the Sea, with love
White splashes rolled over the water’s face like teeth chewing softly at a giant’s blue lip. Water that was everywhere and throbbing with little sounds spread East and West into the clouded sky. From a cloud looking down it was an ever-sheet of shining cerulean crests that changed not at all, save one disturbance in the Christian serenity. A boat, yellowed in its dirty stern, not much larger than your father’s dingy bought in the acceptance of a crisis too expensive to dream through, floated there, right in the middle of it all. It sat flatly on the sky-colored plane of surging sea noise, and the little waves of the breezy day made their way softly outward from its shell. It had a small sail and a small engine, and a little room like a house made its throne just behind the midpoint of the deck. The cracked white door opened, and a sinewy old man snaked out from its darkness. He pressed his hand on his brow against the flat white of the day. His cheeks were brown from a hundred and one suns and his beard was gray and full. He wore a tank top from the gas station by his wife’s old house, and had a cup of bean-water in his left hand. Maybe, he thought, something will happen on this platitude sunlit day. Or, as it has for a hundred days, not much will happen at all. He walked outward onto the burned and aching planks towards the two hunched figures at the boat’s head.
The cord was lilting at the water, and glinted every now and then in the sun. It was a fishing line, all right, and it sagged a little in anticipation of a tussle with tonight’s meal. The man who held the rod sat at the edge of the blank canvas of a deck on a worn blue pillow. There were no chairs on this boat. He was small and baldy, and wore old glasses with lenses he trusted. His big ears stuck out from two black tufts of hair that connected in the back. He was knowledged in many things, and his was the task of getting a fish out of the water and onto the grill. He had fashioned the lure and hook himself. The boat had at least three fish a day, and he was proud of his record. While the rod sat clutched in his toes he had a plank of wood stretched out across his lap, making his whole figure look like a poorly-built upside-down crucifix. On his table he had a roll of paper torn at the edges, and he was practicing math. The man next to him stuck his nose into view.
“Why do you sit there with all those numbers like that? What’s it got to do, in the end?” His partner was a younger man, not into his forties, who wore a cutoff shirt and dojo pants that stretched torn over his bare feet.
Actually, he had been a star student of karate back in town, stronger and with better technique than anyone in the southern half of the nation. After a few bad bits he had been ousted from not only the school but the community, and had found himself crawling onto the little boat in a last cry of desperation. His body was strong and his mind was almost sound, if only a bit slow, and his fists were clean but dreamed of the crunch of bone and warmth of blood.
“Why should any man need a reason to learn? I can write maths all day if I want to, and you can’t do a thing about it.” He shifted the page over the other way and bent over it with a puff of disdain.
“Well, it seems havin’ nothing to do with anything we’re doing out here, anyway.”
He pushed his glasses back on his nose and sat up. “What is it we’re doing out here, eh? What should I be studying instead?”
Fist looked out into the oblivion horizon and thought for a while. “Well, first of all, you ought to be focusing on the fish, I think,” he said. “It’s got to be done and taken care of, of course.”
“I’d like not to be lectured on my job, thank you, but anyway that didn’t answer my question.”
Fist made a frown and tugged at his shirt. He began to mumble with a growl. Beard walked up behind them and put his hand on Fist’s hard shoulder.
“Hello, lads,” he said with a weak smile. “How’s everything coming along out here?”
Hook continued to scribble at his paper and Fist picked his nose.
“Good morning. Everything is alright, I suppose.”
“Well, everything looks alright to me. The weather looks like it’ll stay clear and calm today.” He tapped his nose and looked up at the sky as if recognizing an old friend. Actually, it had been clear and calm as long as he could remember. Still, he thought himself a weather expert, and was proud of his record of meteorological predictions. “Let’s work ourselves hard today so we can feel like we’ve earned our sleep when the sun goes down, eh?” He smiled again and walked to the other side of the boat. Today is as important as yesterday, he thought, and we will do what we’ve got to do. He set his coffee on the deck, leaned his wizened arms on the rail, and looked out into the everblue valley of sighing waves.
Suddenly there was a feeling and sound of hurried movement behind him. He turned toward the grunts and concentration and walked over. Hook was rapt, gripping the pole and twisting his fingers on the line with intent and delicacy. Nobody spoke. Fist was crouching there, watching with his distant interest, and Beard stood back and appreciated the hard work of his men. The surface began to froth about some yards from the boat, and they waited for the first morsel of sea life to pop up, ready for eating. They watched the spot for a few moments. All at once, but without showmanship, a medium tuna spurted forth from the white with splashes that said, “damn, I’ve been had!” Fist readied the net and Hook twirled, swinging the tuna toward the ship with the grandeur of a belly-dancer. He loved the catch. He wasn’t in it for the killing, but for the feeling of victory, the sense of understanding that lay deeply covered by the blankets of history and time, the joy that only an aficionado can understand in her mind. The tuna was lowered onto the deck, and Fist put it out of the world with a shotokan chop to the brain. Hook’s eyes were closed in prayer, and Beard grinned and twinkled in his eyes.
