FIFTY-FOUR, 2.0

Pauline woke to redness. Clouding and washing over her field of vision, red and salt forced her eyelids shut. She could barely breathe, and the smell reminded her of fishing off the Santa Monica pier the one and only time she’d visited her uncle on the west coast. He was a beast of a man, always wore brown and taught Pauline that to stand out, you have to blend in. Odd that she would think of him now, it’d been years and besides, she was currently busy drowning.

Why would he suddenly come to mind, she hadn’t a clue…

Because she was drowning!

She coughed and tried to move her arms, but there was a heavy weight holding them back. She pushed, and still nothing. Then she felt the weight across her chest, pushing her lungs tighter and tighter as she sunk below the surface of the water.

Her seat belt.

She unclasped it, which was easy, but as she tried to swim to the surface there was more and more water crowding her, air bubbles rising past her at great speed. She was being sucked under the undertow, probably wouldn’t escape it at all.

With the last of her energy, a burning in her insides and throat and chest, she kicked and pushed — and broke through the surface.

The sun was out, and shining brightly, and washing away the red in her eyes. She cleared them with her hand while kicking, though she didn’t know where to go. In front of her was only ocean, as far as she could see. The whirling engine of her plane spun to the left, so she turned and saw, beyond the sinking plane, an island. Green trees speckled the sand on the shores, with some brown and rocks comprising the far side of it, it seemed.

It was small, and only a short swim away. And there was a person on shore, a mysterious looking person waving his arms. Was it a he? Pauline couldn’t tell, so she swam over.

When she reached the shallow shores, she stood and removed her flight jacket, the heavy leather peeling away like a hundred-pound weight. Now the man on shore was running towards her. His shirt was missing and he had a deep red cut across his chest. Suddenly he stopped running and started to skip, then limp. He checked his foot, obviously having stepped on something sharp.

Blood drizzled out of the bottom of his foot as he grabbed Pauline and pulled her into a hug. “Fred!” she shouted, happy to have a friend nearby to help her figure out what had gone wrong.

He pulled back, grabbing her face. “I thought you’d gone down with the plane!”

“I don’t remember — what happened?”

A few hours trickled by, and in that time Fred explained the loss of plane functions and their sudden fuel leak. He complimented Pauline on her skills in not crashing nose-first into the water, but seemed to worship an unseen force that they’d gone down so close to dry land.

“We’re gonna make it out of this, aren’t we?”

Pauline couldn’t find the words to answer either way. The pain in her nose was throbbing throughout her entire body, though Fred said it added character. He had always been complimentary. Pauline’s mother thought Fred was in love with her, but Pauline knew he was just a kind friend, and wished she’d had more of those.

She missed him immediately the next morning when she awoke to Fred choking on his own blood. His injuries had looked only skin-deep, but clearly that was not the case. She’d hoped to spend her last days with the company of a friend, and wished she’d treated him better throughout their adventures.

Around the world, what kind of a crazy flight plan was that. At night she pulled both her jacket and Fred’s tattered pants close to her skin.

Days later, feeling and looking emaciated, the throbbing of her broken nose still shooting through her body, Pauline thought she heard a plane in the distance, and tried to wave her arms. But she was too tired. She looked over to Fred’s unmarked grave, her stomach growling, but she resisted the urge to commit an act most foul upon his corpse.

She instead wandered out into the shallow ocean, searching for a crab, or small fish. She found one or two that were silly enough to swim close, but the meat wasn’t enough. So she waded further into the ocean, and the water was cool and refreshing so she swam even further out, recalling again the smell off the Santa Monica Pier and the time with her uncle, all those years ago.

As she floated further out, she turned her body around to face the sun. Her vision was washed with white light and blue sky.

When the rescue ship finally skirted the island, no one on board walked ashore to find Fred’s unmarked grave, and by then Pauline’s body was long gone.

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