It hadn’t escaped her notice that the voice had not heralded the coming of denial. Was it a bad omen? Maybe the rules were different at this stage. Kak thought about that as she watched from the far right window of the Last Call Beach Bar. The plane lifted off the ground, gained altitude, and banked north toward the cumulus clouds over Florida Bay. The sun winked once off the wings. She winked back with her available eye, tracking it until it made the clouds and faded into the cotton.
It was time to finish the game. To see how the story ended. Acceptance. Depression. Bargaining. Anger. Denial. She’d run the gauntlet. Followed the rules dispensed by the gods. Fought her way backwards from her mistake in Langone. Along the way she’d done things she wasn’t proud of. At least she’d tried to correct as many as she could. She could say that for herself regardless of what happened now.
Kak took a breath and held it. She shut out the footsteps and chattings of the travelers passing by. Her hand found the spot over her heart. This time without expectation. Without hope for the tremor she’d deprived herself of for so long. She smiled. Of course. There was only stillness under her touch. It wasn’t surprising. Not at all. After all this, any other result would have been confusing. If anything, it might have been disappointing.
She bought a bottle of spring water from the bar and exited the gate area. A minute later she was through the terminal and out into the rapidly aging morning where arrivals emerged into the parking area. The two-story mural of the Conch Republic flag greeted her there. In the fading paint above her a huge queen conch eclipsed the subtropical sun against a background of blue. Sunrays burst in every direction. One ray extending from the bottom of the sun, stretching down, pointing to a lone taxi waiting there. She got in.
Seventeen minutes later she was back on the sand of Straw Hat Beach. Completely alone, as she knew she’d be. Everything in place. Well. Almost everything. She took her cell phone out of her backpack, pulled up her contacts and waited in the warmth that already radiated from the sand under her feet. Stammer answered, as she always had.
Kak’s ink-stained thumb hovered over the red button on her phone. She’d done her duty.
“Hello?” Stammer said again.
Kak listened. Why? Did she owe her something?
“Hello?” Stammer repeated.
The wait on the other end of the line stretched far longer than expected. How long did a mother hold on? Kak had never stayed on long enough to find out. Maybe Stammer said a prayer of thanks. Maybe she cursed the silence. Kak had no idea. She’d always hung up as soon as Stammer answered. The paper-thin distance between her thumb and the pixels of the button was all that stood between her and absolute escape. She lifted her thumb and put the phone to her lips.
“It’s me, Stammer. I mean, it’s me, Mom.”
She waited for a response. Nothing came. Maybe Stammer didn’t know what to say. Maybe she was afraid to say anything.
“Mom?” Kak said. “Thanks for always being there. I didn’t get to say it last night.”
“I just want you to be happy.”
“Mom! Did you hear yourself? You didn’t stutter.”
“I guess I. Didn’t. Oh, damn.”
They both laughed. It could have gone in so many directions. All the unspoken possibilities between them could have played out if they’d only chosen it. If Kak had allowed it. Somewhere in those choices she and the woman on the other end of the line might finally have had something in common.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you. Too. Are you–”
Kak tapped the red button to end the call and squinted at the sky, satisfied to think of Rudy’s plane on its way. He’d be okay. So would Lili. And Kak? It had been a fine game. In the end the gods had all the cards but she’d played it well.
She opened the bottle of doxepin, tipped her head back, and dumped it all into her mouth. The twenty-eight capsules shifted smoothly against her tongue. Like beads. This made her think of Nono and she pushed him from her mind. She twisted the top off the bottle of spring water and flooded her mouth until her cheeks bulged. A trickle of water escaped her pursed lips, running down her neck.
The capsules swam in the dark aquarium. She moved them gently with her tongue, a school of deadly fish, with the small ocean she’d created around it already softening and weakening the fragile coatings. It would take seconds.
She found a spot on the warm, welcoming powder, letting it take the weight of her behind, her shoulder blades, finally her head. In the beginning it was all she’d wanted. In the end it was all she deserved.
If not for the rapid scraping coming from the Sunset Ale box, Kak would have forgotten. She rolled over just in time to see Evelyn slip out of her beat up conch shell and into the African Turbo. The hermit crab tucked herself deep into the new shell and blocked the opening with her purple claw.
That fits better, doesn’t it, Kak thought, reaching in for the old shell. She set it aside, a bauble for some wandering crab who found herself out of sorts and too large for her space. It was time for this, too. She gently grasped the African Turbo and set it on the sand.
If you see Ugarte, tell her I said hello.
Evelyn put her ten legs down and was mobile, dragging her new home behind her without so much as a backward glance. Damn right. One way or another, it was time for everyone to move on.
Kak told herself to close her eyes for the last time. She saw herself back at the terminal, watching Rudy’s plane. A long row of dark windows lined the bright fuselage. A dotted line. A string of black pearls. Until from within, someone pressed a hand to one of the windows, pale and distinct against the darkened interior. So clear she could count the fingers. Why had they done that? Was it goodbye? To a person? To the place? She’d never know.
The capsules mushed between her tongue and the roof of her mouth. She raised a hand, fingers spread like the hand in the airplane window, and showed it to the sky. Did the gods watch from the other side? She hoped so. She turned her hand so the back of it faced upward, curling her thumb, index, ring and pinky fingers into a fist, leaving her middle finger extended. This for you.
It was complete. She let her esophagus open so the final elixir could trickle down her throat, into her blood and brain, silencing everything once and for all. Like her own, she felt the throat of the eternal night open below her. Felt herself slide down its dark tongue. Slip off the back of it. Falling now. Into the abiding stomach of death.