Chapter Thirty Four
Justin flew out a week earlier than planned to attend Able’s funeral.
When Cedar saw him step off the plane, her heart stutter stepped. The baggage handlers on the tarmac each gave him a high five. One pulled a suit bag from the cart and handed it to him.
The boy she hugged was broad. A strange cologne too.
“I’m so sorry about Able, Mom. And happy for you and Marty too. Is he here?”
He paused, looking a little awkward. He was still only seventeen. The joy of this nearly saw her laugh out loud.
“I invited him but he declined. Something about a mother-son reunion.”
His relief was so obvious, she did laugh.
“Nothing. I’m just the world’s happiest mother.”
“Dad asked about Marty. I said he was the only man on earth who deserved you.”
“You did, did you? And how, may I ask, did your father handle that?”
“He said he had his chance.”
Cedar pretended to brush something off her blouse.
“You look good, Mom.”
“Thank you,” she said, though she knew it was a lie. Sleep was harder and harder to come by. She had bags under her eyes. The airport’s hard tile floor made her back ache. She wanted to curl up in one of the plastic seats. In her e-mails she had told him she had had something similar before and it had passed. A mother’s white lie.
Softly Justin said, “Did they find his body?”
“No. He hadn’t gone swimming since he was a boy.”
It hung between them.
“He was a good person,” said Justin.
“He knew Issy and I cut down the sharks. He never said anything.”
Her son’s face was almost blank, but there was something there Cedar recognized.
“Life isn’t always fair,” he said.
Such a gentle smile.
“No,” she said. “It isn’t.”
She didn’t want to feel sad in this moment.
“Does that bag actually have a suit in it?”
“I am here for a wedding. Just to brace you, the bag is leather.”
“Your father gave it to you.”
“Actually, the mayor did. Well, more like the mayor’s office. After his re-election. As a thank you.”
“My son the power broker,” she said. “An unexpected direction.”
She loved how he couldn’t hide his pleasure.
“No one is more surprised than me,” he said.
“That you have a knack for politics? Please. It’s just people. You’ve always bewitched them.”
She knew now what she’d seen, barely visible on his face. She had given him the same reassuring look when he was a little boy.
Walking to the car, he took her hand. She leaned against him.
“You know, we have twenty-four hours before the funeral,” he said.
“Something you’d like to do?”
She wanted to smile but she couldn’t.
She’d cleaned his cabin. She saw how he touched the towel rack. Like a blessing. Glancing into her cabin, he grinned when he saw Marty’s sunglasses on the window shelf.
When she looked at him, his eyebrows made an exaggerated bump.
She wanted to kick herself for blushing.
“I guess it’s an outdated tradition,” he said.
“We’re adults and we’re engaged.”
“I like it.”
“Like what?” she said, knowing full well she was stepping into a trap.
“That now you have to explain yourself to me.”
“I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, least of all my son.”
She couldn’t help herself; she followed him into his cabin like a puppy.
He laid the suit bag carefully on his berth. It was leather. In the cabin’s narrow confines she could smell it.
His back was to her.
“Isn’t today Friday?” he asked.
“Let’s suppose it is,” she said.
She heard a zipper. When Justin turned, he held a bag of Doritos.
“What time is King Kong?”
He is here. I feel it, a lightness that permeates the water. But I feel the weight of sadness too, for his return reminds me again of what I have lost.
Life is like that. Pain and pleasure. Sorrow and light. Dreams and nightmares. Not unfair. Just life.
There is a full moon tonight. The moon illuminates the reef as if it is day. A breeze runs across the ocean’s surface, sending shadow ripplings over the reef. The openings on top of the reef swallow the ripples that pass their way.
I enter the cavern, passing over the collapsed rubble that now rests silent and silt-less. Two silver shafts pierce the openings. In the cavern they spin slowly, gauzy wands. I should see it as lovely, but I do not.
I press against the uncaring rock.
I see the egg sacs, lovingly aligned, the movement inside like the flickering of Chinese lanterns.
I press harder.
I wish I had finished the old man and the boy slowly.
Do not succumb to bitterness and hatred. Bitterness and hatred bring us all down. They lower us to a common denominator no better or worse than the so-called beasts.
In the lake the jellyfish turn as one, killing the fish that remain.
They arrived at Long Drop Off at dawn so that they were the only boat. With Able gone, the other operators had started up again.
Her eyes swept the bruised blue water. Was a time she found the vast plain soothing and peaceful. On this morning the expanse made her feel small and helpless.
She wondered again if they were making a mistake.
“He closed the reef,” she said, turning to Justin.
. “You told me.”
Justin was preoccupied with replacing a mask strap.
“I suppose you also remember why.”
Justin put the mask down and studied her.
“Yes,” he said.
“Do you think this is wise?”
“There’s nothing to worry about.”
They were her words. It stopped her for a moment.
“Able? The children?”
He picked up the mask. He looked down into it as if he saw something other than the deck.
“I’m truly sorry about each of them,” he said.
“You knew they were eggs, didn’t you?”
The torch had been passed.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t know if you were ready. I’m sorry.”
There was one last thing.
“The dreams you have,” she said.
He looked up now but he said nothing.
