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Keith Regan

Karma Travels

Aruba, the bartender says, is the place to lose this funk, because no one can be sad on that happy little island. Bronze your unemployed ass and focus on the half of your life still ahead of you, not the half you already managed to screw up. Check out a topless beach. Dutch colony, he says, drawing a soggy map on a beer napkin, a fuzzy dotted line to where six-foot blondes with European ideals of modesty soak equatorial sun.

Eighteen crisp hundreds -- the company's way of saying good-bye, so long and farewell -- flash accusing Benjamin Franklin eyes as I stash them under boxers, roll them up inside of socks, lay them flat inside a crusty shaving kit.

Flip-flop my way to a crescent of sand and let the sun push the bad stuff out of me, sweat thick and milky on my red skin. Gorgeous girl says she's from England but has no accent, agrees to a night out, calls me high roller when six hundreds skim across the green felt, into the waiting hands of the Blackjack dealer. He smiles as he tucks them into the money slot, wipes his fingers on his black vest.

I'm just getting warmed up -- the carnival of slots chattering like pinball machines on speed, the cool plastic of the chips making it feel like make-believe, the free pastel-colored drinks in tall, narrow glasses aiding my Caribbean amnesia -- when the guys in masks show up. Jesus fucking H. Christ, the Blackjack dealer whispers, blessing himself with the Jack of Diamonds, my Jack of Diamonds, the card I'd been waiting for, the card that could turn everything around.

Karma travels, I tell myself as I lay on the floor with everyone else. Luger: I read the barrel of the gun shoved in my face while a man with hot, alcohol breath screams at me in Papiemento until I drop my bulging wallet into the hungry mouth of a pillowcase.

Mail order masks, I figure, trying to picture a store in Oranjastad that sells cold-weather gear. No one is supposed to look, but as the three men back out the glass doorway of the casino, my eyes linger, begging, silently, for them to take me with them; even as they go, I imagine the getaway as if I'm part of it.

Out in the hot night, the island's six police cars form a circle, unarmed officers walking around in trances. Peculiar, one says, and we all follow as he tracks the messy footprints in the sand to the beach, where they end in ankle-deep water not far from where I sat that afternoon, waiting for something good to finally happen.

Quickly, the crowd loses interest and the cops give up, leaving me to wade alone into the calm water until seaweed wraps around my leg, tugs at me to stay put and then, of course, lets go. Relinquish yourself to drifting, the sea says in a singsong voice. Set yourself adrift and maybe you'll wash up on a friendly island where you can start over. Temporary calm settles over me and I feel the ocean's ancient pull, the tug of the million-year-old sand beneath my feet.

Usually, I'm afraid of the water, especially at night, but now I'm on my back, stroking out on the moon-stained water, letting myself dip further into the deep each time. Vacations make me brave.

Wind pushes waves over my chest and the first raindrops splat on my cheeks, the start of a desert-soaking storm I know will last the week, trapping all the sun worshippers in their rooms with their wet bars and glossy island guides. X-rated movies. Yellowing bedspreads-things they'll remember long after their tans fade.

Zebra fish dart invisibly into the shallows, flapping powerful tails against my legs as they chase minnows that have nowhere left to go.


Keith Regan is a freelance writer who lives with wife and daughter near Boston, where he received an MFA from Emerson College. His short fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review and Beacon Street Review.

 

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