Chapter 16: Cat
The Bahamas - June 1994
The only family Cat ever knew, excluding her dad and Aunt Livvy, was her grandmother. Or Manny Nanny, as they called her. Manny Nanny was a sturdy tree of a lady with hard, handsome, unmoving features. Seriously. Unmoving. The woman never smiled. Cat didn't remember the day Manny Nanny got her nickname. Apparently Cat was about three and sitting on Manny Nanny's lap (she definitely didn't remember ever doing that). Aunt Livvy said Cat had lifted her grandmother's hand and stared at it curiously before finally announcing it was a man's hand. Her dad had found it hilarious and refused to drop it, even though Nanny hadn't cracked a smile. From then on, she became Manny Nanny. Cat was only four when she died, and her dad shuffled her over to Aunt Livvy. He couldn’t handle a four-year-old.
The reason Manny Nanny was so on her mind was because Nassau airport smelled like a hot and steamy version of Manny Nanny's flat. Her nose was filled with mildew and flowers. It surprised Cat at how quickly it took her back to that one-room apartment above the cafe on Central Avenue, sweating in the summer and freezing in the winter. She’d spent long snowy days sitting in front of the TV, shivering and wishing for a blanket. Whoever was watching her that day would be crashed on the sofa, guzzling the bottle Manny Nanny had bribed them with. She'd curl up on the big armchair and wait for Nanny to get home from her cleaning job, give her a blanket, and make her a margarine and sugar sandwich. That blanket and sandwich were the only nice things that happened to Cat back then. Even though the airport smell was weirdly inviting, it gave her a pang of unwelcome sentimentality.
Shake it off, Cat. You’re starting a new life now.
Someone bumped her from behind.
"Come on," a tall dark man in a business suit huffed, "move along."
A gaggle of giggling girls came behind him. The lead girl, some bitch in shorts that showed her ass cheeks and a pink t-shirt with the words, "I'm not Bossy. I'm the Bride." printed on it, gave her a lopsided sneer as she passed.
The bride mumbled, "That girl sure needs a vacation," to her crew. The other girls giggled and gaggled.
Since she'd changed planes in Miami, Cat had been surrounded by bachelors, bachelorettes, and families with screaming babies and straw hats. The plane was flying them all toward fun. Cat hoped that applied to her. Christopher had promised he’d be outside waiting to welcome her. The night she’d been kicked out of her apartment, he’d visited her at work. He’d been kind and solicitous. Both Albert and Frankie had been worried about her talking to him, and Cat hadn’t even told them everything. She’s just said Christopher had invited her to vacation in The Bahamas and she was taking him up on it. She’d asked for a week off. If everything worked out, she’d call Albert from The Bahamas and quit. Aunt Livvy would be furious, but she’d cross that bridge when she came to it. Right now, she focused on navigating this terrifying experience. She hadn’t wanted to travel alone. She’d told Christopher that. He’d insisted she’d be fine and promised to meet her on arrival.
"Ya lost, Honey?" An apple round woman in a tight uniform tapped her gently on the shoulder, and Cat realized she was the last one standing in the steamy hallway. The other passengers had moved on and turned the corner a few feet ahead.
"Sorry. No… I'm fine."
The woman sighed and turned away. Cat took a deep breath. It was time. She couldn't stand in no-man's-land forever.
Cat stood nervously in line with a crowd of laughing, smiling people. A different plane had just landed, and another hallway was also spilling out smiles. There was no Jersey City hardness in these folks. These vacationers were clean and shiny; all straight white teeth, ironed salmon colored shorts, and Louis Vuitton bags, fake or otherwise, who could tell. The customs man gave her a bright smile and welcomed her to The Bahamas. Thank God she didn’t need a passport for The Bahamas. She was lucky that Aunt Livvy had insisted she get her driver’s license.
Stepping onto the pavement outside the airport was like stepping into Sarah’s house that time her radiator blew in her front room and they'd had to run in and rescue the cat. She took a deep breath, searching for oxygen, and her lungs filled with searing heat. Cat's black leggings sucked on the back of her knees like leeches, and her long-sleeved TJ Maxx floral blouse felt like a horrible mistake. A deep awning sheltered the sidewalk and three lanes of traffic, but the sun was still making itself known. Shafts of golden light streamed between the gaps in the awning, and the light that teased from beyond the cluster of taxis and hotel shuttles was as bright as a Cat had ever seen.
