Shipwreck Baby

by Hannah Lackoff

The first time I met Jorry it was after the shipwreck, and I didn’t like him very much, but I had lacerations all over my hands and up and down my arms, and someone had to bandage them.

The plane we were on went down only an hour from Point B. Everyone else died, but there were two first aid kits in the wreckage of the cockpit.

Jorry and I were barely even hurt. We didn’t remember each other from the plane ride, but we’ll always remember each other now.

Later, on the beach, he told me he was gay and he was in a relationship, and they were getting married as soon as it was legal back home, but it didn’t matter, and I fell in love with him anyway.

When I was a kid I spent all my money on books and candy; candy and books. Eight dollars would buy me a new paperback, but Twizzlers were only eighty-nine cents. Life was filled with compromise and hard decisions.

More hard decisions: Brad or Jorry, Jorry or Brad?

His name wasn’t really Jorry, it was Jordan, but I got to call him Jorry because we were shipwrecked together alone on the island, and we were close like that.

Brad would love me forever, or at least have sex with me, but Jorry didn’t swing that way, and we only made out a few times when the loneliness and sexual frustration got so bad that he could close his eyes and imagine that I was a man. Those times were better for me than for him, because I didn’t have to imagine.

I decided I wanted to have a baby. A little island baby who would love me unconditionally and wouldn’t wake me up crying “Lewis Lewis Lewis” when he thought I wasn’t around. And what better time to start my family than right now, when I had loads and loads of free time, more free time than I even knew what to do with, and even though there was no medical care, Jorry could bandage my arms, so he would do fine.

It was like that book I read. All of those shipwreck stories, actually, with all of those ladies having babies in the wilderness, in the desert, on the beach. It seemed like there was always a pregnant lady on the ship or the airplane, or there was a steamy romance and it took a long time to be rescued and there were no condoms washed ashore.

It hadn’t really occurred to me to miss Brad so much, at least not like Jorry missed Lewis, but I have always been a Woman of Opportunity (Dad) with Questionable Morals (Mom).

I was glad Brad wasn’t with me. I liked thinking about him back home. It gave me something to live for in case we never got recused, never had a baby. Besides, what if he had died? Then I would have missed him. I wouldn’t be able to justify my feeling for Jorry by assuming Brad was drowning his sorrows over me with Sheila the Harlot from downstairs. I would just be missing him and missing him and missing him, and I would probably spend a lot of time sitting at his grave.

We put crosses on the graves, even though neither of us was religious. We just didn’t know what else to put. There were six. It was a small plane.

The second day, I got so sunburned I couldn’t sleep. After a week my skin peeled off like dried glue, like the game we used to play as kids where we would let the paste dry on our palms, then slough it off and pretend we were snakes shedding our skin. We tried to get it all in one long sheet. I wasn’t very good at the glue, but my burn peeled off whether or not I helped.

Brad had blond hair, or rather nice, light brown with blond streaky parts. Jorry’s was darker but his streaked too, in the sun. Mine stayed the same color. I don’t know why.

I told Jorry we were going to have a baby, but he just ignored me. Then he changed his mind and told me that I should drink some water, that I was probably dehydrated and everything would be fine, and if I just drank something I would feel better.

I clarified: we were not having a baby right this moment. I was not pregnant. But here we were, and what else we were going to do? Jorry was very pretty and I had good genes. We would have made a beautiful hearty child.

If you want to know why it was Jorry and not Jordy, I will tell you―I don’t know. When I first met him, when I didn’t like him, Jorry made me think of a twelve-year-old girl. Now it makes me think of him and only him. He is the only Jorry I have ever met.

When it was night and dark had fallen and the stars were so brightly sharp it hurt to look at them, I would sometimes miss Brad and the rest of the world so much I couldn’t stand it. Sometimes I would go to Jorry and we would hold each other and we would be sad together, sometimes I couldn’t find him anywhere, and sometimes I didn’t want anyone, just myself and the faraway lights holding company on the sand.

If Point B was so close when we crashed, why were we still on the island? That is what Jorry and I wanted to know. After sixty days (one pebble for each day) no one had come for us, and the one plane we saw fly by didn’t see our signal fire, and there were never any boats.

Jorry Jorry Jorry Jorry Jorry. We were stranded for four months, and all I can talk about is Jorry. Blah Blah Blah. You probably want to know Where we were going and How we crashed and What we ate and Why my hands were cut and Who rescued us and Where we were the whole time, but all I can talk about is Jorry Jorry Jorry and my imaginary baby.

