By Sarah Erb
The angry osprey circled slowly over the harbor and screamed down at the emergency vehicle as it snaked its way westward toward the marina for the second time in as many days.
As the air grew thick and cold, the street sounds faded to whispers. The bird floated effortlessly on the silent updrafts of the dark rainy morning and watched as the tiny truck slowed. The flashing red and yellow lights reflected against the white enamel top of the rescue unit as it disappeared, then reappeared between the damp green live oaks in route to the boat docks.
The bird, seemingly motionless, watched the moisture in the heavy gray air explode into prisms as it haloed the blinking headlights and streetlights which added to the acid colors of the surreal miniature village dissolving into a crisp peaceful scene of no sound. . . . colors and no sound . . . a melting spectrum of colors and total silence. . . .cool soft sparkling crystal rainbows . . . sooooo beautiful.
The bird screamed again as Woody could feel herself being unwillingly ripped into consciousness by the piercing sound of a siren . . . . . or was it a bird? The sun sandblasted her eyes and salty heat sliced away the dark damp tranquility.
“Hey, hey, the Kapok lives. . . . how ya doin’ ,lady?” Woody looked up into the perfect smiling face of Ibis Lagoon who was pressing a paper towel soaked in peroxide against the throbbing wound above Woody’s left eye. The sun reflected directly behind Ibis’ astonishing hair, which caused Woody to have the brief, but distinct feeling that she was being tended by a celestial being.
“God, she really is beautiful,” thought Woody, “I could truly hate her if she wasn’t so damn nice. I wonder what she is doing here on the boat and where is the ambulance for Lucas?”
Silhouette after silhouette encircled Woody. The sun was positioned in such a way that she could not distinguish any specific facial features, just shapes etched by the searing sun. Each looming figure looked directly down at her until Woody had the giddy impression of lying on some sandy fifty yard line, centered at the bottom of a curious kind of “heavenly beach huddle”. She smiled and closed her eyes.
“Sixty four – thirty two – Ahoy and hike!” “Hike ahoy, hike, hike, hike. . . . . . God, it is sooo bright and hot and . . . . . hark the herald angels huddle . . . fa la la la la la la la la la . . . I sing like a sea gull. . . . bird around the left end. Hut, hut, hut . . hot, hot. Hot. Let me go back to the beautiful cool.”
The women smiled and Crash even muffled a giggle as Woody provided a stream of semi conscious ‘play by play’.
“She seems to be coming around.”
“Yeah, right, sure . . . . around the left end.”
“More like the DEEP end, if you ask me.”
Knotty reached forward to help in some way and realized that she had no idea how to be of any assistance.
“I hate this. I cannot tell you how much I hate this kind of thing,” she said to herself.
There sat Ibis, instinctively nurturing the dazed Woody, patiently soothing her and ministering to her swollen eye, while Knotty stood by and watched helplessly. Her best friend was lying on her back, hurt and incoherent and she couldn’t do anything; she had no control over the situation.
Knotty Edgewater was a woman who needed control. Her own insecurities and vulnerabilities demanded that her immediate personal world be in order. The failed attempts to achieve surface perfection had plagued Knotty most of her adult life. This trait was one of the many qualities that made her possibly the most accomplished competitor in the club. It also was the primary characteristic that created resentment among many or her friends and fellow sailors. On more than one occasion, she had offered unsolicited criticism and advice where it was not welcomed. So given this situation, Knotty did the only thing that she knew to properly punish herself. She lit a cigarette. “Did I mention how much I hated this?” The words and exhaled smoke came out of her mouth together.
Woody rolled her head slowly back and forth on the cradle formed by Ibis’ lap and smiled quietly. . . . . . “Can’t be heaven, I hear Knotty.” The self appointed quarterback of this heavenly team actually laughed aloud which allowed the searing forehead wound to bring Woody much closer to total consciousness.
Lotus slid sideways through the group of women gathered on the beach and knelt. “Here, drink some of this. Sit up a little, if you can. Just sip it slowly. Eeeeeaasy now. Choking wouldn’t be a very good idea.” She had supplied a bottle of chilled water and the sports top provided a perfect means for Woody to drink.
“Damn it, now why didn’t I think of that?” thought Knotty and took another drag on her cigarette. “How hard would that have been?”
Woody’s thoughts were coming closer together now . . . bird . . . . city of lights . . . bird . . . . siren . . . heat . . . angels . . . .sirens. . . .heaven . . . . football . . . LUCUS!!!!!
Jerking herself into an upright position almost caused Woody to pass out again. Instead, she faded painfully back down onto the folded knees of archangel Ibis.
The intense noise and white hot sunlight combined with the familiar rancid smells of the bay made throwing up an absolute and immediate necessity.
“Vomiting with a head wound is not a good sign. I vote we call 911,” barked Crash.
