June 20, 2016 by The Citron Review
by Amber Foster
I learned about Roy’s death long after I’d left the Bay Islands of Honduras. I never knew him. We spent four hours together on his little blue-sailed catamaran—that was all.
At the time, I was sick of love and the sea. I spent the first hour of the trip vomiting over the rail. Roy went down into the hold and brought me back a cup of water that was lukewarm and tasted of metal. When it was gone, I stretched out on a bench with my head cocooned in the triangular shadow of the sail.
Most of the time, I watched Roy. There was a choreography to his movements, an ease that spoke of a lifetime at sea. He tied ropes with sun-spotted fingers, his sturdy toes spread wide on the deck as if planted there. Every once in a while, he’d give the boom a one-handed shove and shout for the other passengers to duck as it swung by.
Islanders said Roy was living the dream. He arrived on Utila every Tuesday, staying only long enough to disgorge his handful of tourists and pick up what he needed for the next trip.
At intervals, we talked. I told him about my life as a scuba instructor, about the boyfriend I was leaving behind, about the new life I hoped to find on Roatan. Roy told me about his days ferrying people between the islands and the mainland, about going as far as Belize when a few well-paying ex-pats needed to renew their visas by day-tripping across the border. It was a good life, he said. Between bouts of conversation, he would stare out at the horizon, a cigarette hanging from his lips, the smoke snatched away by the wind before it could take shape. There was a deep satisfaction in the way he looked out at the sea, as if his eyes had traced the contours of his world and found nothing that didn’t belong.
As we got closer to shore, Roy took out a fishing rod and threw a line over the stern. Within minutes, he had a bite. The fishing rod arced out from his sternum, his biceps taut with strain. He reeled fast, but the fish was putting up a fight; the water roiled with flashes of tail and fin. At last, a barracuda soared out of the water and landed on the deck in a blur of scales and needle teeth. I watched as Roy slid deft fingers around the base of the fish’s head. The space between the gills shone pink and wet; its body writhed in a desperate bid to be allowed
to live. Roy pulled out the hook, and his fingers came away bloody. There was a curious sadness in the grooves of his face, as if he were tempted to let the fish go. Then he pulled out a knife and cut the barracuda open from tail to head. It gave a final jerk, and was still. The guts went over the rail.
I don’t remember what Roy did after that; my eyes and thoughts had already drifted to the island that rose up in front of the bow like a breaching whale.
Years later, islanders found the catamaran drifting on the reef, Roy’s body still warm on the deck. He’d been stabbed multiple times and left to die. Some said it was about money; others said it was about a woman. The two murderers were caught and sent to the mainland. Nobody knows what happened to them after that.
I still miss Roy. Or maybe just the idea of him: the freedom that comes of living in the emptiness between places. His absence scratches at the corners of my mind, like the ache of something beautiful, lost.
Amber Foster holds a Ph.D. in English with a creative writing emphasis from Texas A&M University; she is currently a lecturer for the Writing Program at the University of Southern California. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Canary, Frostwriting, and Echo Ink Review. Her first novel, Under Water, is currently under consideration at several literary agencies.