The Island that Was

by E.M. Killaley

 

Every day as Angus set about his chores, he had to shoo away the pelicans and seagulls gathering near his house.

‘Away!’ he would shout, waving his arms, which sent his aging bloodhound lolloping after them.  The birds would glide a few yards away and land.  Angus saw no point in chasing them any farther, and his dog wasn’t bothered either.

He was beginning to forget how long he had lived in the house.  The island on which it sat was slowly eroding into the sea, and he had seen most of his neighbors take to their boats and head for the mainland.

‘Won’t you come with us?’ the last had asked, after loading what belongings he could into the little vessel with his family.

‘Your own mother swore she’d die on this island.  Now you’ve barely wiped the dirt from your hands, and you’re asking me to leave,’ Angus had replied.  ‘This is my home.  I’ll not be leaving it.’

Beyond the levees and sandbags that surrounded his cottage, Angus watched the other houses surrender to the waves.  On the far side of the island, the little church had fallen years before, but now the yard itself was melting away, dropping headstones and trees down the crumbling, unsupported hill.  It seemed even the dead were leaving too.

But Angus sat on his porch with his hound and watched the rolling waters.  He thought neither of the future nor of the storms that would come, knowing the island would be there for as long as he needed it; and they did come, tempests that shook the embankments and slammed the shutters on his little house.  The dog would cower under the table, then jump into the bed, where he wasn’t usually allowed.

‘It’s okay, boy,’ Angus would say.  ‘We’ve weather worse rains than these.’

Then he would roll over and fall into a deep sleep, with the dog curled up beside him.

One morning he woke to sound of the dog’s bark.  When he opened his eyes, he saw the night’s winds had broken a window.  He sat up.  A pelican blinked at them from in front of the door.

Angus waved his arms, and the hound jumped to the floor, chasing the bird into the kitchen.  Once he had struggled out of bed, the old man followed them, shooing the giant bird toward the porch.

‘Out with you!  Dirty old feathery rat!’ he shouted, squinting in the bright morning sunlight.  As the dog went after the bird, Angus’ feet began to feel cold.  He looked down.  He was ankle deep in water.  With a splash, the hound was surprised to find the garden was now submerged.

‘It can’t be,’ Angus said.  He went back into the house, his feet squelching in sodden socks.  Through a window at the back of the cottage, he saw an unfamiliar sand dune rising towards the sky.

‘Where has the island gone?’ Angus wondered.  The dog shook water from his coat across the room.

‘This is my home,’ Angus had replied.  ‘I’ll not be leaving it.’

How could this final neighbor argue?  His own mother had sworn she would die on the island.  No sooner had he finished burying her, than he was standing there, wiping the moist soil from his hands, asking Angus to leave with them.

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