Jarvis Island / 1 July 2001

Jarvis Island, seven miles offshore from Giant City, a tidy scrap of land, 4.5 square miles of coral island, minivan-shaped, humid and empty, wind-scarred, guano its only natural resource, sparse bunch grass, prostrate vines, a nesting and foraging habitat for seabirds, the western shore housing Millerville, used as a weather station up through WWII, eventually abandoned in 1958, rediscovered forty years later by Roger Johanssen and his sixteen-year-old bride, Sylvie Olean, after engineering the kidnapping hoax and the bungled investigation and fleeing from the mosquito bog of Baton Rouge and washing up here on its shores, sitting there on the edge of the narrow fringing reef and watching the lightning-struck dirigible lighting up the sky like a flame, Johanssen scanning the beach for interesting rocks for his collection but finding nothing but the coarse black sand and so to quiet Sylvie’s wretched sobs he felt around in his pockets for the bag of jellybeans and as she chewed through tear-stained licorice, burying her eleven toes in the sand, he arranged the leftover beans into a vibrant likeness of a buffalo nickel and she applauded desperately, but now she was far away and anyway dead, and so was her mother, her heart also broken on these very shores and indeed by the same man, shrunken, twisted, child-sized, larynx petite and girlish, this Roger Johanssen, no love for the taste of pork, oddly enough, and certainly no love for pigs but flush with them thanks to an awkwardly worded contract from a creative debtor and thus forced to think creatively himself, ideas massaged delicately by a friend, a rogue scholar, ex-Genentech, so-called Lord of the Flies due his affiliations with Beezle and Mouche, and between them Arnold was born, a project designed from the ground up to upend the taste and buying habits of American consumers, masterminded there on Jarvis, far away, nearly swallowed whole by the South Pacific, Baba just now easing down over it there in the chartered seaplane, nauseated and unable to communicate with the pilot, a tiny photograph of Rex in her brass locket, the bottom half of Rex’s face scissored off due to size restrictions, dizzy and full of dread, not particularly hopeful knowing, as she did, the history of this island, the history of women on this island, Charlotte, Sylvie, Dian Parkinson, but who knows what the future holds, she thinks, and although the platitude gives her no comfort it still holds water because Johanssen, there in the smoky center of a complex of wind-powered buildings, is not the same powerhungry midget he was 24 or even 12 hours ago, no, he was forever shattered by the telegram informing him, in flat, yellow tones, that RHONDA JUNIPER [was] DEAD STOP, the yatakang order arriving too late, after the flies had already discarded the temp Manuel and set up shop in the lascivious folds of Rhonda’s cerebrum, an exchange that wasn’t meant to take place with that crew but with a newer version, faster, more sophisticated, more subtle, eliminating the necessity to completely do away with the host’s personality (and head-meat), instead just acting as a guide, the faintest of whispers, easily mistaken for one’s own thoughts, gently pushing, say, a beautiful young woman, a devastatingly potent writer, across the sea and back into the arms of her freakish, hunched ex-lover, far away, nearly swallowed whole by the South Pacific, but too late, and so Johanssen burned the papers, burned the hangar, pillars of smoke still rising and being sucked through the engine’s of the seaplane, sitting, disconsolate, alone, the two dozen employees of Johanssen Pork Co. sent home just that morning, the project gone haywire (Arnold floating free through the American Midwest, insatiable on just about every level), Rhonda a stain on a motel floor, nothing left, nothing and nothing, and making her final descent into this was Baba, almost paralyzed with fear, heart dropping into her stomach at the sight of land, at the dwindling moments of her freedom, not knowing that Johanssen was no longer the murderous puppeteer but a broken man, a broken and tiny little man, seeking (although he wouldn’t admit it and probably didn’t even realize it) consolation, and Baba, weary with terror, would see her baffled relief melt into sympathy, then tenderness, and so, there, on the windswept Jarvis Island, humid and empty, Baba and Johanssen fell into each other’s arms, one holding the other in her lap, no longer speaking, no longer alone, no longer inhaling the stench of scorched bacon.

Joshua Green Allen

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