Because of the high blood pressure in Harry's lungs, his sister-in-law couldn't bring herself to come right out and tell him that his wife had died on the floatplane when it somersaulted into the wharf at Belize City and exploded.
Kelora spoke haltingly to Harry on the balcony. His fatigue and shortness of breath made her nervous, though he seemed full of energy and breathing fine—the new medication must have worked. "Pulmonary hypertension," the ancient doctor on the island called it, and to Kelora this sounded as if his lungs might burst like ripe grapes at any moment. It was late afternoon, the only time of day she knew Harry disliked, because the breeze stopped just before the red sun melted into the Caribbean, leaving his skin sticky with sweat. She saw that his face was dripping in the heat and she brushed the back of her wrist against his forehead, tenderly. She began to speak faster.
Harry got impatient with his sister-in-law and told her to please get to the point. He was intensely uncomfortable at Kelora's presence and wanted her to leave. Her tanned forearm was cool, and downed with light brown hair. He was seized with an irrational desire to lick it. “The sun's purple again,” he said. “What are you talking about?”
But Kelora went on and on. She'd asked to see the passenger register herself at the little landing strip in San Pedro, she said. Every Friday Vera made the ten-minute flight on the water taxi, to go shopping in the city, and it had been their custom since the three of them had retired to Ambergis Cay years ago for Kelora to meet her sister when she returned and accompany her home.
She told Harry that all but one of the eight seats had been full and there were no survivors.
Harry stood up from the chair on the balcony without thinking and blushed. He turned as slowly as a ship to face the engorged purple sun, humiliated that Kelora might have seen his terrible erection. Vera dead? Only that morning he had made himself two strips of bacon and Vera had tossed them in the trash to protect his heart. He broke down then, weeping in harsh ragged sobs. Kelora tried to embrace him, to comfort him, but he wouldn't be touched. The erection would not subside, so he insisted that she leave, that he wanted to be alone, and when Kelora closed the door behind her she could hear him sob in earnest, in long braying moans. Keening, he's keening. Her grandmother had told her that word when she was a child; she'd never thought of it since. Secretly, very secretly, Kelora loved Harry. Now she was afraid for him and wondered if she should ask the ancient doctor to come to her brother-in-law.
Harry exhausted himself alone and collapsed on the bed. He took a deep breath, an easy breath, just as the wise old doctor had promised he would have when he had prescribed the Viagra. "You might experience sexual side effects, even a blue tinge to things," the doctor had said. "Don't worry about that. They've just discovered that this little blue pill will dilate the arteries in your lungs, the first time we've had a treatment for pulmonary hypertension. It's the latest thing, the best news you could hope for." Vera Vera Vera. Vera had strong opinions about schedules, Sundays. She had not thought the Viagra the best of news, had not welcomed weekday attentions from her husband, a thin quiet man of sixty.
Harry's heart raced, thrumming in his ears, but he ignored it and began beating a pillow against the bed. He realized he wanted to squeeze a throat and strangle something, to kill something, and was shocked at himself. He had never been violent in his life. He throttled the pillow and swore at it, surprising himself again by screaming every filthy word he could think of into the pillow. Profanity was new to him; the words felt good in his mouth, expelled like bullets. His Vera was dead and he lay on the bed with a useless erection, swearing into a pillow. This couldn't be grief. Impossibly, he found himself thinking of Kelora. Sweet, soft Kelora.
He lay still, almost dozing. The evening darkness fell like a curtain here, and it was as if Vera was right there in the shadows as usual, about to move around the apartment turning on the lamps for another warm quiet evening of Harry trying to read while Vera talked. "Vera," he said softly, the name catching in his throat. Retiring ten years early had been Vera's idea; joining his wife's sister on the reef islands had been his. Kelora had lived in Belize most of her life and when Vera and Harry had visited her in the early years, Harry grew fond of her; admired her gentle way of saying yes to things, even things neither of them could bring themselves to say. Besides, Harry liked the idea of moving somewhere where someone else could make it feel like home immediately, and Vera had agreed.
Vera was fierce and adventurous, but the two women got on well. Vera had taken up scuba diving and pottery-making and even para-sailing—she loved island-hopping on the little floatplanes that buzzed constantly among the islands. Harry liked them no more than Kelora did; all that up and down like being catapulted into the sky. He turned to the soft drone in the sky now, the blinking purple and white lights, the last flight to the cay for the evening. Vera and the floatplanes, oh.
Harry moved in the darkness to sit on the balcony when he felt a strange feeling on his shoulders. At first he thought it was the silence, new. Vera loved conversation, or at least monologues, and ordinarily by this time in the evening she would be interrupting his reading with whatever occurred to her sharp busy mind. Harry loved his wife, but she did tend to go on and on. No, it was not the new silence. It was a weight removed, as if he'd been carrying a boulder on his shoulders without realizing it, and now it was gone! No more burned meals accompanied by tirades about what was healthy and what was not. No more meals eaten off clumsy hand-made plates, coffee drunk from fat cups heavy as stones. No more biting his tongue about the Viagra, about his desire to touch and play, more. No more treasuring Vera's imperfections to keep the peace, no more of her talk and talk and talk. And—no more being careful not to notice how he felt about Kelora, no more the mouse averting his glance from the cheese in the trap.
He understood the sensation in his shoulders.
He was free.
A knock at the door and Kelora was back, concerned. He opened the door, calm, smiling, and she smiled back. "I loved her, you know," he said, enfolding her in his arms.
"I did, too, Harry," Kelora said. "It's just that we..."
"You and Vera?"
"No. You and I."
It was as if she could see the blood bursting in his veins in a gigantic tidal wave of relief. As if he had been caged for years without knowing it. Yes, he felt free, released, but looking into Kelora's face he realized the sensation was something else, something else he recognized from long ago, when he was young.
Harry was happy!
He led her to the balcony where night had fallen with a blue tinge to it, almost like an early hint of dawn, when the front door opened and Vera walked in bundled with parcels. "There you are, Kelora," she said. "Sorry you had to wait for nothing. I took the later flight."
Harry stopped breathing and collapsed, dead. The ancient doctor told Kelora later that now at least her brother-in-law was free.