Island in the Sea
What could I do? It was the wrong island, and I was on it. I could see the ship on the horizon, the ship I had
been on, the ship I had gotten off in a hurry. I couldn't call it on my cellphone because I left my cellphone in my
cabin. All my stuff was in my cabin, my cellphone, my computer, my luggage. Hadn't had time, hadn't thought I
needed time. Just the clothes on my back was all I had
I was headed for Tahiti, on this cargo boat, at least on the cheap plan I traveled on. I was to get on another boat
out of Tahiti, to another smaller island somewhere in French Polynesia. But I had to take this slow cargo ship to get
to Tahiti, a week or more at sea. This study course required a couple months of field work---not that I was serious
about it, or the study of anthropology, it was just an excuse to get out of the university I hated for a couple of months.
Anthropology tourism. I had nothing better to do.
The town I found myself in was charming-looking---but it didn't dawn on me until I'd gone from one end of town to another
that it wasn't anything like what I expected. I'd read up on Tahiti a little, seen pictures of Papeete the capital and
This place did not look like any
picture I'd seen. It looked something like a Midwestern town center plunked down on the coast of a tropical island.
Two and three story buildings, brick and stone, like something out of a bygone era. Sleepy and sleeping. Unexpected.
But it was the people in town, now...well,
most dressed in these brown-colored pants that went down to the mid-calf. Men and women. No shoes, no shirts,
nothing more than a dark tan. Every so often someone with a more elaborate outfit walked by more elaborate outfit---older
folks---but a pair of pants seemed to be the standard outfit among the younger crowd. I felt out of place in my shirt
and jacket and jeans and shoes.
I might have been
behind in my studies, but I knew the people in Tahiti didn't dress that way.
The people all looked at me with curiosity. I wasn't surprised. I was a stranger to them. I wondered how
many strangers they saw. Some pointed to me and said something to a companion. I couldn't understand what they
said; it seemed to be English, but seemed to mean something different.
I was at the other end of the town, standing on a concrete seawall, looking at a dock where several men and women had fishing
poles in the water. This young man approached me. About my age, I judged, handsome, looked almost American except
for his clothes.
"Er, excuse," he said...his
accent wasn't American or any other I'd heard. "You...?"
I looked puzzled at his inquiry. I decided he wanted to know my name. "I'm Al Casson," I said.
"Keth," he said and held out a hand for me
to shake. I took his hand in mind. He smiled.
I said, "I am happy to be here on Tahiti."
He frowned, and then said, "This not Tahiti, boy. This Cove Island."
Now it was my turn to frown. I started to flare up when Keth called me "boy"---I'm a girl, even if I was flatchested---but
all the details I accumulated hit me all at once. There was no town like this in any picture of Tahiti I'd seen.
The islanders dressed different. And Keth said---well, I'd never heard of Cove Island.
I was on the wrong island!
I ran back through town
and to the ship---just in time to see the ship that brought me receding towards the horizon. I stretched out my arms
to it. Why had I gotten off the ship? I thought this was my destination, but it wasn't.
Feelings of grief and loss overwhelmed me. I sat down at the edge of the dock and sniffled, but did not cry.
I'm Al---Alice Casson, third-year
student at [University], studying sociology and anthropology as a way of avoiding real work. A lot
of people mistook me for a boy---I'm skinny and flatchested---and if I'm not in a foul mood I correct them. But I resented
it, every time it happened.
No parents---I didn't
know them, they died when I was young. I was raised by an aunt and lived off a trust fund. I left her home for
good when I went off to college. No real friends, just acquaintances---teachers, students, study buddies, a parade of
roomates. No boyfriends. I didn't play the college games and didn't much like anybody---I suppose nobody liked
It hit me, sitting on that dock edge after
the ship disappeared, that it didn't matter to anybody that I was missing. Did anybody care if I lived or died?
Would anybody miss me if I were lost at sea?
brought me here to Cove Island, wherever it was. Maybe I should make the most of it---but without my stuff, how could
I suppose somebody noticed my sorrow, or
at least noticed me. I turned around at the hint of a noise. It was Keth, the boy I met earlier. He stood
at the land-edge of the dock, feet from me. He said, "You look like you in trouble."
I nodded. "I got off the ship. This is the wrong island."
"I help you." He grinned. "I take you somewhere. We help. Come. Come."
He waved his hand in a "come" gesture and started to move away.
I got up off the edge of the dock. I was in a daze. I let Keth lead me away, into the town.
The man he led me to sat in a room in the back of what
looked like the local general store; I passed by shelves of canned goods and other merchandise. The store looked
normal enough. But there weren't any customers in it at the moment.
The man in the back room was an older man, gray-haired, gray-bearded, the oldest person I had yet seen in the town.
He had something of a distinguished air about him, though all he wore was a red loincloth, sandals, and a patterned blanket
wrapped over his shoulders like a shawl.
as he sat in a simple chair; he had me sit on a low stool in front of it. He didn't introduce himself right away.
"Yes, I speak your English," he said. "When I was younger I spent some time away. Our own English,
er, is different than yours."
His accent and
phrasing were...odd. "I don't understand, sir," I said.
"Well, here on the island, our people needed to say different things. It's been a long time since we came here."
"You came here?"
"Let's not talk about that right now. What about you? What brings you to us?"
I explained in brief who I was and what happened to me. The old man nodded and said, "You are as far from your
world as you can get, I am sorry to tell you."
I nodded. "So I am stranded here on Cove Island until the next ship comes."
"Yes, well," he said, then fell silent for what seemed like an eternity to me. Then he said, "I am sorry
to tell you, the next ship, it will not come for months. They often pass but they do not stop. You must stay here
"I must also tell you, we have no radio to tell anyone you are here. Parts are needed, but they have not yet reached
the island. They did not come on your ship." He grinned. "My friends tell me there are no parts,
we must get a new radio." He held up some paper envelopes. "These came in on the last ship, the one
that left you. I have not had chance to read them."
"I'm sorry to be troubling you, sir," I said.
He grinned. "No, you will be our guest, long as you are here. We must find you somewhere to stay."
He looked past me and shouted, "Keth!"
Keth had not come in when I did, but he must have been right outside. He bowed to me, then bowed to the old man.
The old man said to me, "This my grandson. You will stay with him."
Did they realize I was a girl? I didn't want to upset any local applecarts by contradicting them. I couldn't be
choosy or picky. I was a guest, but I was an uninvited one.
Keth smiled at me. He seemed pleasant enough. Helpful, even, in getting me here.
The old man said, "He speaks English as we do around here. I wish he would learn more. But you should understand
him, and he should understand you." His smile was gentle. "You said you studied people?"
"I am an anthropology and sociology student, sir," I said. I didn't know if he knew what those words meant.
He nodded. "Such people visit us before.
They asked many questions."
"I will try
not to get in your way, sir."
must learn what we can teach you. A lot we can teach you. Go now. You must need some rest."
"Yes, sir." I bit my lip. "I didn't get your name, sir."
He chuckled. "I am named Thaddeus."
It seemed an odd name for someone from these islands. But what did I know?
Mr. Thaddeus looked at me and said, "You wish to say something else."
"Yes, sir." I took a deep breath and tried to speak in clear and simple words. Mr. Thaddeus might speak
English, but I wasn't sure how well he understood it. I didn't want to offend him by speaking over his head. "I
was sent, er, to study people, not to your island, sir, but to the area. Well...everything I needed for this was
on the ship. I just have the clothes on my back."
Mr. Thaddeus chuckled. "We can help you. Will pen and paper do? We have both in this store."
"I don't have anything to pay you..."
I looked down. "I'm sorry."
to worry. Keth?"
Keth said, "Come.
"Just one moment, Keth.
Step out into the store." Keth looked puzzled, but did so, closing the door behind him.
Mr. Thaddeus turned to me. "You can do one thing for us. You see how Keth speaks. Many speak like that,
you will see. I would have you try to make his English better."
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. "I suppose I could do that, sir."
"Keth talks about leaving the island someday. I don't know if he will, but if he does, I would like him to speak
I nodded. "I will
do the best I can, sir." I bowed to Mr. Thaddeus, and turned and left.
Keth waited for me out in the store proper. From a shelf in the back, Keth pulled out one basic spiral notebook.
A rainbow cover and ruled pages. I flipped through it. Dust rose. There was a lot of dust in the store,
I realized. What did that mean?
me a pen, the old-fashioned clicky kind. Then we left.
I took more time to look at the town as Keth led me through it. The town's buildings did look normal, normal, that is,
for some place in middle America. Nothing more than three stories high. Brick and cinderblock with small
But as we moved further from the center
of town, the houses got smaller. Some were no more than sheds. I even saw some actual "native hut" looking
structures among them. Personal residences?
Keth led me into one of these buildings. It was not large. Inside was a single room. One wall was taken
up with a kitchen or kitchenette setup. The wood floor had one large square thin mattress straight in the middle.
To one side of that was a low and round table. There were no chairs.
The house was lit from and ventilated by a number of horizontal slits high on the wall. The overall climate of this
island was warm; inside, it seemed kind of stuffy.
No electricity, I guessed...I wasn't expecting it. Was there running water? I had not seen a restroom or latrine
of whatever these people used. They must use something. I managed to tell Keth I needed to pee---I got somewhat
embarrassed by it, but he just chuckled and opened a door on one wall. Inside was a small bathroom, nothing more than
toilet and sink, no shower or tub, lit from another high slit. Grateful, I went in and closed the door.
I sat there and pondered the antique plumbing. A commode, with a tank on the ceiling. I wondered whether there
was plumbing or a septic tank. I wondered who installed the plumbing, for what purpose---and what became of them.
When I came out, Keth had me sit down with him crosslegged
at the table. He handed me a bowl. I took a sniff. Some sort of fish and vegetable mix I didn't recognize.
It smelled pretty good. I found myself conscious of my empty stomach. There wasn't any silverware, I ate with
my bare hands.
These people, I realized, seemed
well-fed and healthy. Somehow I'd expected some kind of poverty pocket, with people on the edge of starvation.
Maybe it was that way where I was going...but here, everybody seemed all right.
Keth spoke to me while we ate. He grinned and said, "You good kid, Al. I like you."
Uncertain of how to respond, I said, "I like you too, Keth."
"You good boy."
I blushed. I thought
I had been clear about my being a girl. Maybe he hadn't caught it. Maybe he didn't know the right words in English.
I put off an explanation until I learned more.
After eating Keth washed the dishes. I sat at the table and looked up as he washed, wondering if I should offer to help.
By then the last light of day was gone, it was almost too dark to see. "Er, sleep now," Keth said, and pointed
to the low mattress. He knelt down and crawled onto it.
I thought about it a moment, then shrugged, and knelt down and crawled next to him. It was too dark to see.
I heard Keth sniff. He then said, "You feel better you take off clothes."
"I get by with pants.
Tomorrow we get you some. But now---?"
"No thanks," I said. I was tired and closed my eyes and was soon asleep.
I woke up with the sun hitting my eyes.
For a moment I wondered where the hell I was. It wasn't the ship cabin I was used to, it wasn't my dorm room.
Then I remembered. Cove Island, getting off the ship, stranded.
I sat up---and realized my clothes were gone. I was naked under a single thin sheet. I looked around. My
sneakers stood in one corner, but where were my other clothes?
It seemed to be mid-morning. How long had I slept?
Where was Keth?
Keth came in the door. I
gathered the sheets up around me as I pulled my arms and legs under it. Keth smiled and said, "Wake, wake, sleepy.
Sun up. Eat again."
my clothes?" I said, trying my best to keep my body covered.
"Clothes outside. Dry in sun. I wash. Be dry later."
I must have been out of it to not wake up when he took my clothes off. I shook my head and asked him, "What will
I wear till then?"
He chuckled and handed
me something I realized he had draped over one arm all along. I took it in one hand while doing my best to hold the
sheet up with my other arm. It was a pair of pants, reddish-brown like his.
But just a pair of pants. I spent a few moments, looking at the pants, contemplating the dress habits I'd seen around
the town yesterday. Not everyone, but most of everyone about Keth's age, just wore pants and nothing else. It
had surprised me, seeing so many women topless.
And some of the women were well-endowed, better-endowed than me. I suppose whatever Western clothing taboos that had
infected the islands hadn't infected this one. I suppose I could live with it, walking around bare-breasted.
I supposed I would.
Besides, I just had the clothes
on my back---the ones that were on my back---so if I was here for a while they wouldn't last forever.
I must have taken too many moments, because Keth turned serious. "You all right, Al?"
"Just thinking. All right. I'm all right." I slipped the pants under the sheet and slipped them
on---they were large, maybe a spare pair of Keth's, but they had a band I could tighten around my waist. I stood up
and let the sheet drop. I felt more chilled than the room temperature would let. But I supposed I could get used
to it---would have to get used to it.
"You good boy."
Did he still think I
was a boy? Even after he undressed me? I sighed. "What now?"
"We eat," Keth said. "Then we go wash."
Keth laughed. "All
We ate a
light breakfast of something I did not recognize. After that, we headed out. Keth grabbed two large towels and
a bar of soap from some cabinets in his small house. We walked out back---I saw my old clothes on a clothesline strung
between the house and a pole, blowing in the gentle breeze and warming in the hot sun. I grimaced. It didn't matter.
For now, I would wear this. I would stick with it.
We walked back out to the road-path. I hadn't put my sneakers on. Everybody so far went barefoot, no shoes to
be seen. I found it kind of hard going, the soles of my feet were sensitive, unused to stepping on things like the crushed
stone of the road bed. I bit my lip and bore up under it best I could.
Keth noticed it, and said, "You all right?"
"I'm fine. My feet hurt a little."
He looked a little confused. "Go back for shoes?"
"No, I'll learn to walk without them."
He got a confused look for a moment---had I said it right?---then said, "You good boy, Al."
Keth's house was on the edge of town. The crushed stone gave way to dirt and that was easier on my feet. We headed
further out from town, round a short hill and past a couple of farm fields. People worked in the fields and some stopped
what they were doing and waved to us, or to Keth at least. He waved back to them and we walked on.
The farms gave way to a more wild area. The road turned into a narrow trail and the trees closed in. The trail
steepened. I wondered about wildlife and danger, but Keth seemed unconcerned.
Then we rounded a bend and saw it. It was a beautiful place---a small waterfall tumbling into a big bowl, then flowing
out the other side over the lip of the bowl in a smaller cascade into a creek bed. I let out a small gasp at the beauty
Keth seemed pleased with my reaction.
He smiled and pointed to the bowl. "We wash here," he said. Then he shouted, "Hey!" and waved.
Two people sat on the edge of the bowl, feet in the
water. I hadn't noticed them before. Both were dressed in the same kind of pants as we were, though their pants
were a darker shade of brown. Like Keth, but unlike me, their skins were tanned to a shade of brown.
The girl had a large pair of breasts. If I had any doubts about this new outfit, the sight of those breasts obliterated
Keth spoke to them---and I had trouble understanding
him. Seems his English got less like my English when he spoke with people his age. Some words were unfamiliar
to me. I wondered if our mutual language had diverged, or whether it was a strain of native influence.
The context was clear enough. He told them I was a stranger he was escorting around. Then he nudged me and said,
"Say ‘hi,' Al."
I held up my hand
and waved. "Hi."
The girl giggled,
the boy smiled. Keth said, "Al...Sherry. Al...Raph. Friends." Sherry was the girl, Raph
was the boy. We shook hands.
you, Al," Sherry said.
"New to island?"
"Er...yes. Yes, I am."
"She here yesterday," Keth said. "Get
off ship by mistake."
Sherry put her hands to her mouth, then smiled. "You like island. Good."
The two of them and Keth exchanged a few more words, and then they laughed and walked away, down the trail we came up.
Keth turned to me and said, "They like you, Al. Good boy."
I don't know how obvious it was that I was a girl---I was pretty flatchested---but I let it pass. I asked, "What
"We wash." He pointed
to the bowl of water below the waterfall. He dropped the towels and then pulled his pants off and down, then stood there
in front of me, naked and smiling.
Well, I thought,
if he had any doubts that I was girl, this should correct it. I pulled my pants off and threw them down next to his
pants and the towels. I stood there a moment, looking at him. He looked at me, the same smile on his face.
Then he laughed and leaned to one side and with a little jump dove into the water.
Once in, he flipped his hand along the surface of the water and splashed it back on me. I cringed, then jumped in, feet
first. The water was cool but not cold. The pool was maybe six feet deep at this end, too deep for me to touch
We both swam around for a while.
I swam over to the waterfall and looked back. Keth had climbed onto the lip of the pool where the water flowed.
He had the bar of soap he brought. He lathered himself up, head to toe, hair and all. He waved for me to come
over, and when I did, he handed me the soap.
covered myself with soapy lather, even my hair---long and tangled, much longer than the near crew-cut Keth and most of the
Islanders kept their hair length at. I made a mental note to ask Keth about it later.
When I looked again for Keth, he had swum over to the waterfall. He smiled and waved, then stepped under it---the ground
underneath the pool must have been waist-high there. Lather and rinse, I thought. I swam over and did the same.
Over on the shallow end Keth pointed out a spot where
we could sit in the pool and stay down about breast-high in the water. We took seats there. Keth smiled and said,
"You good boy, Al."
If he wasn't dense,
I thought, he must know. I let it pass.
you speak our words. Different."
do you mean, Keth?"
"They, er, the words..."
He shrugged. "I can't say it." He pointed to my hand; I still held the bar of soap. "Soap,"
he said, and it sounded more like "soup" than "soap." Changed pronunciations?
We swapped a few words back and forth, things that were around, like "water," or "waterfall." But
sometimes he had a different word for something and we had no common reference. But we got it.
After a point, I tried a few words for body parts out, and they were almost the same. By the time I got to my breasts,
Keth said, "Look at sun." We'd tried "sun" out earlier.
The sun moved from one side of the sky to the other. Keth said, "Time to go home."
"Your house?" I asked.
He grinned. "You good boy!"
On the way back I could feel the hot sun beating down on my skin. My skin began to sting and ache. I looked down
at myself. I had gotten sunburned and my skin was turning a pretty good shade of red. I grabbed Keth's arm.
"Sunburn!" I said, and pointed to my skin.
He grinned. "Same word!" Then he looked at me and his face turned serious. "We go home,"
he said. "You rest. I put stuff on it." He made some gestures of rubbing something on my
skin, right over my skin. He put his hand on my shoulder---I winced.
We retraced our route back to Keth's house. The sun was almost on the horizon when we went in. Once we were inside,
he pointed to the mattress. "Down!" he said. "On stomach." He slapped his own stomach
to make the point.
I was in no position to argue,
the sunburn started to hurt real bad. I lay face down---it hurt even in my front and I felt every bit of the rough sheet
on the thin mattress.
I was never a big fan of
getting out in the sun and getting a tan---I tried to stay inside during the day. Even then, when I did go out, I slathered
on the heaviest sunscreen lotion I could find on every part of my skin that was exposed.
I did bring a couple of bottles of sunscreen along. In a sunny tropical climate I thought I might need it. But
the bottles were somewhere at sea with the rest of my luggage, on the ship I'd gotten off. And in the haste of everything,
I just forgot. Like an idiot, I'd just gone out, semi-naked, and now I was paying for it.
Keth spoke in low tones. I listened, but he used more unfamiliar words. He wanted me to be still, and he had this
liquid something he wanted to rub on my sunburned skin. He named the plants it came from, but I didn't recognize them.
Then he rubbed it on, it felt greasy. I yelped
when he touched my skin...but as soon as he touched it, it felt better, not normal, but better.
I listened to Keth's soft voice without trying to understand it. It must have been soothing because I soon fell asleep.
It was after sunrise, but not long after, when I woke up. I found myself naked in bed again; Keth must have removed
my pants at some point. I sat up, remembering, and looked at my skin. The skin was reddened, even peeling in a
couple of spots. But it didn't hurt. I felt a little grimy, but all right.
The pants I wore lay next to the bed, folded in a neat pile. They were on top of a pile of my own clothes, also folded.
Keth moved in the kitchen, humming to himself and preparing
something. I could smell it, it smelled good. I realized I was hungry and had not eaten a thing since yesterday
morning. He saw me stirring and looked over. He smiled. "Pants on, Al," he said. "We
go out after we eat."
I hadn't expected that at all. It never occurred to me. Somewhere, too, I'd lost track of the days. Was
it Sunday or did they hold services some other day? I asked, "Everybody goes to church?"
"Not everybody. But we go."
I said, and looked at my pile of clothes, then looked back at Keth. Keth wore his usual pair of pants, or a pair just
like them. "What should I wear?"
"Not matter," he said. "Put on, come and eat. Then we go." He thought for a moment as
he stirred something, then said, "Wear jacket. Keep sun off skin while skin heal."
I nodded. I stuck with his pants, along with my jacket top. That should keep the sun off me for the time being,
I thought. I put my sneakers on.
"Later," he said, "we get cream for skin. Then you just wear pants."
I nodded again. We sat / knelt at the low table and ate something out of bowls---fishy, but not what I'd had before.
Some other fish? We ate fast; Keth then taking the bowls and putting them in the sink. "We go," he said.
Church proved to be a big barn
of a building on the other side of town. I hadn't seen it before. As Keth and I walked through town we saw others,
alone or in groups of three or four or more. I spotted a lot of couples, husbands with wives and young children in tow.
Keth introduced me to a few of them along the way.
I got a dizzying amount of names, and smiled and nodded a lot. The difficulty I'd had in engaging in conversation with
Keth seemed to emerge more. A lot of unfamiliar words were used in something that appeared to be English---and I didn't
yet know them.
It was important to get to know
these people. I was, thanks to my own foolishness, going to be here a long time. I wanted, needed, to be friends
with them. I did the best I could.
the barn building were rows of wooden pews. There was an altar down front, and a large crucifix mounted over the altar.
Christian church services?
The two of us wound
up sitting in the back row, next to Sherry and Raph, Keth's friends from the waterfall yesterday. Was there assigned
seating? If so, I didn't, couldn't have an assigned seat yet. I observed people coming in. The younger folk
sat more towards the back and the older people towards the front.
Everybody chatted to each other. I tried to make it out but it was all confusing to me, things about their lives I did
About mid-morning the service began.
It started with a sermon, delivered by a minister or priest who wore some kind of vestments over his shoulders, though other
than that he wore brown pants of the same kind of cut and cloth as what Keth and I wore. The speech was in a very formal
English, quoting I think the King James Bible here and there. The theme of the sermon was thankfulness.
With a bout of sudden shame, I realized I didn't know enough about Christian services to know how one should look. Churchgoing
had never been a great part of my childhood; my aunt and I went once in a while, and after a point before my adolescence never.
The priest or minister spoke, and the people responded with "amen" at what seemed like appropriate moments, and
the sermon went on.
Then there was a hymn at the
end. I recognized the tune, I thought, but not the words. There were no hymnals around. Not everybody sung,
though Keth sang along with some enthusiasm.
thought the service was over, as people around us started to talk to each other, but the minister / priest said, and in good
English, the first good English I'd heard spoken on the island since I got there, "A final note. Some of you may
have seen a stranger on our island. We have a visitor who will be with us for a while. Al Casson, please stand
I blushed beet red, almost as red as
my sunburn. I stood up. Every one turned around and looked at me. I nodded, made a little wave with one
hand, and sat down again.
The priest / minister
went on. "Remember our motto is to be as kind and helpful to visitors and guests as possible. Make Al Casson
feel at home."
That seemed to be it.
Everybody went back to talking to each other. I was still standing up. Keth got up and grabbed my hand and said,
"I take you someplace, Al."
me along for a moment before letting go. We made for the door. But we were intercepted by Mr. Thaddeus and the
minister, who came up together and cut us off. "Ah, Al," Mr. Thaddeus said. "I see you come to
our services. Good. You enjoy?"
"Uh...yes, yes, sir, I did."
The minister said, "I hope
you'll come again. We've all been looking forward to seeing you."
"I will do my best." I looked him over. He looked much like all the other natives. "You,
er, don't speak like the others do, sir."
"Not many around here speak proper English. But my predecessors taught me well, and I traveled some when I was
younger." He smiled. "Later, maybe, we can have a long talk. But now...well, catch you later."
The minister turned his attention to others in the church.
Mr. Thaddeus said, "I see you out in sun too long."
"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't think."
"Keth didn't think either." He fixed Keth with a glare.
Keth wilted in the gaze, but said, "I take care of Al. I help."
"He did help, sir," I said. "Last night he put something on my skin that eased the pain. I'm all
"We get something more. And go to barber right after."
Barber? I wondered about that. But before I could say anything, Keth said, "You come, boy," and took
my hand again. We half-walked, half-ran out into the sun. Others were leaving, too. I had just enough time
to ponder the "boy" part again before Keth pulled me along.
The barber was busy. Some half-dozen people were ahead of us. The barber was in what I would have called a "hole
in the wall" shop on the ground floor of one of the three-story buildings in town. But it had a red-and-white barber
pole outside, and a single barber chair and a big wall mirror inside.
Keth and I sat on a couple of benches and waited. There were a half-dozen or so people ahead of us. I looked at
myself in the wall mirror. Reddened and peeling, hair a messy tangle---
I had not done more than run my fingers
through it since I got here, having no brush or comb.
The barber looked as native as anybody I had yet seen on the island. I wondered who would set up this kind of operation
on this island. I wondered why.
to me that I hadn't seen anything I'd consider "native," such as it was. Everybody spoke English. The
buildings looked like anything you would find in a small town anywhere in the western world. The people now...they didn't
look like they should, like I thought they should.
I realized my data remained incomplete, insufficient. I had to learn more to know.
The men and women getting their hair cut all seemed older than me and Keth. They must have come straight from church.
They wore more formal dress.
But their hair was
on the long side. They all, men and women both, got the same cut. The barber had an electric clipper razor---no,
I saw, not electric, it seemed to wind up on a skate key, but it sounded much the same while clipping. The cut itself
came out a little longer than a crew cut, but still very short.
