F5: Desperate Times and Measures

byTx Tall Tales©

I turned away, got in my car, and started driving. I had nowhere to go, and planned on taking a long time to get there.

* * * *

Sitting on the porch of my little bungalow, I took another sip of my beer, while I watched the waves, in the dying light. I never got tired of it.

A shape took form before me, a silhouette, blocking my view. I looked up into a face I'd struggled to forget for over a year. I thought I'd been making progress. As I looked at her, a million thoughts ran through my head. Most were not very pleasant. I couldn't honestly say it was completely unexpected, but it was still surprising. I could barely make out her features in the last of the daylight, and considered turning on the porch light but it seemed like too much effort. I didn't like to waste electricity. She wasn't worth it.

I had to wonder how she'd found me. I lived in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't part of the ex-pat crowd, living in a little enclave of foreigners. I'd picked up 27.2 acres of land near Corozal, where some genius had decided he was going to build a retirement community. It cost me less than the beach house I'd sold, but ate up more than half of what I'd walked away with. I lived in the little beach house that was their showpiece three years earlier, when they gave up their idiotic dream. My front yard was the only place where the jungle had been scraped clean and a couple of hundred feet of beach had been filled in. It was desolate and I liked it that way. Isolated, I thought. Yet, here she was.

"I'm sorry."

Not the words I expected. I shrugged.

"Can we talk?"

I almost laughed. She wanted to talk now? I had tried for months. "I don't think so." I took another sip of my beer, staring past her at the white capped waves, their sound now clearer than their view.

She stepped around me and I heard the door open, then close.

It was a couple of minutes before she returned, pulling the other chair up beside me. She held her unopened beer in front of me. I took it from her, twisted off the cap and passed it back. Force of habit, I guess. I heard her take a sip, and did the same.

"You almost killed him."

Damn. Nothing but bad news. "I'll do a better job next time I see him."

I heard the soothing crash of the waves three more times before she ventured to speak again.

"I never slept with him. I never cheated on you."

"I read your emails, your text messages, and listened to your phone calls. For the last two weeks. I know everything, Sandra."

A longer silence. Still not long enough for me. Why did she want to rehash this shit? It was over. I had moved on. She could do what she wanted. I just didn't care.

"Then you know I didn't do anything." Her voice was trembling, a little less confident.

"Only because I stopped him. I couldn't stop you, could I? God knows I tried."

She had no response, and I finished my beer in silence. I got up and saw the way she watched me, nervous. Now, she paid attention. Now, I mattered. Too late. I returned with two more beers. It was my third. One over my self-imposed daily limit, but these were unusual circumstances. I opened hers and passed it to her. She handed me back her empty. A well practiced throw had it clattering among the others in my recycling barrel, mine joining it seconds later.

My latest was half gone before she spoke again. "Thank you."

I was about to make another snide remark, but curiosity got the better part of me. "For what?"

"For waking me up from my private nightmare. For preventing me from doing something horrible. For ending that asshole's slimy seduction that almost succeeded."

She took a sip from her beer, for courage I guess. The wooden legs squealed against the porch floor as she turned her chair to face me. "Thank you for twenty-one wonderful years. For two amazing children. For a lifetime of incredible memories. For loving me, and fighting for us, when I was too lost to do it myself."

"You're welcome."

I could feel her eyes on me. I wouldn't give her the satisfaction. I couldn't let her see what her presence did to me. I stared out at the sea, and drank my beer.

"Is there anything you wanted to ask me? Any questions? Anything you want to say?"

"Can't think of any," I said.

The chair groaned as she got up. There's a reason I sit in the good chair. She stood in front of me, and leaned over at the waist. Her tear streaked face lowered, and her lips brushed my cheek. "I love you Dan. I'm sorry I fucked up our lives." Her tears continued to fall, but for once I didn't wipe them away. Not my job anymore.

She dropped her empty in the barrel, and walked off into the night. Where to, I had no idea. The nearest town, about 1600 people, was over a mile away by the main road, where she was headed.

I walked indoors, locking up behind me. Damn her for tearing off the scab on my heart. Damn her!

