Sinking to China
A speedboat swings into Pullman’s pool and cuts its motor. There are three
women aboard, all in black evening dresses. They don’t see us in the shadows
under the thatched umbrella and carry on as if they have every right to be
there. One of them looks like May, another like Venus, and the third like Elena.
I want to hail them. But Pullman shrinks down inside his blue bathrobe, in no
mood. So I wait, listening to the goddesses chatter.
"I’m telling you, this place has been abandoned for years! Back in the
old days there were jet-set parties here. Frank Sinatra would sing by a white
piano, right over there! I even danced with him!"
It is the one who looks like Elena, somehow speaking loud American, shading
her eyes and pointing at us. I am sure she can see us.
"Frank Sinatra?" It is Venus. "Who needs Sinatra when you’ve
got Carl Blalock? Now, there’s a man for you! He didn’t have to sing!"
May stands up, undoes something, and her gown falls. Stretching her naked
body in the light, she flings herself into the water.
Elena and Venus stare at her swimming down. Pullman closes his eyes. I wait
for May to come back up. But she doesn’t. The women in the boat wait. I try
hard to see her in the pool, but the light cuts this way and that.
"If only we could swim the way she swims," says Venus. "She is
"Do you want to try it with me?" Elena says. "She will be
there if we swim down to her, and she will show us what to do."
"Do you think so?"
Then Elena drops her dress and stands on the white cushions on the bench and
lifts her brown arms and plunges into the blue. Venus bends over the back of the
boat, following her with her eyes. I call my wife’s name, and she looks up.
But she does not see me. Pullman snores lightly, drink aslant on his lap, bare
feet splayed out. I want Venus to take off the dress and stand in the sunshine.
I do not want her to go into the water yet. I call her name again. But now the
others have come back up.
"Did you see what I saw?" May cries. "Did you see it,
"Oh yes!" she answers.
They are very close together in the water.
"What is it?" Venus asks. "What did you see?"
"Come and see!" May cries.
Venus disrobes in an instant. I stand up. She dives in and the light scatters
and I cannot see her. The others kick the blue water and giggle and swim around
as the boat bobs on the swells.
"It’s a long way down there," Elena says.
"She’ll make it. She’s strong. She’ll see it all right!"
I go to the edge of the pool. They could see me, but they don’t, and then I
disrobe and dive into the water. All is liquid light, and I swim toward the
white flash of her body, far below, down where the pool ends and plunges off a
sea cliff. Soon, though, I lose her and my ears ring with pain. Where is she
going? What is there to see? I turn in the water to go back up, but there she is
swimming next to me. She is pointing, and I can see something far below where
the cliff reaches the bottom. My ears stop hurting. I don’t need to breathe.
She holds my hand, and we swim toward this deep place. I am not afraid. She
speaks to me without words and then I see that the deeper we go the more light
there is, and bands of color, and clouds of fish again. Then, far below, we can
see the bottom of the speedboat, and it is as if we are rising slowly to it. We
kick hard, and she speaks to me again without words, saying swim, swim hard with
me now. We swim with all our strength and burst out into the air kicking the
"Did you see that, Carl Blalock?" she shouts.
I’d seen it and I hold her tight.
"We have to do it again, and again!" May yells.
She seizes Elena’s hand and they dive down. Venus and I watch them. They go
down through the shifting colors. Venus and I look into each other’s eyes and
see the magic of the pool in them, and then without thought we plunge again into
this world that has no beginning and no end.
"You know, Carl, I didn’t go to China."
We had finished our dinner of redfish and white wine and mangoes and gone
into his library to listen to the record. His wide head with its dark face sat
there on his shoulders like a rock that would never move again.
"Where, then?" I said.
"To the moon."
He waited a long time, and then blasted out in a high voice, "He’s had
too much to drink, that stinker Pullman! That old fart!"
This was not Pullman. I looked hard at him again. The square rock head looked
ready to burst. He drank his drink.
Then I remembered. "I dreamed you phoned me from China."
"From the moon? Marvelous! Now we’re talking!"
The rock head tilted back and lamplight made his eyes sparkle.
