I heard Sir Elton John sing “Tiny Dancer” yesterday and the line, “lay me down in sheets of linen” has been on endless repeat in my head ever since.
I was living on the French island of Martinique, sharing a house with my friend Hillary, and a group of us had agreed to watch the latest Jacques Cousteau Special together. For young French people living surrounded by the sea (and maybe for all French people, I don’t know), watching Jacques Cousteau was like watching the final World Cup soccer match, a speech by the Premier, and a rock concert all rolled into one. We went to Jean-Pierre’s house to watch because he had the only decent TV. He lived with his tiny ancient mother (he must have been a menopause baby, or maybe his mother was really his grandmother, she was that old) in a beautiful but run down home up in the hills. On the way there, for a reason I don’t remember, I ended up on the back of Thierry’s motorcycle, screaming around the blind mountain corners in the pouring rain. It was dark, and so humid that it almost didn’t matter that it was raining. I distinctly remember trying to enjoy the thrilling danger of that ride so that if I died, I’d at least die happy.
Then, wrapped in towels to keep from dripping on the thread-bare oriental rugs and worn silk upholstery, we watched the show. As we watched the fish swim, and listened to Jacques Cousteau’s unmistakable voice (most of which I couldn’t understand), the blue-green light of the television and moist air from the open windows made it seem as if we were underwater too. It was late when the program ended. So late that we all decided to spend the night at Jean-Pierre’s house. His mother went to the closet and pulled out armfuls of linen sheets. We pulled the cushions off the sofas and chairs, wrapped them in the sheets, and fell asleep where we dropped, a crowd of about 10 of us, all over the living room floor. How lucky I was to be there, on linen sheets so old they were soft and smooth, dreaming of fish and water.