Lake Okeechobee is covered with algae because sugar water from the farm factories makes it eutrophic – too much fertilizer, too much algae. The lake is unseen and separated by weeds and palmettos and pines and mosquitoes. It is far away. The sun is fading, yet it peeps through tall pine trees and above water hyacinths, because it is still brilliant. Florida’s forest, if Florida can claim a forest, is still illuminated. In its weedy crevice, in a dirt pathway is an unusual shadow.
Twilight approaches. Clouds sandwich the sun like the insides of fresh-baked bread and red herring. Wind rustles the pine. Needle leaves drop on the metal roof. Breezes cool the evening woods. A gleam of sunlight flashes in the rear-view mirror of a blue Plymouth sedan. The car is out of place and pace – eventide interrupted – for even the crows have folded their wings in final prayer as dark tranquility creeps.
The sedan bounces furiously. Long toes with polished nails curl and grasp the window glass of the opened rear door. Squat toes grip sandy soil; another set sticks into space. Legs tense. Lean and soft muscles embrace broad and hard muscles. Both legs glisten with sweat from great effort. Guttural screams disturb the silence. Darkness is still to come.
Currents of wind are attracted to the enmeshed bodies in the back seat. Breezes cool the pores of the male’s back, but he notices nothing. The wind cools as the sun gives light. They belong to the forest. The “Great Spirit,” caretaker of these woods, breathes out the wind, and the sleepy vision of the “Spirit” is red like setting sun.
Mists of sweat escape and mingle with female fragrances, and perspiration and perfume mingle with scents of pine. The Florida backfield is permeated with a never-before, and never-again, essence – spirit like. The male body stiffens. The red toes of the woman follow her curling legs. She embraces and pulls the firm folds of his behind toward her vortex of creation.
He groans. She screams. The herring sun slips from the sandwich of clouds. The dirt road darkens. Man and woman cling to each other, aware of only loud breathing and quickened heartbeats.
The night again belongs to the natives. A tiny squirrel scoots down a tree and disappears into the darkness. The owl hoots into the silence, and a cricket sends his plaintive cry into the night. The Plymouth withdraws slowly from the scene, leaving a pollution of carbon monoxide smoke and tire trails, earthquake to a nest of red ants.
When Brad dropped Bet back to her West Palm Beach house, the waning half-moon glimmered. He left without daring to come inside. She waved bye, he drove on toward Miami.
The door closed silently and sneakily on her behind. On the outside an artificial Christmas wreath, blinking electric candle in the middle, hung by a nail. It was the evening of New Year’s Day.
She went straight to her room and sprawled on the flowery bed spread. Maybe she did not kiss a goodnight peck because he was still with her – in her. Yet she would not see him again. Tomorrow, she would get in back of the Trailways bus to Daytona. Christmas vacation was over. She did not think too much about anything. She just rolled her lankiness onto the bed and wrinkled the flowery bed cover.
Papa Rolle, in the back room, fiddled with the phonograph, the kind you didn’t have to crank, his Christmas present to the family – to himself, really. The record played Auld Lang Syne, as the diamond needle found its grooves. The choir sang. His daughter listened, and without knowing, or caring, tears escaped and rolled onto the embroidered sheet.
Inside of Bet, something moves. The New Year’s hymn floats into the night – into the Spirit. Creation listens. Songs of rejuvenation pays tribute to tradition. New life seeks recent death, which seeks old life. The annual cry of uncounted souls bridges the entire race. Tonight melancholy souls gaze at a half-moon reflection of the sun, in a star-glittered sky, each star a sun in its own galaxy. Life reached for more life.
She hears music from an inner listening ear. The female alto brings Auld Lang Syne to a climax, and the choir of mixed voices brings it to a close. Static repeats itself as the needle scratches empty grooves. The squeak of Papa’s chair opens her outer ear – and she is now aware of the heaving in her lungs. This is the sound that separates inner from outer ear.
Bet let her tears flow like a gentle rain on a hot day. Like a mystic on a carpet, she arose from the bed. Now she could smell the black-eyed peas. She noticed the ruffling curtain against her opened bedroom window, and felt the cool wetness against her cheekbones. Brad was far from her; he had gone into the night.
Brad drove south along the Dixie. He was not thinking of the other woman now, nor did he really think of the present one. Instead his mind was at peace. Someone was praying for him.
His mother – an Inagua woman – told him that; “this is the peace from above,” she said. “People can pray so deep for you, your mind would just go rest awhile.”
He would sit on the cold stone kitchen floor. His daddy, captain of the mail boat, would be gone – sometimes for over a week. Then it would be just them two – him and his Ma, and no Pa.
But, in fact, right now, if Brad could see past the ocean horizon, he would see some cumbersome diesel boat chugging through slightly choppy waves, ten feet above the coral rock. Right now, his Pa, like him, is a nighttime traveler.
Across the waters, Captain Collins peers ahead, as he handles the huge steering wheel. However, he knows where the boat is going without seeing. He has done this trip so many nights.
Both son and father meander their vehicles through a comfortable night. Each glance at the gleaming moon in the sky. The water vessel makes a wake, which gushes and ripples into nothingness; it would not reach the nearest land. The car engine rumbles, the Plymouth alone on the highway with its lone driver, trudging toward the city. Night crickets wail, like a refrain, pleading with the wind to carry their song out to sea.