When my feet touched mud, it didn’t register with me that we’d landed. My feet and legs were numb, and my mind was even number. My legs went out from under me and I slid off of the back of the mattress, into the water. I flailed back up to my feet in time to watch Mike and Jill bounce the mattress up onto a miniature beach.
I staggered up behind them and threw myself onto the mattress with Sadad and the pets. Jill immediately followed suit. Mike ran around for a few minutes, bellowing for Moira, but then he played out and joined us, panting on the mattress. The mattress wheezed and then started farting its air out. It made bubbles in the mud.
“I’ll have to get a new mattress,” I observed.
“This is the best damned mattress ever,” Jill declared. “I’ll never have a real mattress again.”
My breath finally caught, I realized why Sadad and the pets’ teeth were chattering. The sun was shining, but the wind whipped across out wet clothes and sucked our body heat away.
“Strip,” I gasped.
“Naked?” Mike perked up from his prone position on the raft.
“No, assho…,” I looked at little Sadad. “No ASking silly questions,” I amended.
I helped Sadad out of her life preserver and then out of her wet dress. Her panties had ladybugs on them. I noticed her trying to hide her bare chest, and I slipped her garbage bag preserver back on her. Then, I did the same for myself, and I was gratified to discover that the garbage bags acted as a windbreaker. I grabbed Bethel and stashed her against my bra. It wasn’t comfortable for me, but I couldn’t help her any other way. Two seconds later, and Lexington’s head was poking out of Jill’s life preserver. Mike set about hanging our wet clothes on low tree branches.
Then, we didn’t have anything else to do. We couldn’t go tramping around New Jersey in our underwear and garbage bags. We moved back from the river and sat in the sun, waiting for our clothes to dry.
“What was the deal with that rocket?,” Mike asked. “Where did that come from?”
“Sadad said something about her uncle. Was that your uncle with the rocket, Sadad?,” I asked the child.
Sadad looked at me solemnly. She was sucking her thumb. She nodded her head.
I leaned back in the grass and wondered. I didn’t think that Sadad could have seen the face of the man who was shooting from the river bank. We had been so far out into the river, at that point. But, obviously, she associated rocket propelled grenades with her good old Uncle Arsal.
Thinking about Sadad’s family made me uncomfortable. If it had been her Uncle Arsal, that might mean that all of us, including Sadad, had been used as bait. We could have been used to lure the bird, or to lure Uncle Arsal out with his rocket. I really didn’t like to think about families that featured rocket propelled grenade owners, either. I dumped the whole issue, for the moment, and I fell into an exhausted stupor in the sun.
I didn’t know if it was minutes later or hours later, but shadows fell across my face. They were blocking out the sun, and that annoyed me. The sun was warm, and I wanted it back. I opened my eyes, but all I saw were silhouettes of a group of people, with the sun peeping out from behind them to blind me. I put my hand over my eyes like a visor to try to make out features, but it didn’t really help.
A familiar voice said, “I found these lesbians. They said they would help us out. Thanks for looking so hard for me, by the way.”
“We aren’t lesbians. We are softball players,” said a voice I didn’t know.
“Oh, come on, don’t give me that shit, CJ. You are lesbians.”
“OK, maybe some of us are. But not all of us,” the shadow CJ answered.
I struggled to my feet and ran to the obnoxious voice to hug its owner.
“Come on,” Moira said as she struggled to get away from me. “Everybody is going to think I’m a dyke just because you are.”
The softball team did help us. They lent us spare uniforms to wear for the day, and CJ and Bushell offered to let us stay in their garage apartment until we got on our feet. Moira observed that BUSHell was a hilarious name so many times that I’m surprised they didn’t evict us.
Getting on our feet wasn’t going to be a fast process. Bushell and CJ suggested strongly that we keep a low profile. Our profile was so low that we searched for various odd jobs. We didn’t have identification or social security numbers, anymore. We were illegal aliens in our own country. Nobody talked about Manhattan in public or on the news. It stood across the river like a question mark.
After we had a couple of days of piddly salary in our coffers, I thought about the note on Sadad’s dress. She wasn’t mine to just keep. I thought I should do right by her. I instructed Sadad to hug everyone, I put Bethel in her carrier, and I set off on a bus adventure to Jersey City.
Sadad sucked her thumb during the ride, with her hand in the carrier so she could rub Bethel’s ear. Bethel didn’t even bother protesting such treatment, anymore. I’d actually caught her cuddled up with Sadad more than once, and it had teared me up.
Nearly an hour and a half later, the hissing bus deposited us in front of the mosque. I stood on the sidewalk with Bethel on her leash, holding Sadad’s little hand. Then, I turned away and started walking. I walked faster. I suddenly snatched up Sadad and ran, trying to catch the bus as it rolled into the distance, but it rumbled out of sight.
I stopped, breathing hard. A cab pulled up beside me. “Need a ride?,” the female driver asked. I nodded. I didn’t have fare, but I could get out and run, when the time came. I just wanted to take my dog and my kid and go home.
The driver asked my destination and she didn’t seem surprised by the distance. Even more surprisingly, she didn’t gripe. After a long, comfortable silence, she said, “Your ride will be free, today. Courtesy of the SIS. My name is Crouse. Diane Crouse. I’m with the British Secret Intelligence Service. I’ve been sent to make an offer to you and your friends. We know you escaped from the island. We are betting you could do it again. You see, Britain would really like to have the little princes back. We aren’t worried so much about Diana.”
“I’ll have to think about it,” I said. As we hit the Jersey turnpike, I saw a road crew putting up directional signs with a Mickey Mouse symbol stamped on them.