I was on my way home and the flight layovers were badly spaced and I was worried the whole time I was going to miss my connection by ten minutes. Instead I missed it by one hundred and twenty three days.

All I had in my suitcase besides the usual toiletries was business clothes, a bathing suit, a pair of sweatpants, my laptop, and a deck of cards from the hotel they put me up in. They were supposed to be a gift for Brad. My suitcase had a faulty clasp and an old zipper and did not survive the landing.

When I found the cards in the wreckage on day twenty-eight, I taught Jorry to play gin. We passed a lot of time that way.

We called our island “Paradise,” just like that, with the quotes around it. It was supposed to be a joke, but it wasn’t really funny.

Jorry was from New York but he didn’t have an accent. He said no one from New York had an accent, that that was kind of the point of New York, everyone being from everywhere all at once. He said that there was no New York accent, but I knew that that wasn’t true.

There was no “Paradise” accent.

We ate a lot of coconuts. It sounds cliché, to be stranded on a tropical island and eating coconut after coconut, but all I know is the truth. I don’t care if I never see another coconut again. Those things give you the runs.

I built us a shelter, even though we didn’t really need one. It never rained and it wasn’t cold and when it got sunny we just sat in the shade. I was just bored, I think. It was when we first crashed and Jorry wouldn’t do anything but sit with his feet in the water and mope about Lewis. I built a lean-to with my bandaged hands. It wasn’t very sturdy, but like I said, there wasn’t really any weather to knock it over, and I slept better when I didn’t feel like something was going to sneak up on me from the side.

If you want to know what it was like being shipwrecked: it was boring. The crash was terrifying, and getting rescued was thrilling, and in between was a lot of looking for food and waiting. It’s probably why I developed such strong feelings for Jorry. My brain had nothing else to do.

My sister is twelve years older than me. She is a career counselor for high school and college students, and sometimes she forgets that I am not in high school or college and already have a career, although if I had let her counsel me the way she wanted to and I had switched professions, I would not have been at the conference and would never have gotten stuck on this island.

Jorry and I probably know each other better than anyone else, and then again, not at all. There can’t be any Hello dear, how was your day, when your day is just: ate a coconut, took a nap, went to get some water, drank some water, watched the sun set, the end. There’s no mystery, except all the mysteries about why you are still on this fucking island.

For example, I know all about his allergies to peanuts and shellfish, and he knows why I only have nine toes. There are no peanuts on this island, and we don’t know how to catch shellfish, but it means he doesn’t eat at Thai restaurants because the risk is too high.

My brother is nine months younger than me and I absolutely hated him until we were nineteen and he almost died in a skiing accident. I wonder how the shipwreck made him feel about me.

I know I say Shipwreck a lot, even though what I really mean is Plane Crash. Does it matter how we got here? We are Wrecked either way.

There are no animals here. Of course that’s not true. What I mean is there are no pets. Nothing friendly. Just the birds that wake us up predawn, and the fish that are really hard to catch, and some mice or rats or something that are impossible to catch. I could go for a dog or a cat or a ferret, something small and cuddly and comforting. Although if it were easy enough to cuddle we might want to eat it, and that would be another whole host of problems and choices.

Eventually, Jorry got tired of hearing about our baby. I think he thought I was losing my mind, and maybe I was. When he got really mad, he told me I was being a baby. He said I couldn’t handle the fact that someone was not attracted to me. He said he wouldn’t sleep with me even if I were the last person on Earth. When I told him that I basically was, he called me “Shipwreck Baby,” and for some reason that made us laugh so hard we stopped being mad. Maybe we were a little crazy. Either way, I took apart the cradle I had been building in my lean-to.

Another thing about coconuts, they do not fill you up. We were hungry all the time. We caught fish sometimes but we were not very good at it, and we had to eat them raw because after our fire went out on day fifteen we were never able to restart it. I’m not very squeamish, obviously, and I didn’t have much of a problem with it. I told Jorry to just imagine it was sushi, but he gagged anyway. This was before I was in love with him.

The plane had bags of chips, granola bars, some bottled water and a small assortment of those tiny booze bottles you only ever buy on a plane ride. Most of the booze Jorry used as an antiseptic on my hands and arms, and we split the rest. I dug a hole and buried my share so I would only drink them if things got really unbearable. They were gone by day five.

We found water pretty easily after we finished all the bottles. It was almost disappointing how easy it was. There was a stream about a fifteen minute walk away from the beach and the water was cleanish. Cleaner than salt water anyway. There weren’t any fish, and it never got deep enough to bathe in. There were some frogs and lizards, and I ate the ones I could catch.

