It was the year the sea ate up our beach. The year the turtle ban went into effect.
Careyes beach gone, Luisa and I ventured North of Ayotlan, looking for healthy waters where we could swim our daily laps, let the ocean cleanse us. It was sheer luck that Padre had acquired the tract of land outside Ayotlan. In town, Hotel Careyes’ towers could push away thousands of tons of beach, obliterating the beauty the resort was built to enjoy in the first place. But Boca de Cachoras remained. Here the mirror-like waters sustained me with cool buoyancy. I could swim mindlessly, concentrating on my movements.
Luisa and I stepped off the car. As we climbed the first dune tiny lizards flitted among the shrubs. I stretched out my fingers to comb the long grasses. When the dune became steep I pulled on the green strands for leverage. We rushed down the dune. Then climbed up another. The hot, dry sand crackled between my toes.
On the intertidal plain we stepped on cool, hard sand. Then wet, creamy sand.
Finally we floated.
A fast free-style swimmer, my sister moved from point to point of the rock-lined bay. Instead, I swam in slow breaststrokes towards the setting sun. Frigates and terns plunged around me, catching their evening meal. An osprey soared.
I enjoyed the sea, but was vigilant. The jellyfish; the barracudas; the sting rays—I tried to block out the thought of animals swimming inches from me, never touching, but always close. Instead I focused on the calm surface and the birds overhead.
Infinite, ancient—the sea was my constant. It would be here for millions of years, once I and my concerns were no more.
I swam slowly, my head above water. So slow, it felt I could swim forever.
There were two other women. They too favored a leisurely pace and headed towards the sunset. They chatted and chuckled, slowing often to tread water, so close to one another I wondered if their feet were tangled. As I swam past them, one bent her head and rested her forehead against her companion’s cheek.
“Hello,” I said.
“Good evening,” they responded. They smiled politely, then resumed their conversation. They swam away.
I knew. Those two were together, the way lovers are together. They trusted each other. They took pleasure in each other. I felt a shock of recognition.
As I swam towards shore, I had to look again. Could I put my feelings into words? The pressure in my chest, something dizzying and important and unnamed. I swam back, looking for my sister.
On the water’s edge. I walked out and sat on the rocks, rubbed my hair with my towel. Dusk settled over the tiny beach like a blanket.
There was Luisa.
“Luisín,” I said.
We headed to our car. Shadows roamed behind the dunes.
“Mariana,” Luisa whispered. I nodded.
They were soldiers in assault gear. Ten. More.
We picked up the pace. We were near the car when a voice barked.
“Alto! Ejército Nacional!”
I slowed down.
“I said, stop,” he barked. “Hands up.” Metal clanged against metal.
I began to turn around.
“I didn’t say to show your pretty face.”
In an instant, the cool water, the gentle breeze, the smiles of two lovers, the calls of the birds—all gave way to hatred and fear. My skin prickled. I clenched my shoulders. Luisa muttered unintelligibly.
One of them paced behind us, his breath on my shoulder.
We waited, hands up. Water dripped from my bikini. I wondered how I would keep my dignity.
Then there was giggling. A woman was laughing! I knew that voice.
“Fernanda. Eres tú!” I almost shouted.
“Of course. Now don’t be pouty. Put your arms down,” she said. “Here, give me a hug. Let me introduce you to my colleagues. Come on, girls! Being army doesn’t make them bad guys.”
I struck her on the arm. “You scared us shitless with your little joke.”
Fernanda turned to the men. “It worked!” Then to me: “Niña, I didn’t know your little piano hands could hit so hard. I’ll let you know if you left a mark. Now come on, it was a joke.”
I trembled. “You will tell me what you’re doing here?”
“Miren niñas, things are not always the color of the glass you see them through. This is my team. We are patrolling the beach.”
“Since when does the army hire biologists?”
“No no no. The army works for us. Well, not exactly. Armando—Sargento Bermúdez. Will you explain?”
“Sure, though you’re the boss, Dr. Lucero. We are protecting this beach.”
He smiled with white, disorderly teeth. “That’s our day job. We’re freelancing for the turtles.”
