Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Obscured by Trees
After they came aboard, while in the corridor leading to their cabin, they had a moment of crisis.
Darren had insisted they go below to the car deck before the ferry arrived at port.
“It’s not allowed, Darren.”
“I know, but the ship was completely booked out. We have to be ready to get off, or we will get impossibly stuck in traffic at the customs. It will take forever and there’s such a long drive ahead.”
Zuni had offered to drive the distance. Like a guy, he insisted on driving; he would take care of them. She worried that he couldn’t even take care of himself.
His mind was made up. Zuni understood not to argue. Kara’s death had him on the point of crazy since the day of her passing. He had remained the suppressed calm one: there for her, and reassuring to Kara.
But from the moment the doctor came into the room and spoke the words, “Kara is gone,” so was he.
As the key slotted into the lock of the cabin door, the words replayed in her head.
The week crawled by while the hospital processed the remains. Darren had taken time off from work. Zuni couldn’t manage it. The company where she worked only allow bereavement leave for death of a spouse or other immediate family member. The boss knew of Zuni’s relationship with Kara and Darren. It was no secret. She was openly out to the world. He begrudged her for behavior he thought was immoral, saying, ‘I only keep her on because she is the top in the field.’
When she came home in the evening, Darren was on the couch where she had left him. The day’s detritus was scattered across the table—the remains of the meal she had arranged for him before leaving for work. Some soup and bread had been eaten. Dregs floated in the bottom of a glass tea pot.
Seeing the sorry state of her man, she asked, “Love, have you been here all day?”
“Did you watch TV, or read, or something?”
“You just watched the lava lamp, like, all day?”
The dark room was aglow in monotone color from the large lamp.
“I miss her too, you know. But I don’t get time to grieve.”
Darren’s eyes awoke startled. He looked at Zuni and pulled her to sit. Returning among the living, he said, “I know. I’m sad about how they treat you at work. It’s not fair your boss punishes you for being out. Our lifestyle is none of his business. Just hold on, love. You will have all next week off.”
She buried her head into his chest. Holding tight, he said, “This was my last still day. Tomorrow I’ll do the shopping and organize the camping gear into the car.”
“And Kara? Will you pick her up in the morning? Do you have the address where they took her?”
He took in a sharp breath. “You only need to worry about what to wear. I will take care of everything else.”
“That is what I worry about: your need to take care of everything. It is too much. I do the best I can, but please, allow me to help take care of you too. I need that. We need that.”
He kissed the back of her head and stroked at her hair, running fingers through, stretching the curls out their length to rest on the curve of her hip.
“You do, Zuni. You do take care of me.”
“But today on the couch?”
“It’s my last day of stillness. I chose to pass it watching Kara’s lamp. It carries me away, back to meditate on memories of her, and of you, of us.”
She looked up to him, her face wet with tears. “You have earned some hefty frequent flyer miles this week.”
“Oh, my love,” he said, brushing a cheek, eyes tearing. “You’ve got me started as well.”
The ferry had been booked. It was full of people traveling on their summer holidays. As luck would be, they rolled on near the front. That would make them among the first off when the ship offloaded at the destination port. As they exited the car deck, Darren was calm. The distance across the water would take 24 hours.
After an early dinner, they retired to their cabin. Before the echo of the closing door faded in the hallway, clothes were tossed to the floor. They showered together in the impossibly small stall. Tension held dearly tight was allowed to be released, flow through the drain, and pass into the beyond. Eyes were each for the other. The bliss they disappeared into was the first occurrence for this sad week. Afterward, they cuddled, intertwined on the small rack bed. Sheets had been long lost to the floor. Only a pillow remained with the couple, reclaimed from a corner. Their nude forms passed in time through the night.
As the crossing progressed and morning arrived, he awoke nervous, anxious to land at port and continue the journey. Yesterday’s clothing was bagged. As a prank reboot, they decided not to shower. Instead, to pass the day with the perfume aroma remaining from their passion.
‘Let those who pass close know of what we share, and of the possibilities of life.’ These words Kara had spoken on the morning of their last ferry crossing.
Zuni had teased her that she was just too lazy to shower again, and that they all were too hungry for breakfast to protest. Darren enjoyed going along with the girls’ prank.
This morning, standing in line for the breakfast buffet queue, Kara’s presence stood with them. Zuni and Darren smiled, knowing what was on the other’s mind. A woman had come up behind Zuni. The energy of the couple’s smiles radiated, gifting one to her as well. Zuni saw Darren acknowledge her.
She turned around to the woman and said, “Hi!”
Saying back, “Hi!” she checked them out before continuing, “you two look to have had a nice night.”
Zuni, “Yes. It was very, ahem,”—Darren visibly nudged at her—“restful.”
The woman looked to Darren and then back at Zuni. “Shame we didn’t run into each other last night. I take it you two made an early evening of it?”
“Sir?” There were no people remaining in front of them. The breakfast chef was trying to get Darren’s attention. “Sir, how would you like your eggs? Fried or omelette, perhaps?”
