There was a time when things were different.
It wasn’t always like this.
When we had first arrived, the girls and I, it had been paradise. A paradise of clean air, turquoise water, flowers, rainbow-bright parrots squawking from palm trees. We’d enjoyed our week of holidays and we’d almost managed to get out in time, before our memories of paradise would be marred forever.
But, without warning, it was all destroyed. On our last day.
I had gone out for an early morning walk and I watched the horrifying scene from up on the cliffs overlooking the water. A handful of planes appeared out of the blue, screaming by overhead. Their bombs rained down over the bay, breaking up boats, houses and bridges. Smoke and shards of steel and wooden hulls were thrown into the air.
And then, just as suddenly, the planes disappeared again into the robins-egg-blue of the morning sky, leaving behind noise and terror and smoke. Life scattered everywhere.
Nothing would ever be the same again.
I stood watching for hours, unable to move.
Later that day, I descended the hill on shaking legs and ventured to the edge of the bay where the smoke still rolled thick along the water. Broken bits of planes and boats floated by, disjointed and lost on the receding tide. The water was murky and brown.
I felt numb amidst the smoking destruction and the scrambling activity of the clean-up effort already underway.
I don’t know how long I stood there but finally, propelled as though in a dream, I clambered from the shore onto a piece of debris and pushed off into the water. It might have been the wooden hull of a boat at one time but for me, it was a raft.
Without thinking, I knew where I was going. I followed the edge of the bay towards a stream, away from the disaster. At first I couldn’t see him, but I knew I was floating after the man I loved, the man I knew would save me. The current carried my raft upstream, through long reeds and rushes. The water here was still murky and brown with bits of debris, but the smoke and stench and noise was behind me now. Receding.
I caught sight of him, up ahead near a bend in the river. He turned back and smiled encouragingly. How anyone could smile in these times was beyond me, but seeing it calmed my racing pulse and I continued to follow, seeking reassurance. I watched as he floated ahead of me, ahead to safer, cleaner waters.
I knew I should be back at the hotel packing with the girls. A picture of them popped into my mind, their suitcases open, bright dresses and candy-coloured bottles of nail polish strewn across their beds. Today was supposed to have been our last day here and we were supposed to be leaving. Mandy would be angry with me, with my absence. But who knew if there were even any boats left to ride out of here?
Anyway, I was occupied. I was following a dream.
He floated ahead in the mist until he came to a place where the river narrowed by a small wooden dock and a boathouse, their brown paint peeling in the hazy sun. I could hear the water lapping at them gently.
He disappeared around the corner behind the boathouse and I followed, using my hands to paddle the raft out of the now-languid current.
By the time I had come alongside the back of the boathouse, he had disappeared. I climbed off my raft and onto the dock, making my way toward the door I had seen from the water. I could feel the peeling paint crinkling under my feet.
I noticed the sun was getting stronger. It beat down on my shoulders and the top of my head. Absently, I thought about the smoke blowing away, out to sea, and the morning fog burning off as the sun climbed higher into the sky.
The doorknob was hot when I reached out to turn it.
Inside, the boathouse was dark. It was empty, too. Dark and dusty and empty, with more peeling paint. I looked at the floor and realized that no one had been in there in a very long time. Mine were the only footprints in the thick carpet of accumulated grime.
Word count: 749
Written in response to the prompt from this week’s Speakeasy at Yeah Write: write maximum 750 words, beginning with the line, “There was a time when things were different,” and referencing in some way the following picture: