or, Chocolate and Ashes
The city is gone, blanketed now by ash and lava fields. Julia stands at the wide windows of the abandoned tower. She takes in the view – random palm trees that somehow managed to remain standing during the fiery onslaught, broken pieces of homes and the small shops and cafés that tourists had flocked to for decades. Now it had all but disappeared, swallowed up by the earth, like the single runway she was now staring at, eaten up by the igneous flood.
Julia had called this island home for so long, and now she must say good-bye. This island, where she had poured her life into the soil, coaxing out of it the most luscious cacao trees. This island where, with much effort, she was accepted by the locals. This island, where she met and fell in love with Henry.
She smiles to herself as she thinks of those early days with Henry. Back then, he was merely an amusing distraction, a ne’er-do-well who provided diversion after endless days on the plantation. Henry was full of spark and swagger, always ready with a tall tale or two but seemingly not good for much else. Julia imagined he was a con man, maybe even a pirate when she felt whimsical.
Still, he held her attention, and she let him work at the plantation. Henry’s thumbs were no greener than a stone statue, and he was better suited to driving workers to and fro, delivering lunch out in the fields, and passing around flasks of rum. But he could always summon a laugh from Julia, even on the most harrowing of days.
When the mountain began its first rumblings, Julia believed Henry would be among the first to go. He surprised her by laughing it off, proclaiming that the pile of rocks was just now getting his sense of humor.
After the tourists, residents with any significant money took off for safer, neighboring islands. With that first group, much of the frivolity left, too. Julia had a harvest to consider, and most of the islanders were too poor to leave until the situation became more dire.
More dire it did become. Plumes of ash etched the clear blue sky, thickening and throwing shadows across the island. Julia’s workers began to scatter as the heavy clouds drifted down the mountain. And though she couldn’t fault them for opting for safety, she needed those hands, those bodies, to process and bag the cacao beans. It was her livelihood, her life, and it could be gone in minutes if they couldn’t get it off the island before an eruption.
Henry remained by her side. He not only provided moral support, he worked harder on the plantation. Before, he had stuck with the more skilless tasks, now he was raking in the drying houses, stirring beans in the fermenting boxes, basically doing whatever needed to be done.
The population dwindled, and Julia became more dependent on Henry. She could finally see beyond his rakish exterior and began to feel deeply for him.
As the days passed, the rumblings increased. Julia and Henry sent sacks of the ready crops away on each ferry that took more residents to safety. Eventually there was a powerful explosion and lava began to flow. It would overtake the village in short order, and so the harvest was abandoned in favor of a last-minute rescue effort.
Henry took on an air of authority as he orchestrated the final departure of the remaining islanders. Julia allowed Henry to take charge of her as well, until the last ferry-load of residents was ready to leave the island. She insisted he let her stay back a little longer, claiming she was going to look for any stragglers.
And so it was that she climbed into the abandoned control tower, now the highest point aside from the spewing crater. Looking out at the smoldering landscape, she takes account of what she has remaining of her life here. In a small duffel she carries a photo album, a small carefully-wrapped cacao plant, and a diary of her life on the island. And when he returns with the ferry for the very last time, she’ll have Henry. Then Julia will have all that she needs.