So there I was clutching the cold white toilet, kneeling on the tile floor in front. The shirt I was wearing was soaked with sweat and my Patagonia sat in a puddle of what I hoped was water but felt fairly confident was not. I could hear Biondetta's voice in my head, gently repeating, "I told you not to eat any of those."
My body temperature was sky-high and my thoughts were coming at me fast and in muddled clouds of confusion. I had to focus. I needed to do the math and figure out how I got to this point. What did I remember? What happened to me? I channeled all my available energy into focusing on the time line of events of the past day.
From the other side of the stall door I heard a soft knock.
"Senor, are you ok? Senor?"
"I'll be fine. Give me a minute. Can you bring me a glass of water? And Ike - find Ike or Ikemael of whatever he's calling himself."
The gentleman outside the door shuffled his feet back and forth and hesitated before turning to exit the bathroom. There was another stall next to me that was empty. At least I wouldn't be taking up all the available real estate with my sweating and retching.
I closed my eyes and went back to my thoughts. I remembered walking through the streets of Avalon, the little city there on Catalina. I remembered renting a golf cart to get around and going to some kind of party. I could see faces, most of which were laughing and very happy. The Captain, the ladies and Ike and I had been together all day. I wasn't completely sure where I was at that very moment though. In the midst of these thoughts I heard a soft meow.
I looked down and creeping under the partition from the empty stall on my right was a black cat. Who let a cat into the bathroom? It came and rubbed against my side.
Side bar: I don't like cats. I don't dislike cats but merely prefer not to be around them. What I'm trying to say is that I mean them no malice. I don't kick them when no one is looking, but I don't get all mushy the way I do with a dog. They are slightly annoying and I'm perfectly happy living a catless existence.
Thus, in my most existential moment to date, when I'm not entirely sure if I'm leaving the bathroom on a stretcher, in a body bag or on my own two feet - I am being comforted by a scraggly black cat. I laughed to myself. Of course I would die next to a cat. Where the hell was Ike?
I reached down and pet the cat. I had no idea where Senor Whoever went and so this cat was my lone friend for the moment. He liked to be pet right on top of his shaggy black head. The act of petting the cat must have settled my nerves because I suddenly had a moment of clarity. I was back on The Melmoth with Desi and friends.
The Captain has just walked off to talk to or scold Biondetta for throwing the pomegranate seeds into the ocean. Someone did need to talk to these people about throwing bowls and cans into the ocean.
Desi had first wrapped her arm around my waist but then quickly wrapped the rest of herself around me, sort of like in the movie 'Alien' when those little slimy things would wrap around someone's face. She seemed genetically predisposed to upright, full body cuddling. I noticed Ike, we had dropped the Moby Dick bit except for Desi who continued to call me Starbuck, was wearing Cindy in a similar fashion. Look, if a woman in a bikini wants to drape herself around me, so be it. That's not a Jackson Panic law so much as just a general rule of thumb.
Ike was in heaven. We had chased The Melmoth almost since we left the Marina and all because of Cindy, the woman in white. Now he was standing on the deck with Cindy in his arms and a big stupid grin on his face. We were pouring flute after flute of Dom Perignon, the day was sunny and we weren't sailing back until tomorrow afternoon. This was going to be one hell of a weekend.
Truer words were never spoken.
Ike began telling the girls about how we met. He had all the details correct, about interrupting me at the cantina, the drinks over at the pier and the late night bullshit session in the parking lot with the varying groups of people we had met throughout the night. I wondered whether he would end the story there and leave out the hookers but that motherfucker fearlessly went through the entire story, even telling the girls about phoning up escorts after I went to sleep and the resulting scene that took place in my kitchen. He was ballsy and unapologetic - that was certain. It was also the first time I heard him admit the women he called were hookers and not merely dancers.