Several people followed us, but Keth and the barber waved them ahead. I felt a brief burst of impatience---but realized
it was ridiculous. I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. Why shouldn't I wait? Keth chatted with the customers---I
didn't see money change hands---and listened to the conversations. Mr. Thaddeus was right, a lot of people talked like
Keth, almost to the point of it being another language.
The barber kept things moving fast. We reached a point where it was just Keth and I, no one else coming in.
Keth said, "Uncle Tony. This Al.
one new to our island?" he asked.
new. Also sunburn."
Tony? He looked me over as I looked him over. He didn't look much like Keth or Mr. Thaddeus. Maybe relative
by courtesy or by marriage? I made yet another mental note to sort out the relationships.
Uncle Tony said, "You need---" and used a word that sounded like "unguent," and might very well have been.
"Need to block Al's skin from sun," Keth said.
Uncle Tony nodded. "Not use much. Have
one jar here, you take that. More at house."
Keth nodded to me. I said, "Thank you, sir."
"I get later," Uncle Tony said. "You get haircut, Al?" He held up clippers.
I must have shrunk back a little, because Keth stepped up and said, "Cut my hair first, Uncle Tony. Let Al see
Keth sat down in the barber chair.
Uncle Tony wrapped a sheet around him. It didn't take too long to cut, but it gave me a little time to think.
Should I go native like this? My hair wasn't that long---for a girl---but it wouldn't do to have it get in my way, in
any sense, while I was stranded here.
was done and out of the chair, Uncle Tony offered the chair to me with gestures typical of barbers all over the world.
I shrugged and sat down.
It was over in minutes.
I could see myself in the mirror. I didn't think it looked bad at all. My appearance, what with my sunburned skin,
looked somewhat different than when I last looked in the mirror---some three days ago, on shipboard.
But with a haircut identical to Keth's---well, I looked more like a boy than ever. My jacket hung open and I wore no
shirt under it, and I was still as flatchested as ever.
Keth emphasized it when he grinned and said, "You good boy, Al." Just what I needed to hear.
Uncle Tony handed me a jar---an ordinary Mason jar, complete with lid, quart-sized---filled with some sort of milky white
substance. He said, "You come back when [unguent?] run out? You here with us long?"
"Until a ship comes," I replied.
Ships not here every day. You learn much while you wait." Just then some other customers came in, and Uncle
Tony shooed the two of us up.
As we walked back
along the hard-packed dirt street, I asked Keth, "The barber is your uncle?"
Keth nodded. "Father sister marry," he said. "Uncle Tony been off island. Know to do
things." He grinned. "Some time, I go off island. Look like fun."
I thought about my life, and Keth in the life I led. It didn't bear thought, him out there, somewhere in the real world---the
so-called real world.
Keth went on. "You
teach me speak better. I speak better when I go."
"I will try, Keth. And you teach me about your life, too, right?"
"Right." He grinned. I smiled back at him, and we walked on.
Back at the house, Keth opened up the Mason Jar full of whatever it was. It was a white creamy substance. It did
look something like ordinary sunscreen lotion, but it sure didn't smell like it; it smelled rather medicinal. Nothing
at all like the cream Keth smeared on my sunburn the night before.
I was able to scoop up a little and smear it on my exposed skin. A little went a long way. The cream rubbed in
and seemed to leave no more than an odd feel and lingering odor on my skin. Keth took care of the parts of my back that
I couldn't reach. "Use one week or two," he said. "Maybe three, maybe more. You turn
dark in sun soon. No need jacket now."
"How long does it last?"
day. Also wash off. You bring jacket when we go to waterfall or ocean." He chuckled. "Other
men come to island, skin sunburn."
about those other men. Meanwhile, Keth grinned and said, "Now we go to dinner."
"Dinner?" It was somewhere after noon, I thought.
"We help. Come." I followed, leaving my jacket behind.
We walked back across town to the church hall. I was surprised to see a number of people, most young, inside the hall
moving the pews around. They became benches. Tables were being brought in and set between them. The altar
and crucifix were gone.
Some kind of special banquet?
I wondered. Or did they do this every church day? I had a fleeting idea the banquet might be in my honor, but
before I could ask, Keth answered. "Always dinner after church. You want to help cook?"
I didn't know anything about cooking back on the mainland, and even less about cooking on the island. I started to say
no, but before that we were interrupted.
short and round and dressed from head to toe in a brown sarong-looking cloth, came up and started speaking at a rapid pace.
I couldn't follow her. She pointed to me and to Keth, then hurried away without another word. Keth turned to me
and said, "Nona want help in kitchen. We go there."
"More to that in kitchen.
We went through a door on the other
side of the hall. The "kitchen" turned out to be an open area right behind the hall. One section was
covered over with a large white cloth that might once have been a big sail. Already a multitude of people worked and
moved about the area. There were fires and the smells of cooking meat and vegetables.
The woman, Nona, reappeared. She pointed to me and said something I didn't understand, then pointed to one table just
under the cloth. Keth cut into her speech---for the first time, I heard him raise his voice. "I work with
Al. New here."
"Start with Al,"
Nona said. "Then other work." She left.
Keth said, "I help you first. Come."
He led me over to the table. "What do I do?"
"Cut food. Peel and cut into small food." He picked up two knives from the tabletop and handed one to
It made sense. I might not cook but I
had done some cutting and chopping before. We both started with carrots---everyday-ordinary carrots. The knives
were short and thin, but sharp. Keth told me to chop the ends off and then peel the peels into this large trash can
just under the table---an old steel drum, a little rusty---and once that was done to cut the carrots into tiny slices and
dump them into a bowl.
The tabletop had seen a
lot of wear and tear, I saw. After peeling carrots we peeled other vegetables. Onions, potatoes, and other root
vegetables, some I didn't recognize. Onions were hardest; the odor they put out made us tear up and we had to fill a
bowl with them. When a bowl was full somebody would slide by and pick it up. I was surprised the first time it
happened, but Keth just smiled at me and said nothing.
Sometime while working on potatoes, I turned around to say something to Keth, but Keth was gone. I looked around, and
there he was, carrying a sack of something on his shoulder. He saw me, and with one free hand he gestured for me to
stay where I was. I nodded to him and turned back to the vegetables.
I got it down to an automatic bit. I could keep my eyes on the task and look around for Keth at the same time.
Keth wandered through the kitchen doing this and that, moving stuff around, sometimes food, sometimes a big kettle of something,
sometimes a full garbage can.
It wasn't any harder
without him, it just took longer---and I wasn't fast at it. Others around me were better at it. I got a good look
around and saw the others at the cooking. It wasn't just chopping. Some stirred, some scraped, some cut and diced,
some turned spits. Men and women, young to middle-aged, no division of labor among the sexes.
Some of the people working in the kitchen noticed me watching them; they smiled at me, and I smiled back.
My fingers got tired. My eyes burned from some of the scents, onions, cooking. I was conscious of a hunger in
my stomach. I hadn't eaten since morning, and not much of anything.
Then it was done. Keth stood at my side, his hand on my wrist. "Now we bring food in," he said.
We carried the food into the
hall on large platters and set them down one table at a time. There was enough of us so no one table "got it first,"
everybody getting a platter about the same time. A couple of big brawny men carried in these big roast suckling pigs---I'd
read about such things but didn't realize anybody still cooked them that way---brought them in on spits and mounted them in
one corner. They smelled delicious.
like just as large a crowd as was here for church. I hadn't thought to ask yet how many people lived on the island---were
they all here?
Keth stuck close to me. After
the third load, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Sit, Al."
There were a couple of empty places. We took seats next to each other. By chance---or had Keth arranged it?---Sherry
and Raph sat on the same bench. Others, about our ages, sat opposite up, three girls and a boy. The table sat
eight with comfort. I hadn't seen any of them in the kitchen. They dressed much as we did, though one of the girls
wore a head scar.
Keth introduced us all around.
They were Junie (with the scarf), Donna, Sivvie, and Henry. Henry was Keth's cousin. They looked a couple years
younger than Keth, Raph, and Sherry.
I looked the
table over. The platters Keth and I brought did not stay alone for long. Besides the food, there were drinks,
several glasses and pitchers, all filled with some liquid something.
Keth said, "After church, Al, we all get together, eat, drink, talk."
"Talk about what?"
He grinned. "You talk. They...mmm...curious." It was as if he had to think of the unfamiliar word.
"Everybody wants to know about you, Al," the
boy named Henry said.
"Well...I'll do my best."
"You good boy, Al," Keth said.
Somehow that amused both Raph and Henry. I wondered. Did they, at least, realize I was a girl?
They asked me a few simple questions about my life and life not on the island in general. I did my best to answer.
But Keth kept piling food on my plate, and whenever I finished some he added more. I was pretty hungry, but it was all
too much in the end.
Someone filled my glass with
some clear liquid. I tasted it. "It's alcohol," I said. It was some sort of clear white wine.
I put it down and said, "I don't drink."
"Not at all?"
I avoided alcohol, but, maybe a few sips to be polite...I picked it up and took a sip, then put it down again.
Both Keth and I got grabbed for dishwashing duty on
the way out. It didn't take long, just a matter of scrubbing out some pots and pans and dishes and plates, and leaving
others to soak for someone else to deal with in the morning.
I got a good look at some of what I was scrubbing. The pans weren't any native thing, they were copper and steel and
aluminum, products of factories back in America or Japan or Europe, quite a mixed lot of them. The plates were also
mismatched and bore all sorts of marks. But they were all somewhat on the old side. I tried to ask Keth about
it, but he said he didn't know, they had always been there far as he could remember.
The washing did get our pants soaking wet, though. We sloshed in them as we walked home. Also I sloshed with more
than water. I didn't think the little I drank would have that much of an effect. But it must have. I felt
unsteady as I walked and Keth let me lean on him.
"You don't drink?" Keth asked.
"You not drink if you don't want."
"Thank you," I said.
It had been sunset
when we left the hall and it was dark when we got to Keth's house. I mean dark, without light. There were stars
but they didn't illuminate, there was no moon. If anybody lit a lamp or candle, I couldn't see it. For someone
like me used to electric light and civilization, well, the effect was startling.
Keth must have good night eyes. I leaned on him and he led me into the house, into thr room. I took my wet pants
and soggy shoes off and looked around in the dark for a place to lay them out. But Keth took them from me, and then
helped me down onto the mattress. I felt real fuzzy by then, as he pulled the sheet up over me, all that food and wine...
Keth was up when I woke up, close after dawn. I moved, and my head hurt a little. I put my hands up and rubbed
Keth handed me a glass. I smelled
it, and looked up at Keth. "What is it?"
"Make you better," he said. "Head hurt?"
I nodded, which hurt, and then I drank it down. It tasted like aspirin, but not quite like it. Did they have aspirin
here, or was it some kind of native brew? I didn't know, and put it on my long and growing list of things to ask about.
I don't know if it helped right away. But I felt
a little more alert. I said, "What now?"
"We go to farm now," he said. He handed me my pants---they dried overnight---and then this hat. The
hat looked like a big brown round leaf and curved and fit over my head like a baseball cap. Keth wore one, too.
He said, "Sun get hot, this keep sun off head. You and me in sun all day. Put stuff on skin too. You
"Farm?" I asked.
"Farm," he repeated. "Help Fretthy."
I didn't recognize the name. Had I met him,
or was it a her? "Fretthy?"
who owns fields we work. Come now." He held out his hand and helped me up. I let the sheet fall from
the floor---I felt less self-conscious about being naked around Keth, I guessed---and then put my pants on. My shoes
were still too soggy to put back on; I decided to chance it going barefoot. We ate a light meal of that fishy stuff,
and after I greased my skin up, we headed out.
Keth carried something else, a small brown leather satchel looped over one shoulder, hanging on the opposite hip. "Things
for later," he said.
"Say, uh, Keth,"
I asked, "why didn't we go to the fields a couple of days ago? Say that day we went up to the waterfall?"
"Mmm?" He thought about it, then grinned.
"Saturday. No need. Besides...I show you waterfall that day."
It figured. Saturday before Sunday, church day.
We went into the fields, but instead of taking the path to the waterfall, we took a left and headed out on a dirt path straight
across the fields. I could see others moving about the fields, some walking, some bent over or kneeling and working
on things. It was another hot day. I wiped my forehead and fanned myself with the hat.
My feet were still sensitive, but a little less so than before, or so it seemed. Were my soles toughening up?
After rounding a small bare hill, we came to a small shack, a rough-constructed thing compared to the buildings in and around
town. Keth led me right up to it. A man, plump, older, wearing a muumuu not unlike Nona. Keth said, "Here
The man smiled---his smile was gap-toothed---and
said, "This Al the visitor?"
Al," Keth said. "Al, this Fretthy."
He looked at me and said, "Know how to harvest?"
"Er...no," I said, with some unease.
"Keth show you, then." Fretthy got up and went into the shack, then came out with a handful of knives.
He handed one set to Keth, one set to me. One long knife, one short knife.
Next to the shack was a pile of wicker baskets. Keth picked up one and slung it over the shoulder. I did the same.
"Come," Keth said. "I show you."
Fretthy resumed his seat as we left. Keth and I walked down a row of some sort of plant---I didn't recognize it.
Keth said, "I show you," again. He bent over one plant, stooped over it. He took one swing at it with
the long knife, cutting off the plant top. He tossed the cuttings to one side. Then he stuck the small knife into
it and cut something off, the heart of whatever it was, some fruit I didn't recognize, something that looked like a cross
between a pineapple and a pear. This he tossed into the basket.
"I show," Keth said. He pointed with the long knife. "Go down row. Cut with big knife, toss
aside, cut with small knife, put fruit in basket. Leave rest of plant. You work row---" He pointed
to one row. "---I work row." He pointed to the other.
I nodded, and bent over a plant, and tried to do what Keth did. My first swing loosened something, but not enough, and
I had to swing again to cut it. The smaller cut was easy, one stab and the fruit came loose. I pointed to the
discarded plant cuttings and asked, "What happens to them?"
"Pick up. Not us." I nodded, satisfied for the moment.
Keth was way better at it than I was. I think he could do it faster, but went slower to keep level with me. My
cuts and hacks were ragged and rough, but Keth did smooth work. "How long do we do this?"
"Today, two day, three day," Keth said. "Fretty say when finished."
So I'd turned into a farm worker. Well, I was just an uninvited guest here. Why shouldn't I be put to work?
I kept at it. When we finished one row, seemed
like a mile from where we started, we moved on to other rows. Once in a while we saw somebody in the fields doing what
we were doing. Keth exchanged pleasantries and I smiled; we didn't take time for formal introductions. Most everybody
knew who I was already.
Most of the people we saw
were young, around our own ages. Fifteen to twenty-five? Everybody wore pretty much the same thing, pants and
a leaf hat. They were tanned and I was red from the fading sunburn.
I was grateful for the hat and the shade it provided. Also for the homemade sunscreen. But I could feel the heat
of the sun on my neck and back as I bent over. I sweated bullets, and regretted not having a sweatband or something
around my forehead, though I saw no one wearing one.
Soon I felt sweaty and dirty and thirsty. Thirsty dominated. I hadn't thought much about drinking, just a few
sips of water at Keth's house, and that wine and other stuff at the dinner yesterday. But, out in the sun this long,
working, working hard, it mattered. "Water," I mumbled, half to myself.
Keth heard, though. "What?"
thirsty," I said, a little louder.
up as if surprised, and said a word I didn't recognize. Then he ran off, and shouted "Keep cutting, Al!" as
He was back quick enough, with two water
bottles with straps tied to them. To my surprise, they were plastic, looking like one-liter soda bottles. These
were clear, devoid of lables or any sign of them, a little battered maybe, but filled with clear water.
"Fretthy laugh at me," Keth said. "I forget to bring." He handed me one bottle. I unscrewed
the cap and lifted it and took a sip---more of a gulp---and I felt better.
We worked straight through, no lunch, until the sun was on the opposite horizon. I might have gone on working, but Keth
nudged me and said, "Go home now."
straightened up. It was an effort to straighten up after being bent over and working hard for so long. My basket
was heavy with fruit. Was this how the islanders lived? Could I go on living like that?
Keth said, "We go to Fretthy. Return knives." I held out my knives to him, one in each hand, but Keth
said, "No. You keep, we give to Fretthy when we get there."
Fretthy waited at the shack. There was a line of people waiting to turn in knives, and we joined them. Fretthy
now sat on the seat of a knife-sharpening wheel---he wasn't doing any sharpening at the moment. He took our knives,
and our now-almost-empty water bottles. Fretthy chuckled---which made his whole body jiggle---and took them. Keth
laughed with him. I smiled but I didn't understand the joke.
On the way back I felt tired sore, dirty. My skin felt a little sore from the sun, but not burnt and painful like before.
My pants were smeared with dirt and mud and plant juice. My back ached from bending over. My feet ached from walking
on rough surfaces.
We didn't walk as fast going
home as we did coming out. The sun was still up when we got back to Keth's house. Keth nudged me when we reached
the front door, then led me around the side of the house. "Wash first," he said, and pointed. I hadn't
noticed it before, but there was a shower head and pull chain mounted on the side of the house. The regular bathing
area? I guessed bathing up at the waterfall would be too inconvenient for the population on a regular basis. I
wondered if they had a bathtub anywhere on the island.
Keth said. "Give pants. I wash pants. You wash you, Al."
I shrugged, and took my pants off. He grinned, said, "Wash," then walked back and went inside. I ducked
under the shower head and pulled the chain. The water was cold. I shivered, but after a moment or two it felt
Keth came back and handed me a bar of soap.
I looked at him. He had removed his pants, too, and stood there, unconcerned by his nudity. It was still light
enough that I could see all of him---and he could see all of me. If he still had doubts about my being a girl---well,
I wouldn't know what to do. He'd seen everything.
Keth also had two towels slung over his neck. One I lathered up, head to toe---my shortened hair made my scalp easy
to wash---and rinsed off, Keth handed me a towel and said, "Go in house."
I did so, drying myself off as I went, best I could. Inside, I found our dirty pants soaking in the sink in soapy water.
I thought the least I could do was try to wring them out some. The fabric was light and easy to squeeze. I ran
the water and rinsed them out, as Keth came in. He saw what I was doing and grinned. "Good! You good
So we were still on that. He had
to know, but he kept saying "boy." I'd had it. It was time for further action. "I'm a girl."
"I said I'm a girl!"
Keth looked confused
for a moment. Did he get it? Then he seemed to relax. He said, "I take pants after you---"
He made wringing motions with his hands. "I hang in back before sun down, dry overnight."
For a moment I felt the anger in me, but then I forced myself to relax. If he did ignore it, what could I do?
Anger the people who were kind to me? "All right," I said with a little irritation still in my voice, then
said in a more normal tone, "All right. But I want to help around your house from now on."
"Good!" He smiled, then added. "But I say what to do, right?" I handed him the wrung-out
pants and he took them outside.
It was almost dark
when he came back in. He dug something out of one of his cabinets and handed it to me. It was hard, without much
taste, but I could chew and swallow it. It was too dark to do much else. In fact, as I swallowed the last of it,
I felt a weariness come over me. My legs began to sag.
Keth caught me, but I was too out of it to remember him putting me in the bed.
Two more days of work. If
church were on Sunday, and the first day of work was Monday, then we worked through Tuesday and Wednesday. I'd lost
all sense of what day it was supposed to be, and did not know how the locals handled it.
I developed new appreciation for mechanized farming. This labor was hard. I got the hang of cutting the fruit
out, I thought. But I still wasn't as fast as Keth or any of the others in the fields. Keth and I kept working
side by side.
About noon by the sun, Keth and I,
still side by side, reached the end of a row. Beyond was fallow field, wild, unfarmed. Keth said, "Done now."
"All done?" I asked.
"Field done." He hadn't improved his language skills; I tried to talk to him in straight English but found
myself talking in his pidgin version more and more.
Keth pointed to the plants. All had been trimmed off in some way. We straightened up and carried our baskets of
fruit back to the shack.
We were the last, I guessed.
I didn't see anybody when we walked in. Fretthy waited, once again on his knife-sharpener wheel seat. We gave
him our knives and put the fruit down with the piles of others. Keth said to Fretthy, "Three days."
"Two days," Fretthy said. "You finish before noon."
"Three days," Keth repeated, and added, "Both of us."
Fretthy looked at him. All had been pleasant in tone, but was there some undercurrent I didn't get?
Fretthy reached into a pocket of his muumuu and pulled out a wad of bills. A wad of bills! I went wide-eyed with
surprise. I did not expect paper money, not at all. That they had some kind of cash-driven economy was a total
Something, I realized, was pretty odd
on this island. But I didn't know enough to put together a theory. Just a few pesky facts, like the English they
spoke, the town that looked like a stop on Route 66, indoor plumbing, and now paper money.
I tried to think of Keth if he were in my world, say, without his tan and wearing shoes and a cotton T-shirt and blue jeans.
He did not look Polynesian or Melanesian or any other division of humanity I knew lived in the South Seas...or were we in
the South Seas at all? It was tropical, and I'd gotten off at the wrong island, and even yet I didn't know where it
What was going on?
Fretthy counted out bills into Keth's outstretched hand. "One, two, three," Fretthy said. Then Keth
nudged me---I'd been deep in thought about the strangeness of this place---and I stuck my hand out. Fretthy counted
out more bills into my hand with another "One, two, three."
"Thank you, sir," Keth said.
you, sir," I repeated.
Fretthy just grunted
and resumed his seat. He started to take the knives from a pile and sharpen them against the wheel. Keth nodded
to me and said, "We go now."
away across the fields, trying not to step on the plants. I took the time to look at the bills. They were US dollars,
one dollar bills at that. George Washington was still George Washington. But they were worn and used bills, and
the dates on them had them printed up sometime in the 1950s.
Three dollars for three days' work?
"I keep dollars for you, Al? No place you carry." He still had his leather satchel, I had nothing like
"Huh?" I shook myself out
of my thoughts, having caught enough of what he said to get what he meant. "Keth, where do the bills come from?"
"Dollars." I held up one.
looked at the bill, squinting at it. He read, "Yew-knighted States of A-Meri-Ca."
That wasn't what I had in mind. It did drop into my mind that Keth could read English---something I hadn't realized
before, or given thought to.
I put off getting
an explanation for the time being. Keth repeated, "I keep dollars for you, Al?"
I handed him the bills. Did I trust him with the money? I did not have a clue what was going on.
He put them in the satchel with his own. Then he looked at me and smiled.
"Now what?" I asked.
"Go to store."
We stopped by the house to pick up a couple of baskets---baskets much like the ones we picked fruit with, but smaller.
We washed up, too, not a full bath, but a cleanup and change of clothes. On a whim I put my old clothes on. They
felt a little uncomfortable, the shoes in particular---my feet were getting used to going barefoot. My skin still peeled
and itched some, but the redness was gone.
"store" Keth took me to wasn't the general store I'd met Mr. Thaddeus in, but a store with local goods. And
"local goods" involved a lot of canned stuff---Mason jar canned---some fresh produce and meat, a large selection
of multi-colored local-made clothing and cloth, some miscellaneous stuff.
If this island ran on a market economy, I wondered about the prices. I had just the three dollars Keth carried for me.
I had none when I arrived, none in the pockets of my clothes---and even if I did, would they accept them?
Keth seemed unconcerned. He selected several Mason-jar canned goods and we put them in our baskets. Then he said,
"You need new clothes."
"I take care of you.
I pay. I have dollars. You keep three dollars. We make more later. You see. You save."
"Right," I said, "but I help---"
I stopped myself from talking in Keth's pidgin and said, "I'll help around the house."
"Right, but you do what I tell you to. Right?"
I smiled back at him. I picked out a couple pairs of pants, a shirt that buttoned in front, and a knee-length skirt
with an interesting pattern.
There was no counter
or cash register, just an attendant. She was a large and heavy middle-aged woman with gray streaks in her black hair.
She sat in a chair while we made our selections, just watching the store---we weren't alone, there were other customers---and
rose from her seat when we came up to her. "Al," Keth said, "this Martha. Martha, Al."
"Happy to meet you, Martha."
Her speech was clear and didn't seem much like Keth's pidgin. She said, "You're the visitor, right? Staying
with Keth?" When I nodded, she went on. "I saw you at the dinner."
"I enjoyed the dinner," I said.
didn't cook that day, but I will, someday." She smiled. "Keth's a good young man. You have a good
time. Have you met his family?"
my head. "Just Mr. Thaddeus, ma'am."
Keth looked a little embarrassed. I wondered about his parents. I wouldn't have thought someone his age would
live alone in this culture---but I'd already come to realize I knew next to nothing about this culture.
Keth paid the bill---twelve one-dollar bills, from a roll in his satchel with a few more on it. Money must have different
value here than back home, I realized.
were out on the street, Keth asked, "Back to house?"
"Meet your parents?" I asked him back.
He seemed to blush a little. "Parents dead," he said. "Grandfather---Mr. Thaddeus---he raise me."
"All right." He grinned. "Stop at outside store?"
"Store run by grandfather.
Something you need there?"
I need something." I'd been conscious of not having brushed my teeth since before I arrived. I remembered
seeing toothbrushes and toothpaste in that store. Keth had a toothbrush and toothpaste. I'd seen both in the bathroom
in his house, sitting on a ledge above the sink---but I'd never seen him use it. He also had a razor but I'd never
seen him use that, either, though he was smooth-shaven.
Mr. Thaddeus was out when we got there, but the door was unlocked---that, at least, seemed typical of a primitive culture---but
how primitive was this culture? We went in. I found the toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes---one brand, one I didn't
know, but which said "cavity fighter" on the tube. Keth said, "Toothpaste back at house. You use."
I also spotted a small box of tampons and picked that
up, too. My period was irregular, but I knew it would come. Keth asked, "What those for?"
