By Elizabeth Lopeman
She had seen Kaspar, drive away from the resort in a jeep that morning, a puffed up adventurer going out with his scuba gear to discover the mysterious Bimini Road—the collection of flat, tablet shaped rocks aligned like an underwater highway, thought by some to have been laid by Atlanteans, and by others, including most geologists, to be a natural rock formation, though quite rare and the only of its kind on the planet. Kaspar was probably underwater now, mummified in black neoprene, air tank strapped to his back. Katie had had a child on each hand and a backpack full of baby wipes and oranges as she watched him pull away. Franziska, the children’s mother, had planned to sleep late and then spend the day in the Ponce de León Spa, so Katie had gotten Petra and Rolf dressed to go to the other side of the island to see the sharks at the aquarium.
They just kept doing it—the sharks—voraciously swimming in circles as the air conditioning froze the damp hair at the nape of Katie’s neck. But as long as the kids were caught up in the spectacle, she stole a few more moments to herself. She just wanted a few weeks away, to go to Florida. She was so close. What a shame to have to go back to Germany when her grandmother was going blind less than one hundred miles to the north, sitting with a nurse in her Delray apartment, watching the sea until, eventually, it would turn grey. Katie had to see her. More importantly, she had to be seen by her.
She watched the sharks as a neurotic mental tape of her boyfriend Tobias began to roll. He never took her out anymore and she hated it, but she couldn’t make sense of the overwhelming love she felt for him. He was a footballer for FC Bayern München, the internationally celebrated team, and even though he was second string, his position still carried mystique. His first string teammate, Franck Ribéry, had made big news getting caught with an under-age Parisian prostitute, and Katie wondered if her own naïveté should be more worrisome. She couldn’t stand thinking about it and switched her thoughts to Florida, but she knew the Schmidts wouldn’t let her go—she had to arrange for vacation time much further in advance than this.
Rolf screamed again and ran for the exit. Katie turned, her eyes still lost in the blue water, as Rolf burst out the double doors, his silhouette vanishing as they swung closed. Petra whimpered a soft plea to stay with the sharks, and when Katie kept walking toward the door the plea turned to sobbing.
“Kaki,” Petra said. She twisted her flaxen hair nervously between her tumid fingers.
“Oh, great,” Katie said.
When they stepped from the building, the brightness burned Katie’s vision to a flat white field that slowly softened into palm trees and a hedge-lined walk. Rolf was nowhere in sight. The sun heated the cool parts of her neck and back within seconds.
“Kaki,” Petra whimpered.
“I know, Sweetie. Let’s just find Rolf first. Rolf!” An urgent clutching at her thigh became an acute pinch where Rolf reached out from the hedge. Katie feigned delight. “There you are.”
“Raaarrr,” said Rolf, clamping down harder on her leg.
“Raaarrr,” said Katie. “Rolf, we have to change Petra’s diaper, so let’s use the restroom, and maybe after that we’ll get some yummy ice cream.”
“Nein,” Rolf screeched.
“Please use English when you’re talking to me, Rolf.”
“Nein,” he yelled.
With Petra in one arm, Katie pulled Rolf by the hand while he dragged his feet along the scorching sidewalk. He dropped to one knee but in spite of her best intentions under the blaring Bimini sun, Katie kept pulling.
“Schtop. Schtop,” Rolf cried.
She let go of his hand and turned back just as he laid himself on the ground, his coarse blond hair on the concrete, and pulled his knee up to his grimacing face. The skin had been scraped with gray-red lines like a Gerhard Richter squeegee painting. Spheres of blood grew and broke and rolled down his calf.
“Rolf, please stand up.”
Rolf put his palms on the ground and stood at attention. It never ceased to amaze Katie how quickly German kids came around and did what they were told.
They walked on until they found a restroom, which was dimly lit, for mood she supposed, but in the heat was vaporous with the stench of shit and sweat, and Petra’s diaper was all the worse for it. Rolf pulled down his pants and started pissing all over a toilet seat in the stall nearest the door just as a woman in tennis whites came in with a girl in tow. The woman yelped before she caught herself, turned the girl around, and disappeared.
