Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Island

Ken sits at the table, crying. The hut is brightly lit by a hissing kerosene lantern, the centre of a whirling mass of bugs. The only sound to be heard from outside the hut is the chirping of a few cicadas. You don't hear and see other people on The Island. Not in 1964.

It is Ken's sixth night alone. A week ago, he felt like a man, sixteen years old and ready for anything. Ready even to work the family farm during the week, so Dad could get a paying job, things are so tight. So tight they can't even spare the price of a wireless radio to keep Ken company.

It isn't a real island, but that makes no difference. You can only get there by boat. The Island is surrounded by the mouth of the Calliope River to the east and south, the sea to the north, and impassable mud flats in between. The salty sea breeze is always mingled with the stink of mud and mangroves.

The days are a blur. The hard work, the clear sky and the sun help Ken forget his isolation. He talks to himself and sings Sunday School songs as he prunes fruit trees and tends the small crops.

The nights are long and dark and lonely. Ken had thought it would get better, but it didn't. Each night is worse than the last. The burden on his soul does not ease, it is only added to. Ken wonders how long he can continue like this, before he yields to the weight of his own pity.

“No!” Ken suddenly shouts at the table, thumping it with his fist. “No! No! No!” He wipes his eyes and cheeks with his sleeves. He stands up, pushing his chair back onto the ground. As he strides to the door, he sucks his nose clear of the teary snot, rasps it from his throat to his mouth, and then spits it out through the door, into the darkness. He stands a long time in the doorway, the breeze on his face, and resolves to be the fool of his emotions no longer.

Crying doesn't help. It won't change anything. It didn't bring my mother back, and it's killing me now. I'm not going to get through this life, dragging this load. It's over. It stops now.

And so Ken survives those nine months, working on The Island, in a kind of solitary confinement. Dad comes to help him each Saturday morning and takes him home to Gladstone in the afternoon. After the Sunday nap, he drops Ken back onto The Island for another week.

Ken never cries again, no matter the pain. He tells you today, "It did me a lot of good, my time on The Island: it taught me a lot about life."


Bernard said...

I wrote this story as an entry for the 2009 Curtis Coast Literary Carnivale Microstory competition. I didn't win, but it was the start of my renewed interest in writing, particularly short fiction.

Bernard & Esther said...

I entered too. I also didn't get picked from the thousands of entrants!!! And I was showing so much talent...