There was no need for the little alarm clock Adrienne had brought. There were no curtains on the windows and as the summer solstice approached, the light shone in as the birds shrieked their joy at the day’s beginning. She had slept snug in her heavy duty sleeping bag, and felt the same joy. The ear plugs had worked.
Craig fairly flew out the door to chase up the steps to the lighthouse while Adrienne brewed their coffee and got the first reading from the weather radio. The automated male voice told her that though the sun was shining, the day would get progressively darker. Small craft were warned about setting out. She took down the temperature readings the voice reported, taken from various buoys in the area.
She threw on her heavy jacket and went out to take visual readings. She stopped to use the outhouse. Through the open side she watched a row of puffins watching her. Her bodily functions were a peep show for birds.
She could barely see the nearest island, some twenty miles away. A fine mist seemed to be covering it. She shivered and went on to the boat house. A herring gull who had taken refuge there scuttled out of her way dragging a wing. She unhooked the bucket with the rope attached and picked up the long thermometer. She carried them down the boat ramp. The waves were higher today and splashed against her rubber boots as she leaned over to drop a bucket off the side for some ocean water. She stuck a thermometer in it. As she waited to do her reading, she used her binoculars to sweep the surface of the island. The birds seemed to be hunkering down, not as active as the day before.
They decided to explore the island before the storm hit. They clambered over the rocks. There were no paths. Craig was a mountain goat, jumping easily from rock to rock, as Adrienne struggled on behind, trying to keep up. They climbed higher and higher from boulder to boulder as the wind howled around them, shouting to be heard. They visited nesting sites. Craig flattened himself on a rock and reached his hand into a burrow, but no puffins were using it yet. Later on, the researchers would go out daily and sit in blinds keeping track of the little guys, but the puffins were just arriving.
He stopped for a moment and pointed out a piece of marble engraved with an angel.
“Tombstone,” he said. “Keeper’s daughter.” She had died a century before. Adrienne thought they should put flowers on the grave, but there were none on the Rock. Neither were there bushes and trees, just endless boulders. Ocean storms scoured the rock of anything green except for the moss that clung to the stones.
They climbed higher. Here the terns would nest, there the guillemots. Each were marked. They reached the farthest point. Far below the waves pounded on the shore, splashing over the rocks. Craig pointed down and shouted, “That’s where Kris fell.” His face contorted. He turned away and began loping across the rocks before Adrienne could ask how it happened.
The terns wheeled around like children who needed strong doses of Ritalin.
They finished off the first bottle of wine that afternoon and took a tibble from the second as well. Adrienne began to talk, but Craig said that the glimmer was to be enjoyed in quiet, as a sort of Japanese tea ceremony. Obedient, Adriennewas quiet, but she felt conversations bubbling up, topics she wanted to discuss. The island was becoming too quiet, despite the birds’ squawks and the incessant fog horn.
The rain began that night. At first, it was fine mist, almost indistinguishable from the fog that covered the island at night. The wind rattled the panes in the window next to Adrienne’s bed. She got up and looked around for something to stuff in the crack where the two windows joined. There would be no reason to open those windows while they were here. She found a bit of foam rubber and stopped the rattling. In the room next door, Craig snored. She used the piss bucket and crawled back into the sleeping bag. She was so cold. She reached inside the sleeping bag and drew out the gloves and woolen hat she had stowed there to keep them dry and warm, jammed them on and went back to sleep, only her nose sticking out of the bag.
There was no reason for Craig to go up to the lighthouse that morning. The Rock was fogged in and a film of frost had formed on anything it could cling to. Adrienne pulled on her slicker and slid down to the boat house to take the water temperature. The herring gull was still there, dragging a wing, she observed. She decided to call him Sven and made a mental note to bring him some bread crumbs.
When she returned to the cottage, Craig was busy with his books She recorded the temperature, 48 degrees, visibility at zero and listened to the droning voice of the weather radio. She decided to give the voice a name. Giving things name made it seem like there were more people on the island. Karl, she thought, naming him for a dull teacher from her high school days. Karl gave no good news. The storm was gathering strength over the East Seaboard. A hurricane in the southern states was moving up the coastline.
“How will the rest of them get here today?” Adrienne asked.
“They won’t." Rose called from the mainland while Adrienne was outside. The others had reached Maine but the weather had them stuck there. It would be several more days before they could get on the fishing boat and get out to the Rock.
Craig suggested they busy themselves bringing the murre decoys in from the boathouse. Ornithologists were trying to get the murre to set up a colony on the far end of the island. There were boxes and boxes of the metal decoys, each one a facsimile of the black and white seabirds, and a metal rod stuck to the bottom to affix them to holes drilled in the rocks. Many of the decoys needed to be repainted, a simple job in black and white. Craig found the tightly sealed paint cans with the remnants of paint from the year before. They set up shop in the third bedroom.
