ISLANDERS

 

Dear Wife,

Don’t know if you’ll even read this email, as you are probably busy fucking your artist lover who has all the time in the world to spend with you due to having no actual job and leading the artistic lifestyle you always wanted for yourself with your vague ambitions related to woven potholders and watercolors of tropical sunrises. Just wanted to let you know I’ll be out of town for the next few days on an important work assignment. In case you decide to slither back to the house to apologize or retrieve additional belongings. In case the jobless artist tires of you, turns to you suddenly and says, Didn’t you have a husband or something?

Supervisor Ross has sent me to this strategic coastal sardine town Re: Island Drifting Irretrievably to Sea. Tiny man-made island has floated a half mile off the coast for decades. In recent months, it has appeared more distant. Mainlanders speculate that islanders are paddling the island away from land, or neglecting to paddle it toward land as part of daily island maintenance.

I’m staying in a bed and breakfast. The plump, attractive female innkeeper just knocked bearing a tray of ball-shaped snacks, dense pastry filled with savory cream. I scooped out savory cream with finger, left pastry husks on tray. You might have insisted I flush husks down toilet to avoid giving offense.

From my balcony I can see the distant orange glow of the bonfire that burns from the center of the island. We would have been okay if we had lived on a tiny garbage island. It would be difficult there to find a jobless artist to sleep with. No Laughter Yoga studio with dim moist changing hallway. I hope you’re having fun, is all. Hope it was worth throwing away twenty year marriage like one of the balled Kleenexes you carry in your purse.


Dear Wife,

This morning I had coffee and more dense unpalatable pastry with the Mainland Mayor, who hates the island, wants it reeled in and broken to pieces, leaving an unblemished view of the ocean horizon. The Mayor described how the island was created sixty years ago by a group of mainlanders disgruntled over a twenty cent hike in the trolley fare. Trolley fare was emblematic of many small accumulated grievances. The island was cobbled together out of old car parts and expanded over the years as islanders excavated shipwrecks and intercepted drifting debris. Its current diameter is one eighth of a mile.

I spent the rest of the day assessing mainland opinion. Many think the island is an eyesore, welcome its drift out to sea, hope it eventually docks in some town with a competing sardine industry. Others find the island comforting, waiting always out one’s window, like the moon.

The jobless artist is tall with lush blond hair. He wears rings on six of his ten long fingers. But is jobless artist person of influence? Does he meet with mayors of coastal towns to decide whether to reel in or let drift away famous scrap metal island? I don’t think so. I think the artist pretends to be making art but most of the time is lying in his studio smoking menthols and masturbating into yogurt containers. Is this really the kind of man you hope to make a new life with? Don’t you think you’re a little old for him? Don’t you think he’ll get bored, go back to fucking twenty-something art students in fishnets and tartan skirts who think he’s a daring genius?


Dear Wife,

Today an elderly fisherman took me out to observe the island from closer range. He yelled historical details over the roar of the boat’s motor. Entire population of island descends from original six disgruntled mainlanders. Horribly inbred. Island girls smell like fish but are oddly appealing, being like animals, full of raw animal desire for men not in their bloodline. The fisherman cut his motor near a docking platform made of car doors. Up from it sat half of a wicker couch, the other half missing as if bitten off by a shark. A grimy man sat on the couch with a shotgun across his lap. I yelled that I needed to talk to the Island Mayor. The grimy man claimed the Island Mayor was too busy. I said the Island Mayor better meet me and the Mainland Mayor for coffee tomorrow or else grave consequences for all islanders.

