Soon after we got back from England, there was a monsoon warning. No, we weren’t about to be bombed by fashions, we were in for a free soaking. Storms blow up all the time in the summer which is why the main tourist season is in the winter - it’s cooler and it doesn’t rain. But it often rains in the summer and there are storm warnings all the time. Following them turns into a sort of hobby, like praying for fresh snow in ski resorts. Except you're not praying, you're crossing your fingers. All summer long people ask each other: "Have you seen Erika on the move?" or, "Did you see that Suzy veered off?" or, "Saw Martyn on the telly last night, did you? He was coming on the news."
But this particular storm warning was more personal than most; it was strong, it was female and it was blowing our way. Hurricane Julia was coming to get us. After a day or so of wondering if she would blow herself out or not, and gibbering about what to do if she really meant business, everyone realised that Julia was not only rolling her sleeves up, but was also heading our way armed with a rolling pin. Little groups gathered round the radio in Marie-Rose’s bar to listen to the weather forecasts.
I veered constantly between being blasé and panicking like a turkey the week before Christmas. It seemed incredible that our small corner of the Caribbean could turn into a news item and yet, if Julia pulled out all the stops and put on a real show, I was petrified of being squashed by a flying palm tree.
Most of those who didn’t actually live on the island hurriedly left, aiming to outrun the storm or at least get out of her immediate focus. The bay emptied rapidly, all the yachties up-anchoring and flitting away as fast as their little sails would take them until there were only the resident craft queasily riding the heaving sea. The locals pulled their fishing boats out of the water and dragged them up amongst the palm trees, the bar-owners nailed boards over their open windows, and the shack-keepers moved their stock to more secure premises. Julia was looking decidedly pre-menstrual.
By the time she got round to us, the island was almost deserted. The only people left were those who didn’t have any choice, or those with something to protect. The tourists had fled, a lot of locals had decided to visit family and friends on other islands, and the rest were sitting tight inside their boarded up houses.
Along with Robert and a handful of other stalwarts, the Pirate was glued to the radio in Marie-Rose’s bar when I joined him there after my afternoon swim. I still hadn't managed to get any sense out of him about money, although I had tried. More than once. But I had another go.
"Look, they're my kids, I'll pay for their school."
"Have a drink!" he said blandly.
"I can rent the house in France," I told him. "It's pointless letting it sit there empty."
"You wanna cocktail?"
"I just need to sort out transferring the money, so I can..."
"Peanuts?" he suggested, waving a bowl at me.
"Stop it!" I said. "I'm serious. I want to get this sorted."
"Okay, I listening. Go on..."
"So, did you mean it about giving me a job?"
The Pirate grinned. "You can work in office if you wanna, and I’ll pay you for it, but I pays for skids. They is my stepsons. I pay for school."
"Look, I've just told you..."
"Okay, I think about it when you got money," he shrugged.
"And what about banking? I..."
"You don-need bank. I keep money safe. You work, you rent house out and then we see..."
"You stupid woman!" he flashed. "You making problems from nothing! I the man, you the wife! I got money, I pay! You relax, be happy, eat something!"
I might not be Jane, but he was determined to be Tarzan. I sighed and rolled my eyes at him. It obviously wasn't the right moment anyway, not with the storm clouds gathering.
"You better stay here," said the Pirate. "Don-go boat. Hey you, gimme a drink! What you havin’, Camille?"
I ordered a cup of tea and sat at the bar untangling my damp hair with my fingers as the others obsessively flicked from station to station trying to get the latest forecasts. The tension mounted hour by hour as the sky darkened and the air weighed heavy on our shoulders.
Dismissing my fears of horizontal killer vegetation, I swung my legs on a bar stool and made some bad taste jokes. We used to get some fierce electric storms in France, really magnificent fireworky mountain things with deafening cracks of thunder and lightening so bright it was almost blinding. But this promised to be even more spectacular, and I had convinced myself that if we were in serious danger, the emergency services would have evacuated us hours ago. Insanely, I was looking forward to my first tropical storm.
"What do you get if you cross a thunder storm with a tea bag?" I asked. "A typhoon in a teacup!"
The Pirate pulled a long face and spat on the ground. "I take fleet to mangrove swamp," he announced to the crowd around the radio. Snatching up a bunch of keys on the bar, he bowled over to his office door, kicked it shut and slammed the padlock into place. "Tommy!" he yelled. "Get everyone! I want all pliroma here, now!"
