Friday, February 24, 2012

Island Fever - Part Three

          Two days passed. Craig carried the pellet gun with him whenever he went out, looking for more gulls, he said. They seldom spoke but when they did, they sniped at each other in the bleak grayness of the day. Sometimes, she could see him staring at her. Once Craig said, “Wish Kris were here.” Well, she wasn’t, Adrienne thought, and how long before Craig started making passes at her? She read the journals long into the night, looking for clues.

          Another writer named Pat wrote about a big fight between Kris and Craig. Kris regrets ever coming to this island, Pat wrote. Craig insists they are going to get married but Kris is having doubts. Craig thinks it's all island fever. Those two were meant for each other.

          The “accident” was mentioned briefly. Kris fell on the rocks. Taken away by the Coast Guard helicopter. Someone had written that Kris was in a coma on the mainland, but that was the last mention she found. Had Kris recovered or was she buried somewhere in a Maine cemetery? Adrienne was afraid to ask. Anything could set Craig off.

          The wine bottles were emptied on the seventh day. Perhaps she had had too much to drink, but she slipped on a fog-silvered rock coming back from taking the murre decoys back to the boat house. Her hands were covered with blood from a gash in her hand. Craig was up on the lighthouse trying to count terns. She would handle this herself, she thought.

          The first aid kit was in disarray. Things were unmarked. Looking for disinfectant, she opened a bottle and sniffed. It was smelling salts. Bleeding and sneezing, she dropped the kit and everything went rolling. She began to cry.

          Craig came in, took one look, swabbed her head with a pad and placed a band-aid on her cut. “Wash up,” he said. “That'll do. And quit crying. Head wounds bleed a lot, but it looks worse than it is.”

          He gave her no sympathy. Adrienne sniffled around the cottage. She couldn't seem to help weeping any more. Her eyes were red, raw from the salt water and her emotions.

          Late that afternoon, Adrienne climbed the lighthouse to get away though she didn't go through the trapdoor to the top level. It would be too slippery up there with the floor covered with mist. Through the rain she could see the lights in the closest island, but the waves blew up so high over the rocks, the lights flickered on and off. Tears stung her eyes. She longed to be home.

          The eighth day came, the day they were scheduled to leave. Adrienne heard the rain stopping the the night before. When the gray daylight showed through the fogged window, she leaped out of bed and packed all her gear before coming down to breakfast.

          “All packed!” she said. “I am so ready to get off this island.”

          Craig glanced up from his coffee. He had already been out to check the lighthouse and was jotting his bird counts into his log.

          “Ready?” he asked. “Have you looked outside?”

          Fog swirled around the lighthouse. The light went around and around, doing its work, piercing the area around the island. 

          “I’ve already taken the water temperature,” he said. “The waves are still high. I don’t think we’re going anywhere.”

          Adrienne turned to the weather radio. Karl gave the bad news in his unemotional monotone. Marine craft were warned off the ocean. The automated voice droned on and on. The weather was getting worse again.

          “Shut up,” she said. “Damn you, shut up!”

          Craig looked up. “That doesn’t do any good, you know.” His voice was as calm and as unemotional as Karl’s.

          “You can shut up, the both of you!” She began to cry.

          “More tears,” Craig said in disgust.

          “At least it’s something! At least it’s human!”

          “And I’m not?”

          “Barely. Damn good thing you and Kris didn’t get married!”

          “Don’t you even think of mentioning Kris to me! That’s none of your business.” Glaring his hatred, Craig went out the door, slamming it behind him.

          Adrienne dialed up Rose, mostly for the sound of another human voice, but the connection was poor. She could hear excitement in Rose’s voice. “Good news….Kris….out of the coma…Craig.” Then Adrienne lost the connection. Kris was out of the coma? Should she tell Craig? If he was responsible, there might be police waiting for them when they got back. She decided not to mention it to him.

          She went back to her room and unpacked.

          Craig came in later to tell her he had checked the puffin burrows. Most of them were flooded and he had found a couple of dead puffins floating in a tide pool. He said nothing more. It would have been a day of silence, except for the terns and the fog horn and Karl’s droning voice. Craig kept to the kitchen, and no matter how cold it was, she stayed in the sitting room, guarding the phone so that he would not hear about Kris. Late that afternoon, while Craig was out, she tried the phone herself. The batteries had died. Unless the solar panels worked, they were on their own until Jake came with the boat. Who knew when that would be?