* * * *

I woke slowly, tired, my mouth full of cotton balls, sandpaper inside my eyelids, ball-peen hammers tapping away at the insides of my temples, and a bladder ready to burst. My self-imposed limit of three beers had been not only broken but obliterated the night before. It hadn't helped.

I groaned, staggering out of the room, and out the back door. I leaned against the railing, and watered the landscape for an eternity. The sun was already up, but it was still cool in the back, under the shade. I adjusted my boxers, and made my way back to the kitchen turning on the coffee. I grabbed a bottle of water and some aspirin, which I downed without stopping for a breath. The second one I took slower.

While the coffee brewed, I strolled out the front door and into the water. A short swim up the beach and back woke me up, and got all the kinks out. It didn't do a lot for my headache, but I didn't expect it to. On the way back to the cabana, I noticed Sandra was on my porch.

Again, not much of a surprise, although I don't know how I missed her on the way out. Sandra was never one of those idle, helpless wives. On our weekends, her honey-do list was as long as mine. She could never bear to let something stand idle, if it needed work done. She was on her hands and knees, dressed in her running shorts, trail shoes, and a tank top. She had the legs off the porch chair, sanding and chipping the old glue off, and putting them back in place. I saw the cord next to her, where she would soon tie them in place while they dried. It wasn't the first time I'd seen her do this task.

The first thing we ever bought together was a table for our kitchen. It was overpriced, but she fell in love with it. We bought it on credit and I think it took us three years to pay that damn thing off. Over the decades we'd reupholstered the seat cushions twice, stripped and stained it once, and fixed loose chairs at least half a dozen times. That was the table. The table where we had our last stand, where she made it clear that nothing I could do, nothing that we shared, ever mattered.

I stepped under the outdoor shower and rinsed off the salt water, then stripped off my boxers to dry in the sun, once again thankful that my nearest neighbor was over a half-mile away. I couldn't help but grin, thinking about those people paying more for their half-acre lots in the planned community, than I had for my entire property. I went in, put on some shorts and a t-shirt, ready to start another day in paradise.

I poured us each a cup of coffee, black. I grabbed the undersized watermelon I'd picked up the day before, cut it in quarters, and went out to join her on the porch. She glanced up at me, and accepted the coffee cup, sipping it slowly, slurping it noisily as she always had, those first few hot sips. I set half the melon beside her, placed my half on the side table, and faced the water.

Early mornings I liked to see what was going on. Watch the local fishing boats coming out of the lagoon to the west, see if there was any wildlife activity in the water, check out the early morning outings from the development east of me. I'd look out to the horizon, checking out the weather, planning my day around it. Crystal clear, that morning, despite the storm raging in my soul. I let the clean air fill my lungs, and waited for the pounding in my head to eventually go away.

I briefly wondered where she'd found the stuff to work on the chair, but it didn't take me too long to figure out she'd been in my shed. I didn't keep it locked. Not much out there worth stealing, and the crime rate was surprisingly low, especially where I was. Out in the middle of nowhere. That was the only reason I could afford waterfront. I was away from everything. Everything except one little town to the south, a delusional bunch of investors to the east, and the suckers who bought into their dream.

"How was your run?" I asked. Damned if I know why that was the first thing out of my mouth.

"Sublime. It's so quiet at dawn, and you know I've always loved running on dirt." She glanced over at me gnawing on my melon. It was pretty obvious I was hung-over, and I could tell she wanted to say something, but she turned away and started working on the last leg of her chair.

She had lost weight. She couldn't afford to lose much. Her legs looked skinny, and the shorts were baggy. The last year hadn't been kind to her. Then again, maybe that was only right. Karmic payback.

We shared the porch in silence. I finished my melon, and checked my watch. Time to go to work. I picked up her empty plate and mug, and took them to the kitchen, rinsing them off, and putting them on the drying rack. Then I pulled down the window shade in the living room, and fired up the laptop. I only worked four or five hours a day, most of the time, for a paltry $35 an hour. Less than half of what I'd made before running away. It was far more than I needed, and I lived a comfortable lifestyle. With the property paid for, my expenses were less than a thousand a month. Most of my earnings still trickled back to my daughters for college. In a couple of months Krystal would be graduating, and hopefully finding a job, reducing that burden. Jenna still had two years to go.

