Flash Fiction: A Jamaican Proposal

Sun on a dirt path, rutted by large tractor wheels, bronzes our bare arms. We are the only tourists in the jitney to the waterfall at this early hour. When we arrive, our guide, Clive, greets us and we ascend to the first cascade. Under Clive’s direction, we pose beneath the plummeting water, on the slippery rocks, in the churning whirlpools, further apart, closer together, until, shivering, I hoist myself out of the cold and stand alongside him on the wooden deck in a patch of sun.

My longtime, long-distance friend is turning 40 this year and I watch her float to the far side of the pool. Away from the falls, beneath the rock overhang, white water turns clear. Through the surface, I can see the telltale signs of the age she is approaching. Her torso is rounder than when we met last, her thighs dimpled, the backs of her arms adding new heft to her upper body.

Clive watches too, having seen the ring I wear on the third finger on my left hand. We make conversation. He applied once to go to America but was rejected. No matter, he says. He has a good life here. The conversation turns to relationships and he insists he would only marry for love. Yet when I confirm that, yes, my friend is single, he remarks that marrying to get a visa is perfectly acceptable, as long as both parties understand the arrangement. And, oh, she is from Canada? Well, that’s just fine too.

While driving around the island, my friend has been telling me her fears about entering middle age, still single, caring for her widowed mother in a fishing village perched on edge of a peninsula jutting out into a part of the Atlantic Ocean that is never warm enough for floating in the early morning air. I’ve been downplaying the details about moving last summer with my partner of four years into a palace on top of a hill overlooking a town known for its craft cocktails, sunshine, and concentration of PhDs.

On the next terrace, I enter the water with her again and, in between Clive’s rote instructions for crafting the most social-media ready, envy-inspiring images of our holiday, I relate the details of our guide’s pragmatic proposal. She laughs, I laugh, she looks away, and silence overtakes us.

We descend to the next terrace. A rope sways gently from a thick branch stretched over a chilly bottomless pool. I demur, citing fear of losing a contact lens. My friend is also unwilling but struggles to think of a reason not to. Clive encourages her with a hand placed gently on her back. Her gaze moves between him and the water below. A second later, her feet propel her off the cliff and into the abyss.

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