I would love to get some criticism or comments on the following story. I would love it even more if one of the criticizing and/or commenting readers were an editor at a "major publication". Sigh. At any rate, have at it, all; let me know what you think. By the by, I haven't yet figured out how to indicate a new paragraph, other than double spacing. I don't much like that method as it lends a jerky quality to the writing. So, do your best.

Bob Ritchie

Birds Do It

by

Bob Ritchie

Her baby’s cry shocked her awake.
“Shh, shh, it’s okay now.” She rocked the child, wincing from the sunburn on the left side of her face. Over the loud sound of the waves, Jennifer’s wailing continued. Hunger. It wasn’t fair for a three-month old baby to have to endure this kind of hardship.
Lannie felt under her naked left *** for a piece of the moist, now-sandy meat she had put there. Her *** felt heavy and soft, not as it used to be before Jennifer’s birth. She found the tidbit with her searching hand, congratulating herself that she’d had the presence of mind to put it somewhere out of the brutal glare of the sun. Lannie popped the raw, moist chunk in her mouth and suppressed the strong desire to gag. Chewing, she continued rocking her crying baby and scanned the empty horizon for the barest sign of activity. Nothing.
Unrelieved blue. Beautiful enough from the rail of a Caribbean Cruise Ship. After four days of fear and pain and despair, she felt a black hopelessness completely at odds with the bright blue sky, the crystal clear water, and the strong sun.
Jennifer began the hiccuping sobs that meant she really felt ***, so feed me now damnit! Her whole body pulsed and bucked.
Lannie cooed and comforted, “It’s okay honey. Give me a minute.” Her words sounded distorted around the half-chewed, greasy flesh. “Just a minute or two.” Her jaws worked faster and she willed the saliva into her mouth, just as she willed the true knowledge of her actions out of her mind.
Her ankle itched and burned though covered by a cooling layer of moist sand. Lucky for her they’d landed so close to a fresh water spring. Unlucky for her that she’d fractured her tibia when she fell from the side of a wave mountain. Ignoring the pain, she rocked and chewed. Her baby cried into the beautiful, uncaring blue all around them. Lannie wished she could be back home teaching a nurse-in-training how to insert an IV. Even if she had to do it on an old, fat woman with no veins.
As Jennifer’s screams reached and then passed frantic, Lannie decided that the gruel inside her mouth would do. Would have to do. It now had the consistency of a very thick soup. She leaned over Jennifer’s soft-skinned face and held open her tiny mouth. Jennifer’s arms flapped like inconsistent wings; her tiny hands opened and closed rapidly. As if to grasp the very air and bring it to her. Lannie had a moment to regret that she had never been able to nurse, then she slowly let the broth-like stuff drip from her mouth to her three-month old daughter’s.
Bird’s do it, she thought. Well, sort of anyway.

..........

Jack had a way about him. When he suggested that he, his wife and their new baby go cruising around the Caribbean Sea for a few weeks, Lannie didn’t immediately shoot it down as the most idiotic thing she’d heard of since Winter.
“Think of it. You hate the cold; we won’t have this kind of opportunity for at least another five years…” He kissed her tenderly on the cheek and held the hand of his sleeping daughter. “And that assumes we don’t have a second child in three or four years as we’re planning.” She leaned her head on his shoulder and put her own hand on top of his and Jennifer’s. Her secret smile threw a small pool of emotional light on the whole scene. She loved him. She loved her daughter. The world was good, good, good.
“Not only that. I finally sold that big contract to Valencia Motors. I wanted to save the good news for now!”
Lannie wanted to jump up and squeal, but mindful of the—at last—peacefully sleeping child before them, gave his hand a small squeeze instead.
She whispered, “Let’s go in the other room. She’ll sleep for awhile now. We can celebrate.” Jack’s smile grew wide. They moved to the door into the living room. Jack still hadn’t complained about having Jennifer in their bedroom after over two and a half months. Lannie had read all the articles and books; had listened with both ears to the pediatrician; had collected advice from her sister and from every friend she had with a baby or two. Unanimously, they proclaimed that a baby should have her own room after two weeks to a month. Lannie couldn’t bear to be without her beautiful Jenny. Not yet. There would be many hours and days of separation sometime in the future. No need to rush.
As the two of them sat close on the couch Lannie’s mother had given them, Lannie felt the warmth of their love, helped along by the small fire, kindle in her toes. It moved rapidly from there. For awhile, they held the weather at bay.
Whispering as before, but with a certain huskiness. “Do you still love me?” Her smile showed that she knew the response.
“Of course I do Honey! What a thing to ask!” He pretended to look shocked.
“How much?”
Now Jack smiled, “A mile.”
Lannie pulled back, genuinely surprised and said, “What?”
“Two thousand.”
“Jack Hemden, what in the heck does that mean?”
He brought her back into the circle of his arms and answered, “I love you forty tons, seventy seven decades, 10,000 feet, one hundred and fifty decibels, two light years.”
She giggled and scootched in. “Wait.” She straightened and put her hand out to the wall. With a practiced turn of her slender wrist, she turned the room light’s dimmer switch to just-bright-enough-to-see-potentially-dangerous-objects. Her other hand touched and cupped his rough face. “You’re much too whimsical to be a salesman.”
He put a shushing finger to his lips then hers, “Shh, don’t tell my boss.”

