Adrift

The Odd Hallucination

raftThe days followed waking up, passing in and out of sleep, bored, coherent thoughts for most of the day, and the odd hallucination.

His wife’s voice was the first. Others came after that.

“What you really want right now is an ice cold beer.”

“Forget it. I know you’re not real.”

“Not that you mind.”

“No. I don’t mind.”

She was his ex-wife, he remembered. It wasn’t clear now, why they weren’t husband and wife anymore. “Why did we break up?” she asked him, on cue.

He shook his head. Who knew? “We drifted apart. You went your way, I went mine. The kids were grown. Remember that song by Billy Joel, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant? We parted the closest of friends.”

“You didn’t call last New Year’s Eve.”

“I was kissing someone else last New Year’s Eve.”

“And you feel guilty about it?”

A little. “No.” Yes. “A little.”

“You shouldn’t, you know. So was I.” But she had been thinking of him, too. “A little.”

“A little what?”

“Nothing.”

They’d only been divorced for three years. Maybe they’d get back together someday.

“Maybe,” she agreed.

His head went fuzzy. A minute passed, or maybe fifteen.

“What do you miss the most?” she asked.

He couldn’t stop thinking of drinks. When they drank champagne on their wedding day. When they drank wine on their cruise to the Bahamas. God, if he never got in a boat again…. Her sweet kisses. He knew he shouldn’t be so selfish. What the hell. He was dying.

What he really missed was holding her hand. For some reason it felt like home, every time. Even when it was sweaty and uncomfortable, I’d loved it. Right now he just wanted water. Somehow he said the right thing. “Holding your hand.”

“I miss your hugs. You always hugged me too long. I hated it then. I felt like you were suffocating me. I wanted you to let me go, give me room. The guy I’m with now doesn’t hug me like you did.”

He smiled. He felt his chapped lips cracking, but he smiled anyway. “Do you really mean that, or are you just saying it because you’re a hallucination?”

He imagined her half-grin. “Take what you can get, John.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

“Enough to call me if you get out of this?”

“First I want to call the kids.”

Silence.

“What?”

“Krissy knows something’s wrong. She always knew you better than anybody.”

If she knew, she could call the Coast Guard. Maybe there was a chance.

“There’s always a chance. Even for us.”

John opened his eyes. When had he slept? Inside the blazer it was pitch black, instead of light forcing its way through navy blue cotton. His legs felt cool. John pulled the blazer down. The moon was up, about two fists over the horizon. John didn’t know what time that meant, but he guessed it meant the night was young.

He Laughed Like Croaking Ravens

moon over oceanDew formed on the inside of the raft. John drank every drop he could find. He squeezed it out of his clothes, even his hair. The moisture tasted like heaven on his skin. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Starts stretched from one horizon to the other. John thanked God that the seas were calm. He wondered if search and rescue could see him more easily on a night like this.

He didn’t hear any planes.

“They need to be looking in the right place,” his son Jeremy said.

“Are you here now?” John asked.

“You mentioned search and rescue. I liked playing with planes as a kid.”

“That’s pretty thin.”

“Yup.”

It was weird, being sure he was here, yet not seeing him. He used to know he was about to fall asleep when he would catch myself thinking gibberish like a serious man. It was like that. He knew how crazy this was, but in the moment it made sense.

“Are you doing okay at college?”

“I graduated college five years ago.”

“Your voice sounds the same as it did then.”

“That’s the last time you saw me in person. I moved away.”

To the other side of the country. To play music in bars in Baja California.

“Don’t knock it ’til you tried it.”

“You know what? As long as you’re not strung out on drugs, all I care about is that you have a life and that you’re happy.”

“I wish you told me that.”

“I’m sorry.” He wanted to cry but the tears wouldn’t come.

“I’ll take them on faith,” Jeremy said.

“Thanks. If I get out of this–”

“When you get out of this.”

“Since when are you Mr. Positive?”

“You wouldn’t let me be any other way. Now it’s my turn.”

“When I get out of this. I’ll cry enough for both of us.”

“I know.” Pause.

“What’s up?”

“I never told you, I met a girl. We’re married.”

John sat up. He couldn’t see his son, but if he did he might’ve reached out and shaken him. “What? How the hell could you not tell me that?”

“It was an accident. I got her pregnant. We had to.”

“When?”

“Last year.”

He was glad that he had mixed feelings. Now, drying up like a raisin in the middle of the ocean, he didn’t want his last thoughts to his son to be about shame and honor and living responsibly. They were mixed regret that he hadn’t met her yet and regret that Jeremy had felt too ashamed to tell him.

“Boy or girl?”

“Boy. Little Jimmy.”

It was John’s turn to pause. “You named him after Hendrix?”

“He was our favorite musician for both of us. That’s how we met.”

John had to laugh. He sounded like croaking ravens, but he still laughed and it still felt good.

“I’m happy for you. Be a good dad. Be good to her.”

Warm feelings. “I will.”

The dream felt like it was ending.

“Wait for dawn,” Jeremy said.

“What?”

He became conscious again. The moon was two-thirds of the way across the sky. Other than water, John wished he had a book. In this moonlight, he might have been able to read.

