On the first morning, Carter got to the restaurant before 7. Up with the chickens. She sat at one of the few tables out in the gazebo, close to the ocean.
A waitress told her, “They going to serve the breakfuss at 7:30.”
Carter thanked her, said, “Fine,” though she really wanted coffee; breakfast would probably be late, island time.
The island across the wide expanse of light blue-green ocean was already gently lighted by the sun. The hills sloped down there from its long ancient reptile-like back to its small harbor, its almost white beaches, its rock cliffs rising out of the water. A reflection of the larger, darker island, where Carter was.
Here grape trees and palms, bougainvillea, were shaking slightly, waving, crackling, in the early wind. The setting out of silverware, glasses, tinkled behind her. Waves washed up below, fountained at a near rock ledge.
She had left Tommy sleeping with occasional little snorts in their room, also on the ocean. His friend Hal, and Hal’s wife, Vicky, were staying in a room up by the pool. Carter had met them when they moved to Scarsdale in the early fall.
Tom had roomed with Hal at Wesleyan; they’d been luring their wives toward this mutual winter vacation for a few months now. Tommy was with a small brokerage firm, was a pretty successful professional. Their twins, Bud and Alden, were away at college. At last. But she did miss them.
After a little while, the sun came on the water right in front of Carter. The translucent waves would emerge, tumble, then bounce in in long rows, lit white, over the near water.
Suddenly, Vicky stood there, up from the beach. “May I join you?”
The couples had flown in separately late yesterday, but Carter knew Vicky at once. “I’m afraid I might be hurt if you didn’t.”
A middle-aged couple, overweight — whom Carter had seen heading back from dinner last night, the guy in a pink shirt, the woman in a peach one, both with three-quarter matching pants — took an adjacent table. Blocking part of Carter’s ocean view. She gave an account of their evening costumes to Vicky. They dubbed them Pinky and Peach.
And before long a contingent of perhaps 50 people from some love boat or other poured onto the beach chairs below, altering the view irreparably. A Saturday morning ritual, doubtless. Carter and Vicky laughed at their bad luck.
Over coffee and scones, Carter said, “Tommy has sung Hal’s praises for as long as I’ve known him.”
“And Hal, Tommy’s.” Hal and Vicky had been living in Albany; he had been assigned to New York by his computer company, and Vicky was a graphic artist, was all Carter knew. “I envy you your neat, wavy, blond hair,” Vicky added.
Carter was good looking, shy of striking, but with lively green eyes; she said, “It’s really dirty blond, alas. And I wish I had a cover-up half as toney as yours. Actually, I wish I had a cover up. I think.”
They smiled. “This thing is because I’m so nouveau in New York,” Vicky said, then, “I’ve gotten a few freelance assignments since we met, though, tra la. . . . You’re still in TV?”
“Channel Thirteen. I’m a glorified gofer.”
“You are not.”
“Well, they call it administrative, what I do. I don’t know what it is, really.”
Vicky gave a broad, emphatic smile. She shook her full shoulder-length beige hair back off her forehead, amused at her own useless gesture. Vicky’s face was a little long; this was attractive to Carter. And Vicky’s eyes were brown like Carter’s mother’s. Carter had liked her before; now she decided Vicky was a delight.
By the time their husbands showed up — Tom, consciously casual, blond, Hal rather dapper, dark — the women had studied a brochure and opted for an all-day sail on a catamaran to Virgin Gorda. The ad promised a rather elaborate lunch, including Bloody Marys, quiche, paté, cheeses. . . . And they wanted to go today. There wasn’t much time, but Tom and Hal held up their hands, captured, hopeless.
Snorkeling off Peter Island, after a glorious downwind sail following lunch, Carter and Vicky surfaced near each other. They were near enough to shore, a jungle, that they could stand, just. They raised their snorkels.
“Heavens,” Vicky declared. “Did you see the school of blue ones?”
Carter nodded. “I could do this every day for years.”
“Let’s get them to take us to Banana Quit tonight, for Pimm’s Cups,” Vicky suggested.
“And to rent a boat so we can raid Necker Island tomorrow. For a really piss-elegant lunch. It’s only well over $10,000 a night there, right?”
“I suppose it’s a nest of fierce Republicans.”
Carter said, “We’ll have to tie them up in their wine cellar.”
There. They were both liberals.
On the way home, Vicky said, in an aside to Carter, “The cleaning lady was singing in our room this morning.”
“One waitress at breakfast before you came was eccentric, and witty. . . . I love it here. I have next week off, too, but Tom doesn’t. I suppose Hal doesn’t, either.”
“Nope.” Vicky seemed to be studying Carter.
They were approaching the late afternoon harbor, quiet water. Huge cruisers and sailboats as well as many small craft rode at anchor under the steep hills encompassing this bay.
Two nights later they found themselves at the Banana Quit restaurant at sunset, well up on the mountain, looking over a considerable stretch of the Caribbean. Their reservations called for meals at the resort; this evening cost extra.
After two rounds of Pimm’s Cups, and dinner, the men were watching some sports thing over the bar on TV. Carter and Vicky had got on to classics. Carter loved Blake, Virginia Woolf, and “Anna Karenina.”
Vicky nodded in definite assent; she said, “The best in “Anna” is when Levin finds God in the peasants’ cottage, no?”
“Oh, yes indeed,” Carter said. “He’s the best person in that novel. He’s Tolstoy.” Then she said, half kidding, “I can’t think of any more classics.”
Vicky said, “There aren’t any more.”
They proceeded to diss a number of recent New Yorker stories, and Vicky disagreed that Annie Proulx hadn’t written anything good since “The Shipping News.” Carter maintained that “Ship of Fools” rhymed with that, and was important. As was “Dr. Strangelove.” And, Vicky, agreeing, claimed “Philadelphia Story” and “All About Eve” were dynamite. Nods from Carter. To their relief they had different views on “Peter Pan”; Carter didn’t like fantasy much.
The men turned back to them from the TV then, and they all focused on the dark, vast ocean far below them. Lights had come on along Carrot Bay and Apple Bay, and across as far as St. Thomas. No moon. Stars.
In bed that night, Tommy said, “You two never stopped. You started over hors d’oeuvres, and went on virtually till we were leaving.”
“But Thomas,” Carter answered, “You were watching the box, and I thought you wanted us to bond.”
“TV was our defense. And we didn’t want you to bond to the point of an affair.”
“I’m not sure we’d know how to do that.”
Tommy went, “Hmm,” and turned over, facing away.
TO BE CONTINUED
Kay Kidde is a former teacher whose fiction has appeared previously in The Star. She was a senior editor at the New American Library and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, and founded the Kidde, Hoyt & Picard Literary Agency.