..........

Lannie awoke with a start. The world swam into focus and still seemed like a dream. Then the pounding heat of the afternoon sun shoved her back into reality. With a groan, she assessed her newest sources of discomfort: her sunburn couldn’t really worsen, but now the sand in which she sat—and, to her revulsion, shat—burned at her left thigh and rear. Individual grains stung her like thousands of tiny, immortal bees. Her hair had never felt so disgusting, even that weekend in college when the dorm water pumps went on the fritz and the staff maintenance man had been in the hospital with a 104° fever. She’d never liked her hair: too thin and indeterminate of color for her tastes. If it could just be brown or blonde… at least she always kept it clean.
Well.
Her throat burned. That problem she could solve. Leaning over, she brought a mouthful of tepid, spring water to her lips and drank it down. Her starvation-thin face stared back at her. She fought to ignore the sunken eyes—a blue that Jack had loved. Instead, she confronted gaunt cheeks, firehouse red skin, and those eyes. Such hopelessness she saw. She broke the look and stared around her new vacation spot for the thousandth time. Useless trying to see some vegetation except the tall palm trees down on the beach a hundred yards away, she thought. Nevertheless, miracles have happened. She needed something green to eat. Occupying herself with this fruitless search was infinitely better than thinking about never seeing Jack again (Did Heaven exist? She never believed so. Now she hoped and hoped.). Much better than realizing she would die in the next few days with no food, a broken leg, some warm water, and the other matter.
She cradled Jennifer in arms that already looked thinner to her. “Someone has to come. For you, if not for me. I don’t care about me.” She began to weep. The same soft tears she’d been shedding since landing on this desolate, tiny island. Jennifer, sensing her mood, began to cry as well. The baby’s soft, heartbroken sobs made Lannie cry all the more. Through the mucous in her nose, she snuffled out an “Are you hungry baby? Do you want some food?”
As if understanding the word “food”, Jennifer’s cries became more frantic. They amazed Lannie anew: that a simple thing like hunger could sound so much like a life or death situation in an infant.
But then, just how far from reality was that assessment?
“Oh honey. I fell asleep and forgot.” She didn’t have any more fresh meat.
She took out her nail file. One of the few things that had survived the wreck.

..........

