By the sea, back then
The Caribbean Novel About Fish And Females
Rothenstein Verlag, Hamburg
All rights reserved, © Rothenstein Verlag
Coverpicture © Philippe Halsman / Magnum Photos / Agentur Focus
Pictures: Norbert Schulz, Hamburg
Coverdesign: Studio Plus Hamburg
Satz and Layout: Studio Plus, Hamburg
ebook Euro 3,99
The story of an island from times gone by; about the old and the young, about men and women, of dreams and reality, of gain and loss—about the adventure of life, and love.
The Caribbean Novel
A table, two shots of rum and a manuscript: The Story of the Island.
British Honduras, 1952. Caye Caulker Island situated in the Belize Barrier Reef—young Pablo’s world. Here a young boy encounters Grandpa and Marilyn Monroe, learns the wisdoms of life, the lies, its dreams and of submerging into the turmoil of great emotions. Pablo experiences the passion of yearning and pain, infatuation and distress—at the collapse of his first love affair…
About the author
Years ago Norbert Schulz, and a friend, learned to master the art of go slow, unique to Caye Caulker. A broken mast had stranded these two European yachtsmen on this small island where they jettisoned the snapped fragments, along with their Western bustle. Haste and hurry were soon replaced by a laid back Caribbean lifestyle...daily chores consisted of lazing in a hammock, discarding shoes and shirts, and a Sundowner at the bar while ing a few lines in a notebook-lines now typeset between the covers of this book. One day a boat appeared on the horizon and left a mast behind on a beach. But the yachtsmen were in no hurry to depart. It took them days to set the mast then sail away, forever.
By the sea, back then
The Caribbean Novel About Fish And Females
The blows to my face still burned on my cheek, even though my father had administered them several hours before. My nose had stopped bleeding but the bruises to my face had darkened. When I opened my eyes, even slightly, and remembered having been at Grandfather’s place at the end of the road, the beating burned even deeper. My eyes welled over again. And when I saw the scrap of red cloth lying on my chest, the tears spilled down my cheeks. I took the cloth and brought it to my nose, and breathed in her scent and the smell of the sea. This was the moment when my tears turned to sobs and I felt Grandfather’s comforting hand on my shoulder. It felt as though he was talking to me. But we only clasped hands and held onto one another tightly. Not a single word passed between us because everything had already been said.
I listened to Grandfather’s restless breathing, and heard the rustling of palm fronds and the rhythm of the waves that now rushed louder and louder — the wind was turning. Almost at once I fell back into a dreamless sleep. Only a day before I had loved the sea. Now I felt betrayed and abandoned.
When I awoke I thought back to how, as a little boy, I had been afraid of the infinite expanse of water. Back then I never went to the beach for fear that a wave, as tall as I was, might come and drag me away to the reef and away into the deep blue. I could barely walk when I began burying coconuts and bananas in holes that I dug in my parents’ yard. Whatever appealing flowers or vegetables I found, in the neighborhood, I pulled out or dug up and re-planted on our place. Often the women scolded me when they discovered that I had been vandalizing their gardens and left my little footprints behind in the sand. I wanted a garden like those in the night-time fairy-tales my mother used to read to me in the sleeping-hammock. But nothing grew in our salty soil and because I often forgot to water them enough.
Time passed and I began to venture down to the beach. One day I spoke to an old fisherman tossing a few small fish into a bucket. “What’cha doing there? Why do they stink so much? Why is the sea green? Why is the sea blue today? Who lives in heaven? Who built the reef? Why do you look so sad? Why are there so many wrinkles in your face?” Those, and many more, were my questions since every answer spawned a new query.
The old fisherman had an answer for everything: “I fold the sails because a sail is like a good friend and helps you to move around. You’ve got to treat your friends well. And the fish don’t stink, they smell of the sea and of freedom; they have the scent of adventure. The sea is green because that’s the colour of hope, hope for a big catch. The sea is blue because it holds lots of deep secrets. Dreams that come to you in the night, if you’re good, live in heaven. Corals built the reef so that our cayo is protected from storms. I have wrinkles in my face because I’m an old fisherman and my skin’s been tanned by the sun and the saltwater.”
The fisherman ignored the question about the sadness in his eyes. I asked again, “Why do you look so sad?”
