by Pat Hanahoe-Dosch

In the dark, a man squatted on the coarse sand by the surf, his sarong lifted up behind him. Jane quickly looked away. The moon was a thin finger nail paring, the only light, brief flashes of white from the breaking waves. A few steps more and the man was just a shadow in the dark, moist wind.

    Lights from the fishing boats bobbed on the horizon like candles among the swells. Jane knew the Sri Lankan coastline of palm and coconut trees, hotels, beaches, rocks and broken boats was still there, but hidden in the in-between hour before the first grey glimpse of sunrise. She waited for dawn. She’d been on the island for five days, but still couldn’t adjust to the time difference.

    The fishing boats grew larger and clearer, heading for the lagoon and fish market. Crows clustered in their usual annoying watches, eyes on anything they could steal.

    The dark slowly drifted away into small clouds. But she knew there would be no shift in weather. The rainy season seemed to have abandoned this southern side of the huge island. She had read somewhere that the 2004 tsunami had changed the coastline so much that it also changed the weather. In America, she hadn’t thought about what that meant. Here, now, so much had been rebuilt or repaired it was hard to imagine what it had been like. Stranger even than imagining this village during the civil war. She was glad all that was over. A man she had met on the train from Colombo told her the entire island had paid a terrible price to end the war and were still paying. She was no journalist. The rumors were just stories on the Internet.

    Back in her hotel room, Jane boiled water in the electric tea kettle by the phone. The ceiling fan wobbled loosely as it spun, as though ready to drop out of the plaster. She opened the balcony door to catch the breezes from the ocean despite the danger of crows hopping in from off the railing when she wasn’t looking.

    She sipped the dark Ceylon tea. She had bought it at a plantation two days ago, so it was a good grade, but not the best – that was too expensive, even here.

    Outside there were sounds the village waking up: a few conversations in Sinhalese along the edge of the courtyard, an occasional car horn or bicycle bell from the street past the hotel fence, tuktuk and car engines murmuring in the distance.

    Then there were three gunshots--fast--and screams. She choked on the tea she’d just swallowed. Engines and tires screamed, too.

    She could see nothing from the balcony. She waited, listening. She heard nothing but dogs barking uncontrollably. She grabbed her room key, slid on a pair of sandals, ran down the corridor and then a steep flight of steps to the lobby to ask what was happening. There was no one there. Outside, on the street, there was no one, either.

    She walked down the sidewalk, past closed shops, looking for police cars or an ambulance. She could see nothing.

    Back in the hotel lobby, things looked normal. The desk clerk looked away when she asked what had happened. “Nothing,” he said. “Don’t worry. Breakfast will be ready soon.” Jane could hear the clatter of dishes and pans from the dining area, off the beach, surrounded by screens.

    She went back to her room. She had forgotten to close the balcony door. A crow fluttered out as she walked in. A bag that had been filled with crackers lay in tatters on the ground with only crumbs left in it. The damage could have been worse, she thought, cleaning up the mess.

            Outside in the courtyard, a man began cleaning the pool. Jane boiled more water. She didn’t know what else to do. Only the waves beating on the beach’s edge disturbed the brittle, mute air from the streets she could not see from her balcony.

Pat Hanahoe-Dosch has an MFA from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and is currently an Associate Professor of English at Harrisburg Area Community College, Lancaster campus. Her poems have been published in The Atticus Review, Confrontation, The Red River Review, San Pedro River Review, Red Ochre Lit, Nervous Breakdown, The Poetry Super Highway, Quantum Poetry Magazine, The Paterson Literary Review, Abalone Moon, Switched-on Gutenberg, and Paterson: The Poets’ City (an anthology edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan), among others. Pat’s nonfiction articles have appeared in Travel Belles, On a Junket, and Wholistic Living News.