Monday, September 14, 2009

A few days ago we went to the beach early, before the clouds came in from the mountains. It was a hot and windless day, and although it was low tide we decided to sit high up on the beach beneath the palm trees, where it was shady and our skin wouldn't burn to a crisp. We had Astrid and Diablo with us, and Joedy and I took turns hanging out with Lula, who was splashing down in the shallow water, and Malko, who was sitting on a towel and doing his damnedest to put fistfuls of sand in his mouth.

There was a bar about twenty feet away, and we decided to get pina coladas. I walked up to the bar, ordered the drinks, and sat on a wooden stool to wait, gazing at the water and palm fronds in the distance.

"I'm in heaven," I thought, but things became even more divine when the pina coladas were in front of me: the glasses were tall, frosty, and had big pieces of pineapple on them; I closed my eyes when I tasted the rum, and kept them closed a while longer.

I paid and walked back to where Joedy, Lula, and Malko were sitting. There weren't many other people on the beach, and we watched a group of horses being led through the warm tide pools the waves had left behind. Astrid ambled down to the water, no doubt plotting to ambush the four-legged creatures whose poop she devours enthusiastically. When I heard her barking, I looked in the direction of the horses, but they were unperturbed. It took me a second to find my bouncing, barking dog and another second to see the reason for her barking: a black lumpy object washing in on the waves.

From where we sat it looked medium-sized, bigger than Diablo but smaller than Astrid, and it looked, well, hairy. Its copious dark fur lifted and fell with the movement of the water, long thick strands extending and retreating strangely, and it wasn't till Joedy got closer and mouthed the word "monkey" that I understood that the long strands of fur were actually arms, legs, and a tail. "I can't see the head," Joedy yelled to me, and in between thoughts of contaminated water and disease I wondered what had happened to the monkey's head. Had someone shot it? Had something eaten it? It was disturbing to think that body was missing such an important, defining piece, and the sight of the monkey, now just a soggy, limp mass half-dragging against the grey sand, turned my thoughts to other things--things I try hard not to think about.

The sky was darkening, the afternoon thunderclouds suddenly thick and gloomy above the palm trees, and I stood up, waving to Joedy. The buzz from the pina colada had faded as quickly as it had come on, and the dead monkey and the flashes of lightning in the distance made me want to leave the beach immediately. Rain would be falling soon, and although the walk home wasn't long I didn't want Malko or Lula getting wet and catching cold; listening to Malko cough the last few days had been worrisome enough. I lifted a towel to shake it out, and saw the first set of black wings stretched out against the cloudy sky: gliding effortlessly, its small head bent to peer at the monkey corpse now lying flat and vulnerable on the beach, the buzzard banked, swooped closer, and landed in a graceful slow-motion arc. Hopping closer to the body, it leaned forward and began to peck at it, and suddenly there were buzzards everywhere. 

They had materialized, it seemed, from the sand, from the water, from the air, and from the trees; they huddled around the monkey in a shifting black group, all stiff shoulders and gleaming eyes, and still more--tens, hundreds, thousands, I thought--circled above our heads, craning for a better look at what lay on the beach. With the shadowy presence of the flesh-eating birds and the storm clouds that hung down heavy and low, the scene on the beach had become as funereal and grim as it had, seconds before, been carefree and light. Eerily silent and uncannily swift (how had they known?), the buzzards continued to fly in from nowhere. Their long black shapes hovered ominously overhead, and the hungry group around the carcass hunkered and jostled, vying for a chance at the small furry body.

Maybe it was the buzzards' silence, maybe it was their size and number, or maybe it was the thought of the monkey's body, not long ago warm and full of life, that scared me--I don't know. I just wanted to be home and safe. I took Lula's hand and pressed Malko's little body against mine; walking home, Joedy and the dogs a few steps behind us, I thought about all those things I try hard not to think about: illness, accidents, earthquakes, tsunamis. I couldn't not think about them, because they were everywhere, and for a long time--until the rain stopped and the clouds lifted--it stayed that way.

The long dark wings stretched out and glided, banked and swooped. The buzzards, I'm afraid, will never be far away.


claudia said...

A poignant story. To have such a profound sense of foreboding about those things that are so real and so frightening and equally as out of our control! I hope it will not find its way back to your consciousness, no doubt something will set it off, it's going to be hard to erase all of that from your mind, as it's quite a unique incident!

We miss you. With moving and all, plus I had to have a hysterectomy, so I've been out of it. Starting to feel like 'Claudia' again! I'd love your mailing address! and new email?

Give my love to everyone. And to you!


Anonymous said...

Dear Claudia, thanks for this comment--it sounds like you've been having some "adventures" too. I'm going to email you...Love, I.

Kim Schroeder said...

Hi Isabel,

It's Kim....Kevin's Kim. Wow!!! What an adventure. I am so jealous and it is soooooo cool that you are on an adventure of a lifetime. Not many people have chances to experience what you have already experienced in just a few days.

I just wanted to tell you that I LOVE YOUR WRITING!!!! I absolutely love to read and I found myself absorbed in your if it was a novel, forgetting that this was you and Joedy and all your cute little ones. I told Kevin that you HAVE TO write a book. You are such a good writer and the adventures you are having a definitely worthy of a fun book.

We wish you ALL the best. I would do the same thing you are doing (moving to Costa Rica). Life is too short to not try new things. And I would have the same worries you do, but everything will be ok and it is just different right now. The kids will love exploring and it is a great experience for you and Joedy too! I'm sure Astrid and Diablo are just having a blast!

Say hi to Joedy and everyone!

Kim and Kevin

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