"You were lying in an opium den and telling me how to live my
He leaned forward. "Opium? Hardly! But I was sick with a stomach ailment
for a long time in a place that had a share of addicts and whatnot, an old
customs house in the middle of nowhere. It was in the desert, and there was a
tremendous wind and the air was choked with dust. Everyone’s eyes were red
from it, and we kept bumping into each other in the halls of the customs house
and yelling at each other in different languages. I had come to see the desert,
and you couldn’t even take a step out the door without risking your life. You
could have been blown away into the ocean of gray sand, and no one would have
given it a thought. The wind howled like someone’s eternal suffering. The sun
neither rose nor set, and there was no way to tell time. I slept curled up under
a greasy brown blanket and dreamed of my ocean pool. When I woke I would go down
the low, narrow halls, listening to wind battering the building, and make my way
to a tiny room where a small fat woman with a huge round red face made tea and
had bread. The tea was red, like blood, and you chewed the tasteless bread for
hours, grinding the grit of the desert with it. The tea made my stomach knot and
I would hurry back to my sleeping spot and lie beneath my cover. Men with
stringy beards would look at me, come and hold candles over me, shout words in
their languages, give me a kick now and then. I quit replying after a while. I
quit going to have the blood tea and bread. I quit moving and listened to the
storm and imagined the place that I had found the perfect place to die, a
wasteland like this where the wind never stopped and huge, burly men were
forever poking you, trying to provoke you into a fight with knives or rocks.
Time after time they came and gave me a boot in the gut to see if I was alive,
and time after time I rolled over and ignored them. Until one of them grabbed me
up like an empty sack and held me up off the floor and shook me. ‘Land’s
sakes, man!’ he hollered into my face. ‘Are you going to lie there and die?
Is that what you’re doing?’ He had a British accent, great buttery cheeks
and the breath of something dead. I couldn’t answer. He shook me and shook me
and then I finally yelled, ‘Let go of me, you idiot!’ I fell like a stone,
only when the falling should have stopped, it didn’t. It kept going and I with
it. Down and down into some unspeakable hole with the gray sand of the East
filling in atop me, burying me alive, or what was left of me. I cried out in
this nightmare for the British officer to save me. ‘Indeed, that won’t do!’
I heard him say. ‘Courage, my man, courage!’ I cursed him and bellowed and
swiped at the sand as angry as I’ve ever been in my life. "Right-o!’ I
heard him hollering. ‘That’s the spirit! Fight it, old boy! Fight it!’ And
I did. I started to swim up through the sand, which somehow was full of light
and as smooth and easy as water. I swam and swam, higher and higher, and then I
broke free, into my old blanket. I sat up. Nearby some men were squatting in a
circle playing a game and yelling at each other. Wood-fire smoke hung in the
air. The wind had died and you could hear everything, voices, footsteps,
coughing, laughter. Quickly, I made my way through the maze of halls and outside
into the light, which was dim and seemed to come from all directions. Then it
was brighter to one side, and the colors came, rose, then orange, then yellow.
Nearby, the old woman who’d tried to feed me her poison was laughing, her
broken teeth showing, and I laughed with her as we shaded our eyes and watched
the sun roar up. When we could no longer look at it, she pointed at the great
open fields of sand stretching away into the heart of the desert and said, in
shy English, ‘Moon, mister. Welcome to moon!’ There was no one else outside
but us, and do you know I found her beautiful? That fat dumpling with three
teeth? I found her intensely desirable and I took her hand and we walked
straight for the sun. At first she laughed, then she saw I was serious and began
to be the one who tugged us along, on out into the open, through all the
perfect, sculpted swirls of sand, on and on. I don’t know how long we walked,
always in silence, stopping at the same moment to see the same shape or color,
starting again at the same time. But it seemed a long time passed before we came
back and found a few of the men standing outside the customs house, as if
waiting for us. I thought there would be trouble. But they were all smiling, and
some of them even clapped me on the back and shouted words. I thought I knew
what they were saying and looked at the woman. She was embarrassed and hid her
face with her scarf and went inside. Then the men laughed and tramped inside,
too. It was already getting hot. I stood there and realized that to die out
there was the silliest thing I’d ever thought of. Besides, I missed my Sinatra
record. That night I sat out in the desert and saw more stars than I’d seen in
my life, all in one night, streams of them floating in all directions, of every
color. I didn’t sleep a minute. I lay on the ground with my blanket pulled up
to my neck and swam in the stars and felt warmed to my bones. A day later, I was
on a bus heading home, as full of life as the day I was born."
