Atoll

February 22, 1954

He brought down the champagne, the last of it, to the shoreline from their makeshift hovel under the trees a few yards back.

Lane took the cup from Tom’s hand, and thought to herself how there were few other places in the world that could look more like Eden than this. The sun had just completely set, but through the early moonshine she could still see right through the crystal clear waters to the coral reefs just under the surface, which occasionally spiked up through the gentle seafoam-topped waves.

They spoke little that night, making only passing remarks about the way the stars shone with a brilliance greater than the city lights they had left behind.

Just after midnight, as the fire died, Tom considered getting off of the wool blanket and heading back up to the trees to gather more palm leaves and bark to keep it going. Lane stirred gently in her sleep, wrapping her arms tightly around him, and he changed his mind.

February 25, 1954

“You know, I really can’t remember the last time I had fish for breakfast,” Lane called down to the beach. Tom was there cooking the morning catch over the fire, as scrub-robins and flycatchers pecked their little beaks into the sand in search of the morning tide’s offerings.

“Ever have lox on your bagels?”

“Of course.”

“Well, that’s fish.”

“Yes, I know that, but this is, well, it’s like raw fish-”

“It is not raw fish, see, I’m cooking it,” he said, pointing dramatically at the fire.

“I can see that. You know what I meant,” she glowered at him.

They continued bantering right through the meal, stopping only long enough to devour the huge slices of tuna. Fish were plenty in the shallow waters of the reef, and Tom had no trouble catching upwards of ten large yellowfin and dogtooth tuna a day.

After spending the next few hours competitively skipping flat pieces of coral off of the glassy waters, they chased each other through the sand, knocking one another over playfully and kissing each other raw.

They had become accustomed to the harsh tropical sun, but still had a daily ritual of getting into the shade of the hovel at mid-day and making love. Knowing there was no way to cool down, the heat of the day was decidedly best shared with one another.

February 28, 1954

Tom squinted at the glare off of the salty white sands, looking at the ships moving across the horizon.

Lane rose from sleep and sauntered over towards him. “What are you looking at?”

“The navy ships are gathering,” he intoned, “it probably won’t be long now.”

“Do you know what day it is?”

“I dunno, maybe Thursday, Friday, who the hell knows,” he said, kicking sand and turning away from the ocean.

Both of them looked towards the trees and to what remained of their small airplane after it had crashed through the dense brush many days earlier.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” she whispered.

“I do love you, you know.”

“I know.”

Silence.

“Tom, where is the device?”

“Other side of the trees, I’d expect.”

“Should we go nearer to it?”

“Doesn’t matter, anything within a mile is-”

Lane began weeping, silently at first, like a small bird cooing, then sobbing.

“It was just a goddamn vacation,” she yelled, “we were supposed to go away for a few days on your shore leave, but..if…” she trailed off, and fell to the ground clutching at handfuls of sand, her tears being absorbed the instant they fell to earth.

A storm cloud crossing the sun granted Tom a momentary reprieve from the glare, and he could see that the navy ships were moving closer.

March 1, 1954

Though it was the same fish they had eaten every single day prior to this one, the day’s catch was particularly tasty, and they ate it with a coconut relish that Tom had somehow managed to scrape together.

They talked of cold nights in Chicago, of kissing goodnight on the platform of the L train as they went their separate ways after university classes each night.

They talked of the long days in the summer of ’44, when Lane would wait for the postman to bring word from Tom – was he doing okay in France, and how soon would it be until he came home?

They talked of rainy afternoons in San Francisco, staring out of their apartment window across the bay, wondering when he would get reassigned to another air wing and another city, knowing that as long as she was with him, it would all be fine.

The day passed in effortless conversation, a kind that they had never had before.

When silence finally overtook them in the afternoon, they couldn’t help but smile and stare into one another’s eyes, despite the fate they had already resigned themselves to.

In the last fraction of a second of his life, Tom thought to himself how wonderful it was that those big brown eyes of hers could reflect so much sunlight.

The hydrogen cloud rose quickly over Bikini Atoll, with the brilliance of a thousand suns.

posted 4/29/09 at 10:28am to Uncategorized · 0 replies · »

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