“Can you see the outline of the cliffs?” The captain called. I strained my eyes towards the horizon, nothing. I slowly shake my head, my eyesight fixed on the setting sun. He shrugs, “Well anyway, we’re almost there.” The bobbing of the ship skipping over the ocean’s current seems to be the only movement emitting from the seven passengers. The captain and his two aides have made a decent enough effort to keep to themselves. But even the Doctor’s orders are not enough to keep their curiosity at bay. “Have any of you seen pictures of the island?” one of the wards asks my mother. She doesn’t acknowledge him, her eyes stubbornly focused on the horizon. Defeated, the young ward walks back to the accommodator. The four of us are alone on the deck, each in our territorial corners. Each of us bobbing quietly towards the skyline.
As I stepped onto the narrow pier, the boards creaked under my foot as if woken from their slumber. They couldn’t have been stepped on in at least 40 years based on the state of the small landform. We were dropped off at the farthest island from the mainland in the archipelago. The entire island was about the size of a three-bedroom house with the North point facing open waters. The shrinking passenger boat was the only definable form in the distance. The rest of the island was covered in scattered birch trees left to grow in untidy lines amongst the tall cattails surrounding the sand. The barren coast was not worth concern though, even in its isolation it seemed familiar. The echo coming from the wind snapping through the tall Birch and the waves crashing against the sand was the only sound afforded to us.
My brother was the first to talk.
“I think I’m going to be sick”, he whined. “The Doctor warned you that would happen, your body isn’t used to the altitude,” A pause. “You never listen.” He simply looked up at me, his eyes red with strain. His eyebrows furrowed in frustration but he never responded. My father sat on the grass facing the small line of Birch trees that divided the coast from the forest. His hands brushed over the tall blades of grass as the wind blew his hair in every direction. As I watched him he slowly opened his eyes and I examined how his cream-colored wool sweater brought out the green in his eyes. For a moment, there was a look of peace on his face that I hadn’t seen in years. It blew away with the wind and he resumed his frustration. I wanted to ask him what he had thought about before he opened his eyes but there was no point. Whatever dreamlike state had possessed him was gone. I sighed.
“Don’t sigh,” My mother scolded from the pier, “Do you think the rest of us are happy to be here?” In a constrained voice I replied, “We all agreed to do it, remember?” She didn’t care to respond. I couldn’t let it go, “Really? Do you really believe that’s an acceptable solution to the problem?” Silence. “Am I the only one that understands the point of this?” My family sat in uncomfortable stillness, “We’re supposed to talk about it. There’s a reason that there are no distractions here, mom. You can’t just ignore everyone- you don’t have a choice.” She snapped her head to face me. “Don’t talk to me like that,” I could see the anger rising in her, “If I don’t want to answer you I have that right. You don’t get to dictate what I do, you are not my mother I’m yours.” I hear my brother scoff from the tree line, his body weight leaning on a small birch, “How could you say that?”. Refusing to respond, My mother turns her head back to the waves as they begin to fall harder. “You can’t call yourself our mother.” My father’s hands stop over the grass. His fingers now slowly sinking into the dirt, “You need to control yourself. Now.” I have to laugh, “Because you’re really in a position to tell us how to control ourselves?” The scar on my thigh begins to sting. He doesn’t respond, he just continues to rip little blades of grass from the ground. “Robert, you can’t let them talk to you like that.” My mother looks at him in dissatisfaction.
The bellowing force of the winds echoed through the shoreline. “I say we should all just stop talking for now and try to build a fire. I don’t think the wind is going to get any warmer tonight,” Sam calls from the shoreline. He pushes himself off the Birch and starts to gather sticks on the sand. “I’ve already got some kindling,” my father’s hands open to reveal a collection of dried grass. The three of us start to discuss the mechanics of starting the bonfire while my mother stands on the pier, refusing to move. We ignore her. Within minutes, we have a small fire isolated within a circle of smooth black stones.
The four of us are sitting at an uncomfortable closeness as we struggle to get our share of the warmth. Trying to distract myself from my mother shuffling obnoxiously in the sand, I focus my attention on the flame. The small hearth flickering passively in the breeze seemed like a mirage. I’m taken back to the days of my childhood when my father and I would camp in the pacific forests surrounding our house. “Why are the flames blue?” I asked my dad. “Well, when the wood is really really wet with salt, it makes the fire change colors.” My brain was so excited with the new information but all I could manage to let out was, “Oh.” He always seemed to know the answer to everything. Why rainbows always came after a storm, why the Moon changed shapes, or why mom wasn’t home that night. I can’t remember when he stopped knowing the answer to things but I do remember when we stopped camping.
Fighting a headache now, I lie on my back over the coarse sand. The stars are brilliant tonight. Shining with all their strength, the sky resembles the jewelry stores my mother and I frequented on our mother-daughter dates when she’d check me out of kindergarten early. I didn’t notice Sam laying next to me.
“How come there are more stars in the sky here?”
“Those stars are always there. We just can’t see them from home because there’s too much light.”