White Sailors

by Peter Jerrim


A boomerang of white sand stretches to infinity. The blue dish of sea delivers little packets of waves that tinkle on the shore. The sky glows pink-gamboge, the light diffused by volcanic dust in the stratosphere. Bars of gold are X-rayed up the sky.

A black cylinder stands lop-sided in the sand like a drink can left behind after a giants' picnic. A panel slides upon to reveal inside, curled like a foetus, a human baby.

Something rushes hot in Lequila and she stumbles forward, bends, reaches into the cylinder and draws out the baby. It's a girl, about four months old. The baby opens her eyes, her bottom lip quivers, and she cries. Instinctively, Lequila draws the baby to her breast, feels her root for the nipple and, with surprising force, suck. Lequila winces, tears come to her eyes, her uterus contracts painfully like a period, then relaxes. She feels the release . Milk oozes out of her as the baby guzzles. Lequila squats in the sand, nursing the baby, rocking gently back and forward, crooning a nonsense song.

When the baby finishes she lolls back, staring about her with dark, enquiring eyes. Then a tautness flits across her face, she grimaces, starts to cry. Lequila is programmed for this. She stands, lifts the baby to shoulder level, massages her back and trudges in the sand until she is rewarded with a burp.

Lequila realises she is naked on a beach, holding a naked baby that she has just fed from her breast. She has never seen this baby before. She has never breast-fed before! One breast is empty while the other, which she has not used yet, is full. Uncomfortably full. But she plays with the baby, jiggles her around, does the hoo-hah routine and is rewarded with smiles and burbles and a little belly laugh, giggles and goos.

Lequila notices a silk thread around the baby's ankle. A greeting card is tied to it. She opens the card with one hand and reads:

The day that will never be yours

Then a cold wind whips across the beach, sand stings her calves and the sea begins to moan. Lequila places the baby back in its capsule and closes the panel. By now the wind is howling and surf pounds the beach. Lequila runs towards the trees that fringe the beach. From the shelter of the trees she peers out. The sea surges over the beach, the capsule rocks, then floats, and is drawn out as the waves recede. Lequila cringes with terror then, unable to control herself, runs back down the beach and plunges into the waves. She strikes out toward the capsule which is being towed away in an off-shore current. Several times Lequila is dumped by waves, thumped down onto the sand, roiled in the mash of the surf. But the need to be near the baby draws her and soon she is in the smooth current racing away from the shore. She moves at the same speed as the capsule now and in a few strokes has drawn alongside and is thumping the panel, trying to open it. A patch of memory, an image from ancient history, flashes in Lequila's mind. Way back, when the first men returned from the earth's moon, their command capsule bobbed in the ocean and divers swam alongside to open the hatch. Dazed creatures in silver suits emerged. Then the memory fades, the panel of the baby's capsule slides open, a hands' breadth out of the water, and Lequila can see inside.

The baby girl is asleep. Droid hands stroke her brow. Deep jungle drums thump a lullaby. A monitor on the ceiling shows that all is well. Perhaps this baby was dropped to earth for a day. A gift for Lequila, a magical moment, a memory of what will never be hers.

Lequila grabs the rim of the hatch, hauls herself up and leans in. She kisses the baby on its cherub lips then drops back into the water, closes the panel, slips out of the off-shore current and swims toward the shore. The wind has died, the sea is calm and after a hundred strokes she staggers on the sand.

She is weeping. She knows this is Huan's doing, and Bryan's. She is being prepared for something, something that she would rather not think about for now.

And she can't, because a man is walking along the beach toward her.

She stands there, not knowing what to do. She feels ridiculous. Her hair straggles over her face. Her eyes sting. She's conscious of drops of seawater in her pubic hair. The breast that's full of milk feels like a balloon full of water. She cups a hand under the breast to support it and watches the man approach.

He's black. Completely black, except for sunglasses like mirrors, the faded blue jeans he's wearing and a white towel he holds in one hand. When he reaches her he gently wraps the towel around her and leads her up the beach to the trees. They lean against a rock while she shivers in the towel. When she turns her head toward him she holds her breath. He's so beautiful she can hardly bear to look.

'OK,' he says. 'You don' have to explain nothing.'

They lean against the rock for silent minutes. Milk leaks from Lequila's heavy breast into the towel. A warm wind dries her. The bars of light in the sky smudge into a soft crimson. The sea turns to wine. The beach burns silvery grey in the last light of day. Shadows lap at the two figures leaning against the rock.

'That was quick,' says Lequila.

A glimpse of his teeth as he laughs. The sudden white when you split a coconut. 'Yeah,' he says, 'Now for the night.'