Fernanda nodded. “My team hires them after hours. We survey sea turtles for the National University. We take care of the nests. It’s March, late in the season. But with the full moon and the warm breeze it’s a good nesting night. The moms should be here any minute now. Want to help?”
“What do we do?” Luisa asked. I looked to the cove where that Zodiac had gone.
“Yell Mamá if you see one,” Fernanda said. “Also if you see two-legged coyotes.”
I glanced at the soldiers. “But no violence?”
“We’ve never confronted poachers at this particular site.”
“But there’s always a first time?”
“You never know,” Fernanda said. “But hey, imagine the stories you get to tell your grandchildren.”
“Just for that I’m staying,” said Luisa.
“First let’s eat. It’ll be a long night.” Some in Fernanda’s team started a fire. They took vegetables, meat and tortillas out of a cooler.
I shook my head.
“You’ll need food if you want to last the night, reina. Those mama beasts will give us plenty to do. Have a taco or two, and a good drink of water.”
Everyone crouched around the fire. I stood back, gazing toward the mangrove in back. The rosiness was graying away.
When Fernanda got a taco, she walked towards me. She extended her hand. “Here. The first is for you. Friends again?”
I opened my hand. Cradling the taco, Fernanda’s hand nestled into mine.
The night was abuzz with mosquitoes, goopy with eggs and stinking of turtle.
One beached near me. It shone in the moonlight like an alien dressed in silver. I could hardly shout “Mamá.”
“Golfina,” yelled Fernanda. “Beginner’s luck. Let’s start.”
The turtle dug; the biologists measured her, counted and collected the eggs. They got dusting after dusting of sand. Students placed the eggs in coolers. Fernanda clutched a clipboard with a tiny light clamped on it. Everyone addressed her, “Doctora Lucero.”
The army men moved behind the dunes.
I was riveted. I learned to assist with measuring, counting, collecting. When a turtle came up the scientists would call “Golfina!” like an endearing swear. Were the mothers little sluts because their mates were unidentified? I soon realized that the word denoted Olive Ridley, the most common species in the area. There were also some cries of “Prieta”, Black Turtle.
Then someone gleefully shouted “Carey”: the gorgeous Hawksbill was making a rare appearance. It was golden in the moonlight.
I ran to it—and to another beach, another time. I was a little girl. I escorted a hatchling into the waves.
“How long does a Hawksbill turtle need to reach reproductive age?”
“Twenty, thirty years,” Fernanda said.
“I saw one hatch. I was about five. Seventeen years ago.”
Fernanda nodded. “This is your Moosni Quipáacalc, nena. Look how big she got.”
“You saw it at this beach?” Luisa asked.
I shook my head. “Careyes.”
“Don’t they always come back to the beach they were born in?”
“There are always exceptions,” Fernanda said. “Careyes is closed, so here she is, your little sister. Look how pretty, with the jewels on her back.”
The rainbow patterns glowed in the moonlight.
Fernanda measured the nest. “These will be females.”
“How do you know?”
“The temperature in the nest decides. If it stays cool the hatchlings will be male. But raise it by a few degrees and they’ll be female. So the mom creates a batch of boys or girls, depending on how deep or where she digs. Sometimes a nest is very deep. The bottom hatchlings might be male and the top female.”
“Don’t they get mixed up at the hatchery?”
“We give them the same conditions they would have in the wild. We’ll dig this nest in a sunny place. You’ll have a whole bunch of nieces in sixty days.”
The leathery eggs fell with gentle plops. Fernanda came and went. At one point she took out her pocketknife. “Here, so no one forgets this is your Quipáacalc. My dad did this for my Moosnípol sister back home.” Taking care not to disturb the mother, Fernanda carved on the carapace. MSC—almost imperceptibly. “Mariana Sánchez Celis. You’ll know your Quipáacalc. But your loved ones might need help recognizing her.”
I crouched next to Fernanda as she worked her knife. Her thigh grazed mine. Her skin was silk, but a scar at her knee scratched like sandpaper.
When she stood up, I was there to meet her.
