Chapter Eight
Big Noses

   Ted Marple’s death received viral global exposure, courtesy of several breathless, gruesomely exaggerated accounts from inebriated Polynesian happy hour attendees turned documentarians.
  For several months only Germans and Australians came to the island: Germans because Germans are uncanny at sniffing out slashed rates, Aussies because shark attacks are barely news Down Under. By summer the rest of the world had returned too, because Palau has too much tropical glory to offer and the world’s attention span is short.
  On a squinty bright June morning, Cedar left the dock with a full compliment of ten divers.
   The divers were a typical mixed bag, two honeymoon couples from Denmark, another group of middle age men connected by some past something, and a man in his mid-forties diving alone. The solitary man’s gear was without shine; his dive bag sorely sun-bleached. It brought back uncomfortable memories. But he had given her his undivided attention during the dive briefing and asked for permission to come aboard, and he had smiled amiably at the newlyweds and the sweating men carrying too much gear, and he had rigged his own gear quietly and without fanfare.
   He wasn’t good-looking -- his nose was too big for his face and his mop of brown hair sorely needed trimming -- but he held himself easily and, though his voice had been deferential, when he had asked permission to come aboard his eyes had held hers. She made it point to never pay anything other than professional attention to the men on her boat, and often they needed it. But this man was capable, and while he was occupied with his gear, she glanced at his ring finger, and when they passed the breakwater and Ernan throttled up and the bow of the Wendell Holmes lifted and planed, she did not go up to the bridge. She joked with the other divers, but even as she talked to them she listened in on his conversation and saw how he turned the other divers’ questions into questions of his own.
   She decided not to play the game with the album. She thought about mentioning Heidi Klum, but she didn’t want to hold herself up to comparison.
   When she finally went up to the bridge, Ernan raised an eyebrow.
   “What?” she said.
   “You are behind schedule.”
   “Am I so much a creature of habit?”
   “Well everything’s the same as usual, excluding the fact you’re suddenly so nosey. I shouldn’t have to explain to you what I’m doing, even if my improving our customer relations puts more money in your pocket.”
   She had started smiling halfway through the speech.
   “Good business practice to charm the customers, even if one comes to it late,” said Ernan. “I am honored you finally trust me to man the bridge alone.”
  “A monkey could do your job,” she said, and they both smiled as they looked toward the blue horizon.

   When she came down the ladder, he was fixing a regulator. It belonged to one of the newlyweds, a petit, ash blond girl who looked on hapless and charmed. His nose was big. She thought of the actor Gerard Depardieu. She had loved Depardieu in Cyrano de Bergerac. He glanced up at Cedar apologetically, but he was already well into the job so he returned to the regulator. He had taken off his shirt. Cedar wasn’t disappointed. His waist was trim. When he turned to talk to the girl, the muscles in his back flared. She wondered what those muscles would feel like beneath her hands.   
   She gave herself a mental slap. She needed to look at the regulator. She couldn’t trust a customer’s safety with a customer’s repair, even if the repairman suddenly made her wish no one else was on board.    
  Placing the tiny screwdriver in his tool box, the man smiled at the girl whose newlywed beau sported an unmistakable look of agonized inferiority.
  “That should do it,” he said. “But we should have the captain take a look.”
  Cedar scrutinized the regulator closely, although in the first instant she could tell the repair was perfect.
   “He does good work,” she said, smiling at the girl, who looked only a few years older than Justin. “You are now fully prepared for undersea adventure.”
   The girl flashed her knight in shining armor a flirty look.
   “Thank you,” she said.
   “A monkey could do the job,” he said.

  When they dove the reef, Cedar let him wander. She knew some of the other men resented it and, swimming past, Justin looked at her with mild surprise, but she was growing tired of unbending rules and this was as good an excuse as any to break one. He was a better diver than she was; herding him was silly.  
