The Island

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2003

By Xian Chiang-Waren, Illustrated by Nina Prader

She stood on the dock, squinting into the early morning sun. The wooden planks creaked softly as she ran over it. A dog trotted behind her, a small scruffy brown dog. They stopped near the end of the dock, leaped off the edge and into a small boat.

“The ferry’s not here yet,” she said to the dog, who didn’t respond, merely scrambled onto one of the seats and put his paws on the edge of the boat for a better view.

She started the motor. Slowly, the boat crept away from the silent harbor and out to sea. The dog uttered a soft growl, and then was quiet. The girl looked over her shoulder at the island.

It was small, the island, made up of small cottages for the year-round villagers (population 200) and the summer homes that tourists built. Since it was six miles out from the Massachusetts shore, the only way to go anywhere from the island was by ferry; and so the houses were built in a cluster around the harbor. But beyond that, there were several miles of beach, where the island children had explored and wandered for their whole lives. There were sandy dunes, driftwood with which to build forts. And of course, there was the sea. Island life revolved around the sea. The sea, and tourists, but mostly the sea.

The girl loved the sea. She loved to swim and splash in the waves, to glide through it in her boat. She loved sea glass and sea shells, and everything about the sea. When she was angry, the water was fierce, and when she was happy the waves were gentle. Sometimes, she thought that she and the ocean were one.

The Island girl and dog on a boat

Slowly, the boat crept away from the silent harbor and out to sea

The island was called Evening Star Isle, and the girl was Eve.

Tourists had given her that name. Her real name was Margaret. Margaret Ann. She hated that name. She liked to be called Eve. Eve, which was the name of the Isle. She was the island. That’s what people were always telling her and she knew it was true.

She had dark brown hair with streaks in it. Red, gold, and white-blond, all jumbled together, and her eyes were dark brown, almost black. When people looked at her, they saw the island. Tourists snapped her picture while she was sitting on the beach, and once an art student had drawn her.

They were far out now. She cut the motor. Eve let the boat drift aimlessly, let herself be carried with the gentle current, savoring these last moments.

In the distance, the ferry emerged from the fog.

Eve looked up. When she saw the ferry, she swayed slightly in the boat, clutching the side.

“Time to go back,” she whispered. “Time for me to leave, Tro.”

The dog whimpered softly.

“It’s OK for you,” Eve told him. “They’re not kicking you out, you know, so be grateful for that.” Reluctantly, she started the motor and headed back to shore.

Her father was waiting for her on the dock, having just arrived back in his fishing boat. He helped her out of the boat, and Tro hopped after her. Silently, they unloaded buckets of fish and carried them to Charlie’s shed, where they would be sorted and sent to the mainland. They trudged back to the cottage.

“You understand, don’t you?” asked her father quietly.

She wanted to say no. She wanted to yell and scream and tell them that she wasn’t going, would never go, because she was the island and the island was her, and she wasn’t leaving, not ever. They couldn’t make her. She refused.

But she couldn’t say that, and so she simply nodded.

The cottage was a ways back from the little village, closer to the sprawling dunes and the wide, open sea. Father and daughter walked silently, entered the house without a word.

Inside, Eve’s grandmother (who had been living with them since Gramps had died) was making breakfast, potatoes and eggs. Eve’s sister, Angela, was perched on the edge of her chair, her golden hair rippling over her shoulders and down her back. At ten, she was three years younger than Eve, and the princess of the family. Their mother was sitting listlessly, staring out the window. Eve went to kiss her cheek, but she didn’t respond.

“Margaret! Come help with the eggs.” Eve went over and stirred the eggs around in the pan while Granny fussed over Angela.

“Sweetheart, you understand, it’s only for a little while, till your ma gets back on her feet. Only a month, Angie-pie. You won’t be away from your island more than a month.”

Angela said, “It’s Eve’s island.”

Eve smiled to herself.

“Who?” asked Granny. “Whose island? Daniel, what in heaven’s name is the child saying?”

He cleared his throat. “She means Margaret.”

Granny glared at Eve. “Don’t be putting fool notions into this child’s head. Eve’s island, it ain’t no one’s island but for those who love it.”

“Eve loves the island,” said Angela.