There was a lift inside Cat's chest. A rising. It was like someone had pushed a balloon behind her ribs and blew it up using air filled with some kind of drug. If Sarah asked her to describe the drug, which she would on the phone tonight, Cat'd be frightened to name the feeling the drugged air was giving her. The feeling was hope. And as she’d said time and time again, hope was dangerous.
Elbows jutted into her sides as people rushed past her to start their Bahamian adventures. She'd bet they were all headed to those kinds of resorts you see in the movies. Blue swimming pools, sunscreen, and drinks with little purple umbrellas were in their immediate future. What was in hers?
Cat searched the crowd standing behind the ropes creating the human funnel from the airport exit, and saw something she'd never dreamed of seeing in her lifetime. Something so unbelievable, so exciting, that she felt the balloon in her chest inflate a little more. She’d even forgot she was hoping for Christopher, because there on the sidewalk was a man holding a card. A card with her name on it.
Cat thanked the car driver as he pulled his car into the slip of a driveway. He smiled and handed her a set of keys.
“Mr. Hanna asked me to give you these.” He said and handed her a set of keys.
Cat fingered the keys in confusion. “Is Mr. Hanna not here?”
The driver laughed. “No, Mr. Hanna rarely comes to this side of the island. But this is a Hanna home. You’ll like it. Water’s Edge has been in the family for years. You’ll have it all to yourself.”
The car pulled away, and she stood in the driveway feeling kind of dumped. How did she get into this place? Before her was a blue concrete wall topped by a white picket fence. An abundance of pink and purple bougainvillea cascaded up and over the wall and spilled between the gaps in the pickets. She couldn't see much behind this distinctly tropical barrier, only the top of a white-tiled roof glaring like a beacon under the unapologetic sun. The sun was saying, I’m just gonna keep beating down on the top of your tiny insignificant head, and you are just gonna deal with it. She heard the rhythmic crashing of the sea.
There was no sidewalk on what seemed to be a busy road, so Cat cautiously looked left and right like a good citizen, and crossed in front of the bushes looking for an entrance. In the center of the row of bushes, almost hidden by the enthusiastic bougainvillea, was a tall white wooden gate. Hanging next to the gate was a huge old brass bell with a thick rope hanging from the clanger. That bell didn't belong on a house. That bell belonged on a black pirate ship with a jolly roger flag and torn sails. She didn't ring it. According to the driver, there was no one there to hear it. This house was all hers. An entire house. Sitting on the sea.
Cat’s insides churned for a few seconds as they rearranged themselves to this shocking new reality. Just a few days ago, she'd been trying to clean her tiny apartment. She’d dug out rotted vegetables from the back of the vegetable drawer in the tiny fridge they’d wedged tightly under the chipped Formica counter. She’d also found a dead mouse trapped inside a half-full corona bottle that had slid down behind the toilet. So glamorous. Now this? She was almost afraid to go inside.
The white roof she’d glimpsed from the road sat atop sea blue walls with expansive white windows on either side of a dark blue door. She looked up to see matching concrete gables bookending the rooftop, both molded into the shapes of crowning waves. The sound of the sea was louder here. Cat knew it was just behind the house but resisted her eagerness to rush and see it, because the patio on which she stood deserved some appreciation. It was a riot of color. Two stubby but enthusiastic palm trees sheltered the view of the driveway to her left. On her right an immense tree, with the beginnings of what looked like grapes, cupped itself over a shady corner like a protective mother. Under the tree were two wicker chairs with bright red cushions and a table in between. To her left, in front of the stubby palm trees, was a patio table with a sky-blue umbrella, flapping its edges gently in the breeze.