“I suppose you won’t be keeping us hungry tonight, old sport.”
Beard took the fish and brought it into the cabin. He placed it in the fish cooler under Hook’s bunk and went back out into the crystal sunlight. He adjusted the sail and the tiller to keep them moving in the right direction, went back into the cabin, and changed into his speedo.
Fist was tossing a football in the air and catching it. He called over to the oily old man.
“Which way is the wind today? Does it seem a bit stronger than normal?”
“No, no,” replied Beard, “I think it’s exactly the same as it was yesterday, and it is blowing due North, as always. Which is good for us. It gets us where we’re going.”
“Where’s that again?” Fist was enjoying playing with himself. He didn’t need oil to have fun. The old man chuckled.
“You have always been good at jokes, my young friend. Toss me the oil, will you?”
Meanwhile, Hook was away at the stern this time, to the side of the tiller. He had out two rods at once, and was watching the water with a stern eye. The lines swayed as the boat moved quietly through the waves. Suddenly there was a very loud noise. It jolted the three, as there had been no outside noise but breeze and splash as long as they could remember. The world turned to night. They looked up at the sky. Just under the sun was a single rotund, swelling, injured-looking fat black cloud.
“Dear god,” said Beard. “Now what the heck is that?”
“Well, it looks like a god damned storm cloud, old man.” Fist was angry. Or, perhaps he was afraid, and he unleashed his anger to crush the waves of fear that washed over his young heart. Beard looked around. To the south was a horizon of calm blue waves that met a pale blue sky. The north was the same, and the east, and the west. But up above, the sky was dark and peeved.
“This just doesn’t seem right.” Beard crumpled his brow in thought. “I haven’t been wrong about the weather in… why, as long as I can remember.”
Just then there was another crash as a pitchfork of blinding light crashed straight down on top of the boat. The men were knocked to their feet, and the air was ringing with a strange magical zap, that zap that comes after you’ve all been hit by lightning. But the lightning had not hit them, no, it had forked into three parts, one to Hook’s fishing rod, one to his second fishing rod, and one to the mast.
There was another crash unseen by the crouching three. Once the sound of silence and salient waves had settled back unto the poop, Beard uncovered his face and stood up.
“Blow me sideways,” he uttered. The mast had been broken at its middle and the top half was hanging over the side of the boat. The sail undulated just below the salt-water’s surface. He threw his hands up to the sky. “Look at this! Look what you did! Now we can’t keep going the right way!”
“Um, which way was the right way?” asked Fist. Beard gave him a mean and nasty look, and resumed his lament at the cloud.
“You bastard cloud, I wish I could pee right on your head!”
Just then they heard a crisp warf and a crackling whoop. The three turned to the stern. Hook inhaled sharply. “My gods, look at my rods.”
His two rods hadn’t budged – in fact, they were unchanged but for one small aesthetic detail. There was a current of electricity running between them that was forming a web of lightning and sparks that grew thicker and brighter every second. Suddenly there was a flash so bright that the men covered their eyes again. Beard peeked through his fingers and saw two silhouettes appearing between the rods.
The crackling ceased, and at the back of the boat were two new figures. One was a brown man, clad in red, orange and yellow, and next to him was a dog. It was small and orange, and had loving eyes and a curved tail.
The man looked at Beard with dark eyes that bespoke experience with fire and death. “You rang,” he said with a boom.
Beard was stunned. His knees shook and he sweated through his oily shell. “Who the heck are you? How did you get on this boat? It’s been the three of us only on this boat for… why, at least a hundred days. I can’t see how a man in a weird Mexican garb and his little stupid pup show up out of nowhere on this here boat.”