The fisherman tried to shoo me away: “Go to your Mama, huahua,” he grumbled. But I stood firm and asked, “Why?” Then the fisherman sat down on a stone and, with a grunt, lifted me onto his lap and we looked out at the breakers on the reef, and he said, “Because I love the sea so much, huahua.”
“But why do you look so — ?”
“— because the sea doesn’t love me the way I love it. Take a look at my catch…a couple of little fish, after a whole day and a night. I can skip the trip to the leeward side with this catch.”
“I get it. The sea should let you hook a really big one. A fat one with a giant saw growin’ out of its face. And don’t call me huahua all the time. I’m not a baby anymore.” After a silence I added, “old-timer.”
The old fisherman swallowed and cleared his throat. But a few waves later he closed his eyes and smiled. “You’re right when you call me old-timer. And when you say I want a really big one on the hook, you’re right again. I’d be lying to deny it. That’s the way it is, kid. Every fisherman wants that and that’s why we go to sea.”
“But these fish can feed you today, and tomorrow. So, what are you lookin’ so glum about?”
The fisherman opened his mouth to say something but the words stuck in his throat.
“Now you look like a mackerel on the hook,” I said and fell to the sand, laughing. And the fisherman laughed, too, and sat down beside me on the beach. He ran his fingers through my hair and laughed out loud as he hugged me even closer.
From that day on I ran to the beach all the time and waited for the fisherman. He became my best friend and I became his helper. One day — I wasn’t quite six — I began calling him, ‘Grandpa’. A moment later I caught him wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. It was sunset, and the sky was turning red — the color of a ripe paw-paw; a deep red, like the scrap of cloth on my chest that I had fished from the water.
The ebb and flow of life rolled over Grandfather and me; year after year went by and the catches were sometimes good, but mostly poor. Sometime we returned empty-handed. Grandfather walked upright, and his voice was clear. After many years his thoughts weighed heavy on his shoulders but I didn’t notice it because his voice remained strong. The ebb tide carried his memories away, but the high tide brought them right back. His thoughts came and went, time and again, always. Like the trash that some fishermen dumped out to sea — the next storm would dump it right back onto the beach. There was no getting away from it.
For many years I sailed out with Grandfather to lend him a hand, and for company. He taught me to catch fish-bait with a net, to lure tasty bonito and mackerel onto the hook. He taught me to read the clouds. The rays of the sun reflected by the reef colored them a light turquoise. Thus we could find our way back on the sea at all times. Grandfather taught me to work the mainsail. It had to be plump like a pregnant belly when the wind came from aft; or stand taut like a soldier in a side-wind. He also told me when to furl, or take it down, when the breeze gained the strength to become a gale. When we fished far out in the blue, he showed me the course that the sea birds flew at twilight to return to land.
Grandfather also taught me to read and write. On every trip he taught me a new letter of the alphabet. He traced them in the water with his spear, or his old bamboo rod. My eyes would follow his quick precise movements and I would memorise the signs before they dissolved back into their element. I would imitate the letter signs with the bamboo rod in the water, then with my finger in the air. Back on land I would write the new letter in the sand. My first letter was a P and Grandfather named a string of words starting with P; the great Pacific Ocean, and its island-world, Polynesia. And he spoke about swarms of piranhas, in the Amazon, that would attack people, and strip their flesh down to the bone, when they smelled blood in the water. After five trips I had heard many stories and knew how to write my name. Pablo.
Above all, Grandfather gave me the gift of tranquility, and the horizon. But it wasn’t the horizon that I saw at the edge of the sea.
Year-in, year-out I hunkered down at the same spot on the beach. One day, my mouth drooping at the corners and eyes squinting, I looked towards the reef.
“Que triste, this damned cayo,” I whispered and hissed, ‘shit’ at the reef and the horizon. I wiped a tear from my cheek and murmured: “I want to get away from here; if only I could be in Belize Town and not on this wretched island. It’s like a prison. Everything turns in a circle, forever — the same old faces, the same food, fish and rice with plantains, and the same tired old yarns by the fishermen.” The sea always listened but never replied.
It was only in the nuances of the sea that I ever discovered anything new: A pale turquoise at low tide, when the sun rose; a milky green at high tide, when the waves churned up the sand; foaming white in a storm.
