Sunday, April 22, 2007

Dark Eyes Opened Wide

From his lifeboat perch a towering three feet above an endless expanse of water, Matthew surveyed what remained of his father’s crop in the early morning light. The shifting blanket of fruit billowed gently over the now peaceful, perhaps tired Atlantic Ocean. Here and there a pale yellow orb stood out starkly from what otherwise offered no challenge to the crop’s namesake—orange—surrounded above, below, and on all sides by a continuous expanse of dismal blue sea and sky. Orange, Matthew saw, and blue, and dots of yellow, and the drifting brown body of Edmundo Antunes dos Santos.

“Edmundo!” Matthew called. His voice was shrill with fright.


He reached into the water and scooped up a bobbing orange, then chucked it at the body. It bounced off his chest with a calloused thud.

“Wake up!”

The body rose and fell along with the oranges—silent—a blotchy yellowing brown except for olive green cargo shorts and a bright orange life jacket, and close enough to see his dark eyes opened wide, staring into the blue above as if deep in thought. His right hand clutched a clear plastic carton of water, which sometimes bobbed out of sync with the rest of his body, causing his arm to gesture toward the timid red beginnings of sunrise as if something in that direction might interest the boy in the lifeboat.

Matthew’s face narrowed from desperate to perplexed, then flattened into grave. He leaned over the bow and threw up, wiped his mouth, sat up, and passed out. The morning continued on without him, while Edmundo's eyes kept keen watch on the brightening blue sky.

He’d been staring like that the night before when Matthew walked onto the deck.

“Look’s like a big one,” he’d said, still looking up. “We’ll probably hit it tonight.”

Matthew had come up hoping for stars, but he couldn’t even find the moon behind all the clouds. Every day on this stupid ship was worse than the last. He looked up again with practiced disinterest, then saw that Edmundo was absently peeling an orange.

“Hey Edmundo,” he said, “I’m hungry. Give me that.”

Edmundo didn’t look down. “I’m hungry too.”

“Give it to me!” he yelled. Matthew was too bored to be agreeable. “Give it or I’ll tell my father you stole it!”

Edmundo still gripped the half-peeled orange but now looked at Matthew with disbelief in his eyes, or was it fear? Matthew hoped it was fear. Edmundo was only nine years old, a year younger than Matthew, but he still looked intimidating without his shirt on, and Matthew didn’t like the idea of fighting him with anything more than words if he could help it.

“I’ll tell my father you broke into one of the bins and stole it, and then we’ll see if your dad ever finds another lousy job on a ship again.”

He’d gone too far with that one and he knew it, Edmundo’s father was the most experienced captain in the whole company and a personal friend of the family, but Edmundo let go anyway. He was never one to make trouble for his family, a fact that Matthew used to his advantage as often as possible.

“Here,” said Edmundo. His right hand clutched at his stomach while his left hung limply at his side in defeat. “Can I at least have half?”

Matthew dropped the peel on the deck and sectioned off a piece of the orange, then looked his adversary in the eyes as he chewed the first bite. “Have a nice night, Edmundo,” he said, tagging on his name at the end as if it tasted bitter, then walked inside.

Edmundo was such a pushover, and so eager to please. “Call me Eddie,” he was probably saying.

A gut wrenching cry startled Matthew awake. A hoarse voice yelled frightened pleas from somewhere in the dark.

“Help, I can’t swim! Don’t let me go. I can’t…”

The voice trailed off into silence as Matthew realized it was his own. His body was stiff on the floor of the lifeboat. Tears rolled from his closed eyes down well-beaten paths that joined at one nostril and ran across his cheek. The sea rocked heavier than it had during the day, but much less than the night before. Much less. He listened to the ocean thump against the sides of the boat, then sunk back into sleep under the light of the watching moon.

The sun was beating down through a cloudless sky when Matthew finally woke again. He pushed himself off the boat floor and peered over the edge. Most of the oranges had drifted off somewhere during the night, leaving behind them a whole world of unbroken blue except for a small patch of colors on the horizon that was Edmundo. Matthew reached over the side and grabbed the only two oranges within reach, then turned to inspect the lifeboat while he ate for the first time since the storm, careful not to let any juice drip.

