The soft touch of her hand caressed the back of my neck as I sat upon the bed in the dim light of the evening lamp, a cool breeze coming from the open window, the street noises occasionally echoing in the halls of my room, the dull low rumble of the city layered below. Shivers ran down my spine and the hairs on the back of my head stood up. It was a perfect spring evening with the scent of cross pollination in the air. Budding trees held new shiny leaves just outside the window. She leaned into my naked back and her warmth met mine in perfect contour. She melted into me. I felt the dread of loneliness then. The emptiness of being one, alone, not sharing, no one to care what happens in my world but myself, and sometimes even I don’t care, capitulation being a long tradition running through my life. Scattered pictures of her embrace echoed in the darkness of my dream.
It was mid-tide. The wind was calm and the sky was clearing. Some high thin clouds drifted slowly across the horizon. The nearby island, Crafts Peak, was clearly visible, about two miles directly off shore. He stood on the dock and surveyed his boat. It looked unmolested. He climbed down into the vessel, prepped the engine and it started right away. After letting it idle a few seconds, he killed it and sat back against the seat, closing his eyes. The gentle sway of the boat, the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze, soothed him. The rhythmic slapping of the water against the dock brought him a sense of peace and calm.
Going to the sheriff didn’t hold the same appeal as before. Did he really want to involve himself with this strange girl? Any problems they had was between her and her husband, if he really is her husband. And what of Jack, hovering around them like a fly. Had he really damaged the antenna? The best thing would be to steer clear. He knew she was agitated the first time he’d laid eyes on her, knew she was trouble, snuggling up against him in bed, daring him to make a move on her, it was transparent. She could have accused him of molestation or rape. What’s to stop her from claiming that now? She could be telling her husband lies about him and it would be her word against his. He leaned over the side of the boat and saw a crab scurry into the shadows beneath the dock. It was a reminder to check his traps and reset bait. But first, he’d check the radio.
The hissing static was louder than before. No signals strong enough to dial in, they just weren’t reaching the receiver. He shut off the radio, and walked into the kitchen. He sat at the table and started writing a list of supplies he needed from town. A trip to the mainland took half a day or longer, and he going. The longer he stayed on the island, alone with his thoughts and memories, the more he resented the outside world. Stepping off his boat onto the public dock, going from quiet simplicity to the chaos meant he left himself open to be affected by others. Their lives intersecting with his, no matter how small the consequence, he hated that they could impact him in some way. On the island there was no one to affect him at all. He wasn’t held up in traffic, cut off by someone late for work, didn’t have to stand in line in the stores. He didn’t miss cars, traffic, people, or the internet. The first few weeks on the island, he craved news from the outside world. Along with booze, he missed the internet, using a cell phone, and listening to the nightly news. He craved media interaction, much like a wino craved wine, and came to realize he had an addiction to social media. Now, he saw it as massive waste of time and energy. Another form of impulse control, an overload of information he didn’t need or want or want to need. It was a waste of his time. If he wasn’t pulling traps. Making a fire, cooking, or working with wood, what was he doing? Nothing. He’d been conditioned to the relentless blathering of a tumultuous society. He looked up from his notebook and stared at the bottle of bourbon in the middle of the table. The rich amber color appeared darker in the sparse afternoon light. He thought about the girl and his stomach did a little turn. She’d have him drinking in no time. He’d get a taste for her and when she left, he’d want to drink her out of his head. Her beauty and youth would drive him to drink because he was weak and could never keep her, this he knew. She would become one craving too many. He thought of her lying next to him, warm and naked against his back, feeling her soft breasts against him, smelling her skin, and her hand reaching around for him. His wife interrupted these thoughts, and his stomach turned over again. She was always there, just beneath the surface. Watching from that doomed jet plane, sitting next to his baby girl as they breathed their last, strapped into a tin can full of strangers.
The day they died, texts from his wife, reminding him of the airline and flight number, were accidentally erased, as he frantically searched for them on his cell phone. He sat in the bar and watched the news as it unfolded. Half drunk, heart pounding, blood flush in his cheeks, the lilting unreality of it tearing through his brain like a buzz saw. They could have been on that flight.
His hand rested on the kitchen table, inches from the bottle of bourbon, he remembered racing to the airport, his heart pounding as he swerved frantically through stalled traffic. Then he was in the terminal, having no memory of parking or walking the long hallways, like he’d just willed himself in front of the airline spokesperson. She stood straight, staring robotically ahead, not making eye contact, her crisp uniform and red lipstick-stained teeth belying her horrifying message. What could she add that they didn’t already know? The smoldering wreckage was all over the media. He stared at the spokesperson’s mouth as she formed the words, but her message was unintelligible to him. Yards from where they stood, the biggest part of his life lay crushed and burning. How could this happen? Why didn’t he stop her from leaving? She’d been reluctant to go. All he had to do was ask her to stay. But he didn’t.
He moved sluggishly toward the sink. He ran the cool water over his hands. He closed his stinging eyes, and put a cold cloth against his pounding head. No longer caring about his list or the broken antenna, or going to the mainland, he walked slowly to the sofa and stared at the empty fireplace. The black coals and soot mirrored his mood, and deep down, his soul, if he had a soul, charred and blackened by the sin of regret, the sin of waste. He had wasted his life, striving for things. The perfect job, money, more power, that great new car, that corner office, big house. Who cares? What was it all for?
He laid back on the sofa and placed the cloth on his eyelids. His wife and daughter hovered above him, smiling and lovely, their mouths forming silent, familiar adorations. Then they were gone, and he was alone again, deeply, listlessly, alone. A breeze from the open door had swept them away, and chilled him. The chortle of birds outside reminded him of where he was. They bickered, as he faded into deep sleep.
His eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light. A dark figure draped in a black hoodie loomed over him. He quickly sat up, and the girl jumped back. They said nothing for a few seconds, each eyeing the other. After his heart slowed, and he was able to determine it was, indeed, the girl who stood before him, he said, “What’s going on?”
“You’ve got to hide me.”
“I escaped. Please, they’ll kill me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I jumped ship, again. They’ll come for me.”
He sat up. She stepped back into the shadows, her hand quivering in front of her mouth.
“Are you hurt?”
She shook her head no.
“I’ll call the police,” he said.
“No! You can’t do that.”
“Then you’re the one who has to call.”
“I just need to stay for a few hours. I’m so tired.”
“The only place you can go from here is the water or the mainland. The police can protect you.”
She looked toward the front door. Her clothes dripped water onto the floor. He follow her eyes, and realized she was pondering when the bad men might come through his door. He moved to the other side of the room, secured the deadbolt on the door and slammed shut and locked the all windows.
“Can I start a fire?” She asked, shivering.
“Come,” he said, and walked into the bedroom.
When she entered the room, he tossed clothes at her. She caught the bundle and stared at him.
She stood by the bed, in the darkened room and pulled off her shirt.
“No,” he pointed to the bathroom, “in there.”
She slowly entered the room, but left the door open. He watched her strip, her naked body gleaming in the late-afternoon sunlight streaming in through the windows. He walked over to the doorway and watched. She stared innocently back at him.
“Is this what you want?” he asked. “For me to see you?”
“You’re the one looking.”
“You’re not hiding it, are you?”
She smiled and held a tee shirt in front of her breasts, leaving the dark triangle between her legs exposed. He took hold of her wrist and she dropped the shirt. He moved his face close enough to feel her tremble, the smell of smoke and earth coming from her hair. He put his lips to the cool of her neck and kissed her salty skin. “Is this what you want?” He asked.
She moaned softly.
“What about this?” he asked, and pressed his body to hers, his hands sliding down to her bare bottom. Her tight, goose-pimpled flesh was cool in his hands.
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
“I think you do. You know.”
He kissed her deeply, pulling her body into his. He could feel the blood rise to her skin, as the warmth came back into her. She returned his kisses, her mouth hard and cool, lips small and narrow against his. Her breath was clean and warm and fueled his desire for her.
After a minute, she pulled away, but he reached for her again, and held his mouth on hers. Her breath was sweeter than before, her mouth even more responsive.
“No,” she said finally, and pressed her hand forcefully against his chest.
Taking a step back, suddenly feeling her warmth leave him, he wanted more than anything to take her. But he simply smiled and said, “Okay.”
Her light eyes glistened with moisture, revealing perhaps years of loneliness, but they held no fear. Her breathing was rapid. Pink rose in her cheeks. She held a hand demurely over her naked crotch and bent slightly at the knees, trying to hide herself.
“Take a shower,” he said. “You’re salty,”
A slightly surprised expression crossed her face as she placed a hand where he’d kissed her. He turned and shut the door without looking back.
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An excerpt from Dark Genius (Unpublished manuscript)
The last time Harper went out to Stone’s Island was in August, some years ago. He couldn’t remember exactly how old they were, or what year it was, but they’d gotten hold of Uncle Jim’s 15-foot Boston Whaler and headed out to explore the island. They discovered a cove on the lee side of Stone’s and pulled her up onto the rocks. Deciding to take a closer look at the estate, they walked along the rocky shore and discovered in the tide pools the headless carcass of a harbor seal, rotting in the morning sun. Instead of going to the house as planned, they took the carcass back to the boat and headed out into the shallows.
They hooked the carcass onto a drop line, cast it out, and let it sit on the bottom. After a few minutes they pulled it up, and with it came a mass of frenzied, feeding sharks. The sharks swarmed and dove and bit at the meat, breaking the surface as they gorged. Jimmy stood in the boat and smacked the bloody water with an oar, trying to bean one of the sharks. He frantically smacked the water over and over, but failed to hit anything. The spray got into their eyes and ran down their faces into their mouths. Harper remembered the taste of the salty red water and, even now, it turned his stomach.
Jimmy stood on the bow, feet wide apart, rocking the small boat back and forth, forcing the weight of his whole body with each push, laughing uncontrollably, until they started to take on water. Waves slapped up, into the boat. Bits of seal gut came aboard with each wave. The sharks circled and bit at the meat, swarming in a frenzy. Harper held on to the side of the boat, overcome by fits of uncontrolled laughter as it bobbed up and down, shark fins rising up, teeth mashing the seal flesh. Jimmy became brazen by Harper’s response, rollicking with laughter at his mad game, forcing the boat closer to the water with each push. Jimmy suddenly fell out of the boat, and into the churning sea. Harper had seen Jimmy swim fast before, but he practically leaped back into the boat. The image of a shark grazing Jimmy’s leg as he swam, the black shadow surging forward from the depths, was etched in Harper’s memory.
Harper fell to the floor of the Whaler, holding his stomach; the cold water and uncontrolled laughter caused him to pee in his pants. Watching from the floor of the boat, his body drenched in remnants of seal guts, seawater and urine, looking into Jimmy’s wild eyes, he knew; He knew Jim had fallen overboard on purpose. Had carried the little adventure as far as it could go. It struck Harper as such an obtuse thing to do, and he couldn’t understand why Jimmy always went too far.