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Authors: Jodi Picoult

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BOOK: Wish You Were Here
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“They’ve had the run of the island longer than humans have,” he says.

“Not surprising, since they look like baby dinosaurs.”

“You should see the land iguanas in San Cristóbal. They turn turquoise and red during the mating season—we call them Christmas iguanas. That’s how they get the ladies.” He nods toward the water. “But the marine iguanas are my favorite.”

I lie back down on the sand, looking up at the sky. “I can’t imagine why.”

“Well, they used to all be land iguanas. The ones that arrived came by accident ten million years ago, rafting in from South America on debris. But when they got here, there wasn’t any vegetation. The only food was in the ocean. So their bodies changed, slowly, to make diving easier. They got salt glands around their nostrils to expel the salt when they went underwater. Their lungs got bigger so they could take bigger breaths and sink deeper.”

Gabriel turns, rising on his elbow. Very slowly, he takes one finger, and traces the slope of my throat. “Evolution is compromise,” he says softly. “When humans evolved to speak, our throats got longer to make room for that precise tongue, and with that came risks. Food had to travel further to get to the esophagus…but manage to miss the larynx.”

His thumb rests in the spot where my pulse flutters at the base of my neck, and I swallow.

“So unlike animals, we can now sing and speak and scream…but unlike animals, we also can choke to death if our food goes down the wrong pipe.” He looks at me, almost as if he is as dazed to find himself touching me as I am. “You can’t move forward without losing something,” Gabriel says.

I clear my throat and swiftly sit up.

Immediately, so does he, and the moment breaks like a soap bubble.

Before I can process what just happened, Gabriel scrambles to his feet. A boat putters closer to shore, idling where the waves are breaking. I shade my eyes with my hand and see a man in a khaki uniform and a brimmed hat. As he approaches I squint to read the patch on his shoulder, which looks official.

“Gabriel,” the man says.
“Qué estás haciendo aquí?”

“This is Javier.” Gabriel’s voice is perfectly even, but I can feel him stiffen. “He’s a park ranger.”

I remember what Beatriz said at the swimming hole with the mockingbirds—if the park rangers find you trespassing on a site that’s closed due to Covid, you can be fined. And if you’re a tour guide, you can lose your license.

Gabriel spills forth a river of Spanish. I don’t know if he’s trying to be placating or act clueless or justify our journey here.

I wing a wide smile at Javier and interrupt.
I say. “This is all my fault. I’m the one who begged Gabriel to take me here—”

I do not know if the park ranger speaks English, but I hope I am rambling enough to draw attention away from Gabriel. And it seems to work, because Javier’s gaze jerks toward me. “You,” he says. “You were at the feria.”

I feel sweat break out between my shoulder blades. Was it illegal to trade at that market, too? Will park rangers go after the locals, or just the tourist? And if I can’t pay a fine, then what happens?

I know there is no hospital on the island, and no ATM. But with my luck, there’s a functional jail cell.

“You drew pictures,” the ranger continues.

“Um,” I say. “Yes.”

I can feel Gabriel’s eyes on me, like the stroke of a brush.

“My son gave you a guanábana.”

The boy, I realize, who was being bullied.

“You are talented,” Javier continues, smiling a little. “But more important…you are kind.”

I feel my cheeks heat with both compliments.

The ranger turns back to Gabriel. “You know, Gabriel, if I saw you here, I’d have to report you. But if I turned away and you were gone, it might just have been a trick of the light,


“Por supuesto,”
Gabriel murmurs. He reaches down for his shirt, stiff with dried salt, and pulls it on. I pick up the discarded snorkeling equipment and follow him to our panga. The surf whispers around my ankles while he holds the boat steady, letting me climb in before he pushes off from the shore and hops aboard, revving the engine in reverse.

I don’t speak until we are out of the cove and through the túneles, bouncing over the chop of the ocean. “That was close,” I say.

Gabriel shrugs. “I knew it could happen when I brought you here.”

“Then why did you? He could have taken your tour guide license.”

“Because this is Isabela,” he says. “And you should see it.”