"You’d wanted to die in China?"
"In a place of desolation. But I failed. And now I’m here."
"And the fundamental problem remains."
I said nothing, to keep my mouth from filling with sand.
Pullman sighed. "A last drink, then?"
We never again talked about China or the moon.
Pullman never brought up Elena. I’m sure he guessed what happened in his
absence, but it was left alone, as if she had been a gift for staying there all
those weeks, or so I liked to think. Then he hired a new one, Maria, and once
again there was beauty in the house, damp footprints on cool tiles, the smell of
lime and orange. She filled the house with flowers.
Soon I said what I’d been wanting to say, that it was time to go.
"Of course you can’t go now, Carl. We’re going to be busy."
He didn’t answer. And so I waited a little longer.
I am lying in bed, exhausted from swimming, when a crowd of children in white
smocks runs in off the veranda and surrounds me. They are speaking in many
languages, arguing among themselves, and this goes on for a long time. Then one,
a darling of a blond, like a baby May, steps forward and says in adult English,
"The punishment for running away from your life will now be carried out. Do
you have any last words?" I look at her and her eyes and that beautiful
hair and shake my head no. She smiles sweetly, and for a moment I think she and
all the others are going to help me, lend me their tiny hands and guide me,
point me a way to go, rush along with me awhile and then bid me well as I
disappear into the future. But then she screws up her mouth and spits on my
face. One by one the others join in. Then they are all spitting on me. It goes
on and on and I call out to Pullman.
We were having breakfast by the ocean pool.
"Will you help me fix up the yacht?" Pullman asked. "I want to
take her out for little cruises. We’ll troll and enjoy ourselves. How’s that
I stared at my plate of fruit, the bright slices of this and that. I knew I
didn’t want anything to do with the yacht.
"I thought you’d abandoned her."
"Don’t you like to fish? What’s the matter?"
Nothing more than the images of Gloria and May both alive and standing on the
yacht in the sun running their fingers through their long hair.
"Good," he said. "Then we’ll get started right away."
Part of me fled the scene, went back to my house on the mountain. Not to stay
there, but to pass through, collect clothes, see the bay a last time and wish
the deep blue picture would stay sharp, and then to walk away, from all the
doubt, back toward black Texas soil, bright nails, yellow boards and huge
red-flocked Christmas trees, and when you could get one, another nameless woman
to be with once in a while behind a candy-orange door on the second floor on the
back wing of the motel out on the highway west of town where the sun sets right
there, goes straight down into the ground while you watch from the window,
another drink in hand. Maybe the nameless woman will call out to you and then
maybe you’ll go back to her and love her hard and think about Mexico, Pullman
and the ocean. And if you do, and if you’re very lucky, maybe Venus will rise
and take over that nameless body beneath you and hold you all night. Your
forever girl who adores you again.
"First, I’ll see about getting the engine looked at," Pullman
said. "You and I can do a lot of the rest. What do you think?"
I reached for my orange juice. The glass started to slide away.
"Another one," said Pullman.
Then it dropped on the rock deck with a thud.
"The ones that wake you up in the night are the worst," he said.
"It’s like some strong man has grabbed your bed and begun to shake it
like a shoe box."
Maria came, squatted and picked up the pieces of glass.
"I don’t know much about boats, but it’s in pretty bad shape,"
"Let’s take a look. We’ll have a list to start."
Pullman walked quickly, talked loudly. He’d never said anything loud.
He made her rise the first morning we worked on the boat.
"Do you still think about Venus?"
I stared at him. "Some."
"I think about Gloria often. Waiting for me somewhere. But where?"
I didn’t know what to say. Had he been looking for her in China? Were we
going to be looking for her with this boat? My mind filled with an image of snow
falling in a forest and two men tramping along, small and bent, far below the
towering trees. It was a light snow, and the two men did not talk.
