Sprawled at his bare feet, a green canvas bag holding captive two large lobsters. They scuttled about, armor clacking the skiff. He didn’t particularly like the taste. He loved being out on the boat, the feeling of floating on the tide, looking into the shallows, seeing crab and small fish roaming among the barnacled rocks. Pulling pots by hand and rowing was good exercise. He loved the smell of the bay, the shore at low tide, the complex aroma of living Earth.
The wind kicked up from the east as he maneuvered the skiff in toward shore. The island foliage tossed uneasily, fighting the stiff breeze. Choppy waves riled the skiff. He pulled the boat onshore and tied it down, when he saw her. Something out the corner of his eye. Just a splash of red, but the color was bright enough for him to realize it was not a natural color for the island. He thought for a moment he was seeing things from his imagination. The red of blood. The color he was sure covered his wife and daughter. The horror of imaging how they looked after the crash. His imagination often took him there, to that scene on the tarmac. The horror of it sinking into his bones, like cool water floating down in layers, to the bottom of his soul.
The crimson flashes moved inland, up beyond the tall grass on the hill, beyond the slink weed bushes on the rocky trail leading away from the cottage. He reached the trail head, but saw no more signs of her. A slight breeze rustled the bushes behind him. He started and turned quickly, scanning the bushes, the trees and grass beyond, but he saw nothing. A bird landed on a tree nearby and he smiled. His mind was playing tricks. His only visitor was a black bird with a red patch. Red winged black birds were uncommon on the island and probably the reason it caught his attention. Crows and seagulls ruled the rock. Just last night, a small murder of American crows appeared near the cottage, their loud cawing and iridescent feathers unmistakable in the craggy pines.
He lit the outdoor roasting fire. After he’d cooked and eaten the lobster, he sat, satiated, under the canopy of stars. Cool air wrapped around him like damp sheets. He sat on the hard flat rock, shaped like a stool, and stared into the fire. Clumps of smoky seaweed, still oozing dampness, wheezed and popped in the heat, and gave off sour smoke.
When the season was right, he’d roast corn on the cob with the lobster, but often he couldn’t finish the meals. His appetite would wane as he drifted into bad memories. The burial, the condolences, the sad offerings, the blur of black clothing, pale skin and muted whispers, and the sorrowful moans. The preacher’s caw echoing into incoherent rants. Words popping out, such as “life,” “death” and “meaning,” but his voice was more like the wind and rain and provided no comfort. Rituals. Other people’s thoughts held no meaning. Grief lived in his chest like a knot of angry crabs, the weight of it strangling and gnawing on the flesh of his heart, and because of it, his appetite was gone. He ate what little he could of the rich lobster meat and threw the rest back into the fire. He held a bottle of bourbon on his lap, running his fingers down the smooth glass. But, he knew he wouldn’t drink. Not at that moment, but soon maybe, and it would start all over again.
A twig snapped and he looked up. Just off the trail, someone standing in the shadows, but he tried not to stare. He held a smoldering twig in his hand and watched the glowing tip turn to ash, occasionally looking up and scanning the trees and bushes, trying to snatch a glimpse of the stranger. After seeing the outline of shoulder-length hair and just enough facial features to decipher them as feminine, he thought it might be a young woman. Thick hair, perhaps, covered the side of her face. He saw these things in dark outline, never catching any detail. And her footfall was light, not like a man. He was quietly amused by his silent watcher, and wondered if she was a perhaps a child, or a teenager who’d run away from home. Then he realized he should speak and see what kind of trouble she might bring. How could she be anything but trouble? “Come in out of the dark,” he said, placing the tip of the smoldering stick back into the fire. “I won’t bite you.” He sensed her there, standing still in the shadows. He resumed holding the burning stick, until the flame diminished into a small glowing point. There was no sound, other than the occasional breeze.
As night closed in around him and the air cooled, a chill covered him like a damp whisper, and he decided to go in. He stood and looked at the area where he’d last seen her outline and said, “I’m going in now. I’ll leave a blanket on the porch. It gets cold.” He stared into the blackness and laughed to himself for thinking it was somebody. If it had been a girl, she would have talked to him by now. And if she had talked to him and had come inside, what trouble would she bring? He didn’t need it. He was alone with his own troubles. That was enough, and they were all he could handle.
He went inside the cabin and built a fire. When the logs caught, and the flames licked a good size log, he pushed the sofa up close to the hearth and sat. If it was a girl out there, he thought, somebody would be looking for her. She could be a runaway or hiding from the law or bad men, a bad marriage. But these were just ideas. It had been a black bird with a red patch on its wings. Nothing more.
Time passed and heaviness woke him. He roused and checked the fire and found no flames. The room was cold. He looked out the window toward the fire pit. There was nothing to see. He lit a kerosene lamp and went to the bedroom.
His shadow cast on the ceiling from the lamp, as he adjusted himself under the covers. His own dark outline brought to mind the crows outside the cottage. About two weeks earlier, they’d come and stayed the night in the pines, cawing and squawking into the early hours of the morning. A murder of crows, holding court. What had they said to each other? Had it had been an omen. The figure in shadows popped into his head. Perhaps it really was a girl. He turned down the lamp and pulled the cold covers up to his chin. He turned over, and a whisper came to him. A gentle tingle in his ear. He wasn’t sure what it said, but the voice was that of his wife. Perhaps she was standing beside him now, watching over him. He opened his eyes and saw nothing, then yawned and closed them again. He inhaled deeply and sighed out the words, “Goodnight, my love.”
To Be Cont’d…
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