Yello, written on about my last trip to AC, about 2 years ago. I met a woman who had the most hideous hat. On the Winnnie Estelle, the hat did blow away. Never to be seen again. Thank God for small favors. I are a English Teacher and [seldom] published writer. So, if if didn't hurt so much I would recuse myself


Big Frank

A hat cost me my marriage. Even I knew that this manhole cover of a hat belonged not on my head but only in a Fellini movie. Green and purple with splotches of mustard yellow, this icon to the Seventies screamed THIS WOMAN IS A PACKRAT. For over 10 years and 3 moves, this gift from my husband had been lovingly placed on the top shelf. Never, except that first day on our honeymoon in San Francisco, had an occasion arisen where I could wear said hat. Like many men my husband had no fashion sense, but we do like to please our men, and as this hat was one of the only spontaneous gift he had ever given. I tried. I lugged that hat, which folded up smartly into its own crown, on every annual vacation. Orlando to Vancouver, Cancun to Paris, I never used it, except that once in Vail I taped it to the window to keep out the snow. But now, with my husband still sprawled on the bed, unshaven, naked, and hungover, the time was right.
“I don’t feel well, Sally, I think it was the fish fry. But you go and have fun. Don’t forget to cover up from the sun,”
I would not say gracefully, but steadily, the Winnie Estelle, a converted fishing trawler, chugged into view and tied up at the long boat dock for a day trip from Amergris Caye, Belize. As I stepped down into theWinnie Estelle, one hand bracing my chapeau, Daniel took my free hand. He had a thick head of black hair bleached brown and blonde by the tropical sun, with a touch of gray at the temples, wind-blown away from a wide forehead and square jaw. A friendly grin of white, mostly straight teeth, was partially hidden by a full black mustache. Coal black eyes in clear white irises gave way to the friendliest, crinkliest laugh lines I had ever seen. From his collared crew shirt his deep brown arms rippled with the musculature of a workingman. “I am the owner and captain, welcome aboard”.

Perhaps two dozen passengers spread out comfortably on the open deck of the ship. I found a clamshell chair and settled back to take in the moment. Cotton candy clouds that seemed never to block the sun, punctuated a corn flower blue sky. Distant cayes [pronounced keys] sat as purple ridges over gentle waters of indescribable pastels. The island slid away behind us, white houses with colored roofs sat near scalloped beaches, each with a thin line of a dock, perhaps fifty yards long, many with a thatched roof palapa at the end. The boat was scrubbed so clean and white ones’ eyes hurt just to look. The polished teak railings and brass fittings adding color and graceful lines

As the boat anchored at the Coral Gardens, Daniel explained, “ I will guide the more experienced swimmers on a long trip around the garden. Meet me by the anchor.” soon, a half dozen of us bobbed near the rope. For the next forty-five minutes, Daniel silently glided through the warm waters pointing out various fish and coral. Huge angel fish and hungry parrotfish attacked the brain coral, small wrasses darted about near tube coral, two gray squid flapped slowly away. An endless tube of purple black tangs, hundreds of them, stretched to infinity in both directions. Three stingrays patrolled nearby, flapping their wings like gray and white stealth fighters. I spied a hawksbill turtle paddling away, and touched Daniel’s arm to show him. He held my hand and we swam after it for a time, careful not to get too close.

Back on the boat, Daniel offered fresh cut pineapple, “ To take away the salt water taste.” I have never tasted anything so luscious. We neared Caye Caulker and Daniel said, “ Perhaps 200 people live here and for the next three hours just enjoy the pace. There is only one main street and two cross streets. I recommend the Sandbox Café near the boat dock.” Being contrary by nature, I didn’t go there.

I found a big deck chair on a long boat dock that stretched far into the green waters, the shaded palapa and breeze and beauty of the breakers made my heart ache with melancholy. I felt alone, but not lonely, in a world most people never visit, glad my husband wasn’t there; a sad admission on a vacation. A scuffle of feet on the boards nearby made me realize another had entered my world.

“Oh, Hola Senorita Sally, you found my secret lunch spot.” said Daniel. “ I noticed your hat.”
“A gift from years ago.”
“Quite a hat.” He said. “It reminds you of someone?.”
“Yes, of a different time and now a different person.”

