Far and Away by Steve Carr
The crystal drinking glasses on the table vibrated, forming ripples in the water. The ice cubes tinkled. The floor beneath Amanda's feet trembled.
She looked up to see the bamboo blades of the ceiling fan pause momentarily, as if assessing the situation, before continuing to rotate. The chain hanging from the fan swung slightly. At the other end of the table, her husband, Clark, continued eating the last of the chicken adobo on his plate, seemingly oblivious to the tremor. Soy sauce dribbled down his chin that he dabbed away with a linen napkin while continuing to chew.
Princess came through the door that separated the kitchen from the dining room carrying a large silver tray, the one Amanda received as a wedding gift from her grandmother. Silently she picked up Amanda's plate still half-covered in adobo and placed it on the tray, and then circled the table picking up the empty bowls and finally Clark's plate. His was scraped clean.
"What's for desert tonight?" he asked her.
"Madam Amanda say no desert tonight," she answered with Filipino inflection while glancing sideways at Amanda. Clark leaned back and patted his rotund stomach. "Perhaps that's for the best," he said with a chuckle.
As Princess started back to the kitchen, Amanda reached out and grasped her arm. "Did you feel that shaking just before you came out here?" Princess glanced down at the gold bracelet on Amanda's wrist and then looked into Amanda's worried eyes. "Is just the hearts of Magayon and Pangarnon beating for each other," she said. She pulled her arm from Amanda's hand and went into the kitchen. "You should just ignore the volcano like I do," Clark said.
"How can anyone ignore a volcano?"
He stood and picked up his Bible from where it had sat open by his place setting at the table and held it against his chest, over his heart. "I have to go to the village. Rosamie's husband may not make it through the night."
"Must you go to their house again?" she said. "You know how much I hate being in this house alone at night."
"It's my duty as the only missionary in this region," he said. "Princess will be here." He walked around the table and kissed Amanda on the forehead.
"You could work on the painting you said you started last week. What's it of?"
"Nothing important," she muttered.
He turned and left the dining room. A few minutes later there was the sound of him going out the front door.
Princess came out of the kitchen. "Would Madam like me to follow Mister again?" Amanda nodded. "I need to know for certain if my husband is having an affair with that Rosamie woman."
"Yes, Madam," Princess said. She held her hand out and smiled approvingly as Amanda removed the gold bracelet and placed it in her palm. She slipped the bracelet onto her wrist and left the house. The Mayan Volcano was illuminated with the colors of twilight: purple, gold and blood red. The volcano rose up from the flat, verdant landscape that surrounded it as if placed there by accident by the hand of God. Its sides were covered in tracks of dried lava giving it the appearance of having been clawed by a giant. Amanda was seated at her easel on the patio outside of the bedroom. She looked back and forth from the painting in front of her where the volcano took up most of the canvas to the volcano that occupied most of the horizon. The volcano terrified her but she kept painting it, adding dabs of dark blue to the volcano's cone.
As she painted, she tried to ignore the lights of the village that was much closer to the base of the volcano. Most everyone who lived there were farmers and their families, some who could trace their families living in that village for. many generations. They chose to stay there despite the death and destruction visited on them by volcanic eruptions. The road leading to it was unpaved and bordered on both sides by fields of sugarcane. Other than the trucks that carried the cut stalks of sugarcane from the farms to the processing plant hundreds of miles away, the only wheeled vehicles that went in and out of the village were motorbikes, bicycles, and carts pulled by oxen. The house she lived in sat alone from any other house near the start of the road, a few hundred yards from the rarely traveled paved highway. When she didn't have the radio on, it was a place of utter silence.
She dropped the paintbrush into a jar of Turpenoid and wiped the paint from her fingers with a wet cloth. She stood up, draped a piece of linen over the painting, and went into the bedroom. The ceiling fan made a clicking sound with every turn of the blades. The ruffles of the canopy over the bed fluttered in the fan-generated breeze. The eyes in the oil painting she had painted of Clark stared at her from above the dresser, filled with the same mocking laughter he directed at her in real life. The painting was the only item in the bedroom that she hadn't brought with her from their home in Vermont. The painting of her husband was the first one she painted soon after they settled in.