I encircled her neck with my arms, rested my head on her shoulder. “Thanks.”
She whispered in my ear. “You help Quipáacalc, she takes you wherever she goes.” The lone migrant freed me, brought me back to the world of the living.
Fernanda stroked my hair. She hummed. “It’s a coming of age.”
“Only a few years late.”
The mother covered her nest, then clumsily crawled back to the water. There were tears in her eyes.
Once home, she bolted to the depths with a graceful stroke of her fin. She scraped my thigh.
Fernanda held my hand.
A student uttered an ecstatic cry: “Laúd, Doctora Lucero!”
“Moosnípol,” Fernanda said, bolted to the newcomer.
The student laughed. “The Leatherback! It’s the size of Doctora Lucero’s VW.”
I ran after her. But once next to the turtle her head dropped.
“Just a large Prieta,” she told the erring student. “Moosnáapa, not Moosnípol.” She walked towards the dunes and dropped her clipboard on the sand.
“We haven’t seen a Leatherback here in decades,” one scientist told me. He whispered something in Fernanda’s ear, then took the record book.
I sat next to her.
She smoked with one hand, doodled snake-like figures with the other. “I’ve waited all my life to see her again.”
I stroked her hair. It covered her entire back.
Two slender clouds passed above us, hiding the moon in their wake.
My knee was bleeding from the Hawksbill’s scrape. “You need some iodine.” She stood up, found the first-aid kit, cleaned the wound, bandaged it. Then she carried on. She was as busy as before, but the joy was gone. She had gone home and closed the door. Occasionally she scanned the water’s edge.
Soon a timid blush lit the sky.
“Eighty-six mothers, an average of twelve thousand four hundred and thirty eggs,” Fernanda read from her notes. “No disturbance—although I saw a couple trucks parked behind the dunes for a good hour, Sargento Bermúdez?”
He nodded. “Waiting to see if we’d leave.”
“Not bad,” said Fernanda.
“Twelve thousand eggs is not bad?” I asked. “You really need guns to protect them?”
Fernanda smiled. “We’ll be lucky if from this batch forty turtles make it back to nest. Without our friends here, the coyotes wouldn’t leave a nest standing. Twenty years ago turtles came by the thousands. The new legislation is the least we can do if we want turtles at all.”
Sargento Bermúdez grinned. “We’ll be doing this patrolling as our regular job. No more overtime.”
“Hey,” Luisa said. “You’ll sleep better.”
“And the income?”
Fernanda chuckled. “There will be plenty of problems you can help us with. When have we been without, pues?”
Morning was breaking and everyone stank. The students took coolers loaded with eggs to a nearby hatchery.
Fernanda, Luisa and I stayed behind.
“Shall we take a dip?”
“Órale.” We raced to the water.
In the gray light, Fernanda undid her braids and took her shorts and tank top off. She wore nothing underneath. From the front, her waist and hips formed a slight curve, giving the impression of extreme slenderness. Yet no bone stuck out on her chest or collarbone. On profile I saw her large breasts. Behind her rump cascaded her black hair. One could hardly make out her nipples from the surrounding skin, it was so dark.
I glanced away.
Fernanda noticed. “Oh. I forgot my bathing suit.”
“Aren’t you afraid of men out here?”
She laughed. “Who would touch la india Fernanda, friend of macho soldiers?”
She scrubbed her head with sand. We followed her example. “Don’t forget your scalps and foreheads. A lot of muck gathers there.”
I rubbed mud onto the marks the bikini had left on my skin. It was a balm.
In the water, I did handstands and somersaults while Fernanda and Luisa raced across the bay. Luisa reached the end of the cove first, panting, laughing. Fernanda trailed her underwater—a long-haired, black dolphin. She touched a rock, turned, headed back. She touched my waist. Then she came out.
“How can you stay under water so long?”
Fernanda shrugged, and her hand dropped from my side. The water covered my chest. But not Fernanda’s.
Luisa swam across the bay, her arms arched like fins.
“Moosnípol!” Fernanda called. “A good swimmer like my sister.”
“Let’s swim out to sea,” I said.
“When we turn back we’ll be facing dawn, Quipáacalc. Your return.”
