by Jonathan Dozier-Ezell
Miller Lite still tastes weak and sudsy no matter how close the hurricane comes. There’s the drop in pressure, but no, that doesn’t do it. The beer’s still all head as it floods the tap and brims over. Connor pulls another; he knows my pace. He tips the mug on its beveled glass bottom, but the mug still foams its barley mattress. We both sit and wait a moment: expectant. He draws off the glass over the latticework drain. Another moment—and he fills it again.
“You know you could drink harder stuff, Preacher Man. Jack don’t fizz.”
“Can’t seem to fit a shot glass in my hand,” I tell him. I hold up ten fingers as proof. They are meat hands, good for nothing.
“I’ll hand you the bottle then.”
“Don’t you wish.” Connor’s a good friend—the best of friends—like a son because he is and isn’t. He chides me about the chip in my pocket: five years liquor free. Counts too for beer, don’t it? Nah, I say, beer’s the exception. I baptized him when he was just a baby. I was fresh from seminary like a dewdrop that still soaked the sun. Now he looks like I looked then, except for his right bicep wrapped in tribal. With his lips shut tight, he looks rough and tumble, but when he smiles he’s your mother’s son.
“You’re breaking hearts today,” I tell him. “You’ll see how many these girls appreciate your pouring skills. Tomorrow night they’ll come with hearts broken. If they come at all.”
“They’ll be in a mood alright. Every man—even you might stand a chance tomorrow.” He paused and looked through a grimy bar window. The sky was painted soap scum and skim milk. But past those filmy windows it was probably a distanced blue: the blue cameras can’t focus. “If we’re even open.”
“You’d better be,” I tell Connor. “Every grocery store in town has a clerk I see on Sundays. I’ve got an image to protect.”
“And what’s that?” he jibes.
“That I’ve got better taste than swill beer.”
Cheryl’s Wrangler chugs into earshot; its large, bald tires scrape the chalky gravel. There’s thirty seconds of silence before I hear her sandals fall on the driftwood steps. Connor follows the sound like a captive knows his keeper—the gait, stride, and pressure from heel to ball and toe.
“Rainbows,” he says, because he knows what shoes she’s wearing. “Thongs. You think that makes me obsessed?”
“Restraining order if she didn’t feel the same.”
“Thank God she does,” Connor says.
“I will,” I say more seriously than he expects. He turns a crooked smile toward me. “You’ve got no ear for sarcasm.”
“I know,” he says. “Let’s hope God don’t find out.”
To be twenty-something again, I think: to happily ape what you don’t understand.
“Pour me one,” Cheryl says as she struggles through the screen door with a Winn-Dixie wedding cake and two tubs of off-brand vanilla. I stare at her perfect sandaled feet, her toes painted can’t-wait-for-the-sunset orange. I accept the wave of guilt that washes over me, imagining this bride in less than what’s decent. She loves me like Connor and asked my opinion on lingerie.
“Still working on his,” Connor says after taking his time to take her in. The truth is he forgot all about my next beer. The thick glass handle wraps around his left hand and hits where Cheryl would put a ring if she had one. No rings for these two. Just more to get lost down the drain, they both say.
“That’s hers,” I offer, pretending to forget my own dry throat. “Nobody likes a sober bride.”
“Least not the groom,” he says as he finishes filling and hands off the mug with a kiss attached. “I’ll be back. Nature’s banging on the back door,” he says.
They knew each other six months before he proposed. Connor said his longest relationship deserved to be celebrated some way. God knows if they’ll last. God knows if I really want them to last.
“Blake’s at the store. He’s coming over. Ships in the bay thataway,” Cheryl says as she wedges the wedding cake in the freezer between battered chicken and waffle fries. She leaves the vanilla on the counter to soften. “It’s for the bushwhackers,” she explains, returning.
Another car wears at the gravel; moments later two more follow. If we cared to look out, we’d see that one has a channel brand tattooed to its side. “That’s a lot of traffic this late,” I say, meaning the date more than the time of day. Two days ago, police issued a mandatory evacuation for the island and surrounding coast. Most people took sense and ran.