“Vomiting anytime is not such a great sign, Knotty responded, ”but I think we should give her a sec or two to come around.” Knotty smiled that peculiar rye smile that made the ash from her cigarette hop with approval and immediately land upon the wet sand close to Holly’s foot.
Holly unconsciously moved her foot to the left and crushed the ash into the sand. Holly’s late husband had died of lung cancer and she had an obsessive loathing for cigarettes. The timid woman was scarcely aware of her reaction, but added this to the other subtle resentments she had lately developed toward Knotty.
“You know how Woody is,” continued Knotty,” she will be mad as hell if she wakes up and finds out that there are little men in white coats coming to get her.”
“That is NOT funny or appropriate, Knotty,” chastised Holly. No one was more startled than Holly to hear that statement emerge from the mouth of someone who spoke so seldom.
“Look, you guys heard her. She was talking about birds and angels.”
“True, she sure wasn’t making a whole lota sense.”
“And what was that Lucas thing all about? She said something about a Lucas.”
“Yep, she also said that we should HIKE, HIKE, HIKE, if you remember? (In unison) ---- CALL. The three women broke from the heavenly huddle and
Crash was already half way up the embankment when Woody spoke.
“Nobody is calling ANYBODY until SOMEBODY explains to this BODY what is going on”, said Woody as she pushed herself up, diagonally supported on one straightened arm.
“Hey that’s more like it. Welcome to the land of the . . . . “
“Well, well, we thought that we were gonna have to chalk you up to another trailer tragedy,” smiled Lotus.
Amid the relieved chatter, Indigo explained to Woody how Flora’s trailer had plunged down the crusty ramp, narrowly missing her and how she had slipped when she had to dodge the rattle trap “run away.”
“I know, I know, I know all that,” responded Woody. “But I didn’t hit my head, I thought that I hurt my hand and scraped my leg.” She now seemed impatient, disgusted and was trying to sit up.
Indigo went on to elaborate about Flora’s unconcerned attitude and general oblivion and how she had shuffled away, going behind the shed, acting as if nothing had happened. “Guess she is still back there conjuring up an additional disaster for us all.”
Woody now forced her self up and sat Indian fashion on the sticky sand. “NO, no way!! That can’t be right!! Flora can’t possibly be here. That is not how it all happened!!,” gasped Woody. “No way, no way, no way!”
“Way, baby, that’s exactly how it happened,” corrected Knotty. “It was a close call. Flora has pretty much ruined both your and Lotus’ sailing today, but there is no reason to get so upset. I think that you are going to be alright and everything else is ‘sailing as usual’. Now maybe you should lean back and take it a little easy before that wound opens up again.”
Knotty was leery of her friend’s behavior. She had known Woody for many years and this was not the reaction of the calm, reflective, analytical scholar she knew.
“There will be NO leaning back or taking ANYTHING easy until I can get some of this straight”, rasped Woody.
There was a strange intensity in her words that was clearly not typical for the casual young doctor.” thought Knotty.
“You know as well as I do that Flora is dead!”
There was a frozen moment . . . It was like one of those Polaroid snap shots that slowly fades into recognition, only this time it was strangely moving in reverse. Holly, Ibis and Indigo exchanged concerned looks as Crash and Knotty hesitated only momentarily, then began helping Woody struggle to her feet and supported her under each arm as they walked past the gray weathered bench into the shade of the boat club. None of the other women spoke as Woody continued.
“Don’t you remember, Holly? You were the one who told me.”
Holly reddened as if she feared that the others would blame her for Woody’s words.
“What day is this?” Woody snapped.
“Well . . .Thursday, of course. We always sail on Thursdays, you know that . . .”
“It is NOT Thursday! This is FRIDAY and it should be raining, misty and cool. Lucas and Flora BOTH have been murdered and Indigo is going to be next. I think, and . . don’t look at me that way. It IS Friday and all of you know it. What kind of sick joke is this?” Woody had grown pale again and Knotty noticed a slight tremor in the last three fingers of her right hand. “This is nuts. You all know as well as I do that Flora was floating face down by the ‘Bass Lady’ and . . . come on guys. . . she was wearing that revolting shirt. . . . remember?” Now Woody’s voice broke off in a tremor. . . “What is happening here?”
None of these women liked experiencing weakness in Woody. It was almost like she had betrayed them. Woody was the core of this club and each of the other members looked to her for strength and logical guidance. Seeing her skin grow pasty white and hearing her irrational claims, caused these ladies to feel more resentment than pity.
Silently, Lotus slipped onto the outside porch and called fire rescue which gave her an opportunity to finish the Butterfinger that had been haunting her.
“All of you are lying to me! Why would you do that? My damn head is a jack hammer and you guys should be ashamed of yourselves. This is NOT funny and it is time to stop it.”