He stood pulled back like a horse about to buck and tapped the toe of one sandal in the growing pool of pee.
“Great,” Katie said.
Rolf looked up with earnest innocence and she remembered she loved this child.
“Let’s take a look at your knee.”
He came to the sink as if he’d been drawn there, and the three of them seemed to have acclimated enough to forget about the stink for a moment. Katie sat Petra on the Formica sink counter while she gently wiped Rolf’s knee. He winced but didn’t jerk as she dabbed the wound with Bacitracin from her backpack while Petra quietly said “quack, quack, quack, quack” the best she could, remembering it from the song Katie had taught her. Katie pulled the waxy plastic tabs from a Band-Aid, gently applied it to Rolf’s knee, and they exited the tiny hell-hole without ceremony.
“Let’s get some freaking ice cream,” said Katie.
“Vreaking ice cream,” said Rolf.
he kiosk that sold hot dogs, popcorn, soda, candy, and, thank God, ice cream boasted a plastic façade that bubbled out in the shape of brightly colored fish, sharks, whales, and other sea animals. It had to be the cheesiest, most commercial looking object on the generally sparse and tastefully appointed island. The concrete picnic tables wavered in the heat under tiki grass umbrellas like battlements in a mirage. Katie put Petra on one of the shaded benches as the girl protested, crying, “Mommy.” Rolf sat next to her and stroked her arm, explaining in German that Katie would bring them “eis” and imploring her to stop crying. Katie arrived at the table unwrapping the first ice cream bar for Petra, getting the goodness into the kid’s mouth pronto, and then unwrapped the second one for Rolf, which he took with a smile. She opened the corner of her own wrapper as a gentle breeze from the ocean brushed her shoulder. As her first cold bite morphed into a pool of sweet cream on her tongue, she watched a couple approach the kiosk. She noted how American they looked, he with his Nantucket Red shorts and flip-flops, she with a short, flowery skirt and a tank top. Together, they exuded a certain nonchalance that doesn’t translate in Germany. His strawberry blonde hair had something familiar about it, though, and when they turned away from the counter, he with a basket of french fries and she with two drinks, Katie knew exactly who he was: Blake Pfister, eleventh grade biology, Greenlake High School—the outdoorsy guy who drove a Subaru wagon and played soccer in the park in front of her house on 51st street every Friday afternoon the summer of her senior year. What was he, of all people, doing here?
A slab of chocolate slid off of Petra’s ice cream bar and lodged itself on the front of her pink t-shirt, which had been carefully and expensively embroidered with a white bunny, now smeared with brown stains. Petra didn’t notice and went on licking the quickly melting ice cream, which covered her chin. Blake and his girlfriend chose a table, and against her will, Katie got up to get more napkins.
“May I help you?” the kid in the kiosk asked.
“No thanks, just need some napkins.”
“Hot out, isn’t it?” he said.
She looked into his red, acne-scarred face. He smiled solicitously. Katie wasn’t sure what to make of it. She’d become accustomed to the cool indifference of Germans. “Yeah,” she said, “it’s hot.” Still looking curiously at the kid, she turned, took a step, and bumped squarely into the chest of Blake Pfister.
“Sorry,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder as if to stabilize them both. “Hey, I know you, don’t I?”
She raised her hand to block the sun from her face. “Katie Jonah,” she said.
“From Seattle, right? I’m Blake. We were in English together, at Green Lake, weren’t we?”
“I think it was biology.”
“Holy shit. What are you doing on Bimini?”
“I’m a nanny. For a German family—we’re here on vacation.” She felt herself blush. “They’re from Munich.”
“I love Munich. We were there last winter and then in Kitzbühel for two weeks skiing. Munich’s a great town.”
“That’s weird. I was there.”
“And now we’re both here. So far from Green Lake. Weird.”
Petra yelled Katie’s name. She was under the table, delivering a piece of chocolate from the ground to her mouth.
“I should get back to the kids,” Katie said.
Blake pulled out his iPhone. “What’s your number? I’m here with my girlfriend. Maybe we can all get together.”
“Yeah, once the kids are asleep, I’m free to roam all of wild and crazy Bimini.”
“It is quiet here, isn’t it? We’re only here for the night.”
