Electricity religiously shuts off at midnight on the island of Tingloy. Even at Valentine’s. But on the night Dell and I sat huddled over Monopoly while sharing with each other stories that never ran out (how she wrapped her little brother in toilet paper, water leaks in her apartment building, an alternative ending to Titanic), the power went off just after dinner — just when I thought I had known her enough to ask about her ex.
“Strange,” she said.
“Strange,” I agreed.
There were no hotels on the island. Tourists book cots in this fishing village as transients. In my case, I stayed in a thatch hut with a family of four. I was traveling alone. So, when the host decided to be extra-hospitable and asked me if I would mind sharing a room with a stranger, I insisted it was OK.
It was unseasonably warm that day, and also quite unseasonable for a solo trip. “Because it’s Valentine’s,” Dell said.
I told her that the idea of a breakup travel became suddenly appealing, and that this trip, even for a day, was an impulsive venture to go wherever, me still reeling from the shattered remains of a freshly ended relationship and gaunt from that 15-hour goodbye.
“And you?” I asked. She said that it was about space and finding herself.
The night was young; though our conversation was spoiled by the outage, Dell didn’t take it as a hint to retire. There were no clubs on the wharf, but we could take a moonlit stroll along the beach, a dense warren of gnats boozing around and other groups of people singing and doing whatever romp it was they did around the fire.
Dell talked, but I could only hear a fragment of her words in the crashing of waves. I watched her speak in semi-darkness; my eyes kept getting drawn to her lips, hands, the little scar on her forearm. I was toying with the idea, in such a moment that was so perfectly conducive to desert-island fantasies, when she brought up the subject of sex.
“Beach sex?” I said. My voice was hoarse and dry.
For the life of me I’d had more buttocks than the toilet bowl, but I had never felt so nervous that I could feel the surging strings and stopped hearing the ocean.
“Beach sex, yes.”
We waited until we reached a cove, where we buried ourselves half-hidden in a crevice, with just enough room to squeeze out our own sky. The moon was dreamy but never aloof. Maybe when Van Gogh painted “Starry Night,” he was having an orgasm.
Dell clawed at me with each of my advances, while I barely managed to gather her short butch haircut. I felt her pelvis shift as she steadily bobbed on me.
She was squealing, so I stifled her mouth with my fingers in place of a ball gag. And then I nuzzled her and slurped the way I might scalding hot ramen — careful, voracious.
We marinated in the sand and didn’t care what we were or whether we knew each other enough to have sex.
We slumped flat on our backs and next to each other, leg spread-eagled and eyes on the stars.
“What a ride,” I said.
“What a ride,” she nodded.
I scooted backward and leaned against a rock. Then I lit a moist cigarette.
“Do you love me?” I heard myself say, after a minute-worth of silence.
Dell laughed, a rather hard one she panted. (Not too fast, boy.)
She nodded her head and lifted her eyebrows, as if in disbelief. “That’s that.”
“That’s what I thought,” I smiled. I doused my cigarette. “I’m just pulling your leg.”
She brushed my face with the flat of her hand and told me to make her laugh again. We did. Until we forgot what century we were in.
I later found that her name wasn’t Dell. And when I asked her why, she told me it didn’t matter.
“I’ll tell you when we meet again,” she said.
“Why not now?” I insisted, explaining that I equate the grandeur of my life to how many strangers I meet.
She glared at me. “Because I don’t know you.”
My mind ran through possible names as the motorboat droned and I watched the island recede into the distance. Ashley or Cobie had a nice ring to it. Maybe Persephone or Belle. At least they sounded better than “the woman who parted her hair to the left.” “The woman with a world-class vagina.”
For crying out loud, just call her Dell! I thought. Why bother? It was rather liberating. I was young. I was out at sea. My whole life was ahead of me.