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    the glass bottom boat  
 
The Lifeguard (Mary Morris)


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  Lenore sat on the plastic lounge chair, listening to the wind. Except for the young lovers a few chairs down who were nestled under a hotel blanket and the very fat couple who stared straight ahead, she was the only person out. The wind had picked up the night before when the air was cool, but suddenly it turned muggy and strong, a south wind that blew the scents of hibiscus and wild ginger out of the air and made the islanders smirk when the tourists asked, "How much longer do you think it will last?"

Lenore had noticed this smirk after she'd asked three or four people because already the girls were getting antsy. They could play video games and roll around on a mat at Woody's Day Camp for a few hours a day, but after that, Lenore had to improvise. Aunt Patty, who ran the day camp, said that a pony named Angel was supposed to come and give the kids rides, but Angel didn't like the wind.

Lenore didn't like it either. It didn't bring rain and there were no signs of an oncoming storm, but the palm trees were tilted at odd angles and the fronds slapped like an audience impatient for the show to begin. The wind didn't have the excitement of a storm or the promise of something untamed and dramatic that would carry itself across the island and out to sea. It just blew sand in faces, skirts into the air, clothing off the lines. It made people act strange. Earlier, when she'd tried to take a walk up the beach, she'd passed a tall, thin black man, dancing. He swayed back and forth, his eyes closed, moving his feet as if to a calypso beat, but there was no music. Then she'd headed over to the lounge chair where she now sat.

Lenore, Marty, and the girls had arrived on Wednesday for their one-week package (sixteen hundred including meals; children ate free). A week on the islands, sipping papaya drinks and pina coladas. They'd chosen the Holiday Inn because Marty wanted "a familiar face in an exotic place." He didn't mind walking up the road for a ham-and-cheese sandwich or to bargain for a T-shirt from the duty-free shops. He'd even tried the jerk chicken at the evening buffet, but he didn't want things to be too different from what he was used to. "I'm a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy," Marty liked to say.

They had had two days of sunshine and their twin daughters--Crystie with the beautiful hair and Claire with the beautiful voice (this was how people told them apart, as if they were characters in a fairy tale)--had ridden the paddleboats and snorkeled and even tried windsurfing, though they were only nine. They had pleaded with their mother to take them out on the glass-bottom boat and Lenore had gone along reluctantly because she'd never done well in deep water and once she'd almost drowned.

The next day the wind had started. It had blown the people inside. It blew panties and bathing suits drying on balconies off to sea; it blew coffee cups cold and beach chairs across lawns. As Lenore sat by the pool, she saw a cat fly across the deck and into the bushes where it disappeared.

From her lounge chair Lenore could see into rooms. Babies were confined to their cribs, parents gazed hopelessly at board games and portable video games. Tourists huddled in unmade beds, reading dimestore novels whose pages were sodden with moisture from the sea wind. She saw feet draped across beds, empty glasses on nightstands. Faces peered out of closed curtains, scanning the sky.

She hadn't slept well the night before because the people in the next room were having a party. She'd heard their music and laughter and finally she'd woken Marty, who was a light sleeper but hadn't heard a thing. She'd asked him to do something about what was going on next door, but when he went to knock, everything quieted down.

That morning Lenore had gone to the front desk to complain. She was unhappy with her room, she'd told the desk clerk, a dark, indifferent man. She said the people next door were too noisy. The desk clerk punched something into his computer, then told her that he was glad to change her room, but that the room next door to theirs was unoccupied. "That can't be," Lenore said. "I heard people there."

The desk clerk looked at her wide-eyed, askance. "It's under construction," the man said. "It doesn't even have furniture." He offered to give her a key so she could see for herself, and with a defiant look she snatched it from him. Without telling Marty, she went to the room next door and turned the key. She'd walked into an empty space with a green blanket over the window, a cement floor, and a housekeeping cart with clean towels in the middle of the room. She had quickly closed the door.

Now she sat on the lounge chair, the key still in her pocket. She touched its impression to make sure it was there. She'd planned to return it, but decided to do it later. The fruit lady came by--papaya, coconut, mango in a basket on her head, a cleaver in her fist. Lenore asked her to smash a coconut which she'd take back to the girls. "Sounds like a hurricane, doesn't it?" Lenore said.

The fruit lady looked at Lenore with disdain as she lowered the basket from her head. Lenore watched as the woman removed the coconut and cracked it with a firm whack right across the side. "No," the fruit lady said, "this is just wind. When it's a hurricane, the air whistles like this." And she made such a screeching sound that Lenore put her hands over her ears.

 
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Excerpted from The Lifeguard by Mary Morris. Copyright © 1997 by Mary Morris. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.