The Last Man on Earth
She heard the plane long before it came into view, its small engine sputtering and whining. The jungle fell silent as the plane climbed into the sky and died. It hung weightless before spiraling into the ocean. A moment later a parachute opened — one small blot in a pristine sky.
She was impressed by the way the man worked the lines of his chute, swinging in his harness, moving toward land. Once he hit water, the white silk settled over him and floated on the surface like a large jellyfish.
Well, that’s that, she thought, watching the slow current carry the whole mess around the south end of the island.
Later, just as the trio of black-crested gibbons were finishing their evening song, a yoo-hooing voice moved toward her.
“Thank God for your signal fire.” A young, haggard man sank to his knees. “It led me right to you.” Men, she thought, taking the single fish from the spit and offering it to him on a banana leaf.
“Do you speak English?” he said a moment later, as he returned the leaf with its small nest of bones.
“Yes, I do. English major. Virginia Woolf.” Her eyes followed the scalloped moonlight of the shoreline. “I thought I’d done her one better.”
“Well, Virginia,” the man said, laying out a large knife and a small folding saw. “Your troubles are over. Tomorrow, I’ll start whipping this place into shape.”
At sunrise, he lashed the knife with its thick leather handle to a bamboo pole. “Any predators here? Large ones?” he said, as he waded waist-deep into the lagoon.
“Just us,” she called. She watched as he brought up the first fish, a small grouper, a huge hole in its pink side, its gill covers flaring wildly.
“There’s no refrigeration,” she said, watching the fish slam its tail against the sand. She stunned it with a stone.
“Well done,” he said, anointing her with a smile as he dropped a black bass beside the grouper.
“We can’t eat all these.” She inspected the wound on the bass. “They won’t keep.” She raised her stone.
“I’m taking an inventory. It’s good to know what you have.” He grinned and trotted into the water, the spear glistening overhead.
She dispatched the bass and walked to the next lagoon. As she bathed in the pristine water, small fish nibbled her fingers and toes. He was a nice looking man, she thought, good facial symmetry, adequate cranial circumference, and he had blue eyes. So did she. It tickled her to think that a recessive gene suddenly stood a small chance, not only of surviving, but of becoming dominant.
“We may be,” he had said the night before, “the last two people on earth.” A momentary gleam ignited in his exhausted eyes as he spread out the parachute like a silken sheet and fell asleep.
“Very likely we are,” she’d murmured, as she curled her body against his and felt him pull her snug against his side. She had not told him about her surveyor’s cabin with its small stove, cot and fourteen months worth of ecological diaries.
The line of dead and dying fish had tripled by the time she returned. The man stood thigh-deep in water maneuvering a sea turtle toward land.
“That’s an olive ridley,” she said, recognizing its heart-shaped shell. “They’re critically endangered.”
“Soup,” he said, pinning the turtle to the beach with one foot. “And there’s monkeys here too.” He freed the knife from the pole.
“I’ve got something much better.” She looked deep into his blue eyes. “Much, much better and just for you,” she whispered, as he turned toward her and the turtle slid back into the water.
She selected a puffer fish from the row of bodies on the beach, and taking the knife from his hand, she filleted it, liver and all.
by Karen Stromberg
Reading by Beth Adams – Download the MP3