“Not more’n you do, and you being more deservin’, Angel,” Granny cooed. “I do declare, Daniel, that child is the most spoiled thing I ever saw. Callin’ the island hers, influencing her sister. And with the baby . . .”

At that, everyone froze, save for Mama, who tilted her head and continued to look out the window mutely. Eve dropped the spatula, and a cold ice wrapped around her heart.

Baby . . .

Her father turned to his mother with a hard face. “Mother, that’s enough.”

“Don’t you turn this on me. It’s her fault, ’twasn’t mine.”

“I said enough!” Dad shouted.

Granny smiled triumphantly, knowing she had hit a nerve.

The ferry docked. Eve could see it out the window. She ate quickly.

“Don’t shove food into your mouth,” Granny snapped. “Eat like a lady. Watch Angela.” Angela smiled her foolish smile at her grandmother. “What an angel.”

*          *          *

Eve boarded the ferry, clutching Angela’s hand tightly in hers. They stood on deck, Angela waving, Eve holding onto the railing to keep from jumping overboard and swimming back to shore.

Eve waved to her dad and mama. Mama didn’t notice, Mama was staring away. She probably didn’t know what was happening. Granny wailed, telling Angela to be brave and she’d be back in no time, telling Eve that she had better take care of their Angela better than she had with the baby or else. Eve’s eyes flashed, but she said nothing.

The ferry began to move. Angela waved happily, laughing as the breeze blew her hair away from her face. Mist swirled around them, and the tourists stared at the two little islanders, the little golden one, and the fierce one who looked like the island.

“Eve?”

“What is it?”

“We’re leaving because of Mama, right?”

Eve turned away from her sister. “No,” she said, “we’re leaving ’cause of Baby.”

Angela took her hand. “It wasn’t your fault. It was the wind.”

But it was my fault! Eve wanted to scream. I let it happen. I should have known!

Instead, she smiled halfway and let Angela believe that she was comforted.

Land drew near. Eve squinted, and saw, through the fog, the mainland. She saw the port, the shadowy figures that were people, waiting to greet the ferry.

“See them?” she asked Angela, pointing.

Angela looked. “Is one of them Aunt Sheila?”

“Yes, and when we get there we’ll go to her house and live there till Mama’s better.”

“Granny said a month.”

“Granny lied.”

“She wouldn’t. Not to me.”

“She didn’t mean to, maybe. She thought it’d be a month so she said so, but maybe it’ll be longer.”

“Oh.”

The ferry docked. Eve grabbed her suitcase and Angela’s, and the two of them disembarked. Eve looked around, recognizing no one, seeing no one who even resembled Mama. She pulled Angela through the crowd, looking, searching, wondering what she’d do if Aunt Sheila wasn’t here. Well, she’d get right back on the ferry, that’s what she’d do. Tell Charlie to stop and take them right back home.

Eve smiled. They would go home. Back to the island.

And then a lady who looked just like Mama was running up to her and asking, “Margaret? Are you Margaret? And Angela? Are you Daniel and Hannah’s daughters?”

And Eve would have turned around and gone running back on the ferry, would have ignored Aunt Sheila and gone home. But Angela looked up at the lady and smiled. “Yes,” she said, “I am Angela.”

*          *          *

Aunt Sheila’s house was big, and it was white. Inside, there were colorful carpets and pale, pastel-colored walls, but the outside was white. The house had three floors. Angela exclaimed over the little china figurines and the mahogany furniture, and Eve felt like hitting her for being so disloyal.

The day was spent shopping. They took Aunt Sheila’s red Corvette to Cambridge and bought new clothes for school, which would start in a few days. To the two islanders, the mall was a kaleidoscope of color and excitement. Aunt Sheila was lots of fun, buying bright skirts and pretty blouses for Angela, jeans and cotton shirts for Eve. Aunt Sheila was a lawyer and made lots of money. She insisted that the girls get everything they wanted.

“How about this dress, Angela?” Aunt Sheila would say. “Margaret, look at this blouse. Do you want it?”

“Call me Eve,” said Eve.

And Aunt Sheila didn’t even ask. She just nodded and repeated the question. “Eve,” she said. “Do you want the blouse?”

