"Yes," she says, and looks in Katie's ear.

"There is a bug," she proclaims in official tones. "A silver one. It appears to be dead." Katie seems pleased. Her earlier dramatics have been vindicated. She is more relaxed now that the bug is no longer flopping around inside. The nurse fills the baster with water and begins squirting it in Katie's ear. A young man appears at the doorway dressed in the Caymanian equivalent of an EMS uniform.

"Everything is okay here?" he asks. "Victoria is taking good care of you?" I recognize the voice from the telephone and somehow this pleases me. The young man's presence in the room makes our group complete. Katie, no longer in pain says in her teasing, flirting voice.

"Hi, I'm Katie Clark and I have a silver bug in my left ear."

"Have you a gold bug in the other?" the young man asks, and we all laugh.

The nurse, Victoria, squirts three or four basters-full of water into Katie's ear then tips it so it empties into an aluminum pan. We all watch with anticipation. Katie says she wants the bug when it comes out; she's going to tape it in her journal. Specks of black float in the water, but nothing whole or bug-like. Victoria looks in the ear. "The bug is still there," she says. EMS takes the probe and looks. He assures us that he, too, can see the bug. After several more flushings the bug still has not appeared in the pan, but Victoria looks in Katie's ear and announces that the bug is gone.

"But where did it go?" Katie asks.

"Probly down the troat into the stomach."

"But wouldn't I have felt it?" EMS notices our skepticism and attempts to explain.

"They're connected, you know," he says. "The ears, nose, throat."

"You're sure it's gone?" I ask. I'm thinking of that relative of George's. What if the bug was driven deeper into the ear canal where it will decay and fester? Maybe cause hearing loss. Katie will drop out of law school because she can't hear her professors and she'll resent me for the rest of her life.

EMS takes the probe again and looks in Katie's ear. "All clear. I see all the way to the eardrum." He holds the instrument out to us. I shake my head, but Doug takes it and looks in.

"You can see the eardrum, yes?" EMS asks.

"I don't know what the eardrum looks like."

"So much for 'my son the doctor,'" I say and Victoria laughs, an understanding mother kind of laugh. She puts away the pans and implements then goes over to the desk to prepare the bill. This is a government subsidized clinic so we pay $10 for the visit. Then we crowd back into Victoria's car. Doug sits up front and I sit in back, my arm around Katie, her head on my shoulder. Victoria pushes the dangling button several times and the car roars. I've never been in a car that didn't start with a key. I decide that if Victoria can keep this car running, I feel better about Katie's ear. When we get to the house, I ask how much for the ride and she shrugs, "Whatever, I'm not a taxi driver." I worry my question has offended her so I take out the agreed upon twenty dollars, then I see again that button dangling beneath the dash and I give her ten more.

That night nobody feels like cooking so we eat up our leftovers: cold pasta, mango salad, and the pretzels we never ate for lunch. We treat ourselves to re-runs on television. Katie is stretched on the couch, eyes closed. Doug rubs her feet.

"Thanks Doogie," she says allowing her this use of the childhood name he hates.

Doug and I are on the floor, his feet in my lap, a treasured gesture of intimacy. I reach out my arm and touch Katie. I imagine we are all joined by molecules that flow through us, changing shape to fit our uniqueness but keeping our sameness at its core. Katie to Doug to Me to Katie, a recombinant family. I consider asking if they want to talk. I've read that after a divorce, you should encourage your children to share their concern, to get things out in the open, but Katie has fallen asleep and I don't want to spoil this moment.

Although I don’t like to, I allow myself to think of that conversation nearly two years ago. Katie and I in my kitchen, four days before Christmas. George and Doug are out Christmas shopping and I, having had a bit too much wine, am enjoying a rare moment with my daughter. Katie is telling me secrets about some of her college friends, nothing sordid, just a mild campus soap opera scenario that has us giggling. More than the wine, the shared laughter makes me feel closer to her than I have in years and lowers my vulnerability. It is the only explanation I have for why I wasn’t warier when Katie suddenly said,

"You’re sleeping with Mr. Klonski, aren’t you?"

"What are you talking about?" I said and heard my laugh, forced and panicked.

"I know you are Mom. Everyone knows. I don’t really care. I just want you to admit it."

"You obviously care or you wouldn’t ask. And if it were true it would hardly be appropriate. . . "

"Appropriate," she interrupted, "Mom, this isn’t about not using the f-word in front of Grandma Clark; this is about being honest. You always said that you hate hypocrites worse than anything and how no matter what we did it was okay as long as we didn’t lie. I just want that same honesty from you." Her eyes lost their blazing accusatory look and were pleading.

"Please Mom, it’s okay. This is important to me. How can I be supportive if you don’t tell me."

There are moments in our lives when the lines between child and adult become blurred, and we forget on which side we belong. We’re all guilty of little slip-ups, of being so flattered by the camaraderie of a young person we forget that despite all appearances to the contrary, we are not equals. I looked out the kitchen window at the twinkling holiday lights in our neighbor’s yard then back at my own daughter who, despite our differences, I loved beyond measure. I took a deep breath and then, God help me, I stepped over that line into oblivion.

"Well yes," I said, "I’m afraid it’s true." I began to say that I hoped she would understand, that I was glad she was mature enough that we could share this, but when I looked at her my words froze and I was instantly clear-headed and aghast at what I saw. She was looking back at me with horror.

"I don’t believe it," she said. "Some of the kids said it was true, but I said it wasn’t possible. How could you? How could you do this?"

"Sweetheart, please," I began, but I knew nothing could make up for my stupidity.

"You’re a laughing stock," she said. "Everyone knows Mr. Klonski hits on horny old women. Did you think he cared about you? This is unbelievable. My own mother." She ran out of the room and I heard the door to her bedroom slam shut. The truth came to me in that moment. She hadn’t known. She had suspected and thought I would deny it. Or perhaps lie. But she never expected or wanted me to admit it. Of all the words she had aimed at me the truest had been these: How could you?

In the morning we pack up our things and straighten the house. Doug and I are solicitous to Katie even though she insists she’s fine. He even lets her choose some of his CD’s for the flight home.

"By the way, Mom," Doug says, "I forgot to tell you. Aunt Alicia says you should call her sometime. I think she wants to have lunch with you or something." Alicia is George's sister-in-law.

"She really said that to you?"

"No I made it up. Of course she said it. Why wouldn't she?" I'm thinking about what this means when Katie's says without looking at me,

"You know I really love Daddy, but I wouldn't want to be married to him."

"Good thing it’s not an option," Doug laughs, and I know they are trying. They are sentient beings, these children of mine.

We're picked up by a blond driver with a British accent, the husband of the smiling Caymanian we met our first day.

"I came here twelve years ago and signed up for a tour," he tells us. Frances was my guide. Now she and I run a taxi and tour service and have a house on the ocean. You never know about life now do you?"

"You never do," I agree, and put my bags in his van to begin the first leg of my trip home.


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