Isle el Rayo Bello
A Story by Lea Sheryn
Boy gets lost off Florida Keys while fishing
Anxiously the mother waited on the porch of the white clapboard cottage. Her calico print housedress billowed in the sudden wind while her apron flew, like a white flag of surrender, parallel to her waist. Ringing her hands into the white cloth, she wrapped it into her fists as though it were a tight hard ball. Her little boy was out there on the raging sea in his little skiff. The storm was fast approaching and would surely overtake him if he weren’t home soon.
Using her hands as a shield to screen her eyes, she peered toward the beach and the horizon. Usually she could see the little skiff as it bobbed up and down in the lagoon. It was nowhere in sight. “Sammy, Sammy!” she screamed into the wind with nary a chance of him hearing her even if it had been a clear day.
Eight-year-old Samuel Delancy was allowed to fish off the little skiff if he promised to stay in the lagoon and within sight of the front door of his home. With his mutt of a dog, Buddy, sitting in the prow, the tow-headed boy would row to the approximate middle of the lagoon and drop his fishing line in the clear turquoise waters. Sometimes he would catch enough fish for dinner; other times he would come home empty-handed. Always cheerful, he didn’t mind as long as he could enjoy his time on the water he so loved.
His father allowed him to fish in the lagoon as long as he was careful to watch the skies. The unpredictable Florida weather could produce lightning storms with hardly any notice. When one lived on a Key (a small island), the storms could be quite dramatic. The Delancy family lived on a tiny outcrop of land just north and west of Key West called Isle el Sol Bello, "The Island of the Beautiful Sun". The mother and father knew how to be careful of the fast approaching storms and were cautious about allowing their little boy out of their sight on the usually serene water surrounding their little piece of paradise.
The last time the mother saw her son, he was exactly where he was supposed to be. Turning her back for a moment to take a fresh Key Lime Meringue pie from the oven, she wasn’t worried about him until she heard the first crack of lightning. Rushing out the front door and onto the porch, she was greeted by a gust of wind strong enough to nearly knock her from her feet. The sky was ominously gray with fiercely black clouds hovering close to the horizon. With each crack of thunder and bolt of lightning the sky flashed a bright neon pink color. Huge slender palms trees began to bend in the ever-strengthening wind. Out in the lagoon, the little skiff was nowhere to be seen. The mother was suddenly terrified.
Samuel had to admit he hadn’t been paying attention to the weather. Anchoring the small boat in the middle of the lagoon, he dropped his fishing line in the water then laid back with his straw hat over his eyes while he waited for a fish to bite. Buddy squeezed in next to him and placing his paws in the small boy’s lap, snuggled in to sleep. It was just another lazy summer afternoon for Samuel and his dog. It was the first crack of thunder that woke him up and forced him to look around. Isle el Sol Bello was in the far distance; too far! The little skiff was adrift!
Pulling the oars was a struggle. The sea was too much for the little boy to manage. The more he pulled, the further away from shore he got. All he could do was drift but he was drifting in the wrong direction. Waves began to lash fiercely as the storm caught its breath and began to blow stronger than before. Forked lightning ripped the sky in half as the boat bobbed on the rough sea. Lying in the bottom of the boat, Sammy threw his arm around his pet and hoped for the best. He was frightened of the sea, the storm, the thunder and mostly the lightning.
“Always pay attention,” his father’s voice echoed in Sammy’s ears as he made himself as flat as possible in the bottom of the skiff. Well, he hadn’t paid attention and now he was in real trouble. If he ever made it home again, he would remember to do as his father told him.
With a jolt, the little skiff hit something hard. After a moment, Sammy’s head popped up over the edge and peered around. The island he landed on wasn’t the Isle el Sol Bello, there were no familiar little cottages dotted along the shoreline. This one was much smaller and looked unpopulated. Suddenly the little boy knew where he was: Isle el Rayo Bello, the Island of Beautiful Lightning. Watching the lightning flash over this desert island was better than watching fireworks on the 4th of July. The brilliant light show would bring the sky to life in vivid red, white and blue colors every time a storm blew in ever-rising fury.
