Fear is the Enemy of Love
Author's Note: This is a sequel 'The Savannah Chronicles.' When we last left James, Savannah and Sarah, they were at peace---for the most part---and going off the grid in a boat to wait out the Terminators...
'Sweet as a mother's song,
in the still of the night
Oh, my love will be there
I'll be there, it's alright, it's alright...'
- Fear is the Enemy of Love (Frances Black)
Part 1: The Storm
It's been six days since their last dockside stop, and they are nesting---or trying to, anyway, given their differing motivations as far as these things go. In their new life as a family, he has found that his primary role has been to balance Savannah's love of people with Sarah's equally strong fear of them. This last week has been a frustrating exercise in this sensitive effort. Savannah had heard on the radio about some sort of festival, and demanded they go. She wanted to be on land again. Wanted to eat in a restaurant. Wanted to play with other children. It had taken a delicate few days to warm Sarah up to the idea, and when they got there, she had hated every minute. Being responsible for a child again was bringing out all of her latent survivalist tendencies, and her jail experience just before John's disappearance was recent enough to have re-ignited her mistrust of all people not On Her Side. He had days of being in this blessed inner circle. But then he had days, when she was tired or overwhelmed or had her fill of social contact, where he---and even Savannah---were not. The festival had been an absolute trial. It was too crowded, too loud, too full of officious authority figures keeping an eye on things. Much as Savannah had wanted to stay, Sarah had been all too desperate to leave. And when mamma isn't happy, as the saying goes...
So they had cast off again without any real plan of where they were to go, and they had been out of land range when the storm hit. By the time they first heard the alert on the ham radio, it was too late and they were too far away from any safe mooring. They had dropped anchor in the wake of a cruise ship, hoping its bulk would shield them from the worst of it. But four days later, they are half-crazy with cabin fever, and both of the girls are queasy from the ceaseless rocking. He has just been on deck again to check in with the Coast Guard---he had alerted them, against Sarah's strong objections, that they were marooned out here with a child---and he's come down below to find Sarah and Savannah huddled together on the big bed, silently enduring. Savannah is clutching Mr. Fur, her stuffed monkey, with white-knuckled intensity. Sarah is staring at the ceiling, glassy-eyed, barely responding to Savannah's occasional prods.
"Good morning, ladies," he says.
Savannah props herself on her elbows, seems to revive a little. "Morning, Uncle James."
"Dare I ask, is anyone hungry yet?"
Sarah whimpers, curls up on her side, closes her eyes. That's a no, he supposes. But Savannah cautiously nods, and he helps her down from the bed, noting the slight---but heartening---spring in her step.
She nods. "You get used to it after awhile. It's still a little...you know." She makes a waving motion with her hands. "But I was staying in bed anyway, because Aunt Sarah needed me. She..."
Savannah hesitates, and as they reach the kitchen, he hoists her onto a stool and kneels down to her eye level. "What, Savannah? What's wrong?"
"Well, it's just that if you leave her by herself when she gets like this, she doesn't really...doesn't really stay here, you know? I think she...she goes somewhere else sometimes. In her head, she goes somewhere else. And I need her to be here, so I had to stay with her."
Her intuitiveness, especially as far as Sarah is concerned, continues to amaze him. It's a remarkable radar that he can neither explain nor duplicate. But when Savannah makes a pronouncement about Sarah, he listens.
"Interesting," he says. He tries to keep his tone neutral. "And where do you suppose she goes?"
"Someplace bad. Can I have French toast, Uncle James? Your pancakes aren't as good as Aunt Sarah's are."
He makes Savannah the French toast, has a piece himself while he's at it. He makes an extra serving and puts it aside for Sarah just in case, then he leaves Savannah with some school work and goes in to check on things.
Sarah is as he left her, ashen-faced, miserable and in near-catatonic stupor. But without Savannah in the bed to anchor her, her breathing has quickened and her fists have clenched at her sides. She's someplace else, like Savannah said. Someplace bad.
And like that, her fingers uncurl and her body relaxes. He crawls into bed beside her, wraps his fingers around her clammy hands. "Tell me a story," he says. "Something terrible."
"You tell me a story. Something beautiful."
She's half asleep, but he is gratified she's making the effort to play along. It's a ritual that has evolved in the weeks since they left Los Angeles---he has to learn to live in her terrible world, to prepare himself for what's to come, but she has to learn to live in his beautiful world too. So they have been lying in the big bed together every night and trading stories.
"Hawaii," he says. "There was a conference there. An excuse, really, to have a fancy holiday and be able to write it off on your taxes. About two hours of lectures in the morning, then the rest of the day to yourself. I went walking..."
"You always walk," she says. "Whenever we dock somewhere, you go off and you walk..."
"You make it sound so ominous."
"It IS ominous. The farther away you get from...from..."
