after Grant Bailie's Cloud 8
This is an orphan island. My brother and I were sent here; we, unlike many of the others, are not true Orphans. Our mother was alive when we arrived, and we don't know where our father is. He could be alive, or dead, or maybe he is living on a lane named after a flower tree and doesn't even know we exist.
I've made several friends on this island, but my brother has not. He says he only trusts me. At first, he wouldn't speak at all and would not eat anything from the sea. He thought a boat would come for us.
There's Doris, who was born in another time. Her mother, like ours, was from the Suburbs; her mother has visited her in dreams. She knows these things; her mother was a teen ager when she gave birth. Her hair was shiny as a new coin and pulled back with a white bandeau, molded like a beautiful bundt cake on her delicate head. Doris has dreamed about her mother in a dorm filled with lots of iron beds. In Doris's dreams, her mother often kisses her on the forehead and whispers, "Find me behind the ice cream soda shop."
My best friend here is Meron, who sang to us every night when we first arrived. Her voice sounded like birds I'll never see.
Every night we can hear whales off in the distance. There are lighthouses, too. You can see the old sea captains peering through isinglass if you looked carefully enough.
We remember a bungalow with honeysuckle climbing a chain link fence, and our mother dropping us off at a daycare called Astrotots, but little else. I think perhaps we had seen a movie about battles in the stars, and drank something made of orange powder called Sting or Tang, but I'm not sure. We all talk about those memories together as if they are dreams, or stories like the ones we find in the library that appears every so often at the edge of the sea. This library is flanked by two marble lions, and there is always a fire burning inside. There are many, many storybooks but none about orphans.
Across the island there is another building; it often appears on misty days. That is where the Medically Fragile children and infants stay. We never see these children, but we believe they are real. There is an empty parking lot with bright yellow lines in front of the Medically Fragile building, and there is also a big red sign that reads Medically Fragile hanging over the entrance. Sometimes, we scrape the lot with rocks and try to play a game someone told us has to do with squares and numbers. My brother and I tell stories about the cars that filled parking lots; some said they remembered, and some don't believe. Every so often my brother tilts his head and thinks he can hear a sound that may or may not be a baby crying. He says it's sort of a whir, like when you have a humming in your head.
I can't decide if I love or hate this place. My brother talks about going behind the coconut trees, but he never does. He spends his time collecting specimens, and taking them back to the tree house we shared with Meron. We eat crabs and coconuts, mussels and clams. Meron can weave with sticks and leaves. But something will change, I know it will. Not long ago, Meron began to sigh, and walk out to the water at night. She asked Doris what an ice cream soda shop looked like, and if any of us had tasted ice cream. Only my brother and I had. We could not describe it to her, we could only remember that if you ate too much and too fast, your head froze and your teeth rotted.
On the last day, when our mother woke us up to French bread and black coffee, she took us for ice cream sundaes and cherry pie. Then we rode a ferry out to the island. We fed the seabirds bread crumbs from a bag of stale Mrs. Baird's. Our mother stood with us on the prow, until my brother's face began to mottle and he threw up into the sea foam. She was telling us about islands. She was telling us about the first ghetto, an island near Venice where the Jews were forced to reside. She was telling us about the Island of Lesbos, which, she thought, was filled with girl students. I pictured lots of girls with long braids and knee socks and skirts, and bells. She was telling us that sometimes, you can't foresee the choices you will make. My brother says he remembers what she said, word for word, but I don't. I had to pee, and all I could think about was my full bladder but I didn't want to leave her side, because of the way she was looking at me. It reminded me of the way my brother looks when he finds an undamaged sand dollar. Like maybe he should put it back where it came from, but he has to bring it home.
This is what I see, in my dreams: We feed seabirds bread crumbs and lean over the walls of the ferry. The gulls cry, flocking close to our bodies. The wind blows my mother's dark hair and her long, shapeless flowered dress. She isn't wearing a slip, and wind is as full as the sound of the ocean in our ears; it blows the skirt of her dress against her legs. Her arms are thin and so pale in the bright sun and I am afraid of the birds because their calls are frantic. Our mother is telling us about the poison she's put in the bread, but as she talks her face begins to change and I know this is a far away time and place, and I can't hear her anymore.
Doris wants to plan our escape. What happens, when you get too old on this ghetto island? Not one of us can say. At night, we sleep in our tree house, and Doris sleeps in the dorm across the island, with other boys and girls all lined up in perfect rows. In the mornings, there is gruel and milk. Some question this, some don't. My brother, Meron, and I prefer coconuts and fish. At times, a child will wander behind the coconut trees. It is said that is where they find their forever homes. Meron told me she didn't want to become a sea captain staring out of the window, or a woman in nurse stockings off in the distance. But one night, not long ago, she went out to listen to the sea and did not come home. My brother and I went searching. He said he thought he saw a ferry at the horizon, but I think it was just a crinkle in the clouds.
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