“Who is it?” Cheryl asks. Her face is buried below the counter while the triangle of her thong stares above her stonewashed jeans. “Blake?”
“And others,” I say, peeling my eyes like window stickers. “Some news van’s what it looks like.”
“Didn’t know my wedding was news.”
“Well, I suppose they’re welcome. Someone can be the flower girl.”
“All men,” I tell her now that I can see. Blake is one of them; Wago’s another. The third man—boy really—I don’t know, but the camera on his shoulder gives him away.
“Too bad. Anyway, Connor’ll have groomsmen then. They’ll eat the cake at least.”
“Who will?” Connor asks, returning from the bathroom with the scent of lilac spray trailing. “Where’s the cake?”
“In the freezer. Buncha men just showed up to make a plea for me,” Cheryl says and winks like Connor’s blind. “What do you think about that?”
“They can have you if you’d go. And return you in a week. A little worse for wear, I imagine.”
“Take a joke?”
“When it’s funny,” Cheryl says and pouts pink lips.
Captain Blake grabs the brass door handle and swings the screen open. Before it clatters shut, Jake Wago and the reporter enter.
“Interrupting?” Blake asks.
“Damn,” and it’s hugs all around. Blake’s a Baptist, so I don’t see him much. He says their barbeques are better and I hold service too long for the buffet line. Truth told, the Baptists don’t see him much, either. “Pour me one Connie,” Blake tells the boy.
“He still owes mine,” I say.
“That’s right. All right. Let’s just put you boys’ faces under the taps.”
Blake takes him at his word.
“Now, now. Ain’t we civilized?”
“You ask a ship captain?”
“My mistake. But wait anyway. We don’t buy good glasses to sit ‘em on the shelves.”
Connor talks like he owns the bar, but he doesn’t. The owner’s gone with the rest of them. He told Connor he could make what he could out of the storm. Told him he was foolish. Told him his preacher was foolish, and his bride-to-be was foolish, and the whole lot would be sorely missed once the storm washed through and he cashed his insurance check. Connor figures this is mostly right. We won’t do any worse than the storm would, he told me a few days prior. But I ain’t no fool. And he was right. Some people feel a debt to the land; some people don’t. I should’ve died during Fredrick and didn’t; I delivered a baby boy instead.
Blake and Wago are no fools either. Blake’s watching his shrimper, Turin. He has the half-infinity-sideways-eight-come-to-symbolize-Jesus fish painted a deep maroon on both sides of his vessel and swears it isn’t sacrilege. Jesus brought fish to the Jews. Least he can do is bring me some shrimp. I have a feeling he’d re-create The Last Supper if he thought it’d bring him a load. Wago is in it for no less selfish reasons. Being here, he guarantees he’s the first contractor on scene when the skies part. That will make him the biggest builder on the coast. His blue and white signs will dot the destruction like sand pipers at the water’s edge.
Connor lifts three beers overtop the bar and sets them down solid so the bar feels a thud. He reaches for a plastic cup, scoops deep into ice, and pours a Coke for the kid. “Here go.”
“Hey, what’s this?”
“No minors served here.”
“You want to see my ID?” the kid asks and gets as worked up as anybody. His face is red; he’ll throw a punch for some barley. He’s digging for his ID like a pirate on X. “How old do you think I am?”
“Thirteen,” Connor says and pulls out another flowing mug from the tap. “Easy there. And take a joke.”
The kid’s red face continues but from humiliation instead of anger. He’s shown his hand, and I can feel the warm embarrassment streaking down his hairless face. He’s a boy who wants to be taken seriously, and he’s just guaranteed he won’t. He sulks in the corner: he fixes the isosceles pyramid of his tripod and wraps his Panasonic in what amounts to a fitted rain slicker. The blue cover matches the neon ribbon of the Pabst sign hanging in the window.
“What’re you here for, anyway?” Cheryl asks. She leans over toward him because he’s not as good as I am at hiding his horny intentions. God stuffed her chest better than socks could.