And Woody Kapok did stop it. She stopped it herself.
Maybe she could feel the need projected from her friends. Maybe she required her own composure in order to think more clearly, maybe it was just plain survival but what happened then was remarkable. Woody slowly took a deep breath and closed her eyes. You could actually see her forcibly reconstruct her rationality.
She had lived in India for several years while writing her dissertation, and meditation as well as yoga had both become a part of her daily routine. The room was soundless as the others watched Woody center her self. She took that ole Polaroid snap shot and pushed it right back into focus . . . created it, out of her personal mental chaos. It was an impressive thing to feel and the group of friends became silent out of respect for what they were they were witnessing.
She breathed. She breathed slowing and quietly. She was totally motionless except for her steady deep breathing. Minutes passed and she continued to breathe. She remained motionless except for the steady rising and falling of her chest as she breathed repeatedly and rhythmically.
When she opened her eyes, the OLD Woody emerged. It was the person that they all knew and had relied upon for so many years. The relief was palpable.
“OK,” Woody began. “Despite the number of times we have made emergency phone calls from this dock or the volume of the sirens in my head, here is what happened in MY yesterday. After Holly’s boat was damaged, I avoided the trailer and then Flora, The Red Menace, struck again by demolishing most of our fleet’s boats and somebody killed her.”
The casual delivery of her version of the events almost made the others smile.
“The next day, which SHOULD be today, Knotty and I went with a police lieutenant, named Starboard, to Lucas Bilge’s rickety old boat and found him dead too. . . .Lucas that is . . not the attractive cop . . . This morning, that is FRIDAY morning, it was misty and beautiful and I was right in the middle of a incredible out of body experience when you crones woke me up and put me on ‘Bloopers and Practical Jokes’. But I have no fear, any minute now somebody is going to walk out of the men’s bathroom with a TV camera and everyone will have a big laugh and this will all make sense.”
At that moment, coming through the door on the west side of the club house (which was not precisely direction of the men’s bathroom, but close enough), a short rather well-built paramedic appeared carrying what, at first glance, appeared to be a large camera on his right shoulder. The coincidence of his entrance and Woody’s description resulted in gasps from the five women and then relief in the form of laugher. The young man was rather stunned by the greeting. Very seldom during an emergency call, after entering a room, did he get laughs as a response? Without hesitation, he hoisted the heavy medical kit down to the worn wooden floor and knelt over the metal box. He threw open the chrome latches and flipped up the lid with a certainty which reassured the women that he had done this many times before. He immediately began taking Woody’s vital signs and the women quieted as he checked her pulse and temperature, took her blood pressure, and evaluated her pupil response.
While Woody’s eyes were faithfully following the path of a small flash light that the EMT was wielding around her face, she was anticipating the questions that would surely follow, if not today from this very capable fireman, perhaps tomorrow from the striking police officer:
And when did these episodes first begin. Ms Kapok? Did you do an excessive amount of drugs in your youth? If not, why not? What is your approximate weekly alcohol consumption? Is there insanity rampant in your family? Do you read much science fiction, madam? Do you have any history of precognition . . . or are you just plain nuts? Was your father a wizard or mother a lizard? Woody had to resist the temptation of saying “Boo!” and managed to stifle a laugh and …. only…. smile as their noses touch when the intense young man pushed his face directly into hers.
But the question that was plaguing Woody the most was . . why had she said that Indigo would be next? The other instances were things that she had experienced or thought that she had experienced in the past. But where in the hell did the notion about Indigo come from? How could she be correct about the past while predicting something that would happen in the future?
Granted Woody had never really cared for Indigo’s boastful arrogance but wishing her dead hadn’t ever been an option. She had never cared much for Flora either, for that matter, and look what happened to Flora. Could mere thoughts have CAUSED these awful things to have happen in the future or the past -- whenever? ‘Couldn’t be . . she never even knew Lucas before yesterday . . . or today . . or whenever.
Woody was suddenly very tired. Her forehead throbbed and she decided to dismiss all of this contradiction to the simple fact the she had fallen and hit her head. Aside from two boats, everything was intact. Indigo and her car were alive and well; all of the trailers were in one piece and Flora was still free to plunder and maim.
“Hmmm,” she thought smugly, “you can’t have everything. Besides, everything wasn’t EXACTLY like it had happened. The wounds were in different places in each scenario. There was no paramedic in the earlier version. I just hit my head and that’s all there is to it. This is not “Ground Hog Day”, it is not “Fifty First Dates”; Rod Sterling is dead and I hit my head.” Woody was amused at her desperate nursery rhyme and felt better. The resolution of injury was somehow comforting and a concussion would certainly be a small price to pay in order to satisfactorily explain everything. It was neat. It was logical. She liked it.
