Excerpt from On the Island

by Leah Sandals, Learner, Writing Workshops

Waiting for the ferry to dock, Julia was inspecting her mint-green manicure when a leaf fell into her cleavage. “Fuck,” she sighed.

Sea winds had already ruined her blowout, and dark clouds threatened to soak her through before she met Martin. She tried to fish the leaf out and scratched her sternum. A deckhand reclined against a bollard, smiling at her. She frowned and turned away, inadvertently crushing the leaf into brown flakes that spread over the front of her black silk blouse. Feeling herself sweating, she tried to brush them off but couldn’t get them all—would Martin think he’d made a mistake? Had she made a mistake? She reached into her pocket for the bottle of medicine the naturopath had given her. As she spritzed it into her mouth, its herbal, alcoholic taste mingled with the diesel smell of the boat exhaust and the salt of the water, and the elixir produced the Dumbo-feather effect she had hoped for. She wouldn’t crash into the ground. Not this time. She watched seagulls wheel over the bobbing steel hull, observing that their crap was nearly titanium white.

When Julia first applied to the residency, it had sounded idyllic: spend four months on an island off the coast of Maine. She’d be far from her dealer, who kept pushing her show in favour of works by younger, shinier artists; far from art fairs where her work resembled a polyester scarf at a mall kiosk; far from the art openings with cheap red wine and everyone gathered to congratulate and envy each other; far from the fertility clinic where the doctor stared steadily at her file, never at her face, while outlining the increasingly expensive options available to her; far from alleyways that smelled like piss and men who stood too close in the subway.

As she stepped off the ferry, clasping her dyed white-blonde hair (a colour which helped hide the grey) to the nape of her neck with one hand and dragging her small, silver rolling suitcase in the other, she felt elated. The sky was clearing. Pale beach grasses waved in rhythm in front of stunted pines and cedars, growing at an angle, hugging the rocky slope. Just above was a small, one-street town, where a drugstore/gas station/beer store/post office advertised ice creams, perched on the rocks. There, tourists from the mainland milled about, priming themselves to taste spheres in every colour of the rainbow.

Martin met her in the store’s parking lot, waving from behind the wheel of a forest-green Mercedes SUV affixed with a magnetic sign: “Byrd Island Residency Program.” They had only talked on the phone before, but she had seen his face in thick, glossy, perfect-bound magazines: “International tech magnate and art collector returns home to found residency centre,” these stories reported. “Believes creativity will revitalize childhood haven.” In those magazines he was often shown wearing a close-cut navy suit while standing barefoot in the sand, or posing in a plaid shirt and Carhartts next to a large, shiny metal sculpture that resembled a ball of fishing nets.

“Julia!” he said, stepping from the vehicle and kissing her on her left cheek, then her right. His hair—brown with white streaks—rose from his forehead in a pompadoured arch that somehow failed to shift in the breeze. As he leaned in, she could smell his cologne—sandalwood and black pepper. CEO-grade styling products plus lots of yoga equals xenoestrogen-compromised yet highly motile sperm? She wondered. “So glad you’re here. Great to finally meet you in person.”

Leah’s excerpt was written for Cordelia Strube’s workshop: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level II’ (CWWR 411).


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