This became something very different to what I thought it was going to be about 200 words in, but this is what I love about writing. It takes you places. Sometimes these are places you are desperate to avoid, others you’d give your life to visit.
Winston looked out over the edge of the small ship. A shark swam past, upside down, giving another one chase. It looked playful, like it was just what sharks do.
He wiped a bead of sweat off his brow. The sun was high in the sky, which was a hazy blue. His crew of three was getting on well. Surprisingly well, actually. He had worried that the stress of fleeing the island would have turned them against each other, but there wasn’t the smallest sign of that. Carl was having a nap down below, and Jon and Jean were taking turns to cook and do the laundry. He knew Carl from somewhere before, like they were brothers, or related somehow. The other two got on like they knew each other from before as well. If the group ever paired off to raise the sails, or to clean, or anything, it would always be two and two, Winston and Carl, Jon and Jean, like that.
The sea had been kind to them. Day after sunny day. Plentiful fish – they just needed to sail to whichever school of fish took their fancy and use the right equipment. Fish they knew, and fish they had never seen before. Now and then they passed islands, where they could disembark to stretch their legs, and stand on firm ground. They light fires there, and barbecued the fish they had caught. Jon had set up a crude fermentation station on one, made with hollowed-out coconuts, so they had beers and liqueurs made from vegetables and fruits. Always delicious, always strong. And they talked, about their lives before this. And they remembered their connections in the haze of drink and crackling fires and starlight, and slept under a clear, moonless sky.
Sometimes it rained, but it was so infrequent it felt like it was there just to remind them to appreciate how beautiful everything was, how calm. They each challenged themselves in ways they had never felt able to before. Winston was fitter than he had ever been, he loved to climb the trees and gather fruits, he became an acrobat like that. Carl loved to swim, and he would dive into the sea with nothing but a knife between his teeth, returning with one or two fish from the depths that tasted better because of the prize they represented. Jean charted courses, in more ways than one. She advised the group, and whenever they felt lost, she always brought them back home. And Jon thought. He had always loved to think, and so he spent his days spinning philosophies, asking the bigger questions, and now more than ever he felt like he was closer to the right answers.
And still they wondered, in this paradise they found themselves in, having fled the oppression of daily life. What of the ones they left behind? Should they go back for them? When they slept, they always dreamed of them. This was their only torture. Their only guilt. And then, with the blue skies, the warm weather, the plentiful ocean and sweet wine, they forgot them again and again, only to dream of them once more the next night, and the next.
Finally, Jean made the call. “I’m going back,” she said. “Just to see. I need to see.” She would keep to the shadows, move with the wind, leave behind a word or two on a forgotten piece of paper, anything just to let them know she was there. She had to. They all knew they had to.
So they went back. Winston’s wife saw him in the potted houseplant he gave her years ago. Carl’s heard her husband in the noisy fridge door. Jean’s daughter heard her in the stuck cupboard drawer that needed a tap to open. Jon’s wife heard him singing in the wind.
They promised they would return every now and then, whenever their dreams haunted them, but now was for the fish, and the blue skies, and the sweet, sweet wine.