“Holding Hands” by Aleydis Barnes

The plane rattled.

Oliva never thought that there would come a day where she would describe a plane similar to a kicked empty soda can, but she supposed there were first times for everything. The lights above her seat flickered, and the whole vehicle shook. Her younger brother Owen, usually loud, was as quiet as a whisper in a busy room. His face was grey like walls in hospitals. Olivia couldn’t look at it. It made her feel like her brother had been replaced by an imposter, devoid of any happiness or excitement.

Olivia closed her eyes and took three deep breaths. But no matter how slow she tried to breath in and out, nothing could stop her hammering heart and pounding ears. Everything is going to turn out fine, she told herself. You’ll land in Hawaii in just an hour or so. She wished that her parents could be with her. Her mother always knew how to make her feel at peace, even when she was feeling nervous or anxious about assignments. Her dad could make her burst into laughter no matter the situation or mood. But, unfortunately, they were back in California, and supposed to join Olivia and her brother in Hawaii with the grandparents in a few days.

She opened her eyes to assess her surroundings. Usually aisles and rows in airplanes were quiet, filled with sleeping passengers and busy travelers at work. Although the plane was silent, it was of a different kind than of the regular. It was eerie. The only noise was the rattling and clattering of the plane. Outside of her window, Olivia could see foreboding dark grey clouds gathering around each other. She swallowed the thick liquid which had accumulated in her throat. You. Are. Going. To. Be. Fine.

“Passengers aboard this aircraft, please stay calm and in your seats. Unfortunately, we are encountering a bit of turbulence. We are surrounded by storm clouds. We’re trying to get to the closest airport available to make a safe landing. We might have to perform an emergency landing,” the pilot’s voice rang through Olivia’s ears. Emergency. Landing. Wait, like a crash? As the words entered her mind, a loud crack sounded in the air. It sounded like thousands of fireworks exploding at once. Outside of her window, Olivia saw a burst of white light, and then she felt her heart stop and her mouth open and a scream leave her lips. And all the while she was falling down, down, down, down into darkness.

 

*****

It was the third time that week that Olivia had dreamed of the crash. She woke each time with a scream, her forehead wet with sweat and her heart racing like steps down a track. She clutched a hand over her mouth, trying not to let Owen hear. He was so young and innocent; she didn’t want him to know the gravity of the situation. She herself didn’t want to think about it. She hated thinking about the morning after, waking up in the aisle surrounded by lifeless bodies. For a moment before she found Owen, she thought she had lost him. It was all too much to deal with. But for now, they had settled into a routine, a semblance of safety and regularity, and she didn’t want to wipe it away.

“Via, what are we going to have for breakfast?”

Olivia turned to see her seven-year-old brother running down the beach. His clothes were dirt encrusted, mud hiding the little cartoon faces of his favorite movie characters. His brown curls were tangled like a bird’s nest, and small cuts and scabs littered his knees and legs.

“Owen, what are you doing away from the sleeping spot?”

“I was just exploring! I wanted to scout for dangers! Like the Transformers do in battle!”

“Well the Transformers are robots and don’t have to worry about physical harm like you do. You can’t just go running around-there could be animals in the forest!”

“Transformers aren’t just robots. They have personalities too! And they so do have to worry about physical harm!”

Okay, I was wrong,” Olivia said. She could feel her irritability rising-it was hard to appreciate her brother’s penchant for contradiction and boundless energy when she was the person in charge and they needed to find a way off of the island they were stranded on.

“Let’s go see what we have in the Meal Pack,” she said. They made their way to the designated suitcase filled with food they had assembled from the plane. It was stuffed with granola bars and sandwiches and the meals that flight attendants hand out along aisles.

“Can I have a Sprite to drink for today?” asked Owen. Olivia nodded but rolled her eyes as she carefully selected a protein bar. They had to be a bit practical. Who knew how long they would be stuck on the island? What if they ran out of clean water and snacks?

“What are we going to do today?” asked Owen.

“I think we should create a rescue sign,” said Olivia.

“In a movie I saw people created a big fire. A helicopter saw the people and landed to pick them up. Do you think we should start a fire?”

“No. We don’t have anything to start a fire, Owen. I don’t even know how to make one,” said Olivia, trying not to get too annoyed, “I think we should create some sort of sign. I think we should gather up wood pieces and write out SOS.”

“But in the movie they lit the thing on fire and they were rescued!”

“Yes,” said Olivia, “I understand that. But we are different from the people in that movie, so we obviously aren’t going to do the exact same thing as them.”

“Are you annoyed at me?”

“No,” Olivia said, aware of the fact that her voice was harsh.

