‘Footprints’ by Monika R. Martyn

 

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The soft sound of lapping water woke Jack. He hoped that whomever was in the hotel room above hadn’t overrun the bathtub. But he couldn’t open his eyes just yet. The light would assault his pupils with more pain than he could bear; at the moment. His mouth was dry, though after drinking for nearly twenty-four hours straight, it shouldn’t be. And his teeth had sprouted some sort of velvet fuzz that his tongue desperately tried to scrape off.

‘He’s coming to.’

Jack overheard someone speak, but that wasn’t the puzzle that needed solving. Why was he all wet? Did the hotel have waterbeds? Did it spring a leak? The bed gently rocked beneath him, despite feeling like a raw piece of wood against his back. Just one more minute, he promised himself, then he’d deal with the voice and the wetness. First he needed to envision that exquisite moment when she climbed toward him. Like a goddess rising from the mist, she had chosen to bestow her beautiful smile on him.

‘Wake up!’

Was that a foot kicking him? Jack fumbled for the duvet. He knew it was on his bed last night, but it must have fallen off during the struggle. He laughed a little. Yes, struggling to get out of his expensive suit and her clinging dress. She didn’t put up much of a fight, and it had only taken one of his famous how you doin? grins to tempt her. She’d been climbing the winding staircase leading from the lobby while he was descending. Wow! She had legs that went on forever; though technically they ended were her lace panties started. A shade of intimate pink.

‘Buddy. Wake up!’

Jack brought his arm up. The light, whatever they were shining on him, must have been charged with a thousand volts. He felt its searing heat. His other arm shot out trying to find her on his bed; he did not want the dream to end. They had danced, flirted, and that led to some risqué behaviour on the dance floor. When the power went out, a bit of panic ensued. He remembered clasping her elegant fingers and running down the corridor toward his hotel room. Outside, a freak storm had picked up pace and slammed the lounge chairs, umbrellas, and whatever else against the glass doors. Safe in his ground level room, he had closed the heavy drapes. Standing in the darkness, she purred while unfastening his buttons. She buried her hands inside his freshly starched cotton shirt, and her skin became his skin. His trousers slunk silently to the floor. The game was on.

‘Leave him! He’ll come to when the booze wears off.’

Finds out what? Jack hated the voices; the inexplicable wet feeling. The gentle rocking made his stomach heave. Damn! He hadn’t been sick from drinking since he was a young pup. But it was unmistakable. The feeling of nausea crawling up his throat, bile burning.

‘He’s gonna hurl! His colour is changing.’

They were right. Jack retched. A long string of clear fluid, and painful dry heaves raised his stomach towards his throat. What happened to the day’s worth of JD, the finger foods he had nibbled on, served on trays that floated around the wedding venues, carried by faceless waiters. It would feel so much better if he could divest his stomach of something solid. Even the ice cubes that they served the never ending tumblers of JD with. This was excruciating, and he didn’t want her to see him like this. This was not cool.

‘Get him some water.’

Last night, his grey eyes had difficulty leaving her green ones. This morning they were sealed shut with the goop of dreams. What was her name again? He tried to remember. He had no problem recalling her lean contours, the champagne sized cups of her breasts, the red mouth, the silky long hair.Was it Stacy? Amanda? Ella? No. He was sure it was something exoctic, possibly feline, and she had been, partially, responsible for the strings of spittle that were dripping from his mouth. She could drink. All he could taste now was bile seasoned with salt.

‘Hose him off! Won’t matter if he gets wet.’

Someone was laughing. Jack shielded his eyes and braved the light. But it wasn’t the glare that caused his vision difficulty. It was the never ending blue. It was above him and all around him. He was sure his hotel room had been a shade of monotonous taupe accented by a shade of thrill seeking beige. And why on earth was he lying on a piece of wood? What the hell happened to his pillow, the mattress? And why on earth were three guys in bad cut-offs poking him with bare feet. He banged his head when he fell backward, but the cold splash of water made him bolt upward.

‘What the f…!’ Jack scrambled to standing, but everything around him swayed.

‘Give him a minute.’

A hand on his shoulder steadied him. Don’t fight it. Just go with the flow. The voice was smoker’s cough kind, but it wasn’t anyone Jack recognized from the hotel, or his life. In a glimpse, he saw the carved face on tanned skin. Tufts of sun-washed hair were subdued by what appeared to be a bandana made of socks. Jack’s hand automatically reached blindly for his own neatly styled crew.

‘Come on buddy. Open your eyes slowly. It’ll make the spinning stop.’

Jack squeezed his eyelids shut and then did as he was told. Slowly he unfolded them from the slumber he’d been under. Leona! That was her name.

‘Where am I?’

The horizon seemed closer than it should have been. Gone was the cluster of hotels, the cafes, the restaurants on the strip. Gone were: the throng of people, what’s-her-name, his suitcase, and his mind.