Sometimes Your Answer Is Inside Your Problem

sea stormDew formed on the inside of the raft. John drank every drop he could find. He squeezed it out of his clothes, even his hair. The moisture tasted like heaven on his skin. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Starts stretched from one horizon to the other. John thanked God that the seas were calm. He wondered if search and rescue could see him more easily on a night like this.

He didn’t hear any planes.

“They need to be looking in the right place,” his son Jeremy said.

“Are you here now?” John asked.

“You mentioned search and rescue. I liked playing with planes as a kid.”

“That’s pretty thin.”

“Yup.”

It was weird, being sure he was here, yet not seeing him. He used to know he was about to fall asleep when he would catch myself thinking gibberish like a serious man. It was like that. He knew how crazy this was, but in the moment it made sense.

“Are you doing okay at college?”

“I graduated college five years ago.”

“Your voice sounds the same as it did then.”

“That’s the last time you saw me in person. I moved away.”

To the other side of the country. To play music in bars in Baja California.

“Don’t knock it ’til you tried it.”

“You know what? As long as you’re not strung out on drugs, all I care about is that you have a life and that you’re happy.”

“I wish you told me that.”

“I’m sorry.” He wanted to cry but the tears wouldn’t come.

“I’ll take them on faith,” Jeremy said.

“Thanks. If I get out of this–”

“When you get out of this.”

“Since when are you Mr. Positive?”

“You wouldn’t let me be any other way. Now it’s my turn.”

“When I get out of this. I’ll cry enough for both of us.”

“I know.” Pause.

“What’s up?”

“I never told you, I met a girl. We’re married.”

John sat up. He couldn’t see his son, but if he did he might’ve reached out and shaken him. “What? How the hell could you not tell me that?”

“It was an accident. I got her pregnant. We had to.”

“When?”

“Last year.”

He was glad that he had mixed feelings. Now, drying up like a raisin in the middle of the ocean, he didn’t want his last thoughts to his son to be about shame and honor and living responsibly. They were mixed regret that he hadn’t met her yet and regret that Jeremy had felt too ashamed to tell him.

“Boy or girl?”

“Boy. Little Jimmy.”

It was John’s turn to pause. “You named him after Hendrix?”

“He was our favorite musician for both of us. That’s how we met.”

John had to laugh. He sounded like croaking ravens, but he still laughed and it still felt good.

“I’m happy for you. Be a good dad. Be good to her.”

Warm feelings. “I will.”

The dream felt like it was ending.

“Wait for dawn,” Jeremy said.

“What?”

He became conscious again. The moon was two-thirds of the way across the sky. Other than water, John wished he had a book. In this moonlight, he might have been able to read.

Resolutions

The sun hit high noon. John kept his face and hands under his jacket. The heat was unbearable. He was probably sweating out all the water that he drank the night before. The inside of the raft was bone-dry no. His suit felt soaking wet. His joints rubbed raw, but he still kept it on. Having first-degree sunburn on top of dehydration and starvation was the last thing he and his pasty skin wanted.

John sang old songs from high school to pass the time. Stairway to Heaven, Brown Sugar. Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones had been his favorites. He was more lucid now than he’d been in days. He was also weaker, from lack of food. John wondered if Krissy really had started a search with the Coast Guard.

He smiled. In the best possible way, Krissy had the worst features of everyone in the family. She had her father’s stubbornness, her mother’s ass-kicking streak, and her brother’s rebelliousness. She worked as a firefighter in Atlanta, and she did have friends among the Coasties. If anyone could pull a few strings, or tie someone up in them, it was Kris.

He ticked off everyone he’d spoken to. He’d seen his ex-wife, who he hadn’t thought about in years. He spoke to his estranged son, who he’d never told how much he loved him. He let his deceased mother save his life, by doing what he feared the most. Who did he have left to make peace with?

“There’s plenty of time for that,” he said to himself. He thought about it some more. “Well… at least until I go into dehydration sickness again.”
The quiet lapping of the water against the raft answered him. He wished for at least a seagull to keep him company.

“If I get out of this, I’m buying a dog. And two parakeets. I never want to be alone again,” he said.

Silence.

“I can think of someone else I need to talk to,” he said.

He debated singing the song “My Way” as a joke, but he wasn’t ready to write himself off yet. The more he thought about it, the more the idea pissed him off anyway. Making peace with your life was one thing. Giving up was something else.

“Nope,” John said aloud. “Kicking, screaming, and swearing. That’s how they’ll drag me out of here. That’s the spirit, Johnny!” He fist-bumped himself under his blazer.

“What else, if I make it out of here. I’ll stay at the job… I’m no artist. I haven’t got the skills to start playing backup in Jeremy’s band. But I’m going to change how we do things at that godforsaken place or get fired trying.” He liked that idea.

“Volunteering. At the Food Bank.” He donated to it every year, but he’d never donated his time. “There but for the grace of God go I. Now that I know what hunger feels like, I don’t want other people feeling it if I can help it.”

Anything else?

“Maybe I’ll start looking to get married again. I’ll try harder this time.” He remembered his conversation with Evelyn. They’d both tried hard, but here, now, he wished he’d done better.

Anything that he wouldn’t do? Other than sea travel?

John scratched his head. “No. I think, all things considered, I did the best I could.”

Nice.

He peeked his head out from under his blazer. He looked around for a helicopter. There was nothing from horizon to horizon.

“Any time, now, guys. I’m right here,” he said.

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