"Menstruation," I said, but he didn't recognize the word, so I added, "Every month I bleed, so I must use something."
"Ah!" he said. "Seen with girls.
Happens with boys where you come from, Al?"
There it was again, unexpected, but out in the open. Keth still thought I was a boy, no matter what I told him.
I repeated, "I'm a girl."
He looked a
little dubious, but before anything else could be said, Mr. Thaddeus came in the front ball. The door had a spring bell
mounted on it. We both heard it and turned. "Ah. Keth, Al. Out shopping, I see. Been waiting
here long? Need anything?"
I held up
what I picked up. "Good, good. You have our money now? I heard you worked in Fretthy's fields.
I charge you two dollars for both...do you need toothpaste?"
Keth stepped up. "I pay. Al my guest. My friend now."
"Good." Mr. Thaddeus smiled at him, and Keth reached into his satchel.
I interrupted and said, "No, Keth. Use my money." To Mr. Thaddeus I said, "Sir, I was paid three
dollars by Fretthy. I can pay."
was about to argue, but Mr. Thaddeus held up a hand. "No, Keth. Al can pay. I make it one dollar.
You can hang on to the other two. Earn more. Lots of work this time of year."
Keth, somewhat subdued, said, "Right. I have Al's dollars." He reached in and pulled out
a dollar and handed it to Mr. Thaddeus. I put the toothbrush and tampons in my basket with the other stuff.
Mr. Thaddeus asked, "Are you having a good time here, Al?"
I thought about it---yes, it had been pleasant enough, even with the sunburn and the work in the fields. I was enjoying
myself. "Yes, sir," I said. "But there's a lot more to see and a lot more to do."
Mr. Thaddeus smiled at me. I looked at Keth, then turned to Mr. Thaddeus and said, "Er, Mr. Thaddeus, sir...I have
some questions I want to ask you. Can I---er, can I ask you alone?" I looked back at Keth.
Keth looked back at me, looking a little uneasy. "You find house all right?"
"I'll find the house," I said.
looked uneasy, but said, "All right. Take your basket?"
I handed it to him, and he grinned, laughed, and left. I turned to Mr. Thaddeus.
Mr. Thaddeus said, "You have worked on my grandson's English, haven't you?"
"As best I can, sir. I haven't been able to, oh, just go over the language with him."
"Don't expect miracles. Just now, he said, ‘all right,' but before, he said, ‘right.'"
"Er...it's not that I wanted to talk about." I hesitated, then said, "I'm a girl."
Mr. Thaddeus looked solemn. "Yes. I see. I was not sure before, when we met."
"Keth doesn't know I'm a girl."
raised an eyebrow. I tried to tell all the things over the last six days that Keth did not seem to pick up on, his continuous
use of "You good boy," down to the incident of the tampons just a few minutes before. It was embarrassing
to tell. It wasn't easy.
When I was done,
Mr. Thaddeus said, "Keth is a good boy. He made no trouble?"
I shook my head. "No trouble, sir."
Mr. Thaddeus sighed. "Family would like if Keth marry and have children. Keth never show much interest in
girls. Boys, either, not that way. Never understood that."
"There's nothing wrong with him?"
that we know. Keth is interested in...outside. Anything beyond the island." He chuckled. "He
takes after me. I think someday he'll climb onto ship and go away from us, just like I did when I was his age."
I thought of Keth in the outside word again---as he
was, trying to survive in it. Would he survive, would he adapt, or would he just get lost in it all?
Mr. Thaddeus must have thought something similar. He said, "Keth sees you in town when you get off ship.
You don't look much like our girls, Al, even when you dress like us. Keth...interested in you. Maybe...maybe,
then, you can help him with this."
could do what I could do. Keth was a sweet guy. "I like Keth. I've learned a lot from him."
"If you want, I put you in with some girls, away
"No, no. We get along
fine, even with this. I'd rather stay with Keth, sir, if that's all right." I paused for a moment, then said,
"Thank you, sir, for listening to me, letting me tell you."
"You are our guest," Mr. Thaddeus said. "Later, you have...other questions?"
"Yes, sir, but it will wait."
you understand, I wonder about you."
What was there to wonder about?
Mr. Thaddeus went
on. "You are one of those people who come to the island and ask a whole lot of questions about who we are and how
we do things, right?"
That seemed a pretty
good explanation for what a sociologist does. "Yes, sir," I said.
"But so far you have not asked much."
I opened my mouth, but, I realized, he did have a point. I didn't understand why I hadn't asked that much in the way
of questions, but I knew I should start. "I'm sorry, sir. I've been with Keth, sir, most of the time.
I've asked him a few questions. But thank you for reminding me. I've been a little, well, confused by how I got
He smiled at that. "You
may find out it was all for the best. Now, is there any questions you would like to ask me?"
I thought of a few, but realized it was getting late. "It will wait, sir. I should get back to Keth."
"We'll talk later. Ship won't be back for
six months, maybe longer."
"Then thank you. I'll go now."
"Go with my blessings," he said. He offered me his hand. I took it, held it a moment, then left, the
bell on the door jingling as I pulled it open and walked through
I had seen enough of the island, or this part of the island, to find my way. And it wasn't far. Keth waited for
me in the house. The shadows weren't that long yet but they would be soon. Keth said, "You talk with grandfather?"
"We talked," I said.
"Answers and thank
Keth seemed to accept that. He
said, "You help around house, Al." When I nodded, he handed me a broom that leaned against one wall, and pointed
to the floor. I started sweeping the floor, trying not to raise too much dust.
While I swept, Keth got our dinner ready. More canned stuff, something with a fruity taste. I wondered about meals.
The most elaborate meal I'd eaten on the island so far was at the dinner. The rest of the time Keth and I ate food that
was simple, uncooked, and not a whole lot of it. I didn't feel that hungry; whatever I was eating was filling me up.
Did everybody eat like this, or, say, did larger groups or families do more and this was just an example of bachelor living?
Boy, I realized, I had a lot of questions. For
a girl who studied anthropology and sociology, who headed to this part of the world to study, I had not asked, did not ask,
a lot of questions. I promised myself I would ask more questions.
But not about my sex. I looked at Keth. He chewed some part of our dinner and swallowed and smiled at me.
I smiled back. Someday, I told myself, I would ask Keth why he did this. But not now.
Afterwards, we washed the dishes---I washed them, Keth dried them with a towel and put them away. Then it was time for
bed. Keth put my toothbrush and tampons on the sink shelf in the bathroom; my toothbrush rested next to his in a small
and otherwise-empty Mason jar. I was able to use them---my mouth felt a lot cleaner---and by the time I came out of
the bathroom it was dark.
I crawled into bed next
to Keth without saying a word---and he didn't say a word to me.
Keth let me do the wash the next morning. I washed
the sheets on the bed, the clothes we wore, the towels we dried ourselves on, all in the sink. It was wearying to do
it all by hand, wetting it, soaping it up with the bar of soap, rinsing and wringing it out over and over again. I spoke
to Keth of the machines that did all this back where I came from.
Keth seemed delighted with such talk. I hadn't spoken much about life off the island, my life or life in general.
Keth expressed a genuine interest, I thought. Mr. Thaddeus was right about him.
From the morning on, we resumed our free-and-easy banter. The boy / girl matter lingered in my mind. But if Keth
didn't bring it up---and that morning he didn't say as much as a "You good boy!" to me---I would let it pass.
If he thought I was a boy, so what?
As I hung up
the laundry on the clothesline outside, I started to wonder about rain. This was a tropical island. There was
plenty of water about, and on an island that meant rain. But I hadn't seen any rain since I got here.
When I asked Keth, he said, "Rain not come much of month, maybe two months. Dry now. Sometimes just happen,
for a little while, but we see clouds long before rain come."
"If we work---"
"No work today,"
Keth said with firmness. He crossed his arms. "Time later. Tomorrow. Today we do other things."
So Keth took me around on a
tour. I resumed my native pants with heavy sunscreen. The itching and flaking skin was almost gone and I thought
I picked up some tan, though I was still pale compared to Keth.
I wondered if I should go around in native clothes. It was one of those things they say people studying the natives
shouldn't do. But I was here with just the clothes on my back, and couldn't be too aloof. I'd just have to chance
It wasn't so much a tour of the sites and sights,
though there was some of that, as it was a tour of the people and what they did. We saw a little of everything, a whirlwind
of activity. Boat making. Fishing. Canning. Weaving. More farming. Assorted arts and crafts.
Several other stores and shops.
I got offers to
help out anytime. I kept my talk with Mr. Thaddeus in mind and asked questions. Everybody was willing to answer.
Everybody let me try my hand at something or other. I did, for most of them. There was plenty of work to do in
keeping things on the island going. Keth promised me we would work our way through many of them as time wore on.
Everybody I met seemed happy. But some of the
strangeness I felt about them persisted, at least in my mind. It boiled down to the people and the way they lived not
being at all what I expected. An increasing weirdness that bothered me, ate at me. Something was different---not
wrong, just different---and I didn't know what.
One interesting place we couldn't explore too well. Up in the hills past the farms there was this big entranceway, concrete-lined.
Two great doors hung open; someone could have driven big cars in through it with ease. We walked in a little way, but
it was dark, and Keth wouldn't let me go further.
"This is the Shelter," Keth said. "Big storm come, everybody on island come here. Food, drink,
and everything we need to fix things after."
I nodded. It looked something like a fallout shelter to me---could they have built this for that, too? I wondered.
"But we can't go in," I said.
Keth shook his head. "Just as far as entrance. Too dark. We are not to go in any further."
He straightened and smiled, and thumped his chest with his thumb. "I went in during last big storm. Different
place. Lights, warmth. Party on party."
"Sounds like fun," I said, wondering about storms and what damage one good cyclone could do to the island.
We left the Shelter and pushed on to the next thing.
One man seemed hostile at first. Late in the afternoon, while Keth and I watched some boats being built---these boats
being canoes made from hollowed-out logs, though Keth told me they did build bigger boats---this man I had not met before
approached up. He was, I'd say, middle-aged, but dressed much like Keth and I.
Keth started to greet him, but the man cut him off with a sharp, "Quiet!" Compared to what I'd already gotten
used to, it seemed downright hostile. Then he turned to me, and said in a less hostile tone, "You are visitor to
the island? You must come and see me as soon as possible."
Keth said, "This Milton. Island doctor."
The local doctor? He might answer questions. Also from the little I heard him speak, he seemed to have a better
grasp of English than most of the others.
should have brought you to me as soon as you arrived," Doctor Milton said. "You should have been quarantined."
"Quarantine?" A host of stories about
diseases loose on native islands swelled up in my mind. Even the common could, I knew, could be dangerous in an unexposed
Doctor Milton went on. "It's
too late now. Everybody's been exposed to you. Come to my office first thing tomorrow morning. Keth will
show you the way." To Keth he said, "Keth, you bring her to my office."
Keth nodded. Doctor Milton, satisfied with this, mumbled a brief "Good-bye" and left. I watched him
"He speaks English very well," I
"Father teach. Father our doctor
years ago. Come to island from outside. Don't know why."
Not much more to say about that. If he could answer my questions---if he was willing to answer them--- "We
go to the office tomorrow morning, then?"
One of the
most interesting places we visited proved to be one of the smelliest. Past the town, on the opposite side from where
Keth's house was, Keth led me to this low spot near the ocean. A high tide might have washed over it if there hadn't
been a large and massive seawall along the ocean.
My nose wrinkled at the smell. Keth didn't seem to mind. "Stay on path," he said, and led me around
the pit. "Watch step."
around these large pits that dirty water flowed into through large pipes---I recognized the place for what it was. "A
sewage treatment plant!" I said. Keth didn't seem familiar with the term, so I tried to explain. "Water
from toilets flows out here, not into the ocean, so the ocean won't get dirty."
"Mmm...right, Al. That it."
does the fresh water come from?"
He got a
faraway look. "Big lake up past mountain, way past waterfall. Big pipe carry water to town."
"Straight from the lake?"
Water, er, cleaned before coming. Something added. I take you there, show you, someday. Maybe tomorrow."
"No, Keth, tomorrow I have to visit Doctor Milton."
"Oh!" He frowned, then said, "Maybe
some other day."
I nodded. It was another
oddity. I had not considered it, but the water did taste of chlorine. Chlorinated water on a primitive island?
A couple of the pits had people working around them,
stirring the sewage. I noticed they wore heavier clothes. Heavy for the climate. I supposed mucking around
with sewage was heavy and unhealthy work.
of the pits were pretty full. I pointed out one to Keth, and asked, "What do you do when the pit is full?"
Keth shrugged. "When dry---take two, three
years to dry right---we pile in wagons, take to fields."
"You get it."
He grinned. "Not right time. Spring come, we dig. Work pay pretty good, too. You dig in
pit when spring come, if you here, right?"
I supposed I would, if I were still here. "I will dig," I said, "but if the ship comes back before then,
I'll go with it." I felt a moment of regret, saying it like that.
Keth looked shocked. "You say you spend year on island."
"Not this island," I said. "Accident I'm here. I...I will think it over...before I go...before
I leave." I smiled. "Plenty time---I have plenty of time to think it over."
"Yes, plenty time." He brightened a little. "Plenty time before ship come. Here. Come."
He took my hand.
plant was the last place we visited. We headed back through town. Lots of people were about. I recognized
some from seeing them around, though I had not been introduced. Everybody seemed to know me, or know of me. Everybody
was going home at the end of the day.
"You happy, Al?"
"Happy about what?"
"Here on island. Even though
mistake, big mistake, you happy here?"
"Yes, I guess I'm happy."
The doctor's office proved to be one flight up, the top story of one of the two-story buildings I saw near the town center.
Good light came in from an elaborate system of skylights and openings in the ceiling. It was a little stuffy inside,
The place wasn't crowded, but it
wasn't empty. Some islanders must get ill sometimes, but nobody here looked unhealthy. It was a series of vignettes,
almost like the slices of life back home.
boy waited, his arm in a cast. I had not seen anyone in a cast back home in years, they just didn't do it that way anymore.
The boy saw with a man and a woman, his parents, I presumed.
A man about Keth's age had an old bandage on his head. He smiled at us but said nothing. The bandage had a little
dried blood on it; some kind of head injury, but not a serious one, I thought.
Two women in late-term pregnancy, sitting together, chattering away to each other. They seemed thrilled by it all.
Just a variety of people. Keth and I took a seat
on a bench together, but just as we settled in a woman in a nurse's uniform---another island, but the first islander I'd seen
wearing some obvious-off-island outfit. She looked at us, then said, "The doctor will see you now."
Keth said, "Doctor ready. Come."
We got up and followed the nurse in. I got a close look at the outfit---it was old, and mended and tailored so it would
The doctor's office looked to me like
a regular examining room, though, like the nurse's uniform, the equipment was all old and old-fashioned. Spotless and
clean. Doctor Milton waited there. He wore a lab coat over his native clothes. The lab coat also looked
old and mended. Doctor Milton said, "Ah, you've arrived. Good."
Then he fixed Keth with a gaze of steel and said, "Keth, you wait outside. This doesn't concern you."
"I stay with Al?"
"Wait outside. I will see Al alone."
Keth seemed inclined to argue more, but something in Doctor Milton's gaze put him in his place. He left, taking one
last glance at me over his shoulder on the way out. Doctor Miller sighed and said, "That boy is serious about his
duties. He must think the two of you are joined at the hip."
I chuckled, then said, "You wanted to see me, doctor?"
"Yes. Yes, I did. Al, isn't it?"
"Short for Alice, but everybody calls me Al. Keth calls me Al."
"Yes, well...take off your clothes and climb up on that table." He pointed to an examination table against
one wall. I obeyed. I was sorry I had worn my regular clothes; taking off a pair of pants would have made things
simple, but wouldn't have projected my foreignness the way I wanted to.
After I put on a cloth examining gown, Doctor Milton put me through a thorough examination, with pokes and prods, and looking
into almost every orifice as well as he could. Sometimes I sat up, sometimes I lay down. He kept up a running
count of questions about my life and health. I gave answers, and hoped the answers were to his satisfaction.
At the end, he said, "I'll need a blood sample, Al. Also stool and urine, but you can give me that after this."
He held a hypodermic needle in one hand and a rubber tourniquet in the other.
I looked at the needle, wondered about a few things, and said, "Doctor? Is that sterile?"
"What?" Doctor Milton looked down at the needle. "Oh, yes, yes, I see. It's fresh from the
supply I got on the same boat you came off of." He smiled. "I may have started training under my father,
but I studied and interned back in the states. I keep up." Then he was serious. "We are not exposed
to off-island disease here. I worry about something getting loose."
"I've had all my shots, doctor. I had a lot of them before I went on this trip." He asked me about my
vaccinations during the exam.
But even the common cold is rare here. No immunity built up. If you had that...if it got loose here...well, these
people don't have your resistance. A lot might get sick. Many might die."
I chilled at that thought. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Not your fault. You didn't know." The doctor sighed, and stepped closer, tying the tourniquet around
my extended arm. "The damage is done. No quarantine. Continue going out and about." He stuck
the needle in my arm. I winced. He drew off what seemed like a sizeable amount of blood...then pulled the needle
out and took the tourniquet off.
A little blood
flowed. The doctor pulled a cotton ball out of a container, soaked it with what looked like alcohol, then put it against
the puncture and said, "Hold that against it for a little while." It took longer to describe than to do.
While I held the cotton ball squeezed between my upper
and lower arm, I said, "You're not what I expected, doctor."
He grinned. "I'm one of those islanders who's been off island for a while and come back. You'll find them
here and there. My profession forces me to keep up with things. I still get all the medical journals, but I admit
a lot of the new technology is just beyond me."
"It's not that, sir, I mean...well, I thought, well..."
"You were expecting maybe a witch doctor waving a magic staff in the air and doing a little dance to cure people?"
"Er, yes, I guess so, sir. Something more
The doctor took the hypodermic
and squeezed its contents into a tiny bottle. "Don't underestimate this island, miss. My father came late
to this island and fell in love with a native girl, my mother, and stayed on."
"Mmm, I see, sir. But I wonder about the island, and the islanders." I shook my head. "They
don't seem like any natives I've read about. Polynesian, I thought at first, but it doesn't seem like it."
The doctor put the tiny bottle down and picked up a
clipboard. He began scribbling on the paper clipped to it, but he kept talking. "I use ‘native' in
the sense that my mother was born here. But that's wrong. Everybody who's here has ancestors who came from somewhere
"Well, the Polynesians are said
to have sailed from island to island."
"They're not, you know."
I must have done some sort of double take. I said,
"Oh, there were a few Polynesians
among the original settlers, and I think we picked up some of the culture along the way. We were living here, after
all. But, by and large, they were Americans, descended from whoever Americans are descended."
It was startling. I had been assuming these people were native South Seas stock---whatever that amounted to---but this
put a much different light on things. "You mean these people are...are Americans?"
"Their great-grandparents were. They settled here on the island back in the 1950s, built this town, and all the
things that go with the town---the plumbing that ends in that sewage treatment plant I cornered you at yesterday comes to
mind. You wouldn't find that in a Polynesian village, would you?"
"I, ah...no." I shook my head. "Doctor, I'm sorry. I haven't gotten much information on this
island, and I just haven't taken the time to ask questions. I know you're busy, but could you spare me a few moments
and enlighten me about all this?"
"I guess I could."
"I don't want
to take up your time, sir. You have other patients."
"They can wait for a bit, everybody that was there. My nurse will tell me if someone comes in with a serious problem."
He sighed. "I'll tell you while you provide me with urine and stool samples." He put down the clipboard,
and handed me a bedpan and a glass. He pointed to a door. "There's a toilet in there. I'll tell you
what you want to know while you work at it."
The urine sample was easy, the stool sample less so. I kept the toilet door ajar while I, er, worked at it, and Doctor
Milton gave me an interesting story.
Back in the
1950s, it seemed, a group of about five hundred Americans banded together and came to this island and settled on it, building
the town and all that went with it. They were almost all gone now, but children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren
remained, some seven hundred now.
did they leave the United States and come here?" I asked.
"I wondered about that, too," Doctor Milton said. "According to the ones I asked, they hoped to escape
the horrors of atomic war. They thought this island was far enough away to miss out on the worst of it."
"Oh." I'd heard stories about what people did to avoid the horrors---horrors that never came---and this didn't
seem as extreme as some of that. "But, sir, wouldn't they be too close to the bombs they set off in the Pacific,
on those island, what were they, Bikini and Enewitok?"
"I don't think they understood that when they established themselves here."
I emerged from the toilet and handed the doctor the glass cup and bedpan. He put them down on the counter and covered
them up with a towel. So many questions, I thought. I asked, "What about contact with the mainland?"
"It continues. Some people correspond with
cousins, and then there's business, ordering supplies and such. It's not a real important thing here. Years go
by between letters. We live a different life here. There's little understanding between us and them."
"But it's all by letter and by ship?"
"You've got it. The radio is broken and we're
waiting for parts. I've read of these portable phones and the, what is it, worldwide computers, but there's nothing
like that here."
There was a sharp knock on
the door and it opened a little. The nurse stuck her head in and said, "Doctor, your next patient."
He said, "A minute." The nurse left, the door closed. To me, Doctor Milton said, "We'll have to
talk about this some other time, miss. But other people can fill in details. You've talked with Thaddeus, of course."
I grabbed my clothes and dressed as we talked.
"Yes, of course, sir. But not about this. It didn't come up."
"Ask him the next time you see him." He sighed. "If you're bearing a disease, there's nothing I
can do about it now. You've been out and around, everybody's been exposed to you. You're free to go."
I hadn't thought I could be confined in quarantine,
but it made sense. "Thank you, doctor."
"Oh, and that sunscreen you've been using...don't put so much on. A lighter dose will do you, and in a month or
so you won't need it at all, I'm sure." He waved his hands. "Go now."
I nodded and went out.
The man with the bandaged
head went in as I came out. Keth still waited in the waiting room. He sat, looking away from me, his legs close
together, his hands down between his legs, some slump in the curve of his torso. Then he caught sight of me and straightened
up and smiled. "You all right, Al?"
"The doctor says I can go." I paused, thinking, then said, "The doctor told me about your history, the
history of the island. I didn't know your families came here from America sixty or seventy years ago."
"Oh!" He stood up, and put his hand behind his head and grinned. "Not think of saying. You
want to learn history? We go to library."
"There's a library?" I was astonished at that---again, it hadn't occurred to me to ask.
Keth kept grinning. "Not far."
The library occupied three room and a foyer on the ground floor of a three-story building just three streets over from the
doctor's office. Light came in from frosted glass windows. The door was unlocked...the rooms were deserted...it
was dusty...it was airless...it was hot. It was crammed from floor to ceiling with books.
I asked Keth, "Doesn't anybody come here?"
"Not much," he said. "We learn to read in school. But we not read much. Not much to do with
I was afraid of that. Things
like that, or like Keth's pidgin English. The islanders were losing their connection with the mainland. I sighed,
and looked over the stacks and shelves. Quite a few books. And older books, too. I recognized a few scattered
titles of books from recent years, but most of the books came from the 1940s and 1950s.
There were lots of textbooks and handbooks and sourcebooks. And none were in any particular order, even though some
books had Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress coding tags on their spines.
But I wasn't there to read literature from seventy years ago. Keth knew that as well as I did. He led me to the
back room, where he took a slim book from the shelf and handed it to me. No, not a book, not a true book, I realized,
but some papers bound together with a stiff cover. The papers were yellow and around the edges, filled with something
written by pen in a fine handwriting. The ink itself was brown and fading.
The anonymous writer---there was no writer's name on the manuscript, though some names came up in the text---told the story
Doctor Milton told me. The ancestors of these people came to this island in several groups from 1950 to 1955, hoping
to avoid the results of an atomic war and to survive it.
(The relative closeness of the South Sea nuclear test sites was noted in passing. Also the fighting in World War II
among nearby tropical islands, though their island was well away from all that.)
The people didn't think much of their chances, but felt they had to try. They numbered five hundred and forty-three
by the end of the last wave in 1955---the manuscript said it was written down in 1960---but small groups and families and
individuals continued to arrive for some time after.
They built the town and the facilities with supplies bought back in the states. Then they settled in, learning to farm
and fish and striving for independence. But there hadn't been a nuclear war by the end of the manuscript, and civilization
Keth sat without speaking while I sat
there and read things and ignored him. He must have gotten bored, but he didn't say anything about that. I asked
him about it. "Many come here," he said. "Just a few left from then. The rest gone now, dead.
They come, they leave outside world, want us to live. We live."
"I'd like to talk to some of them someday."
I wondered about Keth,
remembering what Mr. Thaddeus had told me about him. "Keth...do you want to go to the outside world?"
"Maybe someday, too. You tell me much.
I am---grateful?" He stumbled over the word, like he was unfamiliar with it. But gratitude seemed a concept
for him. Had the language shifted?
I nodded to him, he went on. "I like outside world, what I hear of it. I want to go."
I thought, again, of him in the outside world. "The outside world isn't all good," I said. "But
if you ask me, I'll tell you. But you have to tell me about the island when I ask you."
this was as good a place to break it to him as any. "The way you speak. If you go to the outside world, you'll
have to learn to speak better."
to cloud over when I said that---I realized I'd never seen him angry before. He said, "What's wrong with the way
Somehow that came out perfect---at
least it didn't come out in his usual pidgin speaking manner. "Your grandfather wants me to teach you to speak
English the way it's spoken outside."
to calm down a little. But he lapsed back into his usual manner of speech. "Everybody talk this way."
"Doctor Milton didn't."
"He go outside world when young, come back."
"But you said you want to go to the outside world, Keth."
He took that in, then grinned. "Sorry. You right."
"‘You are right,'" I repeated. "Say it that way. ‘You are right.'"
"‘You are right,'" he said, then repeated it a couple of times."
I looked through a couple other bound manuscripts---some were typewritten---but they told the same story with different details.
