It’s Over Island
A Short Story by Barbara Meyers
When Alex McCarthy opened his eyes he had no idea where he was. He lay for a moment allowing his senses to adjust. He was in a simply furnished room. Sunlight splashed through sheer curtains fluttering in a light breeze. The walls were the palest of lemon yellows, the curtains a froth of eyelet and lace. The bed was a simple white wrought iron design covered with white sheets and a squash-colored woven blanket, the kind you buy at Wal-Mart or JCP.
The door opened and a man Alex had never seen before greeted him with a smile. “Oh, so you’re awake. Welcome.” He advanced into the room and came to a stop at the side of the bed, peering at Alex expectantly. Alex had the oddest feeling that he was looking into a warped mirror image of himself. His visitor had sandy hair going grey and unremarkable features. His eyes were a cross between grey and blue, his hairline receding. He could be anywhere between fifty-five and seventy, it was hard to tell with men like him. He had no discernible paunch, was dressed in khakis and a royal blue polo shirt.
“Who are you?” Alex asked, staring.
“I’m Ted. The official welcome wagon.” He stuck out his hand. “Good to know you.”
Alex stared at Ted’s hand unsure whether to take it or not. “Welcome wagon? Where am I?”
“Where are you?” Ted chuckled. “You, my friend, have just arrived on It’s Over Island.”
“It’s…Over…Island?” Alex thought for a moment. “What’s over?’
Ted tilted his head. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
Alex thought for a longer moment. A frown formed between his eyebrows. “I kissed my wife goodbye.”
“Hmmhmm,” Ted said as if he’d heard this before. “And what did she say?”
“She said, ‘Goodbye. Have a nice time.’”
“Yep. She kissed you goodbye, all right.”
Alex’s frown deepened. Anxiety clawed at his chest. “Where is she? What is this place?” He sat up and pushed the covers back, swinging his feet to the floor.
“Whoa, whoa. Hold on there, buddy. Calm down.”
Alex’s irritation was getting the better of him. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” He stood which put him toe to toe with Ted, their gazes nearly level.
Ted licked his lips and blinked behind his glasses, but he wasn’t intimidated by Alex’s tone. “I told you. You’re on It’s Over Island. It’s where husbands come when their wives want them to go away.”
“Okay. Ha ha. Very funny. Good joke. Who put Beth up to this?”
Alex strode to the door and stepped out into a hall thinking he and Beth would have a good laugh about this and it would be one of “their” stories, one they’d tell each other and their friends for years to come.
The hallway was empty and seemed to stretch for a very long way in both directions with closed doors at either end. Alex turned right and started walking. Ted tagged along behind him.
“It isn’t a joke,” Ted informed him. “There are a lot of wives, mine included, who give up after thirty or forty years. Divorce is more trouble than it’s worth. Painful. Expensive. Murder, while I’m sure many of them have contemplated it often, has some unpleasant consequences. From what I understand, most of these women don’t want a divorce or a dead husband. They just want their husbands to go away.”
Alex stopped and Ted bumped into him. Alex slowly turned and stared at Ted again nose to nose. “Are you saying my wife just wanted me to go away?”
Ted pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Yes. Your wife. My wife. A lot of wives. There’s a whole bunch of us here. I’ve never counted, but trust me. We are not alone.”
“Ridiculous,” Alex insisted. “You’re making this up.” He started walking again but stopped at an open door to peer inside. A man about his own age glanced up from a jigsaw puzzle spread out on a table near a window in a room identical to the one he’d just woke up in. Except this room had a more lived in look. There was a ratty blue bathrobe thrown across the end of the unmade bed and a pile of dirty laundry in the corner.
A seed of doubt began to work its way into Alex’s mind. He continued on to another open door. The man in this one was napping, his gray hair mussed, a slight snore emanating from his open mouth. A newspaper was strewn in sections around him. The comics page had fallen to the floor.