Jack walked ahead with Jennifer in her stroller. Lannie’s friends all told her how crazy it was to try and travel with an infant. But, she reasoned, how different is a stateroom from a bedroom?
Not much as it turned out.
The whole trip, organized in a mere two weeks, had thus far been a huge success. Any number of problems that could have arisen, didn’t. Aside from a day of queasiness, on Lannie’s part only, they had had one, long, blissful week. Food, sun, an endless vista of beautiful blue ocean. And the heat, the constant warmth! She wanted to promenade naked along the decks of the ship, soaking in the heat and storing it like a solar battery.
Lannie wished she could get dark like Jack. Jack picked up a rich, almost indian tan in the first two days. The rat! Lannie still had to smear on great swaths of number 15 sunblock. Her delicate skin had never taken sun well.
They spent most of their days poolside or in one of the many 24 hour restaurants. The nights they had filled with moonlight strolls and love-making. Tomorrow they would make their first landfall: Puerto Rico. Lannie felt a little nervous. Foreign place, strange language (High School French for her). Maybe someone would steal her beautiful baby! Jack assured her she needn’t worry. He was probably right. Still, she resolved to never leave the stroller and to keep a watchful eye on Jennifer.
“We’re gonna get a little weather in a few days.” Jack, like a bouncing bear child, entered the stateroom on waltzing feet. Seeing Jennifer sleeping in Lannie’s lap, he quickly lowered his voice. “No need to worry. I was talking to the steward for our deck. He says the Captain isn’t worried, but we’re going to have to run through the lifeboat drill again.”
Immediately, Lannie’s face pursed and she had to push at the tiny flutter of panic in her stomach. Jennifer, feeling a bit of her fear, mewled and began to suck at the palm of her doll-sized hand. Lannie rocked her and asked Jack, “Dear! It can’t be safe.”
“The steward assured me that if there were really any danger, we would simply extend our stay in San Juan a few days. The cruise line has a floor of hotel rooms on permanent standby.” He moved close and put a heavy, comforting arm around her shoulder. “Couldn’t be good for business to get a boatload of Americans killed in a storm.” He moved back a step and struck an exaggerated, pensive pose, “On the other hand, this ship is of British registry, and they’ve surely had it in for us ever since we threw ‘em out of their favorite summer homes.”
Giggling, Lannie hit him on the thigh with her free hand. “Oh, you!”
They had requested a crib for their room, not really expecting one. Neither Lannie nor Jack minded sleeping with Jennifer, so it didn’t really matter. But to their surprise, when they entered the small room on the first day, they found a beautiful white crib. It hung from the doorside bulkhead and looked as if it belonged.
Lannie put Jennifer down and covered her with a thin sheet that bore the embroidered title “H.M.S. Kipling”. Then, taking Jack’s hand, she led him to the double bed.
“Such a bad boy, always playing pranks! I think you need punishing.”
Mock terror. “Please, don’t hurt me. I’m just an orphanless waif, without home or heart to call my own!”
She growled and bit his neck, using her weight to pin him down. They both laughed. But from deep in their throats. From their hearts, their souls.

..........

She didn’t know how long the hallucination had lasted. Jennifer slept (like a baby) in the protective shade of her body and arms. Lannie wanted to feel anger; rage at the Captain who’d gone ahead despite minor storm warnings. She wanted to scream at the weatherman who had used the word “minor” instead of “killer”. She even wanted to lash out at Jack who had laughed away her anxiety. Like always. Never mind that this was the only time she’d ever been justified in her fears.
When they had married, he had been her white knight. Carrying her away from a timid, routine life. Living alone in her small apartment in the laid-back complex, Lannie had spent her life jumping at every distant, passing car as if it were a thief and murderer scratching at her door to gain entrance.
Though she had resisted, Jack showed her that one needn’t feel terror at every shadow or sound. That the unknown held as much joy as suffering. And why assume and fear the latter when the former was as likely?
The sun had no more power to hurt her further. Night had fallen and the cooling ocean breezes soothed her burning, aching body as much as a Jacuzzi in Benadryl®. She drank a few mouthfuls of water and refused the voice that said, “Go ahead, jump on in. You’ll feel so much better.” She knew she’d feel better. She also knew that she would foul the tiny spring with her body’s wastes. Life, that tenacious devil, wouldn’t let her go. Even the certain knowledge that she would soon die on this tiny, unknown rock couldn’t turn her down the sure path of dissolution.
Jennifer needed her. And miracles happened.
She hadn’t suffered from insect bites. Apparently her resting place truly was uninhabited, even by vermin and insects. “Thank the lord for small favors.” She squirmed, trying to find a more comfortable position amid her congealed wastes, yet careful not to jostle and awaken Jennifer.
The sound of the tiny waves lapping at the shore lulled her into a peaceful, dreamy state. For a moment, in the quiet, with little Jennifer asleep and the sun as well, she could relax.
Even the burning in her stomach—no food in almost a week—couldn’t bother her. She forced the other burning—that at her ankle—out of her consciousness. Her eyelids pulled down, as if weighted with boat anchors. So tired.
She felt thirsty again, but didn’t have the strength to sit up, scoop, and drink. She felt the morsel of meat she’d put under her *** and decided she could sleep for a couple of hours.
That’s all.
Just ‘til Jennifer woke up again.
She slept.

..........