Petra hit her head on the underside of the table and started screaming.
“Crap. I’ve really gotta go,” Katie said, turning to walk away.
“Give me your number, though,” Blake said.
“But it’s an international call.”
“No problem. I have coverage.”
She told him her number and he punched it into his phone.
“Later on, Katie. I’ll give you a jingle.” He gave a slow, deliberate wave with his fingers close to his face in a way that made Katie think of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
“Great to see you,” she said. She set Petra on the table again and wiped down her face, and Rolf’s hands.
atie played peek-a-boo with Petra in the cool shuttle bus to try to keep her awake until they got back to the hotel, but she nodded off anyway. A nap that started too early could prove to be a disaster that lasted until bedtime. When the bus stopped in front of the hotel, Katie gathered the girl’s soft body in her arms and Rolf compliantly took the backpack as they dragged into the grand entrance. At their room, Rolf helped her with the key and she successfully put Petra down on the bed with only a moan and a few dreaming puppy swats at the air. Rolf climbed up on the bed and lay back. He put his thumb in his mouth, something Katie wasn’t supposed to allow, but when she saw his heavy eyelids fluttering helplessly closed, she couldn’t be bothered. Rolf was out.
The couch had been strewn with children’s clothes and flip-flops, water toys and bottles of sunblock, but Katie eventually found her brown bikini. She put it on, picked up her copy of Middlemarch from the bamboo bedside table, unlocked the sliding glass door, and walked out into the sun. The turquoise pool water sparkled in the light and the air was perfect. Bimini wasn’t so bad. Katie got comfortable on a teak deck chair and dozed with the door cracked, listening to the clatter of the palm fronds. Petra woke her with a cry, but she’d fallen silent again before Katie got to the door, so Katie returned to the chair in the sun and gave George Eliot another try. A friend had recommended Middlemarch to her, but she found herself indifferent to Dorthea’s interest in Mr. Casaubon, and her relationship with Celia perfectly grating. The red glow of light filtered through the blood in her eyelids as she dozed and reflected on the Blake Pfister encounter—so strange—she wondered if he would call or if it was just one of those freak things that happened to people who travel a lot. The heat of the sun spread across Katie’s stomach and thighs, and when a shadow passed over she imagined a small white puff of a cloud, though she hadn’t seen one in days. She allowed her eyes to open like the stuttering and blinking of an old film reel. A black silhouette.
“Katie, what’s going on here? Where are the children?”
Katie sat a little straighter. “They’re asleep.”
“Ah.” Kaspar shimmied the waistband of his surf shorts around his gym-tightened abdomen. His clean features morphed into a smile, a nice triangular nose, a defined jaw, and piercing blue eyes, but Katie found him too typical to be attractive—too methodical, too German. And he was her boss.
She picked up her sunglasses and knit her brow in order to see him as clearly as possible.
“Franziska is in the spa?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. She crossed her ankles and picked up her t-shirt.
“All right. Carry on.” He put a hand on his ass and started away toward his room. “Katie,” he said turning.
“Could you come with me a moment? I’d like to take a look at your schedule with you.”
“Uh, okay.” She always looked at her schedule with Franziska, never with Kaspar.
She followed him into his room. The curtains were drawn and the coolness of the air conditioning had a soporific affect as it climbed her legs and slipped through her hair. Kaspar sat down on the bedspread and pulled a sheet of paper off the nightstand. He patted the bed next to him. Katie sat down a hand’s width from his suggestion.
“We’re going to need you a few extra hours this evening. I know you’re supposed to be finished at six, but we decided to go for an evening boat ride. And we’ve made reservations for dinner in town after that. So you can just stay with the children in their room once they've gone to sleep. Okay? And then it will be your regular schedule tomorrow, starting at seven.” He smiled and looked into her eyes as he swept his hand over the light hair on his stomach, which she was ashamed to have noticed was a bit darker than the golden brown hair on his head. Katie had never had a lascivious thought in his presence before, even though he generally looked at her like he’d just returned from being lost at sea. She could smell salt in the air. She crossed her legs. She knew she couldn’t say no.
“Okay,” she said. “No problem.”
