It had been five days since Mae had seen another person. It had been five days since she had brushed her hair, taken a shower or changed clothes, and those were just a few of the previously considered necessary things which she had not done since June 30.
But it would end soon. It had to. She could see the mainland from here, for God’s sake! But it was too far to swim, and her only boat was currently smashed against the rocks about a half a mile away. In retrospect, it was really stupid to try to see how close she could go past the rocks without hitting them. She mentally promised to whatever insane, totally unfair god was up there that if—no, when—she got back she would never go out on a boat again. No, that was stupid, because if Mae didn’t get back she wouldn’t go out in a boat anyway. It seemed it was in God’s best interest that she just festered here for the rest of her life.
Of course, she wasn’t going to make it easy for him. On the wide part of the beach facing the mainland she had dug, in giant lettering, the words HELP! STRANDED! and a frowny face above it just in case any plane pilots were illiterate. She also had a red towel, rescued from her yacht, that she planned to wave wildly at anything that was or resembled a vessel that could carry humans.
Now she was sitting on the cape, because her green shirt and blue jeans were the most conspicuous with a background of sand. The cape went out high and far enough that she could see all around her little island, making it impossible for a boat to go unnoticed. She was eating her dinner now, made up of fiddler crabs, snails, a lettuce-like plant that she hoped was edible, and eggs. The eggs she got from a nest she found in the woods. She had promised herself she would eat only two of them today, but they were too good to resist. She was now eating the last one.
At first she had ignored the idea of finding food, instead depending on getting rescued, but after missing a few meals she changed her mind. There weren’t many choices. The Spanish moss, live oaks, palmettos and sea grass all were pretty unpalatable. She tried catching fish, but somehow they always got away. Then she remembered eating crab, and though she had never liked it, the abundance of fiddler crabs along the beach made them all the more appetizing. At first they were like the fish, always dodging away at the last second, but she learned to scoop them up and hold them like she used to hold fireflies she caught in her backyard. She soon found that they were good, though they pinched hard for such little things. She had tried finding clams, but when she actually found one she couldn’t figure out how to open it. Then she noticed the snails that were all over the sea grass. Mae had never eaten escargot before, but she remembered the French ate it, so she figured it couldn’t be too bad. All over the spiny sea grass in the marshes tear-drop-shaped snails crawled, inching their way through their own tiny world. She could just swoop down and pluck them off one by one. Once she ate some she couldn’t figure out what the French liked about them, but the snails were so easy to catch she felt it would somehow be a waste if she didn’t eat them.
Mae knew she couldn’t go on like this. It wasn’t lack of food, it was lack of people. There was no one to talk to, no one to gossip about, no one. Mae had always known she was an extrovert, and now she was being deprived of her biggest pleasure—people. Without them the world seemed empty and purposeless. Whenever she had eaten enough that she didn’t feel hunger gnawing at her stomach, a miracle that rarely occurred, she found that she didn’t have the motivation to go on. All she wanted to do was sit on the cape and try to identify the individual buildings that cut the smooth line of water and sky that was the horizon. It took her till she got hungry again to be able to get up and get something done.
The sun was setting now, so Mae decided to stay on the cape even though she was done eating. She had realized that most animals had an obvious advantage over her in the nighttime. They could see her clearly, but she might have no idea they were there. She tried not to go into the woods or the marsh at night, figuring that’s where any potential dangerous animals would most likely hang out. She spent all her nights on the beach just above the high tide line with a small fire lit a few feet away (she lit it by using her glasses the way she used to use a magnifying glass to light fires) in case of any nocturnal planes.
Has anyone else ever noticed that the colors of the sunset are much like those of yogurt? It’s true. They both have the same subdued, rosy tones. The sky near the horizon, Mae decided, was strawberry flavor, and the big red sun that hovered reluctantly above the skyline was a chunk of strawberry thrown in to make it look less artificial. If you went a little higher the sky became peach yogurt, and even higher the beginnings of night were coming in and a few of the bolder stars were already shining. Mae didn’t feel sleepy, so she stayed to watch the whole sunset.
Mae had never been much of a sunset person before. Now, though, sunsets were often the highlight of her day. It was the only time when she didn’t have to feel guilty about not doing something else. She could just relax and watch the colors slowly parade across the sky. Now it was officially night because the sun had dipped below the horizon. The sky had remembered it was night too and turned from a bloody red to black, and the rest of the island was in shades of gray instead of color. Still Mae did not go back to her camp on the beach. She had seen something out where the city was, an explosion of color against the lazy night. And another one. The second explosion was followed by a distant wailing sound, like a mix between sirens and popcorn popping. Then she remembered what they were. They were fireworks.
It was hard to connect the things she was seeing now with the fireworks of her childhood. They were so far away. She could just put up her forefinger and block them out completely and the majority of their sounds never even reached her. But she almost found this even more beautiful than them up close.
She wondered if this was the way life was. Up close, everything is loud and confusing, but once you are distant and impersonal, maybe you can see that life is just beautiful. Maybe that’s it. In any way, shape or form, life is beautiful.
Maybe this was the experience God had, getting to watch life from far off, getting to see the big picture. Mae had never given much thought to God before, but her dad was a minister, so she always felt expected to believe in him. So she did, praying every now and then to the mysterious man in the sky. As she grew older she began to doubt him in the way she began to doubt the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny, but she never worried about it. She didn’t really care. Mae had always been more concerned with what was going on here, now. But maybe there was no God. Maybe life was just one, beautiful, amazing circus with no audience. Mae wondered if she was going crazy, because somehow this seemed like the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. Mae kept on watching the fireworks. Maybe she was crazy, because somehow, in that moment, she didn’t think she would mind if she never got saved.