Shoving two stumpy fingers in his mouth he let out a piercing whistle and waved at a group of small boys on the beach. They came running and he sent them off with messages in all directions. "Get pliroma pronto! Now! Capishe? Vite! Hurry the fuck up!" He bawled and slammed, and young men started arriving and buzzing around him. "Get ready. You gonna do some real work!" he ordered. "Lazy fuckers! Fill the gas on the Venus! You lot, get out to the catamarans!" Seeing him in action was like watching a volcano erupt. Very impressive. I shifted over to one of the tables for a better view.
He was obviously not that unhealthy or his heart would have exploded with all the shouting and yelling he was doing. In fact, watching him rolling about hurling directions at Tommy and grabbing others by their arms, I realised he must be quite fit. Grinning to myself I started to wonder just what he would be like if he ever decided to set sail in the Sun. A Catherine wheel, probably. He was stumping down towards the jetty, his pliroma tumbling around him like eager puppies, when he suddenly swooped down on me.
"And you! You shut up!" he yelled at me, and I hadn’t even opened my mouth. "You stay here. Stay!"
He hurtled back into the restaurant; more orders were hurled at the staff, money changed hands, keys were rattled and then they were all gone, crashing over the navy blue sea under a threatening, darkened sky. I sat there absolutely motionless, stunned. How dare the bastard speak to me like that? In front of everyone too. I hadn’t done anything. The poxy storm wasn’t my fault. In fact, for two pins, if I could have thought of somewhere to go, I’d have gone - right there and then - just to teach him a lesson. I mean, I was so furious, I’d even have gone to Croydon. I’d have given anything for a black cab.
"Taxi! Take me to Timbuktu," I muttered to myself. "You bastard!"
Marie-Rose came over to my table with a salt-stained copy of French Vogue, sat down and lit a cigarette. She smoked casually for a bit and then she gave me a little smile.
"He doesn’t mean it," she said. She spoke in French and it was a relief to talk to someone who actually could speak the language properly. I was sick of endlessly trying to chat to people who were only just coping in pigeon English.
"It’s not serious," she added. "Une bettise, c’est tout."
I shrugged because I couldn’t think what to say and at least shrugging gives you the chance to pout, which always looks stylish. Even if you are spitting fit to kill. I mean, was she trying to be on my side, or was she trying to do the Pirate a favour? Or was she just making it clear that she knew him better than I did? I hadn’t a clue whether I was supposed to be jealous of her, suspicious, amused, or what? Was she trying to pal up? What a nightmare.
"Oh God," I sighed under my breath, "Ta-xi!"
Marie-Rose clicked her fingers at the waiter. "Have a drink. What would you like? Why don’t you try a little brandy? Calm you down."
There wasn’t a taxi. There wasn’t even so much as a child’s scooter. There was nothing I could do but follow orders and wait, so what was the point of sniping at Marie-Rose?
"Thanks, that would be great," I said.
Much as I’d have liked to teach him a lesson - steal a boat and shove off somewhere, or race after him, drag him out of his disgusting speedboat and make him walk the plank, or force him to parade through the office complex in nothing but heels and a Wonderbra - there wasn’t a single thing I could do. I was wearing a bikini, flip flops and a t-shirt, and my bag contained a towel, a pair of dusty sunglasses, half a tube of sun cream and a squashed pack of Marlboros. No cash, no cards, no mobile phone, no address book, no keys, nothing. All that was in my cabin on board the Sun.
Not only that, but apart from Marie-Rose’s, all the businesses on the island were closed, all the windows and doors were barricaded up, and what do mean, public transport? I do hope you’re not still thinking there was a handy metro station just the other side of the shark enclosure. So I lit a cigarette, and flipped through last December’s Vogue as if I was seriously contemplating spending £3000 on a chinchilla muff with diamond trim.
The drinks arrived, and Marie-Rose tilted her brandy at me. "Santé?"
"A la tienne." We clinked glasses and drank together and surprisingly enough the brandy did calm me down. Not enough to get me seriously interested in Vogue’s ideas for winterwear, but sufficiently so that I felt less like a camel. I smiled again, properly. "Thanks, Marie-Rose. Yes, I’m okay. What’s he doing with the boats?"