I would have to come back later and take notes. I still had the notebook I'd gotten from Mr. Thaddeus's store the first
day, but it was still blank.
I looked up and saw
the sunlight had shifted; it was an hour or so till sunset. I wondered if the colonizers of this island brought electricity
with them, and if they had, why they gave it up. But I had seen no signs, not even light fixtures or wall plugs.
I knew I would have to come back. I handed the
last manuscript back to Keth. He put it back on the shelf where he got it. "It's late," I said.
"We go home," Keth said. "Eat,
"Yes. More farms need work.
Or help with something else. We decide then."
Keth and I spent a hard day of work in the fields. These fields were much further away than before. Part of the
time we did more harvesting, picking berries. I didn't recognize the variety. It was simple, just a matter picking
the ripe, blackish berries, and leaving greener ones. Seemed simple.
But from about mid-morning on, we carried water. In Fretthy's fields, there had been some sort of irrigation system
in place. Here, the water had to be brought in by hand. A dozen of us carried water. There was a stream
down the slope from where the berry bushes were. Keth helped me shoulder a yoke before taking one himself. At
each end was a big bucket, several gallons of water each. We dipped the buckets in the stream, then hauled the water
up the slope, dumped it on the ground near the plants we picked, never right on them. Then we walked downslope and repeated,
They say water is a lot heavier than it
looks in the glass. I don't know what the several gallons each weighed. But it was tiring. The people on
this island, I realized, worked hard to raise enough food to stay alive. I had gotten glimpses of the big picture, but
now I grasped more of it.
I talked with a lot of
people in line doing this, some dozen and a half people, men and women, carrying water. I'd been on the island nine
days and knew just a few people well enough to talk with. I needed more.
Most were curious about who I was and what I was doing there. Most also seemed happy I was working---seems a lot of
visitors just visited. They didn't contribute. I felt, being stranded there the way I was, I had to contribute
somehow. Keth was showing me how, but there was plenty of opportunity for more.
Sometimes knowing, or getting to know, just happens. Keth and I were paid at the end of the day, one antique dollar
each---the going wage, I supposed. I gave my dollar to Keth to keep.
Something caught the interest of two other girls in line. We had talked earlier while carrying water back and forth.
I had gotten their names. Leona, tall, dark-haired, and Sally, shorter and brown-haired. Sally also wore a strap
around her breasts; she was well-endowed in that respect. Their speech, though plain, wasn't like Keth's pidgin.
Leona spoke first. "We know, Al, you're here
to learn our ways. You can come to visit us anytime---tonight, if you want---so we can show you what we know."
"I don't want to be trouble to you," I said.
"It won't be any trouble," Sally added.
I looked at Keth. He grinned. "Sure.
Get to know Sally and Leona. Go with them. Tomorrow is church, we can meet up then."
"Well, all right, then."
The four of
us walked towards town together, us three girls in a row in the dirt road up front, me in the middle, them on either side.
Keth hung back a little. We chatted while we walked.
Both girls were twenty-three years old---I was twenty-four and Keth twenty-six---and lived together in a house since leaving
their parents's home when seventeen. Both, though, planned to be married by the end of the year.
I had not had the opportunity to ask many questions about marriage---how it was handled on the island and who married who
and how they linked up with each other. The girls enlightened me. "We're all together from when we're children,"
Sally said. "School, play, work. Everybody knows everybody."
"Somehow we pick out the ones that suit us," Leona said. "Our parents have a hand in it.
They make suggestions and arrange things."
Sally asked, "Did your parents do that, Al?"
I shrugged. "My parents are gone."
"Oh!" they both said. We all stopped walking. Leona added, "I'm so sorry."
I thought back over all the bad feeling I'd had over the years about it. "It's all right. It was so long
ago now." I stopped for a moment, then added, "I'm worried about right now. You know how I came from
Sally nodded. "We know you
were stranded here. But you're also here to study."
"I don't want to get in anybody's way."
Sally smiled. "You've done a good job of helping out so far. Fretthy told us you picked up what to do right
away." Then she smirked. "We can show you more things to do."
We resumed walking. "I'm glad," I said.
We came to a turn in the path. Keth's house lay just beyond the left-hand turn. The girls pointed to the right.
Keth, who followed us, said, "See you tomorrow, Al. We meet at church." Then he strode off, raised his
hand to wave without looking back, and rounded a bend and was lost to sight behind a clump of trees.
I felt uneasy. Nine days and it was the first time I'd be separated from Keth. It felt unnatural, somehow.
I walked down the other path with Leona and Sally.
My unease must have been noticeable, because they asked if I was all right and I told them why I felt uneasy. Sally
giggled and said, "There's nothing between you two, iw there?"
"No, nothing at all. I'm just a guest of you all, and his guest. I try to help out and make myself useful,
Sally smirked again, and we walked
From the outside,
their house looked similar to Keth's, but a little larger, I thought. There wasn't a shower spigot outside that I could
see, but there were more bushes in the yard. Right by the front door was a large bush blooming with white gardenia flowers.
I could smell them.
The inside had two larger rooms,
a more elaborate kitchen setup, and a bathroom with a shower stall. (So much for the outside shower, I thought.)
One of the larger rooms was the bedroom---one mattress, like Keth's---but set up in the other room and dominating it was a
The loom itself was an interesting
artifact. A wooden frame with many parts, and a seat in front of it. I'm not sure I got all the terms and such
straight, but it involved holding one set of threads under tension and weaving other threads into those threads. There
was more to it than that, of course. This one made a bolt of cloth about four feet wide. I recognized the cloth
coming off it, the same brownish fabric the pants and the other clothes on the island were made of.
Sally and Leona spent the remaining hours before sunset showing me how to use the loom and weave. I wasn't good at it,
of course, but they were patient with me, and said I would get better and faster with practice.
But it grew too dark to work. "Sleep, now?"
"Not right away," Leona said. She picked up something hanging from a hook on the wall---an oil lamp, the first
I had seen---and with something that looked like one of those old scraper things that we lit Bunsen burners in chemistry class
with, she lit the lamp. The glow it provided was dim from a narrow flame, but it was enough.
"We will eat dinner first," Sally said. So, by the light of the lamp, we ate. Dinner was more elaborate
than what Keth and I ate. Some canned stuff, but some fresh vegetables and fruit, too. The plates were old china,
and the girls also laid out some forks and napkins. For me? I didn't ask.
Over the dinner, they told me something of their lives and themselves. It was fascinating. Sally and Leona
had been best friends since school---school ceased on the island at age sixteen, and the children moved into work. They
both shared an interest in weaving, and felt they made a good living at it, but once in a while broke off to fish or do field
They showed me samples of their work.
I was impressed. They started with a borrowed loom and saved enough to purchase this one.
Leona, though, was getting married by the end of the year. She had a proposal and was planning her wedding and making
the dress she would wear---made from her own cloth, of course. Sally admitted none of the eligible men had come out
and asked her. She dated several and was sure one would ask sooner or later. They would give up their house---belonging
to their families---and move in with their husbands. They would sell the loom---Leona's fiancé already had a
loom in his family, as did a couple of Sally's prospects---and bring the money to the table with their marriages.
I asked about birth and pregnancy. Leona told me she expected to be pregnant before she married. It was kind of
a tradition for the bride to be pregnant---not an absolute, not essential, but preferred. Sally said if one of her boyfriends
got her pregnant, she would marry him. But none had, so far.
I asked if, since she had multiple boyfriends, how would she know which one was the father? Sally smirked at me
and said, "I'll know."
I supposed the
sexual mores of the island weren't much different than back home. In talking with them, I had to share some information
about my life. I told the truth---that no one ever asked me to marry them, that I'd just had a handful of dates, and
I wasn't looking to get pregnant by any of them.
I started to feel in some ways they were more advanced than I was.
They asked me about Keth and my relationship with him. I told them the truth. Keth had been nothing less than
wonderful since my arrival. He was nice, even attractive, and we had shared a bed...but sex wasn't involved, and since
I was planning on leaving as soon as the ship came back, I couldn't see getting involved with Keth any further than I was.
I learned something of Keth's family. Keth, as
I already knew, was Mr. Thaddeus's grandson. His mother died of an infection that got loose---Doctor Milton was right
to worry about that---and his father was lost at sea while fishing. Mr. Thaddeus, his paternal grandfather, had pretty
much raised him himself. Mr. Thaddeus was among the first children born on the island, after the first wave of colonization.
And as a younger man, he had done some traveling around the world. But he had come back soon enough, and settled down
with Keth's grandmother, a native girl.
a second cousin of Keth's---their maternal grandmothers were sisters, both in the original colonization group---and thought
Keth was an eligible bachelor, having his ancestors among the colony founders. But they were too close-related
for the taboos of the island, though if they fell in love it might be permitted. (I wondered how much a problem that
was in a small group like the islanders. There were bound to be inbreeding problems sooner or later.)
Both Leona and Sally confirmed what Mr. Thaddeus had told me. Keth never showed much interest in girls, any girls.
Not that he was gay---there were several gay couples on the island, it wasn't forbidden though it wasn't approved. (I
expressed an interest in meeting them.) Leona and Sally did wonder about Keth, though.
After dinner, Sally said, "It's time for bed. You don't mind if we all sleep on the same mattress, do you?"
"No. I slept with Keth on the same mattress.
Sally giggled. Leona said,
"If you were one of us, you would be almost engaged to him. And he's shown no...interest in you, Al?"
I sighed. "I'm not sure Keth knows I'm a
girl, Leona. It keeps coming up in odd ways."
"I'm sure he must know," Leona said. "He's seen you without clothes, hasn't he?"
"We'll have to put you in something other than what you've got," Sally said. "Pants are all right for
work or for walking around. But you need to dress more."
I had seen more elaborate dress in church, but I said, "I can't afford---"
"We'll loan you something for church tomorrow," Leona said with firmness. "We've got things that will
"If you come and weave with us you
can learn to make your own," Sally said, and grinned. "You've been talked about a lot, you know. You're
a big thing on the island."
"I was a
little afraid of that," I said. "It was just an accident. I didn't mean to come here."
"You're here now," Leona said. "Make the best of it."
We washed up---showering, one after the other, and they let me go first---and crawled straight into bed when we were done.
Sally wound up next to me and Leona on the other side. Leona blew the lamp out and said, "Good night, Al,"
as she crawled onto the mattress. A single sheet covered all three of us.
"Good night, Al," Sally repeated.
night Sally. Good night, Leona."
night," Leona added, and Sally giggled.
In the morning, Sally and Leona were as good as their word. They pulled out several dresses. Most reached passed
my knees. I chose a skirt with an interesting black-and-white checkered pattern, then a top, a wrap with a solid off-white
color. It fit well enough. Leona and Sally pronounced me read, and pronounced me pretty, too. I spun around
in the dress, and wished I had a mirror larger than the one over the bathroom sink.
"Keep it for now," Leona said. "We have more than enough for us."
"We were going to sell some soon," Sally added.
I said, "What if I wind up on kitchen detail at the dinner?"
Leona shrugged, and said, "Oh, there's plenty of time to come back and change. Look nice for church, then have
better time at dinner. Better to change later, you won't get anything on your dress."
The two of them dressed in dresses similar to what they let me wear---different skirt patterns, colored tops. They added
some jewelry, necklaces and earrings---native craft, shells and such, I thought. They offered me the loan of some pieces
but I said no.
Breakfast was light and we headed
out right after. There were more people along the paths and streets than I'd seen last week. I was greeted and
wished well by several people, and I returned the compliments.
I did not see Keth before we went inside the church hall. I sat between Sally and Leona in the back row. I saw
Sherry and Raph, Keth's friends, sitting about where they were before. But I didn't see Keth.
The sermon was somewhat dense and impenetrable. I'm afraid I nodded off at a couple of points. The Parable of
the Good Samaritan featured in it. I tried my best to stay awake, but was caught by surprise by the final "Amen."
I hadn't attended much church as a child. Here,
I didn't want to be like some sophisticated big-city type looking down on church services as some primitive thing for the
masses. And I didn't want to be seen in that way, either. I would go on making the effort, as long as I attended.
Keth came out of the crowd as Leona and Sally and I
left the building. "I see you," he said. "You didn't see me. Over far wall other side of
"Sorry, Keth," I said.
"I looked and didn't see you."
"You look nice, Al. You good boy."
I looked over at Leona and Sally. Leona looked stern; Sally suppressed a giggle. I turned back to Keth and said,
"Look, Keth, I wanted to go back with Sally and Leona and change out of these clothes. Do you mind if we meet at
Keth looked a little confused.
Leona said, "We could show you a few more things about weaving, Al. There's time before the dinner."
"I'd like that," I said. Then to Keth,
I said, "You don't mind, do you?"
held up his hands and shook them in front of me while shaking his head. "No, no. We meet at dinner, we go
home then. Right?"
He smiled and turned away into the crowd. Leona
grabbed my arm and said, "Come with me."
She pulled me along a little way before I shook her hand loose. "But what about---?"
"Sally will talk with Keth," Leona said. "She'll come home later." I looked back, into the
crowd, but couldn't see them. I moved up to Leona's side and walked along with her.
When the crowds from church had thinned and no one was near us, I whispered to Leona, "What will Sally say to Keth?"
"If she's smart, that you're a girl and not a boy,"
Leona whispered back. Then she said aloud, "She'll say whatever she wants. But we both want to know what
he thinks of you."
I felt chilled at that.
"We'll talk later," Leona added. "When
Sally gets home."
I fell silent.
The two of us were there just long enough to change
out of our clothes into the basic pants outfit. Leona loaned me a fresh pair of pants, my own, themselves on loan from
Keth, were a bit grungy and dirty and needed a wash.
Sally came in and shook her head. "I don't know," she said. "I hinted at it, but I didn't
want to ask him outright. ‘Al good boy,' he said." She caught Keth's voice well, but her pitch was
an octave or so higher.
"I think he
may be putting you on," Leona said. "He can't not know you're a girl. But if he was he wouldn't tell."
Sally shook her head again. "I don't know.
I just don't know."
"Look," I said.
"I appreciate you two making this effort. But I think I have to work on it myself."
"Are you serious about Keth?" Leona asked. "If he is putting you on, he may be serious about you."
I thought about it, then said, "I like Keth.
I do. But I still plan to leave the island when the ship comes back. I wouldn't want to start something
with Keth. It wouldn't be fair to him."
Leona and Sally looked at each other. Leona said, "Al, we think you should move out of Keth's place, and in here,
with us. You could help with the weaving, and maybe earn a few dollars once you learn how. Better than regular
Sally added, "You can tell
Keth we offered you a job with us. It's true, even."
"I...ah...well..." The generosity of it hit me hard, made me stumble over words. After a few stumbles,
I said, "You'd give me a job?"
seems like you need one," Leona said.
a few more moments of silence, I said, "I will think about it. Give me...give me a week." I sighed,
and said, "What do we do now?"
"The dinner is still some time off. And since we're offering you a job weaving, maybe you should practice your
weaving a little more."
I smiled. I
felt tears in my eyes.
I didn't get picked for kitchen duty, but Leona did. She disappeared into the kitchen area, while Sally and I sat together
on one end of a long table. "Leona will get married and move out," Sally said. "That will be soon.
And I'll be needing someone to help with the work until I get married. It's hard to do along, you don't produce as much."
"I don't know if I'll be---well, I don't think
I'll ever be as good as the two of you are." That was true. I'd seen them work. Much faster, and much
finer, than I felt I could ever do myself. I had not been weaving since childhood.
"You don't know until you try, Al."
nodded, and said, "I suppose I could help you out, whether I go with Keth or not."
"Go with me where?" came Keth's voice from behind me. I looked up and turned my neck around. Keth stood
behind me. He climbed over the bench and sat next to me, with Sally on the other side.
I decided to be blunt. "Keth, Leona and Sally have asked me to come live with them and help them with their weaving.
I told them I would think about it."
seemed expressionless. I guessed he was processing the information. Then he said, "Right, Al.
You do what you want. I still take you around when I can, right?"
"Right," I said. "We can still go around with each other, Keth."
The food platter---as elaborate and heavy as before---came to our table just then. We ate pretty much in silence, though
conversations, loud enough to listen to, carried on around us.
Somehow leaving Keth, the idea of leaving Keth, upset me. I had trouble tasting the food.
Afterwards Keth got taken for dishwashing duty. I offered to go with him, but he held up his hands in that enthusiastic
"No" gesture he made. "No, no. You go with Sally now. You know enough to live on island now."
He grinned. "I taught you well."
Then he disappeared into the kitchen area. Leona was still in there. Sally and I walked outside. She said,
"Do you want to come home with me now?"
I looked away, into the distance, into the setting sun. "I, er...I think I'd like to go back to Keth's house right
now." I hesitated, then turned away from the sun and faced Sally. "I will tell you later what I decide.
It looks good to me...but so does Keth." Did I just say that?
"You do like him, don't you?"
Yes, I do."
Sally opened her arms and offered
me a hung. I took it. She said, "We will waite for your answer."
The long walk home was just about the first time I had been alone on the island since I arrived. I'd always been with
somebody, Keth or the others. It was starting to get gloomy as I walked, but I knew the route.
I reflected on a lot. I had, I guess, adapted to life on the island. I worked like them, I dressed like them,
I ate like them. Callusses were building up on my hands from the work I had done. I was getting better at the
field work, and thought I might get better at weaving.
The hot sun didn't bother me that much anymore---I hadn't used any sunscreen that morning, having left it back at Keth's.
My skin had darkened some. Even bare feet weren't as much of a problem as it had been when I first tried it.
I had made friends here. I reflected on life back home. I didn't have any friends back home, just acquaintances.
My family was gone and out of touch and I don't think it mattered even to my aunt, my former guardian, what happened to me.
It seemed sad.
But these people on the island, they cared, or seemed to care. Was it because I was their guest? Were they curious
about me? Or was it genuine friendship?
flicker of an idea came into my head. Maybe I should stay on the island. Maybe it mattered to them if I stayed
But did I fit in on the island?
Maybe I was just faking it to get by. Did I belong on the island?
Back at Keth's house, I found he hadn't straightened out much since yesterday morning when we both left. Our dirty clothes
were still there. Keth had added to the dirty dishes we left yesterday. I picked up the clothes and put them in
a pile in the corner for washing tomorrow. Then I washed the dishes and dried them and put them away. Then I straightened
up the sheets on the mattress bed. I agreed to be useful around the house, after all.
By that time it was pitch dark. Keth, for whatever reason, had no oil lamps like Leona and Sally used. I sat down
in the dark on the mattress edge, and waited.
wasn't a long wait---not that I could measure it, not having a watch and being out of sight of the night sky. Keth came
in. I couldn't see his face, but I knew him well enough to know it was him. "Al?" he said.
"I'm here," I said.
He paused---I wished
I could see his face, so I could see what emotions he expressed on it---but he said, "Wash up took long. Pants
"I washed up here, too, Keth.
The dishes are done. I'll wash the pants in the morning."
I heard him removing his pants, and felt him climb into the bed next to me. He let out a long sigh, then reached out
and gripped my shoulder. "You good boy, Al," he said. I didn't mind as much that time.
Then he rolled over and I heard him snoring. I lay next to him and soon fell asleep too, despite all I had to think
I kept my promise. I rose at first light, and washed out our accumulated dirty laundry. I took them out to the
yard and hung them on the clothesline to dry. I didn't dress till after that. Not having anything else clean I
put on my "outside" clothes, the ones I wore on arrival, everything but the shoes. They felt itchy and
uncomfortable against my skin.
Keth was still asleep
when I began washing---the first time I woke up before he did. But he was awake when I came back in. He had gotten
breakfast, canned stuff again, while I was outside. He smiled at me and said, "Al, what we do now?"
I didn't know much about what to do. I had much
to learn. "More farm work?" I asked. "Or is there more to see?"
"Not show you everything," he said. "But we go farm if you want."
I thought about it, then said, "Keth, what would you do if I weren't here with you?"
He thought about it for a moment, a slight slack-jawed look on his face. Then he said, "We go to farm."
It was much the same as what
we did with Fretthy and his fields. Same crop. But it was a different field and a different man in charge.
I had the knack of it now. I could do it without thinking. I wasn't as fast as the others. I worked side
by side with Keth, him on one row, me on another, and we had time to talk while we worked.
I had gotten to wonder about land ownership. It would seem things weren't owned by all, but belonged to someone.
Something Leona and Sally said gave me the impression they rented their house. So I asked Keth who owned his house.
"House owned by family," Keth said.
"I just live in it. Five years now. Most houses, most land, owned by one family or other." He
grinned. "Leona and Sally, they live in one house, my family owns. They pay money to us every month."
"That's it. They rent." Keth turned back to the crops. "My family owns six farms."
"Did we work on any of them?"
"Work on one two days ago. I didn't say?"
He hadn't. I remembered the farm, I thought---some of the farmwork was beginning to blur together in my mind.
"The one where we picked the fruit?"
"That's it. But we all work on all farms. Pay each other. Pay you."
I had no head for it, but I thought I had been paid about ten dollars for the work I had done. It didn't matter.
I saw myself living on their charity, and I would try to earn my keep doing whatever they wanted me to. I asked Keth,
"Someday, will you run one of these farms?"
"Grandfather say when I'm older I run one of family farms."
"You want to do that?"
He looked away. "I want to see out there. Always want to see. Maybe I go with you when ship comes next."
The thought of Keth in the outside world depressed me.
But I went with Keth's thought. "When we go, I'll show you like you've shown me."
He grinned. "Al, you good boy."
There it was again. I said nothing. I thought of making a forceful correction. But I worried about what
he would say.
I guess I did care for him, after
Keth said to me as
we walked home, "I think maybe you should go with Sally and Leona, Al. Learn weaving. You make more with
good cloth than with farm work."
don't want to stop working with you, Keth."
"No, I still take you around. We work sometimes. Maybe on farms, maybe on other things. But there is
more to island than what I show you." He laughed, then said, "Tomorrow, we walk around island. Walk
along edge of water, all around."
interesting. But I worried. "I don't want to be a burden on you. You'll lose money if you don't work."
"I make do." He grinned.
I grinned back and said, "Right. Soon as I see Sally and Leona, I tell them."
He grinned again. I wondered what went on inside his head.
I made it into the toilet just after dawn, but I felt
unsteady on my feet. Then I threw up straight into the toilet. I felt awful, that I was messing up Keth's nice
clean toilet with my vomit.
Keth must have heard
me. He knocked on the door and said, "Al? You all right?"
" ‘m'alright," I said, then spat out the vomit and saliva in my mouth and said, "I'm all right, I'm all
There was no lock on the door to the
toilet. Keth opened it and stuck his head in. He looked shocked, then he looked stern and said, "You go to
bed, Al, once you finish here. You sick."
I almost argued, but then more vomit started to come up my throat. Keth knelt beside me and held my head over the bowl,
then helped me back to bed once I was done. My head was spinning and soon as I lay down the room started spinning, too.
I don't know what happened after that.
DAY 12, 13, 14, 15.
to in an unfamiliar place. I looked up at a whitewashed ceiling. I could see it clear enough to make out brush
strokes, but no other detail. The room was hot and stuffy, or so it seemed.
I could see the room was well-lit from windows high up in two walls. Ventilation came from the roof being a little higher
than the tops of the whitewashed walls, much like Keth's house. I had air, even though it was hot air. But I just
couldn't summon up the energy to lift my head from the pillow it rested on. Where was I? What happened to me?
I must have attracted some attention, as someone came
into view. A woman put her hands on my shoulders and held me down. "Stay down," she said. "You've
been sick. You're all right now."
recognized her. "You're the nurse---" I tried to say, but found it difficult to speak. It was the nurse
from Doctor Milton's office. What was her name? I didn't get her name. Or did I? What was happening?
"The doctor will be here in a minute," the
nurse said. "Don't try to speak. Just still still, please."
The pressure on my shoulders kept me down. Not that I was putting up much of a fight, but I gave up the fight for the
moment and looked up at her. The nurse looked concerned, and said, "I'll raise your head a little and you can look
She raised my head and slipped a
pillow, another pillow, under my neck. Then she disappeared from view for a moment. I heard a creaking noise and
found my head rising. Then she reappeared and said, "I'll go get the doctor."
She left by the door I could now see. I could see the room now. It was about the size of the examination room
I had been in before. But the furnishings were different---it was almost devoid of anything, except the bed I was in,
a table by the side of the bed, and a couple of chairs by the table. There was a pitcher of water, a drinking glass,
and a bowl on the table. The glass and the pitcher were glass, both transparent clear; the pitcher was full. The
bed itself looked like a very old and old-fashioned hospital bed, complete with white metal footboard. I lay in it,
covered up with a sheet up to my neck.
I felt very
hot and bothered, besides being weary.
came in. "Ah, Miss Casson. I see you're awake now." He poured water into the glass from the pitcher,
then held the glass to my lips. I realized I was very thirsty, and drank a sip. "Careful," he said.
"Not too much, now."
When I finished,
I croaked out, "Where am I?"
in a room next to my offices."
"You fell ill." He
lowered his head and then shook it a little. "I'm sorry, Miss Cason. I was worried about you passing an infection
to the people on this island. It never occurred to me you could catch something from us."
I blinked. "What...what have I got?"
I didn't recognize the Latin and Greek terms he used. It was some variation on the common cold---nothing I could get
vaccinated for, nothing that should be any real problem for an islander. The islanders caught it, they got sick for
a day or so, and were often sick in the morning and up and about in the evening.
But outsiders, well, they could catch it bad. Chills, nausea, high fever, delirium, unconsciousness. I said, "I've
been lying here for four days, doctor?"
You got here, you were carried here about noon four days ago. When Keth tried to wake you up and couldn't, he ran and
got me. I rounded up a couple of people and we put together a stretcher and carried you here on it."
"But am I gonna be alright, doctor?"
"Oh, yes, of course."
I slumped back
into the pillows. "Where is Keth?"
