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BREAKFAST

 *

Breakfast was served in silence. There were whispers from the ruins of the kitchen, wild giggling, then more silence. Eunice gravely delivered a slice of toast – then vanished. Then another trip, with butter this time – then a third, with a tin of jam. Eventually a fried egg in a bowl appeared and finally a spoon. Any attempt at conversation was met with confusion, my Dogster smiles with downcast eyes – Eunice was impervious to charm.

‘You get up, you lazy bastard! Get up!’

A short, dumpy woman hurtled out of the door of the bungalow. She slammed it behind her, then, as she became aware that her behavior was being observed, changed her demeanor entirely and strode over to the breakfast table.

‘Mind if I sit down?’ she said sweetly and, without waiting for a reply, did so.

‘I’m Irma,’ she said, reaching out for a piece of my toast, ‘I’m married to that lunkhead Ralph, God help me. You going on the tour?

Her fingers were weighed down with rings; vulgar, cheap things piled one on top of another. I’m surprised she could lift her arms. Too bright at breakfast.

‘No,’ I said, rather too quickly.

It was the first Dogster had heard of a tour but he knew immediately that he wouldn’t be on it. The thought of all day with Irma was too scary.

‘I told him, you’re coming on the tour; I don’t care if there is a bloody earthquake. If we’ve paid for it then we want it…’

I started to reply but she was nattering again. I stopped listening and concentrated instead on the crumbs of toast she was spraying on the table as she spoke. A stray crumb escaped her lizard tongue, hung there, undecided, at the corner of her lips. Eventually it, too, had to get away from Irma and hurled itself mutely to the floor.

*

‘Is there any more of this?’ she asked, her mouth still full, ‘who’s in charge here?’

On cue Eunice appeared, silently carrying boiled eggs in bowls.

‘Gimme some more toast, darling, will ya?’

Eunice looked at Irma. She blinked but showed no sign of comprehension.

‘Does she understand what I’m saying?’

‘I’m not sure,’ I said and waved the empty toast plate at the retreating girl.

‘They’re waving at me, Mary,’ said Eunice when she was safely in the kitchen, ‘guria-man waved his plate at me…’

‘Give him another egg,’ Mary said.

*

Crash! The restaurant door burst open. In trotted Stuart and Shirley, surprisingly brisk for two people who had been quite as drunk as they were last night.

‘Mornin’ all,’ said Stuart in a relentlessly cheerful voice, ‘how’s it hangin’?’

He was heading for my table. I contented myself with the fact that breakfast was nearly over and I could get out fast.

‘G’mornin’,’ said Shirley chirpily and followed her husband.

‘How are you this morning?’ she said to Irma, ‘feeling better, are we?’

Stuart dragged his chair noisily forward and bumped the table. A ketchup bottle balanced precariously but didn’t fall.

‘Pretty shook up last night, eh?’ and he began laughing, ‘shook up. Geddit? Shook up?’

‘Shuddup, Stuart.’ said his wife.

‘Did the earth move for you, too, darling?’ he snickered.

‘And how are you?’ Shirley said to Dogster, ‘I don’t think we’ve met.’

I hesitated. Will I tell her about last night? Nah, too cruel.

‘Who’s coming on the tour?’ Irma, of course.

‘We are,’ Stuart and Shirley answered in unison.

‘Gotta do it, while we’re here,’ parroted Stuart.

‘We’ll never be here again, you know,’ squawked his wife.

Irma looked around for more toast. Her eyes scoured the kitchen for signs of life.

‘Hello? Hellooo?’

Eunice froze.

‘Go out there, Eunice. Eunice, go out there!’ Mary broke away from the stove and pushed her sister towards the restaurant. ‘Here, give them this,’ she said and thrust a plate at her.

So Eunice gravely delivered one empty plate to Irma. Silence descended on the table. Irma looked at the plate, the plate looked at Irma. She opened her mouth to speak but thought better of it.

*

‘From up there to down here? Christ.’

The boss was back, fresh off the morning flight from Vila. He wandered about the resort surveying the damage.

‘Christ almighty.’

There was much oohing and ahhing and some occasional weeping from the girls as the events of last night were reported, the damage inspected and guests ignored. I could see my breakfast coffee would be a long time coming. I eventually went into the kitchen and made it myself. The manager laughed.

‘Ha! It’s come to this, has it? Ha! I’m Michael. I run the place. Sure you wouldn’t prefer a beer?’

I liked him immediately. Distinctly overweight, he smelt faintly of whisky and wore a vast, creased khaki shirt and enormous white shorts, a big, friendly Irishman who didn’t much care what anyone thought of him. That was his particular charm.

*

‘Where is she?’ Michael was saying, ‘where? Christ, she hasn’t been down that hill in years. What state is she in?’

‘She came down the hill like…’ Mary stopped. Words failed her. Instead she waved her arms around and made a strange noise of wonder.

‘And she’s down there now?’ asked Michael, pointing down the pathway to the beach, ‘in Number One?’

Mary nodded gravely.

‘She flew, Mr. Michael, in her magic bed – she flew through the air from all up there to here.’

The extravagance of her story was increasing with each telling. Soon this event would be epic folklore, he knew; they’d make a Kastom dance out of it, sing a sing-sing, celebrate the white woman’s fall – in a generation there’d be a religion; a cargo cult for the Devil Madam Em.

He knew how much the locals loathed her, indeed, wasn’t too keen on her himself a lot of the time – but even he felt a kind of compassion for the poor fat thing. It must have been scary, he thought, must have been very strange.

‘And then she flew right over Eunice and knocked me down in the mud.’

She showed Michael the mark, lifting her T-shirt gingerly to reveal a large purple bruise.

‘Mrs. Michael did that,’ she said gravely, ‘in her magic bed that flies.’

There was little Michael could say or do to explain to Mary that things were not as they seemed. She, after all, had been there and he hadn’t so how could he know. She kept on retelling her story, amplifying it every time, following him as he wandered down the path towards he knew not what in Number One.

‘And then the lord Jesus god came down and took all the big house away and Mrs. Michael, she took off into the air with the lord Jesus god and they all went off flying in the air and Lady Diana, she was there too, all looking down on them from Heaven, flying’ around and the earth shook big, boss, bi-i-i-ig earth, all the time from God and Jesus and the beautiful mother Mary, Princess Diana.’

Michael sighed and tried to speak. When she finally paused for breath he took his moment.

‘Mary,’ he said firmly, ‘tell me all about it later. I have to go in and see Mrs. Michael now. Go off and start cleaning the rooms, we’ll talk all about it later, OK?’

She stood there, her mouth open, ready to speak, but he was already gone, holding his breath as he walked onto the open balcony and into his new home. Mary hung back as he stood outside. She crept closer to the window and peered in.

*

‘Sweetheart?’ he whispered, ‘sweetheart, are you all right?’

He listened at the door for a moment, then silently opened it and looked inside.

She was crouched with her back to him on the floor naked, her flesh tumbling down around her, sheet crumpled on the floor. She was still wearing the Italian straw hat from last night and a string of beads but that was all. Both arms were lifted towards the heavens and she appeared to be praying; Joan of Ark by Henry Moore, a flesh sculpture splayed wide on the carpet.

‘Sweetheart?’ he whispered and her head turned to meet him. She smelt heavily of whisky.

‘I have seen the Lord,’ she slurred, ‘I am a miracle.’

*

INVITATION

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