to the South America

Bermuda Journal (Part IV)

Deborah Thompson

Chapter 9: A Fuzzy House Guest Appears!

Thursday, March 16

Today Nathalie and I have decided to lounge around and be lazy. Part of me wants to sleep late and enjoy the lazy part of the holiday, but the outdoors are too alluring, especially now that I have taken over the large, master bedroom that my sister and her husband vacated a few days ago. The sun shines brightly, gloriously through the bright bay windows that are set into a little alcove, with a table and chairs so you can sit and look out over the front lawn and the poinciana tree. Unfortunately it is rather skeletal in appearance right now, but it still exudes an exotic beauty for me. It must be spectacular in full bloom.

To the right of my beautiful room's bay window is a side door, which leads directly to the verandah. This is a marvellously designed home. This would be called the in-law suite. I also now have my own private bathroom, and another bedroom, which branches off my own private hallway. This extra bedroom is jam-packed with the things of the original owner's late wife - a painter. The artist's canvasses and portraitures, pastels and charcoals lay in wait to be discovered by an appreciative eye. For now, they collect dust, all rolled up and tied with a string. Mom and I explored the room yesterday afternoon. For some reason, last year I never explored at all. I guess the house is a little bit intimidating for someone like me - with such an imagination as mine. The room is haunted in a real sense - so much of her (her name was Gabriele) is inside this one small room. A few old hats, scarves, some old photos in a cardboard box, odd earrings and stockings, calendars, sports equipment, fans - a slice of her life. But most of all there are the canvasses. They are rolled five and six to a roll, and the rolls are everywhere - on shelves, behind shelves, under shelves. There must be at the very least one hundred or so. They are all wrapped carefully, tissue paper lining each one to protect it. There are all sizes - each one beautiful in its own way.

Gabriele's forte was obviously portraiture. There are many of local Bermudans, which are utterly captivating, and I find myself feeling sick, thinking of how these beautiful works of art are rotting away in the back room of an old house. It is so sad. They had no children, and now no one cares how talented she was; there is no one to take these and frame them and place them proudly on a wall. I would if I could. Her work makes you feel like you would know the person in the picture if you met them on the street. Her Bermudan landscapes are also very pretty, but do not possess the same quality as the portraits. Mom and I carefully put them back where we found them, wondering what will become of them when the house sells. We dearly hope they will be recognized by some museum, and not be thrown in the garbage.

From my bathroom window I can see past the steeply sloping edge of our back lawn to the grounds of Spicelands, the ranch where we will hopefully be going horseback riding. Past Spicelands is a myriad of pastel-coloured houses, and blazing blossoms merging into verdant foliage. It's amazing that even going into the bathroom in Bermuda is a stress-reliever.

Nathalie and I have a little fight today over who will get the deck chair. (She has no respect for my age!) She wins again, of course. We also have a rather major disagreement over the homework today. If you look up the word "hard-headed" in the dictionary, you will find the name of my dear niece, Nathalie, written next to it. No matter how much I have been nagging her, she will not get down to serious homework. She will consent to do a tiny portion of spelling and then insist that she will not do any more. I finally get very angry with her, and tell her that she will only be allowed to go horseback riding on the beach after she has finished every bit of homework, and not until then. If she doesn't finish the homework, she doesn't go. Period. I knew she was angry when she packed up her clothes, etc. and decided to move back into the old room we had previously shared together, even though she is scared of it and believes it is haunted. That's pretty mad! I feel sorry about the whole thing, but secretly relieved that the Great White Shark will be sleeping in her own bed!

I decide to sit and do some writing on the verandah, listen to the birds sing and the waves pound in the distance. My pencil poises over the large, blank page that is screaming at me to be filled. Suddenly, there is an eardrum-shattering screech - definitely a Nathalie scream. Pad and pencils fly into the air. Heart pounding, I race into the house, a legion of possibilities catapulting through my mind. A masked, psychopathic intruder could be holding her at gunpoint. No wait! A dead body must have fallen out of one of the old closets, its ancient, sightless eyes open and staring, it's mouldering skin hanging from the bones. No, no! More likely she's cut her finger off with a butcher knife while making herself a sandwich, and her finger is on the floor somewhere. Or perhaps it's the ghost of Gabrielle, unhappy because we disturbed her paintings.

I stop dead in my tracks when I see her. She has wrapped herself, literally, around my mom, almost obscuring the poor lady from view in a tangle of arms, legs, and hair. She is almost sobbing, but laughing at the same time, and is pointing into the library at one of the shelves. Aha! I knew the library was haunted. I wait for the ghost to appear.