“Down! I see something! Over on that rock to the east.”
The clatter of blades bled through the heavy foam earphones. Still, he shouted enough to be heard without using the intercom.
“Where?” The pilot pulled back on the collective and slowed their forward momentum.
“Look, to the east.” He pointed through the window and his arm shook. As much with fatigue as with excitement. They’d been searching for six days and Jack had insisted on accompanying the Coast Guard every foot of the way. Every hour. He slept in installments. Ten minutes here, half an hour there.
The pilot turned his head in the direction of Jack’s pointing finger. Then turned the ‘copter as well. They soon saw Lannie’s body.
Jack prayed aloud, “Let her be alive. And Jennifer. God, if miracles can happen, we could use one right about now.”
The noise of the helicopter setting down didn’t cause even the smallest stirring in Lannie’s still form. Jack’s heart sank.
On jumping out, and almost twisting his ankle on the uneven surface, Jack saw a tiny, kicking leg. He staggered, caught his balance. “Jennifer!” Alive.
He ran.
Only now exiting his craft, the pilot shouted that a medical chopper was on the way.
Jack waved his arm behind him to acknowledge that he heard. His steps did not falter.
The salty air blew against his face. He remembered the night before the storm. Walking along the decks, hand in hand, Jennifer asleep in the stroller before them. Lannie had been worried and he’d talked her out of it.
“Nothing to be afraid of. Captain’s not worried. Say, that Old San Juan is really something, don’t you think?”
“Mmm.”
“Reminded me of Europe.”
Lannie leaned her head on his shoulder. “Are you sure everything will be okay.”
The face she turned to him looked so young and in need of assurance. In her gaze he saw Jennifer at ten. Softly and with confidence he answered this woman he loved and adored. “Of course. Nothing bad can happen to us. Remember, I’m the optimist.”
She hadn’t spoken, but kept her head resting on his shoulder until they returned to their stateroom.
Now Jack saw that same head tucked under an emaciated arm. Lannie’s beautiful hair—that she herself hated—looked wild and like a bushel of half-burnt straw. Her pale skin had fried. The skin on her face looked bubbled, not merely sunburned. The rest of her had turned—not just red, but violet. Her right leg bent from the thigh at an impossible angle. Broken. He looked for blood to indicate a compound fracture, but from this distance couldn’t see any. Jack noted that her left ankle and foot were buried beneath a small mound of sand. Nothing else. In fact, she was naked to the world except for the ankle and foot. Over the wind and lapping waves, Jack heard Jennifer begin to cry. “Thank you God!” It had to be a miracle. No food, just a pool of water to sustain them. An adult might be able to live that long without food, but Jack knew that a child had definite needs. A miracle.
He made it to them and fell to his knees. While Jennifer began to wail in earnest, Jack checked Lannie for a pulse. And found one. Barely.
Two miracles.
With Jack probing her ribs for more damage, Lannie jerked spasmodically and pulled her foot and ankle from beneath the sand.
Jack could only stare.
It was raw and an angry red. It looked as if someone had peeled away individual strips of skin. Jack tried to imagine the reef that could damage so methodically. With such purpose.
Meanwhile, his probing hands reached Lannie’s upper rib cage. Her breasts, still swollen with the biological desire to give milk, blocked the way. They looked even worse than the rest of her body’s frightening and ugly shade of violet. He lifted them as carefully as possible and a strip of raw meat fell out from beneath one of them. Jack understood instantly and paled, tried not to believe.
“Jennifer,” Lannie, eyes, ears, and mind closed, unaware that help had arrived, scrabbled for the piece of meat. Jack remained frozen in place. “Just a minute darling baby, Mommy needs to get your dinner ready.
When her hand found nothing, Lannie—eyes still closed—took a shiny something from beneath her body. A nail file, Jack saw.
The pilot arrived with a First Aid kit and a thermos of cold water. Just in time to see Lannie bend blindly forward and dig the file beneath a loose layer of skin.
She didn’t even wince.
Jack’s hand clamped down on hers. He couldn’t speak; was afraid he would lose the little food he had eaten in the last few days were he to try.
Jennifer continued to cry. Lannie didn’t struggle. She opened her eyes and found Jack’s. Horrified. His.
She spoke, “Birds do it. Sort of.”

The End
Bob, this, as you know, is an outstanding story and should be submitted to a more appropriate website. It is unnecessary to place the 'registered copyright' mark after Benadryl.
Mister Micawber:

Thank you very much for your very flattering remark. From your mouth to god's ear!

I am looking for a place to submit it, but have been out of "submissions" loop for a very long time. Never having been successful in my past attempts leaves me without contacts of any sort. I suppose that we all are in the same boat as regards to initiating contact with publishers. Please wish me luck and have a great day!

Thanks again for your comment and your time.

Bob Ritchie