"Protecting them from the storm. They’re taking them round to the other side of the island to the mangrove swamps. They’ll take the boats right up into the trees and sink them into the mud. That way they’ll be sheltered from the worst of the storm. In the swamps they can’t capsize or break loose and get blown out to sea, and if a tree falls on them the damage will be less than if he loses a boat completely. He won’t sink them much, just enough to protect them from the wind. This bay here won’t be safe if the storm continues its course."
"Can’t he just bring them in and anchor them closer to the shore?"
"No, it’s not deep enough and anyway the closer the boats are to each other the more they will bang into each other and be damaged. They are better anchored out there in the bay... but if this forecast is correct, then even the bay won’t be safe, it’s not a natural harbour or anything. The waves will sweep in right across it."
I looked out at the ketch that had become my home, nosing uneasily into the wind, her backside shifting direction like the tail of a dog on the scent of a good dustbin. "Is he going to move the Sun too, then?"
"Oh yes. He did last time. That’s why he’s taken all his pliroma with him. He’ll move everything I expect."
I didn’t say anything. I just looked at my hands and noticed with vague surprise that my fingers were still twitching with anger. I took a deep breath and drank some more brandy.
Marie-Rose looked at my hands and shook her head. She blew smoke into the sky and then after a moment, she said, "Don’t take any notice of him. He shouts a lot. It doesn’t mean anything."
I looked at her and wondered just how come she knew the Pirate so well. She’d probably had an affair with him, I thought, in spite of being at least ten years older than me. Not that she was revolting or anything. She wasn’t, actually. She was pretty; dark eyes, wavy chestnut hair down to her shoulders and a neat figure - a bit flat chested, but loads of style, and she was nice, too. Lots of charm. Smiley eyes.
I bet he’s shagged everything within a radius of about 500 kilometres, I thought. That’s probably why he started looking for Internet women. Ran out of them in the Caribbean. The thought of him getting Marie-Rose into bed cheered me up immensely. The vision of Miss Paris-Model getting a bulldozering in the grease-pit was so unlikely and yet, knowing him, so totally plausible.
The sky was darkening rapidly and the wind was picking up. I smiled, thinking how the boys would have enjoyed themselves. They would have been tremendously excited at the prospect of a tropical hurricane. Personally I just wanted to get home, have a shower and get back to normal life. Home. Not some bloody varnished floating wooden tub, but my own solid stone house nestled in the mountains. It was a shock to realise that I’d already been away for over two months, and I suddenly realised I was homesick.
True, my house in France was even more basic than most of the houses on the island, true it leaked like a sieve, true it rained far more in the Languedoc than anyone ever admits. I’d never stopped fighting the elements in France. If it wasn’t the rain or the cold, it was the heat and the mosquitoes. If we weren’t hungry we were thirsty, and if the kids weren’t being kept awake by the heat in the summer, they were complaining of the bitter winter cold.
But it had been mine. It had been my struggle and my adventure, and at least I hadn’t been in it alone. I’d had Nickie and Fiona to laugh with, and because we laughed at everything, even the worst days turned out all right because they just became food for more laughter. Perhaps that why I was mad enough to miss a derelict house, an achingly empty bank account, a fridge that only worked intermittently and a lifestyle which meant that most of the time it didn’t matter whether or not the fridge was working because there was nothing to put in it anyway.
I wondered what the others were doing. Wondered how Nickie was making out with her geography teacher, wondered if Fiona’s goat was still sleeping in the caravan, wondered what was happening about Nickie’s divorce. I really ought to get in touch, I told myself. Find out how they are. I decided to ring Nickie the minute the storm was over. I was also reluctantly aware that I owed Harriet and Daniel at least a postcard.
I ordered another drink and watched as a phalanx of little boats surrounded the Sun and the pliroma scrambled aboard. Sometime later the Venus arrived and within minutes the Sun, with the Pirate at the helm, slid serenely out of the bay, the speedboats bobbing along behind her and dozens of little figures standing on the decks. It was strange to see the gap where she was usually anchored. As if you came home tomorrow, Philippa, and found that your des-res had disappeared leaving a bare stretch of smooth green grass where it had been sitting only that morning.