He still wears his shades like he didn't need to see anything anyway.

Then he's walking her through the dark along a path that's elastic underfoot. She senses buildings close by, huts. Catches of conversation, songs. Cooking. Something scampers in front of them. Rustles among foliage. Frangipanni. Incense. Thursday smells.

Distant thunder.

He guides her into a space which she senses has a roof over it. And a mat floor. He seats her on a bench and she feels around for a table. Bare boards. She adjusts the towel which she has tucked around her waist by now.

The man is busy somewhere in the hut. He hums. Sounds content. The donk of a ladle in a clay pot.

Lequila runs her fingers through her hair, tries to comb out the sea knots and the memory of the baby.

After a while they're eating something that tastes like turtle or chicken, sweet potatoes, a seaweedy broth, then sweet fruits and a drink that buzzes her mouth. And she's tired and the man's dry hands on her shoulders guide her to a mat on the floor. There's a cottony rug she wraps herself in then slips out of the towel which has left a crease on her skin where it was tight on her hips. She rolls the towel into a pillow and sleeps.

Much later she knows she's been awake, waiting for the man to touch her again. There's a soft moon or something white in the sky and by its dim light she sees him sleeping next to her. His sunglasses and folded jeans are placed on the table. He is covered in a white cotton blanket, the valleys between his limbs like a desert tableaux, seen from the air on a moonlit night. The light reveals his head, his eyes like marbles under heavy lids, his ear a dark, secret shell, his hair a fuzz of curls, his shoulder...a dome, gleaming alone in a landscape.

She waits half an hour then touches his shoulder.

Her index finger traces little moons along the muscle that mounds as he moves to rest his head on his forearm. She hunches closer and brushes her lips on his neck and gently bites.

The man moans but does not move.

Lequila runs her fingers down the cotton that covers him and kneads his lower back with her knuckles.

She presses her body against his back, cups her hands on his buttocks and squeezes. He breathes deeply.

Then she slips under the blanket, presses naked against him and glides her palm over his abdomen, her fingers tracing, searching.

The man responds like music. So delicate she hardly feels him explore her burning skin. Then his touch is the tune of raindrops on dry earth. His lips argue in secret places, his body an orchestra of possibilities, spreading her into delight.

In the middle of the night he enters her.



At the height of her ecstasy Lequila suddenly thinks, He's pumping me full of pseudo, and she goes cold, shakes him off, rolls over and cries. She has an image in her mind of a glit with a beautiful diamond skin. When she looks closer the skin is empty, like a spider's moult floating on a strand of web, its occupant elsewhere, a new surface hardening already on its pulsing body. The empty glitskin rotates like a spacewalk in her mind. It's waiting for a pseudo contents, a manufactured thing, not a human body at all. There's nothing left that is real.

The black man murmurs in her ear, 'It's OK darlin', it's OK. I don' mind.'

He rests his hand lightly on her breast for a moment then fades into nothingness.

Lequila drifts in sleep awhile, the imprint of the man's hand warm on her breast.

Then she wakes as the morning sun glares across at her from the horizon. She has been asleep in a hut in full view of the sea. She is dazzled, blinks, stands, yawns, stretches, feels something on her breast, screams...

It's a caterpillar, fat and hairy, the size of a hand.

She brushes it off. As it falls, its fine hairs touch her abdomen, her thigh, her foot. Soon they're itching and as she scratches them red welts appear. Then blisters like bubbles fill with pus. The blisters burst and where the pus oozes over her skin fresh blisters form.

Although she knows she mustn't, Lequila can't stop scratching. Her nails tear her flesh, trying to assuage the fire. At first it brings relief but then the itching returns, worse than before.

After a few hours of this Lequila is ready to die. She rushes into the sea thinking she will drown herself. But the saltwater amplifies the pain of her wounds and she limps back onto the beach, dancing in agony.

'Bryan, you bastard,' she cries through clenched teeth, 'I've had enough. Get me out of this.'

But there's no pseudo magic to fix her skin or take her away. Lequila hobbles up the beach again, trying to escape the beat of the sun. The blisters on the soles of her feet make walking almost impossible. She looks for somewhere to lie. She stumbles into the remains of a cooking fire inside a hut. Where is everyone? she thinks. She kicks aside black embers and rolls in the warm ash. It brings some relief and she sits in the fireplace, pours ash on her head and rubs it into her body. She finds a sharp stone and scrapes her wounds till the blood runs. She's a grey ghost gashed with red, like a picture on the wall of a cave, millennia ago.

Pose of the martyr, she thinks. And sits there, conscious of nothing but pain.


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