On the way back to Puerto Villamil, we do not talk about what happened the moment before Javier interrupted us. Instead, I find myself thinking of the hollow bones of birds, of the long necks of giraffes. The changeable skin of leaf frogs, the insects that disguise themselves as twigs. I think of girls who are dragged from safe havens into the unknown, and men with secrets as deep as the ocean, and grounded planes.

It’s not just animals that must adapt in order to survive.

Dear Finn,

Beatriz—the girl I wrote you about—told me that before there was a real mail service in the Galápagos, sailors would put their letters in a barrel in Post Office Bay, on Floreana Island. As other whalers showed up in their ships, they’d sort through the post, find ones addressed to their home port, and then hand-deliver them. Sometimes the mail wasn’t delivered for years, but it was the only way the sailors had to communicate with the people they left behind.

Beatriz says now, tour boats go to Floreana. Tourists leave postcards in the barrel, and claim postcards others have left to deliver when they’re back home.

The barrel’s small; I wouldn’t fit in it. Otherwise, I’d probably crawl in and hope someone would carry me back to you.

Love, Diana

The day I met Kitomi Ito, and found myself standing alone with her in front of her painting, I realized exactly what was wrong with the Sotheby’s pitch, and why we would likely lose the opportunity to Christie’s or Phillips. Everyone seemed to be concentrating on Sam Pride, who’d bought the painting. But no one had stopped long enough to think about who he gave it to, and why.

I began to talk fast. I didn’t know if Eva would interrupt us, and if my boss heard me actively subverting her plan for the Toulouse-Lautrec painting, I’d be out of a job before the elevator hit the lobby.

“What if the auction wasn’t about fame,” I said, “but about privacy? It seems to me that everything was a big show for your husband—even, forgive me, his death. But this painting—it wasn’t any part of that circus. It was just for you, and him.” When Kitomi didn’t respond, I took a deep breath and plunged ahead. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t use this to headline the Imp Mod sale. I wouldn’t reunite the Nightjars. I wouldn’t make this public at all. I’d build a private sale in a room with simple staging, good lighting, and a single love seat. And then I’d extend a confidential invitation to George and Amal, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Meghan and Harry, other couples you might think of. It should be a privilege to be offered a showing. A nod to the idea that they have a love affair that’s timeless, too.” I turn back to the painting, seeing the vulnerability in the eyes of the pair, and the rock-solid belief that they were safe in sharing it with each other. “Instead of the buyer having the upper hand, Ms. Ito, you’d be choosing the couple that gets to continue the love story. You’re the one giving it up for adoption; you should be the one to pick the new caretakers—not the auction company.”

For a long moment, Kitomi just stared at me. “Well,” she said, and a slow smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “She speaks.”

Just then Eva’s voice cleaved between us like an ax. “What’s going on here?”

“Your colleague was just presenting an alternate approach,” Kitomi said.

associate specialist
does not have the authority to present anything,” Eva replied. She shot me a look that could cut glass. “I’ll meet you at the car,” she said.

The driver hadn’t even closed the door behind Eva when she started lacing into me. “What part of ‘do not speak’ did you not understand, Diana? Of all the moronic, irresponsible things you could say, you managed to find something so…so…” She broke off, her face red, her chest heaving. “You do realize that the reason you have a salary is because the company survives on massive public auctions that attract an obscene amount of money, yes? And that silly little romantic love letter you proposed will make us look like kindergartners, compared to whatever spectacle Christie’s is offering—for God’s sake, they probably said they’d find a way to throw in a posthumous Kennedy Center Honor for Sam Pride—”

She was interrupted by the ring of her phone. Eva narrowed her eyes, warning me to be quiet under penalty of death, as she answered. “Kitomi,” she said warmly. “We were just discussing how much—” Her voice broke off, and her eyebrows shot to her hairline. “Well, yes! Sotheby’s is honored to know you trust us to showcase your painting at auction—” Her voice broke off as she listened to Kitomi speak. “Absolutely,” she said, after a moment. “Not a problem.”

Eva hung up and frowned down at her phone for a moment. “We got the account,” she said.

I hesitated. “Isn’t that…a good thing?”