The key slid smoothly into the lock of the front door and turned easily. The door creaked once as she pushed it inward, like a hello. It was a fairy tale house. Her throat tightened, and she swallowed against the ache in her throat. She couldn't risk even a few tears, because if she gave any space to the building gale of emotion, she'd collapse into it. What was she doing here? What was she going to do here? How could she be standing here while her dad slouched on his sofa, drunk and depressed? She didn't much think about God, but if there was one, he'd punish her for being in freaking paradise instead of looking after her dad.
Her view from just a few steps inside the front door was one of solid sea-blue. The sea sparkled and winked at her through the wide patios doors and tall windows on the back wall. She could see straight through the cavernous double height living room. The ceiling was as white as the roof, but split by dark wooden beams. There was a dining room to her right and she could see a kitchen beyond through a graceful open archway. The only doors she could see must lead to the bedrooms. She dropped her suitcase and rushed toward the back doors. The inside could wait. She had to get to that view of the ocean.
The patio doors were open. Strange. Perhaps Nassau was so safe that people didn’t worry about locking their doors? She stepped out and into paradise. She was standing on a double level patio. The top level had a dining table for eight, a few lounger chairs, and a crystal-clear swimming pool. She whooped in surprise and skipped to the pool, stepping down the first few steps into the bath warm water. The water lapped against her black leggings, which were now soaked through nearly up to her knees, but Cat didn’t care. She threw her hands into the air and rotated like the ballerina she remembered in her Mom’s old jewelry box, taking it all in. She let out another whoop and then sang at the top of her lungs.
“Heaven, I’m in Heaven…”
She took in the gorgeous house, the sparkling pool, and down on the lower deck, more lounge chairs and a wet bar with a hammock swinging just beyond. And beyond that? The gorgeous lapping sea and…
“Ah!” Cat screamed.
“Ah, yourself.” Said the man, climbing up through a gate in the back wall that presumably led down to the water.
Was he a burglar? Would he hurt her? A quick glance assured her he most definitely could if he wanted to. He was at least six feet, four inches and built like the construction workers that drank with her dad. All shiny chest muscles and flexy, hefty biceps. Unlike them, he was without tattoos, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” His smile told her he wouldn’t. His smile also made her sink to sit on the lip of the pool. Her legs flopped in further and she got drenched further.
“I thought I was alone.” She said.
“As did I.” He said. He had a bucket swinging in his left hand and a kind of spear in his right. It was then she noticed he was also soaking wet, his worn swim shorts sticking to his thighs and sea water dripping from his shoulder length, curly, brown hair. He looked familiar. Was he a movie star or something? “Who are you?” He said.
“Well, since I’m supposed to be alone here. In fact, I was assured I would be by the owner, who invited me to stay. Shouldn’t you tell me who you are?”
“A fisherman, obviously!” He grinned and held up his dripping bucket and spear before walking to the bar area and resting the bucket on a pub table. He leaned his spear against the bar and ran his hands through his dripping hair, then shook it out like a dog. “Which owner?”
“Which owner invited you to stay?”
“The owner. Mr. Christopher Hanna.”
“Ah, Mr. Christopher.” The man moved behind the bar and pulled out a white cooler. He dragged it over to the pub table that held the bucket and began transferring brown, wriggling, and somewhat dangerous looking lobsters into the cooler. The lobsters snapped their claws at him aggressively, but he just laughed again and deftly twisted his wrists as he transferred them. They had no chance of reaching his fingers. “Now it all makes sense.”
“Was does that mean?” She said. She pulled her legs from the pool and swung around to face him. Water ran from her pant legs and drained back into the pool.
“It means he clearly didn’t check with his brother first. There’s another girl staying here already. His brother invited her. They’re friends. But there’s plenty of space. Although you won’t get the master bedroom.”
Cat couldn’t suppress the laugh. “I don’t think I’ll mind.” She said.
“Her name’s Parisia.” The man said. “She’ll be here in an hour or so. Maybe I’ll see you later.”
He grabbed the cooler and his spear and slid into a pair of black flip-flops. Behind the bar, she could see the end of a walkway that must lead between the garage and the neighboring wall and back out to the street. He headed in that direction and gave her a quick nod.
“Wait!” She said. “You never told me your name?”
“Fred the fisherman.” He called back.
“I’m Cat.” She called.
But Fred was long gone.