When he spoke, she didn’t understand the words. She wasn’t even sure at first that it had been him she heard. Four days without water under the blazing sun had left his voice scratchy and low. Hers would, of course, be no better. Neither had spoken for nearly forty-eight hours. But what was there to say? They were lost at sea, the sail was in tatters, the motor was dead, and the radio was shot. Worst of all, the small bit of food and water they’d had on board hadn’t survived the surprise storm. So what good was more talking, yelling, cursing, and blaming? Deeply burned, badly dehydrated, starving, and sapped of nearly all energy, they lay with eyes closed and waited for death—she on the foredeck, he amidships by the broken mast.
But he had spoken. She convinced herself that he had in fact broken the crippling monotony of motionless ache and despair. The muscles in her neck cramped, refused to move. She opened one eye to find him looking at her. He sat with his bare back against the ragged stump of the mast. She mouthed the word, “What?”
He closed his eyes, took several shallow breaths then whispered again. She couldn’t hear him, but she knew what he had said. “I have a gun.”
Of course he did. He was an important man who made a lot of money. It would be foolish to go about unarmed.
His head lolled and he seemed to drift off. After a long time, he said. “Want me to get it?” This, she heard.
Forcing her stiff neck to move, she nodded. It was the right thing to do. She had read somewhere that, under conditions such as these, a human could live for six or seven days without food or water. That meant they could last another day or two and she knew she wasn’t strong enough for that. If either had the strength to get to the gun and do the deed, that would be for the best.
She thought at first that he wasn’t aware of her response but, eventually, he leaned forward and began to crawl toward the hatch, pulling himself along with excruciating slowness. His manicured fingernails dug into the polished teak planks, splitting and tearing.
So this is it, she thought. Twenty years together ends not at home, warm in bed, but somewhere south of Key West, adrift beneath a brutal late-summer sun. Of course, their time together wouldn’t have ended at home anyway. He had made that quite clear. It would have ended just a few months down the road in a courtroom or a lawyer’s office. That was why they were here.
The all-day excursion was supposed to have been an early anniversary celebration, but it had really been nothing more than an excuse for him to get her alone and break the news that he was leaving her for an intern at his company. He had been afraid that, receiving the news elsewhere, she would have made a scene, embarrassed him. Out here on the open sea, it wouldn’t matter. She could cry and rant and scream and no one would see or hear.
“What am I supposed to do?” she had asked, her makeup already ruined by tears.
“You’ll get the agreed upon settlement,” was his response.
But the amount specified in the prenuptial agreement wouldn’t be enough. It had seemed like a fortune when she was just a naïve college student with no real world experience. Now, however, she knew that it wouldn’t last a year. And, with no children from the union (there had never been time), there would be no extra money. She’d have to move out of their house, get a job, find an apartment, give up so much. Her world as it had been for two decades was over.
And she had no illusions that her friends would stand by her. They were all from his world and had only tolerated the rural-born bumpkin because she had been the love of their friend’s life. Once word of the impending divorce spread, her abandonment wouldn’t be instant, but it would be quick and thorough. For the first time in her life, she would be utterly alone. And how would she survive? She had no skills, no college degree, and, beyond the paltry settlement, no resources. Her fall would be sudden, terrible, and irrevocable.
Even with all these thoughts tormenting her, she hated herself for not seeing the warning signs. Maybe, if she’d had some vague idea that things weren’t as perfect as she’d thought, the pain would have been bearable. Perhaps she wouldn’t have raged against the news, wouldn’t have let the argument go on so long, and they would have made it back to port before the freak squall. But she hadn’t seen the signs and now she was minutes away from putting a bullet in her head to end the worst pain she had ever felt.
She slowly opened her eyes. The sky had gone banded vermillion and crimson. There are worse things to be looking at when you die, she thought.
At least she’d never have to meet the little home wrecking tramp. She’d never have to know exactly what she looked like or how happy she made him. She’d never have to hear about how happy he was now.
She stared at the horizon, awed and soothed by its beauty. And then she saw it... A boat. A big boat. Orange and white. Coast guard?
Instinctively, her hand groped for the flare gun. There were still two flares left. If she fired both, surely someone on the ship would see. They’d turn the boat, find them, save them.
She heard him behind her, moving, crawling, pulling himself toward her. The metal of the revolver clanked and scraped on the deck. She kept her eyes on the horizon. Her fingers tightened on the grip of the flare gun. Somehow, she sat. Her head was heavy, her vision blurred, focused, and blurred again. She leaned forward. The boat seemed to swell in her vision.
“What is it?” he asked. He was looking at her from below, his back now against the base of the broken mast. The gun was to his temple. “What is it? Do you see something?”
“No,” she whispered. “Nothing.”
© 2012 Lee Wright
Lee Wright is a fat, surly, bald man who lives near Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his beautiful wife (who is only a little surly) and son (who is not at all surly and has made his parents considerably less surly). His play, Haint Blue, won the grand prize at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's 2008 Festival of New Plays. His short stories have appeared in, or are forthcoming in, Metal Scratches, MicroHorror, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Literary Juice, Apocrypha and Abstractions, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Word Riot, Linguistic Erosion, Foliate Oak, and others
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