Deadland

but I drowned. Roman had promised an island, where we could eat coconuts and our spouses would not find us. But open ocean was too far to follow him, so I slipped underwater and did not come back up.

And I woke up on his shore. Roman was already there. He tapped his metal straw into a coconut and handed it to me. “Welcome,” he said.

When I went to speak, a gallon of salt water, little silvery fish, and kelp poured out of my mouth. I sipped from the coconut and scowled at the fish flapping back into the ocean. “Where am I?”

“Welcome to Deadland,” he said. “You drowned. So did I.”

“So we’re here?” The island Roman had spoken of was verdant and fertile. I surveyed the land. There were the coconut trees. There was the pig squealing through the bushes. There was the cabana with two chairs and two towels.

“It took dying to be together, I guess,” Roman said.

Which wasn’t totally true. For eight months, our affair had electrified kickball practice. We’d talk after, get drinks, and then we started fucking when his husband went away for business. My wife was starting to piece things together, the heat of suspicion rising like a rash beneath my collar. Sitting on the sidelines, I told Roman about my wife’s looks, her desire to check my text messages. Roman reveled in danger. I chewed my lip to conceal my smile when he said, “I know an island. We just have to swim there.” I waited for more details, but Roman worked in frenzies. When I hadn’t heard from him for days, I figured I’d find him here.

We had sex on the chaise longue and went for a dip as the moon rose. The water prickled my skin, and he said, “You’ll get over it. Your body’s a bit water averse, but it’ll pass.”

We slept on the sand because we didn’t have to worry about back pain anymore. I wondered what my wife was doing, if the worry had set in, a search commenced.

On the second day, we walked the perimeter of the island. Off the other side, we spotted a shipwreck, some luxury mini-yacht. Antennae and a windshield protruded from the cobalt water. Roman sparked with puppyish excitement. He wanted to swim out and examine the wreck, but I only got ankle-deep before asking if we could stay on land.

“We have a whole island to explore,” I said when he sulked back to our spot. The walk back took two minutes, or what felt like two minutes–I didn’t have a watch. He pretended to nap, and I wished for a book. It only felt fair after all the desert island games we had to play in life. He buoyed by night, so we found coconuts to drink and fucked on the chaise longue.

We met Belinda and Marty on day three.

“You must be from the shipwreck,” Roman said.

They nodded, winced, the death still awkward, the water a trigger. “How did you get here?”

“Drowned en route,” Roman said. The trauma had evaporated off of him. It was just a fact of our existence. They shrugged. They didn’t know you could swim this far out and end up here.

“How long have you been here?” Roman asked.

“Time doesn’t matter anymore,” Belinda said. “You’ll go insane if you keep checking.”

They followed us to our camp, drank our coconuts, told us we had to come to their side for the oysters. They kept saying we should spear the pig, have a little roast. Roman spoke with Marty, I with Belinda. “It’s nice to see someone else here,” she said. “Deadland is only so big.”

We said goodnight to Marty and Belinda. Roman showered me in tender kisses, said, “Our first double date.” Our dates had been post-practice pilsners. Our dates had been nooners while our spouses were at work. Our dates had been harried, and now this felt real.

After sex, I went for a walk to the other side. By the full moon, I could make out smoke still pluming off the wreckage.

On the fourth day, he was distant and suggested me-time. I waded into the water. When more of the silvery fish swam up to me, I waited for them to nibble my toes, but then they swam right through my calves. Maybe Roman liked the fish through our phantom limbs. I couldn’t tell him how it brought me to tears all afternoon.

He’d softened by midnight. We curled into each other on the sand, and I grabbed onto him, bathed him in kisses, “I love you. I’m so happy to have this with you.”

All he said was, “How can you be so sure?”

We took a few days apart. He ventured into the center of the island, and I found Marty and Belinda on the other shore. They shucked oysters and handed them to me in their salty shells.

“You two are very cute,” Belinda said. “How’d you meet?”

“An adult kickball league,” I said. “I left my wife. We were married five years.”

“Ah,” Marty said and winked at Belinda.

“What?” I asked. The oyster slid down my throat. It was cool and slippery and tasted like the ocean I’d swallowed.

“We just knew there had to be a catch,” he said.

“You’re so cute together,” she said, “but a little finicky.”

“Being dead is new,” I said. “We’re figuring it out.”

Arranging shells into a circle in the sand, Marty spoke. “Be careful. Life tends to cycle.”

So I left their camp and walked and walked through sticky vines and bushes offering me plump berries. The island wanted me to stay. If I could swim back, maybe I could return to the living, go home to my cat, my wife. We’d get takeout sushi and I’d say I got lost in the wilderness, entered a fugue state. This would just be something else we wouldn’t have to discuss.

When I didn’t find Roman, I slept alone on the shore.

He was there when I woke up, wet, crying. I wrapped around him and, combing sand from his hair, whispered, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” All day he was quiet but affectionate, pliant. He wanted to sleep in my shadow, wanted me to crack open his coconut to drink and drink.

We held each other in the sand after sex, and in a whisper I wouldn’t have been able to hear elsewhere, he asked, “What if we made a mistake?”

“This is no mistake,” I said, because we’d come here for a reason and I could get used to my new state of matter. There was something beautiful to plasmatic love. So I lifted his clothes off his body and stripped off mine too. He took my hands when I led him into the water and when I was fully immersed, the water felt right again.

I fell asleep whispering sweet reassurances in his hair until sleep slowed his breathing.

He was gone in the morning. Roman had left a message in the sand for the waves to claim. All I could read was, I’m sorry.

Crying, wailing, I searched the island for him all day. Belinda and Marty tried calming me down with more oysters.

“He won’t get far,” Marty said.

“He’ll be back,” Belinda said. “Just you wait.”

If I could just get back to land, I could find him, knock on his door, ask him to come back, or else leave him, return to my apartment for sushi and the life I’d known. He was nowhere on the island. When I couldn’t find him, I started swimming to get back to before things began  

Photo Credit: Stephen Leonardi via Unsplash

About the author

Michael Colbert loves coffee (his favorites are Costa Rican and Ethiopian) and horror films (his favorites are Candyman and Silence of the Lambs). He is currently an MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Wilmington, and his writing appears or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Southern Humanities Review, and Kyoto Journal, among others. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @mjcolbert16, or on his website at michaeljcolbert.com.

Back to Top