Sixteen-year-old Tamera lives in La Cresta, a rural fishing community on a Caribbean island. Despite having the support of relatives, including her dad, Earl, her elder sister, Mary and her best friend and first cousin, Jan, she struggles to deal with her mom’s mental health issues and the absence of her boyfriend, Dalton who moves out of the village to work. Tamera’s life is further complicated after one of her classmates disappears, and weeks turn to months without any word of the missing girl’s whereabouts. Life gets even more challenging after Tamera suffers a personal loss. This difficulty draws her and Dalton closer, but his long absences remain a test the young couple must contend with. Tamera doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, but she feels as if her closest friends are moving ahead and leaving her behind. After an environmental disaster wreaks havoc in Tamera’s hometown, she longs to help, but doesn’t have any of the required skills to make an impact. With time on her hands to soul search, she makes a life changing decision that leads her in the path of potential danger. Tamera finds herself at the centre of the mystery of her classmate’s disappearance, the resolution of which shocks the people of La Cresta.
“In Black Beach, Glynis Guevara examines a young woman’s journey towards adulthood with unsentimental clarity. Tamera is coming of age (and trying to figure out her future) in a Caribbean fishing village whose natural beauty and disturbing truths are equally part of her daily life. Oil spills and development threaten the island’s ecology and its fisheries as violence threatens the safety of its young women. Guevara neither romanticizes nor sensationalizes island life or the pain involved in growing up. Whether it’s a beloved mother’s lifelong struggle with mental illness, a classmate’s disappearance, or the insecurity and betrayal of first love, she shoots straight from the hip—and heart. Her heroine is gutsy and full of self-doubt. In other words, authentically human.”
—Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, author of No Place Strange, Clinic Day, and Learning Russian
Tamera’s cell phone rang as she and Jan crossed the street in front of Edgar’s half-finished wall. Even before checking the caller id, Tamera knew the call was from Dalton. That Saturday, because of his work commitments, Dalton wasn’t able to return to the village to attend the school carnival celebrations. At eighteen, he was one and a half years older than Tamera, having graduated from secondary school the previous June. He’d never missed the school carnival show during the five years he was enrolled as a student, and during his final year he participated in the King of Carnival competition for the first time, placing third.
He usually phoned Tamera at about eight o’clock almost every evening, but he had told her ahead of time that he was going to contact her earlier so she could share the results of the various carnival competitions at her school.
“It’s good to know that everything went well,” he said. “Sorry I had to miss it this year.”
“Yeah, it was really good, except that LaToya’s still on everybody’s minds,” Tamera said. “It’s horrible that we don’t know what happened to her, and a lot of people are still thinking that she ran away with somebody. Her mother’s at home worried sick, and I’m feeling guilty that we were at school celebrating.”
“You can’t stop living because someone’s missing,” Dalton said. “The reality is that over half a dozen missing people are still unaccounted for in Juniper and Toledo this year alone, so if we stop enjoying life because a person vanishes, then we will be miserable all the time.”
“But it’s different when you know the person,” Tamera sighed. “Me and LaToya aren’t best friends, but she is a decent person, and it’s real scary that someone disappeared from a tiny place like this and nobody don’t know nothing.”
”I know what you mean,” he said. LaToya’s mother lives next door to my family, and I’m sorry about what happened to her, but I have to live my life, and you have to live yours too.”
Tamera waved Jan goodbye as she turned to toward her home, the phone still glued to her ear. Tamera remained on the porch and chatted with her long-distance boyfriend for another ten or fifteen minutes. When she entered the house, her father was sprawled on the recliner that he’d purchased for his wife’s fortieth birthday the previous year. Earl, with a drink in hand, looked up at Tamera and gave her a crooked smile. A half-filled bottle of rum was on the floor next to the recliner, and a bottle of cola was next to it. “Your mother eyes were so full of fire when we met,” he slurred, emptying the glass in his mouth.
“Ma’s okay?” she asked as he poured another drink.
“She had big dreams,” he sputtered, then choked as he slugged back the drink. When he stopped coughing, he started to cry.
Tamera had only seen her father cry once before, and that was on the day his mother died.
“Life can give you roses or thorns, and you have to deal with whatever comes your way. You have to make the best of the cards that you draw,” he sputtered, and after gulping back another shot of rum, he placed the empty glass at his feet.
“I’m going to take a shower, Pa.” Tamera didn’t want to discuss her mother and needed to escape her father’s presence.
“You can’t spare your old man a few minutes?” he whined.
“Sure, Pa, but just let me wash off this gunk first.” She returned moments later with a bare face and some clean clothes, and reluctantly settled on the sofa facing him.
”When I asked your mother to marry me, she said no thefirst time, but I didn’t give up that easily, and she agreed to be my wife when I proposed the second time.” Earl had shared this tale many times before, but Tamera remained silent. She nodded and let him continue with his story.
After listening to her dad ramble for over fifteen minutes, she couldn’t get her mother out of her mind. She thought of the previous November when Alison had been discharged from the hospital and how quickly after returning home her mood had begun to fluctuate. Some days she was on a high and on other days she sank really low. At times, she had more energy than a two-year-old and she and her sister couldn’t keep up with her. During those times, she acted all- powerful and invincible, operating on less than three hours sleep a day. She painted watercolours for hours as if she had a pressing deadline. Her paintings were mediocre at best, yet she tried to convince her husband and kids that they’d sell for millions. It was during those times that Tamera almost wished her mother would get back to being down; it was so much easier to be with her when her mood was low. They could at least keep her still in one place. When she was high, there was no stopping her, and the whole family would have to be on high alert. Anything could happen.
The following Saturday, Mary and Tamera accompanied their father to the hospital to visit their mother. Children under twelve weren’t allowed to set foot in the institution, so Renwick stayed at home with Emma. Uneasy, Tamera stepped through the door, spotting her mother among the inpatients, many of whom had an empty, spaced-out look. Compared to the sparkling sunshine they’d left outside moments earlier, the dull and dim space inside the hospital felt stuffy and stale. Alison sat quietly on a chair, rubbing her lower arm mechanically. Several women in the gloomy room were making large, jerky movements and chattering incessantly under their breaths. Alison must have noticed her family members as they came through the door, because that very moment she slid out of her seat and came forward to greet them with short laboured steps. They met in the middle of the large room and she pawed at their sleeves as they encircled her.
“Hi, Ma.” Mary hugged her. “How are you?”
“Good,” she said.
“We brought you this.” Tamera held up a basket full of ripe fruit.
“You have more than enough to last the entire week,” Earl said with a gentle smile.
“Any Julie mangoes in there?” she said, peeking.
“Of course, Ma,” Mary said, hugging her. “We know they’re your favourite.”
“Thanks for coming.” Alison said, but she wasn’t smiling and her tone lacked inflection.
The mangoes, sapodillas, and bananas in the fruit basket had been harvested from Pa’s garden that morning; the apples and pears were purchased from a vendor in the vicinity of the hospital.
When the bell rang, signalling the end of visiting hours, a sudden gloominess appeared in Earl’s eyes, and Tamera felt tightness in her stomach. She needed to take one last look at her mother before stepping out of the enclosed area, so she spun around at the door, keeping her eyes on her mom as she torturously stepped away, widening the space between them. She tottered like an elderly person and then sluggishly sank in a low-slung chair that faced the window. Tamera waved, but her mother didn’t notice.