“Shoot the storm,” he says through tense, terse lips. He won’t explode like that again, he’s swearing to himself. “I’m getting time-and-a-half.”
“Well, just get my good side, k?”
“That’s the back side,” Connor says. We all laugh except for the kid. He’s probably too uncomfortable to laugh at truth. I expect some critique, feminist or otherwise, about how we shouldn’t objectify women, but nothing comes. His heart’s fine with it.
“Y’all shouldn’t—now please—I just won’t stand for it,” Cheryl says through the men’s laughter and some of her own.
“Sit down then.”
“Bend over, better.”
“We’ll see who’s laughing when somebody sleeps on the sofa tonight.”
“Now,” Conner beguiles, “there’s no need to go breaking hearts.” And another round of laughter.
When the laughter stops, we hear the first percussive pecks of water on tin. Soon an untrained snare bangs out time above our heads. I go to the screen door and usher through. In the khaki sand at the foot of the steps below, dark brown dimples pucker the surface. Raindrops scatter across the bay’s surface, pressing watery LPs with each drop. The roofless sky is at work shingling clouds that darken a linear gradient. The southern clouds are wrought iron as they push north in a spiral indicated on weather maps and punctuated by lightning. Here is a visitor from the African coast. They’re calling him Ivan.
“Wedding bells,” Connor says as the screen door bangs behind him. “That’s all that is.” He seems disconcerted by my quiet. “What’cha thinking?”
“I don’t think your mother would like this.”
“She’s not concerned with much right now.”
“May be, but if you’d seen her face.”
“I’ve heard the stories. You told all.”
“I don’t know if I could tell all. But her face was one thing. She seemed to pray to God—me, since I was the proxy—that everything could turn out all right. She didn’t seem to have much faith it would.”
“Hasn’t yet. She’d kill me if she knew what I’m letting her son do now. She’d call you crazy. She’d wonder what the hell you’re thinking. We should be gone, Connor. There’s no reason to do this now. No reason to do it at all. Do you even love this girl? Are you proving a point?”
“I’m not committing suicide.”
“Are you sure?”
That double-edged question hangs in the air; I have no answer. Connor’s mother saved my life in 1979. I was finalizing preparations with a shelter for Hurricane Fredrick when a woman rushed into my arms. I had plans to go home, fix a meal, and ride out the storm in my Lay-Z-Boy with a bottle of The Glenlivet and a flashlight. She was pregnant, water-broken, and entering labor. I knew nothing about it and didn’t want to know, my commitment to God being the only one I was ever good at making. Her face—she knew she would die. What was important to her was her baby. My house, the place I should have been, was washed completely away by the storm; my Lay-Z-boy impaled on a broken limb. I should have died in 1979; I believe Connor feels the same. What are we doing here testing fate again?
“I’m glad I only have to wear this once,” I hear behind me. Through the fly-stopping grate I can see the older men doubled over, their teeth yellow against red-faced laughter. Cheryl has on her wedding dress, bought for a discount at a boutique in Fairhope and too ill fitting to have been tried on. “Last time I buy clearance, Connor,” she tells the groom.
“Gettin’ more expansive already,” Connor, who can’t resist the pun, says.
“Goddamn they make a dress for a woman with boobs,” she screams, frustrated by the tightness in her chest. “Oh,” she sees me staring, “sorry Preacher Man.”
“Just let’s get you married and out of that dress,” I tell her. I’m glad for the cloud cover darkening my face. Only the reporter sees the cringe of blush cross my cheeks.
“You kids hurry up now and pour another round,” Captain Blake says.
“Never thought I’d tend my own wedding,” Connor tells him.
“Well, I wish you weren’t. Maybe I’d get some service, hunh?” says Blake.
“Maybe you’re buying the next round.”
“On my tab.”
“What tab? You’ve got none here.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve got excellent credit for a ship captain.”
“I’ll just come behind the bar and fix myself,” Wago says, and he gets up and does it.
“Nope; no one behind the bar. Strict orders.”
“From who?” Blake and Wago blare.
“Commander Pete,” who is a parrot, who is stuffed, who serves as scapegoat whenever Connor feels like.