We set off, slowly swam the breast stroke, our heads above water. The soreness in my joints began to ease.
I turned to her. “So I am Hawksbill, and Luisa is Leatherback. What kind of turtle are you?”
“Leatherback too, no question. They’re our kin. The one my dad carved with my name was this huge sister Moosnípol. I’ve been looking for her since. She might be in Japan. That’s how far she travels.”
“And you swim like one. Thanks for slowing down, though.” I yawned.
“Tired Quipáacalc! How long have you been up—twenty-four hours?” She looked out to sea. “Your sister is probably gorging on jellyfish now.”
Visions of a Hawksbill racing in teeming waters filled my mind. Far from resisting it, I relished the image. Above the surface the water was a mirror. I blew some bubbles.
“Leatherbacks are that important to yours?”
She nodded. “Moosnípol is mother to us Comcáac. She built the world with sand from the ocean bottom. She brings news from afar.”
I nodded, and my chin dipped. I licked the salt on my lips. “You know the ocean better than anyone. Is there anything here you’re afraid of?
She shook her head. “How would it help? Just relax and move. Breathe.” It seemed easy in the calm waters. Her long arms stretched under the surface, then slowly parted, drawing a circle.
She grazed my side.
“I’m in your way,” I said. But we did not change course.
“I was five when I saw Moosnípol. She is the last anyone has seen in El Desemboque. Talk about endangered.”
“But that’s where the analogy ends. The Comcáac have been around forever. Spaniards couldn’t wipe them out. Nor Mexicans.”
“We know to stay afloat. That’s why they sent me to school in Ayotlan.”
“Your parents sent you here as a kid—to help your people?”
“The elders did. They asked, and my folks couldn’t say no. They wanted some of us to learn the Mexican ways and get the Comcáac ahead. A Moosni Cooyam learns fast, they said. I turned into a migrant turtle because I was good at languages.” She chuckled. “Some job for a ten year old.”
“I’m sure they’re proud of your Ph.D. now. What a recognition for your people’s knowledge of the natural world.”
“Well, some are not convinced.” She drew a strong outward kick. “The kids back home take one look at my outfits. They say, ‘You don’t look like a scientist.’”
“The young people?”
“They would rather blare rock and roll in a boom box than sing our songs. I don’t blame them—all they hear is that our culture drags us down.”
I blinked a few times. “What other kinds of Moosni are you?” My limbs felt warm in the water, the strain gone. I swam slower. Would I stay afloat if I stopped for a moment?
“Moosnáapa, of course,” whispered Fernanda, slowing her pace to match mine. “Dark and big like a green turtle monster.”
I pinched her cheek. “And just as ugly.”
“But sometimes, just sometimes, I must be a Golfina.” Fernanda craned her neck toward me.
“A Moosni Otác?”
“Yep. A common, unassuming little slut.” She smiled. She turned to me, and our lips met. Her tongue was salty. She licked my lips.
I opened my eyes wide; my arms stopped. I dipped, swallowed, broke into a cough. Panic fluttered in my chest.
Fernanda reached under my arms. She pulled my chest out of the water and floated on her back. She rested my nape on her chest and turned my chin to one side. She held me below the ribcage, exposing my breasts.
I quivered. I labored.
“Breathe, Quipáacalc.” Fernanda swam slowly towards shore, my safety raft. “I’ll take you home.” She held me firmly. Her hair floated about my flanks, enthralling me.
Behind us the sun was dressing the bay in violet.
“Buen día,” whispered Fernanda, kissing the crown of my head.
“Buen día.” Luisa waited on shore, sitting on her haunches.
I stumbled out of the water.
The 1990s was a heady time. We protected the turtles and, as the ban on their fishing came into effect, helped the unemployed fishermen create work for themselves. They were foragers, and knew their way to the jojobas and avocados and the mother of pearl. They made creams and soaps. The artisans built lovely jars of colored glass. Fernanda, Luisa and I knew those who wanted what they made. We helped as we could.
