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If My Island Could Speak
Writer: Patrick Buhse
Illustrator: Jola Bankowska
“Mary finally took off yesterday. I was really hoping I could catch her before she left.” Jill was standing in the kitchen thinking of her friend over a hot cup of tea, looking towards her husband, while talking to the air.
“Yeah. But I’m glad she left, you know? Ever since Dwayne passed, she’s been a shot image of what she was. Really depressing stuff.” Phil said this while flipping lazily from one sports page to the next, not looking all that interested. “Well, I guess we can’t really say passed like we used to, but I’m glad that she found that place that might give her a bit of rest.”
The television in the living room continued playing that man’s face on a repeated loop. That odd smile that you could trust had the rest of his face not been present to add exaggeration to what he said. The eyes would squint as he begins to poke and prod your heart before changing to that smile. The type of smile that could be heartfelt, but you weren’t quite ready to believe. Then, on queue, the words pour out of his mouth, covering each viewer with a blanket of warmth and motherly love. Those words that act as the most heavenly of safety nets. “It’s alright. You’re going to be fine now.”
Jill alternated now from washing dishes to looking out the window. “Maybe I’ll give Franz a visit this weekend. I don’t think she’s left yet, and even if she has, it would just be nice to see her.” She stood a moment thinking about her words before spurting, “Is that horrible? That wasn’t meant to be horrible.”
“I think she left, hon.” Without missing a beat, Phil continued, “Sorry to bring it up again, but I think we oughta consider going, too. Tyler is off in college now, and Cham hasn’t needed us in a long while. I think it would do us good.” The man in the living room’s face now seemed to contort itself into a whirlpool of different emotions, each of them sincere to a point, but Phil still held his reservations.
Jill came to the table and sat across from her husband of thirty years, weighing her options on what the next few moments might hold in store. “Has it come to that already? Just give up? Who is to say that this isn’t enough? I live the life I’ve always wanted. I don’t need things like this to think about.” Jill’s eyelids looked heavy, as if they were teacups full of tears that were just about to tip over.
“All’s I’m saying is think about it. He makes it seem pretty luxurious, and I think we need a break from this.” Phil spoke to Jill but kept his gaze on the faceless man in the television.
“But this isn’t a break. I mean, you understand that, right? This is permanent. It's not like we can just decide that our time of fun has ended, and come back.” Jill balled up her fists, eyes closed, wanting to wring the gentleman from the television’s neck.
“Whatever we do, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Just fine.” Phil got up to reach for the handle of whiskey that was on top of the fridge. He poured himself a glass, and went to grab one for Jill, but when he turned to look at her, he saw that she was in no mood to join him for his regular afternoon pick-me-up. He left Jill and her thoughts in the kitchen, so that he could go into the living room and stare at the man in the screen.
“Whenever I think of that time spent in that place, I tear up a little. It was just so...majestic. Such a place that is indescribable by my simple vocabulary. I know that you’re thinking me crazy, and with just cause, but I’ve shown you all the brand. It’s there staring each and every one of you right in your face. Its screaming at you to come and witness its unending splendor. Think about it. That’s all I’m asking you to do.”
The loop started over at this point. The man’s face all the while squinting and expanding, never settling on an emotion that he’s content with. In the background Phil could hear a loud banging coming from the kitchen, and rushed in to find Jill smashing a plate from his grandmother’s collection of fine china across the checkered linoleum.
“What is wrong with you?”
“I could ask the rest of you the same question. Where does everybody get off telling me that my life isn’t good enough? I work day in and day out to provide for you, and you decide that we should each take off? How is this guy getting into everyone’s heads? He’s promoting a myth, and the rest of the world is following him blindly, like they have no goddamned common sense!” Each part of her body was shaking violently, a last attempt at reason. A final chance to reach out and find some semblance of her lifelong friend that had been there before the man on the TV.
Phil just nodded his head and looked back towards the TV. “Go take a walk, hon. The air will do you good.” He returned to the living room, and took his place in the recliner. “Don’t be long!” Phil tried this with some enthusiasm, but Jill could tell that if anything, it was forced.
Jill took the hint, gathered herself, and rushed out the door.
Walking down the road, she passed under street lights that glowed dimly in an overwhelmingly dark neighborhood. Most people had left their houses in a hurry. Some doors were left ajar, revealing a faint glow coming from the televisions inside, mailboxes overflowed with letters of concern, and bone-thin animals ran rampant in and out of people’s yards. Apparently, the pets didn’t get the message, home isn’t the place that you built anymore, it was more about the idea that you forgot you had.
A dog skipped up to Jill, with a look of abandon in its eyes, salivating at the mere sight of the lady-in-motion. It propelled itself up on its hind legs to get on Jill’s level, and began to whimper when she didn’t congratulate it on being human. Jill teared up and gave the malnutritioned beast a full-forced hug, before letting it fall to the ground with an ecstatic grin on its face. “I hope you got where you thought you were going.” The grin only went on to prove Jill’s doubts about the trip. The poor thing was doing nothing out here but starving, and even though it might have found rest, the face that remained with Jill only related pain at being forgotten.
A little ways down the block Jill started to feel sick to her stomach. An abominable stench was dancing into her nostrils with each passing step. The houses that were left open were starting to emit grotesque smells that were each unique. When she arrived at the house she had set out to find, she noticed that the smell was not absent.
