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Writing Thoughts

Death on the Intracoastal Waterway

By March 8, 2024No Comments

There is something about being on vacation, in a hotel or a resort for an extended period of time, that makes you feel as if you’re living inside a mystery novel. Your life is suddenly tied up intimately with people who are total strangers. Voices drifting through a wall. Conversations overheard. The comings and goings so easily observed. Agatha Christie knew all of this, which is why so many of her novels are set on trains or boats or vacation spots. So much could happen in these circumstances. Why not a murder?

As far as I know, no one has been murdered on my trip to the beach (though my mother did say some fishermen went missing and they were expecting bodies on the shore, so). That doesn’t mean I haven’t created many mysteries in my head over the past week. Or maybe stories is a better word, which is what mysteries are anyway. I don’t have the answers to these mysteries or the ending to the stories because, like Agatha Christie, if I was going to solve them it would be on the page. The answers would be made up. Feel free to make up your own.

The Connecticut Couple

The Connecticut couple arrived mid-week. They first appeared wandering down to the little lawn that looks out on the bay. We watched them from our screened-in patio. They picked up two of the lounge chairs and dragged them right up to the edge of the water, where the land slopes down. This seemed a bit dangerous. The loungers are low and not the easiest seats to get up from and the Connecticut couple are in their late 60s, at least. Later, I saw the husband put a hand on the back of his wife’s calf. She let it linger there a moment and then stepped away.
A waterway with many piers on the left and mangrove trees on the right and blue sky overhead

That night, the Connecticut couple were in what the resort map labels the Grand Pavilion, and, why not? It’s a large covered deck that looks out over the beach and has a lot of seating. The Connecticut couple arrived and sat beside some people who were already gathered there. They introduced themselves and commenced to talk. And talk. And talk.

“Don’t make eye contact,” I said to Jeff, which is what I often say when I encounter people who clearly need to talk to strangers, at great length and sometimes with surprising amounts of intimacy.

The next day, we ran into the wife. “How long have you been here?” she asked. Then when we told her, “Do you wish it was longer or shorter?”

The next night, the Connecticut couple were already at the Grand Pavilion when we arrived. We had no choice but to sit close to them. The husband, un-prompted, leaned back and showed us a small book. It was something philosophical, about discovering wisdom.

“We’re trying to improve our relationship by changing our perspective,” the husband said.

See what I mean about surprising amounts of intimacy?

In the story I’ve made up for the couple, they’re in that time of life between children being out of the house and before the grandchildren arrive. They’re on a trip to try to fix their marriage, though for the wife, really she’s deciding whether she wants to be married to him or not. They’re so deeply uncomfortable with each other that they’ll talk to anyone to avoid the worst sort of lonely you can feel—the kind when you’re with the one person in the world who’s supposed to make you feel less alone, but doesn’t.

The Squadron

A group of pelicans is a brief or a pod or, my favorite, a squadron. There’s a squadron that hangs out behind our room on the bay. There’s a pier just down the way where they gather in the afternoon sun. They huddle on the top of the pier or they hunker down or sometimes, they clean their feathers.

There are also pelicans on the beach side, fishing in the water. Brown pelicans are the only pelicans who feed by dive bombing into the water. This is why squadron is by far the best name for a group of them. They hover above the waves, not as acrobatic as the terns, and then dive bomb down. They don’t go fully underwater and they’re not spearing a fish. They’re gulping up the fish and the water in their pouch. Then they tilt their heads to drain the water and swallow the fish.

I see the pelican squadron on the beach mostly in the morning. The pelican squadron on the bay arrives mostly in the afternoon. They cluster around the boats putting it at the ramp across the way, hoping they’ll dump their bait out. I’ve only seen this happen once in a week’s time, so it’s not a successful strategy as far as feeding themselves is involved.

The mystery…is the beach squadron the same as the bay squadron? Do they feed in the morning and rest in the afternoon? Or are there two separate squadrons with adjoining territory, like the Jets and the Sharks of Casey Key?

A low slung white house with a screened patio and water in front, framed by palm trees

I won’t go on about it too much, but I also saw a common loon in the bay one afternoon. All by itself. Fishing like the cormorant, which is to say, diving under the water. I know it was a loon because it made that noise—the noise you will never mistake for anything but a loon. But what was the loon doing in Florida? Lost on a northward migration? The next time I came out, it was gone. Where? Headed north again? Or something more sinister?

See, animals have mysteries, too.

The Very Nice Granddaughter

We haven’t found much to do after the sun sets down here and the sun sets at 6:30. We struggle to stay awake and mostly fail, which means we get up early, before the sun rises. We eat breakfast early and then we’re hungry again, early, like on a Sunday at 11:30. So we hit a local restaurant at the corner of a Publix before the church crowd.

As we walk up, there’s an older woman with a walker and a nametag and her white hair in two pigtail braids. The hostess asks her, “Are you with Charlie?” No, she says, she’s with Kathryn today.

She gets seated at a table catty-corner from our booth, her back to me, but I can see the younger woman who sits down across from her. Kathryn, I guess. I can hear Kathryn, but not the older woman. I can see Kathryn’s face, patient as she asks the older woman questions and she answers. She teases the old woman about someone at church who has a crush on her. “He kissed you,” I hear her say.

Waitresses and hostesses stop by the table and embrace the older woman, holding her in long hugs. Jeff hears her say she’s headed back to Michigan in April. Kathryn calls her ‘grandmother,’ but something about the tone of her voice suggests to me they might not be biologically related. Something suggests to me that Kathryn might have adopted this woman as her grandmother. She looks like the kind of woman you’d want as a grandmother. Kathryn looks like the kind of woman you’d want to adopt you as a granddaughter.

“She’s a very kind granddaughter,” I tell my husband, and this is how I think of her in my head. The Very Kind Granddaughter. She has long dark hair in a ponytail and wears a little makeup and is pretty in a very standard sort of way. Her eyes dart around the restaurant, but not like she’s nervous, and most of the time, her attention is on her grandmother.

When we go back to the same restaurant a few days later, The Very Kind Granddaughter is there again, working this time. She’s a manager or a hostess, not a waitress. I’m as excited as I would be to spot a celebrity. “Look,” I say to Jeff. “It’s The Very Kind Granddaughter.”

Her shift ends before we finish our meal and I watch her head out to the parking lot with sure and determined steps. Maybe it’s the margaritas I’ve been drinking (the waiter calls them ‘margs’), but I’m certain I would like to be friends with The Very Kind Granddaughter. Is she from Michigan, too? Is the older woman really her grandmother? What is her life like in Nokomis, Florida?

So many possibilities in imagining the life of The Very Kind Granddaughter. So many stories everywhere you look.

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