Pullman went below. When he came back he had paint scrapers.
"Here. Let’s do the railings first." He was shining with sweat.
Young men he’d hired came and helped with the worst things, fixing a hole
in the deck where someone had made a fire and throwing out the garbage: bottles,
butts, mildewed girlie magazines, chicken bones, plastic wrappers, pieces of
torn clothing, a black pump.
"Where did you get her?" I asked.
"A Greek. Paid far too much. But he is my sister’s husband and I could
not say no. Nineteen thirty-seven. He’d brought her all the way from Piraeus.
I know now he was fleeing the tax authorities. I spent a fortune for it, and
then another to restore it. And for my efforts? It has brought me only pain and
"Then what made you change your mind about abandoning this boat?"
"I intend to see that this boat finishes in a deep trench out
there." His skin was turning purple. "And then it occurred to me upon
my return from China that I had not taken you out on the ocean. Have you ever
been on the ocean?"
"Every man has to go out on the ocean at least once. Listen, let’s
paint her bright flaming pink! They’ll see us ten miles away!"
"Anybody! Can you imagine that Greek? No ship is pink, sir!"
I laughed. "Pink, then."
He frowned. "Pink ship paint. Can that be found? I have to make some
calls. Then, yes, we’ll change the name, too. We’ll call her the Pink
He disappeared into the house for several hours, making calls.
Then he went to bed for a few days with a bad cold.
The pink paint came, and I painted. Day and night. Drinking warm beer and
chucking the bottles far out into the bay while the pump sucked oily water from
the bowels of the boat and spit it overboard.
She had a motor from a World War II tank, he’d told me, and those things
being indestructible, an old mechanic he’d found via some buddy at the airport
soon had the thing going. It got fired up for the first time the day Pullman
climbed out of bed and came down to the dock in his robe.
When he saw the pink paint sloshed over everything, he hugged me.
"The most beautiful ship on earth. Good job, Blalock!"
I tipped my spattered cap.
He was still wobbly, so I helped him to a deck chair where he could look into
the hold as the man was finishing up with the motor.
"Sounds like before," he said. "You could go anywhere in the
world with this boat. That motor’s got more guts than a five-star
general." The vessel vibrated. "We leave in the morning. We’ll fish
a week off Zihuatanejo."
The dark, bruised look and trickles of sweat told me to hold him back, wait
until he pulled out of it. And so I managed to put off our departure a couple of
days by pretending there were last things to be done, stocking more food,
getting fuel, running checks on the motor.
Meantime, the mechanic took her out a ways and showed me how to handle her.
But you never really have control. You can only steer and hope.
Then one morning it rained again. Straight and hot.
"It’s the day," he said.
"In a downpour?"
"Ten miles out you come out of the rain. Enter open ocean."
He went out on the veranda and took a long look at his garden. Then he flung
his breakfast cocktail onto the lawn.
"Aren’t you ready yet?" he demanded.
"Well, there are some things to—"
"That’s not what I meant!" He eyed me like a preacher. "This
is not just fishing. And we’re not going to drink, either."
"We’re going to show you the ocean, Carl. Out where you can’t see
anything but water."
"Is that all you have to say?"
I sent a boy to the market for bait, loaded on more food, got rid of the
alcohol. Pullman was right. It was time to dry out, see the endless water.
Maria came to see us off that afternoon and waved so long she had to hold her
arm up with her other hand. Pullman watched her from the back of the boat, but
he didn’t wave back. He’d said his good-byes to her before dawn when the
rain had started and they lay listening to it.
The dock shrank away, and then Pullman came and stood with me at the wheel.
The tank motor roared like an airplane. The sea was dull, flat, and the rain ran
down like oil. The yacht gashed the dark water, and you looked back at thick
foam and the two black waves spreading like insect legs.
"Did you bring the record player?" he yelled.
I shrugged no. His face turned plum again and he ducked down below.
Then I understood. What else had a man done on a boat alone for weeks after
his wife had fallen into the sea but listen to records? He’d drifted out there
listening to Sinatra sing that same song for weeks.