She breathed again, this time with temporary relief when a truly horrifying notion occurred to Woody – what if SHE had killed Flora and Lucas? Not with her thoughts controlling fate, but what if she actually, physically had murdered these people and now she was in some kind of massive state of denial? What if, in the near future, she was GOING to kill these folks? Could she be a closet sociopath? Was Indigo St. Joseph the next Woody Kapok victim? Tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion of . . . she yearned for the comfort of the rainy, cool, dark morning of tomorrow.
“Well, Doc, is she gonna pull through?” asked Knotty, whose cigarette alarm had gone off several times earlier and was now screaming because of the unusual extended quiet and tension. Without waiting for an answer, she started out past Crash toward the porch on the side of the building where Gorgeous Bass Gal and many of the other local boats were docked. Just as Knotty reached the door and opened it, a second paramedic loudly and rather clumsily fell past her into the room. He had entered from the porch through the eastern door and had narrowly missed falling as Crash stepped, with her usual alert quickness, out of his way.
She looked at him with what amounted to tangible pity. It was impossible for her to conceive of a person being so hopelessly inept at movement. Crash Caladesi had made the ’84 Olympic team. This was a fact that she never elaborated upon, as if the resurrected memory was still too painful for her to discuss. And she had retained the grace and stamina that only the combination of a natural athlete coupled with years of training provide. She held the door open for Knotty who joined several women waiting patiently on the porch to hear details concerning Woody’s diagnosis.
Watching this young, slightly pudgy, blond man stumble around, trying to regain his footing, forced Crash to grab him around his right shoulder with her free hand, quickly let go of the door and prop her arm against his waist. This swift, simple gesture provided the perfect fulcrum to steady his approach and it was done with the ease and effortless poise of a seasoned dancer. They nodded in mutual understanding and empathy as their eyes met and his gratitude was unnecessary to express. She actually felt sorry for him.
In direct contrast to the crisp uniform of his small, tidy partner, this paramedic’s blue cover alls appeared to have had been worn for several days and they had never been ironed. He wasn’t dirty, just wrinkled, wilted and unkempt. It was obvious that he had shaved that morning because two small white specs of toilet paper remained stuck to his chin to cover the worst of the razor nicks. Awkwardly, as the young man attempted to wrestle some oxygen equipment to the floor, he almost stumbled backwards over two old rusty folding chairs and he did manage to knock over one of the small end tables situated to the left of a frayed overstuffed rocking chair.
“I am losing my mind here and they send me the ODD COUPLE,” thought Woody. “I do love physical humor but I am not sure how much more of this I can take.”
As Felix Unger continued his meticulous examination of her condition, Woody imagined that she was either going to be the key to resolving these murders, the prime suspect of committing these murders or hauled off to the loony bin because there WERE no murders.
I can hear that cop now, she thought. “Look lady, I don’t want you to leave town, do you understand? I can’t allow you to go anywhere until we get to the bottom of this.” Isn’t that what the detectives always say? – “get to the bottom of this.” What in the hell does that mean anyway?
Or she countered:
“We need you. There is no way that we will be able to solve this without you. I need you. You know what is happening before it happens. You gift of prophecy is the answer. Your insight is spellbinding. I need you. I love you.” She winced at he own melodrama.
Finally she hummed. “They are coming to take you away, ha, ha. They are coming to take you away, hee, hee. They are going to take you away, ha, ha. They are going to take you away, hee, hee.”
The tiny Mag Lite was making laser jagged slashes on the backs of her retinas and Woody’s head was feeling like a furnace. She clenched her back teeth tightly and willed the firefighter to put out the flame. He drew back from her and looked stunned as if he had heard her thoughts.
To her total surprise and embarrassment, she then realized that the last stanza of her thoughts, she had sung. She had spoken aloud the “They are going to take you away, ha, ha,” rhyme and “No doubt, she thought, “I did the HEE, HEE part as well.”
“I must have,” she thought. “Look at their faces.”
Oscar Madison actually had his mouth open. His fleshy pink chin was hanging loosely from the bottom of his infantile face . . . toilet tissue and all.
Again there was an awkward pause as the ladies surrounding Woody were trying to decipher exactly what their reaction should be concerning her reasoning abilities, when a huge CRACK was heard followed by the unmistakable sounds of destruction. Boats were hitting the parking lot pavement. Women shrieked and shouted. . . . fiberglass hulls popped as they landed on the cement. The noise was deafening.
The intensity of the screaming and earsplitting commotion drew every one from the porch and boat club but Woody and her personal Felix. He looked ashen. “I am afraid that it’s started,” she whispered to him. “It had better be raining in the morning.”
High above, the huge bird circled the chaos and resented the disturbance. The task of finding food was difficult enough without all of this noise.