“Now I’m almost as big as Grandpa and still live on this damned island, trapped like a fish in a glass bowl,” I cursed the reef. “Rescue me, sea,” I implored. But when I tried to visualize a rescue my mind was cloaked in a gray veil. I was waiting for something, anything — I just had no idea of what. But I felt my life needed a purpose. This was the feeling I had. It was like the expectant scent of something blooming inside me. I recalled how, as a little boy, I wanted to plant a garden. ‘Maybe I should plant tomatoes and cucumbers after all. ’
For what seemed like an eternity I thought about Grandfather, the sea, the fish, his tales. Then I had an idea; Grandpa should plant a garden and grow vegetables, to trade the hard life at sea, for a more secure existence. ‘Planting vegetables,’ I thought aloud, ‘but best away from the island.’ The words were meant for Grandfather but I said them to the waves.
Sometimes, instead of sitting on the beach, I went to his little wooden house. The door was always ajar. I went in and squatted on the sand covered wood floor; Grandfather never swept. When the sand began to pile up I would take a palm frond and sweep it all out.
So I sat on the floor in front of the little table with the old magazines; sports magazines and ‘LIFE’ and ‘LOOK’. I always read the latest sports magazines because Grandfather read them. They didn’t interest me much because I thought basketball and baseball should be played, not read. Magazines with men on the covers didn’t interest me much, either. But, of course, I knew James Stewart, Burt Lancaster and Gregory Peck by name, and knew what they looked like. They were film stars, but in my world they were only extras.
The interesting magazines, the ones with the prettiest covers, lay in the middle. That’s how I got to know and admire Rita Hayworth. I knew her smile, her slightly parted lips and upward glance. Above all I liked her dress. Rita allowed me a peek at her heart. From then on a veiled premonition enveloped my soul with a hint of where my yearning might lead. A cover with Elizabeth Taylor inspired me to day-dream even more, even though she was only a few years older than I was. Elizabeth set me on fire, forever and ever, I believed. But after a couple of weeks I viewed her more as a sister; then, a few months later, as a distant cousin. Then I forgot her almost entirely.
One that drove me completely nuts was a blonde whose picture I discovered a few months later when Grandfather returned from Belize Town with a new stack of colorful magazines. The most beautiful thirteen letters that I had ever read were printed on the cover. Thirteen letters in a unique combination that revealed a secret: Marilyn Monroe. My index finger carefully traced the outline of each letter. I was especially taken by the M. Again and again, my finger caressed its contours before it dared approach the photo and trace its lines and curves. The buds concealed within the picture were beginning to sprout.
Marilyn gave me even deeper insights than Rita. With long lashes and a half-veiled glance, she looked into my eyes, and only mine, for an eternity. It was as if she were standing before me. Her dress left her shoulders bare exposing the curve of her neck; the straps had slipped almost to her elbows. It was as if the dress might slide to the floor with her next breath. Her upper body bent slightly in my direction. Her bosom almost touched me — it was close enough for her to cushion my head on it. At the same time, she raised her arm, grasped a tuft of my hair and, very gently, pressed me to her. Even the smell of the printers’ ink turned to perfume — a scent of orchids and vanilla aroused me. The deep-red, slightly parted lips wanted to kiss me and Marilyn whispered, “Pablo.”
She often enticed me away from the beach to Grandfather’s little wooden house, and there life became recreation for me. Spellbound I looked, again and again, at the beauty spot on her left cheek. I didn’t open the magazine until days later. Marilyn sprawled across a cozy couch, found only in America or in the newspapers. I discovered spots of sadness and longing in her eyes, as though she were dreaming of someone who would awaken her, like Sleeping Beauty. I read about her childhood and images stirred in me. I saw her as a young girl, sitting in a wilted weedy garden, lonely, unloved, just as I sat on the beach sadly staring out at the horizon. And then there was also this very small photo in the corner on the bottom, which blew my breath away and which I would encounter again, later.
Around that time I began to tell stories in order not to go fishing, but instead go straight to Marilyn, since I knew she always waited for me in Grandfather’s little house. I didn’t even miss his stories, because Marilyn led me into a new world, the world of women and dreams.
Or was it the world of men? It made no difference to me. Marilyn was my world.