Below is Part 14 of 23 monthly installments for Visitant.
Agnes Person opens the mail and reads more high-and-mighty ordinance re: garbage cans. Tired of bureaucracy, Citizen Person shaves her hair, leaving a wild island, habitat for mullet claiming central domain. She enrolls TN for a stint at Careful Ark Kennels and decides to visit Florida for Spring Break. The group-grope has not yet changed to Daylight Savings Time, and the March sun, hung over since Saint Paddy’s Day, rises on the wrong side of the bed.
While others freak out on motel balconies, Agnes rents a car. She visits the old Thomas Hotel in Gainesville, now revamped as a civic cultural center. No one there remembers Robert Frost. They have no room records of ailing Elinor. Agnes continues south past a beautiful prairie and tours citrus groves nestled in ancient hammocks. She loves the fruit trees, their fragrance and oval leaves, and identifies with massive live-oak limbs draped with Spanish moss, a bromeliad, like her, hungry for headspace.
On the roadside near Salt Springs, Agnes sees a big white tomcat grooming himself, oblivious to traffic. Jolted by the speed bump, she swerves across the double yellow line. A thin white convenience store bag snags on a stick, catches air, and breathes, whew, unharmed.
Agnes spots an out-of-the-blue police cruiser in the rear-view mirror and pulls over.
The cat has emerald eyes, Agnes adds, as the officer inspects her driver’s license and runs the data through the system: F, white, single.
Esmeralda, out-of-state, answers burly she-cop during the breathalyzer test.
Yes, Agnes, agrees, adding by way of explanation. Someone has to be the designate.
I had such a pet, she-cop replies, a cat with a tail plume. But, look here, lady, the end of this bag is bobbed.
Agnes leaves the scene of the almost accident and slowly navigates a shaded residential avenue leading towards Deland. She’d like to drive the back way to her motel before night sounds confuse her.
A dry brown palmetto frond moves, right there on the center line. A skinny mutt scratching his fleas. Scruffy ears. Radioactive hips. Agnes knows TN is safe in the Ark, but she slams on the brakes to avoid hitting the dog. The car skids over the curb.
Remember me? she-cop says, pulling up in an unmarked car. She bends over and drags away the dead palmetto frond.
Satisfied? she-cop asks. Have some respect. This here is natural, the Florida State tree.
Passing a second breathalyzer test, Agnes volunteers the two-part scientific name, Sabal palmetto. I’m the designated binomialist, she says.
She-cop nods, and writes up the two-part ticket. Myself, I grew up with brindle curs. Webbed feet. No hot spots. Real good with livestock. Check the local ads, lady, and get you one. A single woman can’t be too careful on Florida roads.
She-cop hands Agnes the traffic citation and a free copy of Hometown Shopper before disappearing in a cloud of fumes.
Agnes opens the want-ads and scans two columns—unwanted dogs of every breed, but no curs. Agnes carefully folds the page into the shape of a boat, a ship of the woe-begotten. Wearing the paper hat, she drives and turns north on the big road.
A baby tumbles along the other side of the busy highway. Someone has thrown out a kid! Not a plastic bag. Not a yard frond.
Agnes makes a screeching U-turn across the sod median and runs over a dark mound of Spanish moss kinky as pubic hair. She pulls over to the breakdown lane, places the paper hat in her lap, and looks in the side mirror.
Close behind her is she-cop.
Sirens scream EaaEaaEEEE
Lights flash, splashing the eastern horizon blue white, blue white.
Get out, blares a bullhorn. Hands up! Lean over your car. Now!
Possible fatality, she-cop yells into her car phone. Infant.
Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, Agnes chimes in. No teeth. No diapers. No mess. Just a cellulose bundle of asphalt and grit. Ever hear of Tar Baby?
Lady, cut the book talk and cut to the chase. Once upon a time, this here cop was a proud Dixie runaway. Made it all the way to Thomasville, Georgia, during the pecan harvest. Wholes and pieces, that’s what them growers are all about.
She-cop taps her booted toe and begins to chant her life history like a jump-rope song, Fo-ster, A-dopted, Mar-ried, Cop-ster. But this here’s vehicular. No purr. No paw. No botanical nursery rhyme.
Lob-ster, thinks Alice, as flames of setting sun boil she-cop and her car carapace brilliant red. Molared claws click ambidextrous menace like castanets. Inside she-cop’s jacket, small shaggy legs struggle with packets of orange roe. Crimson antennae spool quivering arcs overhead.
Lobster cools in the evening light, returning she-cop to state police green. Agnes asks to hold the dead baby, honor a life brief and sweet as breeze. The infant’s birthstone, she tells she-cop, is a variation of the mineral beryl.
To the west, long shadows crisscross the pavement. Truckers place orange cones in the far right lane. A man directs traffic with a beam.
Agnes rocks the bundle in her arms. Someone lights a candle and, cupping the flame, begins to sing a Scottish cradle song, Nay, till and see us again.
Tillandsia usneoides, Agnes refrains in soft lullaby.
She-cop hums and turns off her flashers. Agnes lays down her burden. The sky turns deep-green as dark beryl—a precious stone she knows as maxixe, described in ancient chronicles of the Xixe, a lost race of corsairs. Pirates don’t get lost, she thinks, they find. The Xixe must still be around, inter-married on islands far-flung in a lost ocean of pronunciation.
► Next Installment | Noby Wax