“The human brain had a vast memory storage. It made us curious and very creative. Those were the characteristics that gave us an advantage – curiosity, creativity and memory. And that brain did something very special. It invented an idea called ‘the future.’ “ – David Suzuki
I was standing on the sidewalk in front of my home in Pennsylvania. My rose bush that would be full of yellow blossoms a few months later was enjoying its winter slumber along the edge of my front yard. I looked around and around and around. Everything looked as it always did. My car was missing, because it was parked at the Harrisburg airport. A fresh layer of snow had fallen and my neighbor had shoveled my driveway for me just as she said she would when I told her about my vacation.
I stayed in bed until I was pretty sure one or both of them were asleep. Ruby had chosen to move her elephant case to the end table next to the couch. I offered to share the guest room with her, but she said she preferred the open space of the living room. That seemed strange to me because she would be sleeping enclosed in a wooden case, but I didn't argue.
I had to step into the lighthouse to watch for Ruby. My eyes readjusted and I found a spot right next to the door where I could hear Viola if she said anything and see Ruby's path without the interference of the sunlight. Ruby's parachute was white, red, green, purple, and orange - hard to miss against the dark background of the lighthouse's walls.
"Let me know when you can see her," Viola called from outside.
"Will do," I looked out toward her.
Our breakfast took a little less time than I expected. Waffles were something to be savored, a real treat, but they couldn't compare with the discoveries that awaited us afterward. Viola and I cleaned the kitchen while Ruby double-checked her parachute. Within twenty minutes or so, we were all ready to go.
Ruby was right. I could see the outlines of the land and the water. It helped that this land was just like the real New Zealand. I had studied both islands before I left the U.S. To be fair and more accurate, I had studied this country on and off since I first heard about New Zealand in second grade. Right then and there I decided that it was the most beautiful place in the world and that I’d go there someday.
To be more honest, I’ve often dreamed of moving to New Zealand and finding the garden I had seen on the television show.
Ruby stood up and straightened out the map so that it was easier to read. By the time she was done, there was nowhere for her to sit or stand on the canister and she moved to stand on the book’s binding instead.
Of course it was dark. Her home was the same as any other lighthouse. It had only a few windows and none of them aligned with Viola’s platform. Without the beacon and large overhead light, there were only the regular house-type lights, like the wrought iron floor lamp next to the couch and the sphere-shaped light hanging over the kitchen table.
The thought of trying to go back to sleep tried to take hold, but it didn’t stand a chance. If nothing else, I wanted to put on my pajamas.
"I don't know, but I bet you could figure it out." Ruby stood up. "There has to be a maintenance hatch or something up there."
"I've never left this room," Viola kept her eyes on the tray and then looked up. "Do you want to see if I can leave it before you go leaping into the Tasman Sea?"
Ruby stood up and began pacing around the center of the table.
“I’ve seen something about this somewhere. I know I have. It might be in my pack.”
“It might be in your pack? I'm not sure what you mean by that. Is there a portal in your pack?"
"No, I have a book that might help us, but first I'm trying to remember that story I heard about when I was a kid. The one about Viola's grandfather. I think it's related."
"You know a story about my grandfather?"
"Of course I do." Ruby stopped in her tracks and looked at Viola. "I mean, he gave me to you. I knew him."
"If anyone asked where you were, what would you say?" She wrapped her hands around her teacup and leaned forward a bit.
"I guess I'd say I’m in New Zealand. I arrived here a few days ago and I'm on a kayaking trip nearby." I ran my right index finger and my glance down the side of the suspected milk pitcher.
"Not much kayaking around here. The waves scare away most people." Her eyes searched mine and then moved to the platter.
I looked up and felt myself losing my edge. I had heard about this side of my grandma - a shrewd businessperson, sharp as a tack, or a shard of glass depending on who you asked. Either way, it was never mixed in with the homemade chocolate chip cookies or tapioca she treated us to on weekend sleepovers.
I patted the platform around the beacon and found nothing but smooth surfaces and clean edges. The longer I searched, the more quickly I moved, the more desperate I felt. There was no way to know when I might be pulled back to my kayaking trip or to some other place I'd have to figure out. Every step I took and every move I made could lead me away.
My heart beat a new rhythm against everything it could reach, not holding anything back for the sake of reason or self-preservation.
Relax, relax, relax. Losing your cool won’t help.
Walk up and pretend that you’re lost.
I shifted my weight on the stairs and tried to find the position that looked the most natural in case I was discovered.
What am I saying? I AM lost.
She was almost to my side of the building. I scooted down a few more steps, away from the opening.
Jerome was sitting to my right, next to Malcolm and across from Allison. None of them seemed to notice that I was there. They looked like they were behind some sort of screen, like I wasn’t quite in the tent with them. When I turned my head to the left, I could see several lights in the dark. I closed the zipper behind me and followed them.
The entrance to our campsite was an inlet that was only noticeable when we were already coming in to get out of the water. Like the rest of the Sound, it was wooded and rocky, but a small path was visible from several meters away. We floated in and my eyes stayed fixed on each new section of the path, hoping to see something to help explain the ferry.
“So, how much kayaking have you done?”
“Enough to sign up for this trip. I live near a lot of rivers and I always mean to kayak more.”
“Why don’t you?”
“Um, probably because I work too much. On the weekends, I don’t have much energy for anything except the housework I didn’t do during the week. BUT, I’m changing that. This trip is the first step in that process.”