Later that night, Eve lay in her bed in Aunt Sheila’s house. It was a pink room, with frills and lace. She would have hated it altogether, but outside the sea crashed and foamed, soothing her. Outside, the sea was still there.

She was restless. She wanted to be back on the island. She wondered how they were getting along without her, wondered how Granny had managed to make dinner, how Dad would bring all the buckets of fish to Charlie’s shed the next morning. And Mama! Who would soothe Mama during the day, when Dad was out on his boat and Granny at bridge club? Who would cook for her, sing to her, wipe the tears from her face?

It’s your fault she’s like this in the first place, Eve told herself. A nasty little voice in her head whispered, She wouldn’t be this way if you hadn’t let Baby die.

No! Eve wanted to scream. I didn’t mean to, I didn’t want her to die!

But Baby had died. Eve allowed herself to be transported back in time to that day, that day at the start of the summer. The whole family had gone sailing, Eve and Angela and Granny and Mama and Dad and Baby. Mama had packed a picnic lunch, and they had fished and sang. Eve had shown Granny how to fish. Baby had laughed and giggled and so had Mama.

It was a brisk day, and soon the wind had turned harsh. Dad and Eve had tried to steer the boat back to shore, and they had almost made it. Only, the current had dragged them too close to the rocks, and though they tried to steer it away, they couldn’t. Finally, a quarter-mile from shore, Dad had yelled at them to jump. Granny and Angela got the life vests, and Mama and Dad jumped off and swam easily. Eve was last. She picked up Baby gently and was about to hand her safely down to Mama and Dad, but at the last second an angry wave jarred the boat, and Eve felt Baby slipping from her hands.

She couldn’t remember anything after that. She remembered seeing Baby a lot, but that might have been a dream. She remembered black, angry waves and Mama screaming, and . . . and finding Baby again, and holding onto her, holding her above her head so she wouldn’t get hurt. She remembered waking up on shore and finding Baby still.

After that, Mama got quiet and listless. Granny blamed Eve—she stopped speaking to her, and when she did it was to ridicule her and taunt her about letting Baby die. And Eve didn’t want to remember any of it. She wanted everything to be like it used to be.

*          *          *

Eve gave up trying to sleep. Quietly, so as not to wake Angela or Aunt Sheila, she tiptoed downstairs. She wanted to go to the ocean.

There was a light on in the kitchen. Eve paused, then curiosity got the best of her and she went into the kitchen. Aunt Sheila was sitting there, reading a stack of important-looking papers.

“Eve! What are you doing up? Do you want something? I’ll make tea.”

Eve sat down and watched as her aunt set a pot of water to boil, then came back to the table. Aunt Sheila sat down.

The Island entering the kitchen

“Eve! What are you doing up? Do you want something? I’ll make tea”

“You didn’t ask about my name,” Eve said suddenly.

Aunt Sheila looked surprised. “I didn’t know you wanted me to.”

“I didn’t, I don’t think. But everyone asks about my name. Tourists gave it to me. They said Margaret wasn’t the right name.”

Aunt Sheila laughed. “It isn’t. Just as Sheila wasn’t the right name.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was once Eve of Evening Star Isle. Tourists gave that name to me, too. They said they saw the island in me. They see the same thing in you.”

Eve was quiet. “Do you miss the island?”

“Oh, yes. I am the island. But there is more to the world. You need to see the rest of it. One day I’ll go back, but for now I will see other places.”

“I want to go back.”

“You will.”

“I didn’t mean to kill Baby.” Eve started to cry. Silently, she had that much self-control, but she was still crying. Aunt Sheila came over and put her arms around her. Eve set her jaw, tried to control the tears. Finally, they stopped.

“You didn’t kill the baby” said Aunt Sheila. “It was a mistake. You have to move on now. We know it wasn’t your fault.”

“I killed Mama too.”

“Your mother will heal. In time, her wounds will heal. As will yours.”

Eve said, “And then we’ll go back, won’t we? You will, too, I know it. We’ll all go back to the island.”

And Aunt Sheila smiled, and said, “Yes.”

The Island Xian Chiang-Waren

Xian Chiang-Waren, 12
New York, New York

The Island Nina Prader

Nina Prader, 13
Washington, DC

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