Salt

I mentioned dropping off the bike at BJ’s Backyard in the last post. Everyone in Roatan seems to know who she is, and apparently, everyone has some personal story about her. We had spotted her on our first trip, a rail thin older woman in shorts with a tiny dog stuffed down the front of her faded, sleeveless button-down blouse. She looked us over, not smiling but not exactly unfriendly either. Just not…gregarious. Maybe wary. In any event, we’d arrived just as she was closing. We said hi, she nodded, and that was pretty much it.

If BJ didn’t seem like much of an afternoon person, she’s really not a morning person. S and I got to her dock at a little after 9 a.m. This is not the time to attempt to draw BJ out. But she did point us to a safe place in her parking lot to stow the bike, which we did.

Now, back at BJ’s, we stopped for a drink before the hour-long bike ride home. BJ wide awake is not a whole lot different from BJ half asleep, but she ambled over to the bar gamely enough.

“What kind of beer you got?” S asked.

“Salva and Port Royal.” The beer you see advertised on signs and T-shirts all over Roatan, Salva Vida, translates as “Save your life.” Other than having an awesome name, it looks pretty much like a Miller.

“Port Royal,” said S. I ordered a club soda. BJ scooped them out of a free-standing, white-at-some-decade-in-its-long-life, hip-tall cooler, then joined us across the bar.

“Is that you?” S asked, pointing to a picture of an angelic little girl, circa 1955.

BJ glanced over her shoulder. After a moment, she nodded. “Yep.”

“Where you from?” I asked.

“Here.” She’d lived her life in Oak Ridge. We’d pulled enough teeth for one week, so we didn’t ask too many questions.

Besides, we didn’t need to. If any place on the planet is a reflection of its owner, this is it. Two bookcases are stuffed with sun and ocean-spattered paperbacks. I saw everything from Rosemary Rogers, the doyenne of trashy, naughty bodice rippers in the late 70s, to Kafka and Kerouac. Whether or not BJ read the books or just runs the public library, I’m not sure. I think it’s probably a little of both.

“Who did the paintings?” I ask. Bright acrylic pictures cover boards and the tables, most of them nautically themed, one conspicuously not.

“I always wanted a pet giraffe. Now I have two,” BJ smiled, indicating a mother and child with necks intertwined on one of the walls.

“What’s BJ stand for?” asked S.

She looked at the ground, and I thought maybe she’d either dropped something or hadn’t heard. A good 45 seconds later she said, “I don’t remember.” And she shrugged, the smallest of upturns at a corner of her mouth.

Whether a bid for privacy or an honest answer, it cracked us both up. “You know something?,” said S. “I believe you.”

Hand-written signs advertise the day’s specials, which naturally included wahoo, a big tuna-like fish that abounds in these waters, and shrimp. I’d read that BJ daily whipped up a batch of baguettes, and I asked if she’d baked today. When she looked at me like I had a wahoo coming out of my ear, I said, “I heard you were a baker?”

“Oh, no. He’s gone. That was my boyfriend.”

“Oh.” Whoops.

“The doughman’s been gone for a while now.” She cackled. She didn’t seem to miss him very much.

She could be one way, and an interesting one, to play Leona, the down-to-earth, impossible-to-surprise heroine of Tennessee Williams lesser-known but lyrical Small Craft Warnings, but without the long, rambling monologues that clue you into what makes Leona tick. I doubt many people know what makes BJ tick, but I bet she knows a lot of secrets. Those faded sea-green eyes don’t miss a trick, I think.

We no doubt could have asked the young woman (seated in the rocker in the pic above) working in the kitchen, i.e., the stove behind the bar, to rustle something up, but I was saving my appetite for something a little bigger. When we left, BJ wished us safe travels.

“See you around,” she said.

Probably one of the nicer benedictions I’ve received in my life.

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