As they worked, they talked about their lives. At first their chatter was about birding but it soon morphed into more personal matters. Craig was single, he said.
“You never married?”
“I was going to, once.”
“Didn’t work out?”
Craig didn’t answer. Adrienne looked up and saw the sadness in his eyes. He shook his head. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
Adrienne quickly changed the subject and talked about her life. She chattered about her awful father, his addictions, his abuse.
“He probably wasn’t as bad as you make him out to be,” Craig said. “Some women need a firm hand, you know.”
A spatter of rain hit the window. The storm was getting worse. There was no glimmer that afternoon, but they finished up the second bottle anyway.
The next day passed slowly. The smell of damp paint permeated the cottage. The warmest room was the kitchen so they closed the area by covering the open doorways with spare blankets from the bedrooms and sat at the kitchen table reading. Her bones ached. She took aspirin she found in the medicine chest to take off the edge.
They could not go out and do anything more than take the water temperature. She took some bread crumbs out to Sven, who screeched and gobbled before any of the other sea birds showed up.
Adrienne went up to the top of the lighthouse once but she could see nothing but the fog. The railings were slippery. Once her foot skidded a few inches along the ledge as she screamed. She didn’t look down again. She quickly lowered herself through the trap door.
The rain beat against the window panes. Adrienne explored the sitting room looking for
something to occupy them. There were no board games but she found a deck of cards. They began to play, finding out what card games they knew, then used the library’s copy of Hoyle’s to learn new ones. The day passed slowly, interrupted only by meals. The solar panels became ineffective as the day grew darker, the lights flickered. To save energy, they turned off the lights and played in the dim light, drinking the third bottle of wine from mugs.
The games became more competitive. Craig didn’t like losing. Neither did Adrienne. They began to argue about points. Whenever the arguing became heated, they switched to another game. It was too dark to read, they could barely see to play cards. The solar panels no longer generated enough electricity.
They went to their respective bedrooms early. She took along the journal to make her daily entry by flashlight. When that was finished, she read some more of the old journal entries. Some were amusing, but then she caught another of Kris’s entries.
“Craig told me not to talk so much. He might be right. But what else is there to do on an island? He can be so bossy.”
The next morning, rain was pelting against the door. Whenever they went out, water seeped in. Adrienne mopped up the water and put it in a bucket but if she opened the door to throw it out, more rain blew in. She finally dragged the full buckets up the stairs and threw the water down the old bathroom drain, the only part of the plumbing that worked.
They wore their boots and slickers inside now, to keep warm. They played cards wearing gloves. They drank the fourth bottle of wine in one sitting, for warmth. They tried the short wave radio, looking for news or music, but it didn’t work. She had no idea what was going on in the outside world.
Adrienne no longer initiated conversation. Anything that she said, Craig contradicted. He began to question her expertise as a birder. It was true, she knew next to nothing about seabirds, but test her on Midwest warblers, she retorted, and tried to talk about her adventures in Wisconsin, but Craig always had bigger and better adventures in Costa Rico, Australia. She felt small, meaningless.
Her friends were far away, in another place, comfortable in their warm, well insulated homes. They had hot water and furnaces. What had she been thinking!
From time to time, she caught Craig looking at her thoughtfully. She no longer put on makeup or did anything to make herself attractive. She stopped washing up. Her body took on a rank smell.
Karl gave no good news. In his monotone voice, he told them the storm was stuck over the Eastern Seaboard. There would be no let up. Rose called from the mainland, almost unintelligible as the phone registered more and more static. The other volunteers had given up. They would not be coming. The next band of volunteers would be coming when they could get through. Jack would pick up Craig and Adrienne as soon as the weather cleared, which should be in two days.
“At least we have Karl and Sven,” she said.
“He’s the herring gull with the broken wing that hangs out in the boat house. I’ve been feeding him…”
“You’ve been feeding a gull? You idiot, they eat puffin and tern eggs.”
Craig stood up and went to the storage closet in the old furnace room. He took out a pellet gun, checked it for ammunition, and strode to the door.
“What are you doing?” she screamed.
She chased him down through the deluge, down the slippery ramp to the boat house. He was already there, gun raised and before she could stop him, he killed Sven with one shot. He picked up the carcass and swung it around his head several times to get a good heft and threw it into the ocean.
“Remember why we’re here,” he said.'
Adrienne began to cry.
“Isn’t that just like a woman. Tears.” Craig stomped back up the ramp, leaving Adrienne to mourn her friend.