The mug of Foster’s slid across the table at the Lazy Flamingo, aided by perhaps a quarter inch too many layers of varnish. I stopped it before it hit the wall at the edge of the booth. S similarly stuck a hand out just in time to keep his mug from colliding with the Bug’s virgin strawberry daiquiri. S and I made a quick motion of a toast to each other and took the first sip of Foster’s while the Bug busied herself with trying to lift the dollop of whipped cream off the top of the daiquiri with her straw. *Plop*. The recalcitrant whipped cream slid from its perch for the third time and landed back on top of the drink. I handed Bug my spoon. She scowled, “Don’t spoil my game.”
Fatigue sat just below the surface of my consciousness; S and I had been up until 3 am on a late night snapper fishing run, during which I had landed three beautiful mutton snappers and a spectacular case of seasickness. Don’t be bashful; don’t be shy. Lean over the edge and let it fly! The mantra from the previous night had tickled the Bug to no end, “Mama, did you really honk off the back of the boat?!” Her toothy giggle revealed that she had succeeded in transferring some of the whipped cream from the daiquiri to her mouth.
“Yes; I really honked off the back of the boat. Did you really honk all over that bed in the emergency room?”
Bug scowled at me for the second time, “Hey I was really sick! And I had to get a shot!” I winked at her. She screwed up her face once more and then giggled. The night before last had been spent with Bug at the emergency room in Ft. Myers, after she developed a nasty fever. I had been leery about visiting an inner city ER at 2 am on a Saturday – thinking that a seven-year-old with a virus would wait in line behind a fair share of auto wreck and gunshot victims. But 104 degrees was more than I felt like I could handle on my own and in the end they had fawned over her like a princess, and an hour and a magic shot later her fever was down and she fell asleep on the way back to the condo. And today, we’d taken a short walk on the beach at the Sanibel lighthouse and were huddling at our favorite watering hole on the island, awaiting conch fritters and grilled grouper.
"Daddy, how big was that fish you caught?”
As S measured out about 14 inches with his hands, explaining how the length of a fish is measured from the tip of the nose to the caudal peduncle, Bug grinned like she was up to something. With her fingers, she measured out a span of three inches and leaned forward, conspiratorially. “It was Horatio the Honkapuss!” The giggle erupted from her.
Last weekend, we sat in the same booth at the Lazy Flamingo, with S’s parents. I told the story, and we raised a glass to the Bug and to strawberry daiquiris with whipped cream, and to Horatio the Honkapuss. The varnish was a couple layers thicker. The grouper was temptingly fresh. The Foster’s was still cold and the conch fritters still delicious. All that was missing was the goggle-eyed grin and the belly-laugh of a little girl. I’m not sure the place will ever feel the same to us, but I’ll always feel grateful for the memory it’s given me.
Love you, Bug, and I miss you very much.