All was quiet on the nameless island. Four crude bamboo huts, doors tightly shut, huddled around the fire in the center of the tiny clearing. The bones of a small pig were piled neatly to one side of the dying embers. Coconut husks and banana peels were strewn about, or piled up on wooden plates. The sharp smell of fermented coconut juice hung in the air.
The tropical night was bright with moonlight. The sounds of the small creatures in the forest were constant, uninterrupted by any threat.
Into this almost-stillness came a subtle creaking of rope hinges. The door to one hut slowly opened, and a thin man in threadbare clothes and worn sneakers stepped out with the exaggerated caution of the very drunk.
He shut the door behind him and waited, breathless, to find out if anyone had heard the noise. He detected no sign of activity. The sounds of sleeping continued unabated.
The man clutched his white hat closer to his head, sneaked across the clearing, and disappeared on a well- used trail into the sparse undergrowth.
A few moments later a female figure, unaware of his earlier disappearance, copied his actions almost exactly. She stood irresolute at the door of one center hut for long moments, before finally stepping into the moonlit clearing. Her motions were more fearful than her predecessor's, less confident, but in the end she, too, walked into the gloom, down the trail towards the lagoon.
It was not as easy to see underneath the trees, and the path that was so clearly marked in daylight looked completely different to her night vision. She lost the trail.
Small sounds of growing distress came from her, almost as if she were one of the forest animals, as she tried to regain the path. Branches reached out to clutch at her outstretched arms. The moon mocked her in half-seen glimpses through the dense leaves above. Every flutter of wings, every snapping twig, made her shiver.
Then, off to one side of the track she was trying to follow, she saw a strange orange flash. Though still afraid, nevertheless she crept closer, towards where she thought it had come from. The bright flash came again, closer now, guiding her towards it. She moved more quietly, desperately hoping to remain unseen while investigating this new terror.
One last clump of undergrowth separated her from a clear spot in the middle of the dense palm grove. Silently parting the branches, she saw someone she recognized, the same male figure which had preceded her from their camp, now sprawled on the sandy jungle floor with his back against a fallen log. As she looked over his shoulder, she could see that in one hand he held a small, hollowed-out coconut, the kind they used to carry fire from place to place on the island. It held a glowing coal, but the light was very dim - too dim to be the beacon she'd followed through the woods.
She circled the clearing quietly, angling for a better look at what he was doing. In his other hand was a homemade bamboo pipe, its bowl stuffed full of aromatic leaves also glowing redly.
On the other side of the log was a hollow stump, within which she could dimly see the shapes of more leaves drying.
The man inhaled deeply, making the pipe's contents flare and illuminating the broad smile on his face. It was this, obviously, that she had seen shining through the leaves. A vagrant gust of wind brought a whiff of the smoke to her. Its unfamiliar tang was unlike any pipe she had ever scented, but suddenly she knew it could be only one thing. She stepped through the leaves, hands on hips, to confront him.
He turned slowly, obviously unsurprised by her presence.
"Hello, Mary Ann. What brings you out on a night like this?"
Ignoring his smiling question, she upbraided him sharply. "Is that stuff what I think it is?"
"What do you think it is?" he responded seriously. She searched his face for mockery, found none.
Suddenly she laughed, ruefully, unable to stay angry at him for long. "You're not as dumb as we think you are, are you, Gilligan?"
He laughed, a deeper sound than usual, a warm, satisfied chuckle. "Nope."
She came nearer.
"Want some?" He proffered the pipe in a gesture of peace and friendship. She stepped back, startled.
"Of course not."
"Why not?" The question, asked with all the innocence of which Gilligan was capable, was one Mary Ann had never thought to ask of herself. Indeed, why not? They were alone, on an island far away from civilization and its rules. Surely there could be no harm in seeking some kind of anodyne for their existence. For an instant, her faith that they would eventually be rescued wavered.
An instant was all it took.