"He's been here. Once your fever broke, I sent him home to get some rest. I told him I'd send for him when
you were awake and ready to receive visitors." The doctor straightened up. "You are not ready yet.
Two more days bed rest and a couple weeks taking it easy. I gather you've been working in the fields?"
"Uh, yes, doctor."
"Well, none of
that for a while. In fact, you go back to sleep right now."
Sleep seemed like a good idea. But--- "I'm still thirsty."
"All right, one more drink, one more sip, then close your eyes and go to sleep." He picked up the water glass
and put it to my lips again. I sipped. Now that I wasn't so thirsty, I thought the water had a strange taste,
a bitter taste. I didn't say anything.
doctor took the glass away and said, "Now, rest. Close your eyes." He smiled. "You're
on the mend."
I nodded and closed my eyes.
I felt better when I woke a
little while later. I started to rise and sit up, but the nurse came in and held me down. "Stay still,"
I felt a pressure on me. "I've
got to, uh, I've got to go to the toilet."
"I'll bring you a bedpan." She was gone and back in an instant, carrying what looked like a traditional bedpan.
She helped me slide it under me, and once I had cut loose and relieved the pressure on my bladder and bowels, she took it
She was soon back. "Is there anything
I can get you, dear?"
I wasn't hungry, but
I was thirsty. "Uh, could I have another glass of water, please?"
She poured the water into the glass. I held the glass, my hands shaking a little, but I was able to drink deep.
Same bitter taste.
"Thank you," I said.
"I'm sorry, uh, ma'am. I didn't get your name, nurse, uh..."
"Nurse Carly," she said. "You can call me Nurse Carly." She straightened up the sheets, covering
me up again. She said, "You keep resting, now."
I did. I still felt tired.
Doctor Milton helped me walk to the bathroom down the hall the next morning. It was a communal bathroom and had a shower
stall. The doctor cautioned me to be careful when I bathed. On the way down to the bathroom I hadn't been aware
I was naked. But when I was done and had washed and dried myself, the doctor gave me a cloth examination gown and helped
me tie it in the back.
When I was back in bed,
Doctor Milton sat down on the edge of the bed and said, "I think you're ready to receive visitors."
"Yes, I guess. Could you send word to Keth---" My stomach grumbled. "Ooh. I'm hungry,
"I'll see that you get something.
Something light for now. Another day and night here, and I think I can release you. You can recover better on
your own, but..." He shook his head.
"Is there a problem?"
"Yes and no.
I've talked with Keth, about what you and he have been doing since your arrival. Field work is pretty hard on the body.
You've got to be in good health to do it. I don't want you straining yourself, because you'll wind up back here with
something more serious." He smiled. "I've spoken with your friends Sally and Leona. They've
told me they offered to take you into their home as an apprentice weaver. I'd like you to take that."
I hadn't thought of it as "apprenticeship," but it made sense, I supposed. "But Keth is---"
"Keth will be just fine on his own."
Doctor Milton looked at me, his eyes narrowing to almost a squint. "You are fond of Keth, aren't you?"
"I...guess so." I swallowed. "I
like him. He took me in and showed me around and helped me learn. He didn't have to do any of that for me."
"But his grandfather may have had some hand in
it." The doctor shrugged and said, "Do you know if Keth is fond of you?"
"I think so. I don't know." I winced. "Doctor, I still don't know if Keth knows I'm a girl."
"I could show him my examination notes."
Doctor Milton chuckled at his own joke. I still found it more serious, less amusing. The doctor went on.
"Anyway, for now, keep lying down. I'll send a tray in with your breakfast."
After I nodded, he slapped my leg under the sheet, and said, "Get better, Miss Casson." He left, and I smiled.
Breakfast, brought by Nurse
Carly was on a wooden tray that rested on supports over my lap. A bowl of soup---clear liquid, I should say, liquid
that wasn't hot and was something I didn't recognize. A couple of slices of white bread. Fresh fruit, three grapes
and two strawberries, a small portion. But it filled me up when I ate it.
Doctor Milton came in as I was finishing. "Later you can have a decent meal. But for now I want you to eat
light." He smiled. "You're getting better. A good day today and you can leave tomorrow morning."
He took the tray and put it on the table, then he felt
my forehead. Then he removed something from his pocket that looked like a short glass stick. He shook it several
times, then said, "Open up, now," and held one end of the stick towards my mouth.
A glass mercury thermometer! I read about such things, but I'd never seen one. I didn't even know they still existed.
I opened my mouth and let him slip the glass bulb on one end of the stick under my tongue. "Don't talk," he
said. He took my wrist and felt my pulse, and looked at his wrist. I realized he wore the first watch I had seen
on the island. Time on the island, I knew learned, moved with the sun and the seasons.
The doctor seemed satisfied with my pulse. He took the thermometer out, and looked at it. "Ninety-eight,"
he said. "Normal. You were well over a hundred for a while."
"Sir, how did you take my temperature before I woke up?"
"I used a rectal thermometer. Let me check your lungs. Lean forward." I did. A stethoscope
was around his neck. He put the ends in his ears and the cold part, cold even through my hospital gown, on my back.
"Cough," he said. After a couple of coughs, he chuckled. "Well, you haven't developed a cough.
There's often a good deal of congestion that lingers after this kind of cold. You seem fine."
"Am I free to go?"
if there are no setbacks. And if you go to Leona and Sally."
"Did I hear my name?" Sally stuck her head in the door. She came in, followed by Leona. Doctor
Milton said, "Come in, you two. I'm done here. You can stay and talk."
He left. Leona took the room's one chair and Sally sat on the edge of my bed. "So," Sally asked, "are
you willing to stay with us? The doctor seemed to think so."
"I suppose I should," I said. "I don't want to impose."
"No burden," Sally said. "We're glad to have you."
"It'll give us that much more time to work with your weaving," Leona added.
I said, after a moment's thought, "Then I accept. I'll recover at your home, and learn the weaver's trade with
"You won't regret it," Sally
said. "It'll even be fun."
to chat about the fine points of cloth and weaving. Sally and Leona seemed to think I had a knack for it. I was
a little dubious.
But halfway through our discussion,
I felt tired. It must have shown on my face, because Sally nudged Leona with her foot and said, "I think we should
go and let Al get some rest."
all, not, uh..." I yawned just then. "Oh, I guess I am worn out."
"You can nap at our place," Leona said. The two of them got to their feet. I hated for it to happen,
hated to be too tired to talk to them, but my head fell back and I was asleep before they went out the door.
The nap didn't last long, no more than an hour.
But from the angles of the shadows it was past noon now. The room was warm but air seemed to circulate. I was
pondering getting up, maybe sitting up in the chair, when Keth stuck his head in. "You all right, Al?"
He came in. He carried a tan gym bag over one shoulder.
I smiled at him. "I'm fine, Keth. Fine. The doctor says I can leave tomorrow."
"I know." He looked sad. "They tell me you go live with Sally and Leona now."
Now I felt as sad as he looked. "I guess it has to be."
"You could stay with me. I take care of you. We take it easy till you better."
I shook my head. "No. You need to be out and about, to do what you do. I have to take it easy.
You need to work."
Keth grinned at me.
"I take fishing trip job. Week out on boat. Me and other guy. Make twice as much as farming in week."
He looked at me, without his smile, and said, "Ask you to come with me, be second man, but you get sick."
I winced at the "man" part of that, but let it pass. "I'm sorry to miss it, Keth. Maybe when I'm
He brightened a little. "Maybe."
He held out the tan gym bag. "I bring your
stuff from my house. Here." He put the bag down at my side. I picked it up and put it across my legs.
It wasn't so much tan as faded and very old. Inside were my clothes, the ones I picked up on the island, plus the ones
I wore the day I got there. My Mason jar of sunscreen, my toothbrush, my tampons.
Even the notebook I'd gotten on my first day---seeing it reminded me I hadn't written anything down, though I had a lot of
observations to make notes of.
Keth said, "I
go now. Friend waiting to go fishing on boat."
"I'll see you when you get back, then."
He turned to go, but I thought of something, and said, "Keth...?"
When he turned around, I said, "I want to thank you for all you've done for me. Friends?" I held up
my arms, outward.
He got the message. We
hugged, a tight bear hug, slaps on each other's backs. "Be safe, Keth. Good fishing."
He broke loose, then said, "Get well, Al. You good boy." Then he turned and left.
I felt sad at his going. I wondered when I would see him again...I looked forward to it.
I picked up the notebook, and opened. Just a few lines written on the first page. I dug around in the bag and
found my pen in the bottom, then started writing things down.
It must have occupied my time pretty well. I didn't stop until Doctor Milton took the pen and notebook from my hands.
I hadn't even seen him come in. I looked up. It was almost dark. The doctor said, "You must rest now.
You might have trouble getting to sleep, but you've got to rest."
"Am I all right?"
He smiled. "You're
all right. You can go, tomorrow, first thing in the morning, if nothing else happens. I'll talk to Sally and Leona.
I did as he said. It was almost dark, and soon
it was dark. Living in civilization, you just don't realize how dark the dark gets. Dark and quiet. There
was nothing to concentrate on but yourself---myself.
I slept in fits and starts. It was dark but still warm. I don't know if I dreamed.
Leona and Sally came
the next day, right after another breakfast. I was all packed up and ready to go, my notebook and clothes all in the
duffel bag. I had removed one of the pairs of pants and put that on before they got there---but they arrived wearing
their dresses. "You're not wearing that to church, are you?" Sally asked.
I went back and counted the days---and realized I lost all track of the days. "It's...Sunday?"
"Don't worry," Leona said, and handed me something she carried in rolled up in a bundle. I unfurled it.
It was the dress, the skirt and top I wore last week. They both laughed. I laughed, too, and changed into the
dress in a hurry.
Doctor Milton and Nurse Carly
came in as I twirled around to show off. They were dressed different. Doctor Milton wore pants and a white shirt,
while Nurse Carly wore an islander dress much like mine, but with more fabric. "I see you're fine this morning.
No reason to keep you here, I guess."
"Yes, but take it easy.
Go to church, listen to the sermon, but when the sermon ends, go straight home. Don't go to the dinner. Eat light
for a week." He turned to Sally and Leona. "You two understand what's needed here?"
"Yes, sir," Sally said. "We understand. No overwork. No farm work. Just our weaving."
"And when she gets tired she rests," Leona
added. "She rests at noon and at sunset no matter what. She sits in the sun part of the time and soaks up
the warmth." She wrinkled her nose. "Sunscreen for the sun."
"And you told us what you want her eating and not eating," Sally added.
The doctor smiled. "You've got it. Now...one last thing." He stepped over to the table,
to the pitcher of water that was there. He poured water into the glass---fresh water, Nurse Carly took it out and filled
it up when she brought my breakfast tray---then handed the glass to me and said, "Drink this."
I took the glass and drank it down. The bitter taste struck me again, and I remembered what I wanted to ask. "Doctor,
is there something in this water?"
Just a little something to ease the symptoms. It's a local remedy. I don't know if it has a mainland or scientific
Well, I couldn't un-take it, whatever
it was. And it didn't seem to hurt me. "Do I need to take any more?"
"No, you've had enough for now. Just go and rest, that's all." He grinned. "See all of you
He and Nurse Carly nodded to us
and departed, leaving me with Sally and Leona. I held up the gym bag and said, "Should I take this to your house
Sally giggled. Leona said, "No,
take it with you. Nobody will mind."
I gritted my teeth, shouldered the bag, and said, "Let's go, then."
Church was as it had been. The sermon was "forgiveness." After the service completed, Mr. Thaddeus came
up to me as I milled about with Leona and Sally and the others. He said to me, "You're looking better."
"You looked in on me when I was sick?" I said.
"Thank you, sir."
"Well, we were
all concerned for you."
"I'm sorry, sir.
I'll try to not be so much trouble from now on."
Sally said, "She won't be any trouble to us. She'll be a help."
He smiled, then, and said, "No trouble then. You---what is it?"
A boy, about my age, someone I hadn't noticed before, ran up to us and said, "Mr. Thaddeus, sir, you're wanted in the
mayor's office right away." He handed him a note, saluted him---came to attention and everything---and asked, "Is
the mayor still here, sir? I have a note for him, too."
"I think he's over there." Mr. Thaddeus pointed. The boy saluted again, then slipped through the crowd
Mr. Thaddeus unfolded and read the note,
shook his head, then looked off into the distance. "Ah, Leona, Sally, you had better go home. Al, you had
better come with me."
"But the doctor---?"
I got a dreadful feeling in my stomach and said, "Is there a problem?"
"There's a ship off shore."
They were a very old pair of binoculars, but they worked, they did the job. I looked through them at the ship just off
shore. It wasn't near as big as the freighter-taking-passengers that brought me in by accident. It was much smaller
and much prettier. This ship also waited well off shore rather than coming right up to the dock.
I thought it was some rich man's yacht, doing a little ocean tourism. Maybe they knew or heard of this out-of-the-way
island, and decided to pay a visit. I lowered the binoculars. I looked around the little porch on the house that
faced the cove, looked at Mr. Thaddeus, and said, "I don't know. I just don't know."
Mr. Thaddeus put his hand on my shoulder. "It's all right," he said. "I'm sure they can find a
place for you."
"No, sir, that's not
it. I don't know if I should go now. You, your island---well, I don't know how to put it, but if I left right
now, well---I'd miss you."
He was silent for a moment, putting his hand on his chin. He then said, "Keth won't mind if you go, Al."
"I think I would mind, sir, if I left before he
got back." I shook my head. "I don't want to leave without saying goodbye."
"Well, there is something else." He smiled. "You could go back to Leona and Sally and their house.
You could stay out of sight, or if you do go out you wear our clothes. We say nothing about you to these people on the
ship. If they ask about you we say we don't know. They go away in a few days, you stay."
The possibility of staying for good had some appeal. I hesitated, then shook my head. "You had better let
them know about me. Somebody somewhere might be worrying about me disappearing or not showing up. I'll stay for
"You should know, Al, the decision
may not be yours alone."
I thought about it, then said, "You'd send me away?"
"It's possible. But it's not my decision alone either. Ah, Mayor!" He looked past me. I
A man came up the stairs to the
porch. The Mayor? I had seen him around, in church and at the dinners, but I hadn't introduced. He was somewhat
shorter than Mr. Thaddeus, but about the same age. Also he wore a different outfit, different than any I had seen on
the island. Some native cloth sewn into the shape of a suit---looking like no suit I'd ever seen, either. And
a battered top hat as crown of office.
the oldest woman, oldest person, that I had yet seen on the island. She was short and round and gray with age.
She wore a muumuu patterned much like the skirt I wore. She might have been old but she seemed pretty alive, though
she might have trouble with stairs.
me up and down, then said in a clear voice showing signs of age, "So you're the young lady my problem great-grandson
is so taken with."
I was startled at that.
Mr. Thaddeus stepped between us and said, "Al, this is Marie Laval. She is the oldest resident of our island, and
one of the last of the original colonists."
"Oh, please," she said. "I was eight when my parents brought me here. I grew up here. I married
and had children here. I'm as native as anybody."
"And I'm one of the children," Mr. Thaddeus said. He embraced his mother in a hug and they muttered some pleasantries.
When he broke off, he said, "Mother, this is Alice Casson. She goes by the name ‘Al.'"
"Charmed, I'm sure," she said. She offered her hand to me.
I took it in my hand, worrying about her skin and her bones. The skin of her hand was leathery. I said, "I'm
pleased to meet you, er, Mrs. Laval." Had I gotten the name right? "I'm sorry I haven't had the chance
to talk with you before."
right." She smiled, and I could see something of her young self in her old face. "I don't get out much
anymore. Come over and see me sometime, and we can talk...that, is, if you stay with us."
"That is what we will determine," the Mayor said.
Mr. Thaddeus filled them in on what we both thought the ship was. They looked, Mrs. Laval taking the binoculars.
She said, "There's a small boat, a motor launch, lowering over the side and coming towards us."
"We'll have to greet them," the Mayor said. "If we can see them they must have seen us."
"Have you tried the radio?" Mrs. Laval asked.
"Oh. I forgot."
She raised the binoculars again.
Mr. Thaddeus filled
them in on what we both thought the ship was. They agreed. "But," Mrs. Laval said, "we don't
know for sure if they can take young Al here."
"We can ask."
"May I say something?"
I asked. When they all nodded their agreement, I said, "I would like to stay, if it's all right with you."
"Hhmph!" Mrs. Laval said. "Well,
it will have to be, then. Al, I gather you and my great-grandson are something of an item."
I blushed at that. I said, "I think, ma'am, we're good friends. We're not engaged or anything like that.
But I would hate it if I left without saying goodbye to him."
The Mayor said, "The next ship may not come here for another six months or even a year, you understand."
"I understand that, sir. You should know, I set out for this part of the world, to stay and to study life on an
island. This isn't the island I set out for, but it would be fine with me if it had been." I smiled.
"It's a great island."
at it," Mrs. Laval said. "You'll hurt yourself." She handed me the binoculars. "You
stay there, dear, and keep an eye on the boat. Men, if we could talk for a moment..."
The three of them stepped over to one corner of the porch, and murmured together in low tones. I couldn't make out what
was being said, but I wasn't supposed to. I looked out to sea. The small boat was closer.
Then they broke up. Mr. Thaddeus said to me, "Al, we agree that you can stay."
I felt a great weight lift off me. "Thanks. Thank you, sir."
"But there's something that you need to do."
Now I felt puzzled. I said, "I don't understand."
He smiled. "It comes down to this. You might have forgotten that you came to our island by mistake.
Nobody from the outside knows you are here."
I blinked. He was right. I said, "I'd forgotten," then hesitated, and said, "I, er, don't think
there's anybody who will miss me." I explained about my lack of family.
Mrs. Laval said, "Poor girl. But you could be wrong."
"They might be searching for you right now," the Mayor added.
"But what can I do?"
Mr. Thaddeus said. "Sit down and write a letter, telling where you are, what happened, and your plans to stay here.
I'll give it to the captain of the ship, and tell him what happened. He can take the letter away with him."
I blinked again. "Who should I write the
The Mayor looked out into the
sea, then said, "I think---how did they put it?---I think it went ‘To Who It Concerns.'"
"Ah," I said. "‘To Whom It May Concern.'"
Mrs. Laval smiled. "That's it, child. Sit down and write it."
I did so, right on the floor of the platform. The three of them retreated to the far corner and took turns looking at
the ship. I still had the gym bag with me. I dug into it and found my notebook, found a blank page with nothing
on either side, found my pen, and began to write. My story filled both sides of the page. It seemed thin and narrow
but I think I got the gist of it.
The three of
them passed it around among each other. Mrs. Laval got it last. She had to put on a pair of glasses, with very
thick lenses, taken from a vest pocked of her muumuu. She looked over my scribblings with care, then said, "I think
that covers it."
She handed the note to the
Mayor, who folded it and put it in a pocket of his "suit." "Good," he said, and pointed. "The
boat from the ship is now at the dock. I must go and greet it." He nodded to each of us, and tipped his hat
to me and to Mrs. Laval. Then he climbed down the short flight of wooden steps and headed towards the dock.
"Er, what should I do now, Mr. Thaddeus?"
"I, ah, I believe Doctor Milton said you should rest, am I right?" I had forgotten about his instructions
in the moment. I still felt tired. After I nodded, Mr. Thaddeus went on. "You go and rest. If
we need you for anything, we come and get you. You are with Leona and Sally, right?" He held up a hand.
"No need to explain, Al. We'll talk later."
I nodded, then said, "Er, Mrs. Laval, do you need any help getting down the stairs?"
"Ah," she said. "Thank you, child, but no. Going down the stairs is so much easier than going up
at my age. And besides, well---" She looked at Thaddeus. "I'll stay right here while Mayor meets
the boat. Thaddeus can help me down when the time comes." She waved her hand. "Shoo. Shoo."
I nodded again, and turned around. As I went down
the stairs, Mrs. Laval shouted after me, "Come and see me in a week or so, child! I can tell you a few things!"
I turned, nodded and waved, and went on.
Leona and Sally at the bottom of the steps, to my surprise. Leona asked, "Are you going on that boat, Al?"
"Nno..." I said in a weak mutter, then summoned
up some firmness and repeated, "No. I'll stay here for a while longer."
Sally giggled. "Good. That's good. We have a lot more to show you about how we live."
As we walked through the streets,
I filled Leona and Sally in on what I had discussed with Mr. Thaddeus, the Mayor, and Mrs. Laval. They nodded
in a knowing way. I could stay---I wasn't sure even I understood why, but I was staying, and they would let me.
The two of them took me back to their house. They
had gotten extra mattresses for the floor of their bedroom; now each of us would have one. Leona pointed to the
one on the right and said, "Now, Al, you've had a long day, a day that was harder than you could have known."
"The doctor says you should rest," Sally added.
"So rest, then. Take a nap."
felt weary but not tired. "Will you two be all right?"
"Sally and I will go to the dinner once we've changed," Leona said. "It's almost time."
We all changed---we all put on pairs of native pants. I sat down on the edge of the mattress, then stretched out.
"See?" I said. "I'm all right."
"Close your eyes," Leona said.
"Good," Sally said. "Go to sleep now. We'll be back before you know it." They left,
and I curled up under the sheet and tried to sleep/
I awoke to the sound of light rain on the roof. I hadn't heard or seen so much rain since I arrived---Keth told me it
was the dry season, and that if I hung around long enough I would see plenty of rain. It was loud enough and startling
enough to wake me up.
It was night and it was dark.
From the sounds and what little I could see, I knew Sally and Leona were back and had gone to bed---Leona snored a little
and I could hear both of them breathing. I sat up and looked at them. There seemed no reason to disturb them.
I was here. I was on the island...and it looked
like I was on the island to stay, at least for a while. I was happy.
The next day, Mr. Thaddeus stopped by as Leona, Sally,
and I were having breakfast. Mr. Thaddeus sat down at the low table with us, but turned down Leona and Sally when they
offered him breakfast. I was already finished---light breakfast, by instruction.
Mr. Thaddeus handed me a piece of paper. "Al, I got this from the captain of the ship. I don't know quite
what to make of this. I've never seen anything like it. It looks like a newspaper, but it also looks like some
of those bills we get for what we bring in from off the island, and, well..." He shrugged. "Maybe it's
nothing off the island, but it's strange to us."
I looked at it. It was a printout, an article, a news article, dated a week and a half ago. The headline read,
"GIRL LOST OVERBOARD?" The smaller type began, "'Alice Casson, 22, is missing at sea. She
boarded the [Ship Name] on [Date], and on its arrival at [name of real island]
yesterday was discovered not to be aboard. Authorities expressed concern she might have fallen overboard without being
observed. A check previous stops of the [Ship's Name] is underway.'"
There was a little more about my life and studies and plans. There was a small thumbnail picture of me---my high school
yearbook photo, I realized.
I tried to explain
computers, the Internet, and news sites. Mr. Thaddeus took it all in with a grave expression. "I guess changes
have been made since I last went around the world," he said.
"Did they send the ship for me?"
no," he said, shaking his head, "they are just travelers, like we thought. The captain brought me this---"
He leaned over and tapped the top of the paper in my hand. "---after we gave them your name and your letter."
He shrugged. "The captain said he would call these, er, authorities, and tell them you were here. He said
they might want to talk to you."
I said. "They don't want me to...go with them, do they?"
"The captain said he would take you, but they won't go to the place you were going." He shrugged again.
"The ship will be leaving for another island tomorrow morning, and if there were no, uh, problems, everything was all
right with him."
"I can stay?" I
started to smile, then stopped myself.
don't see any reason why not."
I felt a relief
of the tension, greater than yesterday.
Mr. Thaddeus let me keep the printout. I talked about it with Leona and Sally. They were more curious than ever.
Curiouser? I passed the printout around, while we sat around and worked on our weaving, and gave them explanation about
what it was, how it came to be here, and what it meant.
"You must live in a fascinating world," Sally said.
"It didn't seem that interesting," I said. "In fact, I was pretty unhappy there, out there."
"Are you happy here?"
"Well..." I thought about it, then smiled. "I've enjoyed myself here. Even being sick doesn't
seem so bad, now."
"You do look like
you were sick," Leona said. "You've lost some weight."
I looked down at myself. We just dressed in the basic native pants. I suppose I did look a little thin and pale,
at that. My tan faded a little.
I can afford to lose some weight," I said.
"You'll get it back," Sally said. "Now, about your life out there---"
I shrugged. "I can tell you what you want to know, I think. I hope I can. I don't know everything.
Like this printout." The paper was in my hand. I waved it in mid-air. "I know the basics of how
it got where it got, but I might leave out some important step without even knowing it. It must seem like magic to you."
Leona said, "We never had any magic here, Al.
Our families never brought any."
about that. I kept forgetting this society was an offspring of our own society. It wasn't some primitive society
all its own thing. I would have to think about it...study it...make notes about it...use my studies in anthropology
and sociology to understand it.
Sally said, "Back
to life off the island, Al. Someday I'd like to see it."
"Aren't you happy here?"
I am." Sally smiled at me. "But every so often I, well..." Her smile faded into a frown.
"I wonder about it."
More to think about.
"Keth spoke of going off the island some day."
Leona looked at Sally and then said, "We all thought, everybody thought, someday, he might do that. But then...well,
Still more to think about.
Mr. Thaddeus came again, when
we were eating dinner---plates of fresh fruit cut into slices. This time he accepted a portion and sat down.
When we finished, he said, "The captain of the
boat told me he got an answer, and the authorities---the Coast Guard, he said---the Coast Guard would get in touch with you.
I don't know if that means they would send a ship here to talk with you, but you must prepare for it."
"I hope they don't think I'm being held prisoner here, sir," I said.
"I thought of that. But I told the captain you were free to go, at any time, and he told that to the Coast Guard,
he said." He hesitated, then said, "If you would come with me---"
"To talk to them?"