It got dark. The storm came closer and I stayed ashore, sitting in the complex with everyone else, drinking and listening to the radio. The low concrete buildings were solidly-built with their backs hunched to the prevailing winds, designed to withstand storms. Large drops of rain began to splash down on the concrete slabs which served as furniture on the terrace, and within minutes the complex was awash. Soaked to our skins, we hastily gathered up our drinks and scuttled into the covered bar area to ride out the storm indoors.
Out of the lashing rain, we shook ourselves like dogs and found new places to sit. It was strange being inside a building with the doors and windows shut. Normally, even quite posh places on the island have open windows so as to catch whatever breeze is blowing, but wooden boards had been nailed up across the side windows of the bar to protect against the wind leaving only the recessed seaward windows open, and even they had been covered with thick perspex sheets.
Having always sat on the terrace, I’d never really noticed the interior of Marie-Rose’s bar before. The walls were painted white and hung with little pictures of France. There was a faded Eiffel Tower, a herd of mad Alpine cows, a field of Provençale lavender and a view of the Promenade des Anglais.
The bottles behind the bar were decorated with seafaring junk and bits of fish - a shark’s tooth, the tip of a whaling spear, several aggressive fish skulls and a selection of grisly hooks and floats. On top of all that, someone, presumably Marie-Rose, had added a graphic depiction of a bleeding heart surrounded by a writhing mass of faded plastic flowers and fairy lights.
The atmosphere was almost tranquil as we watched the rain lash sideways across the bay. The wind had whipped the sea into a frenzy and lightening flashed across the whole scene like a disco strobe. The bar relied on its own generator for electricity so the power stayed on, but climatic interference made the weather reports incomprehensible. Still, the radio continued crackling and buzzing behind the bar. Just in case reception improved.
But we didn’t need weather bulletins. We could see perfectly well what the weather was doing. It was going bananas out there. Bananas, coconuts, pineapples and mangoes, too. The sea spray was blowing right up to the office, the palm trees were sweeping the sand with their leaves, waves were crashing down on the jetty, rain was washing over the terrace outside and in spite of the lights from the bar we couldn’t see more than a few yards of the beach. The noise was colossal, not just howling wind and banging thunder, but the crashes of things outside breaking.
Inside the bar, the old hands feigned nonchalance. Obviously it wasn’t cool to be running to the door every two minutes wringing your hands and moaning, "Oh my poor boat!" So they sat at the barstools with their backs to the windows and indulged in whisky and wishful thinking. They swapped stories of monsoons they’d known, women won and lost, fortunes made and wasted, dogs kicked, enemies vanquished, cards played, cunning moves, come-backs, come-off-its, come-ons... all the usual old male bullshit.
"You know, she was sitting there with her tits out, just begging for it, and I told her, I said I’m world class with a scrambled egg, I am. I mean, you know, she already knew I was the fastest racing driver this side of Silverstone and I think the reason she wanted to fuck me in the first place was because of me being a boxing champion, but she hadn’t reckoned on my having trained with the world’s top chefs in Paris as well. So I slapped the curry powder into the eggs and whipped them up. Very important to whip them thoroughly you know... tha’s the secret. Whip your eggs. So then I added the cream and just a small handful of raisins before throwing the whole lot into smoking hot butter. I mean, there she was just gazing at me with sex-crazed eyes as I showed her how eggs should be cooked and I’m standing there scrambling eggs, stark bollock naked with an erection the size of the Titanic and tha’s wha did it, you see. She couldn’t eat the curried eggs, she just kept grinning at me and her mouth was dribbling so in the end, I just gave her what she was begging for... but then she was surprised again cos she hadn’t reckoned on me keeping it up for six hours straight. Wey hey... come on Marie-Rose, over here! Fill em up, wha’s yours?"
I abandoned Vogue and played with a bowl of sugar lumps. I was bored. I’d sat through hundreds of storms in France but there it had been completely different - a panicky struggle to bail out the attic before the whole house was flooded. Here, the roof was completely watertight and there was nothing to do but wait. I told a few parrot jokes as a mild revenge on the Pirate, but even got bored with that. Frankly, I’d sooner have been out battling the elements with the pliroma than staying home in the dry waiting for the results of the battle on the front line to be broadcast on the radio.
