Sometimes an event can punch a hole to show the darkness beyond. Short Shots March 2019
This is a story of Mia and me in the summer of 1975.
I was fifteen when Dad carried her in from the sea on that stormy evening.
The house was creaking with the whistling wind when there was a pounding on the door. Mom jumped screaming and dropped the dish she was drying. It shattered on the floor adding to the cacophony.
I strode to the door and yanked it open. Dad, his rain coat glistening, shouldered in with a slim teenage girl in his arms, her long black hair smelling of the sea. Lips blue, eyes closed, her arms swinging like a broken pendulum; I thought she was dead.
Mom rushed to get towels. Dad laid her on the sofa, took off his raincoat, and looked at me. “She ain’t dead, but we need to get her out of these clothes. Go in the kitchen and boil some water...and stay there till we call you.”
When Dad finally yelled I could come back, she was asleep on the couch wearing Mom’s pjs which made her look even smaller, almost like a child. Her hair was wrapped in a towel and some color was back in her face. Mom was trying to pick sand off the girl’s face with a warm cloth when she asked me, “Do you know her?”
I stared at the small oval face with the button nose and upward slanting eyes. My heart throbbed. “I’ve never seen her before. What are we going to do?”
“I’ll put here in your bed and watch over her. Sleep with your daddy tonight, sweetheart. Tomorrow, we’ll see if she needs a doctor.”
Next morning, I woke up with a cicada on the screen window screaming for a female. I yelled and it flew away, my response not what it was living its last month for. I remembered the previous night, jumped out of bed, and pulled my jeans on.
The smell of Mom’s chicken soup with turnips told me no doctor was needed; our guest was well and hungry. She smiled at me in an embarrassed way, extended her hand, and said, “Your mother told me all about what happened last night. Thank you for all you’ve done, Paul. My name is Mia.”
As I took her hand, I felt the callouses and coolness. “Nice to meet you, Mia. I’m Paul.” Mom giggled and Mia’s smile broadened as I felt my face burn. “Yeah, ah...are you okay?”
Mom laughed her deep body shaking laugh. “Yes, she’s fine, Paul. Sit down and have some breakfast.”
I was itching to ask her questions, but waited until we’d finished eating and Mom cleaned up. Over our second cup of coffee, I finally asked, “So, Mia, what happened?”
She stared at her coffee before replying, “My friend, Hideki, and I rented a boat for a few days. We were foolish and got caught in the storm as we were heading back to the harbor. We were on the deck when a wave swept me overboard. He threw a life saver, but I couldn’t see it. Then, he jumped in. The last thing I saw was the boat coming down on the crest of a wave straight toward us. I had a life jacket on, and I’m a strong swimmer, but even then I almost didn’t made it to shore. I must have passed out then. I could have been swept out to sea. I owe my life to your father.”
I turned to Mom. “Have they found her friend?”
She shook her head and laid a hand on Mia’s shoulder. “The Coast Guard has found the boat, but he wasn’t on it. The Shore Patrol is still searching.”
I knew there was slim hope of finding him alive. Tears were welling up in Mia’s eyes. I didn’t know what to say, for I envied a dead man.
Mia took a deep breath. “Mrs. Houston, it’s asking a lot from you after all you’ve done, but could you lend me some money? Just enough for me to get back to the mainland and bus fare to get home to my parents?”
“Of, course, dear.”
“I promise I’ll return it as soon as I get there.”
“Don’t worry about that, but you should stay here for a few days.”
I knew what my mother was thinking. The authorities needed to question her and to identify the body if it turned up.
“Thank you. I don’t know how to repay you for everything.”
“We’re just doing what any proper person would do.”
After breakfast Uncle Al, our sheriff, came over. My Mom’s only brother was like her on the big size only all muscle. I wanted to be like him, for my frame came from my father’s side, tall and slim. Once, I got angry at Al for calling me Reed. He asked to speak to Mia alone, so Mom and I left the kitchen.
Not long after, my uncle entered the living room, and told us he was going back to his office. Giving me a look that told me he wanted to speak to me outside, I followed him to his car.