I secured the wheel and went down to where he sat at the table under the
swaying lamp. The new varnish threw a bright yellow light across his face. Sweat
dripped onto his hands. He was smoking a cigar.
"I don’t recall—"
"Of course you do, Blalock. We talked about it several times. You simply
blanked it out. And now here we are without a record player."
"Strangers in the night," I said.
Fumes from the motor stung your eyes.
"You know what I wanted to do?" he said. "I wanted to listen
to it a last time with you out here and then toss it and the record player into
"Scare the fish."
He laughed. "You know, I am very grateful you stayed in my house.
Because it let me give, because to have the things I have is extraordinary. I
made a fortune. But you have to have someone to share it with."
"A hardware store owner from North Texas."
"You’re much more than that now, Carl."
"Maybe. But sooner or later we all go back to what we were."
"We do? Right now, though, you’re a man out on the ocean for the first
time. Doing this thing you’ve never done. Getting out of sight of the
The cabin rolled slowly.
"My family will dispose of everything," he said. "There won’t
be anything you need to do."
"What’s that mean?"
"Just go your way knowing that you’ve tasted the ocean air and felt
the power of the deep swells rising up from miles below. They will carry you,
you know. Far inland. Where you’ll have to go. But you won’t be the old Carl
Blalock. You’ll be a new man, full of strength to break free. Full of the
strength that Elena put into your body, that Venus put into your heart. The
strength that comes with long Mexican nights and long Chinese nights. The
strength to live your life. And to let go of it when the time comes."
He sagged forward and cradled his face on his fists. I waited awhile with
him, then went back up to the wheel, hoping he’d come up and fish and talk
about other things, everyday things. So we could be like regular men.
I steered the boat straight out to sea. We had no maps. I could go along with
it, though. Just as he’d done in the desert. If only once in a lifetime.
I imagined Sinatra coming into Pullman’s library and saying, "You’re
really making me sick of that record, Walter!"
Pullman apologizing, scurrying to the record player, knocking the needle off
with a screech. "Right, Frank. Want a drink? Something to eat?"
Frank laughing. "You’re my man, Walter. You’re my man."
"Does that mean you’ll stay?"
"Well, now, Walter, I don’t know. I have so many gigs, you know. I
have so many people to see and parties to attend and well—"
"I’ve been playing this tune for years so you’d come here and now
you’re here, see, and you won’t even stay for a drink with me? What kind of
man is that? What kind of man are you, Frank?"
"The best! What kind of question is that?"
"I love you, Frank. Please come sit and have a drink with me!"
"O.K., this once. But then I have to go."
"That’s fine. No problem. Come."
Frank sitting down by the record player and having a look at the record while
Pullman stirs drinks at the bar and blue parrots squawk in gold cages.
"You’ve about worn it through, Walter."
"I’ll get a new one."
"One of my finest sellers. Nobody played a note that wasn’t there, you
know? Very professional. I wouldn’t have it any other way."
"Truly immemorial, Frank. And now here you are having a drink with me.
Want to go out in my boat later? We could go swimming out there."
"I’m afraid of deep water, Walter."
Pullman handing Frank his drink. "That’s all right. Lots of guys are
afraid of deep water. I’ll tell you what they’re afraid of, too. Of
"Gloria. Or Venus. Whoever she is. Your love. Your one love in this
life. Because she’s down in there, Frank. Down in there and it’s impossible
for you not to think about that when you’re in the water. Impossible not to
think while you’re dangling there in the black that something is going to grab
hold of your foot and pull you down in an instant. Your long-lost love, back
with a vengeance. Wanting you to be with her down in there. Dead. You
"That’s sick, Pullman. You’ve been living here alone too long."
"Don’t you see? It’s just fear at work here. Nothing’s going to
get you in the deep water, Frank. There’s nothing down in there that wants
"I wish I could believe that."
"You can. You just don’t want to. But you can."
"I have to go soon, you know."
Pullman gawking at Sinatra, seeing that young boy face in all its glory, that
handsome brow and those incredible blue eyes, a god from heaven.
"Cheers!" Pullman saying, spilling some of his drink.
"Cheers," Sinatra saying, checking his platinum watch.