  Back on board he thanked her with his eyes, and she wasn’t surprised when he slipped his tip in the jar before Justin even gave the painful spiel they always gave as they approached the dock. If you liked your service, feel free to leave a little something in the jar… If you didn’t like our service, feel free to take a little something out…
  But she was surprised when he approached her on the dock. She was loading empty tanks on the cart, absorbed with a tank that was more weathered than she liked, when a shadow fell across the tank.
   He put his dive bag down and brushed the hair from his eyes. His eyes were the same dark brown, as if, in overlapping, the colors had bled into each other.
   They did not leave her.
   He extended his hand. It was rough and warm.
   “Sean Chawkins.”
   “I know,” she said. “The manifest.” She felt as if her smile unfolded in segments. “Cedar Mahoney. I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself personally on the boat.”
   His smile was warm and easy, as if they were old friends. Again her disobedient mind waltzed off on its own, wondering what he did and how many women he had been with.
  “It’s not the captain’s job to glad hand,” he said.
  “Or apparently check a regulator. Thank you.”
   “It was my pleasure and, as we both know, an easy repair.” He paused. “May I ask you a question?”
   She was embarrassingly dry-mouthed. She donned her professional face and added her brightest smile. No foul in compromise.  
  “As long as you don’t ask when I’m going to overhaul my gear,” she said.
  “We both know that tank has as many good years left as you do.”
   The smile rose up on either side of the fetching nose.
   They were off the boat, she thought. Their working relationship was done. Sometimes it was hard watching Justin and Issy. The hell with it. She could break another rule. She was on a roll. But she was still of the school where the man did the yeoman’s share of the courting.
   “You did a nice job of fixing the regulator,” she said. “Better than I could have done. It’s not easy playing second fiddle to a monkey.”
    He had a boy’s uninhibited laugh.
   “I meant to apologize for overstepping my bounds,” he said. “A captain’s word is law.”
   “I could still have you keel hauled.”
   “Not much of a threat, to be honest. I’m betting the hull of your vessel is as clean as the rest of your operation.”
   “Thank you.”
    “It was an amazing experience. I’d love to come out again.”
    “You are welcome any time.”
    They both stood frozen in place. It was awkward at any age.
    “You had a question,” she said. She wanted it to sound helpful, but it sounded as if she were prodding him. Christ.
    “Right. I do. How deep is it off the reef?”
    She covered her disappointment by pretending to consider the tank.
  “Off the edge it pretty much drops straight down to 4,000 feet.”
  “Any stair steps in the reef?”
  “Just one small one on the western edge.”
  “Right,” he nodded, and she knew he had studied the marine chart.
   This time she knew what was coming.
  “I saw what I thought was bottom,” he said. “On the north side of the reef.”
  “I’m sorry, but that’s not possible.”
   He hesitated and shrugged.
  “Well then, mistaken I am,” he said, bending to pick up his bag. “Not the first time, and certainly not the last. Thanks again for an unforgettable morning. It was one of the best dives I’ve ever done.”
   She nearly chased him down. But what point would it serve? What rational explanation could he offer that she hadn’t already considered a thousand times?   
   He was not mistaken. She had seen it on the depth finder, less than a dozen times, but each time perfectly clear. And there was more. She knew it sounded unbalanced, and equally impossible, which was why she didn’t chase him down. There were nights out at Long Drop Off, sitting at the stern watching the stars, the Wendell Holmes moored well off the reef, the waters still, nights when a sudden current ran along the boat’s waterline, as if they were passing over shallows, or shallows were passing beneath them.
  She lifted the tank.
  In a desperate moment, she might share this. But there was something more, and this she would keep to herself. There were nights when she didn’t need to look to the waterline, when she didn’t need to hear the sudden soft wash of water, cool nights when her skin inexplicably flushed with heat. These moments scared her, and, at the same time, warmed and pleased her. Like soft-spoken men with big noses.
   A hand gently took her elbow.
   “You put it on the cart, not your foot.”
   Justin took the tank from her, swinging it easily into place.