I'd been at it a couple of hours, when I heard her moving around the house. The shower started, and I considered making a scene. She shouldn't be making herself comfortable. She had her house, this one was mine. She was an intruder. An unwelcome one. When she showed up next to my desk, she was back to wearing her shorts and running shoes, but she'd donned one of my T-shirts.

"Can I make you a sandwich?" she asked.

"I normally walk into town," I said. I didn't keep a lot of food around the house. I liked the exercise, and the break from working.

"Ok." She left me to work, and I could hear her again, moving around on the porch.

I uploaded my morning work, stood up and stretched. I put on my shoes at the entrance and grabbed my wallet. When I stepped out on the porch, she closed the book she was reading, fell in step at my side for the mile and a half walk. I guess I could have driven, but I wasn't about to mess up my routine just because she showed up. I had a new life now, and it had taken me a long time to get comfortable with it. I'd be damned if I was going to let her change anything. It was my life, no longer hers.

I took the route through the property, the occasional cleared lots a reminder of the property's original purpose. After a few hundred yards it narrowed to a dirt trail just before coming out on the main road. Named after the community going in to the east, it wasn't much wider than a single car, with wide dirt shoulders on each side, where we walked. About halfway there, I guess the quiet got to me. "I usually have lunch, then do my dinner and breakfast shopping before heading back."

"That explains the empty refrigerator. I was getting worried. Nothing but a case of beer, some condiments, and a dozen bottles of water." She was exaggerating a little, but not all that much.

Worried? Like I was supposed to believe that. I ached to confront her. Ask her what the hell she was doing, hanging around. Why was she sticking her head in my refrigerator? Why couldn't she just leave me alone? What I really wanted to know was why? What had I done? Why did she destroy us? In the end I was a coward and said nothing.

Past the first sugar cane farms, the road turned, and we walked by a few scattered houses. They became more common, closer together for a quarter of a mile, before we hit their tiny main street, and the local market. She followed me into the shade when I took a seat at the tiny open air restaurant so common to the area. David walked over with a smile. "Fresh snapper," he said then made an odd little nod at my companion.

"My . . ." I realized I had no idea. I turned to face her. "Are we still married?" I glanced down and saw she was still wearing her rings. Then again, who was I to talk? Mine never left my finger.

She nodded sadly.

"My wife. Make it two."

The owner/chef walked off shaking his head, and returned with two Cokes he placed on the table, along with a pitcher of water. "Don't drink the water," I said, pouring myself a glass.

She watched me take a long drink. I didn't bother to explain. She could learn on her own if she didn't want to listen. I had the runs pretty bad three times in the first couple of months down here. I got over it eventually, my internal chemistry adapting to the changes. Most ex-pats don't make the effort, bottled water isn't that expensive.

David's daughter came running up to me, chattering like a magpie. She had her coloring book with her, and with a look of intense concentration on her face, she drew me a picture. When she was done I thanked her and gave her a quarter. U.S. It was our little ritual. I got a kiss on the cheek and she ran off, her book rolled up and clutched in her hand. I folded the picture and put it in my shirt pocket. One more for the refrigerator.

The food was ready by then, the usual, fresh fish with rice and beans. Not beans and rice, which would be served separately. I put a little Marie Sharp's on the rice and beans, but shook my head at Sandra when she picked up the bottle. "You won't like it," I told her. She never liked anything too spicy. And this stuff was hot.

I watched her as she tasted the snapper, and saw the look of surprise. I could relate. Hard to believe anything that good could be found in a place like this. The rice and beans took some getting used to, David overdid the coconut milk, and used the local small red beans. I liked it, but it was an acquired taste. She gave it a tentative nibble, then loaded up her fork. She always was a trooper.

"It's good," she said, once she'd cleaned her plate.

"David's a genius with the fish. Don't eat his chicken." I said it loud enough for him to hear me. He laughed heartily. His chicken was what he was best known for.

She was looking at the chalkboard menu on the wall, and commented she thought it was kind of expensive.