“Welcome to my palace.” Fernanda stood barefoot in her fuchsia skirt and embroidered blouse. She rested one hand on the door handle and extended the other to my cheek. I stepped back. She brought her hand down, and her smile.
I stepped inside.
Her house was tiny. First there was a kitchen with a pine table, two chairs and a small couch. A door opened to a bedroom; behind that was a patio. The sun from the window flooded onto yellow marigolds, roses, begonias, lilies. It was as if she had gone to the nursery and carried back the sun in planters.
“Make yourself at home.” She closed the door.
I set the box I was carrying on the table and kicked my sandals off. I pushed her behind the casing. Everything: our chests, our bellies, our hips met. Our thighs, our feet. My hands traveled down her back, in a hurry to enjoy her.
We kissed. I tasted the salt of the ocean like the first time. Her mouth curled into a smile. There were so many reasons to smile.
“I thought you were mad at me,” she said.
“Silly. I was just worried someone would see us.”
“Eventually they will.”
I glanced at my box on the table. “Look what I’ve got. Can I borrow a knife?”
“Don’t tell me it’s done!”
“They are the new cosmetics samples.” I cut the adhesive tape sealing the box. Wrapped in tissue paper was a jar made of glass the color of sea foam at daybreak. The jar’s tapered, cylindrical shape had a spiraling pattern. The label read Olas Altas. Polvos de Arroz. Porcelana.
I opened it. Inside, a small sponge lay on a circle of waxed paper. Below was what we had been toiling all those months to accomplish.
Fernanda cupped my hand with the jar, brought them to her face. “Gorgeous.”
Then she offered me the “tour of the manor.” We sat in folding chairs in the little patio next to the laundry well, below the billowing laundry, and she smoked. She pointed at a little bush among a profusion of plants. “Here is my limonaria. I got a cutting from your tree.”
In her bedroom she showed me the walls of science books above her bed. She had carved the thick parota planks with marine motifs. The Leatherback and the Hawksbill, their fins extended, swam towards each other. “Moonsípol travels the great Pacific to meet Quipáacalc.”
I reached. I slipped her blouse strap off her shoulder, careful not to touch the skin. I parted my lips and kissed the quivering hollow of her throat, the tip of my tongue stroking the sweet skin. Fernanda leaned her head back. Her hair hung low on her hips, caressing my hands as I held her by the waist. She held on to me. She shivered.
I pushed back and drew in a deep breath. I gazed into her eyes. I placed one knee on the bed, and brought my love down with me.
Later we lay watching the dusk’s shadows climb the walls. We had loved each other, and it had been so very sweet. The closer I got to Fernanda, the stronger I felt. But a little distance between us—even of centimeters—brought back all my misgivings. Fernanda thought we were free, but I knew my people.
I closed my eyes, buried my face in her locks.
Soon it was time to go.
“I have something for you,” Fernanda said after we got dressed. She picked up an ironwood vase from her side table. It was dark, heavy, beautifully carved. I turned the jar many times. Quipáacalc swam and swam as if time did not exist. I looked up at Fernanda, my eyes stinging.
Luisa, Fernanda and I arrived at the beach at dusk. We would spend the night as usual, monitoring turtles. But little else was routine tonight. To reach this beach we had flown into Oaxaca City, taken a fourteen-hour bus ride to Pochutla, then bounced for one more hour in the bed of a pickup truck over the potholed road to Mazunte. After tonight’s work we would meet with the Cosméticos Naturales de Mazunte cooperative. Finally, like-minded people to compare notes with.
The full moon bestowed a fantastical glow on the vast beach. Some twenty members of the research team stepped out of trucks in hushed excitement. Everyone wore long sleeves and pants despite the humidity. Some covered their faces with mosquito netting that gave their heads eerie elephant shapes. “No perfume or bug repellent on this date, love,” Fernanda had admonished.
In the bus I had leafed through Fernanda’s logbook. It was not the usual one. This had only some ten used pages but looked much older, dog-eared and yellowing. The cover was labeled “La Escobilla” and decorated with the drawing of a straw brush and a smiling Olive Ridley. Inside were fewer columns than in the book I knew.
“You won’t count eggs tonight?”