In the end I knelt up and gazed out of the window leaning my head on my hand and finally the wind eased off leaving just the rain sloshing down in silence. Even the wishful thinkers piped down, staring into space and wondering what other exploits they might have enjoyed if they really had been born world-class boxers, racing-drivers and chefs. Marie-Rose produced some cold fish and bread and after that everyone drank and dozed for an hour or so until around midnight the door burst open and a panic-stricken face peered in.
"Robert! Where’s Robert? I think me brother’s broken his head!"
Robert was a tall Scot who was married to a Portuguese woman. They’d been living on the island for ten or eleven years in a purple and orange house just around the point. They painted hideous sunsets and sold them to tourists, but apparently before he ran away to sea Robert used to work in a chemist’s shop in Glasgow. Or perhaps he actually did train as a pharmacist, I forget the details now, if I ever knew them in the first place. Anyway, he was the nearest thing we had to trained medical aid on the island so he’d become the first port of call for any injury or sickness and always used to wait out bad storms at Marie-Rose’s so that people could find him without battling out to the point, which was impossible during a storm because the winds whip along there too fast.
"Aye," he said, unfolding his limbs. "I’m here, what is it?"
"It’s Teffi. It’s my brother. One of the shutters broke lose and me brother went out to tie it down and it slammed on him. I think he’s broken his head. I give him a beer and he drank everything but there’s blood everywhere!"
"Definite case of string in the chin," I muttered.
Robert pulled a face and picked up his cigarettes. "Okay, I’m coming now. I’ll send someone down if we need to radio to the clinic," he said to Marie-Rose. "Ciao!"
After he’d gone, we all went back to waiting the storm out. Listening to the short-wave radio when it finally burped into life again, we realised we'd been lucky - the centre of the storm had veered away and we'd been spared the worst. But the news was bad: roofs blown off, shipping capsized, power lines down, communications cut, trees all over the place, sea water halfway up what passed for a main street on the island, and a couple of cars blown into the bay. (Although the general consensus about it was that if their idiot owners had moved them inland like everyone told them to, they could have spared everyone the bother of dragging two wrecks out of the water to clear the quayside.)
Robert came back with his shirt covered in blood, and announced that Teffi was suffering from alcohol poisoning more than anything else. But at least the beer had numbed his thick skull enough for Robert to stitch him up without wasting expensive anaesthetic.
Then Tommy stumbled into the bar, soaking wet but still extraordinarily cheerful.
"Tommy! God, you’re drenched. What’s happening?"
"Boats is fine, Missis! No damage!"
"Hang on, Tommy. Marie-Rose, have you got a towel?"
Tommy wiped his face and shook his head, sending raindrops flying in all directions. He looked like a lawn sprinkler. "No worries. I gotta go in a minute."
"Well at least have a drink," said Marie-Rose.
"Okay, I have a coffee," he said, and she brought one over for him.
"I gotta message for you, Missis. The Captain says you stay here, he come in the morning. Oh, and he says you gotta eat. You too thin."
I rolled my eyes at Marie-Rose. "It’s three in the morning and he wants me to eat? He’s not just off his trolley, he’s a totally trolley-free zone."
"He just doesn’t want you to be hungry," she said apologetically. "Do you want something? A sandwich or some fruit?"
"No, I’ll be fine," I said. "Do you want something, Tommy?"
Busy pouring coffee down his throat, Tommy nodded enthusiastically so Marie-Rose went and got him an enormous doorstep of bread and cheese. Then he hurled himself back out into the rain.
I stuck to the fags and brandy diet. It felt good, and what’s the point of spoiling a good thing while it lasts? And anyway everyone knows that phase two of the F&B diet ain’t sandwiches and fruit, but C&A: coffee and aspirin.
Naturally the Pirate stayed all night with the fleet. Apart from the Sun and the speedboats, he had taken half a dozen smaller craft that he hired out to tourists and a couple of catamarans which he used for taking tourists out on day-cruises, fishing, swimming and rum-swilling.
The rest of the boats were mainly involved in smuggling scams disguised as a t-shirt business involving regular trips to Venezuela and I suppose they were round at the mangrove swamps too, but I don’t really know. I hadn’t the faintest clue why he was staying with the boats. I mean, if the storm was going to scuttle them or damage them there wouldn’t be much he could do about it, so why stay to watch the carnage?
But of course, he wasn’t there to protect his property from the elements. He was there to protect it from the locals. He explained it to me some days later, when the storm was history and we were eating supper by candlelight at the other restaurant. He was stuffing grilled fish down his throat like a boa constrictor, and I was picking through a dodgy paella.