I stopped to grab my off-island T-shirt and put it on.
It was almost dark when I got
to the store with Mr. Thaddeus. The captain waited inside, looking the merchandise over. He was a middle-aged
man, gray hair, muscular arms, dressed in a shirt and slacks, tropical wear. The first person I'd seen in "civilized
clothes" since I got to the island.
had a captain's cap perched at an angle on his head. He saw me and took it off. He said, "Ah, you must be
Miss Casson." He held out his hand. "I'm Captain St. Cloud."
I took his hand. "Pleased to meet you, sir," I said.
He nodded. "Miss Casson, I've read your letter, and I've called the Coast Guard. They want me to ask you
why you got off here instead of [name of island] where you were supposed to go."
"Uh, sir," I said, "it's kind of simple enough. I thought I was on [name of island]
when I got off the ship. By the time I found out it wasn't, the ship, uh, had sailed. I've been here ever since."
"You don't need a ride to [name of island]?
We're not going there, but you could catch a plane from our next stop."
"No, that won't be necessary, sir." I smiled. "It might have been an accident that brought me here.
But I can't remember ever being treated with greater kindness." I looked at Mr. Thaddeus. "I can stay
for a while longer, that is, if they're willing to let me stay."
Mr. Thaddeus nodded to me.
Captain St. Cloud brushed
his fingernails against his shirt, then looked at his nails, then said, "Well, I guess that takes care of that.
I'll call up the Coast Guard and tell them what you told me. They told me they may send someone to see you."
"Oh." I figured a ship would come---I
suppose if I needed a ride off the island, I could take it then.
But I didn't want to go. I was coming to like it here...and I didn't know what that would mean. "Thank you,
sir," I said, and held out my hand again. We shook hands again and I added, "It's been a pleasure."
"Charmed." The captain turned to Mr.
Thaddeus. "The launch is at the dock, sir. We should sail tomorrow morning." He held out his hand
to Mr. Thaddeus. "Thank you, sir, on behalf of Mr. Stephens and myself, for allowing us to visit your island."
"You are welcome. Come any time, be our guests."
"Very well, then." He nodded once to
me, then left, the bell on the door jingling as it opened and closed behind him.
Mr. Thaddeus turned to me, and said, "That's a relief. We don't get many visitors."
"I'm grateful you let me stay."
"You better go now, Al. You need your rest."
The door jingled again. "I'll say she does." We both turned to look. It was Doctor Milton.
He looked angry. He came up to me and said, "Young lady, I had in mind you staying with Leona and Sally and not
doing much of anything for a while."
sir," I said.
"It couldn't be helped,"
Mr. Thaddeus added.
He sighed. "You're coming with me. Another night and day in the clinic will do you some good."
I looked at Mr. Thaddeus...then a thought occurred to
me. I hadn't mentioned in that handwritten letter that I'd been sick. Had Mr. Thaddeus or anyone mentioned it
to Captain St. Cloud? I started to say something, but Doctor Milton cut me off and took my hand. "Let's go,
I looked back at Mr. Thaddeus.
He smiled and shrugged. "But Leona and Sally---" I said.
"I will send them a message."
He led me by the hand back to his offices---they were a few buildings away, but it was dark, and if I hadn't been with him
I would have gotten lost. I just didn't know my way around that well yet.
A lantern lit the front office. The doctor picked it up and led me upstairs into the same room I was in before.
The room had been cleaned up, though I hadn't left it all that dirty.
The doctor handed me a hospital gown. I undressed and dressed in it while the doctor stepped out. He came back
with a glass. "Drink this," he said, and handed the glass to me.
I sniffed it. It wasn't water. "What is it?"
"A very mild sedative. I want you to get a good night's sleep tonight."
So I drank it down. It had the same bitter taste as the water from before, just more so. I climbed into the bed
and the doctor left, taking the lantern with him. It was dark and I was soon asleep, but my sleep was somewhat restless,
or so I thought.
It was morning when I awoke. I found Sally and Leona sitting at my side. Sally brightened when she saw I was awake.
"Good morning!" she said. "You had quite an adventurous evening, I gather."
"I gather, too," I said, and looked down at myself, a little confused by my surroundings, piecing my memories together.
"I, ah, I didn't make it back last night. The doctor insisted."
"You know, Al," Leona said, "after you left, we thought you might just go off on that ship and go away.
We were worried you might not come back."
"No, I'm staying, at least till the next ship---the next regular ship." I blinked in the morning light.
"Besides, my bag was still at your house."
We all chuckled at that. I added, "I didn't want to leave now."
"Keth won't be back for some time," Sally said.
I sighed. "I know."
Sally went on, "that boat that came yesterday, it's sailing away now. You couldn't catch it now."
Sally smiled. "You
might be able to see it if you stand on a chair and look out one of the windows." She pointed up at the high slits
on the sides of the ceiling, the ones that let in light and air. They didn't lend themselves to looking.
I pictured it in my mind's eye. I thought I should at least see it going away. I got out of bed, and borrowed
the chair Leona sat in---she offered it to me---and I pulled it over to the window and climbed up on it. Even then I
still had to stretch.
The ship, the yacht, was
still there. Its stern faced me, its bow pointed away. I could see the trailing wake behind it, white against
the blue of the sea.
"Get down from there!"
came a voice. I looked down---it was Doctor Milton, an angry expression on his face again. I got down and stood
in front of him. He shook his head. "It's just about impossible to keep you from exerting yourself.
I'll have to release you right now with a warning. Remember this, Miss Casson. You've been very sick and too much
exertion might make you sick again."
sorry, sir," I said. "I'll try to be good. Just these past couple of days---"
"It can't be helped, yes." He turned to Sally and Leona. "You two. Keep her at your place.
Don't let her do anything more than help you around the house. And when she gets home see that she takes a nap."
Nurse Carly came in behind him and handed him a small
brown paper package. He glanced at it, then handed it to me. It was a paper bag and I opened it and looked into
it. It contained a small bottle, stopped with a cork and filled with a dozen pills.
I looked at the doctor. The doctor took the bag back from me and took a pen from his pocket, and started to write something
on the bag. As he wrote, he said, "Take one of these, dissolved in water, when you get home. Then take one
tonight before bed, and take one every night before bed till they run out."
"What are they, doctor?"
remedy, reduced to pill form. Nothing more than a local herb, but it will help you rest. And when they run
out you should be strong enough for anything." The doctor finished writing, and handed me the bag again.
He had written out the verbal instructions he gave me, as well as a scientific-looking Greek-Latin name I didn't recognize.
The doctor put his pen back in his pocket and said,
"Now, go, go, and don't let me see you again till you're better, understand?"
"Yes, sir," I said, then stepped over to him and gave him a hug. When I stepped back, he looked a little embarrassed.
He hurried out, followed by Nurse Carly---who winked at me as she turned.
I looked into the bag again. Sally said, "Doctor Milton must trust you, Al."
"What? Why?" I looked back at her.
"He almost never gives out pills," Leona said. "We come here or he comes to us with them."
Food for thought. I would follow instructions.
I put my clothes from yesterday back on, my T-shirt and jacket. Somehow it was just then I realized I'd been barefoot
all this time. My feet must have hardened to walking around in them. The clothes felt grungy and dirty; I felt
grungy and dirty, too. "I need a shower."
"Shower back home, Al," Sally said.
closed my hand on the bag, on the bottle within. "Let's go."
A shower, a nap, a fresh pair of pants, and I felt better. I felt pretty good. It had been mid-morning when we
got home; my nap lasted till just after noon.
joined Sally and Leona in a session of serious weaving. Hand-weaving for me, though, hanging a couple of bars from hooks
on the wall rather than using their big loom for now. Practice was what I needed and would get. There were dizzying
terms for what the two of them had me doing. It was a matter of passing the weft through the warp , lifting it up to
form a shed, putting a shuttle through the shed, and battening it down. I was confused but I had the basic motions down.
They pronounced themselves satisfied with my first effort,
a bit of cloth about a foot square. I was surprised I had woven that much. "It's just for practice, though,"
Leona said. "When you get the idea we can move you to the loom itself."
They had mercy on me and in mid-afternoon we broke off and took our rest outside in the cool air. Their house had a
small patio, and on that patio were two stone benches. When we put towels down they were fine to lie on---Sally took
the ground next to us while Leona and I took the benches. We lay down together and took in some sun.
When we sat up, they commanded a good view of the sea. It was about the same view as I saw from Doctor Milton's clinic
room...but the yacht was long gone. The sea was a placid dark blue where it didn't reflect the sun.
"Al?" Leona asked.
"Are you sorry you didn't go with that boat?"
"No, not at all." It didn't need any
DAY 20 TO 25.
The next few days all slipped into the same pattern. The three of us would rise with the sun and eat breakfast.
We would weave and sew. We would rest in the afternoon till near sunset. We would eat dinner, and then go to bed.
I took Doctor Milton's pills. I think they helped me sleep better.
Church day, Sunday, was a break from the routine. I attended church, but by agreement between Leona and Sally and Doctor
Milton, and maybe everyone else, I was allowed to skip the banquet dinner afterwards. Doctor Milton wanted me to avoid
heavy meals and alcohol, as well as heavy work and heavy stress, for at least a few more weeks.
Leona and Sally let me do light housework around the house, much the same as what I took up at Keth's house. Leona and
Sally, I saw, had a tendency to let dirty things pile up, and I was able to cover it. I kept things as clean as I could,
and if the two of them thought I was working too hard, they put a stop to it.
My output of finished cloth was just about one third of either of theirs, and not as good, I thought. They kept assuring
me I would get better with time and practice, and I was willing to believe it. I talked them out of giving me a full
third share of their profits, though neither of them would settle for my suggestion that I take just room and board.
We settled on one sixth and my food.
"Cheer up, Al. By the time I leave to get married, five or six months, you'll be as fast as either of us.
You and Sally can split things half and half."
"But until then," I said, "I'm a stranger and a burden, not worth a third share, maybe not even one sixth.
Let's leave it at that, right?"
earnings, though, were a little higher than what Keth and I made out in the farms in the harvest. The amounts continued
to seem small. Off the island, I told them, a dollar couldn't buy much. Economics was a difficult subject for
me, but I thought I understood enough to explain inflation and purchasing power.
I found out there was some kind of limit, a cutoff date, on what kind of dollar bills were money on the island. Sometime
in the 1960s, after some visitors flooded the island with newer bills. I shared details of gold and silver certificates.
They spoke of visitors coming and buying in certain designated shops.
"I'm a visitor," I said.
getting like one of us," Sally said.
many of them have gone out into the fields," Leona added, "or fished or woven, or cooked or anything. You're
getting like one of us, Al."
us," I repeated. I kind of liked the thought.
I kept picking up fascinating details of life on the island all the time. In the give and take between the three of
us, I learned a lot. And much of what I learned surprised me. I filled up my notebook with notes, both sides of
the pages. I let Sally buy me another one from Mr. Thaddues, paid for out of "my share."
I let them read my notes---they told me they learned to read, though, they claimed, not well. I thought there might
be little reason for islanders to read. They were away from the rest of the world, and what happened elsewhere might
not relate to what went on there.
was unusual, I began to realize. Somebody---like me, when I arrived---might take it for some kind of Polynesian tropical
paradise, but it was straight American in its origins, complete with a specific time frame and dates of establishment.
It wasn't old.
I wondered if anybody had studied
the island before.
I started to wonder if I should
study it, if anybody should. They were isolated from the outside---they seemed happy in their isolation---they seemed
happy to continue in their isolation. Any sort of study, say, when I got back home and published a report in the journals,
might bring unwanted attention towards them---and that might ruin them.
These people took me in when they didn't have to, they showed me what was what, they answered every snooping question I put
to them. They were just about the nicest people I ever knew. I didn't want to do anything to hurt them.
In the end, I decided to put the question off. I could go on studying...but I might not do anything with what I learned.
I would have to see.
In the meantime, I continued
learning the weaving trade, taking it easy. And I waited for Keth to return from his fishing trip.
That morning, we were
inside doing our weaving work, all three of us, when I heard a noise. It took me a moment to identify it. It was
a noise I had forgotten about, that I hadn't heard in a long time---the noise of an airplane flying over.
Sally, hearing it, made the connection and said, "I think it's one of those airplanes."
I nodded, then added, "I wonder what an airplane is doing here?" It hit me that it might have something to
do with me. Was somebody taking an interest in my presence here?
The sound seemed to zoom over us, rattling the house a little. "Let's go out and see," Sally said.
All three of us hurried out and looked up. The airplane---a straight-wing, two-engine plane, with markings I couldn't
make out---receded in the distance, past us, flying out over the fields. Then it started a wide circle back, out over
the ocean, back over the town and us again. We watched it do this, three times.
I saw other people standing around, shading their eyes and looking up at the plane. Airplanes, I realized as something
I should have known or guessed, were unusual sights on the island.
On the third pass it seemed to dip its wings. Was it looking for a place to land? There was no airstrip I knew
about, and it didn't look like a seaplane. No, that wasn't it, something came out of the plane. A parachute, bright
yellow, blossomed open. It was something too small to be a man. I wished I still had Mr. Thaddeus's binoculars.
The plane flew its circle one more time, then headed
back out to see and vanished in the horizon. The parachute floated down to earth somewhere in the main town area.
We watched it fall. I took a couple of steps towards it.
Leona put her hand on my shoulder. "No, Al."
My mind was racing. "It must have something to do with me, Leona."
"But it doesn't have to," Sally added. "If it does, someone will come and tell you. Until then,
your job is to stay here, learn the weaving trade---and keep resting."
"Tell you what," Leona said, taking her hand off my shoulder. "I'll go into town and find out."
I looked around. Quite a few of the scattered
spectators were heading into town, some even at a run. But I got the logic of their argument. I slumped my shoulders
and went inside.
was right. It wasn't more than an hour, when Sally and I heard a knock on our door. Sally got up from her weaving
and got it; I let mine flap down against the wall. It was Mr. Thaddeus, with Leona behind him. They were followed
by two other boys my age that I had not met before. They carried a small wooden packing case between them. "Al?"
Mr. Thaddeus said. "This is for you."
The two boys put the case down on the front steps and looked at Mr. Thaddeus. He nodded to them. They nodded back,
then to the rest of us---one winked at me---and then headed off. I looked at the crate. Right on the top, it said,
TO BE OPENED BY ALICE CASSON. Just above that was a printed logo, the US Coast Guard, I realized.
Mr. Thaddeus handed me a wide screwdriver. I used that as a wedge to pry the lid open. Inside were two suitcases,
with a bunch of metal and a phone in the middle of it. A satellite phone, I realized. It was packed in a serious
amount of foam rubber padding.
Inside was a letter,
an unsealed envelope. I opened it, pulled out the two pages of paper within, and read the first of them aloud.
"From Search and Rescue, US Coast Guard, District Fourteen, Guam. Dear Ms. Casson: Please assemble this satellite
phone and get in contact us as soon as possible. Instructions are enclosed. Signed Warrant Officer Leah Francis,
The other sheet contained several lines
and pictures, instructions on assembly, both sides of the paper. I looked at Mr. Thaddeus for an opinion. He lowered
his head, coughed into his hand, and said, "I would say someone off the island wants to talk to you, Al."
"I suppose I better do it, then," I said. Mr. Thaddeus nodded.
It took maybe fifteen minutes to half an hour---the one watch I'd seen on the island was on Doctor Milton's wrist, so my time
estimates varied---to get the phone assembled in the yard space outside the front door. Not a long time. A matter
of putting together a flat thing and plugging in a piece with a phone keyboard into it, then plugging a phone receiver into
that. But, at the end, I put the phone to my ear and began to press buttons on the phone. Numbers to use and call
were on the letter below the main message.
a couple of noises and the sound of a phone ringing on the other end, I heard someone pick up and a female voice say, "USCG
office. May I help you?"
is Alice Casson speaking," I said. "Can I speak with, uh..." I looked at the letter again, and
added, "Warrant Officer Leah Francis, please?"
"Yes, Miss, right away."
There was a
slight delay and a couple more clicks, then another female voice came on. "Leah Francis speaking. Ms. Casson?"
It sounded like an older woman.
I'm on, uh, Cove Island, and you dropped this phone to me. I gather you wanted to speak to me, ma'am?"
"Yes, that's true, Ms. Casson. We are in receipt of your letter. We wish to confirm your story. You
understand you put us through a good deal of trouble just trying to find you."
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I didn't know."
"So I gather from your letter. Just tell me how you wound up where you are, and what you have been doing since
I went through my story once again.
I was conscious of the eyes of Mr. Thaddeus, Leona and Sally, and some of the islanders who were beyond the edge of the lawn---curious,
I supposed---all watching me. The story was straightforward. Once in a while, Ms. Francis asked a question to
clarify a point, but I was allowed to tell it straight through.
She seemed very interested in my illness. I think I was able to explain it with success.
At the end, Ms. Francis asked, "And you do not wish to be picked up by us at this time?"
"No, ma'am, I don't. The people here said I could stay. I've been well treated here. Besides, ma'am,
I wouldn't want you to go to any more trouble over me. I don't want to be any more trouble."
"Yes. Yes, I did mention that. Just a check of possible ports you might have gotten off at, a warning to
be on the lookout for, and then dropping this satellite phone. Well, it wouldn't be too much more trouble to send a
seaplane over to pick you up."
ma'am. But I gather another freighter will come along in a few months, and I can go on that, I suppose, if it could
"It could be arranged."
Ms. Francis fell silent, then said, "But, Ms. Casson, you said ‘could' go on it. You aren't planning on staying
there, are you?"
I looked at the others.
They looked at me. I don't know how much of the conversation they could hear and understand. "Ms. Casson?"
Ms. Francis said. "Are you still there?"
"Uh, yes, ma'am. I must say, the thought of staying longer did occur to me. But nothing is definite.
And it would depend on what the people here have to say about it."
"I see." She paused, not near as long as I just did, then said, "Is there someone in authority that I
can speak to about this?"
I looked at Mr. Thaddeus, then took the phone away from my ear and held it against my chest. I said, "She wants
to speak to someone in charge."
take it, then," Mr. Thaddeus said. I handed him the phone, and he said into it, "I am Thaddeus. I take
care of things between us and the world outside. You want to speak to me?"
He listened---I could hear the tone of what was said, not the words---a good sign?---and then he said, "Yes, ma'am.
Al is good here, we are happy she is here. She can stay long as she wants. Leave on next ship or one after that."
He listened again, then added, "No, she's fine now. She was sick for a few days, not serious."
Again he listened, then said, "Right," and held the phone back out to me. He said, "She wants to talk
to you again."
I took the phone back and said,
Ms. Francis said, "The man
I spoke to said you were sick, Ms. Casson?"
"Yes, yes, ma'am, I was. I was out, feverish, for a couple of days. But I'm better now, spending my time
resting up from it for a while."
treated you? Can I speak to him?"
Milton?" I looked at the others, and asked, "Is Doctor Milton around? Can he come here?"
"He's delivering a baby," Leona said. "Mary
and Leo's first."
I sighed and said as much
to Ms. Francis. When she spoke again, she seemed less tense in her tone of voice. "Yes, I know Doctor Milton,"
she said. "If you're in his hands, Ms. Casson, you'll be all right." She paused for just a moment, then
said, "I think that's all I need. But hold on a moment, Ms. Casson, please."
There were a couple of clicks on the line, and then a voice came on. "Hello?"
The people around me looked concerned. I must have shown my state of mind on my face: stunned. "Aunt Jenny?"
"Alice, you don't know how worried we all were!"
I had time to ponder my somewhat troubled with my Aunt
Jenny. Jennifer Casson, sister of my father, professional writer and globetrotter, sacrificing some of her spare
time to raise me when I was a little girl. From the middle of my adolescence to now---about ten years---we didn't get
on, and I saw her just a couple times more after going off to college. I wondered why she was involved in this---then
realized she must have been contacted as next of kin. What should I say to her?
My pause must have been long again. Aunt Jenny said, "Hello? Alice?"
"I'm, er, sorry, Aunt Jenny. I just got off the ship at the wrong island. It was an accident. I'm okay."
"Well you caused us a log of grief. We thought---well,
never mind, you're alive and well, that's what's important." She paused, then said in a tone of friendship, "You
know you're in a place I've never been, never even heard of."
"It's been something of a surprise to me, too."
"You must tell me all about it. I can charter a seaplane and have you picked up in a couple of days."
"No, no, don't do anything like that!"
I smiled. "I'm fine here. I was sick for a while but I'm better now. Except for that, all I've gotten
"Then everything's all
"Yes. All right.
The people here, well, they like me." I worried about that as soon as I said it. Over the years I'd said
some pretty mean things to Aunt Jenny.
But, I realized,
I had a new attitude now. Before she could speak, I went on. "Look, Aunt Jenny, I know I've said and done
some things that upset you. I'm sorry. Sorry about it all. When I see you again we'll have a long talk and
work it all out between us." I said "when," but was starting to think "if."
But that could be put off for a while yet.
a long silence, Aunt Jenny said, "Well, Alice, I may have said some things the wrong way, too, and I'm sorry. I'll
look forward to that long talk when you get back." She chuckled. "From what I've been able to find out,
you're in a fascinating place."
is it," I said. "But I'll be out of touch for a while. There's no way to get a message from this island
right away. There's no mail, no radio, no phones---oh, wait, except for this satellite phone now. I don't know
how often I'll be able to call, though."
just like college." Her chuckle turned into a laugh. "I guess that's all I needed to know, Alice.
Warrant Officer Francis wants to talk to you again. Goodbye, Alice. I love you."
"Love you too," I said, and realized I meant it. "Goodbye."
There were clicks on the line again, and then I heard Leah Francis's voice. "Ms. Casson?"
"Just one more thing,
a reminder. The island you're on has always kept kind of a low profile. We would all like to keep it that way."
That dovetailed with some thoughts I'd been having.
"I think I understand. You know I came to this area to study native culture. This culture is worthy of being
studied. It isn't...a secret, is it?"
"Well, no, but it's unusual for any outsider to visit. We just don't want too many people to know about it at this
time." She chuckled. "I suppose it will come out sooner or later. That could be now."
"I would have to think about it, ma'am. I
don't think it has to be decided right now, Ms. Francis."
"You may be right. But we wouldn't stop you from talking if we wanted to. Now, just one more thing.
When you're done---when we're done here, give this phone and the gear to someone in authority---Mr. Thaddeus, was it?
He has authority?"
"Well, give it to him, have him keep it.
Once a week, take it out and put it together, then call our office and leave a message that you're all right. Or call
us if there's an emergency. Can I ask you not to make any other calls, Ms. Casson?"
"You can. I won't. There's nobody else I need to talk to. Oh, maybe the people at college who set up
my travel plan. They might want to know."
"We've been in touch with them. Well, I guess that's it. Thank you, Ms. Casson, for your consideration."
"Thank you, ma'am. Goodbye."
"Goodbye." The phone call disconnected with a loud click. I turned the phone off and said to Mr. Thaddeus,
"I'm supposed to turn all this equipment over to you sir. But I'm supposed to call them once a week to let them
know I'm all right."
Mr. Thaddeus nodded.
"That seems reasonable. Are you all right, Al?"
"I, uh...I guess so. I am welcome to stay here, aren't I?"
He smiled. "For as long as you want."
I smiled back. I was welcome, welcome here and now, and that made me feel good.
Keth came back that
morning. We were eating breakfast together, Leona and Sally and I, and he banged on the door and bounded straight in
when Leona got up and opened it. Keth was somewhat weatherbeaten and hadn't washed up. He smelled of fish and
the sea and also hard work. "Good to see you!" he said, and gave me a big hug.
I hugged him back---it was good to see him, I was happy---and I said, "Glad to see you, too, Keth. Going
"I go home," he said.
"Take shower, get dressed, come back. We go somewhere together, Al?"
Before I could speak, Leona cut in and said, "Not yet, Keth. Al has another week to rest up right here. Remember?"
The big grin on his face faded. He said, "Sorry.
Come back, tell you about my fishing?"
uh, suppose I could visit with Keth at his house for a while. Couldn't I?"
"So long as you don't work there," Leona said.
"There's your day's work of weaving here, too," Sally added. "We should set a quota for you, you're getting
better at it, almost ready to try you out at the loom." She smiled. "But you could do it in the afternoon,
"Would you like something
to eat, Keth?" Leona asked, and started to scoop out a portion of the breakfast fish mash onto another plate on the table.
Keth looked at it, a flicker of distaste flashing across
his face for an instant. Then he held up his hands in front of him and said, "No, no. Eat fish out on boat.
I go home, wash up first, eat at home. Long time without washing. Al, you come?"
"Go ahead, Keth. I'll meet you there."
He grinned, slapped my shoulder, and said, "You good boy, Al." He left at a run. Leona shut the door
Leona smiled at me as she sat down
and crossed her legs at our low table. I said, "Well, it's good to know he's back and he's all right."
"And it's good to know he's glad to see you, too."
Her smile turned into an almost-smirk. "You never did make much progress getting him to speak better, did you,
I sighed. "I'm at a loss for
that. I just don't know what to do." I sighed. "I still don't know if he knows I'm a girl."
Leona smirked. "I wouldn't think he would
have any doubt any more, Al."
Sally now smirked, too.
"She means your breasts are growing larger."
I looked down. We wore the usual native pants and nothing else. I'd always been flatchested, though, flat as they
were, my breasts did make my chest look female, not male. But now---well, my breasts weren't as large as Leona's or
Sally's, but they were larger, growing from what they were.
My mouth fell open.
"We weren't going to say
anything," Sally said, and her smirk turned into a full-fledged giggle-fit. "You've been here on the
island a month."
"What...what caused it?"
Leona shook her head. "I don't know.
Maybe just living on the island. Exercise, work, maybe you're just eating the right food now."
Well I didn't think I'd been eating bad beforehand. But I had been eating different foods, and doing different things,
ever since arriving on the island. It could have caused this.