Everything she and Clark owned, most of it purchased by her wealthy parents and given to them as wedding gifts, had been packed and shipped to the Philippines with only one teacup being broken along the way. But it was a very expensive teacup. Clark told her that they would live where they were living for only a year. That was two years ago. She tried to relax about living so near to a volcano, but it was far and away the most difficult part of living in what she considered was a very strange place. Although they were friendly, she had made no friends among the villagers and she thought of Princess only as a servant.
On the top of the dresser, beneath the painting of Clark, was her opened jewelry box. There were far fewer pieces in it than what she had brought with her. Princess did nothing without it costing something, especially when it came to snooping on Clark. Amanda awoke with a start as her bed shook. She sat bolt upright when a porcelain figurine sitting on a corner table fell onto the floor and broke into pieces. As quickly as the shaking had started, it stopped. She glanced around the room. Hazy morning sunlight shone through the slats of the shutters on the door leading to the patio, forming patterns of horizontal bars across the floor and walls. Seeing that Clark wasn't on his side of the bed, it took her a moment to recall that she had awoken during the night and realized he hand't returned from his visit to Rosamie's. As many times as he had gone into the village he had never stayed away the entire night. She pushed aside the mosquito netting, climbed out of bed, and opened the doors leading to the patio. Mixed in with the oppressive humidity was the slight scent of sulfur. Between the house and the volcano, the landscape was as it always was, but Amanda could have sworn that the fields of sugarcane had decreased in size, shortening the distance to the volcano.
She spun about on her heels when the bedroom door opened. It was Princess. She was holding a small try with a teapot, saucer and cup on it.
"I bring Madam's morning tea," she said.
"Where's my husband?" Amanda asked.
"He stay the night at Rosamie's house," Princess replied as she walked into the room and placed the tray on the table. "He still there when I left the village when sun rise." She poured tea in a cup and carried the cup to Amanda. "Rosamie the prettiest woman in the village."
Amanda knocked the cup from Princess' hand, sending it crashing onto the bed, staining the white satin sheets with tea. "Yes, you've told me that dozens of times already." She went into the bathroom and slammed the door.
It was shortly past noon when Clark walked into the house. His face was red and coated with perspiration. His shirt was drenched with sweat. "My bicycle had a flat and I had to walk most of the way home," he muttered as he entered the dining room where Amanda was seated at the table, attempting to glue together the broken figurine.
Without looking up, she asked him, her voice icy, "Why were you gone all night?"
He wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his meaty forearm. "Rosamie's husband died and I stayed with her for a while to make sure she would be okay, and then I spent the rest of the night sleeping at Ben Caputo's house."
"What about me? What if I wasn't okay?"
"Why wouldn't you be okay?"
She glanced at the open window and pointed at the volcano. "Do you even care that I, that both of us, could be killed by that volcano?"
"Don't be ridiculous," he said. "I'm going to take a long, cool bath." He turned and left the room.
Hearing something outside the bedroom door, Amanda rushed to it and flung it open. Princess was kneeling on the hallway floor.
"What are you doing there?" Amanda hissed.
Princess slowly stood up. In a hushed voice, she said, "Mister Clark not tell truth. He go to Rosamie's house but not come out." Books fell from the shelves in Clark's study as the entire house shook. Amanda gripped onto the front of his desk to keep from being knocked to the floor. The rumbling of the tremor only lasted for several seconds, but the total silence in its aftermath frightened her even more. She glanced out the window and saw a thin plume of white smoke rising from the volcano's crater.
"I tell you, that volcano is going to erupt," she screamed at Clark who had turned his chair and was staring toward the village.
Without looking at her, he mumbled, "Maybe you're right." He stood up and faced her. "Get your things together and be prepared to evacuate."
"You mean our things," she said, repressing her hysteria.
"Your things. Nothing in this house has ever been ours. You've loved your china, antiques, and linens much more than you've ever loved me."