“Well, up yours Petey,” Wago tells the stuffed bird. “Here’s one of your own,” he says with his middle finger extended.
“Dearly beloved,” I begin and hold for applause. “We are gathered here today—”
“Alright, sure,” smacks the crowd.
“Hush now,” Cheryl glares. “It’s my wedding here.” She is unequivocally serious.
Amid the saying of vows and the smiling, now-quiet faces, two events happen that no one notices. The first is a sudden darkening, strengthening of the sky above us; clouds roil and lower the ceiling as a posted sign—No Dumping—bends in the wind, forming a taco shell before it’s ripped from its moorings. The water level, despite all the rain, lowers with the barometer. The second event is smaller, more discrete: The peacock reporter turns on his red light.
“I do,” Cheryl says.
“So do I,” Connor seconds.
“I haven’t asked you yet.”
“You know the answer. I’m just hurrying along. These boys are dry as all.”
“Here, here,” say Wago and Blake.
Comedy to ease the tension. This is a trait inherited from the mother he never met. Before she died, but as she knew she would, Connor’s mother looked at me and said, Hey, Preacher Man, when God looks in the mirror, does he see dog? As Connor grows more nervous, everything he says will be funny.
Hail pings the tin rooftop.
“Fine,” I say, never one to stand against pressure. “If you do and you do then we do. I now pronounce you—”
“Tender and wench!” Connor yells to general cheers. He scoops up his bride and drops her roughly on the bar. Her legs wrap tightly around him. I try not to think of the force of their groins. “For better or worse and can’t get no worse.” They hug and kiss like they’re the only ones in the room.
“What about the beer?” Wago asks.
“Get it your damn self,” Connor says, his lips still muffled against Cheryl’s kisses.
“Don’t mind if I do.”
“Me too,” says Blake.
“And me,” Thompson cries, which is the first happy peep from him yet. He’s set the angle wide on his camera propped above bar height. It’s recording to a hard drive he expects to last the storm safe in its protective coating. “Me. Me too.”
“Sure, kid. And what’s your name?”
“Pal. Pal Thompson.”
“How’d you find him?” I ask Blake while Wago and Pal tilt our mugs every-which-way to ease the head.
“Found us. Not hard when the whole island’s been evacuated. More like ‘Looka that guy,’ and he followed. Me and Wago talked about it. ‘What the hell?’ I say. ‘Safety in numbers.’ Wago says the storm won’t care too much. I say ‘Well, can’t hurt.’ I guess somebody’s expecting he’ll beam some images. Maybe get a good shotta him in a raincoat looking all ‘Call me Ishmael.’ ‘This storm is one great white whale.’ That’ll be what they call the tag.”
“But I don’t give a damn. Like I say, I figure, no news station’s gonna put their man in harm’s way. Means we’re safe.”
“Or they never counted on paying overtime.”
“That too,” Blake says in a way that tells me he hadn’t thought of that.
The mood is good as long as we’re dry, but leaks pop up in the tin. There are two yellow mop buckets behind the bar put quickly to service. In the distance is the thwack of a Hollywood punch: a tree felled. The mop buckets fill and a third leak springs. A hearty pine falls at the parking lot’s edge.
“They wouldn’t send you no place you couldn’t get back from,” Blake says to Pal, resisting the urge to raise the end of ‘from’ to a question.
“No. They’re expecting. Soon as the worst passes. I’m outside in the van sending. Sending pictures.”
“They have another journalist? Down here?”
“That’s a good sign,” Wago says. Wago’s voice is flat and wide like an oar. There’s no telling serious from sarcastic. “It means they’re hopeful.”
More comic book punches—crrrrack, sfthump, ssshhhrash—and we hear the unmistakable screech of a main mast losing its deck while mooring lines strain to hold against the wind.
The sky is a Thorazine depression, shuffling its grey mass and heavy weight; and a wind that could move mountains, though mountains won’t get in its way. Nothing but sand beaches, salt marsh, and brave earth jutting out into sea. When the prodigal ocean returns twice its depth and two stories high, the island divides. There is Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt and the desert, Noah and Ham, the flood and the olive branch, heaven and hell, the islands and furious water.
