The mists wavered under the hot sun when it broke through the clouds. I stopped to scan the sea again once I reached the top of the large hill. There was no sign of any vessel. I sighed in relief. As much as I did not want to live out the rest of my life on the island, I was not ready to leave it yet. Being away from the war made me see it for what it was and I was in no hurry to see more men being torn apart by cannons.
I climbed back down feeling lighter than I had earlier that day.
“Any sign of the ship?” called Dash.
“I must be seeing things. There’s nothing out there.”
He crossed his arms. “Seeing things that are not there could be considered a sort of blindness.”
We stopped and rested for the night. Dash started a fire while I dug out coconut meat for both of us. When we were finished eating, I watched as the stars appeared in the sky.
Dash cleared his throat.
“I loved music,” he said. “Listening to it, playing it, writing it. That’s what makes this place feel so empty.”
“Tell me about it,” I muttered.
He really did hate my company.
“Pardon?” he asked.
“Nothing. I’ve always like music, too, but my tastes wouldn’t be as refined as yours. Did you go to the opera often back home?”
“Oh, yes. I hosted dinner parties with my older sister. All our closest friends played music like us. I was in the middle of composing my own song before I left to serve Napoleon.”
“It will be there when you return. You can finish it one day.”
“That was a different life. I’m someone else now. The world isn’t even what it used to be.”
He was right in a sense, but I still wanted to believe that one could make his own life if he had the willpower. I imagined him bent over a desk, writing out the notes to a song. I never had the opportunity to attend fancy recitals or the opera, but I loved music just as much as he did. Distant memories of my father playing his fiddle after dinner returned to me. I closed my eyes and listened to a lively echoing tune in my mind. It was the first time I was able to think about Pa without feeling great pain.
“My Ma and I were dirt poor after my father passed away, but she always found a way to bring me to the festivals in town. I’d get lost in the ballads as I sat there listening to the musicians play.”
“Country fairs have their charm,” said Dash.
That was almost kind. “I cannot think of freer days than those spent with my mother on warm summer nights. Sitting and listening to the musicians play their instruments under the starry sky. We were rich in those moments.”
“I’m trying to imagine the two of you among the peasants strumming their stringed instruments. It must have been a quaint setting.”
A restless bird’s chirping in the trees brought me back to the present. I turned my head to glance at Dash. He was facing me.
“It would be something to hear you play the piano,” I said.
“I would be the freak show of France.”
I winced, unable to find the right words to say in response. Perhaps I needed to stop pushing him to accept his new world so quickly.
“Do you think we’ll ever get out of here?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe we will.”
We had enough food sources, but our main concern was water. The coconut supply wouldn’t last forever at the rate we consumed them. Once they ran out, we would have to rely on collecting dew from plants, and water from the odd rainfall. Dying of thirst would be a concern if we were still on the island in a few months.
“You seem so optimistic for one so poor. No offence, of course. It just puzzles me.”
“When you’re poor, the only thing that keeps you going is hope. I want to believe that the world still has much to offer me.”
“It feels like the world as we knew it has already ended. Even if I hadn’t been blinded from the fire, I’m not sure what exactly we’ll be coming home to.”
“I’ve thought the same.”
“You don’t seem to think negative thoughts.”
“I have to fight them with all that is in me, Dash. If I don’t, I’d never be able to rise above them. I don’t have a refuge that I can go to when this is all over. My mother is strong, but she has been ill for a while. The only person I can depend on is myself.”
The lapse in our conversation gave rise to my racing thoughts. As he fell asleep, isolation sunk deep into my bones. The sea was so calm that I could hear his steady breathing instead of the waves. He always fell asleep first, leaving me alone.