Carla and I stood on the deck watching the port burn. She kept asking if I’d really, truly forgiven her. She held my hand. Of course, my love, I told her. Then we went to hoping we’d made it out in time.
Nope. The blight appeared aboard the second day. Two people went down with the hacking and blue skin and I was intensely afraid Carla would start coughing too and then she did. You got the blight, you were sick three days, then you lived or died. No one knew how you caught it, or why some did and some didn’t. No known cure existed. I cursed how Carla’s fate was no longer in my hands.
Most everyone on the ship wanted to throw them overboard and I had to stand over Carla swinging a wrench to keep them away.
The captain was a humanist. He steered a course for an island he knew. The blighted ones would be left there. We peeled over the top of a wave and got a clear view. The island was not much more than rock and sand and a few palm trees.
The captain said the island used to have an outpost. I asked who’d come back for survivors.
“There’s supposed to be a week’s supplies in the outpost,” he said. “Someone may go by in time. But I wouldn’t count on it.”
I went down to Carla in the hold. She was cold-skinned and shivering, eyes glazed thick with mucous. In a few more days she’d either drown in her own black bile or live.
I stroked Carla’s cheeks and gave her water out of my allotment. She’d already burned through hers. I did it secretly so the other two blighted ones down in the hold wouldn’t see. She slurped down everything I could give her, thrashing against me. Her hands were tied so she couldn’t touch her eyes. Some of the blighted had been known to scratch their eyes out.
“You forgive me?” said Carla.
“My love,” I said. “My love.”
“You won’t ever leave me, will you?”
“How could I?”
My water allotment was gone by the time the engine idled down and the anchor chain rattled against the hull. I went topside. We were just beyond the breakers off the island. The crew had the raft inflated and over the side.
“Bring them up,” said the captain.
Crewmen brought up the other two blighted ones. Crewmen loosed their bonds and threw them in the raft. The passengers crowded away in the stern. I held Carla up as she stumbled forward.
The captain looked at me. “The surf will carry the raft in. Get her in.”
The hemming and hawing toppled Carla against me and we fell to the deck, her head bouncing on my chest. I dragged her back up.
“You got the blight, too?” asked the captain, eyeing me over.
“Not yet,” I said.
“Get her over then,” said the captain.
I put Carla over. She held out her hands, eyes crusted, waiting for me.
“My love,” she said.
I just stood there.
“Shove it off!” said the captain.
“My love!” Carla said.
The crew shoved off. Carla shrieked. I forgave nothing.
The raft bucked in the waves. Everyone but me looked away.