For most, the tide goes out almost imperceptibly. Lovely Rita was watching Tequila Steve read and studying the shore line from her perch on Chico's bar stool. It was a fabulous place. For the first eleven months of her sabbatical she had spent most of her time staring at the sea. She didn't need a clock or a tide chart to know the tidal pattern. She had watched so closely for so long that she could feel a tide change in her sleep. She could see now that the water was already retreating from the beach edge.
The pools show and seem to rise up as the sea recedes leaving little circles containing sea grass and sponge, iridescence and turquoise.
On the bottom lies the incredible refuse of the sea, shells - broken and chipped, bits of skeleton, claws - the whole sea bottom a fantastic cemetery on which the living scamper and scramble. When the tide is out the circles become lovely water worlds of their own.
The sea is very clear and she sees the bottom become active with hurrying, fighting, feeding and breeding animals.
Little Hermit Crabs, crowded in their out grown protective shells, scurry during this opportunity to find a new one - larger, more comfortable.
Today, the Great Blue Heron stood in Rita's view also watching the tides go in and out. Long ago it realized - this is the time to reap a delight, such as that stranded snapper or eel. It stood casting its shadow over the pool, waving and rocking its neck like the sea grass, disguising its omnipresence. Stepping in slow methodic motions, it studied the bottom for whatever it might offer. Hermit Crabs, like frantic children, run on the bottom's sand and now, one finding an empty conch shell he likes better than his own, creeps out, exposing his soft defenseless body. A wave that had broken over the barrier reef makes it to shore and churns the grassy water. For a moment it mixes a camouflage of bubbles into the pool as he pops into the new shell. The pool then clears and is tranquil and lovely again.
Rita shifted her attention to the quiet of the early morning in the bar and Tequila Steve staring at the paperback in front of his face. Twenty years as an eighth grade math teacher had given her an appreciation of silence. Each afternoon at 2:45 she had written on the chalk board that word and underlined every letter S I L E N C E.
Rita noticed Steve never turned the pages of his book. Along with the appreciation of silence she had also picked up an uncontrollable desire to help others with their problems, whether they asked for help or not.
In San Pedro it was considered rude, impolite and sometimes dangerous to ask a gringo their sir name, but, Rita had to start the conversation somewhere.
"Steve, what's your last name?"
Tequila Steve, without exposing his face, pushed the book out a few more inches away from his face. He lifted his shot glass up between the two, then with a snap tilt of his head took a drink. Steve lowered the glass and returned the book to its usual position. Suddenly from behind the book came, "Why? Whats it matter down here?"
"It doesn't matter. I was just making conversation."
Steve was not intimidated by conversation. He could handle conversation but he didn't listen to the words - just the tone of conversation.
He could even answer questions, not to hear the answer, but simply to be undisturbed and continue the flow. He could also give single word retorts; neither of which diverted his thinking or interrupted his thoughts behind the paperback.
"You're right it doesn't matter. I'm sorry. Would it be intrusive to ask where you're from?" The word 'Chicago' came from behind the paperback.
"Chicago, that's a nice place. I once passed through there. It's very cold. What kind of business were you in there?"
"Oh, you own a gambling business?"
"No, my family."
Rita was amazed at the amount of information she had gotten from Steve so early. It seemed she was already on route to the heart of his problem. The son of a Chicago gambling syndicate boss, her imagination was taking off, could he be hiding from an opposing Chicago mob or have stolen a fortune from his family's business and been sentenced to live in exile? At any case, he must be lonely and obviously a set-apart man. She could comfort him. She was also lonely, they could share experiences. Her excitement was rising, some evening she would have him home with her and cook him dinner. They would drink wine and watch the stars from her porch.
With his right hand holding the book at his face, Steve lifted the empty shot glass high in the direction of the bar, "Chico! May I get another Tequila over here?"
An even greater taboo than asking one's last name in San Pedro was making reference to the amount one drank; but, since Rita now felt so close and personal with Steve she thoughtlessly took the chance at the jackpot.
"Steve you drink a lot of Tequila, why?"
"Are you kidding? You mean you're sick?"
From behind the book came dryly, "I've got a bladder complaint. Bipalychaetorsonecitis the doctors call it, very contagious! I'm supposed to drink three shots of Tequila per hour, doctor's orders."
Rita smiled an uncertain smile, "Oh! I thought you were kidding," she said archly. "I didn't know you were sick."
"Very sick," Steve said, "and due to be sicker."
"Oh, that's awful Steve, I'm sorry."
Without exposing his face from behind the book, Steve changed directions on the barstool to face, as it were, the emerald waters of the Caribbean Sea and his back towards Lovely Rita.
Raising his left hand again he shouted, "Chico can I get another drink over here?"
Rita again directed her attention to the tide pools and silence returned to the bar.