A gecko crawls down our kitchen wall, tongue out to catch nothing but maybe the moisture in the air. I slice a kiwi, hold out a banana. The lizard picks the kiwi. He gets more on his face than in his mouth. I take the banana, undress it, and throw the dress in a flower pot. I stare out the open window. Sometimes a deer stares in at me. Other days, three young hawks line up and watch the floor for mice. Today, there’s Lee, a man, naked and bleeding in the yard. He doesn’t speak. He’s alive, though I swear he died two years ago. He pours a bucket of water over his head.
“Didn’t he drown?”
“Guess not,” I say.
Jack takes a bite of my banana. He chews like he’s about to blow a bubble. I notice he left his shirt in the other room. I look back out the window and slim my eyes against the day. I study Lee for evil.
A deer doesn’t look evil. A lizard eating fruit, either. Lee resembles those visitors. But we haven’t seen Lee in a while. The man sank for a conch shell and never came up. We threw a small service under the trees. No body. The ocean keeps down a lot of its food. We kept a few of Lee’s shirts until the smell of him frayed out of the weaving.
“He doesn’t look hurt or nothing,” Jack says.
Whatever blood was on him feeds the yard now. He’s clean like he woke up out of that summer he let us love him and love him and love him.
Mosquitoes were murder then.
I yell, “Jesus, Lee! Get in here. Let’s take a look at you.”
He climbs through the window like they all do. The love I thought I’d buried crawls up my throat and out my mouth and into Lee while we kiss. We join like good fabric. Not seamless, but sturdy. Jack unravels his sweatpants and stitches himself in with us.
We sit around the table and smoke a cloud into the room. We play a polite card game. The sun goes down slow as the cards, slow as our drinks. Lee keeps score. Neither Jack nor I have been able to ask Lee the question. We sit with the good we’ve been given while it’s still in the mood to sit.
Lee asks after our business. Which guys still come around and which ones lost interest. Jack gives the report.
“Been good. Quiet now, but last week was a full moon, so the place was busy. The usual guys still show up. Eddy. Mac. That one mute who rides his horse over here. The married guys are hot and cold, but when they’re hot, they’re hot.”
I tap my cards even on the table and go ahead and ask it.
“Where have you been?”
Jack knees my knee.
“What I mean is did you just live in the ocean all this time or what?”
Lee’s eyes are their widest. He tells a story about mermaids I refuse to believe. They liked him a while then got sick of him. We hear too many mermaid stories from the other guys. Never have I ever seen a real mermaid or would want to. Jack once showed me a mummified monkey sewn onto the tail of a carp. I threw up in my hands.
When Lee talks about mermaids, though, he means women. Men are one place he goes. Women are another. Sometimes he’s in both places at once, braided into marriages. I wonder again about the blood.
Jack’s been quiet. I look at him. He reads my worry out loud.
“Hey, Lee, what was that mess you were washing off you this morning?”
Lee admits it was blood, but it wasn’t his.
“A gator ate me. I had to cut myself out.”
Another obvious lie. On his scorepad, he draws a knife. Blood drips off the tip, but the ink is blue. The knife appears to cry.
“Who’d you kill, Lee?”
“I tell you what’s killing me is these mosquitoes. Let me take a piss in the woods and bring you back some lizards or something, OK?”
“All right, Lee.”
Lee doesn’t return with lizards. He doesn’t return at all. Some of the other guys show up with money or food. One married man says he’ll pay us later. He won’t. We let him in anyway. We need the bodies. The mute man with the horse shows up without his horse. He pulls up in a new car.
“If you ever need a ride,” he says, his first words to us out loud.
We don’t have a car. We walk or we run, and sometimes after fights, we swim in the ocean in opposite directions. The islands are adjacent but distant like chainless pearls. I wonder if Lee went back into the water and if he’s trying to thread those pearls himself.
Eddy and Mac are here. Regulars. So regular they seem like bills. Eddy has a beard, and Mac just has a mustache. Before he met Eddy, Mac had a girlfriend who hated any facial hair he grew. Back then, it was mutton chops. She made fun of them. Said he looked like Wolverine from the X-Men, which to us is a compliment. We don’t joke about those things here. We worship them.
Someone brought a banjo. I hear the metal strings and men laughing from inside the house. They know this song.
I kiss Mac hard enough to scratch my lip on his mustache. He pulls back and smiles so I can see his teeth. There’s a gap between the two in front. He’s learned to talk so he won’t let out a spit whistle. Eddy lets out a real whistle. He does it every time he pretends he can’t believe what he’s just seen.
“Eddy swears he saw Lee on our way here. I said it had to be some other guy.”
I don’t know what to tell them. Jack does, though.
“Yeah. That was Lee or his ghost or his zombie, but he still gets hard like he used to. Stood in the yard this morning covered in blood, but he didn’t taste like metal when we kissed him. Means he’s probably not a vampire, but who knows?”
Eddy lights a small pipe.
“Vampires don’t taste like blood. They swallow every drop. He could still be a vampire.”
I don’t want to wear clothes anymore. I would crawl out of my skin if it would make them stop talking about Lee like that, like a monster.
The music stops. An unlatched belt buckle drags a guy’s pants to the floor. Clatters like a dropped fork. We go inside to see who started without us.
Maybe the mosquitoes are bad tonight, but that’s not what I’ll remember in the morning.
I remember how Lee showed up the first time, like a fantasy then, too, but one I believed.
We laid out on the beach and held each other’s hands until they got too hot to hold. Jack was in the water trying to scare the jellyfish. I told him you can’t scare something without eyes or ears. He yelled back, “Then how come they’re running?!”
Lee screwed a giant ring off his little finger. Threw it in the ocean.
“What if that was worth something?”
“I borrowed it from an oyster,” he said. “The oyster called and said she wanted it back.”
A lie I believed not because it seemed true but because he told it.
When I grabbed his hand again, it was cold.
The usual gecko doesn’t show alone. I spot ten at least, and none of them stop for fruit. They hunt the air for wings. Out the window, there’s Lee again. Arms over his head, doing what might be yoga, positioned in just the right way to hold the sun. No blood on him this morning.
Jack’s asleep, but most of us are awake and lazy. I said I’d make breakfast. I haven’t. Eddy yawns with his whole body. Mouth open to the light. I can see which of his teeth need work and which were worked out a long time ago. Mac leans against the wall and pinches one side of his mustache to a point. I pick up a skillet. The day has plans we don’t know yet. Jack and Lee in those plans somewhere, at least, and more men maybe. The weird ones. The rough ones. The men who bore mermaids but don’t bore me.