  “Everything okay?” he asked.
  “Fine, now that you’ve kept my Irish dance career alive.”
  “What did he say?”
   Justin was looking at the tanks on the cart.
   By this point, thought Cedar, they had be the most scrutinized tanks ever.  
  “What did who say?”
  “The single man.”
   She ignored the adjective.
  “That it was a beautiful dive.”
   “That’s all?”
   “That’s all.”
   “I saw you watching him.”
    She reached for a tank.
   “May I remind you that you are speaking to your mother?”
  “That’s why I’m asking, Mom.”
   “Okay. He was nice.”
   “I said he was nice.”
    Justin was wearing Ernan’s grin.
   “Okay. Fine. I found him appealing.”
   “Appealing. Attractive. Alluring. Whatever else starts with an A that translates to none of your business. I like big noses. But I don’t like overly nosey. What is it with the men I employ?”
   “You don’t pay me. And?”
   “Did I fail to even teach you how to listen?”
   “And he stopped to thank us for a beautiful dive.”
   “He didn’t thank me.”
   “He knew you wouldn’t listen to what he was saying.”
   Willing herself not to, she glanced toward the White Squall. He was not sitting along the line of barstools that faced toward the harbor. She wasn’t surprised. He hadn’t looked like a drinker.
  She was sorry she looked, but she was sorrier still he was gone.
  Justin said, “His name and hotel are on the manifest. Sean Chawkins. He’s staying at the Palau Pacific Resort, to save you time.”
   “That’s unprofessional.”
   “I’m leaving in two months. Two months and six days.”
   She tried to haul herself up with a smile, but she still felt herself slipping beneath the surface.
   “It appears you won’t need me to help you read your calendar when you’re gone.”
   “Mom. Women ask.”   
   She thought of the good years she’d had with Wyatt. But calendars rifled away, and with them the people you thought you knew.
   “Understood,” she said. “Next time, I promise I will.”
   “Next time? Is he diving with us tomorrow?”
   “He did say he’d like to come out with us again.”
   “You don’t listen. That wasn’t the question.”
   “Where did you learn interrogation?”
   “It’s not interrogation if you care.”
   Where had this boy sprung from?
   “Fine. I won’t forget what you said. I know I can’t spend the rest of my life with a bat. Plus he favors you. I’ll bet he flies off as soon as you’re gone.”
   She looked at her watch longer than required.
   “If you’re finished with your cross-examination, Counselor, we need to get these tanks refilled.”

   Guiding the Wendell Holmes toward the fuel dock that evening, she could see Santy fussing over a jumble of wood crates. That she couldn’t wait to exchange a few jibes with the old man made her realize how lonely she was.
   “He’s lost his heart to Heidi Klum,” she said to the towering thunderclouds. “And his nose is puny and squashed.”   
   Bumping against the dock, she saw the crates were covered with tarps.
   She tossed the line to Santy.    
   Hopping to the dock, she nodded to the crates.
   “My Christmas present?”
   Santy was in no mood to ease her loneliness. The old man looked tired.
  “I am always working,” he said irritably. “I don’t have time to shop. For you or people I like.”
   “Not even a sliver of lingerie for the Heidi Klum?”  
   He didn’t tug.
   “She is not interested in a decrepit old man.”
   Santy filled the Wendell Holmes in silence, consulting the mushroom clouds as the setting sun fired their fringes bruised purple and red.
   The clouds were beautiful, but Cedar couldn’t help noticing that Santy’s hands were jumpy.  
   On the way back to the dock she took a deep breath and called the Palau Pacific Resort.


   They agreed on dinner at the hotel. The island was filled with prying eyes and the hotel was no exception, but Cedar thought dinner among tourists would be more comfortable. Still, he insisted on hiring a cab and picking her up. She waited on the deck, jumpy as a middle school prom princess. She thought about a gin and tonic but decided it was bad form to greet a date with liquor on your breath. A date. It made her jumpier still.