“Let it flow!” Wago cries with menacing fear.
“Liquor or sea?” Connor yells over the din.
“Both.” The men throw their heads back in skinny laughter, laughter that hasn’t eaten for days.
As an impromptu midwife, I was mistaken for husband and father. The other shelter seekers—hiding from the sins of nature the near side of thirty years ago—told me how beautiful my son was; how sorry for my loss. No, no, I’m not—I began when I stopped to realize that’s what she had made me. The boy was my son now; if not mine, then who else’s? Not one gene of mine is in him, but we both cry ourselves to sleep at night; we both bring the bottle to our lips the same way. It’s what happens when nature doesn’t nurture.
“Hand me one,” I tell him. “Take me to The Glen.”
“Sure?” he asks with biological concern.
“What’ll I use this for—a life raft?” I say, and finger my chip out of pocket. I drop it in the tip jar—makes a sound like a dead bell. The single malt burns goodness from my tongue. It wells in my cheeks, and I savor the light alcoholic grit. Down my throat, it’s a shuttle of heat that wakes the fibers. Fear and alcohol bring a prayer to my lips. Once and no more, I whisper softly because these are not praying people—good people, but not praying people.
“Ain’t it coming in pretty fast?” Cheryl asks. She’s talking about the three leaks and two new ones that quick open up the sky.
“Soaked bone to bone,” Blake says.
“Hell with it,” Wago says between mighty gulps. He’s moved from beer to clear liquor. His tongue trembles as it guides the taste down past his throat. “Worse is here, better for me.”
“You’d say that,” Cheryl glares.
So far we’ve avoided confrontation. We’ve somehow managed to forget the lasting imprint of Cheryl’s petite hand across Wago’s face. Cheryl is old-time Earth First. Albee’s her gospel. Not the kind of philosophy that makes her and Wago friends.
“Wouldn’t you like it if the whole damn place went under?” she says.
“Long as it comes back again. Guess I’d need someplace for men to stay,” he adds as an afterthought.
“Is the whole world just a damn blank slate to cover?”
“Nah, not my ambition. I just want this little part, thank you very much.”
Wago kisses the air in her direction—the same pursed-lip motion that got him slapped before. Cheryl’s face turns a port channel marker and she sips air like a whistle. Her chest is tight against her wedding dress, and angry, she looks like she’d rather be free of it. She discharges bitter air from her gut and goes to the restroom to change. “—ucker,” she says on her way, her voiceless teeth and lips lost to the storm.
“Am I gonna have to find another place to drink?” Wago turns to Connor. “You’d think that girl of yours’d take a joke.”
“Why don’t you just calm down. Maybe think before you speak,” I say.
“Shit, why don’t we all just gang up? The simple picture’s the one that works best, huh? Just a soulless contractor. Don’t you think I want to see this place back to the glory it was? Greater than?”
“You’re not exactly doin’ it for charity,” Blake offers.
“And I’m sure you sweep the sea of shrimp cause you want everyone to know how great they taste. I gotta make a buck. I gotta eat, I mean. That makes me bad? No, I don’t think so. Sure, I know, developers, contractors—we’re the bad guys. But I bet you give every enviro-mentalist a condo on open gulf and sand, and you see how quick they’ll talk about ‘Well, at least I use energy-saving lightbulbs.’”
“I’m not saying you’re wrong,” I tell him, “but I am saying you’re asking for it. And I’m asking you not to.”
“Yeah, fine. Whatever-you-win.”
“I swear to God. You no account, land-raping—chauvinist truffle-nosed—“ Cheryl comes out fuming. I’ll be damned if everything she wears doesn’t make her beautiful. She’s in a third change of clothes: running shorts and a dirty Frank Brown t-shirt. Her body could make a gunny sack fashionable.
“We’ve resolved it,” Connor covers her mouth with his hand and then a kiss.
“Sure. I bet you have. Men.”