“Kitomi had two conditions. She wants a private auction for couples only,” Eva said. “And she insists that you’re the specialist in charge.”

I was stunned. This was my break; this was the moment I would talk about years later, when I was interviewed by magazines about how I’d advanced in my career. I had a vision of Beyoncé hugging me after she placed the winning bid. Of a corner office, where Rodney and I would close the door at lunchtime and share bowls from the Halal Guys and gossip.

I felt heat creeping up my collar and turned to find Eva staring, as if she was seeing me for the first time.

To: [email protected]

From: [email protected]

Before I forget: The Greens called again and left a message at home.

It’s 72 hours old, though, because that’s how long I’ve been at the hospital.

Of course, a shift that long is technically against the rules, but there aren’t rules anymore. It’s Groundhog Day, over and over. We have it down to a routine. There’s me, a junior resident, and four nurses. My job is to put in central lines and arterial lines, to manage a patient’s other comorbidities. I put in chest tubes when they get air around their lungs, caused by the vents. I call the families, who ask for readings they don’t understand on oxygenation, blood pressure, ventilation levels.
I hope she’s getting better,
they say, but I can’t answer because I know she’s a mile from better. She’s dying. All I hope is that she gets off the vent or ECMO, and that there’s not a cytokine storm that sends her back to square one. The families can’t visit, so they can’t see the patients hooked up to wires and machines. They can’t see with their own eyes how sick they are. To them the patient is someone who was perfectly healthy a week ago, with no chronic illness. They keep hearing on the news that there’s a 99% survival rate; that it’s no worse than the flu.

There’s one patient who’s been haunting me lately. She and her husband came in together; he died and she didn’t. When she was extubated, her adult kids didn’t tell her that her husband was dead. They were too afraid she’d panic and cry and her lungs couldn’t take it. So she made it all the way to rehab thinking that her husband was still in isolation at the hospital. I think about her all the time. How she thought this was temporary, the separation between them. I wonder if she knows, yet, that it’s forever.

Jesus, Diana, come back.

Sometimes I lie in bed at night and think:
What was I trying to prove? Why didn’t I turn around and get on that ferry and go back to the airport?

Sometimes I lie in bed and think:
What kind of partner was I then, if Finn wasn’t in the forefront of my mind, when I stood on the brink between staying and leaving?

For that matter, what kind of partner am I
when there are times he is not in the forefront of my mind? When he’s slogging through hell and I’m in a different hemisphere?

My father’s father fought in World War II, and when he came back from it, he was never quite right. He drank a lot and wandered the house in the middle of the night, and when the car backfired once, he dropped to the ground and burst into tears. As a little girl, I was often told that the war did this to him, created an invisible scar he’d never lose. Once, I asked my grandmother what she remembered about the war. She thought for a long moment, and then finally said,
It was hard to get nylons.

There’s a part of me that thinks this is exactly what my grandfather would have wanted: to risk death every day so that my grandmother’s life could stay mostly unruffled. But there’s another part of me that recognizes how shallow, how privileged it is, to be the one who’s an ocean away.

These days when I am swimming in pools as clear as gin or hiking green velvet mountains or frying a tortilla on a cast-iron pan in Abuela’s kitchen, there are whole swaths of time when I forget the rest of the world is suffering.

I am not sure if that is a blessing, or if I should be cursed.

are three collapsed lava tunnels in the center of the island. Beatriz and I start our hike there before dawn, which means we get to watch the breathtaking artwork of the sunrise as we climb into the highlands. I’ve been on island for just over three weeks now, and it keeps surprising me with its beauty. “How old are you?” Beatriz asks me, just as the last streak of pink becomes a bruise of blue sky.

“I’m going to be thirty on April 19,” I tell her. “How old are

“Fourteen,” Beatriz says. “But emotionally, I’m older.”

That makes me laugh. “You’re a veritable crone.”

We walk a little further and then, lightly, I ask if she’s heard from her friends at school.

Her shoulders tense up. “Can’t check social media when the internet sucks.”

“Right,” I muse. “It must be hard.”

BOOK: Wish You Were Here
13.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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