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A Little Doom Fiction

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 Cinnamon    27,526

A Cup of Nectar and My Dignity

by Cinnamon

The thermometer read minus two degrees Fahrenheit in New York and when we got off the plane in Belau, it was nine p.m. and 86 degrees. Our tropical dream vacation had officially begun. Night blooming jasmine hung heavy in the air and my clothes felt like a clammy second skin. The dark silhouettes of palm trees against the inky night sky stood unmoving. Our plan was to rise early and spend a glorious day at the beach.

Our two sons woke full of energy when morning's first light crept through our bungalow. They whooped and hollered and jumped on our bed until Mark and I finally gave up trying to pull the covers over our heads and ignore them. David with his lopsided grin and Edgar with his two missing front teeth were too adorable and boisterous to deny. The boys chattered and argued all the way to the beach about who would be the strongest swimmer and who would build the best sand castle. I caught up to Edgar and tucked the Ralph Lauren label back inside his Reef Runner swim trunks.

Waves tickled my feet, gritty sand rubbed against my skin and from behind my Prada sunglasses I basked in the tingling, prickly heat of early morning sun rays. Fingers walked up my back and the sudden chill stream of suntan lotion followed by warm, strong hands massaging me gave me naughty goose bumps. This, combined with the giggling of the boys building sand castles a few feet away made this morning one of the most sublime I'd ever experienced.

"Like that?" Mark asked. His fingers trailed up my ribs and into the bra of my bikini..

"You'd better stop that or we're going to have to make a quick trip to the room."

"Think we can find a sitter on such short notice?" Mark nuzzled the fine hairs at the back of my neck and blew in my ear.

The smell of fried rice riding atop the salt air caused my stomach to let out such an angry growl that Mark and I laughed out loud. I rolled over and peeked at him over the top of my glasses. We resembled pale, thin ghosts compared to the tanned bodies of other vacationers who'd been there long enough to shed their winter white colors.

"What time is it?"

Mark looked at his chic Citizen's dive watch I'd bought especially for this trip. "It's twenty of eight. I think it's time to get our waterlogged selves off this beach and to a restaurant for some breakfast."

He stood, brushing the sand from his thighs and smiled at me, a slow, sexy grin that spread across his face, showing slightly crooked but astonishingly white teeth. It had always been Mark's imperfections that attracted me to him more than what was perfect about him. I'd loved him since the day we met at the hospital, I was an RN and he was a first year resident.

Over the years, my attitude became the consequence of living too well. I'd developed a well-deserved penchant for the finest of everything--a reward, I told myself for the grueling task of putting Mark through school.

I'd left my crazy sixteen hour days and endless responsibilities behind. It was my turn now. I got caught up in social circles I thought I'd never be privy to. We were perfect, all of us. The highly respected doctor, his perfect arm charm--me, and our two blond haired blue-eyed cherubs, now five and seven.

At one point, I thought I might never see him smile that slow, sexy way again. For months, he'd hardly spoken to me and sometimes I wondered if our two sons and eight years of marriage would be enough to hold us together. I can't fathom why I did it, why I had the affair.

I blamed it on loneliness, too many hours at home alone and staring at the television while Mark practically lived at the hospital. Or maybe it was the influence of 'the girls' I hung with. They all had affairs without consequence or problems in their marriages.

Most of our girl's-day-out luncheons centered around 'the details'.

"Stop being such a prude. You cluck like a hen about morality." My best friend Cindy told me this over a garden salad one day. "You'll see, it'll happen to you, too." The rest of the girls nodded and gave me knowing smiles. I didn't believe it for a second.

As if her prophecy commanded fulfillment, the very next day I met Jordan and pretty soon I became like them, living for stolen moments and guilty orgasms. The only difference between me and 'the girls' was my conscience. One day I blurted it out to Mark, the whole filthy story. Anger would have been easier to take than what he actually did. He gave me the silent treatment for almost a year.

All my begging and pleading for forgiveness went unheeded. He slept in the spare bedroom. He agreed to counseling only after I handed him divorce papers one night. It was only then he agreed to try and salvage what might be left of us. The counseling seemed to work, for him. For me, the guilt I lived with daily rose from a bottomless well.

I shook off the thoughts that threatened to ruin my perfect morning. "Sure, honey, call the boys. I'm starving." That was a lie. Guilt had a way of killing my appetite and I secretly called this lack of hunger my infidelity diet.

