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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

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JUNE 2020 Issue
Fiction

Beyond the Sea

A feeling of sleep without sleeping. Or maybe sleeping without sleep. Asleep maybe and yet the body listens. The body listening with an almost seeing. The senses alert to every motion of the boat. He knows a larger vessel would have been smashed by now. Instead the panga rides each mountainous wave like an insect. Now and then he climbs out of the cooler with his body hunched, his arms bailing heavily in the dark. Seeing by the dying headlamp. A deepening sense the storm is blowing itself out. Without words he understands that the true meaning of a storm is what it reveals, how chaos describes itself, gives form to what no eye can see. What he knows now but does not tell Hector. That this north-easterly is blowing them far out. We must be a hundred miles out into the Pacific. No one will look this far.

A dream of silence. He wakes to a clear sense of things. Water lapping the boat. A still light. He inhales the cooler’s in-baked smell of brine and fish. For two days and nights he has watched his life from within some dark cell of the mind. Eternity within each waiting moment. Climbing out of that dark to bail water. Snatching at sleep. Now he can hear Hector asleep with a rasp in his chest.

Bolivar climbs out of the cooler and has to pull at his stung-shut eyes.

The sun soaring over emptiness.



*



The panga is low in the water, the water in the boat sits past his ankles. The bailing bucket is still tied by the stern. Behind him Hector climbs as though broken-backed out of the cooler. His frame shrunken, his pallor grey, the under-eyes swollen and black. He cannot see yet, keeps rubbing at his eyes with his fists. Bolivar sits

huddled and blinking. For a long time they do not speak.

Then Bolivar mutters something, his voice a scratched whisper. Hector tries to focus his eyes on Bolivar. He winces and continues to rub them.

Bolivar begins to knuckle the boat with amusement.

He says, this thing is indestructible.

He leans forward and points to a pomegranate bruise above Hector’s left eye.

He says, what happened your head?

Then he slaps the hull and laughs loudly.

It looks like Hector is forcing the eyes to see into the laughing mouth before him, the bronzed teeth, the tongue lolling. Bolivar clapping his hands again as he stares with amazement at the cooler. Then he turns and sees in Hector’s eyes the panicked look. The youth climbing to his feet, the youth turning around to take in a smooth and single plane of ocean. The world containing nothing but its perfection.

Bolivar fishes the two-way radio out of the water between his legs. He thumbs at the button, stares at the blank screen. Then he smacks it against his knee. The GPS screen is also dead. He puts the two devices on the seat and stares at their plastic shapes, the electrical life dead inside them, their buttons beyond use.

The small bilge pump is dead. He spends time quietly bailing water, Hector watching with a half-turned head, his arms long on his lap. He has become aged in posture as though looking back on a life, hateful and bent. Then he stretches his body across the seat to dry in the sun, a crimson sickled gash along the length of his ankle.

For a moment Bolivar stops bailing and studies the youth. The draped arm. The half-risen knee. The sighing mouth.

He thinks, it is something within the spirit, the spirit always against the doing thing. Here we are half-dead and still he has no use.

So many things are lost. The petrol cans, the plastic bags with food and clothing. The lines that gave ballast torn from the boat. Bolivar counts eight floats that can be used

to cup water. He finds an eight-inch gutting knife and a wrench. Sees that his watch has stopped working. He pulls from under the two seats a four-foot plank used to clear debris before the propeller. There is a five-gallon container full of water. Bolivar uncaps it and takes a look in. They each measure the other’s sip.


Excerpted from Beyond the Sea by Paul Lynch. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2019 by Paul Lynch. All rights reserved. 

Contributor

Paul Lynch

is the author of the novels Red Sky in Morning, The Black Snow, which won France’s Prix Libr’a Nous for Best Foreign Novel, and Grace, which won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award, and was shortlisted for the UK’s Walter Scott Prize and France's Prix Jean Monnet for European Literature, among other prizes. He lives in Dublin with his wife and two children.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

All Issues