She knelt beside Gilligan in the sandy soil of the clearing. "Give me that," she said, taking it from his relaxed grip. Bringing the fire close, she lit the pipe and inhaled deeply, as she had seen Gilligan do.
Coughing and choking, she expelled the vapor from her lungs. "That's awful!" she exclaimed.
"Well, it's not that bad, actually. This island has a really good climate and a year-round growing season."
Nothing seemed to be happening. "Give me another," she ordered. Gilligan was only too happy to oblige.
"I don't think it's doing any good," Mary Ann choked. Then she tried to stand up and walk.
Swaying on her feet, she found it impossible to lift them. The sand seemed to beckon, warm and inviting, and she plopped back down next to Gilligan, giggling.
"Now that's more like it," Mary Ann exclaimed. "Kinda improves your whole outlook on life, doesn't it?"
Gilligan could not help but agree. "Yup. I don't know how long I coulda stood being your court jester without it."
Mary Ann looked hurt. "Court jester? But I never-"
"Oh, yes you did. All of you. Though I've got to admit, you aren't the worst of the bunch." Gilligan's gentle smile seemed to take the sting out of the words for her. Her answering smile was small, tentative, as she began to realize that she really didn't know this awkward, slender man at all.
"Oh, Gilligan," she breathed. "How do you stand it? How do you stand... us?"
He hoisted the pipe in response. "You get used to it. This helps. Also..." His voice trailed off into silence.
Mary Ann prompted him. "Go on."
"Also, it helps in a community this small, this isolated, to have a scapegoat. I feel I'm fulfilling a vital role."
She giggled. "That sounds like something the Professor might say."
"It does, doesn't it? But I'm the one who said it this time, Mary Ann. Gilligan - the court jester. The Professor - hey... I just realized something. What... what the hell is the Professor's name?"
Mary Ann thought for a long moment. "I don't know, Gilligan," she finally admitted. "Isn't that weird?"
"I know! It's almost like we're just playing roles, rather than being people. We're all such caricatures of ourselves, at least during the daytime. I'm the clown, the Professor's the brain, the Howells are this goofy parody of the hereditary rich, you're the girl next door..."
Mary Ann turned, eyes searching Gilligan's musing face. "Is that how you think of me? The girl next door?"
"Well, aren't you? You're always cooking, cleaning, mothering all of us-" he broke off, realization and sympathy dawning. "You have as little time for yourself as I do, don't you?"
"That doesn't have much to do with being the girl next door, does it, Gilligan? That means... something more to you, doesn't it?" She was very close, eyes wide in the deep gloom. A single spearlike shaft of moonlight picked out her features. Gilligan turned a little more, his arm stretching out along the log.
"Would you like to kiss me, Gilligan?" Mary Ann said in a tiny voice. "It's been so very long-"
For a long while only the softest sounds came from the little forest clearing.
Eventually Mary Ann sat up again, feeling around for her gingham blouse. "Oh, Gilligan. That was... wonderful. I didn't realize how much I'd missed... having a man."
Gilligan was leaning back, lighting up again. "Not as much as I've missed being with a woman, I think. You know, back in Hawaii, you wouldn't have looked at me twice, would you?"
Mary Ann smiled ruefully. "My loss, I think. Gilligan," she said, tenderly touching his cheek, "do you think I could come back here sometime?"
He gestured expansively. "Sure. But... I wouldn't tell the others, if I were you. I don't think they'd understand."
"You're the court jester, and I'm the girl next door," she agreed.
"So we'd better just pretend that this... didn't happen. Otherwise we'll lose it."
"Yeah, I guess so. But dammit, Gilligan, it's going to be hard."
"No, it's not. Just remember the way you felt yesterday."
In the pale light before dawn, they found their separate ways back to the huts in the clearing. Nothing had changed. Nothing... except everything.
The sun came up over what had finally been, if only for an evening, truly Gilligan's Island.
Original content on this page © Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.