The first day in our house was really kamikaze house-finishing at its best. Though it had been suggested by many that we find a hotel until Monday, we didn’t, because I knew that roughing it would force us to faster action. There was no furniture, no kitchen sink, no fridge, no stove top, no washer, running water only in bathroom and the rinse tanks outside on the porch. No heater for the shower, and a shower drain that didn’t work, so no shower. No drawers, no closets. No screens on the windows, no curtains, no screen on the sliding door. The only plumbing was in the bathroom and the rinse tanks: two big concrete boxes outside on the porch plugged with sections of PVC pipe. A crude drain exited from the side of the house into the dirt.
But there’s always a moment when turning on a spigot after a renovation. It’s miraculous, the way the water flows into the pipe and from the mouth of the faucet, summoned by a twist of the hand. In my state of exhaustion, I let it flow over my hands and splashed it over my head, feeling “the bones” of the house, that the pipes ran from the main on the street, under the turned up ground, through and over its concrete walls, that the meter in the street box whirred away, registering how much was used, that it was fresh and good. The same, but different. No chlorine, absolutely pure. On Bonaire the tap water, mostly desalinated sea water, is always lukewarm. Hans had brought us an ice chest to borrow, which was so thoughtful. After dumping our suitcases in the bedrooms, we went out to buy beds, linens, towels, kitchen stuff, food and last but not least, ice for the ice chest. We had to go to three different places to find everything, even on a Saturday. This mad rush was a small baptism into the conundrum of Caribbean living. Many places are closed between 12:00 and 2:00, and of course on Sunday, everything is closed.
Also that first day we saw Yvonne, the woman who lives across the street, (whom I had met in April). As before she was very nice and welcoming, putting Emmett and Steve immediately at ease, the sort of person who knows everything that goes on and watches over all, but not in a meddlesome way. A round face as sweet as a child’s, she reminded me of someone I knew long ago in school, some little friend who hadn’t an ounce of malice. A sheltering person. I could see that she wasn’t much older than me, but she had grand kids over, one boy near Emmett’s age. Emmett was shy and so were we, as well as tired. I didn’t feel up to the importance of the occasion of seeing her again. I wanted to be, as she was the only person in the neighborhood that I knew.
Once we had the beds and the ice, we went to the big new Dutch Supermarket, Van den Tweel, and stopped at the cheap goods market for a rice cooker and coffee maker. These turned out to be life savers. Of course the coffee maker needed electricity. Fortunately we had some. We even had outlets above the counter top. In Steve’s bad old days he cooked all his meals in a rice cooker in a rented room. He rinsed the vegetables in the bathroom, cut them up on cardboard, and plunked the rice in. He let the rice cook to a certain point of chewiness, added the broccoli and carrots, and let the cycle finish out. With olive oil it made a nice meal. We had some excellent Dutch chocolate too.
After a relatively quiet Sunday walking around, swimming in the sea, we turned into the one big bed we had so far. At 3:00 a.m. I was woken up by a donkey braying that sounded as if it were just outside the window, a few feet from my head. It was an enormous jolt. If I had brushed up against a large furry beast in bed next to me the shock would’ve paled in contrast. A donkey braying sounds like a hacksaw stuck in a tree, wielded by a disturbed, violent, but ultimately ineffective person. One can hardly imagine that it is a love call, so strangled and pathetic are the tones, so impotent does it sound. So hopeless. Lying in bed, bones rattling, I wondered what donkeys could possibly be communicating to each other with it. Existential dread? That they are domesticated animals now makes them a conduit to existential dread for us.
Steve, lucky for him, was getting juice in the kitchen at the time of the donkey explosion. For him it wasn’t that loud, he said. He was pretty certain it wasn’t in the yard. He said that donkeys are loud, it could have been somewhere in the neighborhood and we would have heard it. We’ve seen donkeys in fields, and along the roadways, but certainly not in the yard. It’s true that I’m somewhat sensitive to noise, always have been.
The third and fourth nights belonged to one dog, who I later named Bollocks for the size of his testicles, and his gall.
On Bonaire, most of the native Bonairians and many of the long term Dutch have dogs. These dogs are living burglar alarms. They are in yards to scare off the kids who will break into any home they think they have a shot at, to grab a camera, a computer, a TV, because there is no juvenile court on the island.
For the first couple of nights, we heard the neighborhood dogs bark in packs a few houses to the East/Northeast, a generalized, mass dog chorus of highs and lows, which would than go silent again, the urgent conversation amongst them having reached a mysterious conclusion. On my first visit to Bonaire, I had stayed a few streets over in the same neighborhood, noticing the ebb and flow of sound, and finding it bearable, even quaint. The dogs within audio-reach of Kaya India were about the same as then, the volume perhaps a few notches higher, as we were that much deeper into a true local area.