"I think I better...better see Doctor Milton about it." I remembered the bitter taste of the medicine he put
in my water, the bitter taste of the pills he had me take. "I wonder...could it be what he gave me?"
"Could be," Sally said. "Look, Al,
Keth will be waiting. You feel all right now, right?" After I nodded agreement, Sally added, "See Doctor
Milton after you see Keth."
I hesitated, then
started to get to my feet. "Right. Keth first. Doctor Milton after." I stopped, and said,
"Do you think Keth noticed?"
"He hugged you, didn't he?" Then she laughed. Sally joined in, and then I laughed too, a little forced.
I walked up to Keth's house.
I reflected on how "native" I'd gone. I wore native pants, no shoes---my feet were comfortable with walking
barefoot and it felt uncomfortable wearing my shoes anymore.
I'd gotten comfortable walking around without a shirt, just like most everyone else. But I put my old T-shirt back on.
Once Sally and Leona pointed out my growing breasts, my modesty came back and in full force. A shirt would do.
Had Keth even noticed?
Keth's house looked a little, well, weedy around the edges. Grasses grew up. It hit me that most houses I'd seen
were well-maintained and well-gardened. Did people here handle this themselves? I couldn't recall seeing Sally
or Leona do anything around their house. I made another mental note to ask---not to observe, not to be a sociologist,
but because I wanted to know.
I found Keth out
back, naked and taking a shower. He said, "Al, you came! Take a minute. I come in."
"Thank you," I said, and went inside.
I hadn't been inside since I got sick, and Keth had been out fishing. The room had a somewhat musty smell. I guessed
nobody came in to air it out while Keth and I were gone. It was cleaned up. The bed was made, all the dishes were
put away. Keth's dirty pants lay across the bed.
Keth came in with a towel around his neck. "Good to see you, Al. Had long trip out on boat. But made
twenty-five dollars, my share of catch." He grinned again. "I do better next time. Make good living."
I prorated it in my mind---making another note to ask
about what kind of math they learned---and thought that, if a dollar a day in the fields was a good wage, twenty-five dollars
over the ten days Keth was gone was better. I said, "You'll be rich someday soon, Keth."
"I do my best." He stopped grinning for a moment. "Let me get pants."
I turned my back---wondering why I did, considering all we've seen of each other---while Keth opened a cabinet and took out
a pair of pants and put them on. While he was putting them on, he said, "I hear you talk with people off island,
Al. You go soon?"
"No, I'll stick
with my plans for now. When---when I go, I'll go when the regular ship comes in." I hesitated in my mind
over "when" and "if." It was starting to get to me, I was thinking of staying on past
"Good, good. We have more
I turned around. Keth said, "You
feel all right?"
"Yes. I feel good.
I'm better, but I'm just resting these days."
He looked disappointed at then. "Well..." he said, and fell silent. Was he thinking of something to
say? He must have, because he asked, "Stay for breakfast?"
"I'll stay, but I already ate with Leona and Sally. You go ahead and ead."
He looked down. "Not feel right you not eating. Give you...something...a little fruit?"
"All right...a little fruit." I shrugged.
Keth went to the kitchen. Keth said, "Been at sea. Nothing to eat but fish we catch." He
took out and opened some canned fruit preserve---I stopped him from putting too much on my plate. We sat down at his
I wasn't sure what the fruit was; it was
dark, purplish, and sweet. We ate it with spoons. While he ate, Keth said, "You look good, Al. You
tan now. Still use sunscreen?"
lot less of it," I said, "but still some of it." I noticed Keth had gotten quite a dark tan himself,
as well as a certain weatherbeaten look on his face and hands. "Did you have a good time out there?"
"Good time, hard work," he said. "But
I miss you." He smiled and launched into an account of his trip. Seems he and his friend Dave---I hadn't
gotten the name of his friend before, far as I could remember---didn't have much luck finding and catching fish, picking up
just a few a day. But two days ago they ran into a large school of them and could fill their nets. I gathered
it wasn't as good as some other trips Keth had gone on, but it was still a good trip.
Then Keth said, "Dave wants to go out again, couple days. I told him maybe." He looked at me.
"It's up to you, Keth,"
I said. "I've been working with Sally and Leona now, learning how to weave. I'm living there now."
"Come here any time."
"Thank you." I thought about it, as I spooned the last of the fruit on my plate into my mouth and swallowed.
I said, "You know, I could come and take care of your house while you're gone."
Keth grinned at that. "Al! You good boy!" He ran his hand through his hair, then said, "I
go into town, see Uncle Tony, get hair cut." He reached over and rubbed the hair on my head. "You come
get hair cut, too?"
I supposed I could use a
haircut, but it could wait. "I'm going to see Doctor Milton first. I want to ask him a few things.
You can go get your hair cut, then meet me at the clinic."
in town. I went to Doctor Milton. The doctor wasn't busy. He was in the outer office talking with Nurse
Carly. "Ms. Casson," he said. "Is something wrong?"
I swallowed hard, and said, "I feel all right, sir, but there's something bothering me. Can I see you...in private?"
He nodded to Nurse Carly, then ushered me into an examination
room. He smiled. "Suppose you hop up on the table and tell me what's bothering you."
I looked down at my chest---the shirt was tight across them, something it never had been before. "Doctor,"
I blurted out, "my breasts are getting larger."
The doctor looked down at me, and looked at my breasts under my shirt in a medical and non-sexual way. I added, "It's
just they've been one size since I was about sixteen and they stayed that way, but they're larger now." I swallowed,
and said, "I was always, well, kind of flatchested."
"And now you're not. I see." He shook his head and sighed. "I can think of a dozen or more
possible causes. You've been eating well and getting more exercise. You've been walking around without that shirt,
most of the time. And you were sick a week ago and, well..." He got that thoughtful look on his face again.
"Are you still taking the pills I gave you?"
"Yes, doctor, every night before I go to bed."
"Discontinue them." He shook his head. "It's possible they might cause this kind of reaction.
Not certain, but possible. I've seen it happen in patients before...patients about your age. I better give you
a thorough examination. Please disrobe and climb up on the table."
It was much the same as the other examinations. He thumped on my chest and back, felt the swelling of my breasts, and
took more blood and urine and stool samples. But the most attention was paid to my lungs; I coughed, breathed, and coughed
again for him while he listened with his stethoscope.
At the end of it, as I dressed, he said, "There's nothing I can do. I'm not sure I can do anything. Your
breast development is normal for a woman your age. You are still a little undersized." He smiled. "Consider
it a delayed bonus."
I pulled my shirt over
my chest. It felt tighter than ever before. I pulled it off and said, "Should I wear a bra, doctor?"
"If you want to." He smiled again and
said, "You are healthy, Al. In fact, you're so healthy I'm going to release you from the rest and relaxation I
prescribed for you. Do what you want, but take my advice and do it in moderation."
"But I could go out to the fields and work all day?"
"I don't see why not. It wouldn't hurt you to get more exercise."
I sighed, and put my shirt over my neck like a towel. "I'm sorry to be such a bother to you, doctor."
"Don't worry. It's my job. Besides...I
need to check my case histories." He took my hand, squeezed it hard in a handshake, and said, "You should
be all right, and if anything happens, I'm always here or somewhere close by."
I smiled at that.
waited in the outer office when I came out. He had gotten his hair cut and combed, short and neat. "You all
"I'm fine, Keth. The
doctor says I'm all better. I don't need to take it easy anymore."
"Good!" He smiled. "You, me, we go up to Blade Farm tomorrow, we work all day, I show you things
I shook my head, glanced over my
shoulder. Nurse Carly was behind me. She removed something from a filing cabinet and went into the inner office
with it. I turned back to Keth and said, "I would have to check with Sally and Leona, Keth. I work with them
now. I'm learning how to weave."
seemed broken for a moment, the smile fading off his face like rocks from a cliff. Then he said, "Aw. More
to show you. Never showed you some things."
"Well...maybe we can go around together someday. I'd still have to talk to Leona and Sally about it. We can
make the time to do it."
he said, with something of a dubious tone to his voice and expression.
"I...er, I have something I want to talk to you about, Keth. But---" I glanced over my shoulder.
Nurse Carly was gone, Doctor Milton was still inside somewhere...but it was still the wrong place for what I had in mind.
I said, "We'll go back to your house."
Still looking and sounding dubious, Keth said, "Right."
I walked around with my shirt over my shoulders like a towel. I had gotten used to not wearing one. It was hot
and bothersome and it got dirty. Should I wear a bra, like I'd seen some of the bustier girls on the island wear?
I suppose, if I had to...but, what the hell, girls more developed than I was walked around without shirts, so why shouldn't
On the walk back I looked at the few people
around. It was about noon. Seemed most of the older women, the matrons and older, wore shirts. Most of them
wore more elaborate outfits than Keth or I. I thought maybe it was an age thing. But "most" didn't mean
all, and I saw some older women with less than what Keth or I wore. Men, even older ones, wore less than the women...
But my thoughts digressed. Keth noticed my preoccupation
and said, "You all right, Al?"
fine. Just my mind is on other things."
"What you talk to me about?"
that too, but other things. But all part of that. Something..." I gritted my teeth. "Something
we've got to settle."
He shrugged and grunted,
but left me to my thoughts the rest of the way.
Once we got to his house and went inside and closed the door, I said, "Keth. There's something you say about me
that's been bothering me. I want to talk about it with you, to get it out, to make it clear."
Keth looked startled. "I don't understand. What is wrong?"
"Let me---" I felt a little startled. Keth's sentences---they came out a little straighter, not in his
usual pidgin. Had he learned something? Did he just speak that way when the matter was serious?
Matter for later, I thought, and shook my head and went on. "Let me show you, Keth," I said. I cupped
my breasts in my hands---easier now that they had grown. "Look at these, Keth. I have breasts, Keth.
More than that. I'm a woman, Keth."
Keth looked frightened. What was going through his mind? He said, "I, uh, Al...I know that."
"But you're always saying, ‘You good boy, Al,'" I said. I covered my chest with my shirt, holding it
to me. "I want to make it clear to you I'm a woman."
The frightened look vanished into a big grin, then a big chuckle. "I...I'm sorry, Al. When we met, you looked
like a boy, which is what I thought then, but that night, when we went to bed, well, I knew you were no boy."
The implications of that were enormous. "But you kept saying it."
"I'm sorry. I just thought it was funny. You didn't say anything right away, so I maybe thought you thought
it was funny and I kept saying it."
it did seem that way to him. Maybe I should have said something sooner, with more force than I had. Maybe it was
amusing. But it was more flattering than amusing, at least to me.
Keth stepped closer. "Maybe if I said, ‘You good girl,' you would like that better."
"I suppose so." I sighed. "Keth, I'm a stranger here. When I got off that ship, I didn't
know you, didn't know any of you, didn't know anything about life on the island. I didn't know if it was my place to
say something like that. But it was bad. I hated it. I'm a girl, Keth. A woman."
Then to my surprise, Keth stepped closer and took me in his arms and kissed me. I was startled, then relaxed against
him and slipped my arms around his back and neck. It wasn't my first kiss, but I hadn't kissed a lot, and this was better,
good, very good.
But then he pulled back and pulled
loose from my arms, and staggered back a few steps, almost falling into the bed by stumbling against it. "I, uh...I
didn't mean...mean to hurt you, Al."
not hurt," I said, and took a step towards him. But he backed further away. I said, "I don't mind.
You can kiss me if you want." The thought of doing something else with him came to me; I looked down and blushed
at the thought of it.
He must have thought of the
same thing, because he blushed an even deeper shade of red, and backed away further, almost to the wall. "I...will
think of it...think about it...but you better go. Go back to Leona and Sally. I, uh...I have things to do.
In town. I have to do things."
puzzled. Here we were at the start of something, and he was hesitant about it---well, why shouldn't he be? I should
be hesitant, too. I said, "Look, Keth, I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. I like you. I like you
"I like you, too, Al. You
good b---you good girl." He grinned, a very weak grin, and said, "I, uh, I go now. Things to do in town.
"We'll go together."
We walked out together. At the door, side by side, my hand brushed against his---I almost melted at the touch.
I looked at him. But he pulled back, and walked away towards town. I followed him with my eyes, standing on his
porch, then, when he was out of sight behind a building, I walked on, in the other direction.
It hit me as I walked that, when we talked about us, Keth's speech dropped its usual "pidgin" feel. What was
that about? Food for thought. I walked along, thinking of him, and smiling.
Leona and Sally were hard at work when I got back, Sally at the loom, Leona stitching together some of our cloth. "It
took a little longer than we thought," Leona said, then saw the expression on my face and added, "What happened?"
I hesitated as I figured out how to tell them.
"I, er...Keth and I, well...Keth and I, we kissed."
Leona looked at Sally, and they then both looked at me---and broke into simultaneous big broad smiles. "Good for
you!" Sally said. "Keth is a good catch. Someday, he'll be somebody on this island."
"On the island," I said, and sat down on the cushion next to the wall where my hand weaving hung. I made no
move to pick it up. "On the island," I repeated.
"Oh," Sally said, and her smile vanished. Leona's smile faded right after that.
I said, "I like Keth. I do. But it isn't fair to start something with him if I, well, can't stick around
and finish it. I still don't know whether I'm staying or going."
"Even after that?" Sally asked.
Leona nodded. "Al, Keth is
a big boy. He can take care of himself."
"Oh," I said, "by the way, Keth knows I'm a girl." I told the two of them, with as much clarity
as I could, what both of us had said to each other, before and after we kissed.
"If you were one of us, Al," Leona said, "you and Keth would be engaged."
"I'm not, am I?" I felt a sudden panic at the thought.
"Uh, no," Sally said. "We're a little more forgiving of people not from the island, at least for a while.
Keth should have said something. Did he say something?"
"No, no." I thought about it---I'd been thinking of nothing else since then. "Engagement leads
to marriage, doesn't it?" After the two of them nodded, I went on. "And if I married Keth, I would have
to stay here, wouldn't I?" Again, two nods. "It would not be fair to him if I did leave."
"You could take Keth with you," Leona said, going
back to her sewing. "He's always wanted to leave the island."
I thought---again---of Keth in the world outside the island, and shuddered.
"If it means being with you he might try."
Sally said, "You had better put it to him. Don't wait."
"Right." I stood up. "I'll go to him, right now, and we'll talk. I don't know what I'm going
to say, but we'll talk about something."
grinned. "If we don't see you till tomorrow..."
I went straight to Keth's house. It was by then mid-afternoon. I figured he would come back. But as it got
towards sunset, he didn't turn up. I found it kind of irritating, but, in a dose of realism in my thoughts, I knew full
well he didn't know I would be waiting for him. I sat on the edge of Keth's mattress bed, crosslegged, staring into
my lap, brooding.
But about sunset I heard a knock
on the door, and a voice---Leona's voice---asked, "Al? Are you in there?"
I went to the door and opened it. Leona was a little out of breath. She said, "Keth isn't coming back tonight.
"Gone?" A dreadful
feeling came on me in the pit of my stomach.
reached out and grabbed my shoulder. "No, Al, no, I mean he's gone fishing again. He and Dave went out on
another fishing trip.
I took a deep breath and let
out a sigh. I felt astonished at myself, leaping to the wrong conclusion with such speed. I said, "He just
took off again, just like that?"
her head. "That's all I know. There's a letter---he wrote a letter to you, and had someone drop it off at
our house. I brought it over. Here."
She handed me a letter. It was a simple white envelope. Something else was in the envelope, something hard and
small that stretched the envelope out. In neat handwriting written across it, it said, MISS ALICE CASSON.
I opened the envelope with my finger and pulled the "something else" out. It was a locket, circular, gold
with silver trim, on a thin gold chain. I opened the locket. No picture, but a small drawing of a small red heart.
I held it before me and looked at it.
the letter," Leona said.
I pulled the letter
out and read it. The handwriting was neat, the same as the envelope. There was no trace of the odd way Keth spoke.
"My dearest Al. I decided to
take up Dave's offer and go out right now on another two weeks of fishing. When we get back I must speak to you.
"When we kissed it was as if the most important
thing in my life just happened. Al, you are the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you, Al. I want
you to know that.
"But we can't forget the
problems. You come from Out There, and I was born and raised Here. If our love means anything at all, we must
figure out some way to come together, either that forget the whole thing. But if that happened, if I had to leave you,
I would be very, very sorry.
"I've never been
serious about a girl before, Al. I love you. I want to marry you. But if you go back to Out There, I can't.
When I get back, when we get back together again, whatever we decide to do, whatever you decide to do, I want you to know
I love you and I will never forget you and you will always be with me.
"I will be gone for two weeks, out fishing. You will be in my thoughts when I cast my nets and when I sleep under
the sky. Please be here for me, Al. Please. I love you.
"[signed] Keth Laval Macquarrie."
me a long time to read it, and I felt myself tearing up as I read it. And my own feelings came up. I loved Keth,
too...but I couldn't tell him I loved him till he returned...and, even then, the problem still faced us.
Leona and Sally tried to read the letter over my shoulder. I was so involved in it that I didn't even notice Sally coming
up as I read. But I sniffed and said, "He's gone."
"Look, Al," Sally said, "whatever you feel, you don't have to decide anything right now. Keth will be
back. You can talk things out then."
"Two weeks is an eternity," I said.
go faster than you thing."
I read and reread
the letter, holding the locket in my hands by the chain. My knees buckled and I sat down on Keth's porch. Leona
and Sally sat down next to me. I finished the letter, then looked at the locket in my hand. I folded it and folded
it again, until it was a small little bundle. It just fit in the locket, with a squeeze.
I then took the locket chain and put it to my neck, clasping it together in the back. It was a tight fit and the locket
hung on my neck just at the notch in my throat. I let out a long sigh.
Leona, with some unease, said, "I guess you two are engaged now."
"Not yet," I said.
Sally asked, "Have
you thought about what to say to Keth?
yet," I repeated, then shook myself. I said, "I've been thinking about nothing else. I can't think about
Leona sighed, then said, "Let's
go back home and turn in. We'll sleep on it. It will look better in the morning, I'm sure." She smiled.
"A lot of people will know about this by now, and they will all want to talk to you."
That hit me with another agonizing pit-in-the-stomach feeling. "Wait. Who wants to talk about it?"
"Friends and relatives," Sally said.
"Mr. Thaddeus will have a few things to say. Maybe his mother. You met his mother, haven't you?"
"No...no, I haven't---no, I thought---"
I shook my head, trying to clear it, trying to remember. "You mean Mr. Thaddeus's mother? I met her."
"That's who I meant. Did you think I meant
Keth's mother? You should know. His parents are dead."
"I know that." I knew it, but I was confused now---and I was getting more confused by the minute. "I
guess," I said, "going home and going to bed now is a pretty good idea. This has got me, all, well, I don't
know how to put it."
"Love will do it,"
Leona said. "Let's go home."
I found Mr. Thaddeus in his store in the morning. He was waiting on a girl about my age, a girl I hadn't yet met or
seen. They finished their business just as I came in. I looked at her, and I had the feeling when she looked me
up and down that she was giving me an intense good look over. She dressed like me, just the native pants. I wondered
how native I looked now that I've been here almost a month.
Mr. Thaddeus smiled at me. Was there something behind that smile? He said, "Al, good to see you. You
"I need to talk, sir."
He nodded and said, "Back room?"
The back room looked much as it did when I first walked in. I thought of everything that happened since. I took
the same stool and said, "I have a problem, and it concerns you and your family."
"Yes. Keth. I know." Mr. Thaddeus took the same chair behind the desk, and said, "All of
us, we've known, for a long time now, about Keth's feelings."
Mr. Thaddeus held up his
hands. "No, no, Keth said nothing. But Keth wears his feelings on his face. We saw him looking at you.
We knew he fell in love with you." He looked at me with a hard and fixed stare. "Are you in love with
"I, ah, I think I am."
It was hard to say it. But when I said it, I knew it was true. With more firmness, I said, "I love him."
"Then the problem is you being an outsider and
him being an islander. Am I right?"
I nodded. "I just don't know what to do."
"Well, Al, it hasn't happened much, but people from the outside do settle down here on the island and live with happiness.
Love plays its role. I'm sure if you and Keth marry you could find you're happy here." He smiled.
"You have joined us well, Al. You look like one of us now---though you could use a haircut."
I thought about it. I had friends here, and work---and Keth?---and I had been happy here, I realized. But there
were other possibilities, and I had to raise them. "I, er, though Keth might want to come with me when I left."
Mr. Thaddeus was silent, expressionless, for a moment
or two. Was he chewing it over? But he said, "Well, that is possible. Keth always was interested in
the outside life. I could see him doing what I did when I was younger. Work his way around the world, gone five,
ten years, then come back, maybe not. Others go for good."
"But I don't know if Keth could adapt to life on the outside, sir."
"You've adapted to living here."
I have, sir, but it's just been a month." I thought about it, then added, "What will I think six months, a
year, five years, ten years? Can I make it?"
"You can always leave, Al, when you feel its right."
"But I couldn't marry Keth." I grimaced. "I couldn't do that to him."
Mr. Thaddeus fell silent again, a silence broken by him drumming his fingers on his desk table top. He didn't look at
me, but looked into the distance. Thinking? It seemed to go on forever. But at the end he looked at me again,
and said, "Well, Al, you care for Keth. We understand that. But we can see that you do not have to make a
decision here and now. Wait till Keth comes back. How long did he say he would go?"
"Two weeks, sir."
"Two weeks, then."
He sighed. "You are right, Al. You must make a decision when he comes back. Not fair to keep us waiting."
I gulped, and said, "But it's hard!"
"Anything that's good---good or bad---is hard."
He smiled. "In the meantime, take it easy." I blinked in surprise at the simple phrase.
"You have made a good start as a weaver. Out there, it might not be much good to you, but here, it is a good trade
to know. Even out there, it never hurts anyone to know how to do something."
I nodded again. I was getting numb from the talk, and the thoughts the talk brought up out of my mind. Mr. Thaddeus
must have sensed it. He stood up and held out his hand. "I guess you're all talked out. Until Keth
gets back, just go on doing what you have been."
I kept nodding. "Thank you, sir," I said, and turned to leave. But then, something else occurred to
me. I turned back and said, "Oh, sir, one other thing."
"Remember when you wanted me
to work with Keth on his speaking?"
oh yes." He chuckled. "It was kind of a hope. Didn't seem to work."
"Maybe it did, sir. When we talked about, well, you know...he dropped it from his speech just like that."
Mr. Thaddeus burst into a grin. "Great.
Maybe there's hope for him after all."
I thought. Maybe about that, but about the two of us---well, I didn't know, couldn't know, wouldn't know till he got
Back at the house
of Leona and Sally, I filled them in on my plans, such as they were. To my surprise, they sprung an invitation to a
party on me. "A party?"
yes," Leona said. "I suppose you could call it a party. Every so often, some of us just have a big get
together. Also we have a bunch of smaller ones more often. Sometimes we do something the night before church day."
"I thought the dinner after church was the party,"
"No, that's just the one for everybody.
This is the one for people our age."
just haven't had one since you got here, Al," Sally added. "Till this one."
Leona went on. "We had one get together about a week before you got to the island. We weren't trying to exclude
you, Al. We would have told you all about it when it came..." She grinned. "We are telling you
all about it, right now."
Even now, after everything that happened---I was still learning what I needed to know. I needed to study, to observe...
And what better place to do so than a party like this?
I asked, "So when is this next party?"
"Tomorrow," Sally said. "I mean, not everybody will be there, it's one of the smaller parties."
"At Kim's place," Leona added.
"A friend of ours, I don't
know if you've met her." Leona smiled. "It's a good opportunity, Al, for you to get better acquainted
with some of us. You've kept a lot to yourself. Maybe too much."
I thought about it. I thought I had gotten out and around and about. But I had to admit, I had not seen it all---it
was a long month, but just one month, and I had been sick for part of it, sick and alone. Going to church and going
to the big dinner after meant seeing a lot of people...but I didn't get to know more than a few of them. "Tomorrow
night, you say?"
"Should I, er, prepare for it?"
"Just bring yourself---we'll bring you."
"The big parties," Leona said, "are something like our church day dinners. The small parties are easier
to handle. We all come, we all bring a little food, we all clean up after."
I didn't mind working in the kitchen at the big dinner---but I saw the point. "I mean, what will I wear?"
Leona looked at Sally, who looked back at me and smiled.
We argued a little over what I should wear. I thought it might be a good idea to wear my regular clothes, the ones I
wore when I arrived. It might be something somebody wanted to see, I thought. But they both thought that we should
all dress up a little---and, besides, my regular clothes were getting a little worn and ragged. Besides that, the T-shirt
was tight across my expanding chest.
So I wore
the dress Sally and Leona gave me, the dress I wore to church. According to the two of them, I looked just like one
of the islanders. I wondered. It would help me fit in, I thought, if I looked like them. And I needed to
fit in if I was going to stay.
Each of us carried
a covered dish, not heated but cooked. Leona made all three. It was just past sunset and going on night.
"Now, look, Al," Sally said, as we walked
along, "since this is one of our smaller parties, I don't know who will be there, and who you have and haven't met.
But most of them will be curious about you."
"They...know about me and Keth?"
chuckled at that. "Everybody knows. They'll ask you questions. But I think they'll be curious about
your life outside, and why you're here, too." She sighed. "Most of us knew what an anthro---antro?---anthropologist
is." She stumbled over the word. "From school. But it's been years since any have been around,
and, in any case, they didn't look like you." She looked up. "We're here."
Kim's place was a larger version of the houses I'd already visited or stayed in. More rooms, I figured. Just ahead
of us, a couple went in. I saw them silhouetted in the light of the door as it opened and closed. Light seemed
to be from those oil lamps. When the door was opened, I heard a strain of music---guitars and drums?
The door was opened by a woman about my height, but somewhat wider without being fat. I didn't think I'd seen her before.
