A Flight off the Map
by Becca Gainsburg

Runestone, volume 3


A Flight off the Map
by Becca Gainsburg

Nobody thought Laverne was more beautiful than herself. She had full, juicy lips and a pout that was nearly as irresistible as her smile—they were so easily interchangeable it was impossible to see one without thinking of the other. Her outbursts were always followed by a laugh, a flash of teeth to show that she wasn’t upset.

“I’m eighty percent kidding and twenty percent serious,” she would say.

Or it was seventy percent and thirty. Laverne was never fully serious. Except when it came to her boyfriend. “When his Game Boy came, I sat on the couch and glared at him because I wasn’t getting enough attention,” she said. “He packed it up and sent it back three days later.”

Laverne and I met on St. Eustatius, an eight-mile long island in the Dutch Caribbean. We were hired by the National Parks where I worked as an intern and she served as a volunteer. On paper, that meant she only had to work mornings, but she came out in the afternoons more times than not to help us uproot armfuls of Coralita from the Botanical Garden and cut our way through unkempt trails using machetes. While working, she’d tell stories—some so poignant that my heart rang deep in my chest.

She met her boyfriend at a political talk hosted by her university. It was a black tie event. Laverne, who beforehand had become plastered at one of the local clubs, showed up in ripped jeans and a crop top. The two talked briefly. Laverne didn’t remember his name. She went home with a guy in a suit. The next day he got her number from one of her friends and asked her to dinner.

They were both black, came from money, and were intelligent of the world they had been brought up in. When Laverne’s boyfriend got locked out of his house, the police picked him up for loitering on the front step, marching him down the row of neighbors to see if he really belonged there. Laverne’s father was a diplomat who lived in a gated community. Even on vacation, he wore business suits to the airport so he could “look the part.” He still got stopped.

“A black man with a successful career?” Laverne would mock. “That can’t be right.”

The way she said it made it sound as if we were meant to laugh, but there was a bitterness behind her words, an anger that even she didn’t know what to do with. While my shoes were tied with rainbow laces and the toothless gaps in my smile were commemorated on my parents’ desks, Laverne’s mother sat her down and told her that no matter where she went in life, no matter what she did, she would always be passed over for things that would be handed off to other children. My mom told me I could be anything that I wanted to be. Laverne’s mom told her she could be anything that she worked for.

The other interns and I were notoriously bad at welcomes. Nat, Nika, and I had met in the St. Maarten airport and boarded the twenty-seater propeller plane together. Upon arrival, our boss told me that my legs were too pale and snapped at Nat for slamming the door of her truck. She left us in an empty house, shocked by the cost of goods we had seen at the grocery store and horrified by the ring of people we had passed dog-fighting in the streets. Our Belgium roommate stumbled home drunk just in time to prevent us from blowing up the house with the oven. He ended up blistering off the skin on his calf.

None of us meant to scare the new interns, but we did. Island life was jarring. On Hannah’s first night, Nika caught and killed a chicken in front of her, whacking off its head with a dull kitchen knife and squeezing the blood from its neck like raspberry jelly. Mara and Ellie arrived the week that the Stucco electricity plant shut off our water, cutting off the flow to our faucets like the air to our lungs. Harry was given a poncho to make up for the fact that we had run out of blankets, and Erik’s enthusiastic dream of pizza disintegrated as our stove moved on to a better place.

Laverne didn’t need blankets. Heat hung like heavy clouds over the top of her bunk. She didn’t need a stove—she couldn’t cook for her life anyway and ate only the things that were presented to her. Water wasn’t a big deal either. Before her parents had moved to Scotland, she had been brought up in Dominica, where water was more of a luxury. Laverne was met with something far more frightful: neglect.

She was forgotten.

“I thought it was a scam,” Laverne admitted. “I mean, who’s heard of St. Eustatius?”

When she arrived at the airport on her first day, no one was there to greet her. A woman at the airport had to call our boss to remind her that another employee had arrived. Our boss—a stout, box-like woman with mulberry juice colored hair—did not take kindly to this phone call. Limping into her truck, she drove the two and a half miles to the airport and greeted Laverne with a furious, “I just got home.”

We didn’t know it then, but that memory would stick in Laverne’s memory like Nika’s crusty peanut butter on the counter.

Laverne had a group chat with her parents that she titled “All About Laverne.” Whenever one of them said something that didn’t relate to her, she would kick them out for twenty-four hours as punishment. She had to stop a few months in, however, as her father became too confused about whether or not he was in it.

Two months before the wheels of her plane touched down on St. Eustatius’ bony landing strip, her mother called her while she was away at college to say that her brother was dead. He had been sick. They thought he might have had the flu. Laverne’s mother had left him on the couch to take a shower and when she came back, he was dead. Gone, slipping out of this world like sand from a broken hourglass. It was several weeks into her stay on St. Eustatius before the autopsy results were revealed. Her brother was diabetic.

A juice box would have saved his life.

Her boyfriend sat with her while she cried, holding two separate tissue boxes, one in each hand, awkwardly trying to figure out the right words to say. When Laverne’s mother arrived to take her home, her boyfriend’s face scrunched up. He very seriously asked her if she wanted the box with more or less tissues for the drive home, as if the whole world depended on him giving her the right one.

“Boys are stupid,” Laverne said.

She eventually picked a fight with him over text, irritated that he wasn’t messaging her enough. Her heart was a puppy, bounding from one toy to the next, incapable of restraining her joy even in the face of overwhelming sorrow. Sometimes she arched her back and growled like a tiger—like the time she thought somebody was eating her tuna—but we laughed about it later, every single one of us relieved to see that the can had been pushed to the back of her cupboard.

We joked that the time Laverne spent on the island was her epoch. The period of time where our island—the little world we had built for ourselves out of sweat and toil—revolved around her. It wasn’t until she left that any one of us realized just how much it had.


BECCA GAINSBURG

Whitman College

Becca Gainsburg is a sophomore majoring in philosophy with a minor in creative writing and is currently working as an editor for the Stance, an undergraduate journal of philosophy. An aspiring novelist, she also tutors writing to her peers at college and has spent the past two years in communication with the senior editor of Tor over one of her manuscripts. This will be her first publication.

Becca Gainsburg is a sophomore majoring in philosophy with a minor in creative writing and is currently working as an editor for the Stance, an undergraduate journal of philosophy. An aspiring novelist, she also tutors writing to her peers at college and has spent the past two years in communication with the senior editor of Tor over one of her manuscripts. This will be her first publication.

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