He ran his hands along his thighs to his knees and then rubbed his hands together. “Great.” He leaned back on his wrists.
“Is that everything?” Katie asked.
“Yeah, I guess that’s all.”
She stood up. “How was the Bimini Road?”
“Super,” he said, pronouncing the S like a Z as Germans do. “You’ll see the pictures. I’m going to go again tomorrow.”
She went back onto the deck. “Sheesh,” she said. What a dog. She checked in on Petra and Rolf, but they were both slumbering peacefully, so she stretched out in the sun again. Kaspar’s hand on his abdomen disturbed her. Her stomach dropped. It occurred to her that she wondered what he was like. She read a few paragraphs of Middlemarch and tossed it over her shoulder, but it slapped the glass door. Petra started crying. Rolf stumbled out squinting.
By seven-forty, after a long afternoon of swimming, Katie had the kids tucked into the second queen-sized bed in the room they shared. Kaspar had dropped them off after a walk on the beach. Katie hadn’t seen Franziska all day, which was just fine with her. Rolf tapped one foot against the bed as he was starting to fall asleep, as usual, and Petra twisted pieces of her silky golden hair—this was good. Petra’s fingers had come to a stop on her head and her eyelids rested softly, revealing only a sliver of the whites. Rolf sucked his thumb. Katie lay back on the couch with Franziska’s copy of German Vogue and put her feet up, when the fanfare of a trumpet announced that her phone was ringing. Petra jolted and gurgled through her pacifier and Rolf banged his foot against the bed a little louder. Katie picked up her phone. She didn’t recognize the number.
“Hi, Katie, Blake Pfister.”
What an arrogant way to say hello, she thought. The kids settled. Katie quietly slid back the door and stepped onto the pool deck. A planet, maybe Venus, shone in the cobalt sky like a new bride’s diamond. Chirping crickets rang in the electric air and the surface of the pool wobbled like molten glass.
“Can you get together?”
“Well, something came up and I have to hang out with the kids tonight.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Well, it was so crazy to see you today. I never could have imagined it.”
“I know, I love stuff like that. And you’re leaving tomorrow?”
“Yeah. I guess that means we probably won’t see you, then.”
“Unless.” Katie thought about standing at the picnic table at the aquarium—the oppressive heat of the sun, the thrill of recognizing Blake and what a rare pleasure a shock like that is.
“Unless?” he said.
“If you’d like, you and your girlfriend could come by for a drink. We can sit by the pool—I’ll still be able to hear the kids if they wake up. But they never wake up.”
“Really?” He sounded skeptical. “Are you sure that would be okay?”
“I’m sure it will be fine. The pool is really nice and not many people are here right now.” She looked out at the ocean as it rolled gently into the beach. “We have lots to drink here, too. Beer, wine, tequila, bourbon. We could just have a drink by the pool, no harm, really. It would be fun to catch up. I’m curious what you’ve been up to.”
“Heh. Yeah, okay, great. Where are you?”
“We’re at the Ponce de Leon resort in Bailytown.”
“No way. We’re right next to you, at the marina.”
“You have a boat?”
“Yeah, we’re coming up from Venezuela, on our way to Boca.”
Katie hadn’t been anywhere on her own in ages. “When you get to the security gate, ask for Schmidt, room sixty-seven,” she said. “We’re right off the pool. Come to the outside entrance. How about half an hour?”
“Outstanding,” Blake said.
After they’d hung up, Katie realized, in spite of the buzz of the coincidental encounter, how little she knew of Blake Pfister—in real life, anyway. They had always been there, at the field in front of her house that summer before her senior year: a convocation of beautiful boys who didn’t seem within reach to Katie—too rich, too hot. Sometimes Katie took Bowser, her black lab, for a walk just to catch glimpses of them playing, and to get a little bit closer, especially to Blake Pfister. Then she remembered, in quiet horror, that the first time she’d had made herself come, it was Blake she had thought about. It had been late that summer—the heat had started to dissipate, a nascent crispness infusing the air when she took Bowser out. Blake’s shirt was off, his summer-golden abdomen there for the entire world to see. When she got back to the house her father had been raking up the first fallen leaves in the yard. He had asked her to do something—help him with something—but she couldn’t remember now. She’d placated him long enough to steal some privacy between the cool sheets of her upstairs bedroom, where she dreamed of Blake Pfister playing soccer, taking his shirt off and running his hand across his low abdomen. It was enough. In actual fact, she’d only known him superficially, for a brief period while they shared the biology class. It wasn’t a friendship to start with, and dwindled to polite smiles while passing in the hallways.