“Oh, no. Sorry. Actually I had wanted a crêpe.”
“I can make that for you. Sweet or savoury?”
“Order savoury for me too, will you, Darren?”
The woman offered her hand, “I’m Jillian.”
“Zuni,” she said, accepting. “Will you sit with us, Jillian?”
“I think that would be most fun.” Speaking to the chef, “Spinach omelette, please.” Turning back to Zuni, “I love the smell of your perfume.” Bringing her head in closer, she whispered, “I believe in unicorns, don’t you?”
“Oh. I do, Jillian. I most certainly do. Darren as well. In fact, we consider ourselves connoisseurs, rather adept—alert for those occasions when one might grace us with its rarefied presence.”
At that moment, a pan chose to flame up. The chef quickly moved it aside. He smiled to the two women giggling before him, and shrugged.
The women crossed the restaurant floor to join Darren. Passing a couple who were deeply involved with their meal, Jillian nodded and waved a greeting. They nodded in return. The woman gave a thumbs up. Zuni looked to Jillian, who explained, “Fellow truckers.”
Taking a seat beside Darren, mystic serenity projected from Zuni.
Jillian, “Might this be a quick breakfast, if you don’t mind? I would be interested in trying a sampling of your perfume, Zuni. Would you indulge me? That fragrance really does something.”
Darren, “I think we have time before port, don’t you, Zuni?”
“Certainly, at least for a sampling. Jillian, if you are so taken, perhaps on another occasion we could follow up when time is more at a leisure for exploration?”
Smiles were shared around while the remainder of the meal was consumed. Jillian and Zuni ate single-handedly, as their other remained occupied. Darren enjoyed the luxury of his crêpe.
After a brief stroll through the ship, the second course was begun.
Jillian moved to leave, needing to return to her cabin. She drove a long-haul truck. This ferry crossing was a regular route: a load dropped here, another picked up there, she had earlier explained.
The couple watched her at the sink as she washed. “I have found the perfume most agreeable. You know, on the return leg, I could be available for a meet-up, if you two are so inclined.”
Zuni propped herself up on an elbow, serenity across her face. Darren had been sitting up. He managed a, “Hmm…”
Zuni, “Could you make a weekend of it?”
“A proper exploration of fragrance at the source? Yes! Definitely! Let’s sort that out after I get my return scheduled. I will contact you.”
They departed the cabin, bidding a fond au revoir. Jillian turned down a hallway leading further into the ship. There remained a light bag to pack, and paperwork to be done before the landing. Darren and Zuni went down the stairs that lead to the vehicle deck.
Zuni, “That was a surprise encounter.”
“Eyes open as opportunity presents itself before us—fleeting, but profound.”
“Your energy brings smiles to those around you. You know that, don’t you Darren.”
“If you say so. To me, I’m just responding. You are the one who takes me there.”
“I really enjoyed watching you with Jillian.”
“You watched? When did you have the time?”
“Well, I did. We all did, watching each other, I mean.”
Darren thought, reliving a moment, then said, “Yes. There is a connection, don’t you think?”
“I do. She realized it too. The light bulb came on for her.”
“That’s what I meant. The moment, the actual moment, we were all present. But you know, Zuni, she connected with you as well.”
“Well, yeah. That’s a girl-girl thing. It happens quickly, either on or off. With girl-guy, the hormones mess with us, maybe revolving as a playful fencing match—back and forth. However, with you two it just clicked. I had thought it would be so, back at the breakfast table. That was fascinating to watch in our cabin, and erotic as hell to participate in—”
Turning against the bulkhead, he stopped the babble, trading with her a deep, intimate kiss. They remained pressed together until eventually coming up for air. A quick adjustment was necessary.
“I love you, Zuni. Your compersion is beautiful.”
“It is, isn’t it? We are alive, you and I. We celebrate the present by striving to remain enthralled in the moment. The yesterdays pass in brilliance to light the way into the promise of tomorrow.’”—Darren matched the words Zuni spoke, eyes focused to each other—“‘Clinging to possess material or person or time puts lead into our balloon, limiting the heights of our ascendance. In freedom, we grow. In love, we bond. As plural, we are no longer one.’”
“And, we remain to celebrate the spirit of Kara’s beautiful words.”
They entered the car deck, the latch had been ajar. The solidness of the hatch closing echoed briefly above the deep hum vibration of the ship’s engine. There were no other people visible as the couple made their way among the cars. At the ship’s bow there was greater vertical movement; the cycle of ocean swells was apparent. The design of this ferry was such that vehicles rolled on from the stern and rolled off from the bow. Both ends opened by lifting the structure, a giant mouth pivoting open upon huge hinges. Vehicles were eaten before the voyage, and vomited out at the journey's end. The massiveness of the bow structure was before them.
Darren pushed at the key fob. The car chirped awake. Their bag was put on the back seat, the seat absent of Kara’s corporeal form. Her absence was deep in their minds.