We didn’t speak for a long time, there was no awkward need to fill the silence. The quiet we both had sought was respected. We sat on the edge of the pier, our feet dangling above the water. Whitecaps a half a mile away showed the barrier reef where the waves broke, then rolled onto the beach, as gentle as a kiss. A steady breeze meant I had to keep one hand on my hat, chin tilted to accept the warm sun.

Daniel reached into his beat-up cooler and brought out a plastic cup. “Ceviche, made today with conch I caught yesterday.”

He only had one fork so I dug into my straw bag for a baggie full of wheat thins. The crisp bite of the conch meat, the tang of the lime, and mostly, the fresh cilantro is an acquired delicacy that left my mouth moist. We shared his orange soda and I found some wedges of Laughing Cow cheese, and deep in my bag some cashews. Dessert was fresh, cold pineapple.
“A good snack,”
“Oh, look,” I said as my fingers closed on something in my purse. I held three silver kisses in my palm. The world is not a fixed size. Absolute distance and time
never change, but relative distance and time will grow and shrink to one’s need. In this world there was only one achingly beautiful sea vista, one perfect long dock, and two near strangers. “Have a chocolate,” I said.
I peeled off the wrapper and leaned close as I offered a morsel, with one hand I steadied my hat, which I suddenly realized was a good shield from prying eyes on the beach. Daniel parted his lips to accept the candy, so when I kissed him he was ready. His dry lips met mine, first yielding then pressing back equally. Like a school girl my heart hammered. I broke the kiss and blinked, still hidden by my enormous hat. The water was more beautiful, the breeze more bracing, the wooden planks courser and warmer on my thighs. His eyes were wide in surprise. I put my pale hand to his face, his skin as brown as leather with a short stubble. The second time I kissed him I savored the feel.

Sea salt on his lips and lime from the ceviche, enough to make me squint my closed eyes. And cilantro, how I love cilantro. We kissed deeply and for a long time, one hand faithfully holding my hat against prying eyes on the shore. My left hand at the base of his neck, his hair salty and brushed back by the sea breeze. I laid my head, in a perfect fit, to the curve of his shoulder and jaw. He smelled of the sea and soap and cilantro. I looked at his laugh lines and his dark eyes and his black hair bleached blonde at the tips and I went to kiss him again. One sudden shore gust and that goddamn hat sailed away.

Instinctively, I plunged into the water and snapped off five quick breast strokes. Like some hideous Portuguese Man O’ War, my aqua colored hat floated about fifty meters away, and gaining. I freestyled after it, pausing after thirty meters, “Do you see it?” I shrieked.
“Yes, yes, keep going, but the tide is going out, hurry.”
When I surfaced again He said, “Sally, the hat has sunk. I don’t see it”
All one can say at that point is, “Oh, shit!” Of course, less for the hat than for the missed opportunity.
The Winnie Estelle sailed away from that island, right past the dock where we had kissed. I stared into the water, searching. Yes for the hat, but really just searching the sea for a glimpse of myself. Daniel gave the helm to the first mate, and came to stand next to me, silently watching the waters by the scene of the crime.
He pointed and shouted, “Oiga, mira! Hey, look! There, I see your hat.”
I scanned the area frantically, ”Where?”
“There, but—“ He smiled broadly and crinkled up his eyes, “ But a sting ray is mating with it. They’ll both be happier this way.”
I sucked in my breath to scream at him, but I began to laugh. I laughed till tears came. My knees buckled, I slouched on the rail, raised my rum punch and tilted the plastic cup to the copulating saucers, “ Should old acquaintance be forgot…”
Daniel harmonized foolishly, “And never brought to mind. We’ll drink a cup of rye my dear, to Aulde Lang Sine.”
When I got back to the cabana, my husband sat on the balcony and I told him a little of my trip.
He reached into my straw bag for some sunscreen, “Hey, you brought me a present!” and put a baseball hat on his head. A surprise to me, Daniel had slipped in a clean white baseball cap with the Winnie Estelle logo.

I crossed the verandah, took the hat off his head and fitted it to my size. “No, this is for me.”