   She saw him at the far end of the dock, but she hesitated a tick before she waved. He was wearing a white linen shirt and khaki pants that made him look even slimmer. He’d gotten his hair cut. Cut and styled. It ran back to his collar in thick waves. A pale streak ran along the edge of his hairline where the mop had formerly shaded his skin.
   She fought to shake the shake from her voice.
   “The barber did a nice job, Sean.”
   Christ. Did they still call them that?
   The fetching smile and the shy brown eyes were the same.
   “Thank you, Cedar. The hotel brochure promised a new look.”
   “It would have been a shame to go that far.”
   She had decided on a simple light green floral dress. The dress stopped conservatively at mid-thigh, but still highlighted her legs nicely and the spaghetti straps showed off her shoulders, descending to just a hint of breast. And, Justin pointed out, the dress matched her eyes.   
   She liked how the brown eyes took the whole of her in and settled on her face.
   “Please give me a moment to remember,” he said.
   “Of course,” she said, though she had no idea what he meant.  
   “There,” he said finally. “Breathe in, breathe out.”

    They sat on the patio at the table closest to the beach, their faces moving in and out of the light and shadow thrown by the wavering tiki torches.
   When the waiter came to take their drink orders, they both saw his face twitch.
   “Hello, Gabriel.”
   “Good evening, Miss Mahoney.”  
   “It was nice of the hotel to provide one of the finest and most circumspect members of their wait staff.”
   The man stood quivering.
   “Yes,” he said.
    He took their drink orders while staring out at the sea.
   After he left, Sean said, “I’m thinking greyhound. I was pretty sure he was going to turn and run.”
   “I have that affect on people.”  
   “I appreciate you having dinner with me. I suspect it’s a small island.”
   “Slightly larger than this patio.”
   “Is your friend Gabriel truly circumspect?”
   “Better than most. But I know he’ll tell at least one person, and therein lies our downfall.”
   “E News?”
   “The Paluan version. His auntie.”
   When Gabriel returned to the table with their appetizers, the tray also bore iced champagne.
   The brown eyes smiled.
   They watched silently as Gabriel filled their glasses. The flickering torchlight performed alchemy, turning the champagne gold.
   After Gabriel left, Sean raised his glass.
   “I loved that you said barber. Stylist seems too hip, and maybe even a little effeminate.” He kept his glass against hers. “I also loved that you checked my repair. Most of all, I love that you called. ”
   “I’m afraid I’ve watched my professionalism wholly unravel. Dinner with a customer is a first.”
   His smile had a lovely way of drifting to every corner of his face.
   “To firsts,” he said.
   “To firsts.”
   They sipped the champagne.
   “Do you like it?” he asked.
   “It’s lovely.”
    It was.
    She laughed.
   “I don’t think I’ve had a glass of champagne in ten years. Part of its circumstances, but to be honest, I’m more of a beer drinker.”
   When he really smiled, the tips of his ears pushed up through hair.
   “Praise the Lord. Me too. I was just trying to impress. Since I have an expert at hand, tell me, what’s the best local beer?”
   “Red Rooster.”
   “Voiced with conviction.”
   She laughed again.
   “I hope I’m not impressing you as a beer swilling, lackadaisical dive outfitter who lets any monkey with a screw driver have at a customer’s gear.”
   “You are and I am. Impressed. By your honesty. For that I like you even more.”
   It felt as if someone had dipped one of the tiki lamps close to her face. She hadn’t flushed like this in years either.
   When Gabriel returned to the table, Sean whispered in his ear. Cedar was surprised to see Gabriel smile.
    He returned to the table carrying an ice bucket filled with Red Rooster.  
    “Very classy,” Cedar said.
   “A compromise,” said Sean.
    He reached for two beers, but she raised a hand.
   “Please,” she said. “Allow me.”
   Gabriel had attached a bottle opener to the ice bucket with a silver chain. She opened a beer for each of them, watching Sean’s tan throat bob as he drank. She wondered if there was a part of him she didn’t like.