Behind the rusted walls, island girls stalked in tattered nightdresses, fixing me with erotic stares through gaps in the metal. I’m considering seducing an island girl as a gesture of revenge, but you know how I feel about female hygiene. How I refused to make love to you that time you came back from a jog and began kissing my neck in the kitchen while I was grinding coffee. I’m sure your jobless artist doesn’t mind, is extra turned-on by sweat-salted skin and pockets of damp heat. I’m sorry for what I wrote yesterday, about your being too old. It’s not your age that’s the problem, wife, it’s that you’re boring, your creative impulses trite and juvenile. Your woven potholders don’t even function as potholders. Aunt Susie burned her right hand using one you gave her for xmas two years ago. Had to go to hospital with second degree burn, begged me not to tell you as she didn’t want to hurt your feelings. My family agrees you should stick to administrative assisting, abandon dream of handwoven potholding empire as jobless artist will soon abandon you.


Dear Wife,

The Island Mayor arrived on a motorized raft for a lunchtime summit with myself and the Mainland Mayor. The Mayors stared at each other through the murk of their longstanding intractable conflict. The Island Mayor denied the island’s drift to sea. Described hoop apparatus on pole, used to measure distance between island and mainland. Mainland town hall is used as a guide. Some mornings town hall fills the whole hoop. Some days, half of hoop, but by next day, back to full hoop.

Assume your failure to reply means you don’t care either way whether I seduce island girl.

After Island Mayor left, Mainland Mayor explained how the island is run on rats. Rat population has grown parallel to human island population, through rampant incest, yielding sluggish, lopsided, easily-caught rats. Favorite rats are kept as pets and made to wear tiny hats and bows. Wind chimes are crafted from rat bones, garments from rat fur. I pointed out that during lunchtime summit Island Mayor was wearing a polo shirt and jeans. Mainland Mayor huffily claimed this was just a special costume for meeting an important government official.


Dear Wife,

Received unexpected morning visit from a local astrologer who begged me not to let the island drift irretrievably to sea. He’s in love with an island girl who rafted to mainland six months ago to procure antibiotics for her dad’s staph infection. The astrologer floats care packages each day with the girl’s favorite foods, including bananas, waxy vending machine fruit pies and cans of chocolate frosting. He’d take a boat closer to the island to ensure receipt of his packages by the beloved girl, but is terrified of water, being a Capricorn sun sign, all his houses rooted in earth and fire. He wishes he knew the island girl’s sign, but islanders do not keep track of birthdays.

It was for sake of love, then, that I recommended to Supervisor Ross we tether the island, reel it in, vaccinate island children, kill majority of rats. And you said I was not romantic, gift certificate to wax salon inappropriate anniversary gift. Jobless artist is capable only of wearing tight jeans and fucking you with a dick revealed by tight jeans to be larger than average and always somewhat hard due to friction of denim. Jobless artist cannot facilitate grand romantic gestures such as uniting hydrophobic astrologer with fish-scented island girl.


Dear Wife,

First attempt at reeling in island has failed. Islanders kept cutting cords with gardening shears. Mainland Mayor said islanders are showing outrageous lack of appreciation for the gift baskets floated over every week for the past twenty years, assembled on Saturday afternoons by Christian congregations. Also ingratitude for the mainland government not strafing the island off the face of the ocean fifteen years ago when a young island man swam to shore and impregnated three mainland girls. God knows how many more he managed to stick his inbred rat-fed cock into, Mainland Mayor said, before jumping to his death off the roof of town hall. Luckily all three girls miscarried due to the island sperm’s degenerated chromosomal content.

Wife, I’m sorry I said you are not interesting enough for the jobless artist. It’s only that you’re not interesting in tacky ways jobless artist might recognize. The way you soften foil-wrapped pads of butter in the cove of your palm. The cold morning glow of your Seasonal Affective Disorder lightbox. The high adorable pitch of your sneezes. Maybe you just don’t love me anymore, after twenty years of marriage and no kids because I said we couldn’t afford them on my salary and then when my salary increased I offered you a choice, a baby or the trip to Europe you always wanted, and it was kind of a joke, but also wasn’t a joke because we went to Europe and when we came home we thought baby would impede future trips to Europe and the glamorous jetsetting lifestyle we’d both secretly always wanted, and then more years passed and still no kids and also no additional trips to Europe and now we’re too old. But we could still get a dog, like you wanted. I don’t mind walking dog on winter mornings.


