E.S. Fletcher

Dec 31, 2011 No Comments by Sea Stories

The Beautiful Sea

Ocean waves, which always soothe me to sleep from a distance, slam the jumble of rocks outside the palapa. I listen for a pattern, a rhythm, to the crescendos but detect none. I’m prepared for another sleepless night.

My husband calls my name from the rustic bathroom. “Look,” he points to the sink. “A scorpion.” It is tiny, maybe an inch long, with a curled tail that warned of danger. I lean in for a closer look before my husband washes it down the drain. “The wind must have blown it out of the ceiling,” he says. Above, a sixty-watt bulb dangles from the crossbeam to illuminate the faded gray palm fronds. Here the division between indoors and outdoors is flimsy at best.

The sheets are damp under the gauzy veil of mosquito netting. It is the dry season, yet the rains persist. By morning, an angry rash will cover my arms and legs from the mildew growing in the rough sheets and blankets.

My husband, ghostly through the netting, navigates with the flashlight to the small double bed. The cool humid air makes our skin sticky at the points of contact, and we do our best to give each other space. I watch the leaves of a scrubby bush flutter between the gaps in the woven rattan wall and try to get used to the crash and fade of the Pacific. Exhaustion finally pulls me into sleep.

The strobe effect of lightning brightens the room, followed by a deafening boom. My dream ends violently. Muscles taut, I sit up to orient myself. A constant roar of wind surrounds the hut. Rain blows through the opening at the roof beam and soaks through the netting. Lightning fractures the sky again, and my husband is now awake. He checks his watch—three a.m.

My husband shuffles to the door to survey the situation. “The surf is high but nowhere near the palapa.”

My senses tell me to doubt this, and I join him at the door. A sailboat is anchored in the cove, pitching like a broken metronome. With each untamed swell, the boat’s mastlight disappears.

Despite being attached to the mainland, the locals refer to Yelapa as an island because of its inaccessibility by car. We are cut off from everyone and everything. We have no phone, no radio, and even if we did, our Spanish is limited. The local who runs the hotel lives in the pueblo down the long strip of beach and across the swollen river: out of reach.

“What should we do?” I ask. In my homeland of warnings, worst-case scenarios and lawsuits, there would be instructions posted on what to do. Emergency sirens would alert us to trouble. We would not be left to fend for ourselves.

My husband shrugs and lays down. His breathing gradually steadies and slows. Although I envy his calm, I resent him for leaving me to wait out the storm alone. My anxiety makes the past irrelevant and the future uncertain: there is nothing else but now. I try to relax, tell myself I’m panicking over nothing. We can’t be in real danger or my husband wouldn’t have returned to sleep. Then I recall the broken, empty house just up the hill—a remnant of the hurricane that blew through three months earlier. My heart pounds erratically like the surging waves outside, even that out of my control. I wait for a strong gust to rip off the roof.

This is my fault. I scorn myself for thinking that I craved adventure. For thinking I was different than the crowds who never strayed from the well-worn paths, shepherded by guides who buffered and translated every situation. Now I envy them their dry, air-conditioned rooms and their distant lullaby of surf. What I had craved was a sterilized adventure—one without actual sacrifice or peril.

Fear pushes me to appreciate an ordinary life: making the bed with crisp sheets, shoveling fresh snow from the walks, or cooking dinner with my husband as we share our separate days. I long to return to that lucky life.

Please let the storm taper. Please hurry the dawn. I do not know to whom or what I repeat my silent mantra, but it is instinctive and comforting. It spotlights a question of faith I remain unable to answer, having become something of a spiritual tourist, exploring various practices but committing to none. Still, I picture the Catholic Church in the village: how its peach-painted walls welcomed us during these gray days, how the stone St. Francis of Assisi birdbath with holy water beckoned us across the threshold. I find myself able to translate this piece of the local language, and it brings me solace. Finally, the sky begins to brighten and the fury of the storm recedes.

I resurface from sleep to find a layer of sand, palm fragments and mummified insects blown from the thatch, evidence of last night’s tempest. My husband and I shake out our shoes for stowaways before we abandon the false security of the bed. We trudge across the damp sand as men fight with boats in the surf to unload their motley haul: bottled water, toilet paper, limes. To return to the city, and then home, we are at the mercy of the lanchero’s schedule.

We wait over breakfast. Flies skirt tortillas and black beans on my plate. I no longer bother to swat them away. I’d hoped to find paradise by lounging in the sun and sipping tart margaritas on the rocks. Instead my boundaries shifted like the dunes on the beach—I am no longer as certain of my footing. We look toward the infinite stretch of water, our eyes trained for a life-jacketless boat named The Beautiful Sea. The sun is attempting to burn through the clouds. I finish my coffee and pray for next year’s return.


E.S. Fletcher earned her M.F.A. in Writing from Hamline University. There, she interviewed Junot Díaz for Hamline’s literary annual Water~Stone Review. Her writing has appeared in The Literary Bohemian and Confrontation, and she recently read new work for “City: A Language We Speak” at the Susan Hensel Gallery. She is currently writing a spiritual memoir about her travels in Guatemala.

Hibernal 2012, Overfalls

About the Editors

Casey R. Schulke grew up along the Kuskokwim River in a rural Athabascan village in Alaska fishing for king salmon and mushing her sled dog team. She now resides on the shores of Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska. Casey's a poet, a naturalist, a dog-lover, has two birds, and is married to a wonderful man.
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