A Page From the Life of a Fiction Writer
He wondered why he just didn’t live there forever…
The beach was the laziest I’d seen it in a long time.
Small, gentle waves lapping up onto the white sand. When it got like this, the water was like a swimming pool, deliciously calm. The relaxing effect of the waves couldn’t be overstated.
In my bag was the pocketbook I’ve been trying to get through for these last several days. Soon my work- vacation on Cayo Cochino Mayor, this satisfyingly removed island far from the beaten track off the Honduran, Caribbean coast would come to an end. This still mostly undiscovered island was one of almost a hundred islands, sprinkling the crystal clear waters.
The plan was to find a place that was mostly alone, safe, and didn’t cost me a fortune. A small kitchen was just off the large living room, a small, open porch included a hammock in the shade. The other major part of the plan was to write. I had to finish my damn book. They were kind enough to lend me a large work table, which I set up looking out to the shore and coconut trees from the living room. Under the thatched roof hung several ceiling fans whose slow rotations seemed to match the lazy pace of the tropical setting. Twenty-eight days of relaxed effort at creativity.
Every night the power would fail, so it was fun lighting up the oil lamps they provided me. Something so special writing in the glow of an oil lamp. I stocked up with plenty of the BayGon mosquito spray, my enemies here are scorpions and mosquitos and a nasty, yellow-orange fly called Tabanos that pumps its victim full of something that causes a gross though temporary but painful and very visible inflation at the sting site.
The young family managing the Five Star Peninsula Hotel as I dubbed the place made sure to tell me of the coral snakes, that they had them, and that they preferred living in the thatched roofing. The rain made them seek higher ground, or the beach houses.
On the internet I found an ad for a little place near the end of a man made spit of beach, a peninsula that stretched about one hundred and fifty yards out into the water.
The friendly manager dutifully informed me the peninsula is called Peninsula de Alejandro, named after the owner’s youngest. Mostly crushed seashells and a scrabble of young trees, more bush like, provided a sense of restful escape. The helpful manager explained that when it rained hard, which lately was almost daily and almost always in the evening, the water rose so that the narrow expanse of the small piece of land disappeared underwater. In a storm, my small, elevated cabin becomes an island. Sort of like an island on an island! They told me that the peninsula was built not twenty years ago.
I asked jokingly if they’d ever had a beach house float out to sea. To my surprise, they had! But this was some years ago, before flew a guy from Miami who specialized in this kind of structure. He figured out a foolproof anchoring system deep underground.
All along the shoreline of the peninsula grew a thick, hearty bush loaded with a small, edible, pink fruit no bigger than a golf ball. The locals called them ‘manzanitas’ or small apples. No doubt they had a different name as they weren’t apples.
Twenty years was more than enough time for vegetation to have taken hold, small pines that seemed strange in the Islands tropical setting, coconut trees ruled the patch of manmade stretch. Large leafed, almond trees were numerous on the property. My house was one of about fifteen, a development which appeared almost overnight those twenty-odd years ago.
The manager told me it took a month of trucking in crushed coral rock, crushed shells and tons of white sand mined from another spot on the island. On the Caribbean side, or the eastern shoreline of the peninsula, was built up with massive boulders brought from an area of island called ‘The Iron Shore’, ancient volcanic, Volkswagen sized rocks to hold off the east sides never-ending barrage of waves.
Every several years they discovered they had to repack the east shore with multi truckloads of white sand.
My house offered a beautiful view off my porch which was elevated, as the house was built on stilts, a common enough thing on the islands. A heavy downpour could cover everything from the rocky east shore facing the wide open Caribbean to the smooth beached western shore, not fifty yards from the eastern shore. The western shore faced the Honduran mainland, which was not visible from the island.
In a strong storm the wind blew the rain horizontally, coconut trees swayed impossibly as though they could snap. The other small trees and bushes were all that was visible as the ground was soon under water.
It surprised me how well constructed the house was. It was obvious that regular remodeling and repairs were frequent and done professionally. The salty sea air was famous for degenerating all manmade structures along the coastline. Tonio the gardener, a talkative guy from the large island of Roatan, several hours away by boat, told me the peninsula belonged to a Honduran drug narco king pin. The place was his wife’s pet project, one of them. Every year, the narco had his ‘administrative’ staff come to the island for a week of fun, meetings, partying with wives or mistresses. My gardener pal told me the place became an armed camp for the week.
The visitors showed up in yachts, float planes and, one time a small submarine.
Tonio added that the fact that it was a narcos property there was absolutely zero security concerns. He said I could leave my door unlocked when out swimming or biking. Tonio conspiratorially volunteered the info that on another uninhabited key just three miles away, also owned by the narcos was where these men practiced shooting and tried out weapons.
He said at night, when the narcos were here, they would stage mock battles on their small key lighting up the night sky with no less than mortars and RPGs, tracers streaked harmlessly across the night sky.
No one raised alarms to the Honduran authorities as the narcos built a school and a small, fully manned, free clinic for the grouping of islands in the vicinity, much more than the government had ever done. Even the one or two police present were said to be employed by ‘Los Señores’, as they were called.
It began to make sense now. There was no way they could have staff and ongoing repairs and the place stay mostly empty. The narco probably had all the money in the world.
This first time it rained, my first night on the island, it took me by surprise. Something, like a loose window or a screen door in a nearby house, started slamming. The all-weather spot lights lit up a wild wind tossed scene of swaying coconut trees and shrubbery. Much to my surprise and some delight, small wavelets came across what normally was a dry yard which was nothing more than white sand along with crushed shells, sporadic tufts of grass hung on stubbornly as the water crossed from one side to the other of my almost private peninsula.