“Jesus. Now I’m woman hating?” Wago throws up his hands in a can’t-win-for-losing gesture. “Darling, I’m nothing but a lover.”
“Alright now,” Blake quells.
The argument can’t go on for long anyway; only a rehashing of what’s gone before. Rather, it’s more a welcome distraction from the noises outside growing increasingly hostile, increasingly familiar with our fears in the moment. I catch myself wondering what kind of death it will be. I pray for swift and painless, the kind of instant, thrown-from-the-car-wreck death cops tell kids about on network TV. I’ve never feared drowning, but I have reason to fear it now.
“I kinda thought this would be fun,” Cheryl confesses.
“Nope,” Connor says.
“This isn’t a honeymoon.”
“Wasn’t meant to be.”
“What was it meant for?” I stab. There is nothing that makes me angrier than a man who knows my poor intentions and shares them. I don’t understand why he’s included Cheryl, but I do know that we both came here to die.
Through the wounds in the roof, the sky is the color of the hail-pocked, mottled tin. The storm roars like airplanes, or locomotives, or Sunday pew-warmers late for the twelve-noon buffet. The bay is a liquid badland with wave after wave of rising-rock sea; the boiling flood seeps the cracks beneath us—tears overflowed from a determined hell.
“But I love you,” Cheryl continues. Her words ambulate across her tongue with the thin legs of pine needles. Not only her voice, but her body becomes a whisper against the storm raging as much inside as out. Her quiet lips accuse Connor through the rain.
“Me too,” he begins his defense. “Look at all the trouble.” He raises his arms skyward to indicate this whole affair is just a celebration: All this destruction for her.
“That’s not even funny.”
“No. The idea that—I mean, to blame me for all of this. Really.”
“Aint this love? Aint this the romantic storm and all that? Aint you a damn-sel in distress and I’m here to rescue you?”
“This isn’t about me at all.”
“You’re damn right it ain’t.”
“Then why the hell am I here?”
Now we’re all picking fights. I try not to celebrate their argument; try not to imagine myself with her; try not to let myself wonder, like Cheryl, why Connor insists on involving her in his own demise. I feel obligation to this hours-young couple. “Cheryl, listen. Pay that attention to waste your money. Let it go. Just nerves.” And to Connor, I say, “Jackass.”
Blake’s found a dry spot near a window and he’s paying us no mind. Instead, his vision fills with the gray glass as he wipes it clean to see the gray outside. He’s looking for Turin and straining his eyes against the endless monochromatic scene. Blake is questioning his hurried moorage. His eyes strain to their pupils’ limits when his paper lips crack across yellow teeth. There she is.
“Lifting. Lifting,” Captain Blake mutters. We almost miss his voice in the storm’s vitriol.
“Don’t get too excited,” Wago tells him. “She’s faithful.”
“Ain’t they all?” Conner says.
“Not far to the eye,” Blake says. “We’re in the middle of it now. There’s still to come as bad as we’ve had. Isn’t over. For sure.”
“Think we’ll go through it? The eye, I mean.”
“Hell, I hope not. Nothing worse than peace and quiet knowing hell’s to come.”
Blake is right. Our fear has direction. Each pelt on the sagging metal roof distracts us from the one before. We’re standing knee-deep in rising ocean water. The sour scotch in my stomach screams out, out, out, while the flood ushers complicated clusters around us. Debris is strewn where land should be. But there is no land. Nothing but water and brave stands of trees tall above the flood. Palmetto fronds struggle on the surface like fingers vainly grasping solid ground.
If we had that peace, that tranquil calm of the eye, where would our fear go then? There are stories—myths more likely—of what people see in the eye: trees torn down, roofs demolished, the sun poking politely through. Then after the storm, the counter-rotation, everything seems set right again: the tree stands again, the roof somehow more secure, the sun apologetic for its momentary lapse in judgment. But what is more likely is just the opposite. Like steel wrenched in two directions, we would all surely break. Seeing peace and knowing war—the blitzkrieg of furious ocean—the mental strain snaps. Our minds become signage for disaster; our hopes for mercy are too meekly relative. In the silence would linger the lasting question: The first half of Ivan took our land. What will the second half take?