“They’re not always just dreams, are they?”
“No,” he said. “Sometimes they’re more like conversations.”
She wanted him to go in, but she didn’t. She would sacrifice the world for her son.
“We both know I’ll be fine,” he said.
You are still a mother’s child. You cannot imagine the loss.
The way he looked gave her chills. Eyes so very bright. A smiling eight-year-old holding a conch shell and a whispered secret. Now a man confident in his path. But his face was so smooth and open. For a moment he was her little boy again.
“Have you ever dreamed about a man on a toilet seat?”
“No,” she said, and she knew she never would.
“It doesn’t matter.” He stood, settling the mask on his face. He kissed her cheek, the mask bumping her temple. “It’s a nice dream though.”
She could only watch him, thick with muscle now, sit on the swim step and slip with barely a splash into the water.
She let him go.
When she looked over the side there were two reefs.
Even in this short time he has changed. He is like nothing I have seen. I am shocked. I am beyond pleased. I have told you I am not all seeing. Now I am reminded of this myself.
He is not afraid. He has no cause to be. I feel his gratitude as if he speaks it. Already there is a power and presence to him.
I knew it before I lifted him from the sand. It is why I lifted him from the sand, although, rising through the sun-dappled water, his airy lightness surprised even me. He was lighter than air. It was as if I was the one being lifted toward the sun. As if he possessed a gravitational pull of his own. I had never felt anything like it. Lighter than a messiah on a toilet seat. Lighter than hope.
We regard each other, very nearly equals.
He knows. When I reach out to touch him, he does not flinch.
He does not recoil from the terrible visions.
You, me, him, us; none are perfect. The important lessons, they bear repetition.
Repetition, as you say, is the mother of all learning.
Frail as spring ice, she marries the gentle man who swims like a tumbleweed. Theirs is a quiet ceremony beside the sea. The water sparkles prettily, though beneath the surface forces move which are beyond your understanding or control.
She has esophageal cancer. I do not know this term but I know the deadly power it ferries. Soon a doctor will give her the news. This delay is an unalterable setback, the cancer making its silent ugly inroads. But it is also true. She has, as she once believed, completed her job. Yes, she plays the bagpipes atrociously, but she has sounded the notes that mattered and now they play on.
To paraphrase Mr. Holmes slightly, “From thy lips, a clearer note is born.”
It is each generation’s fresh hope.
Already the boy is taking the first quiet steps of his rise, far off center stage for the moment, a breath of fresh air to the first few who are coming to know him. You will know him when you see him, a different kind of politician, not really a politician at all, although he will rise toward the highest office because he knows this is the surest way to bring about change. Like Gandhi. Like Jesus. Like Mohammed.
The world will be galvanized. You still have a chance.
I only hope you don’t kill him.
I whispered to Oliver Wendell Holmes, to Jules Verne, to Steinbeck, to wordsmiths who have dissolved into the mists of anonymity. Why not this writer’s ear? These words he has penned, might I suggest they are not entirely fiction after all? Compare the accounts in this story against your news accounts. There will be some surprises.
Is there a savior? For your kind, it has always been an appealing thought. There might have been (you will have to trust me regarding the messiah on the toilet seat; there is no other record); there might still be. But may I suggest that saviors are not the answer? Remember it is the ones you never hear of who make a difference. They are the patient movers of stones. One by one.
So here we are, just you and me, the way I intended it to be.
Perhaps these words did not end up in your hands by accident.
A world reborn or a world of ruin?
I don’t know.
It’s for you to decide.
It truly is a long drop off. Four thousand feet beneath the surface four eggs huddle close, enhancing the odds of a mating pair.
From where the cold sea-maids rise.
In the deeps the first egg wobbles and splits.
Sugule Ali watched the fishing sloop through stolen binoculars, a sad-looking scrap nearly invisible upon the Gulf of Aden. The sloop reminded him of the boats he had played with as a boy. Standing where the waves washed in, he had worked tirelessly to keep his boats upright, but they had capsized every time. Even then he had realized this was a life lesson.
The three fishermen were so thin as to already be ghosts. Sugule Ali thought of his fellow pirates, scarecrows on the open sea. None escaped Somalia’s poverty. In this, his country bestowed equality.
It was no cargo ship, but cargo ships were far fewer these days, redirecting to other waters or accompanied now by armed escorts. Perhaps, thought Sugule Ali, he was a victim of his own success.
Watching the panicked fishermen through the binoculars, Sugule Ali spoke his last words.
“Shoot them when we are in range.”
He felt the impact, a simultaneous hammer strike upon every bone. In the instant before the pain, he was angry. The half-wit Yusuf had run them aground, although he knew this was impossible in four hundred feet of water. All about him was popping; the undisciplined report of Kalashnikov rifles, splintering wood and a snapping not quite like failing tinder. He had yet to lower his binoculars. He saw, in two perfectly oval worlds, the squalid fishermen gesturing madly, as if they had never seen pirates before. His men screamed. Wet doused him. When Sugule Ali dropped the binoculars he saw that it was raining. The rain was red.
After a time the boat of Sugule Ali, pirate king, slid beneath the sea, but it did not concern him anymore.
Author / Speaker