By Justus E. Taylor

2,250 Words

Copyright © 1997 by Justus E. Taylor

       The honest, unfiltered Caribbean sun is flooding the window of the six-passenger seaplane, intermittently lighting a fire in the half-carat diamond engagement ring on Annette's finger, a ring that is now sharing the finger with a wedding band, while she holds down the pages of a pocket book by Gordon Mazrui, the Kenyan philosopher, which she is reading in between taking long stares across the little aisle at her new husband, the poet Raymond Perciville whose black Labrador guide dog, Shakespeare, lies patiently in the aisle as Raymond sleeps behind his dark glasses, and while the pilot is returning these two tourists to Cable Beach in Nassau, from a tour of the out-island beaches, and he's having a bad day with only two paying passengers and a dog.

       Annette recalls their two-year courtship with a tingly sense of triumph and, seeing the corners of her Kotex pads parting the zipper edges of her carry-on bag, smiles at the thought that they'll have to take a breather, starting tonight or tomorrow. She remembers with joy how at the age of thirty-eight everything had changed. After having practically despaired of any man finding her to be the object of his lust, there came Raymond. Being a librarian had made it worse. She knew that the image was sterile, saddling her with a burden of proof that was a heavy tax on her one erotic asset, her d-cup chest. Other than her breasts, she was indeed as plain as any model of a librarian could be, with straight hips, a flat posterior, relatively broad shoulders and legs that were strong, but not shapely. She found her body to be excellently equipped for her hobby lap-swimming at the Albany New York YWCA, but the body had never attracted an eligible man, until Raymond. She didn't let herself take to heart the kidding some of her "friends" in the library system taunted her with,that she had had no chance with anybody but a blind man,since she knew that her relationship began with a mutual love of poetry, not carnal knowledge. They had started dating after a volume of his poems had so moved her that she had gone to hear him recite. His work reminded her of her beloved sixteenth-century English poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt,whose poems sang of love and lute music and longing.

       She was gleefully elated when she found out how sexual he was. This side of him, not so much romantic as ravenous, played well with her cherished secret fantasies of becoming a topless dancer. His poetry made her feel a passion in what she considered her finer side.

       At the beginning of their liaison she worried about making everything as easy as possible for him, assuming that he wanted help and sympathy. When they were out, of course she quietly read the menu to him. Later, she would offer to sort of round-up his food for him, meaning that she wanted to gather into one place the many small pieces of food he had scattered over his plate while eating, which he had no way of finding-at least not in an elegant manner. She would be constantly fearful that he would eat a fly and she'd be waving her hand over his plate so often that a disastrous collision was always eminent.

       She had to learn to expect his vaguely extended hand, when handing him something, and to hesitate just long enough for him to appraise its shape and grasp it securely. She observed some surprising facts about how he used Shakespeare, like the reality that the dog wouldn't lead him down a flight of stairs. Rather, he would stop at the top step, where Raymond would feel ahead by extending his foot, and then he would lead the dog down the stairs. However, that was by far less surprising to her than learning that Raymond didn't mind being blind. At least not in the way she imagined. In fact she sensed that he somehow enjoyed it! When she had once become courageous enough to ask him how he felt about not being a sighted person, he had answered philosophically, "I stand on my emotions. From here I can master even time itself!" She was deeply moved and had to get him into bed to fully express herself.

       The feelings she developed about Raymond did not impress her family at all. Her mother and father wrestled very poorly with the idea that their only daughter was going to get married at age forty. But they never put it like that. They bitterly criticized her for even considering taking on this burden of a man. A man whose income from writing poetry and a small trust fund left by his dead parents, wasn't nearly enough to support both her and himself. Anyway, they argued, at only thirty-seven years old he was far too young for her. Had she considered that if she got pregnant, they might have a blind baby? Wouldn't that be terrible?

       Annette would not be moved. Her take on their complaints was that since she had never married, she had become her parents' health insurance policy and they had planned the balance of their lives around having her to take care of them as they became older and incapacitated. Well, "too bad," she decided, and she and Raymond had a civil ceremony at City Hall just before this honeymoon trip to the Bahamas.

       Gordon Mazrui's paperback book had almost slipped fron her hands during her long reminiscence, but she gripped it more tightly now. As she began to read again, she could imagine the book being put into her luggage by her parents, even though she knew without a doubt that she had borrowed it from her own library, out of curiosity. Mazrui had little belief in human love. He postulated that the concept of love, being only a few hundred years old, while mankind was hundreds of thousands of years old, there was no likelihood that for the vast majority of humans the genes had caught up with the romantic idea. He argued that only some infinitesimal percentage of people, perhaps as few as one percent had the brain chemistry to allow for the tender and selfless emotions that all the songs, stories and poems took for granted the genes of the balance of the human race still demanded that the antecedents to mating be based on the economics of survival, just as they were for all other animals. He claimed that real lovers were actually freaks, mutations, who were being seduced by nature into trying to make the fad/fashion of love into a reality. He speculated that the notion of love might be completely discarded in as little as a century or two. He asked, "What has happened to communism?"