She shakes her head, refusing to admit to such neediness. "From the water," she finally says. "They can't swim. I've told you this already, the Terminators, they can't swim."
"This is supposed to be my Something Beautiful story, Sarah. There are no Terminators in Something Beautiful World."
"Sorry. You went for a walk..."
"And I found this beach. It was exquisite. White sand and blue water, water so clear you could see your reflection in it. There was a man who lived on the beach. I don't think anyone knew he was there. He had this little wooden shack, and it was full of...well, of everything, really. Shells. Books. He painted and had all of these wonderful watercolour drawings of the beach and the waves and the sunsets. He invited me to join him for lunch, and when I said yes, he reached into a sandpit, pulled out a trap full of still-wriggling clams, and fried them up right there on the beach for us. I can't even describe how it tasted..."
"You have to," she says. "It's why you tell me these things."
"It tasted like butter. And sunshine. And nature in its freshest, rawest state."
"That doesn't make sense to me."
"It will," he says. "When you hear enough of these stories, it will. This is important, Sarah. As important as what you're teaching me. It's what we're fighting for. Life."
"I know it is."
He senses the testiness in her clipped reply, and backs off a little. She's trying, God love her. He knows where her head has been these last years, and he keeps reminding himself that she doesn't know any better, that she has never had an adult life without this in it...
"My turn," she says. "Mexico. John is five. There is a man the locals speak of. He has trained with the military. Of perhaps more than one country, as it turns out, but I didn't know that yet. I want to train with him. I want to know what he knows."
"And he teaches me. And I learn. And I thrive on the action, on the adventure, on seeing my muscles grow bigger and my blood run hot and fierce like his. For two weeks, we train. And then, he says, we'll have a test and see if I have mastered his lessons."
He has to resist the urge to crush his hand into his stomach to knead away the sick knot of dread that's clotting in his gut. This is going to a bad place. These stories always do.
"And he came after me. That was the test. Impaled me to a tree with his fist, dragged me across the jungle floor by the hair, kicked me into submission and had his way with me. By the time he was done, I was bleeding out of every place I could bleed from. John had to...had to help clean me off. And do you know what El Jefe had to say for himself, James?"
"No. What did he say?"
"He asked me if I wanted another two weeks."
"Did you take it?"
"And he beat me. Again. We went two more rounds before I finally won."
"How did you do it?" he asks.
"Waited him out. As soon as I saw him coming, I used my hard-earned strength to climb a tree, and I stayed up there until he called the fight. It's part of being a soldier, James. You've got to know when to advance, but you've also got to know when to retreat. He was bigger than me. Stronger. There was no other way to win."
She shivers, and he pulls her close. "Sounds like you did okay," he says.
"No. I should have been quicker. Learned sooner. It disgusts me that I took so long"
She pulls back, shrugging his arm off of her, the walls going up again. "I don't want to talk anymore."
And he pulls her closer. "We don't need to."
He drifts off at some point. The constant motion of the boat makes him as sleepy as it makes Sarah ill, and with her safely cuddled up beside him, he lets himself doze. But Sarah is a restless sleeper, especially today, and he is roused by her constant fidgeting.
"Hey." He squeezes her hand, attempts to settle her. "Hey, Sarah."
She turns, then moans, her body folding in on itself as her stomach cramps and she fights a wave of sickness. She flails for his hand, squeezes it like a lifeline. He breathes with her, matching her thready pace at first, then gradually slowing it, hoping she'll follow. She does. Her eyes water with the effort, and her face is pale enough that he's starting to worry this is more than just the storm taking a hit on her. But after a moment, she stills. And her body goes limp again.
"I have to get out of here," she says.
The waves rise as high as the portholes, and he shakes his head. "Not an option. Not yet."
"No. You don't understand. I have to get out of here. Now."
"Sarah, it isn't safe to pull up anchor yet. The storm..."
She's practically weeping, and he senses the edge of panic in her tone. " I have to get out of here, James. I have to get out."
"Shhh. I'm here," he says. "I'm here, Savannah is here."
She squeezes his hand again, and he can feel, through her clammy fingers, the desperation.
"I have to get out," she says again.
He decides to risk braving the deck with her. He suspects the rocking will be worse up there, and she is weak enough that he'll need to practically carry her out. But he suspects that the 'someplace bad' that Savannah spoke of is weighing her down as much anything physical, and he worries that she'll come apart completely if she doesn't get a change of scenery, and fast.
"We're going up," he tells Savannah. "Can you stay down here? It isn't safe for you."
"It isn't safe for you either," Savannah says.
"I know it's not."
She holds his gaze, seems to read something there. Then returns to her colouring book with a nod. "I understand. I'm good, Uncle James. You have fun up there."
Things go in in that head of hers that he can't make sense of. In both their heads. They are complex beings, his women. With a sigh, he plants a kiss on Savannah's head, then opens the latch and drags Sarah out into the chill, stormy day.