Tahitian Ambrosia Maker04/07/2011
Joy J. Henry is writing a series of connected short stories to accompany songs by The Mountain Goats. Have a listen:
The Mountain Goats- Tahitian Ambrosia Maker
When we got off the airplane, Beth was still feigning strength. I could see in her eyes that she wanted to cry like a little girl.
“You ever ran away from home before?” I asked, running my fingers along the white skin behind her ear. “You know, made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, put them in your little backpack, and walked to the edge of the neighborhood?”
The year was 1974, and yes, I was an asshole, but I had just been dishonorably discharged from the Army Corps of Engineers for trying to dig a canal straight through Florida. A little piece of Panama right here in our own country.
“You’re just like Harold,” she said. “Just another fucking post-war jerk.” Harold was her father. I should’ve known the thing had daddy issues. She was 18, had left her newborn baby at home with her mother.
“Beth, I was two years old when WWII started.” I winked at the young Polynesian woman who stamped our passports, walked out from under the overhang of the outdoor airport, and opened the door of a taxi.
I’d booked a room in a low bungalow over the water, the kind you needed a boat to get to. The walls were sheets of canvas that you could roll up or down by pulling a cord. Beth methodically went around the room, pulling each up to bring a 360 degree view of the water.
“Now it looks like our bedroom is a marooned life raft.” She was calm now, had retrieved a marijuana cigarette from a little baggy she kept stuffed in her panties. She sprawled out on the bed reading maps and guidebooks, wearing only a long flowy skirt.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “Our closest neighbors are some tribes who continue to inhabit islands where we tested the H bomb.”
“I do enjoy your cutting social critique,” I said, and she smirked at me. I climbed on top of her. “But I like your body better.”
I met Beth when she was serving Army engineers beer and chicken wings at the Pub in Inglis. She made snide little jokes when she would bring us more blue cheese or celery sticks. By then I knew the canal project was going straight down the shitter, courtesy of some long-haired fucks at Greenpeace. One night I caught the small of her back as she carried a tray of dirty plates into the kitchen. I told her I was leaving the project out of principle, and that she should come with me.
Night fell and the lights from the other bungalows bounced off the water, a small colony of life rafts. We made love, Beth still wearing that stupid skirt and intermittently laughing hysterically.
“My Tahitian ambrosia maker,” I said afterwards, as I retrieved a beer from the ice box. She was eating straight from a loaf of sourdough bread she’d brought in her backpack.
Jerky crying sounds startled me awake in the night. As my eyes adjusted I could see Beth sitting on the edge of the bungalow, her feet dangling above the water. Would I say I felt guilty? Yes. Yes, I did, taking a young girl away from her tiny child and home. At the time, I just muttered fuck, and started to fall back asleep. If she wanted to go back to Inglis, her career at the Pub or Texaco station would still be there.
The next morning she was gone, along with the little dinghy, the only transportation off the bungalow. She had cased the place, taken my watch, traveler’s checks, the few hundred dollars I’d brought.
She left an angry note—must have been expecting more. The truth was, I’d booked this flight through dubiously acquired frequent flyer miles. I bought $15,000 in $1 coins from the U.S. Mint on an airline credit card, then deposited the coins in my bank account. I had to give my ex-wife and kid every cent of the discharge money I got from the Army.
Goodbye Bob, the note began. I know you were fired from the army—it’s a matter of public record. Adios.
Not fired, I thought, you don’t get “fired” from the Army. But there was no one there to argue with. I sat around waiting for low tide, until I could make my way to the shore.