He put a hand on the door handle and said, “Paul, keep an eye on that girl. Keep this a secret. She might be involved in a crime, so don’t get her spooked.”
When I got back inside the house, Mia asked, “Paul, could you take me for a walk along the shore?”
Before I could answer, Mom cut in, “She’s needs to get outside, Paul. Show her the charm of a fishing village.”
“Okay, let’s go, Mia.”
As we were about to open the porch door, Mom shouted, “Wait! Mia take this sweater. The wind from the sea can be chilly.”
Mia turned to take the sweater with a big smile. “Thank you Mrs. Houston.”
As we stepped outside, Mom shouted, “Lunch is at noon.”
We strolled and I pointed out the small harbor and the fishing boats. I sensed she wanted to say something and waited for her to speak.
“Paul, did your uncle tell you... tell you to watch out... That I might be a criminal?”
“He told me to keep an eye on you.”
“I thought so. He’s very perceptive, you know. And, he was right. I’ve been involved in crimes. I’m going to turn myself in. I want you to know I didn’t want to be bad. I guess I trusted people too much; people I thought were trying to change the world for the better.”
“Was your friend on the boat one of them?”
“Yes and no. He was like me. The others are killers. I could never kill anyone, and I know he couldn’t have either. When the others turned to violence, we decided to get out. When they found out, they came after us. We stole the boat to escape.”
“You were a member of a terrorist group!?!”
“Yes. I regret it so much.”
“I believe you. I’ll go with you to Uncle Al’s office. You’re still young. You can start a new life. I’ll help.”
She let out a gasp and pointed. “They’re here!”
My eyes followed her finger and saw two strangers coming our way. They started running.
I grabbed Mia’s arm and pulled. “Mia, this way.” Running while looking back, Mia stumbled, fell, and pulled me down. Sky and sand rolled. I pulled her up and we dashed to Dad’s boat. When the pair saw us getting into the boat, they reversed direction. I saw they were going to chase us in another boat.
From the pier, we climbed down the ladder and into the boat. I pointed to the life jackets and yelled, “Put one of those on.” As soon as Mia sat down I opened the throttle to the limit and leaned into the wind. Mia, her long hair streaming toward me, shouted over the roar of the engine, “Where are we going?”
I yelled, “Another island. We can’t go into town. They’ll cut us off... The island is like a jungle. We can lose them.”
“They’ve got a boat. They’re coming after us!”
“The island’s not far. We’ll beat them.”
The old boat was jumping over the waves and every time in came down water rushed in. Dad never pushed it this hard. I prayed the boat would hold together.
Mia pointed. “They’re catching up! Go faster.”
“It’s going as fast as it can.”
There was another boat far away. I could tell it was racing after us, yet each minute the boat with the killers grew a little bigger. I cursed myself to think of something, cursed the boat, cursed the world.
We reached the cliffs at the tip of the island. I steered the boat straight to the tiny beach two hundred yards ahead, and yelled, “Mia, hang on. As soon as the boat stops, jump out and head for the trees.”
The screech of wood scraping volcanic sand told me I’d chosen the right spot. The boat came to a smooth stop. We jumped into knee deep water and waded up and onto the beach. The trees were just a few yards ahead. Three shots rang out, two puffs of dust burst off her jacket, and she fell.
I yelled out her name and dropped down next to her. Life was draining out and soaking the sand. I turned her over. Mia smiled and whispered, “Thank you for believing me.”
The two killers were on the beach. One was coming our way with a pistol. The one with the rifle was aiming toward Uncle Al’s boat. He got off two shots before a single shot from Uncle Al nailed him. His partner turned around. Another shot kicked him backward onto the sand.
Uncle Al and his two man crew took the three bodies and me back.
Every night I had dreams beginning in bliss and ending in nightmare with that chase in Dad’s boat. Day light wasn’t much better for the sea was in every direction. After a week, I grabbed a can of gasoline and took off with Dad’s boat for that beach. When I got there, I pushed the boat out of the water, poured out the gasoline, and tossed in a flaming book of matches. The flames heated my face, but my heart was frozen.
Sitting where Mia had fallen, I faced the sea. The wind blew the black smoke into my face and stung my eyes, but the tears were already flowing.