Suddenly I hear a tiny scuttle, and a furry brown form breaks for the bedroom where my mom and Aunt Dot are staying. Renewed hysterics break out. I can't believe this. A little mouse causing all this fuss and upset! Aunt Dot has hauled off one of her stiff slippers, and after disentangling herself from her grandchild, my mom fetches a broom. After all, she warns, there is no way a mouse is going to share her bed. I, of course, would never allow anyone to harm the poor little mouse. I am the defender of all animals, great and small! I fully intend to chase the little creature out of the house with the broom - which, you will remember, back in Chapter 3 or 4, my sister told me we would only need to use to sweep the house and stimulate the impotent light in the kitchen. Nary a word did she say about chasing mice.

No luck, no matter how hard we look. Even in dresser drawers. My mother, you see, once surprised a mouse - or rather it surprised her - in a dresser drawer, and she closed it so quickly that she practically beheaded the poor mouse. True story. Obviously this experience has stayed with her over the years, as she grimly checks and slams every drawer of that dresser. We pound and shake, but all to no avail. The mouse has disappeared. Everyone else is extremely nervous, but I think it's rather funny. Nathalie, who has been scared out of her angry, sulking teenager mode, has plopped herself on the chaise on the verandah, where she vows she will stay until the furry intruder is caught. I tell her she will get fairly cold tonight, and may end up with a few lizards under her blankets for company when she camps out here. She says nothing, still preferring not to speak to her mean old aunt, but I know I have her thinking.

Evening arrives and we finally convince Nathalie to come back in the house. We tell her the mouse is bound to be gone by now. She foolishly believes us. It is a cool-ish evening, and we decide to watch one of the two channels we get on TV. Mom and Nathalie are on chairs on one side of the room, near the piano, while I am stretched out on the couch against the other side of the room. As we watch the TV ("The Wizard of Oz" is captivating our attention), a tiny movement catches my eye. As I turn my head, the little mouse creeps out and poses, nonchalantly, directly behind Nathalie. I try not to betray his presence by any action. I know if he runs in between them, both my Mother and Nathalie will explode like atomic bombs, and that the large black piano in the corner may become embedded permanently in my body.

I make a tiny, flicking motion with my hand, hoping he will opt for the open French doors and out toward the front verandah, but such is not the case. Of course. He scuttles over beside Mom and Nathalie, and under the large black piano. In a flash, accompanied by the obligatory deafening teenager screams, Nathalie is standing on her chair - yes, just as in the old nursery rhyme. My Mom is just about halfway up on hers. Trying to weigh the evils of being attacked by a tiny mouse or breaking an arm or leg after falling off a chair is keeping her semi-grounded. Dot, meanwhile, is observing them with an incredulous look on her face. They all look so comical, the three of them, that I can only hunch over and laugh hysterically, until my stomach cannot take any more. Out comes that poor broom, and once again we proceed to pound and shake. Nathalie is convinced that the mouse has gone into her bedroom, so we spend the next few hours thudding, banging and slamming around in her room to make sure he is gone before she will go to bed. We do not bother to do my room, as it is at the far end of the house, and why would a little mouse bother to run all the way over there?

Yawning sleepily, the screaming over for the moment, I decide to call it a night. Crawling in between my comfy sheets, without the Great White Shark for once, I start to drift, dreamily.

Sccrcht. Scccrrrrrrcht. Tick, tick, tick. (Little feet scurrying.) Little prickles of hair go up on my body as I envision a little brown body climbing up the skirting on my bed and getting in with me under the covers. I mean, he is a cute little mouse, but I don't want to share my bed with him. I'm lonely, I'll admit, but this is going too far! Hesitantly I reach out and turn on the lamp. There is a quick scuttling again, but I cannot see him. I lay there, not moving a muscle, waiting, waiting. I cannot sleep, knowing he may find part of my body as useful for a nesting site!

Suddenly I get a brainstorm. I run to the kitchen and get some cheese and run back to the bedroom, leaving the verandah door open as I make a cheese trail. Of course, a wandering lizard could meander in while the mouse is deliberating his good luck, but I'm willing to take my chances. After a few minutes of lying still, my trick works. Down the trail he goes, delightedly nibbling his way out of my bedroom. As soon as he is on the verandah, my door is slammed shut - with great relief - and I crawl back into my sweet dreams.

