After midnight there was no traffic on the road separating the condo from the beach but we couldn’t see the ocean; we could only hear the waves slapping the sand.
“I think that’s Orion’s Belt,” I commented as though I knew the constellations well. Above were zillions of stars in a moonless night.
Jane had tired of gin and was onto something she’d brought over in a small ziplock bag. Thyroid medicine, she claimed which I doubted very much. She just didn’t want to share.
Neither she nor Kathy had anything to say about the stars and left my nitwit comment to drift on the waves. My stepmother was composing her husband’s obituary as we sat on lounge chairs on the second story deck. “I think we should mention that Bob graduated from a high school in Montana that only had fifteen students. With honors; he graduated with honors.”
She’d been mortified, simply mortified earlier that day to hear that a reporter from the Reno Gazette had already called the local Island Garden News to enquire about the circumstances of Dad’s death. “Heavens knows what they might say! We must immediately return to the condo to begin work on a proper obituary,” she’d informed us. We’d gone to the newspaper’s basement offices to buy an ad thanking all the gallant lifeguards, coast guard divers and firemen who’d prevented my father from floating to China as was his wish. But she wanted “no publicity.”
“Considering he had a PhD you don’t need to mention that he was first in a class of fifteen in Padookie Flats Montana. . . ”
“But he was so proud of that high school.” The phone rang and off she ran. “A very rude woman at the police station said they had to wait for the results of the autopsy before issuing his death certificate and that it could take a month! A month! I cannot believe how lazy and incompetent these Hawaiians are!” She said to whoever it was, probably her lawyer.
I took another gulp of gin.
“You never learn do you?” Jane whispered. “Padookie High School. . . sheesh. Just shut up.”
Two weeks earlier I’d dreamt that I died in bed in the middle of the night. I felt my heart fumble over itself and gurgle to an inglorious end, then it whimpered like a trapped animal and sobbed for the loss. I screamed “wake up” at my husband thinking he might be able to save me but he snored on. So I rose from bed and floated to the window. There, across the gully, I saw billions of streams of light rising vertically towards what I assumed to be a life giving force. I was not connected to a stream of light nor was I connected to time. I raced along commuter trains as the sun rose and fell and rose and fell like a hummingbird’s hyperactive wing. I searched for a door in the sky and found only a keyhole which I could not pass through and so I stayed in my bedroom until another woman came along and got into my bed. I woke with a thud as though I’d fallen from an airplane.
The dream stayed vivid in my mind through that day and I wrote it down and sent it to a Carol. “This is the best thing you’ve ever written,” she wrote back, “perhaps dying has been good for you.” Then I rewrote it after hearing of my father’s death and she said “You’ve ruined it.”
Jane spotted a pen light prick on the beach. From the way it bounced around, we concluded it had to belong to someone taking a walk with a flashlight. “That’s a good idea,” said Jane. “I think I’ll join him.” She’d evidently gotten the downwind whiff of a man.
“That’s not a good idea.”
“You don’t believe Kathy’s stories about the islanders raping white women.” That wasn’t what worried me. “I’ll be back at daybreak.”
I watched the light from her flashlight as she crossed the street and descended onto the beach. Soon the two lights were merged.
“Where’s Jane?” Kathy asked later.
“She had a rendezvous.”
My stepmother liked that word and asked no further.