Fernanda shook her head, kissed my cheek. “Here we have a real arribada, the mother of all nestings. And now, my surprise for you.” She ran up a dune. At the top she threw her arms open and shouted. “Do you know what Mazunte means? Do you?”
And louder: “‘Please lay eggs.’ It will be an orgy!”
Indeed, the golfinas staged a reproductive feast. By the time we reached the intertidal zone—the widest I had ever seen—the little hookers were busy.
“Here’s one,” I called. The turtle covered her nest and tamped it with her flippers—left, right. She clapped on the sand, rocking like a pendulum. “Aren’t you afraid to turn over?” I asked. When she was done, the turtle turned around and labored towards the sea.
I was moved. This turtle had reached her birthplace, just like her mother, her grandmother, and so many in the chain of life from the beginnings of time. Through overfishing, poaching, loss of habitat, pollution—she managed to lay two hundred eighteen eggs, each of them the fragile promise of a living wonder. Now she was back in the relative safety of the ocean.
Perhaps there was hope.
I peered at the beach. On the slope where I stood, some ten turtles surrounded me. Beyond were ten more. Further still, I saw some twenty. Then fifty. I panned the expanse, saw hundreds of turtles. The furthest ones seemed pebbles. Was the dark playing tricks on me?
The biologists’ attitude signaled reality. Their job tonight was less direct, but just as intensive. They did not transport eggs to a hatchery. We couldn’t, they had explained. Too many. Just counting nests is challenge enough. A student tripped on a nest, then wiped crushed eggs from her sandal with little compunction. The turtle seemed oblivious.
“So few turtles in Ayotlan, and here there are hundreds!”
“I bet eight hundred,” Luisa said.
“A thousand,” I replied. “Could the law be improving things already? But how could it—it’s been in place for just a few weeks.”
“No, chiquitas,” Fernanda said. “La Escobilla is different. Here turtles come up only once a month. But then they come in droves. I won’t say how big this arribada can be. If you’re off with your bet I’ll win. But don’t assume this is an upswing. It will take decades to reach the numbers before the industrial fishing began. Back in the sixties they were killing 600,000 turtles a year. Last year they got less than 30,000.”
Indeed, more nesting sites had been lost than were left. Mismaloya, Tlacoyunque, Chacahua, Ixtapilla: little more than their beautiful Nahuatl names remained—and the luxury hotels rising on them. In Mexico, only La Escobilla stood, feeding, until recently, Mazunte’s slaughterhouse.
Would a law really manage to change a people’s culinary culture and economy?
“How many hatchlings do we get this year, you think?” Luisa asked.
“Poquitas. If we have any mothers left it is thanks to the hatchery projects of the last twenty years.”
A vulture perched on a turtle’s carapace with no compuction, helped itself to fresh eggs as they popped out. I shooed him, and he trained his evil eye on me.
“Don’t worry about animals. Just be sure no two-legged raccoons get their way. Sargento?” Fernanda looked at some fifteen soldiers approaching, glanced at her watch—the patrol was hours late.
“You are here for the turtles?” Fernanda asked the leader. He nodded; his uniform was too large, his hand cradled a spear gun. He looked like a fisherman.
Fernanda extended her hand. “My name is Dr. Lucero.”
“Pleased to meet you.” The man passed his spear to his left hand, extended the right. “Doctor Lucero.”
“What’s your name?”
Fernanda glanced at the insignia on his shirt. “Sargento Gandía?”
“Yes.” He scowled as he scanned Fernanda’s clothing.
Fernanda went to business. “So this is what you do. Patrol the beach, stop any poaching attempt. We monitor enforcement of the turtle conservation law.”
“And you,” interjected Luisa. “You protect us.”
“The turtles are dancing!”
Hundreds of mothers covered their nests around Fernanda and me. The animals tamped the sand with a pendular motion. A rumble grew from them, deep and loud. It climbed up my feet. It built. An earthquake.
I held Fernanda, my hands on her shoulder blades. She tilted her head and kissed my mouth. The tremors ran up my body, accelerating my pulse.
“You’re not afraid anymore, reina?”
