The sun is an angry little fist of gold. Mariella blames the rooster, the one tied up outside of Momma’s Café. Every morning, it crows, plucks at the dirt road, scratching at the dust, hopping on one leg while the other tethers from a frayed twine rope to the tilting telephone pole. Mariella sits on a wooden bench, spies the rooster out of the corner of her left eye, and notes the hard empty platter of gold rising from the sea.
A schoolgirl sits down next to her. “The sun is angry,” Mariella says to her.
The girl sits straight, books in her lap, a long black braid down her back. She looks toward the sunrise and says, “I think it lonely.”
“No, it is angry. The rooster crows too loud. The streets smell like diesel and fish. And look at those mangy dogs,” Mariella says, pointing to three mutts on their hind legs, nosing into the battered aluminum trashcans outside of Zimbo’s Bar.
The girl shakes her head. “It lonely. Nobody can get near it — muy hot. We dance around it. Señora Pierro said we go around the sun. The sun don’t go around us. That’s science.” She bobs her head and smiles, bounds for the truck that pulls up with a dozen children, straight black hair, wearing hand-me-down uniforms, seated on benches in the bed. The little girl climbs in and shouts to Mariella, “It’s a beautiful day.”
Mariella scowls and shields her eyes with her right hand. A thin haze rises with the sun. She imagines molecules evaporating into the sky, called up, sacrificed to build clouds and weather patterns that will blanket the coastline up north. But here—here, the haze only makes the angry sun blanch, burn harder.
When she was 54, she noticed the spots on her hands, like large freckles. Her husband began to find moles on his arms and chest. Neither of them belonged on this island, fair-haired and pale, under the unforgiving sun. They stayed and he died, and the widow Mariella cannot find peace in her cottage house surrounded by the sun-soaked Bougainville, hibiscus, and jasmine. Twelve years later, she plants herself on a bench without a floppy hat or sunglasses. Bare-armed and sandal-footed, she walks for miles, following the mean arc of the sun, telling time in the length of shadows.
Today, she walks east to west, down the sandy road dotted with coconut husks until that angry fist is in front of her. She has walked ten miles already; she is tired but makes no plans to turn around and get back home. Mariella intends to sit on a boulder like an iguana. This side of the island is rocky and wild. Strands of seaweed turn brown, caught in the crevices of driftwood and stones. A single-engine plane passes overhead, the only sign of the modern world, its right wing winks and dips, sputters northeast.
It is late now, past time for supper, but Mariella waits. As the sun drops below the horizon, it opens itself, unclenches, stretches softly into the clouds. It is a gold ring glinting in the palm of a hand.
Mariella does not see the life preserver, a white halo on this darkening reef, wash up beside her. She sees only the last fragments of gold scatter above the sea, aching for high tide.
*With thanks to Bob for the photo and the nudge.