“Mommies and babies, mommies and babies,” she sang in her best contralto, over and over, “mommies and babies, mommies and babies.”
Conversation at the table halted in someone’s mid-sentence. A married couple and the singer’s husband sought each other’s eyes. The singer’s husband laughed, a quick percussive burst. Seconds later as if in response to a secret signal they scraped their rattan chairs across the smooth white tiles, and rushed through the open doors to the deck.
The surf rolled and thundered in a tranquil rhythm. At dinner tables throughout the ex-pat community it was a perennial topic of conversation. How loud the surf was or wasn’t that night. And the weather. One day it’s hot, the next day hotter. A few months out of the year it rains, sometimes quite a lot. It’s always hot, and sometimes it rains, and yet the conversation will stretch half an hour or more, and circle around and end where it began. “It’s supposed to be even hotter tomorrow.”
The singer shined her flashlight into the jungle, and there they were: dozens of mommies and babies. Coatimundis in English, but they were not in English speaking territory, and so they used the Spanish, pizotes. The tiny pizotes clung to their mothers. Surely daddies were to be found among them, but no one cared about the menfolk. All eyes focused on the tiny tots. Dry cat food, that’s what they were eating. Every night the singer spread a pound or more of cat food at the same spot in the jungle. And every night a legion of mommies and babies arrived for the feast. Maybe a hundred or more were out there. The light was insufficient to contain them.
The singer and her husband wore matching shirts of the Hawaiian variety: short sleeved, brightly patterned. At the railing they stood next to one another. In the moonlight their forms blended into one expansive shirt. The dinner guests had carried their wine glasses to the deck. “Look at them all,” cried the wife, her words slightly slurred. “Should you be feeding them?” accused the husband, reaching for the rail. Red wine splashed from his glass splotching the white tiles. The pizotes chattered. The surf slammed the shore.
The wife, but not the husband, who was new, had known the singer for many years before their move to this remote peninsula on the sea. Listening to the melodic squeaks of the masticating animals she considered how the singer and her matching shirted husband were instrumental in raising funds to cover the electrical wires in the ex-pat community in an effort to limit the deaths of howler monkeys who traveled through the trees. With fewer trees they traipsed across the power grid, and were fried and felled, smoke spiraling from the carcass.
“I don’t think you should be feeding them,” said the husband. His wife reached for his hand. He pulled it away like a petulant child. Everyone knew he slipped away from his large house on the hill to visit a girl in town where the locals lived, away from the houses of the ex-pats. She was often to be seen dogging him as he roved through town swinging from bar stool to bar stool.
“It’s the least we can do,” the singer defended in her gentle cadence. She shined the light on the placid pizotes. Scores of eyes blinked into the beam. The long snouts moved in tempo to the soft crunching of the cat food.
“They tear up my dog every chance they get.” The husband bared his teeth much like the dog in question.
“They’re only trying to protect themselves. If the dog was trained…” The singer trailed off as the expression of her guest turned to rage.”
“Miss high and mighty knows what’s good for all of us.” He flung his wine glass into the black jungle. The pizotes squealed and scattered. He pushed his bulk from the railing, strode off to the end of the deck. Gravel twitched as he negotiated with the night to locate his car. His wife moved to follow. Instinctively the singer leaned toward the wife, reached out a protective arm, “Don’t go. Stay with us.” The husband sounded the car’s horn in short staccato bursts. The wife smiled, squeezed the singer’s hand, and walked off.
The singer encircled an arm around her husband’s waist, rested her head on his chest. He leaned into her fragrant hair, pulled her close, and sighed.