Oh, well. She tidied the room, put on a white sundress, brushed her teeth, and touched up her mascara.
atie sat on the top step of the pool, her feet in the water. The nearby surf shushed into the beach.
“Hey, Blake!” She stood and splashed sasquatch-like puddles onto the concrete deck.
Blake gave her a big hug. “This is my friend, Andi.” He put his hand on the girl’s back. Andi extended a tiny hand. Her teeth shone white in the falling darkness as the lamps around the pool lit for the evening.
“Would you like a beer?” Katie asked. “Or some wine? Something harder?”
“Beer’s great. Andi, want a beer?”
Katie fetched three Coronas from the refrigerator in her room, where the Schmidts kept the overflow from their own fridge. The kids were crashed. Outside, she aligned three deck chairs as Blake and Andi watched the nearly full moon rising, its reflection flashing as each wave stretched the image into shore.
“So weird, man,” Blake said as they sat down.
“Yeah. And what brought you here again?” Katie asked.
“Really? What do you do?”
Andi bit at the corner of her mouth and smoothed the frayed hem of her madras shorts.
“Oh, this and that,” Blake said.
Katie took a sip of her beer and looked at Blake. He had a small gut now that looked like the result of beer and burritos, but his legs were still tan and fit.
“Remember Mr. Ledlow? The English teacher at Greenlake?” he said.
“I never had Ledlow. He was also the sculling coach, wasn’t he?”
“Didn’t we have English together?”
“Biology,” Katie said, smiling. “Biology with Mrs. Grady.”
“Were you my lab partner?”
“No, Kirsten Lipner was my lab partner, but then she moved to Portland and James Palmer was my lab partner.”
“Kirsten Lipner moved to Portland? Does she still live there?”
“I don’t know. But I remember you used to live on Linden Street around the corner from Ivar’s, didn’t you?”
“How do you remember that?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I think I went to a party there once or something.”
“A party at my house? Never. My parents were such freaks about stuff like that.”
“Well, you were around the neighborhood a lot, I think.” Katie started to blush. Of course she knew where he lived. He apparently knew almost nothing about her. He did not know that after her mother had died, her grandmother was the only close family she had access to. Katie had been away at college when her father sent an email that the house had been sold. Afterward he plunged into his alcoholism. He had once been a chemist at the University of Washington, what happened to that? Katie often thought. After college, she and her friend had gotten themselves nanny jobs in Europe: the agency sent her friend to San Tropez, and found Katie the Schmidts in Munich—her new family.
Blake lifted his beer to his mouth with a slightly shaky hand. At least he had recognized her face.
“Where do you guys live now?” she asked.
“Humboldt County,” he said.
“Humboldt County. Wow.” She looked at him. “Things are pretty green around there, aren’t they?”
He laughed. “Yeah, I’m a horticulturist. And Andi’s a paralegal.”
Andi smiled, nodding. “It pays the bills,” she said.
“But really we’re there for the surfing.”
“Oh, yeah. The surf’s really big around Arcata, isn’t it? And what’s your business around here?”
“Imports. We have some South American artwork we’re taking back to California with us.”
“And you’ve rented a boat to drive it to Florida? They can’t ship it directly to California?”
“They can, but we have an investor in Boca who owns the boat. Et cetera.”
“Boca Raton? You’re going there tomorrow?”
“Yeah, I think we’ll take it easy in the morning. We’ll probably pull out around two-thirty or three.”
Beyond the electric lights, the sky was fading from deep blue to black. Stars twinkled over the ocean—tiny flecks of white-hot fire. “Can I go with you?” Katie said.
“You want to go with us to Boca?”
Katie twisted, leaning back to look at the glowing white ruffles on the sea. “Do you have room?”