I stole a moment and watched Mark and the boys. He squatted down beside them and they all laughed at something I couldn't hear, probably something only a father and his two young sons could understand. I felt like an outsider, three men and an infidel. They caught me looking at them and waved at me. I motioned for them to get a move on.

A low rumble rose from the direction of the ocean and the earth shifted beneath my feet. I was still looking at Mark and the boys and their surprised expressions met mine. They tried to stand and were knocked down like dominoes. I staggered along the sand, lurching toward them. I fell and began to crawl. Why doesn't it stop?

The sand castle fell into unrecognizable mounds. Minutes dragged by. The rumble reached a crescendo as we clung to one another. It felt as though the earth would open its cavernous jaws and swallow us whole. We pressed our bodies flat against the sand. A weird silence engulfed my world at that moment. But we were all right. None of us were hurt.

Edgar said, "Wow! Let's do it again!"

"Yeah! Let's!" David said.

The boys jumped up and trotted toward the water. Mark ran after them, scooped them up and holding one under each arm brought them back to me. "Let's get back to the hotel," Mark said. "Something still doesn't feel right."

The eerie silence continued for a few more seconds, then there was a weird sucking sound. I looked back as the tide swept away, leaving wet sand for more than a thousand feet. Reef and ocean floor lay bared except for brown and green clumps of seaweed and a few flopping fish the water forgot. What a strange sight, I thought, unable to wrap my mind around what I was looking at.

"It's coming back! Run!" I yelled.

We ran like rabbits with hounds after us, sand flew behind our feet, churning and wild. The sound of rushing water reached my ears. I looked behind me. Instead of running, most of the other beach goers had walked into the area where the water had receded. They wore puzzled looks and I screamed at them to save themselves, but they weren't looking at me. They were looking at something else. Then I saw it, a wall of blue water so tall the people appeared antlike in comparison. The beautiful colors belied the threat of death it brought with it. It hung there, suspended, then it washed over them and they were screaming and then they were dying. I knew they were dying, just like we would, if we didn't outrun the churning monster. It breathed, it moved and it lived.

"Grab David, I've got Edgar!"

I read his lips more than I heard what he shouted. My ears popped and a tremendous amount of air pressure closed in around me.

I scooped David into my arms. My heart felt as if it would burst from exertion and anguish at the thought of losing my family. Then the air pressure released with a tremendous crash and the water engulfed us, tossing and turning us over and over. The force tore David from my arms and we were lost inside an endless wall of merciless water, tumbling and inhaling the salty brine. The look of horror and fright on my baby's face as the water carried him away from me will be forever etched into my memory. Sand clouded the water and it changed from turquoise and white foam to murky brown. I stopped fighting and let the wave take me, let it punish me for letting David go.

When I woke, my body had somehow been deposited into a tangled mass of debris hundreds of feet from the beach. Instinctively, I tightened my arms around my body, expecting to find David there with me. Then I remembered the wave crashing over us and just before that, Mark trying to outrun it with Edgar slung over one shoulder. I tried to rise on one elbow, but strength evaded me. My lungs hurt and I coughed, salty water bubbled from my mouth. Finally, I was able to turn over onto my side and I vomited, salt burned my parched lips and throat. I was half buried in stinking, thick black muck and when I understood what was around me, shock dimmed my vision. Bodies, bodies, everywhere. How long had I been there? Where were Mark and Edgar and David? Had they survived? I had to find them. I made it, maybe they had, too.

The ground quivered and shook with aftershocks. I thought surely God was going to destroy the earth. It was the day after his birthday and the world had not pleased him, of this much I was sure. I was one of those that added fuel to his wrath. With my selfish affair, betrayal of my family, my Dooney and Bourke purses and my Mercedes and exotic vacations and mudpacks and spas. I laughed a bitter laugh at the irony. Here I lay on the beach of an exotic tourist Mecca, half buried in black mud. Yesterday I would have paid a fortune for the opportunity.

I don't know how much time passed before I rose to my feet. I searched for the place where our bungalow had been, but I couldn't find a thread of familiarity anywhere. The smell of raw sewage with metallic notes of copper filled the air. Everything had changed, even the landscape was obliterated, palm trees with their fronds lazily waving in the breeze just hours ago were uprooted and strewn around like matchsticks. People wailed and pounded their heads with their hands in grief. Where was order? Where were the officials, the authorities that always took care of everyone when there was a catastrophe?