Alex’s steps slowed as he peeked into room after room, seeing that samed warped mirror image of himself. Guys about his own age, with that comfortable ordinariness about them, engaged in various forms of sedentary activity. They all had one thing in common. They were all alone. They all looked a little bit lost. A little bit sad. A lump worked its way into Alex’s throat but he refused to lose face in front of Ted.
Could she? Alex wondered as he neared the door at the end of the hallway. Could Beth have sent me away? Did she just want me to go away?
It was hard to believe it could be true. They’d been married for thirty-five years. They had two kids. They’d had their ups and downs, tense times and happy times. They’d worked and scraped and grown side by side, building a life together. At least he’d thought they were building a life together. But maybe he’d only seen what he’d wanted to see.
Doubts crept into his mind in light of this new possible revelation. Beth had wanted him to go away. He wondered how long she’d wanted that. If it were true, he reminded himself, the hope that this was just some sick joke not entirely snuffed out.
All of a sudden all Alex could think about was Beth suggesting they go on a cruise. Take dance lessons. A cooking class. She’d wanted him to walk or start bicycling with her, warning him he needed to take better care of himself. She’d wanted to visit a nearby vineyard, explore hiking trails, do a tandem skydive. “You want me to jump out of an airplane? Are you crazy?” His response to that suggestion reverberated through his head. But all he could see was the disappointment written all over Beth’s face as he’d nixed yet another one of her ideas.
A play at the community theatre? A comedy club? The county fair? Antiquing? The flea market? The farmer’s market? Whitewater rafting? A canoe trip? A minor league baseball game? Go out on New Year’s Eve? To a party at Kate and Tom’s?
Alex had said no to all of it. He liked his routine. He liked staying home. He liked his recliner and his big screen TV. He liked being in charge of the remote control. He liked doing nothing except what he wanted. Hadn’t he worked his butt off for forty years? Didn’t he deserve to take it easy now? He’d raised a family with Beth, bought a home, built a life, dammit! Why did he have to make more of an effort? He was tired. He was done. Why couldn’t she understand that?
At the end of the hall, he pushed open the door and stepped into a cavernous room, partitioned off into hundreds of cubicles separated by another long walkway. He crept slowly along, discovering that each cubicle held a flat screen television, and a recliner. Some had gaming equipment and DVD players. Several of the recliners were occupied with more men who reminded him of himself. They wore headphones and had command of their own remote controls. Each man occupied his own little world. Once again Alex was reminded eerily of himself. Of his comfortable man cave with all his stuff. A place where he could be alone. For hours at a time. Which meant he left Beth alone. For hours at a time. Funny, he’d never thought about that before. He wondered what she was doing now. Now that he’d “gone away.” Now that she’d sent him away. For that matter what had she been doing when he’d been there but not really there?
“A hundred and sixty channels,” Ted informed him. “The NFL package, all the premium sports networks in fact, and all the movie channels. Pretty much anything you want to watch any time you want to watch it. Except porn. They want us to go away. They just don’t want us to enjoy it too much.”
Alex had never cared all that much for porn. It had all seemed a little sad and a little sick to him. The few times he’d watched it, usually at a buddy’s bachelor party, or a couple of times on a business trip, he couldn’t help thinking the women in it were somebody’s sister. Somebody’s daughter. He’d think of his own sister, Sharon, a mid-level manager at Wal-Mart. She’d been a pretty little thing in her youth. Or his own daughter Tiffany. He’d have died if she’d ever done anything like what was shown on the screen.
At the end of the hallway was another door. Alex pushed it open and came into a large area set up to look like a country kitchen. Along one wall was a counter and behind that a prep and cooking area. His steps slowed as he took in the furniture arrangement. Fifty or more small square tables occupied the space, each with only one chair. The message was clear. You will be dining alone.
Alex winced, recalling the evenings he’d arrived at the dinner table with a magazine. How he always had to have the TV on so he could watch the news while he ate. Even though now he was home all the time and there were at least four channels where he could catch the news twenty-four/seven.
He thought of the meals Beth had prepared that he hadn’t really tasted, hadn’t appreciated. Of the times she’d attempt to start a conversation with him, patiently waiting until the commercial came on. His heart sunk into his stomach. His steps slowed.
