Friday, January 17, 2014


Fire’s gone out.
Rubbing my hands together and blowing onto the tips, I stare at what’s left of it. The pile of smoldering ash stops giving off heat almost immediately and my shivering starts back up. I pull my coat closer. It’s warm enough to keep me from freezing right now—during the day when the sun is out, shining weakly in a sky the color of dull steel—but night will be here soon.
I look out over the ocean. The waves are enough to make me dizzy, plowing into the shore on top of other waves eager to go back out again. I can’t watch for long before I have to close my eyes and wait for the nausea to pass. A gull cries out overhead and then wings its way over the island, towards the flock circling the far side of the beach where the others are. I can see the crude sea grass and driftwood shelters we built, leaning into the brush, all but falling over.  I shake my head and face the opposite direction. I don’t like to think about them anymore or why the gulls are so anxious to get inside.
I’m back to staring at the water, for some sign of Sarah and the boat. When we found it freed from its spot in the cargo hold and bouncing  white hull up on the water, it took days to fix all the leaks with the few supplies we’d scavenged before it was sound enough to hold five people. A third of our group.  I knew right away that Sarah needed to be on board when it shoved off in search of rescue. It wasn’t an easy task. Not everyone wanted to take their chances at sea, trying to drift into trade waters where some other boat would find them, but enough folks did that there were heated arguments about it. In the end, everyone who wanted a space drew a length of sea grass from Jonathon’s fist. He made sure not to watch while we pulled them out.
“Fair is fair,” he said out loud to no one in particular. Mr. Benson popped him one in the mouth when he said it again just after his wife drew a short one. Longest lengths meant a spot, shortest that you stayed behind.  When it was our turn Sarah drew well…I did not. But I was glad for her to be going. Even then I knew that staying would be worse.
Before she left she asked me to hold out my hand then she lifted it palm up to her face, touched her lips across the center of my palm. “Keep that for me til I get back,” she said as she curled my fingers over the kiss dampened spot. “That and our chair.” She grinned conspiratorially. Our chair isn’t ours at all, just someone else’s belonging that dropped from the plane with the rest of us and managed not to break or sink.  I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. If I’d opened my mouth right then I might’ve begged her to stay. The goodbye was awkward because it was long. It took some doing for the boat to float out towards the horizon. Soon most of the others went to lie down in the shelters, already feeling the stomach churning chills and fevers that would take them just a few days later.  I was content to keep waving. It felt important, like my hand was somehow pushing Sarah and the others along.
I turn from the sea to steady myself  and stare out past the dunes. The island is nothing more than a long strip of sand and unforgiving peaks of rock. There are no trees, just brush. There’s no fresh water either. Though the sky is always this same godforsaken gray, it never seems to rain much.  Sarah and the others took the last of our precious bottled water. A carton of it washed up one day after the remnant of our plane was taken back out to se. We found it lying on the smooth section of the beach between the shelters and where I stand now along with random bits of the wreckage: our steel and wooden antique chair, a set of airplane trays meant to hold first class meals, seat cushions, several suitcases full of clothes, shoes, and not much else, and the remnants of the beverage cart—which is how we ended up with a small stock pile of alcohol and Cokes for those of us who stayed.
The Cokes have been gone for several days, the alcohol long before that. I’m thirsty and weak. All I want to do is kneel down and lap up the seawater with my swollen tongue. For now telling myself that that will be the beginning of my end is enough to keep me standing, but only barely. I just have to wait and have faith. Sarah will find help and when she does, she will come back for me.
I try not to think about the last moment where I could see her close up, or the half wave she gave me--faltering midair before her arm dropped to her side. I think instead of the wood and metal chair and the moment we found it together.
“It’s not damaged at all,” she said, her hand caressing the wooden back. “To see this chair sitting on this beach by itself, you’d think someone just pulled it from a house and plunked it down in the sand with the intention of sunbathing.” She pressed on the seat experimentally to see if it was as sturdy as she thought before she sat on it, stretching her legs out in front of her and crossing them at the ankle. She stared out at the sea, her hand fiddling with the gold chain at her neck. “It’s strong. It survived. Same way we did.” She closed her eyes and lifted her cheeks to the sky. “You know what? I think this chair is our portent.”
I knew what she meant even if she didn’t  word it right and so I nodded my agreement because she is forever doing that—using words she likes the sound of, that fill her mouth in a pleasing way and make her feel smart, but never quite fit or worse, mean the opposite of what she intended. I didn’t bother to correct her this time—though I felt desperately afterwards that I should have. Sometimes speaking a thing can make it real.
I pulled the chair apart last night when the cold was a knife slashing at me face and hands and feet and every other burnable thing was nothing but soot. I kept throwing grass on it, making it last as long as I could. It was a lonely business. Now I’m lonelier still without a place to sit and watch the sea and pretend to merely be sunbathing, but I’m alive for now and that has to count for something, doesn’t it? Any day now and she’ll come for me…I just have to hold on and believe.
When the first white painted board washes up at my feet, I can’t figure out where it came from. I pick it up and turn it over and over in my hands, feeling the waterlogged weight of it and wondering. But then I see another and another and suddenly with overwhelming horror I know.

Photo byKostas Kitsos
Story by: Amy Christine Parker

1 comment:

  1. Aw what a lonely story. Excellent job, Amy! I loved the details of the items they kept finding from the plane. That's what made it real for me.