There was a decision I had been procrastinating. One quiet afternoon, after Catherine had again vomited and was lying in bed, deep asleep from the exhaustion those bursts brought her, I made up my mind.
I hadn't been meditating any longer, and though my mind was no longer bright and clear, I just had to open my eyes and senses to Nature on the Île du Blanchomme to feel calm. With that new season, storms often swept the horizon -- yet, as the legends proved right, keeping their distance from our Portal Island. On those occasions, a light rain that was barely enough to replenish our water stocks and wet the garden, was all we got on the Île. More frequent than not, sunsets were now hidden behind thick, dark clouds, and days seemed shorter -- it probably was winter in the tropics. The wondrous golden light of past days had been replaced by a more melancholic bronze tone, that rapidly grew into a soothing lavender blue, before becoming silvery when the moon rose. That beauty was enough to pacify my heart and help me think.
How many weeks had gone by in our love idyll? Six, perhaps seven, maybe eight? The boat's irregular schedule didn't help calculating the passing of time, and neither Catherine nor I were concerned with it. But we were running out of provisions on the Île du Blanchomme. I had once gone down to the beach to greet the natives and ask them to bring food the next time they came around -- but maybe because I was not specific, or they did not quite understand me, what they brought was not exactly pleasing nor appealing to Catherine (nor to me, I have to admit), and it was so little that it couldn't have sufficed for a picnic on the beach.
Though not even in the Apennines had I been a good angler, I tried fishing. At the ocean I was worse, as it was total improvisation for me. And even if I had often encountered plenty schooling of fishes while swimming around the Île, I never caught a single one.
Thus I had finally decided to again face the world outside. In part, for reasons similar to those that, in Paris, had led me to abandon my voluntary exile in the old abandoned factory -- food, health. We needed to buy more groceries or we would soon starve, and secondly, because I was truly concerned with Catherine's vomiting bursts, which seemed to cease at intervals of two, maybe three days, just to start over again. Like her, I had suffered from food poisoning myself, but she had had a heatstroke to complicate the matter. Her complexion was so frail, and I feared she would become weaker and grow seriously ill if that went on much longer.
I had even changed the side of the house I was painting to be far from the office where she spent her days writing and reading. But the smell of fresh paint would also banish her from the kitchen, and almost prevented her from using the bathroom... Finally, I decided to postpone the painting of the house until she was cured -- but to achieve that, we needed to go to a hospital. The booklet that had helped us through her heatstroke listed a series of tropical diseases and some first aids, but I was not the person to try to diagnose her. I could have tried the radio, that I had unplugged and hidden to shelter from the storm -- and it still lied at the bottom of a trunk. Would a doctor be able to diagnose her over the radio, hearing her symptoms and without physical examination? Would that have been possible, or ethical? And if she needed medications, would they be sent with a boat? It was imperative to go to a hospital, I had concluded.
At first, and maybe because the decision had been mine, Catherine refused it. But when she began to feel weak and malnourished, affecting even her sexual desire and the capacity to concentrate on her readings, she agreed we should go.
Having changed her mind, Catherine soon grew delighted and excited with the imminent journey to the Elder Sisters Islands -- "to see people, cars, go shopping for books and clothes, listen to the city noises and breath in some smoke, to remind myself that there is a world that is civilized, and return to the twentieth century!" --, while I again feared she would want to leave the Île, for good. After she was cured from the heatstroke, I had never understood her reasons to prolong her stay on the island. At that stage, though completely taken, I still doubted our relationship and even my skills as a lover.
On the morning when the boat arrived, I had been expectantly watching the horizon. When I saw the seagulls, I warned Catherine to get ready -- and my expectancy peaked. Only when I saw her descend the stairs without her backpack, I relaxed, so happy to learn she had no intentions to leave. My heart swell, and I started already dreaming of our return together to the Île du Blanchomme, as a couple, to continue with our love...or sex idyll.
But that young, innocent, impassioned couple who left the Île would actually never return.
For happiness was fleeting, and lasted only a few minutes. Because I had immediately to occupy myself with Catherine, who began to feel ill from the first moment she stepped onto the boat.
She vomited with such violence like I had not yet seen her throw up on the island. She started moaning and begging to disembark, but there was no way back once the boat was offshore. And the nine-hour crossing to the Elder Sisters Islands was just beginning.
She could not stand on her own, and I carried and snuggled her in my lap. One of the passengers, a lovely, exuberant young woman dressed in really bright colors, approached to offer help -- at least that's what I understood, since I had not learned a word from the local language.
"Who is the whore?" Catherine asked loudly, her voice hoarser than usual, and although the young lady was so close to us, certain of not being understood by the natives.
"She is just trying to help us, Catherine..." I answered quietly, like an antidote to her discourtesy, almost whispering it in her years, holding her tenderly.
"Are you really so innocent?" She looked at me intensely, though she couldn't get her eyes more than half open only. "Or do you think I am the naive one, here?" I had to turn my face away from the strong whiff of Catherine's vomit, and thinking I was avoiding her stare, she lost her temper. "For a slut like her, a foreigner like you is a treasure... You are her way out of this hole and her passport to Europe..." Catherine clarified, angrily. Somehow, I was content imagining that perhaps she was jealous of me.
But it was that 'slut' herself who helped me carry Catherine to a shaded spot on the other side of the boat, where she finally fell asleep on a bench, after having vomited a little more, right on my lap.
I had to agree on Catherine's judgement, however, when the woman started cleaning the vomit stain off my shirt -- a new shirt I had borrowed from Armand -- without my having asked for her help. And in doing it, she kept deliberately yet discreetly rubbing her breast against my arm. I had never felt another woman's nipple in my life other than Catherine's, who lied right there on the bench next to me. I was embarrassed. The native woman would not let go off me before she finished with the stain, and even then her hand continued running up and down along the trail of hair from my chest to my stomach. Despite my discomfort, and against my will, I felt that familiar tingle in my groin which announced my erections. I gasped, but remained motionless, surrendering to the pleasurable sensations.
What where her intentions? She had clearly seen I was with Catherine. And despite being the same age, we did not look like sister and brother, did we? But why was I blaming the native woman, who had ventured the trail of hair bellow my bellybutton, as if the decision to what could happen -- and was happening -- was only hers? And when I finally and gently pushed her away with a firm gesture I was still enslaved by the fine sensations her fingers stimulated -- but looking into the woman's eyes, I saw malice and evil. I had read Armand's translations of Herr Weissmann's reports about terrible witchcraft and charms made from a single hair -- and why not from the hair on my chest? If I were to be a treasure, blonde Catherine was a true rarity on those islands, I suddenly realized.
And I never again left Catherine's side during the nine-hour journey to the Elder Sisters Islands -- where, I hoped, we would find a cure for her mysterious disease.
Author's note: having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.