Chapter 10: Another Lazy Day / Reflections On Fireweeds

Sunday, March 19

Another gorgeous Bermudan day. Another lazy Bermudan day. After a substantial lunch, we all sit quietly on the verandah. Well, sort of quietly. I am arguing with Nathalie (again) that she will not be going home with the tan she so desperately wants unless she takes off her long sleeved sweatshirt and jogging pants. I may as well be speaking to the lizard lounging on the verandah pillar, as she buries herself deeper into the novel she is reading. I decide to try the lizard. "Hello, lizard," I say conversationally. He perks his head inquisitively at me. I debate having a conversation with the lizard, but decide for the sake of my sanity that I shouldn't do this. (Aren't teens wonderful though?) Ahem.

I begin to contemplate a trip to Whyte's Groceries to top up our dwindling food supply. Without a car available, I am a little on the obsessive side, worrying that we will run out of something we simply must have in the middle of the night (chocolate cake), or that perhaps I will slip and fracture my leg, and we will be left helpless and all starve to death if I don't have all the cupboards full. Of course the phone would have been cut off in a bizarre coincidence around the same time I break my leg. (That goes without saying.) I glance in irritation over at the face buried in the book. The last two grocery trips I have made alone. The Teenager was too tired - dare I say too lazy (when she reads this she will kill me) - to come with me, and of course I couldn't exactly send my own mother or the 72-year-old aunt down a tribal road full of fallen trees and extremely steep hills and expect them to do battle with the God-awful fireweeds, now could I? So guess who had to go? You guessed right.

On the last trip, I ended up with four substantially heavy bags - and, of course, the walk back to Westmount is almost all uphill. You would never believe how heavy one lousy litre of milk can be until you have carried it up and down and around the obstacle-course-type maze that is Tribal Road #7. There is one little wee section where the tribal road has all but grown over - practically impassable - and it looks almost like the path branches into two, but if you take the wrong one, it ends up in a jungle-like maze that sort of closes in around you and scares me half to death!

(I always think I am lost at this point, and can picture a future civilization of Bermudans finding my skeletal remains curled around a rock, surrounded by fireweeds, which have burned all the flesh off my body by now, a lizard perching upon what used to be my forehead, inflating and deflating his little red bubble, and surrounded by bags of groceries, a litre of milk still clutched in my bony hand. I would have had a heart attack, you see, believing I was truly lost, and wouldn't have had the time to eat the groceries or drink the milk. Oh dear, I'm afraid I'm starting to babble here.)

Now that I have thought my way through this entirely plausible disaster and my impending heart attack, I have lost the desire to perform this little chore. I decide to risk breaking my leg and starving us all to death rather than having the heart attack on the tribal road. This decided, I head for the nearest beach. The thought of drowning does not cross my mind once.

Chapter 11: We Pound Some Surf - And Turf!

Wednesday, March 22

Believe it or not, Nathalie has finally finished all her homework, and now it is time to fulfill my promise. I don't mind at all. I've actually been looking forward to the horseback riding as much as, if not more than she. (Of course, she doesn't know this!)

Our trail ride leaves the Spicelands Ranch at 11:30 A.M., so we leave Westmount at about 11:00, as it is only a short walk down the infamous tribal road to get to the ranch. Nathalie is about to explode with excitement - and I think she is a little scared too. I'm sort of the same way. I haven't ridden since last year, and though I'm comfortable on a horse, I'm a little way from participating in a polo tournament. I have vague fears about my horse bolting while I'm riding down the side of one of those cliff-like hills that they always manage to fit into a trail ride. In this case, it will be a cliff beside the ocean. Oh well, some beauty to contemplate as I plummet to my harrowing end. Of course, I don't tell any of this to Nathalie, though to tell the truth, I don't think anything could dissuade her from going!

We arrive at Spicelands in plenty of time. We find out that Nathalie must wear a riding helmet because she is under 16. She is a good sport (thank God) and doesn't seem to mind. She looks really cute in it, actually. We have to wait for a few other people to arrive. One is a girl about my age from England, so we chat for awhile about, well, English things. When the other people arrive, I get the distinct impression that we are definitely the most amateur riders in the group. The others are all very proper British, and seem extremely comfortable mounting their horses. In fact, they all look like they were born on the back of a horse. Oh dear.

I am proud to admit freely that I am terrified to humiliate myself in front of everyone. I clearly envision myself hanging by one leg in an undignified position off the side of the horse, clinging to the saddle horn but too weak to pull myself up - or alternatively - this is an even better picture - pulling myself up so hard that I go flying off the other side of the horse and splatter myself on the ground on the other side. So I do the least humiliating thing possible. I ask the groom to bring my horse alongside the low stone wall so I can easily climb on. Nothing to it!