“Okay!” said Owen. He whipped out of his knapsack one of the many glow sticks that he was obsessed with and brought with him everywhere. He laughed and ran around with his arms spread out. To Olivia, it sounded as harsh as an air horn. She winced.

After about three hours, they had enough bits and bobbles of wood to pile up into a small mountain. The whole experience of searching hadn’t been beneficial for Olivia’s temper. For what felt like almost every minute, Olivia found herself warning Owen away from some obvious danger and reminding him to stay focused on his work. She wished that he had stayed in California, and that one of her parents had gone with her on the plane. Her mother and father always knew what to do in sticky situations. They would have immediately found a way to get rescued, unlike her, who was just barely able to keep herself together.

“Okay,” she barked, clapping her hands, “let’s get started on constructing the sign.”

“Do I have to?” whined Owen, laying on his back on the sand, playing with his glow sticks.              “Yes,” she said. She felt like her dentist would kill her when he saw her teeth, she was gritting them so often.

“What if I don’t want to?”

“You still have to.”

After much begrudging, he relented. Olivia didn’t know how long it took for them to construct the messily shaped SOS, but the sky was darkening into an inky black before they finished. They returned to the sleeping spot from the morning, a large fort of blankets they had managed to gather from the airplane.

“Via! Via! Our sign is gone! Via!” Olivia felt herself be pulled, and as she sleepily opened her lidded eyes, she made out the blurry outline of Owen. The one night that she doesn’t dream of the crash, her younger brother decides to be her alarm. What great luck. Couldn’t she sleep in for one day?

“What do you mean?” she asked, her voice cracking like the sound bacon makes when it gets put on a hot pan.

“It’s gone,” Owen said, “just gone!”

“How could it have disappeared? It must be-,” began Olivia, but as she rose to her feet she saw that Owen was correct. The bundles of sticks clumped together to write out their sign were gone.

All of her hard work, all of their effort, had been wiped away. By what? She saw now what she had missed yesterday-the tide. While they were building the SOS the waves hadn’t even come close to the edges of the letters, so she had thought they wouldn’t be affected by the water at all. How could she have been so stupid? The sticks that they had spent hours collecting were washed away, gone forever into the sea. Now that she thought about it, the wooden slabs wouldn’t even have stood out that much from the beach. They wouldn’t help them be saved in any possible way. Nothing would. She and Owen were doomed to be stuck on the island forever.

“Via? Via?” asked Owen. “Are you okay?”

Olivia sighed and sat down. She didn’t want to deal with her younger brother today, didn’t want to pretend she knew what she was doing all of the time. She didn’t have all of the answers to problems.

“Via?” asked Owen again. “What’s wrong?”

Olivia took a deep breath. Might as well spill it out, she thought to herself.

“I don’t know what we are going to do. I don’t have any other plans. I have no idea how we’re going to get off this island and home to mom and dad, and I can’t stand to think that we’re never going to get rescued at all. I feel like I’ve been put in charge this whole time, and I hate it. And part of the reasons that I hate it is because I feel like you don’t take me seriously or listen to me at all. That’s what’s wrong.”

The moment the words left her mouth, she wanted to pull them back in. How could she say that to her little brother? It wasn’t his fault that he acted the way he did. But like a signature on a legal document, she had made her decision and couldn’t change what she’d done.

“Maybe I would listen to you and take you seriously if you listened to me and took me seriously. When I offered my idea about the fire, you didn’t even think about it before telling me it wouldn’t work. I feel like you don’t listen to me because I’m just a little kid.” His words stabbed Olivia in the heart. She saw now how he must have felt, like his thoughts weren’t worthy of consideration.

“I’m so sorry, Owen,” she said.

“It’s okay,” he said, “I’m sorry, too.”

“You were just trying your best,” Olivia said.

“Speaking of that,” he said, “I have another idea. We can make the sign out of my glow sticks, so that it can be visible from the sky, even in the dark.”

“That’s such a good idea!” Olivia said. “And we can make the sign higher up on the beach so that it doesn’t get washed away, and surround each letter with stones so they aren’t blown off course either!” Olivia was glad that she had taken the time to listen to her brother. She couldn’t believe she had been so angry at him. It was easy to blame him for the situation and stress when she hadn’t considered his feelings, but now she was able to see his point of view and understand his actions.

As the night drew to an end, the two of them slipped under their blankets, ready to go to sleep. Olivia felt a slight rustle, and she smiled, realizing that Owen was reaching out his hand to link with hers. She obliged. Closing her eyes, she slipped away into her dreams.

In the morning, they awoke to the sound of helicopters.

 

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