   “Should we send it back?”   
   “Not a chance,” he said. “It’s lovely.”
    It was lovely. The flickering torches made his eyes darker, more mysterious. Unreadable. Like an animal. She decided she liked that. Over his shoulder the moon ladled molten silver on the water.  
   “The perfect cap to the perfect day.”
   For a moment she wondered if she’d spoken her thoughts aloud.
   “I was thinking the same thing,” she said.  
   He put down his beer and regarded her seriously.
   “You know it wasn’t a line, what I said about the dive. I meant it. It was fantastic. I’ve been fortunate to dive some beautiful spots, but today’s dive ran off with the prize. It wasn’t just that the nautilus were impossibly beautiful. I thought about it all afternoon, and I’m still trying to figure it out. I can’t put my finger on it. There was something hypnotic about the experience, something that burrowed inside me. But I still can’t place it.” He gave a self-effacing smile. “I hope you don’t think I’m a closet obsessive bereft of imagination.”
  “You stepped into another world.”
   She watched him absorb this.
   “Maybe a better world,” she added.
   She leaned toward him. Softly she said, “This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign, sails the unshadowed main…”  
   “Oliver Wendell Holmes.”
   She nearly cried out.
   “You know the poem.”
   “Honestly? I know a verse or two, and then I’m a goner. But I did see you named your boat after him.”
   “Cheater. You sure I didn’t name it after the barrister?”
   “Who names their boat after a lawyer?”
   “The perfect closing argument. You know what’s really nice?”
   “For once Oliver Wendell Holmes isn’t a conversation stopper.”

   Dinner was delicious. The Palau Pacific had a new chef, lured away from a five star resort in Tahiti. They both had spiced prawns, perfectly seasoned and garnished with mango and lemon. Cedar had Gabriel bring them pichi pichi for dessert; the cassava and coconut were the perfect counter to a spicy meal.     
   Maybe it was the champagne and beer, maybe it was the silver night and torchlight, but while they ate, she told Sean about Wyatt and leaving Chicago and how Justin was now going, kicking and screaming, back. Maybe she was also a trifle nervous, but she couldn’t seem to stop talking. It didn’t help that he kept asking questions, leaning forward with the same attentive look she had seen during the dive briefing. Finally she wrestled her tongue into submission and directed the questions at him. She learned that he was an engineer with an international firm in New York. His firm was currently overseeing construction of a dam southwest of Beijing. He wasn’t the best engineer, he said, but unlike the best engineers he was able to communicate the engineering gobbledygook to clients who didn’t know basicity from a bimetallic couple. He also spoke a touch of Mandarin and Cantonese.
   “A touch?”
   “I know the words for basicity and bimetallic couple. The dam’s at least two years from completion so I split my time between New York and Beijing, with side trips to the South China and Philippine Sea for diving. All play and no work.”
   “I have to ask.”
   “Anything’s fair game.”
   “What’s a bimetallic couple?”
   “It’s a union of two dissimilar metals.”
   “It sounds a little illicit.”
   “I suppose it does. But if it’s done right, the union is permanent.”
   They conversed as well-behaved adults, but they each caught the other’s gaze straying.  She saw how Sean’s eyes absorbed the smooth slope of her shoulders, then slipped along the spaghetti straps to where they met the rise of her breasts She was not terrifically well-endowed but her breasts were large enough and still youthfully firm. Wyatt had always fondled them like an amazed little boy bestowed a prized Christmas gift. She took good care of herself for herself, but it had also earned her the figure of a woman half her age. She saw how, when she picked Justin up at school, the clumps of boys fidgeted and laughed too loud, and their fathers stared until forced to quickly looked away.
