The Jetsam Set
He wasn’t really retarded. Not even a “savant” like some said because it was the only way they could explain somebody so talented in one field not having all the social skills and flashy acumen their own lives had led them to expect. The best way to explain Ganzo might be to just realize he marched to a different drummer. A really slow, muted drum with wacko syncopation.
He waded ashore naked, the rip tugging at his strong brown thighs. He stood firm, resisting the pull of each receding wave, moved forward as each new one flooded up from behind him. This ebb and flow was something he’d understood before anything he could remember, was his ultimate measure.
He’d left his frayed white cotton manta shirt and pants back on the other beach, the one just south of the ruins with all the cabanas. Clothes meant nothing to Ganzo. He’d learned you’d better have something over your hose when around other people, but the cabana crowd didn’t seem to care. They ran around naked all the time, especially the women. Who Ganzo had learned not to stare at.
He had no way to evaluate these people who paid more for two nights in waterfront shacks with no floor, mosquito screen, electricity or running water than he paid for a month in his shed on the restaurant roof. The phrase “rich Eurotrash stoners” would have meant nothing to him. They laughed at him and bought him drinks. And bought his obritas. The women wore them. He’d see women so enchanting it stopped his breath and heart, splashing in the surf wearing nothing but a necklace or bracelet or anklet that he’d made at night in his shed, turning shells and coral and native wood and hennequen fiber into something that brought him money, something that could hang touching that fascinating, forbidden flesh.
Once there was a blond girl with blue eyes who wore one of his necklaces around her waist. She would walk the entire beach every morning, completely naked, but with his necklace–a nice piece of coral with the tunnels bored out with a nail–dangling right in a little thicket of golden hair that shone on the sun. When he finished one of his obras now, he held it up and saw it nestled in fine gold threads, displayed on a bed of sunlight.
But they didn’t come to this beach. It was a dangerous swim and offered nowhere to sit, no beachfront bars to sell them margaritas and drugs. New arrivals would give him drugs when he walked through the bars selling his work. They wanted him to do something funny, say something weird. But they gave up when they learned that drugs had no effect on him. His drum beat on undisturbed, an ebb and flow in fifths and starts, diminished sevenths.
This was “his” beach, the kingdom of his beachcombing. And Ganzo was the King of Beachcombers, a fine-toothed comber of sand and shallows where the waves played around hollowed rock. He walked right to a little eddy between two shafts of limestone protruding out from the sand and reached down to scoop up a handful of tiny caracol shells, min-conches less than a half inch long. Once the mobile homes of tiny mollusks, then of miniature hermit crabs, soon to be darling earrings to be taken back to Italy or Winnipeg and forgotten in a drawer. He sluiced the little calcium spirals in a wave and dropped them into the mesh bag hanging around his waist.
There wasn’t much in the way of really useful coral today. He hadn’t expected it. You got the best stuff after a big storm stirred the deeps and tossed its findings into the currents. Big blows brought in the real treasures. Including corazon de mono seed pods, little pucks of hard wood that took on a deep polish when he buffed them with old pantyhose and rubbed them with a little oil from the side of his nose. They looked like a heart, in a rounded way, but even if he thought of it he would have had no idea why it would have been a monkey heart.
The storms in November had been fiercer than usual, flattening many of the cabanas and scaring away the hippies for a few weeks. But they had brought him the strangest treasures of all, his coralcaturas. They had not been easy to swim to the main beach, then carry to a taxi, then tote up his shed, but they were precious in a way he couldn’t fathom, held his attention as much as any naked beauty romping in front of Paraiso or Bocola. He had not shown them to anybody.
The weather had been fair this week, though, and he knew there would be no deep sea gleanings. But there would be other things. Perhaps the skull of a pelican or frigate bird. Boiled, exposed to the merciless tropical sun on his corrugated tarpaper roof, then lovingly polished and lightly waxed, they were beautiful mementos and some he’d made graced walls in Mediterranean villas and Heidelberg dormitories.
Or perhaps vertebrae from fish discarded by fishermen. Spinal bones from tarpon or marlin turned into wonderful adornments in Ganzo’s instinctive hands. This beach was a sort of sargasso, a place where currents met and cancelled, cooperated to bring him things. If a dead bird fell into the water anywhere in a fan-shaped area of ocean extending out almost sixty miles the Caribbean currents would beckon it to this beach and to Ganzo’s sharp gaze. People marveled at the things the sea laid at his feet, but to Ganzo it was no more miraculous than breathing in air or sipping water. He’d found everything from SCUBA gear to a boatful of huddled Cuban refugees on his beach. Nothing he could find here would be a miracle of any kind. Or so he believed before he walked around the last fingers of softened limestone before the beach gave way to a cliff that tumbled straight into the waves.
Spectacular as his new find was, there was so much sand and seagrass piled up that a beachcomber less experienced and receptive than Ganzo might not even have noticed her. But he spotted her foot and calf immediately and stopped to stand in a semi-religious shock. There was a woman washed up on his beach. He could see her leg sticking out from the pile of kelp, could see an outthrust hand rising from the wash of sand… could see a flow of long blonde hair.
He dropped to his knees beside this visitation and began the slow, tectonic shifts of mind that he used on the rare occasions that called for him to think. It was a naked blond woman with golden skin. White skin burned red in a stripe across her back and on the portion of buttock he could see without moving any of the sand and seaweed. She wasn’t moving.
It took awhile for the concept to surface, but Ganzo faced the concept of death. This woman must surely be dead. And dead people were trouble. Deaths, even of beautiful women, were not unheard of on the hippie beach and they brought trouble by the carload. Ganzo reached out with glacial slowness, finally placing his hand on the woman’s shoulder. It was warm. And beneath the surface, like the submarine currents that rolled and ground huge rocks beneath apparently calm seas, he could feel a throb: dim, muted, syncopated.
He moved then, the thinking blessedly over and leaving him a grateful slave to the innate movements of his hands. He tossed away seaweed, he moved sand, he splashed water. He excavated a beautiful young woman in her mid twenties, muscular and shapely with lovely proportion even in the slackness of her private sleep. Her hair was a twisting flow of cornsilk… and a curly delta of honeygold fiber. He reached out shyly and pried one eye open. It stared sightless at the sky, a pool of topaz blue. She was breathing, though barely. She was badly bruised and moderately burnt in the areas that most held Ganzo’s attention. Her nipples were as pink as the inside of a shell.
He knelt with his head bowed, smitten silent and still by the presence of The Greatest Find Of All Time. Then it became mercifully clear what he would do. Again his hands moved unbidden. His right hand slid under her back, lifting her breasts up towards his face as her head lolled back, trailing gold glory. His left hand went to her thighs and sought the advantage he needed. Then he stood, his strong legs and shoulders hefting her slim frame effortlessly. He stood for a moment, holding her cradled, staring at her and breathing the briny, musky scent of her. Then he walked into the water, clenching his toes for purchase against the pull of the receding waves. He found her: he was taking her home with him.