“Andi, do we have room for a stowaway?”
“I don’t see why not,” Andi said.
he alarm on Katie’s phone rang at 6:50. She managed to turn it off quickly so it wouldn’t wake the kids. She gave herself five more minutes—maybe ten—to doze, and drifted back to sleep smelling her own sour breath.
The sliding glass door rolled open and banged the wall so the whole room took the hit. The sunlight burned Katie’s eyes before they were even open. With a rattle of scraping metal, Franziska pushed back the curtain.
“Guten morgen,” she said.
“Morgen,” groaned Katie. It was all she could do to stand.
“Mama,” Petra said. She crawled across the bed to her mother while Rolf lay sleeping.
“Katie, it’s almost eight. We’re ready for breakfast.”
“So are we,” Katie said.
Franziska picked Petra up and stared at Katie incredulously—was the good American nanny being facetious? Franziska’s caramel colored curls were pushed back by a pair of Gucci sunglasses Katie had never seen before, and her face looked crossed with curiosity and confusion. “Come on, Petra, you will get dressed. Katie, please get Rolf ready.” Katie sat on the bed next to Rolf and rubbed his back. He moaned and smacked his lips. “Time to get up,” Katie said.
Franziska had chosen a blue and pink dress for Petra and was already changing her diaper. Not good. Franziska’s face was riddled with lines of agony as the smell of shit thickened in the room. She rolled up the diaper, secured it with the adhesive tape, and chucked the bomb at the waste basket by the bathroom, but it missed and rolled a few times until it stopped under the sink. Katie helped Rolf off with his shark pajamas and in ushering him to the toilet she collided with Franziska.
Franziska sighed loudly. “We’re going to breakfast. We’ll be on the patio. Please join us there.”
“See you there,” Katie said. She couldn’t fake enthusiasm convincingly through the fog of her aching head, but she tried. Once Rolf was dressed, she took off the Bayern München football club boxer shorts and the tank top she’d slept in and threw on the white sundress from the night before, which she was relieved to see she had laid carefully across the arm of the couch.
The restaurant patio hovered in the foreground of the sharp navy blue Atlantic. A warm morning breeze swam in on the high tide and Kaspar and Franziska looked like a picture-perfect photo in a glossy magazine: he with his white polo shirt, collar popped, she with her big black sunglasses. Katie let go of Rolf’s hand and he ran to his mother’s lap. Katie put Petra in a high chair and began cutting up a pancake for her before sitting down. Petra put the perfectly square pieces up to her mouth and then pushed them in with a plump, flat hand, fingers splayed.
“Guten appetit,” said Kaspar.
“Guten appetit,” said Franziska. She stroked Rolf’s hair.
“Guten appetit,” said Katie cheerily. She pulled Rolf from his mother and lifted him into a chair. How nice. The five of them together on the edge of the sea with the feathery breeze coming in. Katie put her napkin on her lap and poured apple juice from the bottle on the table into Petra’s cup.
“I saw on Facebook that FC Bayern won against Bern last night,” Kaspar said.
“Oh, that’s great,” Katie said.
“How’s Tobias doing?”
Kaspar liked Tobias and always made it a point to chat him up when he came over. But in fact, Katie had only had one e-mail from him since they’d arrived on Bimini. She looked to the sea, the nebulous reflection of the sun, and felt the heat beginning to build from the concrete.
“Today I think you and the kids will stay here at the pool,” Franziska said. “I don’t think Petra got enough sunscreen yesterday, though. She has a burn on her back. Please put her one piece on her today, and would you make sure when you brush her teeth that you do it for a full two minutes? The dentist said…”
Katie stopped listening to Franziska, thinking instead about how she was going to pack her things and escape without leaving the kids in limbo, without being trailed, interrogated, or humiliated by Franziska or Kaspar.
“Okay, Katie?” Franziska said.
“Yeah, no problem,” Katie said. She pulled a baby wipe from her bag and cleaned the syrup from Petra’s little hands. The girl rested one of them on Katie’s arm, triggering a coolness that spread through her. Katie knew she would really miss the kids. And how would she get back the things she’d left in Germany? It was just clothes. It didn’t matter. She hated this job.