That night, Adrienne huddled in her sleeping bag, too frightened to sleep.

She waited the next morning until Craig left the cottage. When she came downstairs, he was off somewhere on the island, sulking, she thought. What was he doing? The fog had cleared off, yet he still hadn’t recorded a lighthouse reading. The forms were still unmarked.

Where was he? She didn’t want him back but she wanted to know where he had gone. The pellet gun was gone. She paced from room to room, went down to use the outhouse and took the temperature reading. She looked at the rubbing alcohol in the medicine chest and considered mixing it with water and drinking it. She needed something to calm herself down. She played solitaire. She ate the last of the chocolate bars. She cried.

She couldn’t go looking for him out on the rocks. That was another “accident” waiting to happen. She didn’t want to see him, but she had to know what had happened to him.

There was only one place to get a good look. She pulled on her rainproof jacket, jammed on her wool hat, hung her binoculars on her neck and edged out the door. She hesitated, looking up at that pale column, towering over her. She opened the door and stared at the metal steps, her hands clenched. She would go up and come right down. She ascended slowly on the damp steps, her footsteps echoing up and down the silo. She reached the first ledge and went around, using the binoculars to scan the island for signs of Craig. Nothing.

She opened the trapdoor and climbed to the higher level as the fog horn blared. The rain was starting again. She wiped the lenses on the binoculars and worked her way around, holding on to the metal railing for support from the wind. The terns circled, screeching. Her eyes were focused on the far end of the island when she heard it. The echo of footsteps coming up the shaft.

Adrienne, where are you?”

He was coming. She scurried around the ledge and slammed the trap door shut. She sat on it, sobbing, rain falling on her face, screaming at the elements, crying like one of the terns circling above.

Adrienne, don't be an idiot.”

She felt him below her, pushing at the trapdoor.

           When Jack entered the hospital room, Kris wasn’t there. He heard noise in the adjacent bathroom and waited. When Kris emerged, Jack could see that he had shaved. He was weak, shuffling his feet a bit, but he was moving.

          “Jack,” he said. “It’s great to see you!” There were some side affects from the eleven month long coma, a little slurring of words. His dark hair had a few gray streaks and his once muscular arms were flabby, his legs skinny under the hospital gown. His skin was pale and wrinkled.

Kris caught Jack’s stare. “A few weeks in the gym and some sunshine and I’ll be fine. I’m just lucky to be alive.”

          Jack hesitated. “I’m afraid I have some bad news,” he said.

          “Craig is still stuck on the Rock?”
          “Worse. We lost radio contact three days ago. When I finally got out there this afternoon, we found the bodies. Craig and his volunteer were both dead.”

          Kris whimpered, his eyes filling with tears. “No. It can’t be. Not Craig! How, how did it happen?”

          “No one is sure. They were at the base of the lighthouse. They must have fallen off. The Coast Guards are talking murder/suicide, but why would that be true? I don’t suppose we will ever know but I am guessing Adrienne broke through the railing. You know how rusty it was. And that Craig tried to save her and was pulled after.”

          Kris began to cry. “That’s just like Craig. He saved my life, and had to go try saving someone else.”

          “He was a great guy,” Jack agreed. “and your best friend.”

          “More than a friend!” Kris wailed, his body shaking with grief. “Craig and I were going to Massachusetts after we we finished on the Rock last year! I thought we would go this year, as soon as I recovered. We were going to be married!”

          The island lay in the sunshine of a September morning. The last of the volunteers swarmed around the lighthouse, clearing, packing, watching the few birds left. Few of the graduate students would return. Their professors would send out a new crop the following year.

          Soon the Rock would fall silent save for the fog horn, waiting through winter for the next year’s broods. The terns were on their way to Antarctica for their next summer vacation. The puffins had finished raising their chicks and had gone back to sea, to live solitary lives for the next three years until the cycle of life drew them back.

          The blood stains at the base of the lighthouse had been washed away by summer storms. In a year or two, no one would remember Craig or his volunteer.

          Nature is like that.  

1 comment:

  1. I remember you telling me about your birding expidition. Made a good story. Glad you came home to write it.