Entering the car, their eyes met. “Zuni, what do you think if we were to sell this car? Would you be OK with that?”
Automatically, she clicked herself into the seat belt. The action gave her a moment’s pause. Brightening, she said, “I was thinking exactly the same thing. Memory of her doesn’t belong to stuff, but some things bear too strong of a reminder.”
“This has been a good car. It has always been faithful to us…”
“But let’s give some other people the opportunity to appreciate the faithfulness of this car.”
“Decided. We will sort it out upon our”—a loud screeching sound vibrated strongly, transmitted through the deck.
Zuni, “What was that?!”
Again the sound, louder, intensifying into the sound of metal being tortured, screaming in terror.
The nearby vehicles were all riding their suspension, oscillating up and down, slowly at first. But as the sound of the second hit intensified, so did the movement. It had become violent. He turned to look behind, but could not see beyond the nearest; their small car was surrounded by bigger ones.
Momentum of the ship jerked, slowing rapidly, as though a giant brake pedal had been mashed to the floor. They were lifted from their seats. The slowing was now joined with a strong movement leaning to the side. A strong turn was being committed. The far side of the car deck lifted, as had the rear, putting the front corner low.
Zuni reached over suddenly, grasping in terror at Darren. From the car’s movement, the seat belt mechanism had become confused. It didn’t release; instead, it held her rigid in place against the seat.
She cried, “What is going on?!”
Darren gripped tightly at the steering wheel with a hand; his other was with Zuni. The rear of the car began to slide, coming around in a spin as though on ice. He looked at the corner of the ship where the bulkhead was jointed with the bow door as the car slid into it.
Zuni screamed, “Ah, No!”
Darren turned just in time to see the front corner of an SUV collide into them. Their car door was pushed in slightly. Then, the SUV lurched, as vehicles on the other side slid into it, each amplifying the force. Zuni groaned as the door compressed her seat inward. The seat belt held firmly against the force which was crushing her chest. There was a gurgle noise and her hand grasping Darren’s fell limp.
The horror of the scene, of Zuni being cut twain by the belt, was all Darren could see in the collapsed tunnel of his perception. The steel rod that had speared the car and drove through his thigh was not apparent. Detritus rained into the corner, caroming across vehicles to fall upon the couple’s car.
Another shriek of metal and the front of the ship was torn away. From where the bow had been, only open space pressed into a cliff face. A small avalanche of rocks were tumbling down. Some were bouncing inside the deck, bouncing upon the forward cars, crushing the thin metal of hoods, shattering glass.
There was movement. As the ship retreated from the wall, several cars slid forward and out, falling into the water. The couple’s car remained pinned, crushed into the corner. More distance was gained from the cliff. There were no longer any sounds from the engine, but the ship was vibrating from another source: it was grinding deeply against the submerged rocks.
The deck swooned. This was Darren’s vision distorting. He felt at his leg, discovering that it had been pierced.
“Harpooned am I, Ahab,” he managed to say. “Curse you. By your own rope I will pull you down to drown in your private death.” The chuckle was cut off by a hacking cough of blood.
Uncounted time had passed. Had it been a few minutes, or many? By remaining still the leg didn’t hurt, but there was so much blood. The car interior was saturated with it. Mostly, it was not his. He reached out for Zuni; she lay dangling beside him. The seat belt had cut most of the way through her, like a cheese knife. Earlier he had managed to close her eyes, but the mouth couldn’t be managed.
Breathing shallowly of the air heavy with gasoline fumes, he awaited the inevitable—wishing the finale would hurry along and get it over with. For a while, the calliope of ship noises had been joined by a chorus of human voices, but then they stopped. The light swirled in his head as he became overcome with black. “Zuni,” he gasped.
Darren felt a hand grasp his; it squeezed firmly. He pulled back from the brass eye cups of the binoculars. His eyes painfully adjusted, blinking at the light before they could focus. There was a form. A woman.
She smiled deeply.
“Oh, Kara,” he said. Reaching out, he hugged at her. The firmness was returned without hesitation; she pressed her whole body into his.
“Easy, boy,” she said. “I’m here. It’s like you missed me, or something.”
“Hey! I want in on this too!” said another.
He turned from Kara’s shoulder to see Zuni was standing before them, hands on hips—her classic pretend pout.
They offered an arm to her. She jumped into the hug; each disappeared into the other as the singularity was formed.
“I love you both with all my being,” said Darren.
“I love you too,” said Zuni.
“As do I, love us,” said Kara.
The sun was warm on nude flesh, adding to the heat of their embrace. Surf broke on the beach carrying a slight salt smell on the breeze.
“If you are done with this distraction,” Zuni said, indicating the binoculars, “I’m getting a bit hungry”—she leaned back, arms around her partners’ waists—“for food, Kara.”
“Ahh,” Kara said, feigning disappointment.
Zuni continued, “Let’s go back to the camp and get something on the BBQ.”
Exaggerating an Australian accent, Darren said, “Put another shrimp on the barbie?”
Both girls sang out, “Prawns!”
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