Sean’s stolen glances were only slightly more refined. She managed her own surreptitious glances and she knew they lingered longer as the ice bucket emptied. White linen suited a tan, and the shirt was just tight enough so that when he moved it pressed against the chest she had seen on the boat, smooth, broad and taut. She wished she could trade places with the linen. She told herself to behave. The champagne and beer had gone to her head, but it was fun so why fight it? The heat of the torches caressed her bare shoulders. She imagined it sliding down inside her dress.
    Just before dessert arrived she said, “Confession.”
   “Ah. These are always fun.”
   “I like big noses.”
   “Happy coincidence. The hotel does not offer plastic surgery.”
   “You shouldn’t change a thing,” she said, maybe a little too quickly. Slowing slightly she said, “When I first saw you, I thought of Gerard Depardieu. I have a thing for him. Adrien Brody too.”
   It was silly and girlish, but she didn’t care. She hadn’t had this much fun in a long time.
   “Hmmmm,” said Sean. “I’m trying to make the connection.”
   He held up his hand, making her wait a dramatic beat.    
   “Confession,” he said.
   “It’s only fair.”
   “You don’t look like anybody’s mother and I’m hypnotized by green eyes.”
   “Which is it? Hypnotic eyes or hypnotic dive? If everything’s hypnotic, then we’re just not ourselves.”
   Sean didn’t smile.
   “I’ve never been more spellbound in one day,” he said.

   By the time they rose from the table, most of the wait staff, including Gabriel, had gone home. A young Indian boy cleared their table. Another waiter started snuffing out the torches.
   Sean held out his hand.
  “The beach is still open,” he said. “I know a walk on the beach is kind of a busman’s holiday for you.”
   She took his hand.
   “For you, I’ll make another exception.”
   They walked without talking. The sky was cloudless, the bright moon turning night to near day. The barest hint of swell washed against the beach, the sound like lovers moving beneath the sheets.
  “More spellbound,” Sean said.
   She was pretty certain she was the one who stopped and turned, but it was Sean who drew her close so that she finally felt the muscular press of chest against her breasts.   
    His hands caressed the small of her back, while his tongue moved delicately in her mouth, sending currents of pleasure everywhere. She tasted him, beer, spice and the faintest tinge of seawater salt.
   They finally separated.
  “Breathe,” she said, and they were kissing again.
   The elevator ride to the eleventh floor took an eternity. They kissed and giggled and reached for each other, and when the doors suddenly opened and another couple stepped in, they put on their adult masks, although Sean’s hair looked as if he had just exited a tornado.
   Inside the room, they fell into each other. Now Sean’s hands, impossibly hot, were doing some serious reaching. She spread her legs, pushing forward to meet him. Gently, a strange hand touched her for the first time in years and the shock and familiar pleasure saw her cry out.  
  She felt herself lift off the ground. They bumped and stumbled across the room, oblivious to their awkwardness, hearing nothing but their own pleas and pants. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a single lilac on his pillow.
   He entered her as they fell to the bed and it seemed to Cedar that they just kept falling.

   As I said, I have seen the best and the worst. I prefer to focus on the bright spots, the near misses, the moments when the flame stops wavering and flares straight and tall. If not hope, what remains?
  Perhaps the brightest moment unspooled in a sea of oil slick and acrid flame, though you might not consider it hope at first glance. Someone’s submarine encountered someone’s ship. I don’t know who was who. Why keep a scorecard when everyone loses? In this instance I suppose you could say the ship came out on the short end. The explosions shattered coral twenty miles away. Even back then, your talent for destruction was impressive.
  By that point I was pretty much inured to the violence. Your war had already waged for two years. But I was curious.    
  It was night. The men in the water called for God, for their wives, for their lovers, for their children. They cursed their superiors. They cursed the Japanese. They cursed God.
   I drifted in the dark water, basking in their cries, the flailings above me like a thousand strokings. Bloodlust never leaves. Once a primordial being, always a primordial being. And then a man cried apology.
   It was as if I had been slapped across the face. Everything stopped -- the screaming, the ragged toothed forms sliding through the dark all about me, the jarring concussions of cartilage against flesh.