She smiled. "Ah, Leona, Sally, and this must be Al! Welcome, welcome! I'm Kim." She held
out her hand for me to shake. "I've heard so much. I'm glad to meet you."
After I let go of her hand, I said, "Pleased to meet you, too."
Kim kept smiling. "Come on in, all of you. Leona, Sally, show Al where to put the food." She looked
outward, past us, as someone else approached.
"where to put the food" turned out to be a table. The first room we were in looked like a living room; tables,
couches, cushions, chairs. Much larger than I expected. The table was against the far wall, and we made a straight
line for it and put our dishes down among the others already there.
People were about. One, a man, came up and said, "Leona, Sally, I don't believe I've met your friend."
"Oh," Leona said. "Royce, this
is Al. Al, Royce." She smiled. "Royce is my brother."
Leona had spoken of her family, and named each one. I looked him over. He was a little taller than I was, somewhat
skinnier than most of the men I'd met, but he seemed in pretty good shape. His dark hair was in curls, his smile was
pleasant. "Ah," he said, and looked me over. "Al. I've heard a lot about you. I haven't
had the chance to meet you before."
haven't had much chance to meet everybody yet, I'm afraid," I said.
"And it's not hard to see why Keth wanted to keep you to himself." His smile got a little broader. "I
spend the day teaching in our school. We would love to have you talk there."
Behind Royce, Leona was waving her hand in the air and shaking her head and mouthing, NO. It looked like something worthy
of an explanation, but I took her hint. "I'm afraid I'm going to be pretty busy for a while, Royce, but I might
be able to make time later if you can."
well, whatever you can do. I understand you will be with us for a long time."
Before I could answer that, Leona came up and stood in front of me, between us. "Royce," she said, "what
happened to Trish? Couldn't she make it to the party?" To me, she said, "Trish is Royce's wife."
Royce's smile dimmed a little. "She's home
with the twins. We agreed there wasn't any good reason for me to miss the party." He turned his attention
back to me and said, "It's fun to get together and talk things over. Good company, good food."
Sally, at my side, said, "Isn't that Kim over there wanting to talk to you?"
We all looked. Kim was still just inside the door. She wasn't looking at us. But Royce said, "Well,
I'd better go over and see what she wants." He grinned and slapped me on the shoulder with a closed fist. "Talk
to you later, Al."
When he left, Leona and
Sally steered me away and to the other side of the room. I rubbed my shoulder where Royce tapped it; he tapped it hard
enough to make it ache. "Sorry, Al," Leona said. "Royce has been married for two years and still
feels he has to flirt with every woman on the island."
"We all know about it," Sally said. "We can handle it."
I took a moment to think, then said, "Uh, I think I can handle it. But Keth---"
"Keth isn't here now," Leona said. "And there are other men I'd like you to meet. Unmarried men."
"Better men," Sally added.
They led me away again, but I got to wondering. It was like they intended to fix me up with someone---who? I loved
Keth---maybe I didn't tell him, but I was sure now it was true---and why would I want another man?
They led me towards two men, who smiled and embraced them, one each. I was surprised. After they let go, Leona
said, "We haven't had the chance before, Al. These are our fiancées. Al, this is Frank, my husband
"And this is Jake," Sally
said, her arm around his. "The same. The two of them run a farm together on the other side of the island."
I shook hands with both of them. Jake was taller
than Frank, but they looked enough alike to be brothers; same brown hair and muscular builds.
Jake said, "So you're Al. We've heard so much about you from Sally and Leona."
"But not as much as we would like to hear," Frank added. "You've taken up so much of their time this
"I'm sorry," I said, still
smiling at them. "Now that things are settling down I hope someday we can all get together."
"Yes, that would be good," Jake said. "Dinner, sometime, when Keth---" Sally kicked him in
the shin and he fell silent.
After exchanging a
few more pleasantries, I said, "I guess you four have things to talk over with each other. I can walk around the
party by myself for a while."
sure?" Sally asked. When I nodded, Sally added, "All right. You can find your way back to our house
in the dark tonight?"
"I think so."
After they nodded, they took the arms of their fiancées and led them off and away. I stepped into a quiet corner
of the room and found myself alone.
It hit me as
I stood there. Alone. I'd pretty much been in kind of somebody's custody since I arrived on the island.
Keth, Leona and Sally, Doctor Milton, Mr. Thaddeus...all of them stood over me, looking out for me. Some brief times
I'd been alone going from here to there, but now I was on my own in a social situation.
I had never been an easy party guest. Back in college, or even high school, I spent my time in a corner, away from everybody.
So here I was again, in the same situation. I stood and listened in on the half-dozen or so conversations going on among
the dozen or so people in the room, snatches of conversation.
But I wasn't alone for long. A babyfaced young man, younger than me---I didn't think he was old enough to shave, and
he came up to my shoulder. He came up to me, and said, "Hi. I'm Paul. I think you're Al, the visitor
to our island."
I said. "People call me Al, but it's really Alice."
"Al, then," he said. "I gather you're close to Keth."
"Keth and I are close," I replied, not wanting to say much more. "Are you close to anyone, Paul?"
"What?" He grinned. "Nobody
special, but there's hope. You doing anything later?"
I felt cold at the thought. "Sorry, Paul, but I'm not interested. If you want to talk---" I shrugged.
"How old are you, Paul?"
sixteen in two months. I'm out of school already."
Very young, I thought. I said, "You should look for someone closer to your age, Paul. I can't help
you there, but maybe there's someone around."
Paul's grin vanished, and he looked crestfallen to me. I suppose he was. I took a look around at the other partygoers.
Above about my own age, I couldn't say for sure how old anybody was with any certainty. Everybody seemed about my own
age. But Paul did seem to be the youngest here by quite a margin.
I asked him, "Where are the people your own age?"
"Uh, not here?" He grinned again and his face lit up. "I should...go where they go?"
"Is anybody your own age having a party tonight?"
He shook his head. "I'm here just because
I'm Kim's brother."
I hadn't known that.
I nodded. "You could go someplace where kids your age hang out. I don't know where that is, so I can't help
Paul seemed to put something together
in his head; it showed on his face as he spoke. "They hang out in...school?" Then he laughed.
"Girls my age are in school or just out of school. I could go to the next school dance and I could---I mean, I---"
He shook his head, then grinned again, and said, "Thanks, Miss Al."
Then he headed away. I saw him go through the front door past Kim---his sister? She came over to me and asked,
"Al? What did you say to Paul? He left here like the building was burning down."
"I'm not sure," I said. "I think something I said convinced him to go to the next school dance to meet
Kim relaxed, and broke into a smile.
"I told him that very thing, but he put me off. Said he wanted to meet up with my friends."
I tensed up, though. "Maybe, uh, he needed to hear it from somebody else. I'm sorry, Kim. I don't want
to step on someone's toes. I'm just trying to get by."
"If that's stepping on someone's toes, you should do more of it." She grinned---she looked much more like
her brother when she did---and said, "I'm glad you came, Al. I hope we'll all be seeing more of you."
"I've...wondered. I don't know."
I thought about it, my mind going in its well-worn grooves. "I don't want to offend anybody. I'm a stranger
here, and, well, things are strange to me."
"I can understand." Kim pointed to the food table. "Eat something, Al. Enjoy yourself.
But, as you say..." She dropped her voice to a soft near-whisper. "You are a stranger here.
Strange. People are, well, curious---I'm curious myself. We want to talk to you." She looked away and
something caught her eye. "Oh! Phoebe!" She nodded and smiled again to me and left.
Alone again. I took her advice and went to the food table. There was much offered. I piled a few interesting
things onto a plate, and picked up a fork and went back to the corner.
I kept listening to the snatches of conversation going on around me. It occurred to me, it was a priceless opportunity
for a would-be anthropologist and sociologist like myself---but, I realized, I didn't want to be any of those things.
I didn't want to study people, I wanted to live with them.
The stuff I'd filled my notebooks with, they didn't offer any great insights. They were just things I needed to get
by, to live on the island.
But did I want to live
on the island? Did I love Keth enough to join him here? Or should I talk him into leaving the island with me?
Or maybe we should just go our separate ways?
I wished, for the thousandth time, that Keth was back so
I could talk it over with him.
A woman and a man
came up. They carried plates of food, somewhat smaller portions than I carried. I was still in my fog of thought,
but I caught their names as Rache and George, and they were husband and wife. I repeated the names and said, "Did
I get them right?"
"You did, you did,"
George said. "You are Al, aren't you?"
"Of course she's Al," Rache said. "She's the one here we don't know."
I reflected that I might be a stranger among them now, but I would be a stranger even if I stayed. For a long time,
Rache said, "We've wondered
about you, Al. We've seen you in church and at dinner."
"And you spend a lot of time with Keth," George said, "but for the past few weeks you've been living with Leona
"Sorry I haven't been, well,
friends...I mean, I'm kind of here by accident. This is almost the first time I've been alone by myself since I got
"I'm not sure I understand,"
"I don't think I can put it any
better. I'm sorry."
"We saw you
talking to Paul earlier," Rache said.
Kim said I helped him, something about being with girls closer to his own age. But I just said a few things. I
don't know how I did it. I don't have any answers." About even my own life, I thought. I wished Keth
were back again and I was with him.
"We heard you were very close to Keth."
"I, ah, I think so."
Rache cleared her
throat and then said, in a low tone of voice, "Let me tell you a little story, Al."
From the seriousness of her tone, I thought I should listen. I nodded.
Rache went on. "My father came to the island to work on a bridge. He was an engineer. While he was
here he met my mother. They fell in love and got married."
"No, maybe you don't.
They had two children, me and my brother. But my father wasn't happy here. He loved my mother, but he wasn't happy
on the island. After he finished up a few other projects, there just wasn't anything for him that he wanted to do.
So when I was about six he packed it up and left the island. Left my mother. He offered to take her with him,
but she wanted to stay, even if he wanted to go."
We never saw him again. We get mail from him, every few years, but we've never seen him again."
All I could say was, "Oh."
before I could say anything else, George cut in. "Now, let me tell you a story, Al. My father died
before I was born. But when I was about five, this man came to the island. He was a farming expert, here to see
how we do things and here to see if we could improve. Somewhere along the way, he fell in love with my mother.
They married and he settled down and they lived together here on the island until about two years ago."
"What happened then?"
"He and my
mother decided to see the world. They said they would be back, but there was much to see and they couldn't set a date."
George smiled. "I don't know if they'll come back."
Rache said, "You see, Al, a lot of things could happen when people of the island meet outside people. You
will have problems, either way. Your problems. But don't let any of them stop you from doing what you want to
I thought about it, then said, "Keth
will have some say about what I do."
you...think he'll ask you to stay?"
don't know yet." I shrugged. "I just don't know."
They nodded and turned away. I stood there, alone, thinking about what they said, standing there with my plate of food
still in my hand, not eating, just standing. It was a lot to digest.
I made my way from the party in the dark. The party went on. I left after the musical group started playing a
few numbers. Parties, even parties off the island, were never my kind of thing.
Besides, I had some thinking to do. I always had something to think about these days.
When I got back to Leona and Sally's house, I didn't light any lights. I didn't even undress. I just sat inside,
on the edge of my mattress, contemplating.
how I wished Keth was there with me. That he would come back, that he never left. It was all between him and me,
every bit of it. As long as he wasn't here I couldn't make a decision. I was stuck.
At some point I must have wandered into sleep, falling
back and closing my eyes. I woke up when I heard Leona and Sally whispering over me. I could hear them over the
strong wind whistling across the roof. But I was groggy. One of them, I wasn't sure which, said, "She's asleep."
"No'm'not," I said, slurring the words, woke
up a little more, and sat up. My eyes focused a little in the dark. I had gotten used to the lack of electric
ling. I could see both Leona and Sally; they crouched on either side of my mattress.
"You left," Leona said.
I'm just not good at parties."
my leg. "That's all right," she said. "Other parties, other chances."
"We heard you talked with Rache and George," Leona said.
I felt my face go blank. Could they see that in the dark? "Their stories made me think."
"Bound to happen," Leona said. "You're in the middle of a problem, looking for insight."
I sighed, and said, "Leona, Sally...did you take me to the party with the idea I might meet someone? Some man?"
Even in the dark I could see the two of them look at
each other. Then Sally said, "Sorry, Al, but, well, yes, we did. We thought you should, both of us."
Leona said, "There are other men out there, and
you should meet them. Keth is nice, but there are other men on the island."
I don't know if they could see my frown, but they could sense it, I'm sure. I said, "I'll stick with Keth.
Please don't try to set me up with someone again without letting me know first."
They were silent for a few moments after. Then Sally said, "We still think there's this one man you should meet---"
Leona cut her off and said, "We can talk about
that later. Let's go to bed."
then said, "I know I was a wet blanket over this, but...did you two have a good time at the party?"
They both giggled. They told me quite a few things---almost all of them revolving around their first get together with
their respective prospective husbands in a few weeks. Dates were discussed, but not agreed on. Some negotiation
would have to be done between their families.
realized, once again, that I had just scratched the surface of families and relationships on the island---just like everything
else I'd tried to grasp and failed at.
ever get it, even if I stayed?
But the constant
examination of this was behind me, I realized. Even if I did leave the island I would put anthropology and sociology
behind me. I knew now what I didn't know then. Whatever I wanted to do with my life, that wasn't it. I would
go on taking notes, I couldn't help myself. But I was looking for something else.
We talked it out in the dark, and, after
a while, turned in. They fell asleep before I did. I listened to their slow breathing against the whistling of
the wind on the roof.
The sky that morning when we got up looked dark in the east, blocking the sun. Dark, like a big storm brewed
out there. I said as much to Leona when we prepared to put out laundry.
"Mmm, yes, you're right." Leona looked up at the dark sky. "Something is on the way. Afternoon,
evening, night, it should be here."
"Maybe it'll just be a big storm. But maybe
it'll be a hurricane."
Shouldn't that be a cyclone or typhoon in this hemisphere?"
Leona looked at me like I'd just said something crazy. Then she relaxed a little. "Oh. Oh. I
know what you're talking about. I remember that in science class. But we just call those things hurricanes.
I don't know why."
I wondered if I had stepped
in something, but just then, just as she said that, Sally came running up, almost breathless. She had gone into town
at first light for some supplies, but she didn't bring back any. "Al, Leona, I just heard. A hurricane is
"A hurricane," I said,
and nodded to Leona. I looked at the dark sky. Was that a flash of lightning?
"The mayor made the announcement," Sally said between breaths. "The runners are going out---see?"
She pointed and we looked. Sure enough a man ran by on the road outside, followed by two others.
I turned back to Sally and Leona. "So it's a hurricane. What do we do? Ride it out here?"
"No, no," Leona said. "We stow
and seal up everything we can. Then we gather up whatever food we've got and head up into the hills. We ride it
out in the Shelter."
"Have you seen the
Shelter, Al?" When I shook my head, Sally went on, "It started out as caves, but they've been dug out and
lined with concrete."
"They have running
water," Leona said. "Plus stockpiled supplies, food, medicine."
"They're also about three hundred feet above the ocean."
"I, ah, think Keth mentioned them, but we didn't get around to seeing them." Then I gasped, "Keth!
He's out there!"
"Oh!" Leona said.
"That's right! Do you know which way he went?"
I shook my head.
"We'd better take care of
his house, too," Leona said. "We'll put the shutters on our house, and then we'll all go over and take care
of Keth's house."
thank you." I was sick in the pit of my stomach for Keth---somewhere, out there, in that storm.
"Come on," Leona said, and nudged me. "We've got a lot of work to do."
It was blowing and raining when we got to Keth's house.
Our preparations took some time. Leona disassembled part of the big loom and put it away, as well as gathering up our
weaving material. Sally and I put up the shutters, big curved sheets of metal cut to fit over all the openings, of which
there weren't many; I was more grateful than ever that the houses like these had few windows. We also grabbed a few
chairs and our clothesline and took them in.
we covered up everything with sheets. Leona said, "The roof blew off this house once---long before Sally and I
lived here, of course, but when we were kids. We just put a new roof on." She smiled. "Don't worry."
We also loaded up with packs of our food, as much as
we could carry. I also filled and carried my old gym bag, the one Keth gave me while I was sick. Then with one
last look around, Leona said, "On to Keth's."
As we approached Keth's house, we saw others moving along the paths, moving up into the farms and hills and out of town.
They had a determined air about them.
One of them
was Tony the barber. He spotted me and said, "Al? You on your way to the caves?"
"Keth left me in charge of his house, sir," I said. "Leona and Sally are helping me."
"Oh. Makes sense. Well, all three of you, don't take too long, and..." He looked at me, then reached
up and touched my head, ruffling my hair. "We can get your hair cut once you settle in."
Keth's place was simpler to handle, smaller,
nothing to disassemble, just shutters to put up and food to gather up. The wind was loud enough for us to raise our
voices. "Do we need all this food?" I asked. "Didn't you say the caves are stocked with supplies?"
"Yes, they are," Leona said. "But
not enough. Besides, all our food will go to waste if we don't take it."
I nodded, with a little downturn of my mouth. It all made sense...but what we carried was pretty heavy.
As we were leaving, with the wind whipping the grass and trees around, I heard something snap, a loud crack. I turned
around as Leona knocked me to the ground. I caught a glimpse of a tree falling before I hit.
"Sorry," Leona said as she and Sally helped me to my feet. I nodded to them, and looked at the house.
The tree went through the roof and stopped at the top of the wall. It had made a large hole. Even as I watched,
the wind caught some roof tiles and peeled them back; they flapped in the breeze.
"That's bad," I said. "That's pretty bad."
"We can't do anything," Sally said. "It's too late to do anything." She grabbed my had and
said, "Let's go!"
I held firm in my spot,
looking up at the damage. "Any---any chance I could put a tarp or a blanket on it?" I tried to remember
if there was anything I could use as a proper tarp. I couldn't think of anything.
Leona grabbed my other hand, but I shook loose from both of them. "I can't leave it," I said. "I
can't! You go on! I'll stay and figure out what to do and meet you later!"
Leona looked at me, looked at the house, and looked at me again. "Well...don't take too long!" She took
Sally's hand. Sally glanced at me, then ran with Leona, at a fast pace.
By then no one else was around. I ran inside and put my gym bag and backpack off and down. I looked up at the
hole, then around. Rainwater already blew in around the tree; some of the roof lay over everything that had been under
the hole. I couldn't see anything big enough to stuff in the hole...and couldn't see anything that I could reach the
I thought for a few moments, then began
pulling things away from the hole. Furniture and the odd knickknack. I put things all over, in the far corners,
or the bathroom. I covered them with sheets, and took a few items and weighed the sheets down. Then I looked up
at the hole and the tree, and hoped for the best.
I grabbed my backpack and slung it over my back, then grabbed the gym bag. But when I opened the door---well, the storm
moved fast. How long had I taken? A few minutes? Even in that time, the rain and wind picked up, enough
to make the heavy rain blow almost parallel to the ground. The blast caught me, and I staggered and slammed the door
shut. I was dripping wet and gasping for breath. I couldn't go anywhere.
Too dangerous to go...too dangerous to stay? Just then, part of the roof peeled back. I could look up past the
tree into the dark sky. I dived against the far wall and looked up as the rain hit my face. Was it safe even here?
Something banged outside. I crawled over to the
door, which flew open as I tugged on it. Somebody stood there. A bolt of lightning lit up the frame as I looked
He knelt down and grabbed me with both hands, a tight grip on my shoulders. "You shouldn't be here, Al!" he
said, shouting to be heard over the noise of the storm. "You should have gone to the Shelter!"
"I thought---I thought I---"
mind! Too late to get out now! Wait for a lull!" He pulled me along, into the bathroom, then slammed
the door shut. The sound of the wind picked up. It was pitch dark and I had crammed a lot of junk in there.
Keth put me down on the floor next to the door, then sat down next to me.
Keth put his arms around me. He was wet; water dripped from him onto me, but I was wet, too. I put my head on
his chest and cried. "I'm sorry!" I said. "I should have gone!"
"Too late now. Wait till it slows down."
I took a deep breath, got myself under control, nodded---I didn't know if he could see or feel it---then said, "All right."
We huddled together for a few minutes as the wind and
rain roared across the building, the noise of them punctuated by thunder. I felt Keth shivering. I said, "Weren't
you out fishing?"
"Dave and I came back,"
Keth said. "Spotted the storm coming. We ran up to the hills, ran into Sally and Leona. They said you
were here. What were you doing?"
uh, I said I would take care of your house."
"Mmm." He was silent for a moment, then patted my shoulder. "Good try, but you shouldn't.
I can't leave you alone. You don't know enough."
"I'll stay and see
you're all right."
"From now on?"
"From now on."
Keth said, "I will open the door
a little, see how the storm is going." He let me go and knelt at the door and opened it a crack. The
noise went up. Maybe it was a little lighter in intensity, but not by much. I caught a glimpse of his face in
a couple of flashes of lightning; he was dripping wet and had an intense expression I couldn't identify. The rain blew
in on us.
In a loud shout, Keth said, "Not
yet! Not yet! Bad storm! Know anything?"
"Just that it was coming!" I shouted back. "Will the eye pass over us?"
"The eye?" I caught the puzzled expression on his face in another lightning flash. "This is a hurricane?"
"That's what I was told! Didn't you know?"
"Oh!" He closed the door. "We
stay here till we are sure it's gone. Roof might come off, but the walls are fine."
We were silent after that. We didn't have anything more to say. We both listened to the wind and rain as it slapped
against the house. Creaks and moans from the roof and walls. We had no light, and neither of us suggested lighting
Keth kept his arms around me. I
leaned against him. It felt good to do so. Despite the storm, I felt happy, happier than any time since I got
to Cove Island. It felt funny to be happy in the middle of the storm, but I couldn't help myself.
At some point we must have fallen asleep, even with
the storm blowing around us. But we both woke up and jumped up at the same time---as the door opened and let in some
The storm had stopped. I could hear
the drip-drip of water, but no sound of wind or rain. Keth and I both looked up as the light shined in on us.
We blinked in the light, unable to see for a moment or two.
"They're here!" a voice shouted. My eyes adjusted after a few blinks and I could see again. It was Paul
standing there, the boy I talked with the night before. The night before? Was it the same day?
Before Keth or I could say anything, someone else appeared the door. Mr. Thaddeus. He looked at us and put on
a big smile and clapped his hands together. "Good! You made it through!" He held out a hand to
me and helped me to my feet. Keth let go of me and got to his feet on his own. "Glad to see you're all right."
"What happened, sir?" I asked.
"Big storm," he said. "Big blow. Eye of storm miss us, but pretty bad. Lots of damage, but,
we think, everybody made it through." His smile turned to a sharp and stern downturn of his mouth. "Why
did you stay here? Sally and Leona, they said you wanted to set things right, but you were coming. When you didn't
come---you shouldn't risk your lives here."
Keth started to speak, but Mr. Thaddeus held up a hand and said, "You, young man, you should have taken her to the Shelter
"I'm sorry, sir, sorry,"
I said, nervous and stuttering a little over the words. "My fault, all my, my fault. You didn't, er, didn't
send anybody, anyone looking for us?"
the storm was less bad we would have." His sternness melted a little. "You two did the right thing,
taking Shelter here. But you two should have gone straight for the Shelter."
We came out of the bathroom. The house did take considerable damage. The roof was peeled back, fallen in in parts.
Everything inside was drenched with water. It looked just awful.
Mr. Thaddeus looked us over, and said, "You two look all right to walk to the Shelter. Don't dawdle on the way,
go straight there. Once Doctor Milton says you're in good health, you two can join cleanup and repair. Till then,
I gathered up my inner strength, took
a deep breath, and said, "Sir, there's one more thing we have to tell you."
He looked at me. Keth looked at me, too, that familiar odd confused expression on his face. Before either of them
could speak, I took Keth's arm and slipped mine under it. "We're engaged."
It was towards the end of the day. The sunset was magnificent, all reds and yellows among the whites and blues.
Over on the other side, where the storm went, it was dark still.
The storm was passed, but the damage had been done. We saw a lot of smashed-up roofs and, up in the farm country, torn-up
plants and trees. It was a sobering sight.
Nobody was out and about yet. We walked alone, picking around fallen brush in the road. Keth's arm was around
my shoulder. I slipped mine around his waist. I think we fit pretty well together, this way.
"We get a good meal," Keth said. "See Doctor Milton. Then we join a team that will clean up.
Lots to be done."
"And after that?"
"Then life goes back." He looked at
me. "Back to normal. Normal for here. I don't know what normal is off the island. I've never
His sentences dropped back into
something closer to proper English. He was being serious again. I nodded and said, "Off the island, there
would have been a lot of electrical wires down on the ground. They're pretty dangerous to clean up."
It was his turn to nod, and after that we walked along in silence for a while, just taking in the devastation. After
a time, I said, "You're not upset about your house, Keth?"
"No, these things happen." He smiled. "Besides, you saved most of my stuff."
We paused our conversation for a while. But I had one thing I wanted to bring up, and I forced myself to. "When
I told Mr. Thaddeus we were engaged, you didn't argue."
"I didn't want to. I love you, Al."
"I love you, too, Keth."
did we get engaged? I want to know that. How did we get engaged, Al?"
I sighed. "In the middle of the storm, you said you were going to stay with me to see I was all right. You
remember?" When he nodded, I went on. "I said, ‘From now on?' and you said, ‘From now on.'"
I paused to let that sink into his mind for a moment. Then I said, "I'm taking that as a proposal, Keth."
"I...ah, I guess it is a proposal, all right."
He grinned. "No telling how long before I asked you."
"Well, never mind. It's done. We're engaged. And I'm staying here with you."
He kept grinning. "When do you want to get married, Al?"
"Give it a little time. But not forever. We'll work it out as it comes."
Still he had a grin on his face. I put one on mine. He was happy and I was happy. And maybe it wasn't a
bad way to start a relationship. Grinning.