(NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge GR 21 – Romantic Comedy, Private Island, Walking Stick)
In her lucid moments, Joanie often felt she was little more than a crazy old crippled lady with her walking stick and her thump, thump, thumping on the wall that would eventually, obviously, drive her beloved husband mad. Drive him away.
But to Harold, every time he heard the thumping on the wall he remembered the desperation of a sharp rock against a coconut, Joanie’s grateful lips, plumped with youth and blistered with sunshine, brushing against his fingers as he held the freshly cracked coconut to her mouth to slake her desperate, survivor’s thirst.
She’d paused briefly to caress his thumb with her soft tongue before pulling away, and as he stood watching her, this strange woman who would be his Joanie, kneeling in the sand, picking away the few rough strands of coconut fiber that clung to her lips, smiling up at him and squinting against the sunshine, he felt as though he were the first man and she the first woman and this the first shared sustenance there ever was between a man and a woman, ever on this Earth. And it was good.
Sixty-four years after the shipwrecked survivors of the Oceanius were discovered by developing scouters seeking out locations to build luxury mansions on private islands to sell to billionaires, the details of the mechanical explosion and its immediate aftermath were sketchy and faded in Harold’s memory, and for this he was grateful. Instead, when he thought back to that time, what he recalled most was Joanie who stretched nude in the morning sunrise. Joanie who butchered fish impassively but cried as she field-dressed the birds. Joanie’s eyes on him, his mouth on her, making love on a private island all their own, where the warmth he found inside her gave him strength and courage against the wild jungle night, in a tropical paradise that a small primal part of him hoped they’d never leave.
Back then, Joanie had been a round, voluptuous woman with an athlete’s musculature hugged by an endearing layer of softness. She whistled while she worked, literally. Her body, voice, and hands had been an ever-flowing fountain of love, life, joy and harmony, once upon a time.
More recently, Harold found her body, at least, was an ever-flowing fountain of crankiness, terrible memory, and some truly dreadful gas. In the wake of the failed yogurt campaign, it might be time to spring for the encapsulated probiotics the doctor had mentioned. They were really supposed to be helpful in the elimination department.
All those years Harold had avoided changing their babies’ diapers, and now here he was, tetchily waving away suggestions of hiring a nurse, insisting on utmost privacy and discretion, fretting over wipes and rashes and consistency and regularity, consulting the doctor with a straight face and frank language. True, though, that he also enjoyed muttering to himself “Ahh, you’re fulla’ shit, Jo,” when he was privately exasperated. He chuckled to himself every time, because he could confirm it was true in at least one sense of the word.
The man who’d spent his children’s childhoods avoiding the grocery store now tutted through the aisles, inspecting packages for damage and sell-by dates, fiber content and added sugars, stocking their home with foods recommended by the doctor; whole grain this and leafy green that. Small cartons of naturally- and artificially-flavored, probiotic-filled yogurts he dutifully purchased, opened, and offered. Each time Joanie fussed, fretted and refused to eat them, alternately citing either their overwhelming odor or their lack of enticing aroma; their off-putting too-smooth texture or terrifying, shriek-inducing debris minefields. (Fruit-at-the-Bottom was a topic the entire extended family knew well to avoid.)
When she needed Harold and he was elsewhere in the house, she called to him by thump, thump, thumping on the wall beside her bed with her old polished walking stick. Her careful aim landed each blow in the exact same place, hitting a stud in the wall that resonated through the house, creating a divot in the plaster that was the same blunted brown color as the base of the stick.
As a travel writer, she had explored the terrain on every continent, and in every country she tromped through, her endearing propensity to clumsiness had been counteracted by the sturdy stick. Now, instead of bearing her along the terrain, it called Harold to her, today clutching a little carton of coconut water he had bought as a special treat. He sat beside the bed and lifted the box to her age-worn face, gazed into her nearly sightless eyes and held the tiny straw steady for her.
As she drank, gratefully, her thin, dry lips caressed the tips of his fingers and an ancient memory hitched a ride on his bloodstream and went curling around his veins, stoking up the same physical reaction in his Southern Hemisphere as it had when he first quenched her thirst with coconut water so many years ago.
“I love you, Joanie Girl. You know,” he said in a soft voice strained with emotion, nostalgia, and a little something else. “I wanted to do this sixty years ago when we met, but I guess I just didn’t have the nerve.” Still holding the carton to her mouth, he picked up her slack hand from the comforter and pressed it to the hardness straining against his worn khaki pants. She spluttered and coughed, sitting up a little in the bed.
“Harold, you old goat!” she said with that lilt of laughter that still lit her face from within, caught his heart by its strings, fanned the flame in his groin.
She settled back into her nest, all bony angles on the carefully arranged cushions. She smiled at him and he felt as though he were the last man and she were the last woman and this was the last shared sustenance there ever was between a man and a woman, ever on this Earth. And it was good.