‘What is this place?’

Jack looked to his bare feet. He was stark naked and his fingers and feet were pruned. He’d been in water for some time. Plastic and water. All around him he heard the gently lapping waves. The hand on his shoulder steadied him; the ground beneath him moved.

‘What the …? How the … did I get here?’

Wobbly, Jack did a full three-sixty. There were twenty or more people staring at him. None were dressed any better than the men standing next to him. All were tanned like the sixties never ended.

‘You’re in The Patch.’

‘The what?’

‘The Pacific. We assume wherever you were last was hit by a tsunami. Most of us have been here for years. This is not the sort of place tourists visit.’

‘What are you talking about? The Patch. Why is there’s no land anywhere in sight?’

‘Hawaii is that way.’ The guy pointed toward the vast blue. ‘California that way.’

Either direction was void of anything other than the plastic, water, and the widest sky that wasn’t in to producing clouds. Could Santa Monica have vanished just like that? The stag party. The patio level hotel room he had insisted on. The binge drinking. The tremor in the ground that he had laughed off; thinking that the lovely woman in bed with him was rocking his world. All were memories trapped in a nebulous cloud he remembered but couldn’t touch.

‘What day is it?’

‘Best guess is Monday July 10th. It’s a long standing argument.’

‘Well, you’re wrong. Yesterday was Saturday June 30th.’

His stomach rumbled, and he noticed that his small potbelly had vanished and been replaced by a set of ribs he hadn’t seen since his early twenties.

‘Took me two weeks to float out from Japan. Remember the tsunami in Japan? I was there on assignment. Never even seen it coming. Been here since 2011.’

‘Is this some kind of joke my friends put you up to?’

‘No joke. You’re lucky to be alive. You showed up a few days ago. Must have had a bit of a bump to the head.’

Jack’s hand reached for his forehead and there it was. Ouch! The goose egg. He looked around and tried to gauge the people circling him. None looked familiar. Overhead a seagull squawked and circled; interrupting the infinite blue. Didn’t that mean they were close to land? Isn’t that what sailors used to navigate with? To make sense, he looked to his feet. He was tanned just like the others. In places, his skin was peeling off, his lips oozed, and he was completely naked.

‘Water? I’m Ron. You’ll get to know the others.’

‘Please tell me this is just a bad dream.’

‘Nightmare actually. You’re standing on human trash. Sadly, it’s also what saved us.’

‘Can it be possible to float out on a tsunami and survive? I must be dead.’

‘No. We found you floating in a refrigerator.’

A thin woman handed him a jar of water. She smiled meekly and tried not to look at his exposed parts. He quickly, pointlessly, shielded himself with his hand.

‘Don’t worry. She’s seen enough naked body parts. Drink.’

Water dribbled out the side of his mouth, his lips had forgotten how to drink from a wide mouth jar. He took another long draught. Surprisingly, until now, he hadn’t realized that he was parched and that water tasted so good. A man handed him a shirt and a set of torn, Nike shorts.

‘Have you tried to leave here?’ Jack asked.

‘Some have. Never heard from them again. You‘re in the center. This place is roughly the size of California.’

Jack’s mind raced. This guy was obviously joking, and it wouldn’t be long before the joke would be exposed. He searched Ron’s face for the first glimmer of a smile. If it was a tsunami, and earthquake, he only vaguely remembered the sensation of the world rocking beneath him. But where the hell was everyone else he had chummed with at the hotel? He’d become friends with the bartender, the concierge, the pretty Mexican who cleaned his room. His buddies, his best friend who, Jack twisted his wrist to check on his missing watch, would be getting married … when? Surely his parents would send someone to look for him. His brother and sister would be sick with worry. No. This was not happening. To him. He’d seen footage of tsunamis. The one in Japan, the one at the bottom of India. Sumatra. He thought of the Kama Sutra. He always got those two mixed up. When that infamous tsunami hit, he, like everyone else in the family, had been glued to the twenty-four hour news feed. Watching the disaster over and over again. Even warning people on television to run; faster. His family’s lavish Christmas breakfast intruded on and forgotten. It was unfathomable that a surge like that had hit California. He had donated money to the Red Cross for those who survived. To ship them plastic bottles of water.

‘Look. Take some time. Let’s have lunch. You haven’t eaten.’

Ron led Jack to the tarped shelters that were slowly taking shape among the floating ship of trash. On inspection, they were a complicated network of shelters strung together by fishing nets, held up by more plastic. Jack stepped on and over plastic bottles, singular shoes, balls of every sort, razors, toothbrushes, cups, more bottles, plastic bags, unrecognizable bits, clothing, car parts, boat parts, milk jugs, and straws.

‘Is the water safe?’ Jack meant the water he’d been given to drink.

“Sure. Sunlight sterilizes. We get alot of it.’