"Look, I keep all fleet in the bay. So all peoples sees everything. An they know I watchin from the office. In swamps, any little fuckhead can climb aboard..."
"Would they do that?"
He looked pityingly at me. "Stupid. They think I got money on board. Cash."
"And have you?"
"Then why do they think you have?"
"Fuck! What do I care? Any fucker messes with me and I’ll kill them."
Drawing his lips back he bared his teeth at me. The top row were all perfectly white and even, the bottom row were irregular, chipped and stained. "See this?" he demanded. "See this?"
The top teeth were all false because his own had been knocked out one night by someone who came onto his boat looking for money.
"I heard something... maybe in those days I was stupid too, but I take a metal bar and I go out to see what is happening and they jump me. Locals. I don’t know how many. Three? Four? Anyway, they knock me down, they sit on me, they push a gun in my mouth. You ever had a gun in your mouth?"
"Er, no... that’s not something..."
"That’s where my teeth went. They push them down my fuckin throat with a gun. Fuckers."
"So what happened? I mean what did you do?"
"Nothing. I look like an old fuck, so I shake, I shiver, I give them the money and they fuck off."
"But I thought you didn’t have any on the boat."
"Forgeries. Fakes. The bastards got picked up in Martinique first day they tried to spend it."
"Fuckers. I know them, I’ll get even. Next time I see them again..."
"You had forged bank notes on the boat?"
"Yeah, of course I did. Why the fuck not? Do I look stupid? Here, eat fish!"
"What, you mean you had them there especially in case someone tried to rob you?"
"You don-lie-kfish? What-you-wan?"
"Weren’t you scared?"
"Wha-tyou mean, scared? You mean, did I wan-ter cry for Momma?"
"Well, didn’t you?" I asked, curiously. "Weren’t you scared? Not at all?"
"Course I was," he said seriously. "But thas no good, is it?" He waved his fork in my face. "Fear is la petite morte. Fear is for babies that spend all their lives trying to live safe. You can’t live safe in this world. It ain’t a safe fucking world."
"But what if they come back?"
"I shoot the fuckers."
"You mean, you’ve got a gun on the boat?"
"Course I have."
"Good grief! Where?"
He tapped the side of his nose and rolled his eyes.
"Come on, tell me. Where is it?"
"You bloody woman, you know that? Eat prawn and shut up."
Rigid with fury, I stared at him. I mean, my childhood was awash with temperament but the Pirate wasn’t being temperamental. He was habitually foul-mouthed and crude, but this was deliberately insulting. I felt rage boiling up in my stomach and wondered how he’d like a taste of his own medicine.
"Don’t tell me to shut up!" I snapped.
"I tell you what I like. Eat!"
"I don’t have to stay here and take crap from you!"
"No! I’m not some tart you picked up in a Guadeloupe cathouse. I don’t need you. I can leave any time I damn well like!"
"What do you mean, how?"
"How you gonna leave?"
"I don’t know! Plane, boat, roller skates, whatever!"
"An you think I let you leave? You think I simply say okay, you leave, here is your passport, you want I book you ticket?"
I stared at him. He was grinning as he forked grilled fish into his mouth, and little bits of it showered all around him. He looked at me and raised his Pernod in a toast. "I’m not stupid. You my wife. You think I let go? You think I let you run away? No. You stay here, like it or not!"
He was smiling at me and I hadn't the faintest clue how to react to him. Was he joking? Or was he a nutter? I met his eye and read a challenge in it. More than that, a declaration of war. My pulse began to race. What on earth was I to do? He was a human steam-roller. If I let him he’d flatten me. For life.
Suddenly, out of the blue a loud rebellious voice in my brain said "Bollocks to it!" and excitement flooded my body. No more crying for Muma, no more worry-scurrying. I would take him on. In fact I was itching to take him on - insanely eager to beat the Pirate at his own game. Whatever game that was. Yeah, bollocks to it. I returned his smile and raised my glass.
"You sushi-mouthed, sponge-brained piece of pond scum," I whispered. "You’re going to regret you said that."
"Dum spiro spero!" he grinned. "Here, eat bread. You too thin!"
"Dum spiro spero?"
"While I breathe, I hope," he said, and laughed out loud.