Two things happened our first day in Vieques–one pleasant, one not so much.
First, the horses.
There were at least seven or eight of them standing in the middle of the road. Yes, we’d read all about the island’s wild horses, but frankly we’d imagined something more along the lines of the ponies that inhabited Assateague Island off the Maryland shore (a place three hours from Washington we often visited), stubby, ill-mannered quadrupeds who ate your coveted club sandwich when you turned your back, then digested it and shot it out the other end with cartoon-like speed.
But these horses were something else altogether. For starters, they were slim and finely-hewn, with sharp, intelligent faces.
For another, they seemed to have absolutely no fear of cars or humans. In fact, they seemed to take great delight in blocking the road. If they’d had the ability (and lips) to whistle nonchalantly, I’m sure they would have launched into “Anchors Aweigh” or “Begin the Beguine” to signal their lack of concern for the poor humans waiting patiently for them to clear out of the road.
Even so, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to honk—it seemed crass to startle these beautiful creatures who were, after all, doing nothing more than minding their own business on their home turf. But we did edge forward until they eventually got the idea (or, more likely, simply got bored) and dispersed to the side of the road.
Away we went.
The second thing that happened was that I got sick. Even worse, I knew what was wrong the minute I felt the first pang.
A sinus infection.
I’d been carrying around a spiteful little cold for a couple of weeks, and although I was feeling better (and hoping against hope that the tropical sunshine would chase away the last vestiges of illness), I hadn’t been able to shake the rattling cough that’s the bonus round of every cold I’ve ever had.
Alas, I’d had sinus infections before and was thoroughly acquainted with every delightful symptom: chest discomfort, coughing, and a thrumming, low-grade fever. Not to mention the feeling that a Sumo wrestler is squeezing your Eustachian tube between his sweaty thighs.
The instant this diagnosis occurred to me, I began to wonder what my chances were of getting any sort of decent treatment on this lovely but decidedly second-world island.
Deep breath. As usual, I was leaping yards ahead of myself. First I had to tell Michael.
“Miguel?” I said, trotting out the nickname I sometimes used when I was being ingratiating or coy or simply wanted my way.
“Huh?’ he answered, half on his guard, half preoccupied with trying to take in the local sights.
“I think I’m sick.”
This got his attention. “Like what, your stomach?”
I shook my head sadly. “Not really.”
He slowed the car to a crawl. “Then what?”
I looked past him toward the crystal-blue Caribbean lying just beyond the stone balustrade separating Esperanza from the sea.
“More like my sinus thing.”
He stopped the car completely. “Oh god.” He reached over and took my clammy hand. We sat there for a minute or two, staring out across the flawless azure water, delaying the moment when we would have to swing into action, the moment beyond which we would never again be on this beautiful island for the first time with both of us in blooming health.
“What do we do?” This was me, feeling very lost.
He thought for a moment. “Didn’t we pass a hospital on our way to the house?”
My mind flashed on the modern but decidedly deserted-looking medical facility we’d catapulted past with Felicity a couple of hours earlier. “I think so, but it looked closed.”
“It had an emergency room. That can’t be closed.”
I remember thinking, oh yes it can.
But I didn’t say a word.