All this before Bollocks made his debut. I really shouldn’t call him Bollocks because almost all of the dogs on Bonaire aren’t fixed, so there was no reason for him to stand out. Except that someone had tied him up next to a car port on the other side of our wall. And he, very vocally, made his displeasure known. By barking alone, for hours, not tucked within a community of like minded, reasonable fellows just keeping watch over things, but incessantly, loudly and independently in deep protest at his situation, interspersed with the howls, whimpers, and pleas of a forsaken soul.
He started on our third day, in the afternoon, for several hours. Steve actually commented, “What’s going on with that dog?” he said. When Steve comments, something is strange. Sometimes I use whether he comments or not as a gage of how out of the ordinary a thing is. By the time Emmett and I returned from our afternoon swim he said, “That dog is barking a lot,” and Emmett said, “Yeah, he is.” Steve didn’t think we should, but Emmett and I snuck around to the front of the house to investigate. We found a rust colored creature with eyes the color of toffee, and balls to his knees, (if he had knees). For such a loud-mouth, he cringed at just the sight of us and crawled under the car next to him as far as his rope would allow.
Obviously, the dog had been beaten for barking. Emmett thought it was sad and it was.
But, it didn’t stop him from starting up again at about 9:30 that evening and continuing till midnight, taking an hour break, and recommencing. Emmett, being a child, was sleeping with his head under a pillow, (I know, I saw him at 2 a.m.). I crept back to bed, hoping that Steve was still sleeping, listening for the telltale snore. If Steve was sleeping, that would mean that I was being oversensitive, and at some point I would get used to this din. Didn’t I want the authentic Bonaire experience? Didn’t I find the roosters at daybreak and beyond sort of charming? Hadn’t I bought a white noise machine just for the possibility of this sort of thing? I reached over and turned it up. But it was no match for Bollocks, whom I began to really hate. I wondered if people on Bonaire were drunk most of the time, or deaf from the dogs, or both. I wondered if I was having some sort of yuppie/culture clash problem, and that the ability to sleep alongside a howling beast was inherent in humans back to the cavemen, and that my semi-precious life in Sag Harbor had robbed me of this basic trait. As the pleading and howling went on, I lay awake mentally talking to this dog: what are you thinking, what do you want, if you could tell me I’d do it.
The next morning, very tired, I tiptoed around Steve, trying to determine if he had had the same sort of night. Into the day the barking continued, only more so, and we all began to talk about it, reveling in brief oases of silence when we could forget about this dog’s problems. I thought the dog would exhaust himself and give up eventually, but that did not happen. All three of us went over to peek into the next door neighbor’s deserted lair: open gate, driveway, car, caged monkey, big Palm trees, and Bollocks tied up to the car port. So miserable. Upon seeing us, he whimpered, went under the car and shut up. And then re-started, like an engine that couldn’t stop turning over. It went on and off all afternoon, mostly on. As I lay in bed that night I tried to think of the way the dog was so timid and scared, in order to like him more, and incorporate his incessant complaints into the general cacophony of noise that is the world wherever one goes. I thought, this is just life as usual. I’m the sensitive one. If people on Bonaire can live with it, why can’t we? No other house lights are on, on this fucking street. It’s just us, the new Americans. They are watching us, thinking that woman is crazy enough to be under a street lamp at three a.m., trying to reason with a dog, while everyone is sleeping… Wagging a finger at the dog, giving the dog a Hitler salute, lunging forward in Warrior Two pose to try and scare some sense into it.
The next day Steve looked grumpy, and we were all depressed, like people might be under siege. Bollocks went on, barely breaking to eat or drink. One solution was to close all the doors on that side of the house, but at night that was no help. Because we had no air conditioning yet, we couldn’t shut the windows. The hours came and went. At 8:00 p.m., trying to watch TV on our computers in the bedroom, Steve looked at me and said,
“We have to sell this house. Now. Put it on the market, TOMORROW.”
“No, I’m not. We can’t live with this.”
Normally I have a quick come back, but this was too serious. I left the room, aghast. He really meant it. My heart was sinking. That afternoon I had seen, with Emmett, French Angel fish, Squirrel fish, Blue Tangs, Blue Tang juveniles, a Sharp Tail Eel, (silver eel with white spots), French Grunts, a funny kind of flounder, flat as a pancake with two eyes on one side of its body and the ability to disappear under the sand of the sea floor in seconds. We saw all of this holding hands, (probably one of the last few times he would do that naturally), while slowly gliding around the pier, stopping to watch the big Tarpon go by, Emmett surfacing to rip the mask off of his face and yell with delight.
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