Biscuits, bagels, steak frites, mushroom pizza, lemonade, hot fudge sundaes, beer, nachos, mozzarella sticks, caesar salads, spearmint gum, blueberry yogurt, blueberry pancakes, cinnamon rolls, cereal, celery sticks with peanut butter, toasted almonds, yellow peaches, M&M’s, goat cheese, vodka tonics, red wine. These are only some of the foods I missed every single one of those one hundred and twenty-three days.

Deodorant, sunscreen, Nikes, down comforters, mattresses, showers, washcloths, movies, television, grocery stores, socks, chapstick, scissors, toilets, air conditioning, heaters, backpacks, takeout, the internet, music, my guitar, books, other people. These were some of the material comforts I wished I had.

Coconuts, plastic bottles, palm trees, rocks, salt water, minerally tasting fresh water, a deck of cards, someone else’s flip flops, suit jackets, high heels, two first aid kits, a scrubby bush that made me break out in hives, a homemade lean-to, sand, dirt, and Jorry.  This is what I lived with for one hundred and twenty-three days, and this is what I live with now.

Before I left, Brad and I had a fight. It wasn’t a really bad one, but I still felt uncomfortable on my whole plane ride, the first one, I mean, the uneventful one. He thought I was spending too much time at work. I thought he was. We never had a weekend together where it was just us. There was always a last minute meeting or a coworker calling in sick. We both thought the other should cut down their hours. We never talked about marriage or babies or buying property together, or a contingency plan should one of us be on a plane that goes down somewhere over the ocean.

Jorry didn’t want to talk about babies or marriage, unless it was about the wedding he and Lewis were planning. He wanted to know if I thought Lewis had put all that money saved into a memorial service instead. He was not interested in having a baby. Neither was he interested in what would have to happen to make the baby happen, namely, sex with a woman. He told me he had never been with a woman and he wasn’t going to start now, no matter how lonely or sad or horny he might be. I think I was wearing him down.

His dark hair and his weather-roughened skin and his tall frame and his deep eyes. I started to forget what Brad looked like. I started to forget what anyone looked like who was not skeletal from too many coconuts and not enough protein.

My younger brother, the one whom I hated until he almost died, is a personal trainer, but he’s really more into nutrition than weights and lifts and muscle tone. He exists mainly on protein shakes and salads with lots of exotic nuts on top, and he loves to put his nose in other people’s business and tell them that they should have a diet like his. Being shipwrecked really makes you want a protein shake or two. Or five.

My Kindle didn’t survive the crash, and even if it had, there was nowhere to plug it in. No one else on board had brought any books with them. I read the in-flight magazines and all of the pilot’s handbooks. I learned a lot about planes and a lot about little-known tourist destinations in Toledo and Guam. I learned I wished our plane had gone down in Toledo or Guam instead.

We somehow lost three cards out of the deck, and there were only two jokers. Jorry wouldn’t play with me anymore after that, and I wondered if he had hid the cards on purpose.

I spent a lot of time wondering if anyone was watering my plants, both in the office and back home. I hoped Brad was eating, though preferably not with Sheila. Or if he was, that that’s all they were doing. Or maybe not. Maybe I should hope that he moved on and found solace even while he mourned me. I could never decide.

She would have had lots of dark hair and a cute little nose, and she would have grown up tall. I thought a lot about names, but couldn’t pick one. I felt like the name should be something meaningful, something that spoke to where she came from, but Coral and Aqua and Blue all sounded like dumb celebrity babies.

One thing nobody talks about is the sand. It gets everywhere. Our beach was mostly rocky, not pristine yellow like in the movies, and still it was in all the nooks and crannies of our bodies and our belongings and our food. It was in nooks and crannies that were newly formed due to malnutrition or injury. And when we washed in the surf, me naked and Jorry more modest until his breakdown on day ninety, the water washed away those pieces of earth only to replace them with a rash of salt.

And contacts. Nobody ever talks about contacts. I guess all those shipwrecked legends had perfect eyesight, but Jorry and I did not. Jorry managed to keep his in until day fourteen, but I lasted six more days because my vision is worse. Also, he found his glasses by some miracle, but all I found were prescription reading sunglasses. After that, sunsets were blurry and sunrises a mess. I had to get closer to Jorry than he was comfortable with in order to see his expressions clearly. When I read the hotel advertisements and drooled over pictures of coq a vin, the pages were at the tip of my nose. Once I got so carried away I licked one. All I got was sand.

