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Ann Tinkham

Touched by Fire

If only I hadn't left the pink flamingo raft behind. But sometimes life is like that. Seemingly mundane occurrences like leaving your floatation device can twist your fate until you don't recognize yourself. If only Jamaican beach vendors had peddled inflatables instead of weed; I would've been miles away, afloat in a permanent exhale, wispy sapphire arcing into shimmering turquoise.

It was a near collision in the glass and chrome hotel lobby, me in a tie-dyed bikini cover-up and he in I Love NY. But his T-shirt wasn't the first thing I noticed. I recognized him, a towering wild-haired swashbuckler with asymmetrical dimples. Not like I had actually seen him before.

"Do you?" I asked.

"Do I what?"

"Love New York?"

"Hell, no."

"Then why wear it?"

"They don't sell I Hate NY."

"They should."

"Who are you?" He already knew the answer and that scared me.

"I hate NY too."

"Can you feel this?" he grabbed me by the shoulders. Not a hostile grab. I think to test if I was real or make-believe.

"Yes. How could I not?" I balanced on my tiptoes.

"Holy crap. Come with me." He veered across the manicured lawn as if he knew I would follow.

"Where are you going?" I caught myself. "Wherever it is, I can't."

"I'm getting on a bus now. You have to come."

"Can't you take the next one?"

He grasped my hand and pulled me under a flowering ginger lily tree. We sat cross-legged, knees touching, Namaste. He was salt, coconut, jasmine, and I cherry, basil, and pepper.

"I had to leave New York, which is why I'm here."

"You live here?"

"Come. Be with me."

A tingle swept from his legs to mine; my pulse ignited my mind. Could I? He reached for me. I pushed his hand to my heart, aching for the softness of his fingertips and the sharpness of his nails. He strummed me like an ancient, delicate instrument not quite nearing dust. Play me. I've heard your song for years.

"I must go."

I tickled his palm with my number.

"Sing it to me instead."

I whisked his cheek with my mermaid hair --corkscrews, seaweed and ancient salt. He exhaled wild sage and coriander.

"I just met him." I was breathless from moving the sea beneath my inflatable flamingo, the shoreline shrinking in my peripheral vision.

"Who?" said my girlfriend, floating on a blown-up sea shell, conch pink suspended on translucent aquamarine. Our rafts kissed then parted.

"My soul mate."

She plunged her hand into the Caribbean Sea and splashed me. Droplets cooled my skin. "Don't hoard all the good stuff. Ganja is meant to be shared." But that wasn't it.

I rolled into the water, pulled the raft under my breasts, and flutter-kicked back to her. "He's been with me for a long time."

"I know. I feel it too. Jamaica will do that do you. What's his name?"

I knew him so well, I had forgotten to ask. "Jamaica."

Back home, Jamaica was inside me. Pine cones weren't seashells, conifers not palm trees. I would dream the sea and wake up to the mountains. Willing my phone to ring made it fall silent. I buried it under the couch to forget. But I could sense its burn through the cushions.

He came to me mostly in song. Sometimes in rain. Often in a flash of color. Then in a ring tone.

"I was afraid I had lost you."

"Come. Be with me."

"It's not that easy. I have a life."

"Don't let your life stop you from being you."

I tried to forget. Ivy snaked through my dreams and threatened to choke me in thatched vines. I dialed Jamaica.

"Is this the lady with the life?"

"It's the song. I can't stop the song."

"Yes, I know. Come. Be with me."

And I did. Leave the world of bills, appointments, and deadlines. To find my way back, even though I hadn't realized I was lost.

And I did. Find my way back to Jamaica. The sand shifted, cradled, glazed our bodies, writhing, reaching, settling. Salt water buoyed our rhythms, a circular motion, surging and receding, pushing and pulling to ecstatic depths. The sea cried me. He craved salt.

He sculpted his name in the sand with curlicues: Elijah Chevalier. "A knight astride a chariot of fire," he said. I adorned the letters with sea glass, driftwood, and a burnt orange starfish to dot the j.

The wind howled and swirled the ocean. My toes clawed the sand, my hair whipped and blinded me; a storm propelled my cries over furious whitecaps.

I left him without a word, without a trace. Words would bind me to the life he knew I wanted. Each time, a part of me was cleaved and buried in Jamaica.

In my own bed, I slumbered without dreams. No one knew the difference. He came to me in distress. I awoke and dialed.

"Cooh deh, dem ah galang lakka seh dem nuh ha nutten." Right country. Wrong man.

I hung up and redialed. "Jamaica. Is it you?"

"Mi am na well. Mi had to sell de drugs for de money. Breddah dem kill for drugs." Had someone confiscated his phone?

"Who is this?" I accused the interloper.

"Come. Be wid mi."

The surface underfoot, hardwood and marble, buckled. Walls with perched light sconces and framed paintings crumbled in slow motion. I don't know you anymore. "I'm sorry." I hurled the Rastafarian stranger against the wall, his voice silenced by shattering electronic components.

The last time he came to me in a midnight newsflash. American in Jamaica seized at the American Embassy. A violent rampage. Backpack hurled over the counter. Security on high alert. Terrorist team called in. Terrorist threat checked out. Suspect hospitalized in manic episode. Man identified as Elijah Chevalier.

I felt the sea recede, not the tug of the tide by the phasing moon, but a fierce wrenching, a wild fire engulfing the waves, flames singeing the sky, a fountain of sparks raining ashes. The world faded to grey.

Standing beneath the shower, I noticed the streaming ashes were curiously shaped. Quarter notes, half notes, eighth notes followed by rests. Nothing but rests.

©2015 by Ann Tinkham

Ann Tinkham is an anti-social butterfly, pop-culturalist, virtual philosopher, ecstatic dancer, political and java junkie, and Kauai-lover. Her fiction has appeared in the Adirondack Review, Foliate Oak, Word Riot, Toasted Cheese, and others. She writes about pop culture and politics at Poplitix.

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