       Annette smiles inwardly, almost actually laughing out loud, a completely different reaction than she would have had to the book only three years earlier. Again, she stares across the aisle at the sleeping Raymond. She experiences a warmth inside, excitement, security. Shakespaere is still resting quietly on the floor.

       The first dip of the plane causes the two passengers to rise a modest three inches out of their seats and fall back again. It is not a dangerous event but it wakes up Raymond and Shakespeare, while causing Annette to rivet her attention on the pilot, who is in view just in front of them. The man is obviously struggling with some affliction. It's making him rise to his feet and stagger, clutch his chest, cry out in pain, gasp for air, cry out again and then fall forward against the controls. The seaplane is entering a slow acute-angled dive toward the ocean. Raymond is rising in his seat and calling out to Annette to know what is going on. Shakespeare is on his feet, looking at Raymond as if waiting for instructions. Annette is on her feet, sensing that they are going to crash. She is seizing her seat cushion, which she knows is a flotation device and she yells to Raymond to do likewise. At the same time she steps over to the plane's door, pivots the emergency handle causing the door to fly off the plane, and then reaches over and grabs Raymond by his shirt, pulling him to her at the open doorway. The plane hits the water, throwing the two passengers clear, along with their seat cushions. The force of the crash pitches Shakespeare forward to the cockpit where he and the pilot are trapped as the wreckage sinks below the water in a mere thirty seconds.

       When they surfaced Annette was happy to see that she and Raymond were only about fifteen feet apart. She quickly covered the distance. As she reached him she saw that he was as tense as any over-wound watch, desperately clutching his seat cushion to his chest. She was frightened too, but she worked to calm him with reassurances as to how calm and clear the waters were, allowing them to be easily spotted by a search. How buoyant the cushions were and there still was an hour or so to sundown...enough time for them to be found. As a powerful way of distracting themselves, she suggested that they might think about their several passionate honeymoon nights and the many more years of love making still to come.

       Raymond couldn't help constantly turning his head from side to side, like a fighter pilot in enemy skies. His ears substituted all his life for his lack of sight, as protective devices. Now, he heard nothing threatening, only Annette's calming words and the gentle sounds of the tiny waves of water. He couldn't stop himself from thinking that the plane crash was a dirty trick, as being born blind was a dirty trick that he had been forced to turn into an advantage. He did this by cultivating the deference with which sighted people treated him. They stepped aside to let him get to where ever he was going. They were reluctant to argue vigorously with him, about any subject. They always lent him money if he asked, even though he seldom if ever paid any money back. Even Shakespeare, a trained guide dog worth about twenty-five thousand dollars, had been a gift to him from the Guild. It was an advantage to him in his marriage to Annette. She always paid for everything, was eager to meet his every need and never complained to him, even if she didn't feel well. He was fully aware that there were homeless people, penniless people, people who were preyed upon by con-artists and the like, but he rarely had any worries about such matters. He was sort of a mascot of society and he enjoyed it!

       He listened to every word that Annette said. About the sea being calm. About possible rescue. About making love. He starts thinking about making love and suddenly he remembers that she said she was about to get her period! He knows, like everyone knows, that sharks are attracted by blood in the water. It's said they can smell it for miles! He can't repress the thought. He can't stop imagining the horror of being torn apart, of being eaten alive! At first he freezes with fear, but then becomes cunning. He realizes that it is imperative that he get away from her as soon as possible. He's explaining to her that he has to relieve his bladder and his bowels, and that he has to move away from her for this purpose. Resting his torso on his cushion, and paddling and kicking his feet, he moves about twenty feet away from her and she is yelling out to him that it's far enough; to stay put. He's thinking that right after sunset, he'll know by the lack of warming rays, he'll be able to propel himself away in the failing light before she realizes what is happening. He's remembering the half-carat engagement ring, but he can't think of a way to salvage it.

       Annette's mind raced over the survival possibilities as she was surfacing at the time of the crash. She immediately realized that her period was coming and she knew, just as Raymond did, about sharks and the smell of blood. She was concerned about Raymond getting away from her. She knew it was something she couldn't afford to let him do. Not if she was going to have any chance of surviving! So, for every foot that he paddles himself away in the fading daylight, she paddles a foot closer to him. She is calculating that if sharks show up there will be a fifty�fifty chance as to which of them they'll encounter first, and if there aren't many of them maybe they'll fill their bellies on Raymond and leave her alone. At least it's chance.


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