It was hours before Pullman came up on deck. We’d come out of the rain, and
I’d turned on the floodlights. We looked like a hotel out there.
"Ready to fish?" I asked.
"I’ll watch you."
He dropped onto a deck chair and curled forward like he was seasick.
I baited up with a blue sardine, cast her long and far. Then parked the rod
in its slot, kept an eye on the tip.
"Being out here reminds me of this old boy who had this shack down the
river from our house when I was a kid," I said. "Right on the water.
When Dad got into gambling and never came home anymore, I’d go fish. I’d get
down there early and fish alone awhile and then that old man’d come down
through the weeds and fish with me. Turtles, catfish, carp."
"Ugly things. You had to cut the line. That meant a treble hook and a
couple of sinkers. That used to piss me off, but the old guy—can’t remember
his name—would get real quiet every time it happened to him and that way
showed me how to control myself. I figure the old man was kind of a teacher. He
told me about Old Blue."
"Old Blue," Pullman said, liking it.
"There’s an Old Blue in every river in creation, I guess. You hardly
ever catch one, though, maybe not even once in a lifetime. The old guy said he’d
put a chicken heart, still beating, on his line one time and chucked it in back
over there in the shade under the bank. Sure enough, in no time, something very
big swallowed that sucker and—"
Pullman fell asleep. You shut your mouth, watched the ocean, and the rod,
steady as a nail. Then he got to snoring.
I wished I had a cold beer. I’d have had that sucker down in no time,
tossed the bottle as far as I could. Had another. Stayed up all night and hung
onto the pink railing looking for those fish they say come up glowing like neon
lights. I wanted to see some of those. Something gorgeous from down in there
that came all those miles up to the surface to you.
When I woke, the motor was off, the lights were off, and Pullman’s chair
was empty. I looked out at the dark ocean. How long had I been asleep? There was
no way to know. I called out for him, but the sound of my own voice turned
against me and I lunged forward and looked into the water. It was done. I’d
been asleep. He’d lowered himself into the black and let himself go. In
silence, the water hardly moving, the water smoothing over again. Had he been
dreaming and then awoke and saw me sleeping? Had he said something softly to me
before going? Had I been dreaming, too? Of waking and seeing him lower himself
into the black and smile up at me, like a quiet invitation? Did I follow him? I
wasn’t sure of anything, and sat there for a long time with my white hands
latched onto the sticky railing, looking.
Then, slowly, I took up the story I’d been telling. Louder than before, as
if he were floating on his back out there listening to me.
"‘Going to buy a Cadillac with my coupons and drive out of here,’
that old boy’d say. When we were finished fishing we’d take our two or three
one-pound catfish up by his shack and gut them and rinse them in a tin bucket.
‘Now you give those to your mama and you tell her to fry them up real nice and
get some okra going and cornbread and pour you a tall glass of cow’s milk, you
hear me?’ Then he’d take me inside the shack and he’d get out this
cardboard box full of brown cigarette coupons. There had to be thousands of them
in there and he’d pull them out and start counting them and humming to
himself. After a while we’d be sitting there in the dark saying nothing. The
old man would fall asleep and I’d look out through the rusted front-door
screen at the last light on the river. It would get so quiet the only thing you’d
hear would be bullfrogs and snakes moving through the weeds and turtles sliding
through the deep, down there with the old branches and tangled trotlines and
chunks of old rowboat. When it got darker, you’d push the door open real
careful so it wouldn’t wake him up and go out into the grass that came up high
as your ears and stand there waiting for a breeze. And imagine you were out on
the ocean, out there somewhere where no one could ever find you, where it didn’t
matter where you went or what you did."
I looked at the water and thought I could jump in and go down in there until
I found him and took him in my arms and swam even farther down, down where no
one else goes. Where you break through into the air again and he takes a wild
breath and you swim toward the boat with him. He would weigh practically nothing
and stare at you like a baby with his mouth half-open and you would feel sick
for saving him. Then you would stop swimming and simply hold him, and he would
look at you and you would look at him and then you would let him go again.
Really do the right thing this time. And softly, he would sink into black. Then
you would feel your own body go slack and you would let yourself go under, too.
