Author / Speaker

Chapter Eighteen

   Thirty miles off your Galapagos Islands, once an Eden, now tourist-trammeled, I am swept with panic and white-hot pain. It is not my suffering, I do not feel it, but I know it as surely as you are aware of your fingers at the end of your hand. Fury bursts inside me.
   I swim as quickly as I can, but I am not quick enough. When I arrive, it is done.  I see them on the bottom in the half light, dark squirming apostrophes, beating haplessly against the rock. The sharks make no sound that you would hear, but the water around me reverberates with agonies that would give your Spanish Inquisitioners pause.
   The fishing boat bobs on the darkening sea. The three men stack the fins they have hacked away.
   How appropriate that the sun is setting.

   I approach on the surface so that they may see. One man runs below deck – really, where to? – another jumps into the water – again, where to? The man in the water is easily retrieved, gently wrapped and held high like an anticipated present. Little rabbit, his heart races oh-so-fast. The third man goes to his knees and prays. If God created man and beast, why would He listen to the prayers of a man who has just maimed His creations?
   I am not interested in God’s approval. I hold the little rabbit high above the water so that the praying man can witness earthly reality. I remove his limbs – he loves me, he loves me not – one at a time, twisting ever so slowly. You can make an atrocious amount of noise. The screams are absorbed by the empty sky and sea, but I know they reach the man below decks, for I feel his heart hammering like a piston. Below me the sharks thrash. Above me the man, bereft of appendages, thrashes.
   Poetic justice, don’t you think?
   I reach for the praying man next. Blood falls like rain.
   I pull the last man from under his berth; his trumpeting heart gives him away. I bring him gently up the ladder so as not to brain him. I want him to be wholly with me during our moments together. He is fat, with flesh like butter. His spirit is flabby, too. I peel him like a carrot. Exercising great delicacy, I keep him alive the longest. Before he dies, I push him to the bottom so that, at the last, he writhes alongside the sharks.  
  I crush the sharks quickly. Finished with this sad chore, I destroy the boat. The shark fins sway as they descend, like a swing, back and forth. They remind me of something.
   Flower petals.
   You kill some 70 million sharks a year. Ah, but the sharks may have the last laugh. Recently one of your researchers discovered a neurotoxin with links to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease in the fins of seven shark species. The neurotoxin is produced by blue-green algae, which, passed through the food chain, is eventually ingested by sharks. Blue-green algae bloom when you pollute the sea.
  Stick that in your soup.
  You are foisting diseases as slow and painful as finning upon yourself.
   A little black humor there.

   I swim without rest for three days, accompanied by dark funk. I am hurrying home. To seek what? Comfort? Solace? The familiarity of hearth and home?
  When I return, I know in an instant I will receive no good cheer. I know this well before I embrace the hull. I feel it, enfolding me like a cold current. But it is not a current. It is without substance. It is a blank spot. An empty hole. As black as the deeps I know.
   The boy is gone.
   One heart beats on the boat.
   I wish I could play the bagpipes.

   During the day she tried to busy herself with charters and the myriad tasks accompanying them, but at night she was alone in tomb quiet. Often she found herself standing still, with no clear idea of what she was doing. She kept the door to Justin’s cabin closed. She rested her hand on the handle more than once.
  Each day when the work was finished, the first thing she did was check e-mail, scrolling through the junk to find the address that mattered.   
   Justin wrote several times a week. His e-mails weren’t long but she made them so. He hated the weather, that was a given, but he liked the school and his classmates and Dad kept his nose out of his business (also, thought Cedar, a given). He was adjusting to Chicago but it wasn’t home. He read one of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poems each night before bed. He was actually starting to like poetry.
   Tonight’s e-mail was longer. The sentences were short, with a glaring number of typos. Staring at the screen she smiled. She could imagine his excited fingers crashing across the keyboard. He had joined the high school swim team. He was already the second best distance freestyler on the team. The longer he swam, the stronger he got. The team trained two hours a day in a disgusting indoor pool that reeked of chemicals, but he liked the workouts and his teammates. After practice, in the locker room, they snapped towels at each other, and if he wasn’t paying attention his best friend, Tim Malloy, reached out and yanked out a fistful of chest hairs, smiling and asking, “Odd or even?” When the high school season was over, he was going to keep swimming. The high school coach coached at a private club. The coach said he was a natural. If his times kept dropping the way they were, he had a good chance at a scholarship at a Division III college, and maybe even something better.
   Justin wrote that he liked the hard work and the discipline, but his real reason for swimming was his -- and her -- secret.
   Swimming will make me a better free diver. After college, I’m coming home.
   Youth. So certain of what will unfold.
   Turning off the computer, she sat in the dark.
  She wondered when he had started growing chest hair.

   Plate-size sea spiders, carnivorous sponges covered with glass-like needles, six-gilled sharks. Your scientists are astonished by what they are discovering in the ocean deeps. In and out of the sea, you are discovering new species at the rate of about fifty a day.
   It is amusing, like watching an infant discover its hands. Oh my. Look-ee here.
  Don’t congratulate yourselves. Ninety-five percent of the ocean deeps remain unknown to you. Oh, the surprises that await.
  You are a small child ladling from the surface of a pond.


   The nights were too long.
   At first she turned to books -- they had distracted her from sadness in the past -- but now her anxious mind jumped about, unable to focus for more than a few pages. She began reading on the computer. Internet news suited her reduced attention span. To her embarrassment, she also devoured items about celebrity divorces, furniture that moved around a house on its own accord, top ten love mistakes (you had to have a lover to make them) and aliens sculpting messages in Missouri cornfields (If they were sophisticated enough to travel to Earth, why wouldn’t they just use the radio?). After Justin had been away for three weeks, she took a Chicago news quiz and missed only one question.  
   Most nights she never saw the passage of dusk to dark. Looking up from the hypnotic screen, she would note with mild surprise that the galley was black.
   On Friday nights she pulled a bag of Doritos from the pantry and watched King Kong. She knew this was a tad strange, too. She wondered if loneliness made you lose your mind.

   I am reaching out to others. I am not so foolish as to put all my eggs in one basket. The stakes are too great. Some of the others are famous and powerful, able to use fame and power to make things happen. It’s why I choose them, though frankly your politics seem to accomplish only stalemate and gridlock. Cooperation, compromise, acceding to the needs of the whole, these traits are feeble fires waning on a vast dark plain. Your Congress, your Politburo, your Parliament (pray, don’t forget the capitals), they have become infants beating each other over the head with blocks. I have little faith in these particular channels, but it can’t hurt to try.
  “Fifty years ago, we could not see limits to what we could put into the ocean or what we could take out,” writes one of your well-known scientists. “Fifty years into the future, it will be too late to do what is possible now. We are in a sweet spot in time.”
   A nugget of wisdom. Delay is not an option.     
   Your difficulties – our difficulties – they can be solved. But you need to stop whining and blaming. You need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Who said this?
   Somebody’s grandfather, I think.
   The ones I reach out to, they are unaware. The midnight lightning strikes of inspiration, the sudden obvious option for compromise, an innovative act of conservation, the timely calls to action; they believe these coups are the product of their own fruitful mind. Only she knows I am here. The woman with the boat named for a poet. The woman who plays the bagpipes so badly. The woman whose son just might change the world. Her offspring. My offspring. Hope. The faintest tincture of fresh dawn.  
   Would you like to be saved? Of course you would. Survival dictates your every move.
   Are you willing to do what it takes? I am not so sure.
  But we will certainly see.