Cheryl opened the door to see her husband, Dave, sitting at the kitchen table with his back to her. He didn’t move. She thought it odd that he didn’t acknowledge her entrance. Oblivious to all else, he stared at the portable radio which played quietly on the table.
She watched him on the edge of amazement. Usually fidgety, Dave sat as still as she’d ever seen him, except when he slept. Even his sleep was restless.
The radio announcer declared an imminent opportunity to ‘win big’. Dave picked up the pen and prepared to write.
Having things to do, she entered the room and entered his field of vision. “You’re home early.” Dave ignored her. He copied what the announcer said and picked up his phone to dial.
Cheryl waved her hand ‘hello’. Dave waved her off with a flick of his hand.
“Okay…” Cheryl retreated to their bedroom.
A while later, Dave entered the bedroom and saw Cheryl reading on their bed.
“Are we going to have dinner?”
She looked up. “I didn’t want to disturb you. You want to eat?”
“Sure. I thought…”
“What’s so important you can’t even say hello?”
“Radio contest. Gonna win us a trip. Two tickets to paradise.”
“You know what they say about it being a nice place to visit?”
“That’s the point, though…”
“Don’t get your hopes up. Those sales promotions never work out.”
“This is the real deal.”
“Uh-huh. Time share salesmen clinging to you like leeches…”
“Not this place. A pristine island in the South Pacific. Practically a desert island.”
“And all the coconuts you can eat? What fun. Who’s going with you?”
“You are, baby.”
“And here I worried you found some chickadee to get stranded with in the middle of nowhere.”
“I wouldn’t do that. It’s you and me, all the way.”
“Tell me this isn’t like that other time?”
“No. It’s not…”
She looked at him. “Not what?”
“Like… any time.”
“Which time? Were there more than one?”
“No. Not any time. Like no time ever. It’s timeless. Like never.”
“So you took off work to enter a radio contest? Very productive.”
“It’s something I need to do, Cheryl.”
“Dave, couples plan trips together. You know, around vacations and mutual interests… stuff like that.”
“But this isn’t a trip. It’s not a vacation. This is a relocation. We’re moving. We’ll be set up…”
“Are you nuts? What gives you the idea I want to move? Let alone to someplace I’ve never been? Let alone to a desert island?”
“I knew you’d react like that. I wanted to lock it down, so you wouldn’t go ballistic on me.”
“A clue to the clueless. You make plans which include me, give me a heads up. You haven’t seen ballistic… Don’t plan a trip to the cleaners without consulting me.”
He looked at his shoes.
“…Or for that matter, if you’re planning a world tour, solo? Give me notice about that too… Moving? Earth to Dave… Ever notice I have a life? Friends? Family? History? Were you born yesterday?”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
“And you’re depending on winning a radio contest?”
“It’s a sure thing…” Her mouth fell open but nothing came out. “Honest, Cher, It’s a ‘no fail’ plan.”
“Are you feeling okay? Seriously, Dave. Is there something you need to talk about? With me? Or a shrink?”
“Uhm… work is fine.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d guess you were in the throes of a mid-life crisis.”
“That is pretty silly. Don’t you think? As I don’t know the mid-point of my life, I refuse to call this a mid-life crisis. Maybe a quarter life crisis. Who knows? Or a 33 1/3 crisis.”
“8-track getting you down?”
“I prefer to call it an opportunity.”
Cheryl made dinner but they were pretty talked out. She had questions and maybe feared the answers.
He wanted Cheryl in his life. He knew he needed this new adventure. His wants marked the point of departure for his needs.
Dave and Cheryl had reached a stage where even small talk led to raised voices. No one liked things this way but they’d reached an impasse. They’d lost their common language. To Dave, the unanswered questions missed the point. Cheryl only heard incoherent babbling from him.
He lay awake much of the night. He could feel her beside him. Untouchable. He thought, ‘She must be awake. A room with two sleeping people cannot be this quiet. This tense. How can so much distance fit between two bodies on a bed?’
He couldn’t wait to act on his plans.
Today was the day. Cheryl didn’t know he called in sick from work. After she left for the day, he arranged four phones on the table. When the radio station announced the contest, he would put several calls in at once. All but the last digit of the station’s number was entered on each phone. He sat and waited.
Radio contests ensure the most listeners over the most time. Dave faithfully never left the radio and always had a phone in hand. The radio station teased him no end.
“Get ready folks! We need those first ten callers, coming up.”
Hours passed anticipating the fateful call to action. Dave took notes so he could address any passing reference in a moment. He kept spare batteries with him and carried the radio about the house so he wouldn’t lose a moment.
When they opened the phone lines, Dave lost no time. Three calls got through. He answered the question. He won the prize.
Dave’s trip was ready.
He could leave immediately.
That night, when Cheryl got home, he had already packed.
“So this is real. You’re flying to points unknown?”
“I always wanted this. I wish you would join me.”
She smiled sadly and touched his arm. “When’s your flight? I’ll drive you.”
“Thanks. I have a car coming.”
“So that’s it?” He nodded. “Don’t be a stranger.”
Dave rode to the airport alone. He blew it. ‘So many things I meant to say. Why couldn’t I handle it differently?’
The trip seemed endless. Airport after airport. Each plane smaller than the previous. He lost track of his location and the date. Haggard and disoriented, Dave arrived at his destination in a twin engine float plane. The pilot waited, engines idling, while Dave waded through the clear, gentle waves to the sunny beach. Palm trees swayed. Bright clouds drifted. He waved to the pilot. The plane taxied away and went aloft.
If this wasn’t paradise, Dave didn’t know what could replace it. He stowed his gear and walked for miles on warm trackless sand. Hunger and thirst never came to mind. The island provided all his needs. He didn’t need money.
Dave had found effortless, perfect happiness.
One evening, while watching yet another magnificent sunset, he turned to comment on the view. Being alone, truly alone, shocked him. He suddenly felt a deep isolation.
For the first time, he fished his phone from his pack and prayed a call would go through. Reception had never entered his mind. Who would he need to call from paradise?
He could barely speak.
“Can you hear me?”
Tentatively, “Dave? Hi… You sound far away. Are you alright?”
“Yeah. I got my wish. I’m here… Paradise…”
She didn’t know what to say.
“So, Cher, I learned something. Not that it’s of much use...”
“I’ll listen if you want to tell me.”
“It’s not complicated. Probably sounds stupid.” She let the silence run. “I realized you carry it with you like a battery. It regenerates through people sharing their time. Otherwise, what’s the point? A paradise unshared is hell. Paradise unshared… is just an empty beach.”