The brown man furrowed his brow and tilted his high hat forward. “Now listen here. I ain’t just a man, see. I’m the man with thunder in his hand. They call me Sholotl, god of fire and thunder, guardian of the sun and brother of Questus Coatl. You called me some mean names and said something about peeing, but I have to ignore those comments in light of the real reason I’m here. Do you know what that is?” The waves lapped at the hull in answer. “Here, I’ll tell you a story. Once there was a very learned guitarist in Mexico. Actually, he was the best guitarist in the whole place. It is said that he could make a statue weep with his tune. Once he went north and got the Rio Grande to change its course and fertilize the Chihuahua. His name was Don Guito, and that valley of plenty was called Eden. His ballads brought peace to a warring nation, and his voice brought a man back from the dead. Posters of his face and of him in cool poses went up throughout even the smallest villages. He was called ‘Guito the Great!’ And, eventually, he was called ‘Guito the God.’ This would’ve been fine – those villagers called anything God, if it was cool enough. The problem was that he actually began to believe it. Now, he was a damned fantastic guitarist, don’t get me wrong. But God? Oh, no, he wasn’t. He was a human, and he could bleed just like all the rest.
“Something began to happen to Guito. Every time he made a flower grow from the dirt with a song, every time he rode in a parade in his best charro garb, his head grew a little bit bigger. It was not even noticeable at first – maybe a nostril would widen, or an ear lobe would get a little fatter. As his ego grew so did his depth of ostentation, until his head grew to be two, three, eight times the size of past Guito’s poor musical head. One day he could not stand having such a large head anymore. He put on his custom XXXXL sombrero, bagged his lute, and rode up to the top of what was called “the mountain of the gods.” He had written a tune, a tune of challenge, a tune of feisty rebellion and pride. He played it straight into heaven, into the big, amplified ears of the gods. He played until he himself was weeping, and the skies rained gold, and the ground changed colors. Then – do you know what happened?”
“What happened?” whimpered Hook.
“He was squarshed by a hot air balloon.”
Beard tried to keep his old knees from knocking one another. He tugged his face-hair and said, “Now look, I’m the captain of this here craft, and I think it’s about time you go back whence you came, daemon. I’m a God-fearing man and I love me a Jesus, and I fear no hell-dweller-yellow-beller like you seems, sir.” The dog barked. Beard began to steam. “So get off my god-damned boat right now!” He stomped on the poop.
“You proud fool,” Sholotl sighed. The dog chirped again. “This is Sholotl the dog. He and I are buddies, partners, see. He says it’s time to go.”
“As it should be,” said Beard, “as it should be.”
“Let’s go, pup. I hope you all understand the lesson here.” He tapped his toes on the deck in a wave of click-clack toe-taps and crouched, and tapped his nose three times. The dog sprung at Beard. The old man shielded his face with a howl, but the dog passed through his block like a ghost. Hook and Fist watched in awe as Sholotl the dog passed through Beard’s old and oily body. As it emerged on the other side, it pulled something out of Beard, something that looked like him but Green and Grinning, translucent and pearly. It was his soul, and Sholotl the god gave a clap of thanks to Sholotl the dog, and they beamed up into the black cloud, dragging post-Beard with them. Beard’s body had not even time to hit the ground. Hook rushed to the old man and knelt. Fist was peeing.
They had lain a plank across two boxes with the old man’s husk upon it, Hook by his head and Fist by his feet. Hook was reciting a prayer halfheartedly and looking up at the sun. Fist had changed pants and was watching the waves to the west. Hook finished praying and touched his nose, his nipple, his navel, and licked his thumb. “Aamen.”
He gave Fist the eye. “Anything you’d like to say?”
Fist was vigilant. “I suppose not. It looks like dog-man took the best parts of him anyway.”
Hook sighed. He grabbed the flabby old dude under the arms and Fist broke his rapture to grab the feet. They nodded seriously a bunch of times.
“A one, and-a-two, anna–”
They let him fly when they would’ve said three. His brassed aged bod rose up in the air and he looked peaceful. But they knew he was in hell. He sailed up and turned down toward the water, and was gone.
“Where was the splash? Did you see that?”
They had both seen it. Beard had risen up and up and as he turned nose-down he went below the railing and vanished. Not into the water. He was gone.
“I’ll be damned.” Fist was disconcerted, and he ran into the bedroom to get his stress ball. “By god!” He was shouting. Hook burst into the room after him. It was like magic.
“I’ll also be damned.” One third of the room (Beard’s third) was wiped clean. All of Beard’s things had vanished; not a bed, not a bottle of oil – nothing remained. More than that, though, the corners were immaculately clean. There was no dust, the wood had been polished, it smelled like lemons and “a hint of coconut?” Hook wondered. Beard and his shit had been obliterated. De-realized.
They went back out onto the deck with a couple of beers. Fist’s expression did not hide his confusion and his panic. “How are we supposed to finish the job without Beard? How are we going to do anything? Where are we going to go?”
“I know, man, I’m on the same page as you. That was some shit. But he’s gone now. We have to move forward!”
“Which way is forward?”
“Well damn, you know as good as I.”
They pulled a card out of Hook’s old Rider deck. They smushed their heads together and looked to see what they drew.