Kaspar smiled at his daughter with her hand on her nanny. Katie felt the sun on her scalp as she caught him gazing at her chest through his sunglasses.
After administering swimsuits, sun block, and waterwings and laying towels, toys, and books by the pool, Katie allowed the kids to get into the water. Rolf swam well for his age and Petra had to be accompanied, but the water offered relief—it felt redemptive, though Katie knew this was a fleeting sensation soon obscured by mindless tasks. Today would be different, though. She had agreed to meet Blake and Andi at the marina at two-thirty, which was perfect, because Kaspar had planned to take Petra and Rolf from the pool at two to go on a children’s fishing excursion. By one-fifteen, Rolf and Petra had gobbled down the greater part of a cheeseburger and a large serving of french-fries that Katie had ordered at the pool. Instead of lifting, the fog in Katie’s head from the night before settled into a dense, low-lying lethargy. The cheeseburgers appeared to have taken the kids down a notch or two, as well. With an hour to go, she took them to bed for their naps, and they wasted no time drifting off. Katie pulled her bag from under the bed and went to work collecting her things. Nauseous vacillation turned to fear, then to diligent nervousness. In the bathroom, she took her make-up from the medicine cabinet—brown eyeliner, black mascara, the sheer pink lip-gloss. She zipped them into the small bag, and then her toothbrush, toothpaste, and the full complimentary bottles of Aveda shampoo and conditioner. Exhilaration supplanted nervousness. She rescued her nightgown from the hook on the back of the door and acknowledged that she would never step foot into that space again as long as she lived. She was tucking the make-up bag into her duffel when Kaspar entered the room.
“What are you doing, Katie?” He came up close to her and spoke quietly to not wake the children. “We’ll be here for five more days. Why are you packing?”
“I’m just tidying up. This place was a mess.”
He stood with his hands in the pockets of his green khaki shorts, his eyebrows and forehead pulled together in a tangle of hieroglyphics. “You aren’t going to run away from us on Bimini?” He smiled. “That’s good.” He put his hand on the small of her back and it melted her—she registered an inscrutable disappointment.
“Where would I go?” she said.
“Genau,” he said. “Let’s let the kids sleep and maybe you can come with me to plan your schedule for tomorrow.”
Kaspar started for the door, so Katie followed him out onto the pool deck, where the sun shot off the surface of the water like a knife. When they moved into his and Franziska’s room he pulled the glass door closed and latched it. “I think we’ll change tomorrow morning around so that Franziska can take a yoga class before breakfast. We want you to have the children at the table at seven, but then maybe you can take off after lunch and have the afternoon and evening to yourself.” He sat on the bed and leaned back on his palms. He spread his knees apart and smiled at her.
“Okay,” she said. “No problem.” She looked at her watch: One thirty-three. Tomorrow morning she’d be in Florida.
“Alles klar?” he said.
He patted the bed next to him exactly like the day before, and though Katie was appalled, she didn’t know what to do but sit down next to him—like the day before, a hand’s width away. He filled the gap. “So things are okay with Tobias? I haven’t seen him much recently.” His eyes hovered over her chest and he returned his hand to the small of her back.
Katie smiled. He leaned into her and she thought he would kiss her. “Do you think we can do this without talking about it?” he said.
“What?” she said. Knowing.
“I think we both know what we want, don’t we?”
“I’m a bit young for you.” Why, of all things, did I say that, she thought as he kissed her.
“Oh, God,” she said.
t a quarter after two Katie padded quickly across the pool deck to her room, zipped her bag, and took one last look at Petra on her back and Rolf on his side with a stream of drool hanging from his open mouth. She slipped out the door and made a run for the marina. At the yacht club’s clubhouse she stopped to catch her breath and then began strolling, trying to appear more casual, rolling her bag coolly behind her down the last dock, scoping out cruisers and small yachts as she looked for the blue cigarette Blake had told her about. She was nearly at the end of the dock when Katie spotted Andi in a bikini, lying on a beach towel on the long narrow bow. Blake was rearranging a hatch behind the steering wheel. “Aloha,” he said, looking up.
