For perhaps seven weeks he had withered in rain and sun, floating unaware over shoals of fish, eating and eaten. Stretched between sleeps, he crossed mountain ranges speckled with the white fragments of other shipwrecks, crockery and skulls mingling in the murk, the smooth metal shrouds of fighter pilots picked clean by crabs and perched on by others. He hadn’t been alone, not at first, though in some ways McCrindle was always alone. The moon acted as witness, then ally, tidal currents sweeping him toward a cloud wreathed coast, the sea lightening with his spirits.
Then on the beach, fresh company. Another had made it, another who helped him ashore with welcoming hands and a voice hoarse from silence.
Here there was shelter, fronds of brown and green carpeting the dusty cave just up from the tide line, where Kirsty had made her home. There for a good month before him, she had harvested wild nuts and bananas for the season ahead, their piles arranged in faces to cheer her on to further foraging, more seeds meaning more company in the small dark space. So McCrindle lay on the cool green leaves, surrounded by edible emotions, dead eyes watching his every cough and crap, waiting for the shakes to pass and skin to heal. With every mouthful of seaweed and breadfruit he felt stronger and safer, but with every mouthful, he wanted more.
They had no fire; this was a tiny atoll, a castaway island, a pimple on the Pacific. No refuse littered the beach, just the odd bit of wood or rope, and the wrecked boat he’d washed up in. There was no glass or metal to shine or rasp into smouldering light, elasticated waists meant no buttons or zips. He shook his head, if only he’d rebelled normally as a teenager, some piercings would be seriously helpful right now. And nowhere near as much trouble as everything else.
Sometimes she caught fish in rock pools, eagerly nibbling the fresh pink sashimi, sucking small eyes, drying strips in the sun, pale imitations of his favourite Arbroath smokies. But he never ate those, nor the shell fish and clams from the cerulean shallows, or the grubs creamily writhing in the rotting ribs of the boat.
The fruits of the island sated him.
Weeks passed, and the sea beckoned. Regaining his strength, he soon stretched to a stroll down the shore, pissing in the sea instead of shells in the shade, saving Kirsty a job. Earning shy smiles. He noticed her nut brown skin, constellations of freckles kissing her shoulders and the bridge of her nose. The curve of her calf, the swing of her hip. The sweet, salt smell of her, close in the cave. She was beautiful.
They flattened the undergrowth together, different places every time, hoping a plane might see the disturbance and swing lower for a closer look. Snakes were easily dealt with, a well-aimed rock meaning Kirsty ate well that night. Hours were spent remembering favourite foods of old, Kirsty keen on kebabs and fish suppers.
Ants were avoided, beetles too, and spiders regarded with healthy respect. Anything that thinned the black clouds of flies that tormented them at night was precious beyond belief. He had thought the summer midges were bad, but this … it was enough to drive a man mad. Sometimes, in the dark, he heard her weeping in her sleep, dreaming of home and a buzz-free bedroom. Sometimes, he dreamt too, but that was a darker place, best not remembered.
Then one day, it happened. They were bored with their diets, bored with the same tastes and sensations. McCrindle had thought he saw a bird taking twigs to a branch nearby several days in a row. Nesting, he reckoned, perhaps it was the season here. They waited a while, peering and hoping, until both were convinced. McCrindle was perhaps a foot taller than her, and though recovered, nowhere near as fit and able as she. It was decided, and, with a laugh and a kiss, Kirsty climbed too far up a rough barked tree. There was a ripping creak, a scream, and she lay draped in a green shroud of branches and descended leaves, their undersides pale in the unaccustomed sun.
McCrindle lifted the larger boughs off her, dislodging what looked like a mud-brown hat filled with eggs so they rolled about in grim parody of childhood Easters. Kirsty groaned as he carefully moved them to the side, for later. Both her legs had an extra joint. Would she move like a crab, scuttling sideways on the sand? He shook his head, rattling the thought out like water after a swim.
Red ran lustrous down her arm, a small tear giving entry from her finger above. Her hand was limp across her chest. A big green fly zuzzed down for a drink, and was batted away. If he wiped the red away, the flies would only land on him, on his hands or his clothes. Leaf sap might make things worse. Concern persuaded him, it was the right thing. He lowered his head, licking and lapping, the warm salt scarlet tingling in his mouth, saliva surging, pooling under his tongue, itching his teeth, urging his lips to suck the sore bit, to squeeze out more, to…
Stop. What was he doing?
Shaking his head at his folly McCrindle carefully gathered her up in his arms, and carried her to the safe shadows of the cave. Moving the larger shells to the side, he spread clean green across the floor, then positioned the girl precisely. Not even a sigh from her now, just the gurgle of his stomach rumbling. Licking quivering lips, he studied her curves, eyes feasting on the soft brown mounds of her chest. Then he saw the fly landing on the clean white of her eye, and though Kirsty was past caring, he flicked it off. Nobody likes a fly in their food.
published 5 September 2011