Franz lived at 101 W. Chesterly Place. Her house was picturesque, with a white picket fence and freshly painted mailbox. The house was painted an uneasy color of yellow that Jill noticed accentuated the smell that hung thick like smoke all around. Jill was hesitant to look, but placed her palm on the open front door to move it out of her way.
Inside, the smell was unbearable. It was taking every bit of effort that Jill had in her body to stay focused. She walked down the hallway lined with family photos. Franz was a widow, and her sons moved away a while back. Jill walked up to her room, where the smell was strongest, and peeked her head in the door. Immediately regretting her decision, she sprinted outside to get away from the lifeless body, that lay, eyes open on Franz’ bed.
Jill had walked long enough. It was time to head home.
When she arrived back at home around eight, she called out to an empty house. “PHIL! ARE YOU HERE?” No response. She ran frantically around the place, smashing through every door, tears streaming down her cheeks, screaming hysterically. After a few minutes she collapsed on their bed, timidly dialing her children to see if they had heard anything from their father. Her walk had frightened her. While the phone was ringing Cham, their youngest, Jill spotted a family portrait on her nightstand.
Tyler was younger, hanging limp from Phil’s neck, while Cham sat by his mother, taking no interest in the boyish camaraderie that Tyler and Phil held for each other. Jill was smiling as wide as her cheeks would take her.
Cham’s phone was busy, he would probably get back to her after he hung up with whoever he was talking to. She started to miss Cham. He was a good kid.
Jill remembered the day that Cham left. He stood in the living room staring at Phil with what could be described as either a form of respect or pity, before walking out the door with a behind-the-back wave, taking off for the next part of his life. Jill cried, but in the end she consoled herself with a hope that he would be back.
She lay still for a minute, before trying to reach Tyler. Tyler picked up the phone and said the right comforts that Jill wanted to hear, before hanging up with an “everything will be fine, ma. Love you.” Jill smiled, thinking about how just moments before she had been on the verge of losing her sanity. Her family wouldn’t leave her without a decent goodbye at least.
Jill began preparing dinner to lose herself in some sort of activity. Phil usually stood close guard over his wife to make sure everything about the meal was perfect. Trying to take her mind off of Phil’s absence, Jill picked up the remote to the television that she could vaguely see through the kitchen door, and proceeded to switch on the man trapped in the screen. She jested, “You can’t beat me when your stuck in a box! Can you?” The man continued on with his eyes that toyed with the idea of trust, staring at Jill, trying to figure out what face might make her trust him.
“People think I’m a real fibber. A true con artist, I’m sure. But just look at how much happiness I’ve brought to the entire world already. Come on, trust me. I’m not so bad, am I?”
“Don’t look at me with those eyes! You haven’t earned that right!”
“It’s OK. I understand if I put you and your current life in a partial state of unrest. I’ve taken a bit of an intrusive form. Upheaval leads to unrest, thats logical. But wouldn’t you want to escape? Realize your potential in a place where this distress doesn’t exist?” The man had begun changing his angle at persuasion. He could see that the rest of the world was giving in willingly, but as with all changes, there are always a few stragglers that hold on to something that simply isn’t there anymore.
Two hours passed, and still no word from Phil. Jill sat in the recliner, sipping sparingly out of the handle that her husband had offered her earlier. It had seemed about that time now to start. As the night went on, her inebriation and her emotions slowly erupted from inside. She sobbed without restraint, every now and then questioning the television for answers. “Where would you go if you had the chance, mister? No, no, I understand that you already found your place, but I’m talking about your alternate one. You can’t go back to somewhere you’ve already visited. Where’s the fun in that?” She gestured with her arms a large island, which sat in a forgotten crevice of her mind. “That’s where I’m gonna go, huh! To my island! It has all the makings of a paradise. There would be sand and water and me. I would melt into the elements that make up my home. My only worry would be the sky above my head. You understand, don’t you Mister TV? God? My good pal.” The gentleman in the television smiled that confusing smile of his, as Jill got up to reach for the remote. “You don’t get to watch me like the others.” She smiled, clicked a random button, and hobbled off towards her room where she laid herself down next to Phil’s empty impression in the bed, and switched off the light, thinking about that perfect island.
That island that puts your inner sanctum to shame. The place where nothing can touch you. You sway back and forth with the myriad of waves, losing any grip on what life is, in exchange for an understanding of what life meant all along. There isn’t any need for struggle, you just fall willingly into that beautiful abyss, that was promised to you. Fall back and sway with the rhythm. There, you have it now. That wasn’t so hard after all. Was it?
Phil sauntered into the house a few hours later with a fresh batch of lilies nestled in his arms, Jill’s favorite. “Hon, I’ve been doing some thinking, and...hon?” He found the television on in the living room, while a burning smell started to catch his nose from the kitchen. He rushed in to find a pot roast ablaze in the oven. After stomping it out, he went off to the bedroom to call his kids and see if they knew where she might be.
He found her lying on her side of the bed with her hands linked and her arms bowed, forming a circle around her torso. Her eyes were closed, and her chest was still. The flowers that Phil had cradled in his arm were placed in the middle of Jill’s island, before Phil rested his body next to his wife’s. He saw the handle of rum empty next to the bed, and the telephone off of the cradle by the bedside. The framed picture that sat on the night table was face down, with a bottle of sleeping pills emptied and thrown beside it. Phil moaned and cried as he placed his head next to his wife’s ear, regretting he ever mentioned the vacation.
Down the block all that could be heard was the man in the television.
Patrick lives in Richmond, Virginia with his cat and partner. It's a wonderfully lazy city that allows him to live comfortably while still having time to write.
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