Desi and Cindy didn't seem to mind at all that Ike was the kind of guy who would bring over a prostitute to a stranger's house for a little fun. In fact, they thought it was hilarious. It was hilarious but normally when you meet an attractive woman you leave out little details like your car is a piece of shit, your credit isn't much better and occasionally you phone up a hooker and ask her to come over. Or, so I've been told.
I was in the middle of giving my version of the story - the one that ends with 'did you really bring hookers to my pad' disbelief, when Captain Alvaro returned with his overly courteous manners, smarmy smile and cigarette that now sported almost three inches of ash. He extended a crystal platter stacked with gooey, dark brownies, each of which was about two inches by two inches.
"Would anyone care for a magic brownie?"
Ike immediately brightened even more at the prospect of brownies with magical powers, but seeing as how we had all just met, I felt the need to confirm what exactly we were being offered.
"How magical are we talking, Captain?"
With this Desi leaned into my ear and whispered the word 'kryptonite.'
"Well, since I'm not Superman - what could it hurt? How many brownies does one recommend?"
"I would recommend not having any and throwing the entire plate overboard."
Biondetta and her icy demeanor had returned. Apparently she wasn't happy with the two things we had thrown over the side so far and felt the need to add another. It was either that or there was something about Ike and myself which she found entirely repugnant.
"What is the deal with you wanting to throw food over the side of the boat?"
The ice in her stare turned to an apoplectic sneer.
"Personally, Jackson, I don't care what you do but I thought I would offer you the courtesy of choosing to forgo the brownie and the resulting strange trip it is going to take you on."
I turned back to the Captain, "Back to my original question Captain - how magical are these brownies?"
"They are as magical as the legal medicinal limits in California will allow. As to your other question, I recommend half a brownie to start."
Ike beat me to the punch and grabbed a brownie and had bitten it in half before I had even moved. The girls, save for Biondetta, joined with equal zeal.
I looked back at Biondetta who once again had locked eyes with me and so I hesitated. Behind the outer layer of bellicosity, there was something tender to Biondetta, something earnest.
That thought was quickly lost as I grabbed a warm brownie and bit it in half. I looked at Biondetta again and she rolled her brown eyes and turned away to face the open ocean. The brownie tasted good. I love brownies and I love magic. This day was shaping up very well.
"Tell me something, Starbuck, or Jackson, as you seem to prefer - what is it you want to do with your life?"
The Captain tossed his cigarette into the water. Littering. Again. He then pulled another from the pack and offered me one. I don't smoke.
"That's kind of a heavy question for such a beautiful day. Don't you think Captain?"
"It's only as heavy as you make it."
"Fair enough - then I'd say I really haven't a clue."
"Ah, so no real plan for what comes next?"
"Plan? Not really. Here's what I know Captain. Do you remember the fable about the lazy grasshopper who just kicks back all year while the ants farm and stow away food? Then when winter hits he doesn't have any food and we're all supposed to learn that we have to be industrious and plan ahead. Here is what Aesop didn't tell us - both those insects are dead within the year. An ant lives a matter of months and a grasshopper just a little bit longer. They both died and the ants probably died first. All of this we see around us ends, no matter how much we plan. So, as of right now, yeah, I don't have much in the way of a plan but I'm still on the same course as everyone else - live for a while then croak."
The Captain was smiling at me again through clenched teeth that were anchoring his newly lit cigarette. He then removed the cancer stick and spoke, after a pregnant pause.
"Interesting. Some might think that somewhat pessimistic."
"On the contrary Captain - it is an open embrace of life and everything in it. I live to suck the marrow from the bones of the day."
The Captain then burst into laughter, which quickly spread to Cindy, Desi and Ike. I raised my flute to them all.
"Here's to life!"
We all toasted and drank and then the Captain walked over to me and poked his bony finger into my chest.
"I like you Jackson. Why don't you finish the rest of that brownie and embrace the rest of the day?"
He didn't have to ask me twice. Ike and I both gobbled down the remaining brownie and each took another from the tray. The girls followed suit. This was going to be a day to remember.