Tears streamed down my face and I looked at her mother seated beside me. Her face was like stone and she sat fixedly staring at the white casket covered with white and yellow jasmines. Claudia loved those and it was only a week ago that I had sent her a bouquet. I was making up for taking so long to go down to see her. We were 30 miles apart and sometimes work kept me from driving down to see her most weekends. Now here I am sitting there in this small church wondering and wanting to know what really happened. A tear rolled down my cheek and I quickly whisked it away, I had to remain strong for her family and her other friends who knew her so well. She was the only sane one in the group and they always told her so. She could be relied on for advice and to do anything for them at the spur of the moment. I focused on the program in my hand, and read what they had written about her. She had graduated from medical school with honors and was an intern at Moredaye General Hospital.
Claudia had called me a few weeks ago quite excited about the week end trip to the cay. I was concerned as I had gone to that area before and had difficulties navigating the waters. She said that they were going with an old retired sea captain who knew the area like the back of his hand and the boat was reliable. I told her that I would feel more comfortable if she did not go since I was not allowed to go with her. She assured me that everything would be ok as all of them in the party could swim very well. Claudia was an excellent swimmer but anything could happen. I told her to call be the night before so that I could fill her in on all the things she needed to do before going on that boat. I also begged her to let me be the captain but she assured me that everything would be all right. I rang off telling her how much I love her.
Johnny woke with a start, but it was only Oscar my pet parrot calling. He sounded like Claudia when she was excited about anything.
“John-n-ny, John-n-ny, rise and shine sleepy head” “Rise and shine Johnny boy”.
He looked at the clock, it was past 9 am and today Claudia would be going on the trip. He had promised to call her but the time had passed. He dialed her number anyway but only got her voice message. He left a message apologizing for missing her and told her to call if she could. He swung out of bed and walked into the bathroom, his head throbbing. That parrot, he had to do something about him. He could give him away but Claudia would miss him.
It was Saturday so he did not have to go to work. He had promised his friend Brad to go down to the farm with him. He was a racehorse jockey and had just got a new filly. He was breaking her in and Johnny was fond of horses too. He got into his beat up blue pickup truck and rambled over to Brad’s place.
“Hey Johnny”, Brad waved. “What’s going on?”
He strutted towards the truck and opened the door for Johnny. Brad was his best friend since fifth grade and he could confide in him. They greeted each other with a hug. And without another word they loaded the truck with the things they would need for the day. They got into the truck and Johnny at the wheels headed for the open pastures towards Oakridge Farm. On the way they hardly spoke and Brad whistled a merry tune meanwhile glancing sideways at his friend. He knew something was wrong but he was waiting until they got to the farm and were working. They worked until the sun was directly in the sky and they were standing on their shadows.
Brad took out the igloo and a lunch basket and they found comfortable seats under the large banyan tree by the horse’s trough. Brad’s girlfriend Amy had packed the basket with enough goodies; a large shepherd’s pie, bread pudding, sandwiches and two large jugs of lemonade. There was enough food to feed all the workers on the farm. Brad first broke the silence.
“What’s up with you man”, what’s on your mind? You hardly spoke a word since I saw you this morning.
Johnny told him about Claudia’s trip to the cay. He patted him on the back and assured him that everything would be all right. They went back to work and Johnny was a bit more talkative as they shoveled hay and mended the horses stables. This year promised to be a very good one for Brad in horse racing, and Johnny was looking forward to sharing some good times at the track with Brad and Claudia. He could even win a few dollars betting on his friend’s horse. The two men worked long after the sun had set then they packed the truck and returned home.
Johnny took a shower, fed the dog and sat on the back porch with is favorite beer. He had heard nothing from Claudia although he had called her phone and left messages. He felt uneasy but tried to get it out of his mind by remembering what Brad had said. He closed his eyes and his mind went back to the day he had met Claudia. It was by the river and it was a hot summer day. She was swimming with her friends and playing ball. It was her turn to throw the ball and it went off course and hit Johnny smack in the face. She ran over and apologized meanwhile using her shirt to wipe the specks of mud that was splattered all over Johnny’s face. He told her it was ok and she ran back into the water telling Johnny that she would check on him later to see if he was ok. He smiled at her noting how her smile lit up her face and her jet black hair highlighted the color of her eyes.
That night he slept restlessly and could not wait for tomorrow when Claudia was expected home. Again the parrot woke him and he quickly rushed out of bed and threw his room window open. He expected to see Claudia’s red convertible parked in the driveway but it was empty. Where was she, why hadn’t she called? He hurriedly drank a cup of coffee and drove to the dock down town. Surely the boat would be in by then. He asked around if anyone had seen them come in but the man in charge of the dock said that they were waiting to hear from them but could not get any radio signal out.
Johnny waited. He counted the hours that came and went by slowly, still there was no sight of the boat nor any signal from the boat. At 5 pm the coast guard decided to send out a search. Johnny wanted to go but he was not allowed. Brad joined him and together they waited. They could not sleep and spend the night looking out at sea and praying for Claudia and the rest of the party to come home safely.
At 2 am the sound of shouting and a boat engine woke them. They were huddled in the front of the small pickup truck. They got out and quickly made their way in the semi darkness to the edge of the water. He called out to the men on board the coastguard vessel but he got no reply. As they came nearer he could make out the captain’s face and saw the forlorn look on his face. He stepped into the water to get closer to the boat so he could see his beloved Claudia as he was sure she was there. He called out to her and he got no answer, only the captain telling them to step back. Johnny stood firm and would not move. He had to see. A closer look revealed something on the floor of the boat. The three shapes looked like.. oh my god. That was the last thing he remembered.
II Not a day goes by without some recollection of that faithful morning. He kept blaming himself for what had happened to his beloved Claudia. His heart was smashed into small pieces. He had to live with these memories but for how long. Claudia’s boat had got into difficulties and had overturned in bad weather that suddenly hit them on their way back to shore. He should not have listened to her and should have gone on that trip. There were no life jackets on the boat and although Claudia was a good swimmer she did not stand a chance in the dark cold waters of the bay.
For months after the funeral Johnny would sit on the porch at night and look far over the sea. The parrot stopped calling and died after a month of waiting to see Claudia. Johnny thought that he would be next. No matter what anyone said or did they could not get his mind off the one girl he had loved since fifth grade. One evening on his way from work he stopped at the diners to get something for supper. As he entered the door he saw a girl standing at the counter with her back turned to him. She was the same height as Claudia, with long black hair reaching her waist. What was she doing here? How could she not contact him after all this time? Why had she done this to him?
He shoved his way over and just as he reached out to touch her on her shoulder she turned around and walked passed him. The smell of sweet jasmine filled the air.
Claudi he mouthed, but she kept on walking. He followed her to the door but she hopped into her brick red Ferrari and drove out of the parking lot. The red tail lights beckoned. Johnny forgot what he was doing and jumped into his old pickup truck. He raced after her but he was no speed for her. He floored the accelerator but she flew into the night all the time beckoning. He drove like the wind, following her for miles towards the ocean but she did not stop. He drove like a mad man. He had to go with her. He felt no fear and knew that soon he would be with her. He sped on and on.
The morning dawned bright and clear and the crowd at the top of the road looking down into the gorge marveled at the sight of the mangled wreck at the bottom. He must have been drunk not to see the guard rail. He went right through it and ended up at the bottom of the gorge. The color of the truck was unrecognizable.
Good fiction. http://www.danielpublishing.com/resourcesback.htm web 2014