   I was so overwhelmed, for a moment I lost my bearings. I thought our time had come.
  The man shouted out again as if hailing me.

  I surfaced, approaching through a litter of burning debris.
  He was sitting on top of a toilet, bobbing clear of the water. The toilet swayed slightly back and forth. By some miracle he kept his place.
  I felt the night breeze on my face.
  He regarded me with childish delight, face charred black so that his eyes appeared huge.
 “I’m on the crapper,” he said.
  I saw the ragged hole at his left shoulder where his arm had been. He wore a formerly white apron. Another chance, bleeding away.
   “I’m from Sebeka. Sebeka, Minnesota. There’s nothing like this in Sebeka.”He looked about. “I’m truly sorry for this mess.”
  Of course I had no way of answering. But he felt what I felt and he was nearly past caring.
   His ship was called the USS Indianapolis. You may know it.
   “I know,” he said. “It really is an awful mess.” He rubbed his scorched forehead with the hand he had, the skin crumbling away in hunks. “I just wanted to be a chef at a fancy summer resort. Maybe fall in love with a nice waitress. And here I am on the crapper.”
   Things blazed. The air was thick with the smell of diesel and smoldering metal. Choking smoke ran low across the water, past his shins.  
   He looked at me as if he were the teacher. His face held impossible sadness.
   “I can’t tell you why we do it,” he said. “Now here we are giving the sharks indigestion. I don’t want to be eaten.”
   For a moment he faltered, and then he gave an apologetic smile.
   “I’ve been drinking salt water. I know that’s wrong. But the kitchen isn’t open.”
   I flared my wings and he calmed.
  “I’m so sorry for all we’ve done. It’s terrible.”
   You hadn’t yet dropped the atomic bombs. You are always one-upping yourselves. In this, you are truly remarkable.
   I felt the passing beneath me, like water scooped away. It left a slight boil on the surface.
  The man saw the boil. He looked out at the sea of blazing fires, but not before I saw his fear.

  “It’s like a kitchen,” he said.
  Big sharks are made impudent by their size. This one rose almost directly into my tentacles. I clamped down hard, moving off a short distance until it was over. I did not want the shark’s thrashing to tip the man from his pedestal.
   When I returned, he was contemplating the fires. I don’t think he even saw me move off and return.  
  “It won’t end here,” he said. “We’ll keep plugging away. Bang, bang. You’re dead, and you’re dead, and you’re dead.  Did you see all the fish?”
  I had. Wide-eyed fish floated everywhere.
   “We can’t just go alone. The whole damn ship has to go down.”
   He smiled at his joke. The water lapped softly.
  “There’s not always tomorrow. Not tonight. Not always.”
    Someone screamed. Their screaming lasted a long time and then it turned to shouted prayer.
   “A kitchen,” he said, although he did not sound convinced.
  I lifted him gently. He shuddered slightly at my touch, but made no protest. I finished him quickly. I ate because I did not want the sharks to have him. He was sweet as candy.
  I drifted briefly among the flaming debris, beneath the ceiling of stars. For some reason the screaming bothered me now. I sank away, but I have never forgotten this man. Rocking on a toilet in an earthly version of hell, he was like a window to a sunny day. You have it in you.
    Not long after that, the fighting stopped. But it would start up again. Oh yes, it would.
   Ships litter the bottom in the waters I currently call home. They’re a playground now, divers swimming in and out of them like children in a maze. But they weren’t always a playground. There’s nothing playful about a man sinking into the depths holding his severed leg.
  A man can cry underwater. But what makes me sad is that other men see this as victory.
  We take what we need. You kill and kill and kill, and then kill some more. It is nonsensical. Like a man dying of thirst in the desert, drinking sand.
   I do not sway the special ones. I find them as they are and I let them be. Some of them have long shelf lives, some don’t. Some perish just as we meet, the flames of foolhardy self-interest laughing all about them.

Author / Speaker