Taking a mouthful of the sea full of stars. Thinking of May. But more of Venus.
Then feeling the cold tug, like a child insisting, taking you down.
I looked at the water. It was as still as stone.
Maria was waiting on the dock late the next day as if she hadn’t moved. As
I stepped off, saying nothing to her, she went aboard to look for him. I kept
going, on around the pool and through the trees to his house, thinking how the
land had changed into a cloth that would tear at any moment. I filled myself
with drinks and the smoke of a last fine cigar from Cuba. I played
"Strangers in the Night" in the library because there was no choice. I
drank and wandered the halls wishing Elena were there to take me into her fires
again. She’d known my pain, hadn’t she? I thought of her wandering, too,
that night there on the mountain. I was Frank, finally. Strolling along and
singing for love, white bird in the heart of the darkest forest. Yes, I was
Frank Sinatra that night. Blessedly stupid, a witty crooner, a cartoon man. No
past, no future, gazing at you with big blue eyes, red mouth frozen to one side
as the needle gets stuck and bounces. Until the night is . . . Until the night
is . . . Until the night is . . .
I slept there in his house a last time and dreamed of Venus wearing nothing
but red panties, red bra, red straw hat.
"Well, did your buddy jump in the ocean and die? Crap out on you? Poor
thing. Well, here I am. Fix us a drink, will you?"
Like that, there we are on the deck of our bungalow. I sing the Sinatra tune
and make big tall piña coladas, come back and snap my fingers so there’s
a sailboat race to watch.
"Nice boats, but do me a favor," she says.
"Don’t sing. You could never sing."
"Then I won’t."
"But you still make a hell of a drink!"
You smile at her. It means it’s just right, and she sucks on it until the
straw makes that sound, and then a cool breeze comes.
"Maybe I ought to get dressed. Going to catch cold."
"Dressed? What for?"
"You kept my Puerto Azul clothes, didn’t you?"
You hadn’t. She knows it, too, but pretends it is all right, gets up and
walks toward the bedroom. "You’re right. Who needs clothes? Did Pullman
go in with his clothes on? Or did he dive in naked?"
You look around. Blue shadow there. No Venus. Nothing. Trash and dead leaves
kick along the deck. The lights are all out and the bay is black. Maria is
standing at the gate. She thinks you pushed him in.
"Go away," I yell.
But she pushes on the black gate, and it squeaks as she steps inside. Then
there are a thousand yellow lights flying at you like knives.
"Señor Pullman está muerto! ¿Dondé está Señor Pullman? ¿Dondé
I bolted upright. Maria stood at the bedroom door in Pullman’s house. I
fell back. Another drunk dream. She yelled and yelled, then went away.
I sat up. Was she going to call the police? I’d done nothing wrong. I’d
gone fishing with a rich old man and fallen asleep, and he’d gone swimming
alone and never come back. Of course you pushed him, they would say. How could
I? But no one would hear of it and they would cast me into a hole.
You went quickly, left the estate, headed to your house. Saw the fishing
boats were coming in. A thread of pink in the east. Thinking crazy things. Of
Mama saying if you dug far enough you’d come out in China. Of Pullman sailing
into a dark trench. Of May’s bones sunk to the bottom of the cistern. Of Venus
wanting you back so you could make it right again.
By noon, you had a ticket for anywhere. You climbed into a fat red bus full
of sleeping people. Stood in the stairwell and waited for the driver to show up.
As if you were one of them. Only you weren’t. Every shut eye watched you.
Every nostril breathed you. Everyone was a police officer.
I thought again of snow falling on a forest where Pullman and I are walking
with guns and dogs. But there is nothing to shoot and we walk along looking up
at the naked black trees without talking. The dogs whine. Our boots squeak in
the snow. There is something out there, maybe a bear, maybe a twenty-point buck,
but we won’t know it until we see it. And so there is no hurry, no rush, we
are strong men going our way, and the thin snow falls so slowly you know time
When the driver of the bus finally arrived, we left right away, as if there
were some urgency. And like a beast heading back into the bush with its prey,
the red bus groaned up into the green mountains and disappeared.