I smiled, and kissed her again.
Over her shoulder I spied Sargento Gandía sitting atop a dune some twenty feet away. He hopped to his feet, resumed his patrolling.
Towards dawn, Fernanda collated the census results. “Rounding out, some five thousand nests.”
“Our bets were off,” Luisa laughed.
“If all goes well, these are fifty thousand eggs borrachos won’t drink for a hard-on. We can expect better outcomes now. Just sustain the patrol through the season. Sargento—I suppose the next shift is on its way?”
Gandía nodded as he and the others retreated. “Good night, Doctora.”
“Good luck with the catch,” she hollered.
They looked in our direction for a moment.
We walked towards the water and took our shorts and shirts off—this time we all wore bathing suits.
I brought out the snorkeling gear, pointed towards a wind-carved promontory where an egret stared her breakfast down.
“I hear the reef around that point is full of sponges. I bet we can see Quipáacalc.” I spat into a mask and rubbed it with seawater, offered it to Fernanda. “Ready, love?”
“I’m tired.” Fernanda yawned as she undid her braid and plopped on her back in the water, her arms extending to the sides. Her hair floated straight in all directions like an enormous, soft sea urchin.
“Come on, party pooper. What if we find Moosnípol?”
Fernanda stood. “But let’s make it short.”
“Let’s swim a little,” Luisa said. “Then you relax. Go get yourselves massages or something. Get drunk, or go to bed.”
Fernanda smiled, pressed Luisa’s hand.
I said, “Thanks, hermanita.”
Luisa chuckled. “For putting up with your craziness, sure.”
“For everything.” I hugged her.
Luisa was my anchor to the world. A world buffeted and so changed in six months. But I was grateful to have found Fernanda. What a bitter way to find love. And such love: one that gave me so much joy, so much fear.
As Fernanda and I coasted the cove the sky grew rosy on the East. We swung around the point and passed a coral cemetery. The coral was bleached; the water was sickly, warm, desolate. An undersea desert. We picked up the pace.
Beyond the dead coral the water was cool again. Schools of dainty jewels flitted and sparkled: agate, cobalt, opal. We held hands and sought the sponge and anemone forest where Moosni Quipáacalc might feed. Fernanda dove after a slithering octopus. It wrapped its tentacles round her arm, tried to pry her mask off, explore her nostrils. She was left with a grin and an arm marked with suction cups.
A glittering cloud, dense as a net, blanketed us in a nimble progression—millions of silver sardines. The sun hit them, and they flashed countless reflections. I circled Fernanda’s waist, and she mine. Our bodies brushed softly against each other as we swam with one arm each. Around were eddies of shooting stars, and those gave birth to smaller eddies. And those, smaller ones. And more.
We followed the school along the coast. Fernanda kept falling behind. She came to the surface, took her mask off, yawned. “I’ll see you on shore.”
I took my mask off. I held her, kissed her like the first time. She swam away, taking some of the silver cloud with her. I went around the point to meet Luisa, and the other cloud followed me.
We swam through the glittering storm for a good long time. Then we caught our breath: there rushed Golfina. Lost in the dance of the silver fish the turtle flew, her fins like wings, entangling dainty fishes in her turbulence. She browsed the coral for crabs, unconcerned with the stars, or with us.
I lifted my head above water and shouted: “Fernanda, golfina!”
I listened. I heard the sound of the breeze.
The turtle coasted slightly towards open sea, and we followed her. One stroke of her graceful fins took her further than many of our kicks.
I raised my face above water. The surface was a mirror. I called.
We looked, we swam. We looked again.
She had to be somewhere.
As we went around a boulder Luisa stopped and squeezed my hand in a spasm. She pointed down.
Long, dark sea grass grazed our legs from the floor five feet below. Luisa dove to reach the source of the caressing strands.
A scream grew inside me.
On the bed of grass Fernanda rested. Her gaze penetrated my heart.
I rushed to wrest my love from the ocean. I could not bear the sight.
Fernanda dropped a rock she held on her chest and burst toward the surface. “I thought I would die there, waiting to scare you.” She coughed and panted.