As quickly as the storm arose, the men of Isle el Sol Bello gathered in the Delancy home. News spread fast when one of their small population went missing; particularly when that person was missing on the sea with a fast approaching storm. While the mother radioed the Coast Guard, the men made up a search party. With lanterns and flashlights, they scoured the shoreline in hope of finding the small skiff, the boy and the mutt.
On the wind-lashed beach the tide was rising. The push and pull of the storm-driven waves held the men back but they were determined. Constantly they trod the shore waving their makeshift lights calling the boy’s name. “Sammy, Sammy,” echoed from place to place only to be drawn away by the high gales.
In the small clapboard cottage, the mother sat in her misery. Although the Coast Guard responded to her calls, they were reluctant in send out a helicopter to search for her son. The wind and the rain made a search party impossible. Visibility was low; the thunder and lightning a fury in the skies. It would be a suicide mission to take the copters out on such a day. All the mother could do was wait and hope for the best, even though the best was somewhere next to hopeless.
The women of Isle el Sol Bello sat in the little living room filling the couches and easy chairs with their presence. They were there to support the mother of the missing child. Their presence was little support since all they wanted to do was talk about the loved ones they had lost to the sea. The mother wanted to scream for them to leave but had no voice to speak her mind. Deep sorrow was fast setting in.
Rain-drenched, the father filled the doorframe with his head bowed. The search was worthless. Another young soul had met a watery grave. The mother lowered her head and sobbed.
Pulling the skiff onto the beach, Sammy used all his strength to flip the vessel over. The wind blew in every direction almost at hurricane strength but the boy was determined. Once the hull was up right, he crawled underneath and began to dig into the sand. Ever the one to join in a good dig, Buddy plowed right in and did his share. Once a hollow space was created, Sammy took corkscrew pins and drove them deeply into the sand and tied them off with the lengths of rope he kept for such occasions.
Once he was sure the boat was secured on the beach, he returned to his little nest. Buddy burrowed in next to him to stretch out beside his master. Together the boy and the dog kept themselves safe and warm. All that could be seen beneath the skiff was the clear blue eyes and the upturned nose of the boy and the brown eyes and black nose of the mutt. There they waited as the lightning streaked the sky, the thunder cracked and the wind rocked the boat back and forth.
For hours the boy and the dog watched as the storm blew and the rain fell around them. Finally as the night began to fall, the weather took a last breath and began to abate. Lightning flashed now and again over the Isle el Rayo Bello, less frequently than before. Sammy decided to wait fifteen minutes before deciding if it would be safe to leave the security of the overturned skiff.
After eight minutes the thunder roared once more accompanied by a lightning flash. After another fifteen minutes, it became quiet. A half an hour later, Sammy crawled from beneath the skiff and stood on the beach; Buddy sat patiently beside the boy’s soggy white sneakers. When all was clear, the boy untied the tethers that held the boat and flipped it back over.
Once it was afloat, Buddy took his accustomed place in the prow while Sammy took the oars. In the calm dark waters of the black midnight, the sound of oars lapping the water was all that could be heard. As it grew closer to Isle el Sol Bello, the mother became alert. Slowly she rose from the hard kitchen chair she had been seated on all that dreadful afternoon and floated, with the softest of footsteps, toward the beach. With the steady beat of his heart, her son was calling her. It was the sound only a mother could hear.
The father woke up with the nearly imperceptible sound of the screen door striking the doorframe. He had enough time to see his wife disappear onto the porch before he was rushing to pull her back. Afraid she had made up her mind to walk into the lagoon to join her son, the man rushed after her. She was just at the water’s edge when he tightened his hand on her upper arm to pull her away.
“Look,” she stated, barely above a whisper as she pointed into the darkness where sky and water met.
The lap-lap of oars striking the water caught the father’s attention. Wading into the lagoon, he waited until the skiff was close enough before grabbing the prow and pulling it ashore. Sammy didn’t wait for his father to lift him into his arms; the child jumped from the boat into the knee-deep water and waded toward his mother. As Buddy ran circles around the little family, the mother lifted her son into her arms and hugged him close. The man put his arms around his wife and drew her and the boy close into a warm hug.
“Buddy and I camped out under the skiff on Isle el Rayo Bello,” Sammy announced to his mother as he wrapped his arms around her neck. For the life of him, he couldn’t understand why there were tears in his mother’s eyes.