Bloodied hands reached out to me and anguished voices cried for help. I searched each face, but they were not my family's, so I walked slowly past them. Finally I realized they were naked and so was I. The earth spun and I felt myself falling, that was the last thing I knew until I woke inside a tent made with bamboo poles draped with dirty canvas cloths. An old woman squatted and cried in the corner. I rose and staggered outside. No one tried to stop me; they were lost in their own grief. Wood smoke wafted through the air. Even a simple campfire offered a beacon of hope for me.

An old man held out a steaming cup and I greedily drank the weak tea he offered. Even though it seared my throat, my thirst was overwhelming. He held out the tattered remains of a muddy sheet and steadied me by holding my shoulders while I knotted it around my chest. I sat down on the ground and wept at those simple acts of kindness. The tea was nectar and the muddied sheet restored some of my dignity.

"Thank you." I turned away from him. My vulnerability filled me with shame. A disaster has a way of leveling the playing field, of making true equals of us all. All pretenses fade. Survival triumphs. It's all relative.

My heart told me my family was dead. I could feel it deep inside me. First I became numb, then I grew angry and then I wept some more. At last, I slept, lying in the street until I woke to someone shaking me.

"Can you help us? We need help." It was the old man who had given me tea and the sheet. He stood over me, hands outstretched, offering to help me up. My eyelids were leaden, each movement caused every muscle in my body to scream with pain and stiffness.

"I can't help you."

"But you must. You can walk and talk and you are alive. Please."

I faced him and stared into vibrant green eyes. How strange, I thought all islanders had brown eyes.

"My family's gone, too. I'm the one that needs help."

"You'll go back to your life. This is our life now." He raised his hand in a sweeping motion.

I squeezed my eyes shut and tears fell. His rough hand wiped them away.

"Come now, young woman. Find your strength and help the others. We'll look for your family along the way."

He helped me up and together we walked through the carnage. We had nothing ourselves. How could we possibly help these people? As if he could read my mind, the man turned to me and said, "Even holding a hand is help." So, that is what we did. We went from one person to the other and even though some didn't speak our languages, the tone of voice was comfort enough.

After several hours of wandering about this way, my RN training kicked in. We needed organization, materials and supplies. We needed water and food. I found myself shouting at people for their attention. Soon a small crowd gathered. The man with the green eyes interpreted.

"We need dry wood, we need to build fires. Those of you who aren't injured, we need to set up shelters for those who are. You, over there," I pointed to a group of women huddled together, "Look for pots and pans, anything to boil water in. Gather up anything we can use for bandages. Use whatever you can for bedding."

The old man looked at me, his weathered face crinkled and a shadow of a smile passed briefly over his features. People were no longer aimless. They had a mission now and had direction. I watched the hope grow on their faces, the determination replacing despair.

Today I gaze into the smiling eyes of my adopted daughter. She slips another bead onto the string with a tiny ebony hand. Gentle waves tickle the bottoms of our feet. Sometimes, when we lie on the sand with early morning sunshine dancing between scant clouds, I tell her about a sublime morning when I smelled fried rice, how we laughed at my growling stomach. I can still hear my sons giggling as they built sand castles a few feet away. I tell her about a green-eyed stranger who offered me a cup of nectar and my dignity.

She giggles and looks at me with vibrant green eyes. "But he's not a stranger. He was my Grandpa."

It's at that moment my heart blooms with love and I have to hold her close to me.

"Yes, Mokie, he was your grandpa. And what a wonderful Grandpa he was."

I take her by the hand and we walk slowly down the beach toward the smell of wood smoke.

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 Cinnamon    27,526

Thanks, FT. Lives are changed in an instant by disasters and people can change themselves but it usually takes a little longer.

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 garlic    2,639

Amazing story! Well done .... I could see the entire event though your words as clearly as if I was there!

And it it a great reminder that life can changer forever in a single moment.

Thank you for sharing it with us.

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Wow Cinnamon!! You have excellent writing skills! I enjoyed reading this! It reminds me somewhat of the movie "The Impossible" which is based on what happened to a vacationing family in Thailand when they got caught up in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. If you haven't seen it I strongly recommend it! Its an excellent disaster flick, and its based on a true story too.  I really enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing!!

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