The Mermaid Plague 2
My parents and guests are discussing the Omakis. Most Ticans will only discuss foreigners after a few drinks. Champagne emanates from the room. Father and The Diego discuss their business dealings with Omakis. I know we have to allow some outside business in, but these men and their families are a threat to our national security. If another waves of sickness falls on the island, The Diego, would be blamed on him for having allowed them in. During his weekly radio address, he asks the people to tolerate them as a way of creating prosperity. Our leader echoes this sentiment tonight, but the table still laughs at their sunburns, which never seem to go away. Mother says it is the charitable thing to do to teach them how to make sun cream, then she bursts into laughter. Noor implies after our coffers overflow, we will return them to their homelands, “Tica for the Ticans” they toast.
Mother and The Noor venture to the library making me run to catch them in the next room. They were both Art History majors at Graciella University a few years apart, so Mother is eager to show off our pieces for official approval. The kings of the family collection include a Dali, a Picasso and a Rodin.
“Oh darling, you have a sketch of Gala, how impressive,” Noor fawns.
“Not as impressive, I’m afraid, as a genuine wax vow from a Pope,” Mother replies as hints of envy-iron- tickle my nose.
Wax vows are a popular thing here. Followers of Saint Rocco make wax molds of the parts of their body that the saint has cured, parading them through the streets on his feast day. The first Omakis on the island ran with terror when the body parts waved in the air. One old Omaki woman died on the spot thinking we had turned savage. I think it is a beautiful custom, to have one from a pope must be very lucky.
“Thank you. That one is staying with me when we retire. I do wish people appreciated creativity here and did not think of it as another shade of stupid or lunacy,” Noor says.
“Oh I agree. I hear the mural of The Diegos is beginning. Your husband must be flattered.”
“Well, I am paying for it myself. We want to get the people more involved with art. I am making it my new effort.”
They continue talking about art and lament the lack of local talent. Most Tican artwork is kitschy with subject matters such as fishermen, goat herds and occasional mermaids.
“I am going to tell you something in confidence. It is a matter of national security. Also because your oldest brought up a touchy subject. We need to make sure there are no leaks.”
An annoyed look crosses mother’s face and my nose twitches.
“My husband will be the first Diego to write his political memoirs.”
“Oh, how exciting,” Mother exclaims.
Noor holds up one finger signaling her dominance. “We are bringing in the Icelandic writer your daughter mentioned. How did she know his name?”
“Well,” Mother smooths her hair, “Pluma reads and writes like a woman on fire. I sometimes have to lock the library to get her away.”
“I think that is wonderful. But that does not answer the question.”
I blush at her compliment.
“Pluma reads from all countries. My husband brings her a Omaki paper and there was a big article on Mr. Bondi. She asked for his collection during the holidays.”
“He has won many prizes and he was seeking immunity from his country. We brought him here to write and teach some classes. No one knows about this at the moment. He got into some trouble back home and we do not want any press.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“An accident. They drink like fish over there, I’m surprised they don’t all fall on the ice and crack their heads.”
The men call the women back for a nightcap; I leave my post for bed. I am eager to smell Noor Florianna on my hand. It had been hard not to touch her scent all evening. My sisters, with their petals strewn about, are sleeping in my bed. They must have snuck in after pretending to sleep for Neptuna. I push them over a bit and kneel at my bedside to thank Saint Rocco for a lovely night and to bless my writing. My fingers perch under my nose as I make the sign of the cross. She smells of beer. Breathing again with my thumbs up, I have the strongest flash of my knowing yet.
Beer is from the conditioning treatment she does every night. She is afraid of losing her hair’s luster, the pride of her youth. In my vision, I see her doing this in a deep black marble bathtub, pouring the amber liquid over her head while immersed in white suds. She is afraid of aging-lavender-and longs for her husband not to take another wife. The Diego strolls in, removing his tie, and sits on the ledge of the tub. She smiles for him and prays internally for an heir-sweet grass. They are completely devoted to each other, but they cannot produce an heir and she feels her status is in jeopardy. It always is.