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40. Darkening of the light (II)

Updated: Dec 18, 2020



The Sun had almost fallen beneath the horizon. In his last moments, he shot bolts, pink as salmon fillets, across the black sea. The waters were rising and the raft bobbed under a midnight wave, before rearing up into the light. Spread across the deck, the two men held fast to the rope tied to the pontoons, each constructed from empty blue plastic barrels. The raft’s superstructure, knitted together from discarded fishing nets, creaked under the waves. “It’s not a storm,” said the man with a bleached beard. His companion, his crewman, nodded.

Sure enough, the waters calmed as the Sun sank to a small red hillock on the lip of the sea. Their eyes moved with the darkness, and they could see small white stallions dancing on the black water. “This sea is another animal now,” thought the bearded man. He glanced at his companion, still tensed over a pontoon. His mind’s tide moved between sympathy and disgust. This man was a liability, but he was also his only companion; and, indeed, he felt sympathy for him. Three days ago, in the cataract, he had stopped altogether, the worst thing a man can do. He did not stop like a Buddha; he stopped like a whipped man. There are men who keep moving, even if every muscle is still; but the crewman twitched in his stillness, trying to get out from under reality. The tiller was locked into the bearded man’s waist at that moment and he had a bruise there now, a kiss from the storm.

His crewman was still like a man ready to die, ready to die because he has not thought about death; ready to die, in fact, out of self-pity. Whatever stood on the other side of the black sea frightened the bearded man. His crewman had not got that far; he was still thinking about the trivial self, so he would not fight the black threshold. Man is more like the shark than we know; we are both the great survivors and we must both keep moving, or die. Luminescence studded the water beside the bearded man; he dipped his hand in the light for a moment, drawing his hand back sharply when he recalled, from another life, that it was always at moments of happy complacency like this that the worst would happen.

The sails were hardly filled now. As the night grew darker, the wind grew more gentle. The bearded man drifted to sleep over the tiller. He could hear an orchestra playing on his shoulder; it was the angels speaking, whispering the language of the birds. When the rollicking sea jerked him back to consciousness, light was filtering back over the horizon. The Sun would hide himself for another hour. The bearded man started a second time. The space where his crewman had been called out; his absence was a presence, and that presence was a rebuke. Unsteady, his leg dead, the bearded man stood up, his head jerking like an inquisitive sparrow at finding sea and sea and sea; it was complete and solid and he took it as judgement.

He kept a watch the rest of the day, stood high and tried to tack against the wind to retrace the raft’s invisible footsteps. As he was as a boy, when he lost his mother or a toy, he fancied that by standing tall, until he felt sharp pins in his neck, he would recover what he lost. The Sun was cold now; the solar mortuary was open. As twilight came, the bearded man remembered their talk: complaints about women, complaints about food, and speculation about the weather. Now he felt the approach of the most silent night. As he opened his tinned peaches with blistered hands, his ears hurt; the scraping of the tin opener was an insult. He stopped for a moment, afraid he had missed a cry aft. He kept silent watch for two days and nights before, always moving, he slept.

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