“Seven of wands…”
“Looks like we’re headed South-Southeast.”
They nodded seriously and vigorously and turned the wheel together. They tied it in place and used a makeshift sail of old clothes to get the old ship moving. It was slow going but they were going. Probably.
Hook was making a house of cards but it fell over whenever they hit a wave. Still, he fought against the tides, so to speak. He had a fishing rod set up against the side of the boat, but his heart wasn’t in the fish today. Fist was leaning over the rail looking west. He was thinking about his life and what was going to happen from now on. Just then he saw a rainbow flash way out in the distance.
“Now what the…”
The flash went back down into the water with a little splash and popped up again a little closer.
“Hook you fool, come here and check this shit out.”
Hook joined him at the rail. “What are we lookin at here?”
“I’ve got no idea. But – Look! It’s coming closer.”
Indeed it was! Each flash-n-splash took it a little closer to their sweet old vessel, until they began to recognize a human shape behind the brilliant gleam. As it approached the side of the boat they lost their wits and could only stand in awe, further unable to continue with any mundane lines. Finally the thing leapt into the air right before their eyes and hovered there a moment. They both exhaled a wow-how-howza and began to cry a little. The flashing thing was a living creature, a creature with beautiful eyes and a pair of rainbowed breasts. It was a mermaid, all right, and she was coursing through the air that they were about to breathe, and their lungs had little tremors of fantastic ecstasy, bronchioles rubbing together with excitement, awaiting that blessed oxygen now more desirable than any other thing, those prurient lungs! And she smiled and blew a kiss – at Hook, and winked, and disappeared with a sweet whipping of her fish’s tail into the water. The men sighed violently, and looked at each other.
“Now what do you make of that?” said Hook. He was blushing a little; he had seen the kiss come his way. Fist was shaking but he hid it. He was looking at Hook, his friend, and he said, “I need to get my stress ball.” He took his slow, intentional steps into the room. Hook scratched his head with an alrighty then and looked droolingly down into the water. He knew she would come up again, he could feel it, and he couldn’t wait. His pants were hot and he felt like he was made of colorful marbles and they were jingling all around. There! THERE! The bubbles spread and he could see her sweet abyssal shape creeping back to the surface. Oh, god, he couldn’t wait. He began to jump up and down and wiggle his hips, he lived his whole life just to see her. The door to the bedroom closed. “HEY.” Hook turned around.
Bang. Boom. Blam. Fist put three little bullets into Hook’s smart face. The legs crumpled mid-jig and pieces of the guy’s head flopped onto the deck. He had an uncanny fearful grin that a real person couldn’t make; he was dead as fuck. That nasty face! Those pieces of learned brain on the deck. Fist put the smoking gun down and ran to the rail. He felt the marbles, too, he felt the formation of tectonic plates among his bowels, sub-marine portals into the heart of the earth, pouring out their lovely lovely juice into the waters of love, accepting, bursting, creating, oh Here she comes! Her head rose above the water. Huuahhh said Fist, and she smiled, embodying the pure love of the sea itself, something older than human presence on the earth, older than life, it filled him, he reached down and grabbed her blue soft hand. It was warm, she was warm and she grabbed with her other hand. And she pulled. And he fell down into the water and she kissed him. He couldn’t think about what was happening. His eyelids were forced shut by tidal euphoria, she embraced him and they sank, sank sank.
Timothy Limothy was at his desk in the office where he worked as a milk carton salesman in Wisconsin. He had been looking at his little snow globe. It had a “Deep Sea Treasure” theme, with little pieces of glitter and tiny fake shells instead of snow. There was a chest filled with gold, and a diver’s helmet, and a little undersea volcano. He had shaken it and watched the water swirl around and bubbles form strange shapes and he had lost track of time. He was behind on his carton sales.
A voice crackled through his telephone. “Mr. Limothy, client here to see you.”
He pushed the button. “Thank you Serenity, please send her in, the door is open.”
The client came through the door. She was beautiful – he was hit hard. He had been so lost in his Deep Sea Treasure he had forgotten about his appointment, or if he had any appointments, or what he did at his job, or why he was here today, or what his name was, and as he watched the beautiful client walk toward him, he thought about all that. The woman stood in front of the desk and raised her blue warm hand. She held a strange relic, made of old stone, shady, wavering, covered with tiny sharp barnacles. It was a stapler. She opened it and smiled into his eyes. He smiled and felt so warm, like he was sleeping, rolled into a ball at the bottom of the ocean. She swung the stapler into his face.
The last little shell had just settled into the fake sand on the ocean floor, right next to the little treasure chest and diver’s helmet.