Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Short Story: "Portions"

Well, this is it, folks! My 20th completed short story and the eventual title story for the short-story collection that I plan to put together in e-book form this year. I picked the title for my story collection months ago, but never gave much thought to writing a story by the same name until today. As it turns out, it was an unexpectedly good call to try and write one. Once I had the idea, the story sort of wrote itself.

Now having finished 20 stories (which was my goal all along) and reached 25,158 words total (25,000 was my goal), I can now begin the process of self-editing before I start to put it all together in book form.

To all of you who've read me faithfully this year, thank you very much! If you have encouraged me through comments or whatever, keep it up – most writers, myself included, are extremely insecure when it comes to what they've written. They (and I) almost always think what they've written is wonderful, but seen through another's eyes, it's easier to take a critical eye at things that need more work, and to better appreciate why certain things work well or don't. I know I'm not a fantastic writer, but I try to put forth quality work whenever I write something. Any comments that you feel comfortable giving on this and any and other of my stories, believe me, I welcome it! All that being said, I hope you enjoy this short story, entitled "Portions"....


Four sips of water and four sandwich quarters per day. Pimento cheese and lettuce. Never more than that, and often less. By the time I receive it, the the bread is already crusty, the pimento cheese slightly rancid, and the lettuce brown and wilted. But it's food, and it sustains me.

I haven't seen daylight in eighteen months. That is, I think it's been eighteen months. I keep losing count. After five hundred days, I stopped counting altogether. One reason was that there was no more room on the wall. Another is that I stopped caring. Well, almost.

How I wound up here is actually a funny story, if you think about it hard enough. On the surface, it might sooner be deemed a tragedy. My hubby and I had arrived here by cruise ship as part of a romantic getaway. It was supposed to be a second honeymoon for us, since our first one was protracted, as I was doing clinicals at the time and couldn't get away for a whole week.

We had the whole day on the island to do whatever we wanted, as long as we were back on the ship by 6pm. I wish we'd been paying better attention to the time, or we might not have wandered so far away from the ship. But there was so much to see and do here. Such vibrant colors everywhere – the houses, the stores, even the fire hydrants (the favorite color for those seems to be magenta). Everything back in the States is dull by comparison. Of course, I'd trade anything to see that dullness again.

Here I see nothing but three walls and metal bars. I haven't seen Stephen since they locked us up. I pray every day that he's still alive. If he is, they're keeping him somewhere else. I haven't heard his voice in so long, except in my dreams. But back to the story.

We'd been having a marvelous day trip here on the island, and we'd just finished eating lunch when a strange man approached us on the street. This wasn't altogether unexpected, as the cruise director and all the brochures warned us this was a possibility. Just be polite, they said, and respectfully decline whatever it is they're trying to sell you. Sometimes it's legitimate merchandise, sometimes it's black-market, and sometimes there is no merchandise at all – they're just out to steal your money.

It seems that constables are stationed at every street corner here, which certainly engenders a sense of security. Except when you're in the middle of the block, closer to an alleyway than a street corner, and your hubby has to stop and tie his shoe. Which is exactly where we were when the man approached.

He was dressed much like the rest of the natives we saw, in a brightly colored floral-print shirt and purple khaki shorts. Indeed, the clothes are as flashy as everything else around here. He wore a straw hat that looked like he made it himself and that had seen its better days. He offered us a brochure of some kind, written in the native language, and began pointing at the words in bold across the top. He spoke little English, but tried to convey what the brochure was all about as best he could. Something about political prisoners and modern torture methods. In retrospect, I probably should have paid better attention. It may have helped me understand why we were taken.

When the man seemed sure that he'd piqued our interest sufficiently (although he really hadn't, at least on my part), he beckoned us to follow him to a door in the alleyway. He bore a broad grin that exposed jagged (and a few missing) teeth which was more creepy than inviting, but for some reason we followed him. Stupid, I know, but we thought maybe we'd get something free out of the deal, an authentic native meal or something just for listening to the man rant in his own (and badly in our) language.

As soon as we crossed the threshold of the door, which was shabbily constructed and well-worn, we knew we had made a mistake. Two very large men filled the tiny space we'd entered, a cantina of some kind that appeared to have dried up decades earlier. To describe the two men properly would be impossible, as we only saw them for a few seconds. Immediately, one of the men grabbed me while the other manhandled Stephen and wrestled us both to the ground, faces-down. I couldn't tell you what they hit me with, I just felt the impact at the back of my head for half a second, then nothing. When I awoke, I was here in this cell, obviously somewhere below-ground. It was (and still is) dank, very dark, and cold. Ironic since it's probably swelteringly hot aboveground, as it usually is here and was the day we arrived.

I'm sure our families went out of their minds when they heard that we'd been left on the island by the cruise ship. Certainly they'd assume that we'd just catch the next flight, or boat, or whatever,  off the island and head back home as soon as we were able. What dark thoughts – all of them valid as it turns out – must have passed through their minds in the ensuing months might have already killed Stephen's parents. Jim and Dottie were much older when they had Stephen than my parents were. Jim has a bad heart, and Dottie has high blood pressure. My folks are on opposite sides of the country, but they would have likely kept in touch these many months to see if the other had heard from me.

But no one had heard from me, because I have been here. I'm sure Stephen hasn't been able to reach out to anyone back home either if he's in the same situation I'm in. I'm sure he is, if he's not dead already. My heart tells me he's alive, but I still worry. With good reason, of course.

I've never known who our captors are. I've never even seen their faces. They shine light in my face four times a day when they bring me water and my sandwich quarter (to make sure I'm still alive?), but my blinded eyes can't make out any facial features that I would recognize later – if there is a later.

Are we political prisoners, like the ones in the strange man's brochure? If so, why? If not, why are we here? What about Stephen and I would be important enough that the government of this island nation would use us as a bargaining chip for political purposes? And why do they think the United States gives a rip about the two of us when it won't even negotiate with terrorists?

Whatever the reason, we're here. Well, I am for sure. Daily I fantasize that Stephen has found a way to escape and is plotting to free me any way he can as soon as he can. Or maybe he has escaped and made his way back home and bringing reinforcements to come back and get me. Maybe he's lost his memory, doesn't know who he is, and doesn't even remember that I exist. Or maybe he remembers everything, and has chosen to move on with his life without me. The thought of that is ten times worse than imagining his being dead.

I wish I could offer you a better ending to my story. But it is what is is I am still here, waiting for my release or my death, the ultimate release. I have no greater hope than that, unless it is to see Stephen again. I sleep fitfully, day and night, and wake to a worse nightmare than I've endured in slumber. The door to the outside world opens four times a day, and I am given my portions. I force them down and keep on waiting. I survive.

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