The Sloop in the Mangrove

“Fix it; Iz you-ers,” said Royston, “No use to me in dat state. ”

By the time Leona struck Tortola, she was a Cat 4. That only one man died was miraculous. How he died was entirely Darwinian. Leona had been forecast to make landfall over Puerto Rico, so when she veered back towards the BVI, the doors and windows of the seasoned were already taped, sharp objects locked away in drawers. It was peak hurricane season, after all.

What ran through the head of Colin “Porky” Andrews, an ex-pat investment banker, when he decided now was the moment to adjust his satellite dish, will forever remain between him and his maker. Perhaps he was hoping for an update on the weather. Perhaps he thought his weight – he was a slovenly 24 stone even without his Hawaiian shirt and Reefs on – would protect him from the storm. Either way, every man is a sail in the face of 150 mile-an-hour winds, and Colin was unceremoniously flung off his roof and into the half-finished barbecue he started two summers before.

Four days had passed since Leona cleared. Annie Patterson, his neigbour and friend of sorts, had decided something was needed to distract her from the image of Porky’s cracked ribs and congealed blood staining the barbecue’s brickwork like two-day-old sweet-and-sour sauce, which was now glued to the back of her eyelids.

As she drove down island out of Road Town, she noticed an upturned wooden hull in the mangrove to her right, and pulled up where the tarmac stopped, scattering land crabs in every direction. Pushing branches, leaves, and flotsam aside with the urgency of a child unwrapping Christmas presents, she noticed the cracked and barnacle-stained paint around the hole, but missed the freshly-snapped mast entirely – and was lucky to escape with just a light graze on her calf.

It wasn’t the first casualty of Leona she’d seen that week, or even that day – the foreshore was dotted with at least a dozen upturned boats on this stretch alone, flung out of the water by the storm like a fat man off his roof. But this was no fibre-glass sun-sailor. This was a vintage Tortola sloop, one of fewer than a dozen still above water. The sight of its tattered, pyramidesque sail draped over mangrove was worse, in its way, than Porky’s cracked ribs. At least his demise was self-inflicted, the sloop was undeniably innocent.

That winter was the hottest on record, which in a country where 29 degrees was considered nippy, made for thirsty work. Annie had been chancing her arm when she asked the Piece-of-Hut’s owner if she could take the sloop off his hands. But once that idle thought became a plan, she followed it like a seagull to a trawler. Every morning, she rose before work to get in a few hours, and every evening she’d grab 45 minutes of hard labour before the light finally gave out.

Friends were roped in at weekend. Holidaymakers stopped and took selfies. Short days became slightly less short days – as is the fashion near the equator – and finally, two days before what would have been Porky’s forty-second birthday, Annie was finished. All that was needed now was to rename the thing. In life, she had been Loblolly Sunset. In death… what?

Annie smiled with her eyes as she painted the words on a broken oar, pushing hair out of her face, little-caring about the globs of sea-green gloss in her fringe.

She stood back. Arched her back like a cormorant. And admired.

“Porky’s Spare Rib ~ BBQ to die for,” she whispered to herself, “Yeah, he’d have liked that.”

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