Jack’s hand groomed the stubble on his face. Feeling the length, he guessed it must be true that he’d been afloat for several days. He remembered a tsunami could travel five-hundred miles an hour on deep waters. He smelled something fishy, a hint of orange, and pineapple.

‘This is Trish. My partner. We’ve been blessed with a bounty. We’re thinking a ship carrying fruit from Hawaii was caught in the storm.’

Surprisingly the soup tasted amazing. He was hungry. And for the first time in his life, Jack examined the plastic spoon in his hand. Spellbound, he stared at the familiar yet alien tool. He had taken all of those things for granted. A good kick of guilt reminded him that he hadn’t always been a saint when it came to recycling. Why bother? That had been his mantra, knowing that roughly only ten percent was recycled. Consuming less had never occurred to him.

‘Don’t try to understand it. All of us on The Patch are guilty.’

Jack thought about the plastic razors he tossed in the trash can, about the plastic bottles he used to consume his favourite drinks, the packaging from his imported and expensive stuff. The plastic bags he tossed without caring because he always forgot to bring the cloth bags his mother bought for him. Besides, that sort of behaviour was for old ladies and granola people.

‘Am I going to die?’

‘Someday. I’ve been here for seven years; approximately. You’ve got to learn to make the best of what you’re given. The most important lesson you learn is that you can live without.’

‘Live without what?’ Jack hated the eluding Ron embraced as a style of talking. Jack liked facts and numbers. Or he used to.

‘You need food, water, shelter. Love is a luxury. I’ve learned to be grateful. For Trish, the sun, these people, fish, and even this shitty plastic.’ Ron gestured grandly as if the heap were his kingdom.

‘Are you their leader?’ Jack glanced up. Their number had swelled to at least a hundred.

‘I’ve been elected. We work on a democratic scale here. I’m the oldest, and I have a way of talking that calms people’s fear.’

‘You need some practice. Because–buddy— I’m scared shitless.’ Jack drank the bottom of his soup and slurped.

‘Whether you believe or not, God gave us a gift. He gave us a tongue so we can talk. And, here, that’s how we solve the petty problems. Sometimes it takes weeks to come to a resolution, but we never give up on each other. The others, those who left, well, they had other ideas. And that’s okay too. They left with the promise to send help if they ever got to where they think they were going. I think this bounty of fruit is from some of them.’

Ron looked to the sky above, hesitated a second too long, and Jack understood the meaning. They had perished at sea.

After lunch, Ron took Jack to the store. It even had a sign that said Krogers. Jack’s eyes calculated the sheer size of the tarped, makeshift store. Astounded, he limply clasped the hand thrust in his.

‘Nice to meet you Jack. I’m Monika.’ She explained, while leading him down the aisles, that she was the only person with retail experience.

‘Volunteering is the only currency here.’

Jack ran his finger along a stack of shabby shirts. He wouldn’t have used rags like that to polish his car. Someone had plastered a wall with Coca-Cola labels, another with brand names that were as familiar but not as iconic.

‘Socks are pointless.’ She pointed to a long line of clipped socks in all sorts of sizes, colours, and design. ‘But we recommend you dry your feet for a few hours each day. You don’t want to end up with webbed feet.’ She laughed.

‘What don’t you have?’ Jack looked around.

‘Things made of metal, believe it or not, are worthless here. The salt rusts everything. Wood is the new gold.’

Monika piled a few things on her floating counter; ingeniously made out of straws. The hammock, she explained, she wove from shopping bags. A blanket and mattress made of recycled netting, scraps, and more shopping bags; knotted by someone else.

‘Here is a pot. It’s still good. You can use it for anything. But we cook collectively here. Our water comes from an elaborate system Ron’s rigged up. More importantly, we all need a pot to piss in.’

Jack failed to see her sense of humour and thought it would be easier to just go in the vast ocean.

‘A razor, a toothbrush, a hairbrush. A towel. A drinking cup. Extra clothes.’

Suddenly, pent-up emotion overwhelmed Jack. His knees buckled, and he collapsed onto the floating floor. This could not be happening to him. He dug the heels of his palms into his eyes and cried. His salty tears stung the open sores on his face. Monika rubbed his back, and Ron stood quietly at his side. They had all been in that exact moment when realization dawned; just as the sun rises each morning without surprise. That he’d never enjoy another cup of coffee, that his parents would always wonder, that his silver spoon had been cruelly ripped from him and replaced with plastic. Worst of all–his tears just added more water.

Monika R. Martyn was born in Austria and immigrated to Canada as a teen. After retiring young, she enjoys spending time with her husband, travelling and the joys of writing. Her publishing credits include: Shoreline, Overture, and The Stand, Canadian compilations, Vine Leaves Literary Journal out of Australia. She has been featured online at The Moon Magazine, The Scene & Heard, and Mused.

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