Somewhere around page 67 of the mindless thriller I am reading the captain interrupts: “The weather at our destination is a sunny 83 degrees. Relax and enjoy the flight.”
The plane is almost empty and I have legroom. I must be dreaming.
Over the wing the sun hangs bright above a carpet of cotton clouds, so bright I don’t even need the overhead light to read, so bright that I swivel the black air vent to cool my arm against the warmth magnified by the thick oval window.
On the tray in front of me is a Bloody Mary nourishing a bushy stalk of celery. Behind me the kids are quietly reading. Adjacent is my wife. We are holding hands across the vacant middle seat.
I return my gaze out the window, then go back to my book: I am being chased by KGB agents down the narrow stone alleyways of old Budapest to an Alpha Romero driven by a beautiful foreign tourist with fire in her eyes who I met by accident three pages ago. I am not sure if I can trust her; because in this world, there are no accidents.
Two days later on a tropical beach, when I am reclined in a hammock but lost to a snow-packed resort teeming with spies somewhere in Chapter 16, I learn that I was right: I can’t trust her. She is a Lebanese double agent who is about to level me with an AK-47 assault rifle on the slopes of Chamonix. Thank god I have been trained by Shaolin Monks to propel blow darts backward from a snowboard.
But that is not really important now. What is important is that I move under the protective shade of this flowering Jacaranda before I burn my browning belly, which has tightened considerably since my windsurfing lesson this morning.
Or was that yesterday? I can’t remember.
Anyway, that’s when I notice the really attractive woman strolling in my direction. She leaves delicate footprints in the wet sand after the waves caress her feet and dash away. She stops now and then to gaze out over the turquois water to where a masted yacht is anchored.
In each hand she carries a glass with an umbrella—a drink for someone. Lucky bastard, I think to myself in bad-novel cadence. I probably shouldn’t stare, but I can’t help myself. She is my wife.
“French, Italian, or fish?” she says to me later after I lay my book down, finished. In her lounge chair and floppy hat she thumbs through a magazine propped against her knees reviewing all of this island’s four-star restaurants.
To be honest, having spent the final chapter eliminating a ruthless Yakuza underworld boss with a pair of chopsticks, I am not particularly hungry. Besides, I just saved the world and I don’t really feel like making decisions right now. So I head across the narrow stretch of hot white sand toward the beckoning crystal water.
Between the rolling swells, I wave to my kids who are too engrossed in seashell beachcombing to notice. Not that my motions help; my head is the only thing above water and a snug mask obscures my face. I can touch the bottom here, but I am a little afraid of things underneath. Things like pirate graves or giant moray eels.
Still, I take a deep breath, roll forward, and let the weight of my outstretched legs propel me below the surface. Flashes of fire color dart through fist-sized caves along the coral reef. It’s a rich panorama I don’t expect. I need to explore this world more often I tell myself when I come up for air, this place between breaths, this place without cell phones or double agents
“Fish,” I reply when I return. I need a towel; I am dripping in island time.
Let me tell you, after chocolate mousse and aged Port served al fresco in candlelight there is nothing better than a full moon shimmering out toward the horizon atop gently lapping water. OK, a long night of uninterrupted sleep on the deck of a 60-foot sailing yacht moored just off the beach is pretty cool too.
Or maybe the promise that paradise is where you will one day settle, no matter how fleeting your conviction.
It is dark when I open my eyes, and cold and rainy and still winter. For a minute, I pull the blanket over my head. But that doesn’t stop the alarm from buzzing. It’s 5:30 in the morning and I have to get ready for another on-time departure to reality.
Here is what they say about paradise: it’s never where you find it, it’s where you look for it.
Still, it would be awfully nice to go on vacation right about now.