May Linh, Lily, Maggie and Simon were in the car early, the kid waving them good bye. Lily was driving, with May Linh next to her and Maggie and the baby on the back seat. Driving the long ride south, from up in the mountains to the beach, from winter to eternal summer, they had plenty of time to talk and to laugh and to be silent. Thus the trip went fast.
When arriving in the town near where they used to live, they passed by the train station.
“Remember the old train station?” May Linh said, “with Mr. You waiting for us, always trying to look cool but looking like an idiot, the only white guy there, and an old one at that, picking us up?” and May Linh and Lily laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed.
“Well, he came to pick me up only once,” said Maggie, “and he wasn’t too happy that day, let me tell you.” And she told them how Mr. You had almost taken her back to the train station and there went another round of laughter.
It was already dark when they reached the dirt road leading to their beach but there was a new gate and they couldn’t go through. They understood it was now a job site. So they turned around and it was completely dark by the time they showed up at The Lemon Tree, Carter’s resort. Carter knew they were coming, Lily had called, and, although this was his busiest time of the year, he had managed to free a bungalow for them. He was very glad to see them, especially Lily whom he knew best. He was stunned to see and meet with Maggie, because he had never heard of her and never knew there had been a third woman living with Mr. You.
Carter was even more surprised to see Maggie with an infant.
“Is this…?” he asked Lily.
“It is…” she answered.
He shook his head in disbelief: “Christ, Mr. You was something, wasn’t he?”
“I guess,” answered Lily.
Then Carter’s wife joined them and, after kissing May Linh and Lily, shook Maggie’s hand and she too was stunned. Then she showed them their bungalow and later treated them for dinner with raw oysters and shellfish and white wine, in this instance a Muscadet, a ‘vin de Loire’, a place Carter was absolutely certain Mr. You came from in France. Then, Maggie had to tell her story although, not knowing what Carter and his wife really knew, she didn’t go in the details of her work or her contract with Mr. You. Anyway, they were all in a great mood and Lily and Carter made everybody laugh.
May Linh and Lily explained to Carter and his wife the purpose of their coming, to go toss Mr. You’s ashes in the ocean, on that beach that he loved so much and maybe they’d have a swim.
“You can’t get to the beach anymore, not by road at least,” explained Carter to them. “The land was sold to a big real estate company, from Hong Kong I think, and they’re building there a huge resort hotel, with swimming pools and fake coconut trees and I don’t think you can get there anymore other than by boat.”
“Can you let us have one of your boats tomorrow?” asked May Linh.
“Sure,” Carter said.
“But we don’t know how to use it,” Lily remarked.
“I’ll go with you,” said Carter’s wife.
“Do you think you can lend us three pairs of goggles,” May Linh asked.
“Sure, no problem,” said Carter.
Then Carter explained that the pressure for them to sell their land was stronger and stronger.
“I figured that once this huge resort is built, our little homemade bungalows here will look shabby to the tourists so we’re thinking about selling,” Carter was saying.
“What will you do then?” asked Lily.
“We’re thinking about moving to Australia, the kids are growing up and that would be a good place for them to go to university. I guess it would be weird for me to go back there…”
Carter was an Aussie but his wife was a local women and she wasn’t saying anything but you could tell that we was sad with this turn of events. After all, they had built this place by themselves and it was a hard call to sell The Lemon Tree. The world was changing rapidly, even in those remote places.
The restaurant was full of noisy tourists so, after dinner, May Linh, Maggie and the baby went into their room while Lily stayed a while with Carter to play backgammon. Once she came into the room, May Linh and Maggie were already asleep.
The next morning, Carter’s wife was waiting for them at the landing pier and off they went. It was a beautiful day, not too hot and the sea was flat. A perfect day for swimming. It took them about an hour to go around the peninsula and then they saw it, the skeleton of a huge building. They saw that a huge chunk of the jungle had been cut down. The beach was so scattered with construction stuff that you could hardly see it.
They looked at it from afar, from the sea, and they were all sad and lost in their thoughts for a moment. It was high tide and they could see that the workers were not paying attention to them. So they came as close as they could to where they knew was the sandbar. Sure enough, it was still there, invisible, five or six feet under the water. So they followed the bluff a bit away from the beach.
Then May Linh asked Carter’s wife to stop the boat and, to her surprise, May Linh and Lily and Maggie took their clothes off until all three of them were totally nude.
May Linh was first in the water, then Lily jumped in it while Maggie carefully descended in the ocean. Then May Linh asked Carter’s wife for the urn, did a little prayer of her own and then turned it over and then let Mr. You’s ashes float away at sea. Then she filled up the urn with water and let it sink.
Then, May Linh and Lily put their goggles on and went to dive. They quickly found the bluff where they used to fish. Nobody had been fishing there for over a year now and there was plenty of shellfish that they brought back up into the boat. The harvest was plentiful but they realized they got tired a lot faster than before. For one thing, the three of them had lost their tan and May Linh and Lily had gained weight, only Maggie was now a lot thinner than before.
Then Lily took Simon in the water with her. The baby seemed to love it and acted as a natural and they were all excited and screaming and laughing and Simon, although so small still, could feel he was the center of attention. Lily lift him up and let him bask in the sun for a little while; “your father loved the sun” she told the baby.
Some workers finally noticed them and started to hoot. May Linh knew this was the last time she would be swimming and diving and wanted the moment to last for as long as possible so she didn’t care and she went to swim with Maggie, who was never much of a diver, while Lily stayed with Carter’s wife and the baby. Eventually, they were all back in the boat and dressed up again. Carter’s wife didn’t ask any question but she was glad she had come.
They spend one more night at Carter’s resort, whose chef cooked the shellfish for them.
The next day, they drove all the way back up north, up in the mountains. As much as there were laughter and excitement when they were coming down, the trip back was subdued and marked with sadness. So they were mostly silent most of the way, listening to the radio.
Once they got back, very late in the evening, the kid was there waiting for them. He had done the groceries and warmed up the house and prepared dinner. Lily was leaving the next day, back to New Orleans, and he knew he was going with her to the airport.
During dinner, Lily asked Maggie:
“What will you do now?”
“I don’t know” Maggie said, “go back to my parents I guess.”
“Well,” May Linh said, “if you want, you can stay here with me, I can always use a good English teacher and I can help you with the baby.”
And, just like that, Maggie broke down into tears and ran up and went to hug May Linh and she was crying and crying and saying “yes, yes, thank you, thank you.”
“Well, that settles it,” Lily said with a big smile. “And I’ll pay for Simon’s schools,” she added.
“I’ll be his father,” the kid said and, this time, all three women believed him.
“Thank you so much,” Maggie, still crying, was saying. And she hugged May Linh again, for a long time, and then she went and hugged Lily and then she even hugged the kid, who was much surprised.
Then the kid left and May Linh played the piano, but mezzo voce because Simon was already asleep. A little bit later, the three of them went looking over him, like three fairies over his crib. Simon had now three mothers in a way, and a father too.
Then they went to bed, Maggie scratched Lily to sleep with so much tenderness. She was missing Lily already. Then Maggie fell asleep. May Linh was still awake and she wasn’t moving, thinking of this new live that was starting. She sent a warm thought and a silent kiss into space for Mr. You, wherever he was with his aliens.
Then she turned on her left, loved her body against Maggie’s, put her arm around her and she could feel her milky fat breast and she could smell her and she could smell Lily too.
And she went to sleep.