The name “Mangoes Marina” has the steamy, kitsch sensuality of a strip club; with the terms inverted, I imagine it could even be the alias of a playfully comic online writer of erotic fiction. But the marina is a tamer location than its name suggests: a white-and-chestnut dock framed in floral trees and liquor stores, where the boat remains docked for two days and a night in fecund mid-May. We refuel, empty the trash, fill up the jerrycans, and do the laundry. I tag along as this sequence of operations is performed, ostensibly as an assistant but more accurately as an observer. The entirety of the trip, really, has been characterized by observation — mainly of my boyfriend, who won’t be named in this text (a decision made out of consideration for both his privacy and my heart, which cannot bear to type out his name without squirming in sudden shyness. But because he does deserve some manner of identification, let’s call him “Strawberry.”)
Scenes from the Bahamian sky: On my first night, the clouds appear in a triptych of blues, each superimposed upon the next in tones of increasing lightness. A visual voyage from dark, lavish navy to semi-opalescent bleu celeste. At twilight, they are often bulbous, pulpy, arranged on a background of glowing rose. My favorite clouds are enormous and grotesquely fast-moving, possessed with an energy that borders on life-like, and, as they void themselves over the textured sea water, they rouse in my mind the most passionate ideas in my memory: the physicality of ripe fruit, the mysticism of witches, the divinity of thunder. I remember most vividly the rain at night; awakening on the deck to the sensation of wetness across my breasts and toes. Maybe I love Strawberry because our reunions coincide so often with rainy days, which are to me an experience in ecstasy like that of Saint Teresa. (Near the end of my visit, on a magnificently rainy afternoon, he dresses me in his waterproof jacket and watches as I roam barefoot in the puddles in the parking lot.)
Strawberry’s father describes the waves and foam as fields crested by sheep: a metaphor that makes me want to laugh with pure and unexpected joy. The surface of the sea behaves as though Epicurean, non-Newtonian, Dionysian. At times jagged, massive, and at others finely milled, nearly imperceptible, the waves between cays capture a spectrum of form. I understand now why so many nymphs copulate in these waters, and why the representation of the sea in oil paintings is extravagant, enigmatic; I picture Boucher’s “Arion on the Dolphin,” the titular character clothed in waves, hugely feminine eyes cast at the heavens.
On the islands, Strawberry and I walk through streets lined with Bahamian pine, Surinam cherry, and coconut palm trees. The rental homes are painted in a palette of flushed pastoral colors: baby blue, pale peach, lime green, sunshine yellow. Tiny flowers immersed in grass, picket fences straddling Man-O-War from shore to shore. I think of maximalism, the art of excess: hibiscus, frangipani, hurricanes descending.
My tan lines start at the base of my throat, and end at halfway between my hips and knees. Nut brown to olive-veined cream, the contours where colors change are studded with hickeys. The royal blue bathing suit I bought specifically for this occasion ends up being a size too small, much to my embarrassment and Strawberry’s delight. There’s something inescapably sexual about this landscape. Even the names of local restaurants have a coquettish purposefulness: Nipper’s, Grabber’s, Papa Nasty’s BBQ. In the shade of poisonwood trees, we drink sumptuously overpriced beverages made from pawpaw, guava, banana (the lusty, aromatic fruits.) The “Goombay Smash,” a cocktail indigenous to the Bahamas containing coconut cream, rum, and pineapple, features prominently in one of our best afternoons.
While snorkeling, an activity Strawberry’s mother adores, I discover my favorite fish species: the parrotfish, which comes in queen, princess, stoplight, and rainbow varieties. It bumps clumsily against the coral, nibbling audibly at its surface. The colors of the parrotfish possess that surreal beauty used by Creationists in support of their beliefs: neon, hypnagogic Creamsicle orange, aquamarine layered in a gradient, fuchsia so glitzy Ariel in the Atlantic clutches her scales in vicious jealousy. Runners-up for the prize of my love include the trumpet fish, the hogfish, and the squirrel fish (entirely on account of their names, which add a dash of flavor from the carnality of land animals.) In an instant of prodigious coincidence, a green turtle glides by within a few feet of us; I feel caught in the depths of sensation, like watching wind move through the boughs of trees.