If we had a baby, I wondered, what nationality would she be? Jorry and I were American, but she would be born in “Paradise.” The first Paradisean. She would be Queen.

We invented a game, a capturing game like checkers, but with ten pieces each instead of twelve, then eight as we lost the pebbles and the shells broke, then none, as “Paradise Checkers” went the same way as the gin rummy, and the actual gin.

I thought my eyes would burn out from the sun. It was eternally bright, and the only pair of sunglasses left intact were a prescription not my own.

We both lost weight, but Jorry had more to lose. I have always been more height than girth, and when I was twelve all of my parent’s friends thought it good manners to ask me if I was going to go out for basketball in the fall. By day one hundred I thought that if anyone threw a basketball to me my wrists would snap trying to catch it.

On day one hundred and nine I woke to Jorry dragging me out of the sun and pouring water on my feverish face, shouting my name and Lewis’s name and God’s. He told me not to die, and I didn’t, though I hadn’t intended to anyway.

My joints were swollen and my head seemed too heavy for my neck. My mouth felt gritty, but it always did. I only threw up twice. Jorry stayed with me and fed me water and whatever he could. He would have made a wonderful father.

The day we were rescued was a sunny, windy day, the same as all the other sunny, windy days we had not been rescued on. A helicopter flew not so much in the sky over us as close enough to the treetops as to blow unripe coconuts and palm fronds all around us in a cyclone. If they hadn’t been about to take us away I would save been seriously pissed at the waste of all that potential food.

After that initial sunburn and a few more, my skin was brown leather. I only wore clothes because to not have would have made Jorry even more uncomfortable. I told him he was free to go as naked as he wanted, but he never took me up on it.

There were two men and a woman in yellow suits, come to evacuate us. We both cried with relief, but I also cried because I knew I would never see Jorry again. I cried with the horror of the island and with the thought of returning to Brad and my ordinary, boring life. I hadn’t worn shoes in months. I didn’t know how I was going to cope.

That much dangerous boredom is bad for the soul, the mind, and the body. For our months on the island, I was injured but never very hurt, hungry but never starving, lonely but never alone. But I was bored, and restless, and all the time my heart was crying out for something more, something it would, in the end, be just as afraid to take.

The two men and one woman wrapped our shoulders in silver plastic blankets as though they had pulled us from under the ice. They gave us bottled water, the best tasting water I ever drank, and then, later, Gatorade, cool blue for me and fruit punch for Jorry. It stained his lips red. I couldn’t stop looking at him. Trying to memorize him. I wanted to hold his hand but was self-conscious in front of all these new people.

We left behind all our broken bags, mismatched shoes, empty water bottles; our coconut shells and deck of cards and my cracked, batteryless Kindle. But we each took a first aid kit, just in case.

Our rescuers told us there would be a cleanup crew that would come back later, to remove all the trash. We told them about the dead bodies. They took copious notes. They said there would probably be a camera crew, or at least one photographer, who would come back with them later. They said our disappearance had been in the news a lot, and this wouldn’t be the last of it. They said don’t be surprised if they want to make a tv special about us.

I imagined boarding the helicopter with mine and Jorry’s baby. That baby would have been so scared. The helicopter was so noisy, and she would be leaving the only home she ever knew.

When the helicopter lifted I almost threw up, from motion sickness and fear and sheer joy. Jorry faced straight ahead and had his eyes closed, and his lips were moving. I think he was praying.

When we landed, there would be a lot of people to greet us. The press, some doctors, Lewis, maybe Brad. Hopefully Brad. Maybe my brother and my sister. Maybe we would be famous, news show celebrities for a few weeks or months. Maybe we would be famous enough to help pay our medical bills.

Maybe we would go back to work, or maybe we would sue the airline that crashed. Make a million dollars and sit around in a nice house, just as bored as we were on the island. Would I ever take a plane ride again? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure about any of it, and I missed my imaginary baby. I missed my chance.

We got on that helicopter and swore we would never look back, but I sneaked peeks out of the sides of my eyes. Our island looked beautiful from way up there. Really beautiful.

_____

Hannah Lackoff’s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the storySouth Million Writers Award and has been published in Flapperhouse, Spark, Shoreline of Infinity, New Myths, and 10,000 Tons of Black Ink—Best of Volume II, among others.  Her short story collection After the World Ended was published in May 2016.  She lives in Boulder, CO.  Visit her at http://hannahlackoff.wixsite.com/writing