There was another door at the end of kitchen seating area. Alex wasn’t sure he wanted to open it, but he did. All manner of exercise equipment greeted him. None of it was in use. The place was one massive gymnasium with a basketball court, a volleyball court and an elevated jogging track circling the perimeter. The whole place was deserted.
“We’re not much on exercise,” Ted offered helpfully from behind. “We talk about playing pick up basketball once in awhile, or using one of the treadmills.”
Ted didn’t say anything else. He didn’t have to.
Alex pushed yet another door open and found himself outside. The sun was shining. A velvety green lawn sloped away from the massive structure. Lush landscaping looked as though it had been carefully tended. In the distance he could see water lapping at the shore. There were a few puffy clouds in the sky. It was a beautiful day.
“You can get your own plot for gardening,” Ted told him. “There’s a charter boat that takes us out fishing once a week.”
Alex thought of his penchant toward motion sickness, one of the big reasons he’d nixed the cruise idea.
“Or there’s the beach. Get a tan. Go for a jog. Snorkel.”
No, no, no and double no.
Alex had followed a path through the grass to where it dead-ended in a brick-paved circle overlooking the planted areas. Flowers bloomed. The sun shone. All was right with the world. Except Beth had sent him away.
He felt sick to his stomach at the thought. He was starting to believe everything Ted had told him. It’s over. He believed it but he couldn’t accept it.
Beth wouldn’t just kick him out of her life this way. He knew her. She wasn’t cruel. She wouldn’t purposely hurt him. She’d never take such a drastic step without talking to him first.
She has tried to talk to you, though, hasn’t she? Alex tried to push that thought away just as he tried to push away the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. There were benches placed around the circle of brick. Alex sank onto one of them when his knees gave out. He dropped his head in his hands.
Beth had been trying to tell him something since the day he’d retired. No, before that, if he wanted to be honest with himself. Which he didn’t, but apparently he had no choice. His mind churned just as his stomach did as it fed him a repetitive reel of Beth asking him to do things with her, to go places, to get involved in the community. He had a variety of responses for each suggestion: He was too tired or too busy. He didn’t like “those” people or that activity. He had a bad back or the knee he’d had surgery on was bothering him again. The time wasn’t convenient. It was too far to drive.
Always he had an excuse and always Beth had turned away in disappointment. She hadn’t given up, though. She’d kept coming up with ideas and suggestions, tried to keep her enthusiasm going and every time he’d stomped on it.
Maybe she had given up. For good. Because Alex could see now what she’d been trying to tell him for a long time. They weren’t really together any more, not like they had been in the beginning. They were just two people occupying the same space. Roommates. Companions. They got along. But there was so much emptiness between them.
A sob worked its way into Alex’s throat and he didn’t even try to hold it back. He didn’t care what Ted thought, barely even remembered he was there.
“Yep,” Ted said, slumping back on the bench next to him. “It’s a kick in the pants, isn’t it? The one person you think is going to love you forever wants you to just go away.”
Alex might curl up in a ball and cry his heart out later, although he doubted it, but he wasn’t going to do it now, even if Ted understood completely how he felt.
He got himself together enough to ask, “How long have you been here?”
“Couple of months.”
“Is this it, then? There’s no going back?”
“Oh, no. You can get back. Maybe.”
“How? I’ll do anything.”
Ted gave him an assessing look. “You think you will right now. We all do. But ‘anything’ might be more than you’re willing to take on. Besides, it’s up to your wife whether you get to go back.”
“I said I’d do anything,” Alex said forcefully, and I meant it. “Tell me how I get back.”
“There’s only one way back, buddy. You’ve got to go through the Second Chance Chateau.”
Author’s Note: Tomorrow I will publish Chapter Two “Second Chance Chateau.” If you enjoyed this story please share it.
Check out my web site at www.barbarameyers.com
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A MONTH FROM MIAMI IS THE FIRST OF THE BRADDOCK BROTHERHOOD BOOKS PUBLISHED BY SAMHAIN PUBLISHING.