So far he hadn’t left the three feet of floor space between the bow and the closest of three wooden benches. The white benches contrasted sharply to the boat’s faded red floor, which looked about fifteen feet long and five across. Two sets of red oars stretched across the floor underneath the other benches, and a watertight metal case sat in the middle. The box was empty except for a grey metal can marked with black stencil letters. Drinking water.

The boy lunged at the can and brought it out with both hands, clawing at the rim for a way in. The can was heavy for its size and made a deep sloshing sound as he turned it around in his hands, searching for an opening or a tab or anything. He banged it against the metal case, then against a bench, then the boat’s edge. A dent grew in the side of the can but showed no sign of becoming a hole. Matthew eyed one of the oars. They were sharper than the boat’s edge. He held an oar over his head and swung it down against the can. A gush of water shot out in all directions and the can flew from the boat. He dropped to his knees, his eyes and hands scouring the boat floor for whatever moisture was left. Most of the water had collected into a salty puddle under the rear bench. Matthew scrambled forward and sucked up the puddle until he licked at faded red splinters. Nothing was left. He curled up onto his side and coughed violently, grasping his face and stomach and convulsing in the motions of weeping without tears.

Again he pushed himself up and looked out at Edmundo, an orange speck where the sky draped down and reached out beneath the lifeboat. Matthew picked the oar back up and began to row. He winced quietly with every effort and switched hands often as the lifeboat dragged through the water, rocking forward and back on each passing swell, slowly closing the distance between himself and the drifting body.

“I’m coming Eddie,” he shouted. “Wait there.”

A backdrop of gathering clouds was lit bright orange and red by the time Matthew reached the body. As the boat came closer, he could see that Edmundo’s arm was still pointed out from his body, only this time toward the west. A passing swell raised the carton in Edmundo’s hand and caused him to wave at the boat or perhaps swat weakly at one of the gulls fighting for position around his floating body. Matthew paddled harder. He saw now that a gull had landed on Edmundo’s lifejacket and was pecking at his eyes.

“Get back,” Matthew shouted, already hoarse. “Leave him alone.”

The gull gave one last peck at the floating boy’s face and then launched into the air with a squawking protest, narrowly dodging a swing from the oar, which instead hit Edmundo across the temple. Edmundo swung backward, then bobbed forward unfazed. Matthew let out a sigh of relief.

“Oh God, Eddie, I’m sorry.”

His eyes moved to the carton.

“Hang onto that water, Eddie. I’m gonna pull you out.” He set down the oar and gripped both sides of Edmundo’s lifejacket.

“One, two, three.”

He pulled up and back with all of his might, and Edmundo slid into the boat with surprising ease, owing to the fact that his green cargo pants were now gone, along with his torso and lower body. His left arm was missing below the elbow.

“Thank God,” said Matthew, “I didn’t think I’d have the strength to lift you.” His smile faded as his eyes shifted greedily toward the carton. He pried it out of the puffy yellow hand and ripped off the cap, shoving the opening to his cracked mouth and guzzling down its contents against a sudden fit of violent coughing.

Halfway through the carton, Matthew shook his head and looked around as if surprised by his surroundings. His eyes moved from the dripping carton to the bloated remains beside him, widening in horror at its gaping round holes for eyes. Thin streams of blood and salt water dripped from the remains and splashed on the boat’s red splinters, making them look washed and new.

“I’m sorry, Eddie,” he said, ”I don’t know what came over me. I just…”

Matthew paused mid-sentence. He angled his friend’s head back and poured some water down his throat.

“There, that’ll have to do for now. We’ve got to ration our water if we’re going to make it.”

The last traces of red were fading from the darkening blue sky as Matthew picked up the oar and began to paddle west, then stopped and smiled as he remembered something.

“Here you go, Eddie. I saved you an orange.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Quote of the Year

From "Différance," by Jacques Derrida

"And yet, are not the thought of the meaning or truth of Being, the determination of différance as the ontic-ontological difference, difference thought within the horizon of the question of Being, still intrametaphysical effects of différance?"

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Screw You, Blog

Get off my back. Gosh.