"That's not true," she fired back. "I've tried to make a home for us while you spend all of your time in the village."
"I'm a missionary," he replied. "The people of that village is why I'm here."
"And what about Rosamie?" she snapped. "Princess said. . .are you in love with her?"
He shook his head in disbelief. "I'm going to the village to make sure Rosamie and everyone else gets out okay." He stormed out of the room.
Sobbing, Amanda ran to the window and stood there until she saw Clark on her bicycle and heading toward the village.
At dusk, six military troop carriers - enough to carry the entire population of the village - passed the house and went down the dirt road. Amanda stood on the porch steps sipping on iced tea from a silver goblet, one of a set of eight given to her, by her aunt. Six cardboard boxes picked with china and other household items, four suitcases, and a steamer trunk were stacked on the porch.
Princess came out of the house and pushed aside a suitcase with her foot before joining Amanda on the steps. "Trucks go in empty and come out empty."
"What do you mean?" Amanda asked.
"Village our home. We do not leave. Volcano not change that."
"What if it erupts?"
"What if sun not shine anymore?" Amanda turned and studied the woman's face. In the two years since arriving in the Philippines, she had looked at Princess countless times, but hadn't studied her face in the same way she studied objects for a still life painting. Princess' age was indeterminate, her skin free of wrinkles, her eyes bright and clear. It was only the graying at the roots along the hairline of her forehead that suggested she was no longer young. Amanda's eyes rested on the pearl earrings in Princess's ears. They were a one-year wedding anniversary gift that Clark had given to her just before they left the United States.
"You didn't lie about my husband being with Rosamie all night, did you?" Amanda asked her. "Princess never lie," she answered. She walked down the steps, got onto her motorbike and headed for the village.
Amanda drank the rest of the tea and then opened a box and placed the goblet inside. She went into the house and walked from room to room hoping that if the volcano did erupt, her furniture and paintings would somehow survive. In the middle of the night Amanda awoke to the rumbling of trucks speeding past her house and sat up on the sofa where she had fallen asleep. She got up and rushed out the front door just as the last truck came to a screeching stop in the road alongside the house. Immediately her attention was drawn to the fiery red glow being emitted from the volcano's crater. She turned when two men in military uniforms in the back of the truck shouted at her in perfect English.
"Are you the missionary's wife?" one yelled.
She looked at the dozen or so women and children seated in the back of the half-empty truck, all who she recognized, but knew only a few of their names. They were only a small fraction of the population of the village. Princess was seated near the tailgate. "Yes, I am. Where is my husband?"
"He stayed behind," the other soldier answered. "You coming or not?"
Amanda ran down the porch steps and to the truck. "Princess, tell me. . .is he?"
Princess looked up from the black lacquered jewelry box in her lap and held out her hand. "You have everything. Princess have nothing. What does Madam want to know?"
Amanda slid her wedding ring from her finger and place it in the palm of Princess' hand. "Is my husband with Rosamie?"
Princess clasped her fingers around the ring. "Yes. He say he love Rosamie." "Get in lady," one of the soldier's yelled. "That volcano is going to blow at any time now."
"I'm not going," Amanda said and then turned and walked back to the house. Behind her the truck pulled away and sped off into the darkness. She stood on the porch for several minutes staring at the volcano. The air was thick with the smells of lava, sulfur and ozone, and hot, as if an electric heater had been left on for too long. She picked up the suitcase that had her painting supplies in them and went into the house.
Two hours later, while she was on the patio and seated at the easel she turned to see Clark rush into the bedroom.
"I had to make sure you got away," he said.
She glared at him. "Princess told me about you and Rosamie. You've been lying to me all along."
"It's Princess who has been lying just to get your jewelry."
Her cheeks reddened. "You know about that?"
"Of course I know. I know everything about you. That's why I love you and always will."
At that moment the volcano exploded. Its fire, exploding rocks and hot ash spread across the landscape at incredible speed, incinerating the village, and burying the fields of sugarcane with burning ash. Its destruction swallowed the missionary's house and its occupants in swirling clouds of gray and black. The End.