the bird and the phone

March 9, 2010

Can you please try to just wear the red dress, she asked.
I don’t understand why I have to look like the rest of the bridesmaids. It’s so conformist.
Just dress appropriately, like you’re supposed to. It’s your sister’s first wedding, and you know her, this will probably be her only wedding, she continued.


It’s four, tomorrow. The boat will leave.

I know. Won’t be late. 4. ‘Bye.

But her mother had already hung up, out of impatience, or because she had no idea what buttons she was pressing on her BlackBerry. 400 miles away, and twenty-four, and her mother was still attempting to micromanage her schedule.

She turned to glare at her beaten up suitcase—namely the dress scrunched inside, but her eyes caught the green clock. She was supposed to be halfway to the airport by now. Why was her mother even calling her at six a.m.? She was already out in California, making it—how many hours behind were they again? It was too early for math, she thought, fitting one more lens into the overstuffed camera bag.

If she missed this flight, her parents would definitely start getting gate passes and escorting her on to the plane every time. And how many people would really be trying to catch seven a.m. flights? Hers would eventually get her to the tiny Oxnard airport for a late lunch. She wasn’t even sure where that really was, besides that the nearby harbor was the closest way to get to Anacapa Island, where the wedding was supposed to be held. Which involved taking a boat. In the Pacific Ocean. To an essentially uninhabited (which meant Starbucks was not present) island for a “green” wedding. Which involved overnight camping.
It was that liberal college. It turned her lovely sister Linnea into a Birkenstock-wearing, free trade coffee-drinking, reduce-reuse-recycling environmentalist. Massachusetts. Who even goes to Massachusetts?

She was still running late. Security couldn’t be that bad, right? It wasn’t even a holiday weekend, she thought, searching for the way to go.

Oh yes, it could be that bad. The lines snaked this way and that, without a legitimate order to it, while the “Elite Mileage” members breezed through with their business coats thrown over an arm and black laptop cases on a shoulder, catching short flights out of Baltimore and into New York, Boston and Providence.

She stepped into the shorter line.

“Hi. I’ve got a flight that boards in twenty minutes and I really need to make it...”

She handed over her boarding pass and ID, cringing at the outdated photo as the gatekeeper decided that she was, in fact, Sage Benson.

A tiny plane brought her to Oxnard and into the warm California air. And forty minutes of the stereotypical bumper-to-bumper gridlock on the 101 left plenty of time for Linnea to remind her that she had to get to the boat on time, and to scoff at her latte in its “environmentally unfriendly” cup.

Sage rolled her eyes, checking to make sure each camera lens made it through the flights intact, as her sister prattled on about bringing water was necessary, because the island “didn’t even have running water!”

“You can even leave your gear with me tomorrow morning, so it gets on the boat,” Linnea said. “Think of it as an incentive to get there?”

“You’re lucky I already had my coffee, or else I wouldn’t be in such a great mood,” Sage deadpanned.

“Funny,” she said, pouting as she attempted to parallel park at the hotel. “I swear it’s a ten-minute drive from here to the harbor. So you want to leave at three-thirty. Because we do leave at four. And it’s really the last boat onto Anacapa.”
“Three-fifty, you say?”
“Three-thirty,” Linnea glared, and handed Sage her room key. “You’re taking my car out there.”

She threw the car keys in Sage’s direction, and wandered off to remind everyone about the rehearsal dinner in an hour.

The next morning, Sage woke to her mother’s incessant knocking, completely jet-lagged.

“Why do you want my bag?”

“It’s one less thing for everyone to have to remember.”

“You just want to remind me again to be there by four.”

“Not at all.” She paused, and on her way out: Don’t forget...

“Four. I know.”

The red dress was hanging from the closet door, and still pressed, even after traveling cross-country in an overstuffed bag, and to cushion another lens bag. But the dress was missing something. Linnea couldn’t possibly be bothered by a little something to make it less matchy and more eye-catchy? But you never knew with Bridezillas now, even ecofriendly ones, she thought.

“Seen Bridezilla yet?” Sage asked Kenneth, the slightly nebby groom, on her way upstairs from lunch.

“Last I heard, she was reminding everyone that there isn’t electricity on the island.”

Sage’s heart stopped. That really meant no showers, no hair driers, no cell phones once the battery died. It meant actual camping. She definitely needed to look pretty, because Sunday morning, after sleeping in a tent, she was not going to look good.

The best thing to do would be to explore the beach. She glanced at her phone’s screen. It was only one-thirty. That left plenty of time to find something interesting and get to the boat, she thought, as she changed to the red dress.

She walked along, to the end of an old pier, trying to get an interesting shot of a little red bird watching the waves intently. The bird kept scuttling further and further away, until Sage leaned over the railing. She watched as her phone slipped out of her free hand and into the water below. With that, the bird flew off, angrily, leaving shiny tail feathers behind. They were perfect for her hair, Sage thought, forgetting about her lost phone for a few minutes, while she braided them in.

Lost in thought, she reached into her bag to check the time again. Her phone wasn’t there. It wasn’t on the bench next to her. And then she remembered, it was now at the bottom of the ocean. And with it was her sense of time. The sun seemed lower in the sky than when she was taking pictures of the bird. It had to be close to four; definitely well past three. She couldn’t change her shoes and make it to the harbor. And it was quite the drive. Sage felt herself feel around for the car keys. At least they were still safe, and she briskly headed back.

How far had she walked down the beach? They couldn’t hold a boat for just her, could they? And there weren’t any more boats after either, she vaguely remembered.

Sage turned on the car, fiddling with the buttons until the time slowly appeared. Three-fifty. She was right on time. It was only a ten-minute drive to the harbor, and completely possible to make it. She visibly relaxed, and merged on to the freeway.

She could see the harbor across the street and the boat a half-mile down. What was with this line of cars? What was so important? Her fists clenched as she watched the traffic continue and the little green numbers change. This was impossible.

And suddenly the light changed and the traffic held.

Come on, come on, come onnnn, she cried to the car in front of her, as it inched to make a left turn. As soon as it went, she was free.

The car’s bumper barely cleared the lane when she hurtled forward and across to the first parking spot. Three-fifty-eight.

There was the boat, making a few bellows from deep within. It sounded like a car engine starting up, only much, much louder. Was it moving? There definitely was some movement there, she decided, lengthening her stride to a run. The red feathers were working their way loose from her hair, and her camera was barely zipped in the bag.

And then there was the echoing thud. Linnea slowly turned around from her conversation to stare, open-mouthed at Sage, sprawled on the ground, wearing the the dress and shedding feathers, with her camera bag still within reach.

I made it, Sage said proudly, handing Linnea her keys.

I see that. Linnea coughed, covering her laughter.

I’ve called and called, we were going to hold the boat, their mother called from a nearby chair.

My phone died. It’s in the ocean.

A little red bird with shiny tail feathers landed on her dirty flip flop with a sparkling phone in its beak. It dropped the phone without a sound, and picked up a few loose feathers from the ground. With a squawk it flew off.

No one made a sound.

Until Sage burst out laughing with the powering up chime.

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