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The Cayes « Fiction365
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Today's Story by Ted Gogoll

"You’re too immature to handle big business,” Rosy insisted.

The Cayes

The sun glowed on the horizon when Roberto left the pier with the rusted-steel wheel barrel overflowing with oranges and made his way up the white-sanded road.

His body tingled with exhaustion after an entire night of traveling back from Honduras. A filthy white button down shirt clung to his sweaty torso; his cut off jean shorts stretched and sagged from overuse.
As he walked through the cemetery, he racked his head with what clever excuse he’d give Rosy this time. He hung his head low, navigating the bumpy stone path toward the caye’s only road.

The sky was brightening as he turned toward their restaurant’s white and red hand-painted sign, “R&R Restaurant: FRESH ORANGE JUICE.” He swallowed hard in a mild panic over seeing Rosy. He anticipated some real trouble this time.

The abundance of oranges calmed him. Nowadays, it’s the freshly squeezed oranges that draw all the tourists from their snorkeling trips to the restaurant. Whenever Rosy saw a fully stocked bin of oranges, her mood softened. She even smiled. Hopefully this time would be no different.

Roberto, wiping his dirty hands onto his shorts, parked the wheel barrel outside and creaked open the restaurant’s screen door. He walked around the dining room’s only two tables, past the counter, and through the kitchen door and into their bedroom.

The fan hummed softly, blowing sweaty air and sand flies between open windows. Rosy was curled up on the bed, clutching a pillow. Her dark-brown body accented the bright-white sheets.

Roberto hovered over her. Guilt welled up inside him, producing tears. He reached down to stroke her hair; her pillow was damp, either from sweat or her own tears. He sat in a wooden chair, staring at her sleeping body, waiting for her to awaken.

Eyes still closed, she yawned, stirring half-asleep. Her eyes peeled open. She pushed herself up on the bed and let out a startled “Ahhhhh!” when she noticed Roberto.

“So, who was it this time?” she cried out. “Is it out of your system?  Is it now? My mother told me to change the locks.”

Roberto leaned forward in his chair, the floorboards squeaking. “I got the oranges, so why do you care?”

“Is that what I have to look forward to? The slightest argument and you run to Honduras and spend our money on that girl?” Her eyes reddened. “The money we were gonna use to…”

Roberto cut her off. “That’s right. When you don’t give me the space I need. If you drill into me for no reason…I’m gonna leave,” he said, knowing he’d gone far beyond the anger he’d planned on showing. He got to his feet, walking towards her. He could smell his fermented perspiration. “But this time I’m sorry.”

“I know you get bored here. Think about it. I have to live on this island, too. You don’t see me taking off to Honduras every time you don’t excite me,” she said, her mouth firming. “Then what, you gonna come back with that disease one day or tell me that you spent all of our money on her? Is that it?”

Rosy stood up, lifting her t-shirt over her head and then reaching for her black bra on the dresser. She stared hard into his face; her way of saying it wasn’t a rhetorical question.

“You know I want the hotel as much as you do. I have the money…almost enough.”

“Almost enough? Do you know how much we need? You don’t do the numbers ‘round here. I do, along with every other damn thing.”

Roberto got up and looked out the window, putting his hands on the sill. “How could I not know? That’s all I hear around here.” He felt himself drifting back into the same mood that had driven him away in the first place.

“It’s twice what we have,” she said.

Roberto felt the blood flooding his face. Rosy wasn’t done either.

“How much have you spent on her just this year? Was she worth it?” She jiggled her breasts dramatically. “These aren’t enough for you? How about this?” she said, showing him her backside. “Now today, you’re not gonna run off on me. I’m not running this place another day by myself. No way.”

Roberto turned away from her.

Rosy slipped into her favorite cut-off shorts and red tank-top. “You just think about what you want more: me and our dreams or that whore in La Ceiba,” she said, walking out of the bedroom and into the restaurant kitchen.

Roberto peeled off his filthy clothes and tossed them into the corner. Too wrung-out to even shower, he climbed into bed. As always, after his four or five day “trips,” he could only soul search and ask why he’s done what he’s done.

The heat woke him up several hours later. He got up and trimmed his beard in the bathroom using small clippers and mirror over a bucket of water. Then he stepped into the shower basin. The faucet let out ice cold, fishy water, beating down on his exhausted body. Minutes after dressing, he began sweating anew. He sat down on the bed and counted his money. Rosy was right about him spending all of their money.
He walked to the restaurant. It was around 10 am. Six customers sat at the two tables. Bob Marley played softly from a boom box. A pang of guilt stabbed him over what Rosy must go through when he’s not here.

Rosy was writing down a German couple’s order when she saw Roberto. “Start on the grits and biscuits, and squeeze two glasses of juice,” she told him in her most hospitable voice.

Roberto quickly took heed, opening the refrigerator and cabinets, and grabbing ingredients. He only cooked when his guilt level was high. The sloppy state of the four-burner stove told him Rosy had been very busy during his nap.

“Watch your back,” she told him, and stood beside him and inserted bread in the toaster. He glanced over and saw sweat sliding down her cheek. Without realizing it, he’d reached out and caressed her elbow.

She looked up.  “Who are you, Julio Iglesias all of a sudden?” She flashed her bright smile.

***

A week had passed. Tourists were arriving in droves to enjoy the scuba diving season—and Rosy and Roberto’s fresh orange juice. There were never fewer than four customers during the standard breakfast, lunch, or even dinner when most tourists opted for lobster and beer at their competitor’s down the sandy road.

Roberto knew he loved Rosy. Maybe he just didn’t love the island, where he’d spent his entire life. He felt small there, particularly when foreign tourists showed up with their different clothing, wads of money, and lives far beyond his comprehension. He did understand his insecurities, however—his childlike need to explore past what these tourists considered paradise, a “trip of a lifetime.”

One night, after the dinner crowd left, Roberto initiated yet another conversation with Rosy about their plans to buy Bobo’s 15-room hotel on the caye’s opposite coast.

“Maybe if we got a bank from the mainland to give us a loan, your parents might agree to put up collateral,” he suggested.

A Marvin Gaye song swelled from their boom box mixed tape.

“You’re kidding, right? They know your games too well. They wouldn’t trust you like that,” Rosy said, spraying off a greasy pan.

“What are we talking about here? Can you trust me like that?”

“Sometimes I’m not so sure. You’re too immature to handle big business,” Rosy insisted.

Roberto’s face flushed. He banged around dishes, one slipping to the ground, cracking it in two. Rosy just shook her head.

“Do I have to remind you that I bought this restaurant? Oh and wait, wait, I also saved every penny I’ve ever earned toward the hotel.”

Rosy interrupted. “No, we saved that money. Who does all the work ‘round here?” Rosy slammed the pan against the sink and stormed toward him. “We saved it,” her voice lowering. “Now are you gonna leave me again? Are you gonna take everything that we’ve worked for and throw it away like an orange peel?”

She pressed her body against his, her chin to his chest. Tears slid down Roberto’s face. Waves crashed softly in the distance.

“We need to serve lobster at the hotel…maybe we could invent a cocktail with our orange juice,” he said. “We should advertise with the snorkeling companies and hotels on the mainland for overnighters. We should write this down, Rosy. Make a plan.”

Rosy backed away from Roberto. She walked toward the counter where she knew a stack of similar plans had been collected in a drawer over the years. Rather than open the drawer, she flashed her brilliant smile, and began cleaning the orange pulp from the blender.

—–
Ted Gogoll’s first novel, “Echoes of a Killing,” will be published in the fall.

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