“Aloha,” Katie said. She thought she should feel excited and free, but something was wrong, because she felt numb and confused. Andi sat up on her elbows. “Ready to roll?” Blake said. “I think this is it.”
Andi smiled warmly at Katie in lieu of saying hello, and stood up with a stretch before hopping down into the boat.
Blake reached for Katie’s bag and she passed it over. “All aboard,” he said.
Katie jumped down onto the boat’s deck. “This puppy looks fast,” she said.
“Around a hundred miles an hour,” Blake said, beaming his pearly whites.
“Do you want something to drink?” Andi said. She pulled three beers from a cooler.
“Beer is good,” Katie said.
Andi put one in the cup holder by the wheel for Blake and handed another to Katie.
“It’s going to be a long ride,” Blake said. “About three hours or so, so make yourselves comfortable.”
Andi pulled on some pants and a windbreaker, so Katie took a long-sleeved t-shirt and a cardigan from her bag. The engine rumbled and sputtered to life, spitting water and smoke out the back.
“Here we go,” yelled Blake above the noise as they backed out of their mooring. He steered the boat slowly between two ancient webs of mangroves and then finally kicked it up a gear so the wind blew their hair. Katie let the stress and exhaustion roll off of her body. Andi popped the lids off the beers and joined Katie on a bench near the stern. When the mangroves finally fell away to the open sea, Blake shifted the boat into a higher gear and Katie turned to get a look at what she’d left behind, but all she could see was the billowy canopy of the trees. The boat skipped over small waves with slapping sounds and then Blake geared down and took a wide arc, tipping the boat precariously on its side. Andi got up when the boat had righted some, and Katie followed her to the edge of the hull. Blake looked down into the water, and then Katie saw it: a giant brown manta ray with wings bigger than an African elephant’s ears. It floated down in graceful circles, down and down and down until it was nothing but a shadow below the clear green water.
Without a word, Blake accelerated. The boat slapped at the water furiously until they topped out at enough speed that the hull only contacted the tips of the waves, smoothing out the ride. Katie sat back and closed her eyes, imagining everything bad slipping away behind her into the air and water, neutralized by the salt and the sun. She didn’t care about Tobias or Kaspar, or diapers, or Franziska’s fastidious instruction. She imagined having breakfast on her grandmother’s balcony. Half a grapefruit and coffee. Some toast with orange marmalade. The sun, the water, her grandmother’s cooing kindness.
“Oh fuck,” shouted Blake. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.”
Katie sat up. A fast moving formation of three boats approached on the starboard side with the officiousness of a regiment of soldiers. Blake steered left and shifted up with little change in momentum. The three boats gained proximity but Blake didn’t slow or change course. Andi sat Indian style with her head between her knees or Katie would have tried to ask, over the roar of the engine, what the hell was going on. The front-running boat cut off their trajectory and Blake turned even further to the left, sacrificing speed, and the other two boats kept pace on either side. Katie’s whole body pounded with her thundering heart.
A man with a megaphone on the portside boat announced that Blake was to kill his engine. Resistance was clearly futile. Blake cut the engine and the boat glided and bobbed. Katie read ‘DEA’ on the hulls of the boats that circled them until they’d lost all forward motion and simply rode on the lull. Three men boarded the boat, each hopping steadily in, and two men in each boat stood at attention, aiming sub-machine guns at their chests. Fire rose in Katie’s face and she couldn’t swallow and tears were already flowing from her eyes though she didn’t whimper. The sun bounced off the black polyester fibers of the DEA uniform worn by a muscular young man who tightened a pair of handcuffs around her wrists and escorted her and Andi onto his vessel. Blake was taken onto another boat. Katie and Andi watched as the agents pulled large square packages wrapped in white plastic from the hull and piled them onto the bench where she and Andi had been sitting minutes before. Katie looked at the DEA agent next to her. Beneath the bill of his hat, his nose and clean-shaven chin shone with a generous application of sunscreen. It was her own terrified reflection she saw in his Ray Ban sunglasses.
Elizabeth Lopeman has written for Sculpture Magazine, American Craft Magazine, FiberArts, Bitch, Eugene Magazine, Drain Magazine.com, and various other magazines and websites. She currently lives and works in Munich.