“No worse for wear,” Blake says. Turin is still floating and mostly anchored where he left her. Blake is like a mother distracted for the loss of her child. But now the prodigal is found again, and he’s getting his thirst back. “Cause for celebration. What little cause there is.”
We throw our heads back in Bacchanal riot with all that remains of the bar’s top shelf. We time our deep swallows with the fierce storm bands that streak across like the barrier-broken onrush of screaming missiles. The water comes in and goes out again, always leaving a little of itself behind. Lesser men could become confused, so there’s no shame in admitting I am. My memory lies in wait through the storm and pounds on the last synapse withholding. Water rushes in; rushes out. Same as memory. Leaves a little behind.
Will you take care of my boy? she used her last breaths to ask me.
You’re fine. Look at you, I mustered unconvincingly.
He will need clothes. And diapers. Other people will help. Other people always help when that’s what you need.
Only till you’re better.
And if he could go to school, that’d be nice. It’d be nice to look down on a smart kid.
Soon as the storm passes we’ll go to ER.
God loves me doesn’t he?
He loves all his children.
Never mind, she sees through my patent response, I’ll ask Him myself in a minute anyway.
Just lie down and relax.
There’s nothing wrong with dying. You should know.
I should. I should have. I should now.
“Lost her,” Blake says. Most of us revel and wonder, but I notice Blake’s concern. Something troubles him; something on top of the storm; something ties in with my own.
“What is it?” my voice carries over the storm’s wicked baritone. I slosh toward him on blue legs, my skin made iridescent by the water’s wrinkling action.
“Who?” I ask him, wondering how he could know.
“Lost her. Lost me.”
Another band pounds the hovel, and the sea returns with the wind; Turin seeks its wear-worn captain and plows deep into the bar’s starboard side, its anchor line formerly sure but now chain-rusted, unkempt, and a league shorter than it used to be. Having the benefits of nature’s force, the wooden vessel barges through the wooden hut like cracking nut on nut in a tight-fisted hand. The building is wounded mortally; the outside rushes in. All levels rise: water, wind, pain. The mood is broken, and with it, the mood’s great promoter. Wago lies unconscious, greeted face-to-face with the massive ship, and he lies off to one side above the rising waterline. Turin misjudged in its hurry, missed its mate. Our brave certainty withers through the seats of our pants. It would be a God-awful smell if you could smell anything but rain. Now only one sign will bear Wago’s name.
“How much longer?” Pal asks anyone who might know. He means the storm, but what he’s really thinking is how much longer he’ll have to look at this wreck. The bar’s solid rafter fillets the ship’s brush-stroke fish. It’s tie lines limp dumbly across the picnic-tabled interior. The water rises and bobs Wago’s body so that there’s no doubt he’s dead. With one leg caught underneath Turin’s bow, there’s little chance he will wash away. Our deaths seem so certain we almost ask for them, even the ones who don’t want to die. The storm no longer rages; it is rage. It is the caustic torrent of bitter hatred, unknown penance for unknown desires. Fear that breeds an indelicate balance.
It is morning by the time the clouds lift. I am surprised the sky can fake the veneer of nautical blue over the low ceiling of the day and night before. There is no sound other than the water’s peaceful lapping, the sound of a dog’s tongue. There are no birds, no insects, no animals, no people: lap, lap, lap. The wind draws cerebral curtains on the bay, and I’m furious it pretends at peace. Once again, I survive despite my best intentions. God’s mercy least reserved for those who serve him.
Pal wakes dutifully and grabs at the camera’s bag. With an idiot’s grin, he wades for the van, which is now mostly above water again. By early morning light, he’s cleaned up what he can. His hair is combed; his face silt free; his voice as clear as this goddamn morning. But windows have broken and the van is flooded like everything else; nothing has power, much less functions. Pal is stuck with his grin and terrific footage that no one on earth will see.
“Poetic, ain’t it?” I say from the banister.“Like hell,” he says, and kicks tires.
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