Nathalie, on the other hand, gives the standard mounting procedure the old college try. I'm very sorry, but I have to admit to smothering a few cackles as Nathalie hangs off the side of the horse (as I would have) until one of the grooms comes over and gives her a boost. Once she is astride Tony (yes, that is the horse's name, not the groom's), she is okay. Both of our horses are very beautiful, though mine is a trifle fidgety. Usually when I talk to a horse when I get on, he seems to listen and respond to me, but not this fellow. Of course, he may have taken offence when he heard my hoot of laughter when the groom told me his name was Junior. (Who in his right mind, I puzzle through my giggles, would call a beautiful horse like this "Junior!") Anyway, I think Junior did hear my laughter, as I get the distinct impression, as we slowly plod away from Spicelands, that this horse does not like me.

I soon experience a sinking feeling in my stomach when our guide tells us, on our way up a great, winding trail (after it is too late to say, "forget this!"), that my horse, Junior, and Nathalie's horse, Tony, like to lay down and roll around in the sand without warning, "especially if they're feeling happy." Great. Just peachy. Not only do I have to worry about him getting stung by some strange Bermudan insect, or stumbling on a stone and flinging me over his head, but now I have to worry about him getting some happy feeling, and be prepared to catapult myself off his back as he begins to throw himself down to luxuriate in the soft sand. I also picture Nathalie's horse doing the same thing because he feels happy when he sees Junior enjoying himself so much, and both of us greeting my brother and his wife at the airport, me with a body cast on and Nathalie with her jaw wired shut. Yes, I will really enjoy this relaxing beach side romp.

I am about the fourth horse back, and Nathalie is about three horses behind me - the last rider, with only a guide behind her. I keep craning my neck about to peer at her to make sure she is okay, especially as we navigate some of the steeper trails. Our horses must be brothers or something, because besides sharing their glee for crushing their passengers while rolling unexpectedly in the sand, they are also extremely greedy. No bush or tree is left untasted by either one of them, much to our embarrassment.

"Junior!" I hiss quietly, though in a deep voice. (I don't want anyone to know I have absolutely no control over this horse.) "No boy. Giddap!" I give him a little nudge with my heels.

Totally ignoring the greenhorn plebe on his back, Junior puts his head way down to get at some tender vegetation, and I almost slide off his neck. The guide by now is about a mile ahead, and looks back in disbelief to where I sheepishly sit, holding up the entire group while Junior has his snack.

"Don't let him put his head down!" she cries out to me. "Yell at him! Dig your feet in!"

"Giddap!" I scream, finally venting my anger. What a pretty sight. "Junior that's enough. Now Giddap!" My fury unravels at the top of my lungs, yet I flail gently with my feet on Junior's belly. I don't want to hurt the poor guy. (After all, it's not really his fault that he is a pig in a horse disguise!) Everyone is staring at me in disbelief and, I'm certain, disgust. I know what they're thinking. "What a dignified horsewoman this is!"

Finally Junior gives in to my screeches. Every now and then when I look back (more now than then), Nathalie is just a mere speck in the distance, her horse having a gourmet feast. We all wait until she gets sufficiently mad and her guide gets sufficiently impatient, and Tony is made to amble on up to join us.

Luckily our route winds right past Westmount. Mom comes down to the end of the laneway to watch us go by, and snaps a picture for Nathalie. Our ride turns out to be just beautiful. No one gets thrown or rolled on. We walk serenely along the beach, which I enjoy, but I would really love to be alone and just let the horse have his head and gallop madly about. However, considering the dubious regard which Junior and I have for each other, this would not be the best idea. I do enjoy the beach ride, though I am a trifle panicky as I scrutinize Junior's face for a telltale grin and a rolling motion to start.

As we come around a craggy outcropping of rock, some tourist guy runs down the beach and yells at me that he'd like to take my picture. I'm then certain that Junior will choose this exact moment, as I pose for the picture, to roll. Maybe he feels happy when he has his picture taken. This would certainly give the gentleman an award-winning newspaper photograph of "Woman Tourist Squashed to Death by Junior, the Happy Horse, in Bermudan Riding Mishap."

We do make it through though, and once we have arrived back at the ranch I am sorry it's over. But not as sorry as when I try to walk after dismounting. Wow! What is it that happens to thigh muscles, just because they've been riding on a saddle for an hour? Do they have some kind of personality conflict with the saddle? Do they say, "Hey man, we don't like this horse and saddle stuff! Let's make her really feel major pain for a couple of days, make her think twice about putting us back in this position for awhile!"

Nathalie and I both walk, in a very strange fashion, back to Westmount - tired, happy - and sore.

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