Dear Wife,

Mainland worker shot today by islander while the worker was affixing a tougher tether to the island. The Mayor is excited, says this is what we need to get mainland population firmly on the side of reeling-in. Worker okay, was only flesh wound.

Mayor suggested bombing island using some kind of catapult. Asked if I could procure bombs; doubtful, as Supervisor Ross is notorious cheapskate. We met with an engineer, who said it would take a week to build a catapult. In waning daylight, a band of drunk mainlanders gathered on the boardwalk to discharge their rifles toward the island. No one could tell if they were hitting anything, as the island appears more distant than ever.

In bed now. Innkeeper just left. She entered my room on the flimsy pretense of checking water pressure of showerhead. Lonely woman. I invited her to have a glass of brandy with me. She perched on the bed and told me she fears islanders will send over rafts of saboteurs who will commit gross terroristic acts like putting collected rat feces in restaurant pastry mix. She described how islanders frequently die of dehydration due to improper rationing of water sent in Christian care packages. Husks of former islanders pushed unceremoniously off side of island. Sometimes bodies wash ashore. What will we do with all these new people, she said. I played optimist, pointed out that it’s only about thirty people and that they probably have all sorts of survival skills that will prove useful to the mainland economy. The innkeeper edged closer to me. I took her hand and squeezed.

I could have made love to the innkeeper, but the buttery glow of her skin only reminded me of the way you warm pads of butter in your small, soft hand. I said I needed to go to sleep as the next day would be full of important meetings. The innkeeper slunk away with a sad smile. I can still hear the sound of guns being discharged randomly toward the glowing embers of the island.


Dear Wife,

We are under siege! In the hours before dawn, islanders boated over and began throwing improvised grenades into the open windows of hotels and restaurants. Gasoline was poured, fires set. I crouched under my window and watched as two island men dragged the Mainland Mayor into the street. They stretched his arms taut while a third man drove a sharpened pole into his abdomen. Horrible! I’ve barricaded my door with furniture, but it is pointless. I will not make it out of here alive. Take everything, take house, take old coin collection from Grandpa, sell and make new life with jobless artist. I only want you to be happy, my darling. My one true love, my beautiful, sweet Bonnie!


Dear Wife,

Disregard last email, which I wrote at three a.m. upon finishing decanter of brandy. Town isn’t really under siege, but it’s good to know you don’t care if I live or die.

Was breakfasting with Mainland Mayor when Island Mayor appeared on motorized raft. Pleaded for peace, said he’d allow reeling-in of island, just for God’s sake stop shooting at them. The mayors shook hands. The engineer is disappointed his catapult won’t be needed, though it wouldn’t have worked anyway because no bombs.

As the island was tugged in, mainlanders gathered to watch, dressed in formal clothes, arms crossed over chests in manner of disappointed parents. The mayor ordered police to board the island and flush the islanders out, then made the islanders stand in rows on the boardwalk for inspection. The islanders wore distant, dignified expressions as the doctor shone his pen light into their pupils and examined their tongues for healthy pinkness.

I’ll be home tomorrow. Will begin construction of the backyard cottage you always wanted, a workshop in which you can do your weaving and watercoloring. You can even keep seeing the jobless artist, as long as you shower after. I am prepared for many forms of radical compromise.

Below my balcony, the astrologer and his beloved island girl sit on a bench. The island girl stiffens when the astrologer kisses her cheek. She is probably already fantasizing about building a new island, waiting until cover of night to paddle away from the astrologer’s love. They brace themselves against gusts of coastal wind and stare without speaking at the empty curve of the sea.


Kate Folk is from Iowa and now lives in San Francisco. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Puerto del Sol, PANK, Wigleaf, the Tin House blog, and elsewhere. She is a 2014 fellow at the San Francisco Writers' Grotto. See more at www.katefolk.com.