Sandy is a Spider is a novelette of eight chapters, posted over eight week days -- by me, your gradually dying host, Cheeseburger Brown.
It's Thanksgiving here in Canada, the boreal harvest coming earlier than in the more famous south. This is the quiet Thanksgiving: the one unthemed by holiday television specials and strategic movie releases or the hysterical marketing of ancillary Thanksgiving products. There are no pilgrims.
The entire humble event is comprised of just two elements: going over to a family member's house to eat well, and anti-drunk driving enforcement blitzes by the Mounties.
My family and I navigated both well. We're full. We're farting, and blaming it on the dogs. The kids are sleeping the turkey sleep, and soon we will be sleeping the turkey and wine sleep. I drew the short straw, so if the baby wakes up in the night I'm on point. (Hooray!)
Outside my window at the old schoolhouse, the harvest moon is fat and ruddy.
And now, our story continues:
A squadron of locals worked with machetes to push back the jungle from the western fringe of the ruins at Xcaret. Though the day was overcast the heat was intense, their copper bodies glistening with sweat. The ring and chop of their labour echoed off the stone buildings, melding with the rhythmic yawn of surf against the beach.
Sandy and Ryan sauntered down the length of the Maya ballcourt, an open field of fat tropical grasses framed by tall murals of winning athletes dancing and losing athletes being ceremoniously decapitated. High above the reach of the tallest man were narrow vertical hoops set into the walls.
"How could anyone get a ball through that?" wondered Sandy.
"A stone ball, no less," added Ryan.
"They must have been amazing athletes."
"I'd be amazing, too, if my head were at stake."
They strolled to the beach, a crescent of white sand at the mouth of a small inlet that looked across the water to Cozumel, a hazy smear on the grey horizon. Ryan suggested they go for a swim and, before Sandy could voice her hesitation, he peeled off his shirt and shorts and sprinted down to the waves in a red Speedo. "Hey!" called Sandy, "wait up."
Ryan dove in and swam a ways, then stood up on a sandbar and turned back to the beach. Sandy arranged her clothes in a neat pile with her sandals and glasses and then waded in after him, hugging her arms over her chest. "The water's nice," she admitted.
"I said the water's nice!"
"Come on out here. I can't hear you."
Ryan smoothed his strawberry blonde hair off his forehead as he waited, squinting against the glare. He was aware of his own tanned skin, the definition of his firm muscles, his casually confident pose -- he let himself be watched by her as he pretended to scan the sky. Just as Sandy was about to gain her footing on the rise Ryan jumped off the far side into the deeper water, gesturing at her to follow. She sighed and then started easing herself in.
"You need to make a splash," called Ryan. "What's the ocean without splashing?"
"I'm just getting used to it."
He disappeared beneath the waves, and then suddenly emerged right beside her. He put his arm around her waist and threw her off balance, crashing sideways into the turquoise water. Despite herself she shrieked like a schoolgirl, then sputtered on flying spume, then broke into a fit of giggles.
"That's the smile I want to see," grinned Ryan.
"You devil!" she laughed, kicking water at him.
A pasty-fleshed fat couple in matching wide-brimmed straw hats sat on the beach observing them sadly. On the breeze they could just make out the woman's simpering grumble, "Why don't we have fun like that anymore, Kev?"
"I think I'm hungry," noted Kev.
Ryan and Sandy both cracked up, then resumed splashing and tackling one another, wiping the salt from their eyes and panting for want of dry breath. "Okay, okay," begged Sandy, holding up her hands in defense; "I yield -- you win the splash-off."
As they waded back to shore Sandy lifted her arms to push her long brown hair out of her face, her breasts thrust forth to strain against her blue bathing suit. While Ryan was able to admire this sight on the sly Kev was surprised out of his observations by a harsh slap on his doughy shoulder from his wife. "What are you? Twelve?" she wanted to know.
On the microbus back to Arcos Iris Ryan was quiet. Both of them were sitting on towels because their bathing suits had soaked through their shorts. Sandy shifted uncomfortably. After a number of false starts she managed to ask, "What are you doing for dinner tonight?" and then added, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to pry."
"Oh?" blinked Ryan, looking away from the jungle scrolling past the window. "Forgive me, Sandy, I was preoccupied. What did you say?"
"Is there something on your mind?"
"It's nothing that should trouble you. It's my own problem to deal with." He waved dismissively, tried to smile. "In fact, I'm afraid that's what I'll be spending my supper hour taking care of today."
"What is it, Ryan?"
He pursed his lips. "I shouldn't be telling you this..."
"I'm sorry," she interjected. "Nevermind."
"It's Jules and Kate," continued Ryan, letting his shoulders fall. "They weren't able to come up with the full amount to secure a private screening, for their adoption. I'm a little bit torn up about having to give them the bad news."
"Oh God," said Sandy, pained. "I thought everything was all arranged for them."
"It was, it is," nodded Ryan. "But my office called this morning -- the Cuthbertsons are technically foreigners, so an additional international handling fee applies." He shook his head morosely. "It's just that kind of red tape I'm trying to spare them, but it always seems to come back tenfold."
Sandy sighed. The microbus bumped along. The windows streaked as the clouds released a light rain. "Um," she said after a moment, "how much are they short?"
"Almost a thousand dollars."
"Oh dear," said Sandy.
The rain came down harder, the windshield a swirling miasma of distorted road punctuated by the ineffectual tick-tock of a single loose wiper. The driver opened his window and reached around to dab at the windshield with a dirty handkerchief.
"I can give it to them."
Ryan blinked. "What's that?"
"I can give them the thousand dollars," Sandy repeated.
"Oh no Sandy --"
"Why not? You're always telling me how rewarding it is to help people. Let me feel that. Let me do this for them. They seem like such nice people."
"But Sandy, it's an awful lot of money..."
"I can afford it. If pride's the issue just don't tell them where it came from. Tell them it's anonymous or whatever. I don't need their thanks -- I just want to know that I've done what I can for some people who deserve some help. How could I look at myself in the mirror otherwise?" She touched Ryan's shoulder. "Do you know what I mean?"
It was Ryan's turn to sigh. He pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. "I really can't let you do that. It isn't your problem, Sandy."
"No," she agreed, "but it's my solution. And -- you know what -- you can't stop me. If I have to I'll give it to them myself."
Ryan turned to face her squarely, searching her watery green eyes for a long moment. Sandy blushed, and was about to squirm or stammer when Ryan smiled and said, "God bless you, Sandy. You've got to be the sweetest, most unselfish woman I've ever met."
Sandy looked at her lap. Ryan gently touched her chin and turned her face upward again. "Don't look down. Don't be embarrassed. I only wish more people had your heart...what a world we would have. Can you imagine?"
Sandy smiled, then frowned as the microbus jostled roughly. "Apesadumbrado!" called the driver apologetically. Everyone aboard took a firmer hold of the sides of their seats, cringing against the sharp hammering sounding from the roof as the rain opened up into a wicked storm.
"Will cash be okay? I only have traveller's cheques."
Ryan nodded. "Cash will be fine."
For the remainder of the ride back to Arcos Iris they held hands, like grade school kids.