love-bugs

Superstitious

No amount of precaution and planning would keep Betsy comfortable for long in open water.  She had no experience of time in a seaway  All she had seen in the movies, or frozen on film, retouched for magazines and postcards, all of it intimated romance and natural glory, the majesty of the sea.  Only beautiful people went there.  I knew the images she held in her head, for the same had propelled me to go out and get some.  I had not had enough of it yet, evidently.

Betsy had no idea what I was asking her to do.  It didn’t matter what I told her, about how bad it could get.  Heavy weather sounded to her, as it surely had sounded to me, like another aspect of the romance.

She deserved a fair taste of the ride, for it was thrilling, and beautiful, what you could see and find inside yourself, wondrous enough each time.

The first night out, we anchored off a sandbar less than twenty miles from where we started.

The sandbar was Red Fish Island, lying a bit east of the Houston Ship Channel, so that anchoring near Red Fish, you were well out of the traffic.

We got there in the early afternoon of a gorgeous day: not much wind, and what there was, barely wrinkled the surface.  I hooked the boat down in nine feet of water, and set two anchors for safety and for practice.

The tide was dropping.  I knew we’d be sitting on the bottom during the night, floating again by sunrise.  The island all but disappeared at high tide.

There was nothing to see on Red Fish.  Not a tree or a blade of grass grew there.  We were the only boat anchored, it being a weekday afternoon, where on  weekends, the shallow water was crowded with speed boat and day-sailors come for picnics.

As the tide ran out, Mysterion settled her keel in the loose white sandy bottom, gradually heeling over as the tide dropped.  Then we occupied a vessel nearly lying on her beams end like a shipwreck.

Betsy didn’t quite believe me, that this was not a problem, only a small inconvenience, having to crawl around on a side-lying sailboat for eight or nine hours.  She did not appreciate the safety of the shallow water, nor understand the danger of anchoring closer to the deep channel, where the cargo ships came and went.  I explained what was happening, all the reasons why this was a good spot.  Doubtful as she was, she trusted me.

We made sandwiches for an early dinner.  While we were eating in the tilted cockpit, enjoying the late afternoon sun, the wind died down to nothing. From out of nowhere, the “love-bugs” descended on us.  Tiny black insects with orange dots on their backs, by the thousands—most of them flying in pairs, as they mated in flight. They covered the boat.

Not actually “bugs” but a species of fly, plecia nearctica, native to South America.  Each female laid two to three hundred eggs, twice a year.  In North America, they had first appeared in the 1940’s in Galveston, Texas, just down the ship channel, where Betsy and I were headed.

The swarm was amusing at first.  Having recently mated and conceived, we were charmed by the company of so many fornicating creatures.  But after a while, it was impossible to breathe without inhaling a pair.  Our stepping around on deck ended the lives of many.

Killing them made me and Betsy uneasy.  Their squashed bodies smeared the white fiberglass, made the teak deck greasy with the leavings of their ended fornication.  Then there were pairs that one got stepped on but the other didn’t.  The living were still connected to the crushed, trying to fly free, but attached by the genitalia to corpses.  It was a horror show, and I made it worse.  I tried a couple of times to pull a survivor out of it’s cancelled mate, but only succeeded in plucking the wings off.

Betsy went below and closed the hatches, turned on the air-conditioner, and waited for the sun to go down.

Feeling guilty and helpless, I wondered if by killing love bugs I was damaging the chances of her giving birth to a normal healthy baby.  I knew that was irrational, but I also knew that a human female egg was 85,000 times larger than a human sperm cell.  Millions of my seed had died in the attempt to penetrate a gargantuan beauty.  What was believable about that?

I decided to be natural and get heartless about it.  I took the deck bucket, tossed it over the side, retrieved two gallons of water, and created Noah’s flood.

Down the deck from bow to stern, I washed away hundreds of mating pairs in the act, that had landed to do their business.  Tens of thousands of offspring in the making,  surely millions, looking down the generations.  Scrubbing the greasy teak and smeared fiberglass, I was angry at the love bugs for showing up and making me do it.