It’s like the plot in a made for tv movie. At first, it’s too convenient and everyone is super friendly. We barely know each other, but Paul and Judy, a couple in their sixties from Seattle, are enthusiastic about having me stay on their boat Grace for a few days while they travel inland with friends. They show me around, introduce me to the cat for which I am responsible, give me the phone number of some nearby friends and take me out for lunch before waving goodbye. For a supposedly win win situation, I feel my prize is bigger.
I haven’t been alone for more than a few hours in months, since we left Vancouver Island in September. On Silas Crosby, my bunk is part of the main cabin and from day to night I shift my things up and down from the settee to the bunk and back again. And then on Taking Flight, my bunk was the settee and my stuffsack of clothes lived under the nav table. In other words, my current existence is not what you would call spatially expansive.
The first night on Grace I just kind of sit around. Not once do I have to move so that someone can get into a settee locker, nor do have to tidy up my clothes which lay strewn all over the cabin. Once and a while I move to check on the cat, which naps peacefully on the cabin top. He’s nineteen years old and chatty but not especially demanding. We seem to get off on the right foot.
The next morning I wake up to the arrival of the polishing team. Paul had warned me that he had arranged to have his stainless shined and so I am expecting them. They’re not really expecting me though and look disbelieving when I tell them I’m just staying here to look after the cat.
That afternoon, I meet up with the family from Taking Flight again and we head into Puerto Vallarta for the celebration of the Virgin of Guadeloupe. The streets are packed and we drift along with the current of people as they flow towards the central cathedral. It’s exciting to be part of a crowd after so much time spent in open, empty spaces. Kids run in circles and vendors hoc traditional flan deserts and spongy lizards on the end of wire leashes. It’s fun to watch Kara watch the world. Though soon she will learn to consider choosing fear or aloofness when faced with a world so different from her own, for now she gets up close, squeezing through the undergrowth of the crowd as only kids can do, her white blonde head standing a bit taller than her Mexican peers.
The polishing team takes Sunday off, and I take advantage of new friends who live in a condo with a pool. Over fresh cut salsa and tortialla chips they tell me stories from their five years spent sailing the Caribbean.
At this point in the movie, lots has already been covered. The chapter titles are pretty predictable: Meredith gets responsibility, Meredith relaxes and does her laundry, Meredith goes on a Mexican fiesta adventure, and Meredith makes new friends. Anyone familiar with the genre knows what necessarily comes next: trouble.
And indeed, when I take a break from my book to poke my head out of the cabin to check on Buster the cat, I am subconsciously prepared for this next chapter. Meredith loses the cat.
It’s dark and the docks are quiet as I wander them forlornly, ears perked for the sound of the cat’s jingling collar. Eventually, I have to give up and go to sleep hoping he will be back by the morning. Obviously, this does not happen, and when the polishing crew arrives instead I try to explain to them that I have failed at the job (as simple as it had initially seemed). We all look at each other and shrug our shoulders.
“Que puedes hacer?” We ask each other. Nada.
All that day I lurk around the boat willing the cat to return. All this plot needs is a strapping young Mexican to walk up with the cat in his arms. But no such luck. The cat is just gone.
So now we’re in the brief inhale before the resolution of the problem, wherein Meredith tries to justify what she’s done (or not done) and then Meredith cleans the boat and waits for the owners to get back and hopes they will understand.
So I’m sorry folks, but there is no tidy ending to this one, no happy reunion or sly moral lesson. The cat just didn’t come back.