"That's Belize dollars. Cut it in half to get U.S." I put down $12 American for the both of us, which included the sodas and a tip. Then it was off to market, across the street.

I typically ate a lot of fish. It was cheap, fresh, and plentiful, but I figured she'd be sticking around if I didn't chase her off properly. Hell, chances are she still would be making a nuisance of herself even if I did. "Preference?" I asked.

"Whatever you would normally eat," she answered quietly.

That made it easier. I went over to the fresh fish stand, and asked what was good. They had some snook, and I wasn't about to pass that up. It was still lobster season, so I added a couple as well. Two doors down Maria had her wares on display. I tended to frequent different stands, avoiding any obvious preference, but Maria had been a help to me when I was just getting started, and I considered her a friend. I gave the little roly-poly grandmother a hug, and she giggled. She always did. A mango, a papaya, and a star fruit from her counter would make up the side dishes and breakfast. Maybe I'd throw in a potato from my miniscule larder.

Sandra was eyeing the sparse choices from a distance. "You'd hate it here," I told her. "The vegetables are terrible, when you can find any." I grabbed a few of the ugly green oranges. They made a great breakfast juice, although they never appeared to be fully ripe.

Sandra wasn't a vegetarian by any means, but she loved fresh vegetables, especially organic or out of the garden. Asparagus, broccoli, spinach, cale, all things I'd never miss, were part of her essential diet. I don't think I'd ever seen one of them in a local restaurant. Even a plain salad was rare enough. I imagine at the tourist places they probably had that kind of stuff, but I was trying to live native. It was a lot more affordable.

She wasn't listening to me. She'd found the small selection of veggies, and picked out a tomato, an onion and a cucumber. "You have olive oil?"

"About a gallon." Anything I couldn't get at the local market, I bought in bulk when I hit the city.

I loaded everything in the backpack I'd brought with me, and we started the twenty minute hike back.

"You do this every day?"

"During the week," I explained.

She was quiet for a while. I barely heard her response. "No wonder you're looking so damn good."

Truth was, she looked pretty damn good to me, she always had, but no way I was going to say so.

I'll say this for her, other than being underfoot, she left me alone. Didn't say squat for the entire journey back, until we hit the property. I saw her looking around, at the abandoned foundations, scattered squares of grass, and the odd little row of fruit trees that were once meant to be the central avenue.

"Neighbors?" she asked.

"Not here. Half mile east of us, someday."

She nodded, but I know she was curious.

At the cabana, I put away the food, and stripped down to my boxers for another dip in the water. I made it a short one, no more than twenty minutes or so, took my outdoor shower, and swapped out my wet boxers for the pair that had dried in the sun. She sat on the porch and watched me. Honestly, it was weird the looks she gave me. "Why outside?"

"Well water, it doesn't use the cistern. I don't like to waste the good water, and I don't like to use the water heater if I don't have to. Saves electricity, saves propane, and saves drinking water. Plus, I like being outside."

I could almost hear the stubborn gears in her head start to move, while she considered the ramifications of living like I did. "I'm sorry, I didn't know."

I shrugged, and realized that was the longest conversation we'd had in a year. I grabbed a shirt inside, and sat down at my laptop for a few more hours of work. It looked like I was going to need the money, now that she'd found me. I wondered if there was any way I could be forced to pay alimony.

I heard the shower outside run, but she never came back in the house. From the sounds of things she was fiddling with something, but I blocked it out. I needed to focus for a little while. When I was done, I sent an email to my boss, Frank, and told him if he had any more work for me, I'd take it. I figured it wouldn't be a problem. He was always bugging me to do some odd project or other. I never did because I didn't need to. That might be changing.

When I went out and sat in my chair, for the first of my two daily beers, I didn't see her. A few minutes later she came around the corner of the house and spotted me. She gave me a sad little smile, then went indoors, returning with a beer of her own. She passed me the Belikin, about the only beer I could buy locally, and I opened it for her. She pulled the chair she'd fixed over, and sat down next to me, facing the water.

Once I'd finished the beer, I tossed the empty. "I usually grill the fish," I said.

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