I wander around for an hour before I can summon the courage to ask Maryanne for a swim. I find her in the girls' hut sweeping the dirt floor. The door is open just a crack. Ginger is nowhere to be seen.
"Hi, Gilligan." She is facing the wall. I push the door back all the way. "I brought you some flowers."
"NO, Gilligan! Stay outside! I'll be out in a minute."
She shuts the door right in my face. I can hear her inside, moving around the hut like a tornado. When she comes out her hair is down around her shoulders and she has tied her shirt in a knot behind her back so that I can see her bellybutton. I am still standing there in the doorway and she almost bumps into me.
"I'm sorry, Gilligan. I just finished sweeping and I didn't want you to get the floor dirty."
"How can you get a dirt floor dirty?"
"Besides, you can't just walk into a lady's hut. You've been on this island too long."
I hold out the flowers again.
"Oh thank you, Gilligan. They're lovely." She looks around for somewhere to put them and for a second her face kind of crinkles up into a pout. I love it when she does that. Finally she lodges the flowers right into the grass wall of the hut. They hang there like a painting.
"Here, Gilligan, come around into the shade. I thought maybe we could have a drink and talk."
She leads me behind the hut where two chairs are set up next to a small table. There are two bamboo cups on the table already filled with Maryanne's fruit punch. We both sit down.
"I was hoping we could go for a swim. I happen to know that no one is going to be down by the lagoon all afternoon."
Maryanne folds her hands in her lap and stares at them. "I don't think so, Gilligan. I don't feel like swimming just yet. But later I might."
We've gone swimming before hundreds of times and it was no big deal, but now that I think of it, we've never gone alone, just the two of us. Maryanne suddenly reaches for her cup and I smile at her nervously. Then I see that she's wearing makeup! It looks terrible on her.
"That sure was a big fish you caught yesterday. I could hardly lift it."
"It was big all right. The skipper said it was bigger than I was."
Why do I suddenly feel like I'm at a tea party? I start to drink and somewhere in my head I hear a voice saying "Don't slurp your punch!" A voice I haven't heard for more than three years. When I look up I see that Maryanne is watching me.
"How come you never talk about your parents?"
"I don't know."
"What were they like? Do you miss them a lot?"
Do I miss them? What kind of a question is that? She knows I never talk about mom.
"Was your dad a sailor?"
"I never knew my dad. He ran off when I was little. I guess he might've been a sailor."
"What about your mother?"
"Oh. I'm sorry."
Why did I say that? If anyone could understand, it would be Maryanne. But maybe not. Her father would never dream of running away from her. And she would never dream of running away from him. Or from her mother.
"She was killed by a tidal wave."
"My parents have never even seen the ocean."
Now we're both staring at our laps. I look at her. Her shirt is unbuttoned just enough for me to see the edge of her bra. She's not used to having her hair down like this and she keeps brushing it out of her eyes. I look away and then sneak another peak at her chest. I follow the outline, smoother by far than any coastline I've ever followed. For a moment I just stare at her. Then she sees me gawking at her breasts and we both look away.
"I'd better go. I promised the skipper I'd straighten out the tool hut."
"I really would like to go swimming sometime."
I stand up and look into the jungle. She is following me with her eyes.
"Maybe tonight," she says. "Let's go tonight after dinner."
"Sure." I say this without thinking and as I turn to give her a goodbye smile, I bump into a tree. She smiles shyly and her eyes are shining. For a second I think I hear Ginger coming down the path, but it's just my imagination. I stumble away and spend the rest of the afternoon alone.
by John Cartan