One afternoon after a powerful squall and as the rain settled into a fresh shower, I climbed into the kayak provided renters and paddled around my neighborhood. Where normally one walked from the small road entry onto the Peninsula and the individual guest houses, now I was paddling, fascinated as just a foot under was white sand ground, green grass, barracudas found exploring the normal dry ground useful. The four foot long, toothy creatures seemed fearless, as they cruised directly beneath me like fighter planes in perfect formation of three or four.
The flooding phenomena, as I liked to refer to it, quickly drained off once again, leaving water free ground. In question of a few sunny hours, one never would’ve guessed it had all been under water.
The book I’m writing is a romantic thriller, several murders by a crazed, love sick, ex-con, the protagonist unjustly charged with the crimes which was set in Miami, The Keys and New York City. It was a struggle and full of obstacles, things that weren’t unfolding for me. I was better than halfway through the story. By now, the plot would normally have opened for me, providing me with the almost simple task of dotting the lines. Not this time.
After ten books, mostly successful, I’d now struck obstacles never experienced before. The idea of escaping to this island off the Honduran coast was an attempt at teasing out the last knots so that I could finish the task, then would start the tedious but productive reading and endless editing.
My publisher had started some dead line campaign. Her assistant called almost daily to ask how I was doing, who also asked me if I was keeping off the sauce. Sure, we knew each other well enough where normal lines of civility were crossed and emotions threatened to ignite. I had a month to complete the first draft.
My writing sessions developed on their own account. Sure, I liked to think that several hours in the AM and the PM would be diligently dedicated to my craft. Rarely worked out that way. Tonio often showed up early morning. After a night of leaning too much into the tequila, there was still a slight side stagger to my step, stumbling over my worn out sandals.
His insistence to hit a certain part of the offshore reef was irresistible. ‘Jefe, c’mon, we need to go right now. The mackerels are in the reef. They won’t stay there. Right now, it will be like pulling them out with your bare hands!’ Within the half hour, we’d be trolling slowly over the clear water. As the clouds cleared, the water took on the purest turquoise you could imagine.
In minutes, the schooling fish noticed our fresh bait. They started attacking our plastic lures tied to our spinning reels, and it was one after the other, pulling in close to five pounders until my arms, neck and shoulders could take no more. Goes without saying the time to write would shrink, the day used up getting a blistery sun burn and catching a ridiculous number of fish. Back at shore, somehow (though I could guess), the islanders would have been forewarned of our exploits and a good number of them went home hauling fish that would feed families for days.
Late afternoon, the kitchen staff brought me a fresh, pan fried platter full of the salmon like mackerel, along with tortillas, black beans, sliced tomatoes in olive oil. Cold beers on ice in the cooler was part of my end of day ritual. Writing was a real challenge. It was a monk’s life.
Like no monk I’ve ever known…
Sure, I’d fought the bottle on and off for years. I’m not one of those perfectly successful AA people. Two years at the most and then the demons would awaken, whatever the hell they were. The last time was Linda telling me to go to hell. We’d met at Key West, one of those bars where it was said Hemingway used to hold down one end of the bar. Turns out there are a handful of such bars in Key West, half of which weren’t around when the writer lived there.
The short of it was she left with the sun bleached blonde to California, bushy-haired Cliff with the cleft chin. Not kidding, and had the body of a perfectly built surfer. My biggest surprise was Linda bringing an end to three great years over this guy who couldn’t have had more than a pea sized brain between his ears. Hey, but I get it. Every woman goes through varying phases of sensing a lacking in desire and feeling desired for. Just as men do. Cliff lusted after her, and that was enough for her. I think it had more to do with the simple fact that living with a successful author, with a taste for some adventure, wasn’t all what it was made out to be.
The hot writer equals lots of hard work and countless hours at your desk. Unfortunately, not a lot of time for glamour and doing autographs, read: doing those fantastical things successful, mainstream writers are credited for. Oh hell, the best and most prolific writers did lead those lives, not me. I’m too far down the totem pole. Bottom line simply is that maintaining a successful relationship may not be as trouble free as some may expect.
Linda needed worshipping, too. Which at first I was happy to provide, but as with most things, find reason to cease and desist.
The initial thrills, literal ups and downs wane. Then what’s left? A life of chores. Reality. In her case, too much partying and boozing. There’s a way of having fun without it consuming you. She could never find that safe juncture. Some call it moderation, others call it growth and maturity.
At day’s end, one has to feel as though the day had been worth it and the evenings always held a certain, time and experience formed sense of appreciation.
The studly and crudely dashing Cliff overrode those things simply because their time together was still blissfully short and new. There’s a devilish or impish element within that informs me that their days are numbered. Cliff would soon run out of stuff to say!
Nefur pulled his Walther PPK from behind his waistband and pumped three shots into Clayton’s head. As he was falling towards the floor, he let loose three more into the man’s chest.
He knew it wasn’t necessary, but he wanted to keep shooting. The pressure had built over the years between the two, picturing for the hundredth time what Clayton had done to his young wife and two boys.
Dead before he hit the beautiful teak floor, Nefur watched with a certain fascination as death played itself out once again. He heard the man’s head, eyes open in shocked surprise, hit the floor with a loud, sickening thunk, watched it bounce, then settled. Soon blood was oozing from several holes, staining the exotic wood floor planks.
Someone would have to spend hours sanding out the stain was Nefurs’ last thought before leaving Clayton’s beach home. The screened door slammed shut behind him. Looking skyward, Nefur looked up to see a lone frigate flying wondrously, skillfully, the best flyer of them all. The so-called pirate bird. An almost undetectable smile as he climbed into the black, rented Range Rover. His plane would soon be flying back to Heathrow.
Piece by piece, his book came together and now it was almost at its natural though unexpected end.
Just a few more days.