Many Boats on the Night Ocean, page 1
Many Boats on the Night Ocean
Copyright 2014 Bull Garlington
This is a true story.
Auggie is a fence builder from Chicago on a cruise to Cozumel and he’s drunk on his cabin balcony. On the cheap chair next to him is a plastic glass with the ship’s logo printed in pink. His wife is asleep in the bed behind him, he can just make her out through the window, a satisfied lump in the bed. She just finished law school. He just started a company. They’re going to be rich and he’s standing on this balcony with a brandy snifter. He tips back the last slurp of Cognac and leans over the rail. He pushes a pair of expensive rubber-clad binoculars to his face and stares down. The bright lights of the ship bounce off the foamy wake and bathe his face and chest a ghostly green. He’s looking for dolphins but all he sees is a lime colored blur.
Out past the limit of the lights, the horizon is just a dark idea. The shorelines are so far away there’s no difference between the twinkling cities and the stars.
He looks down into the wake and is seized by an overwhelming, sudden urge to jump in. A rich guy from St. Martinique who shares their breakfast table said people dive off cruise ships all the time. Said a guy jumped from the ninth deck and the impact of the water killed him.
“Bullshit,” Auggie says. “Total bullshit.”
He flings the brandy snifter out over the water, expecting it to disappear into the dark perimeter past the running lights but he can watch it for it’s entire descent into the waves where its sparkling speck of a splash makes no sound.
Then the door opens on the balcony next to his and he holds his breath. It’s got to be a midnight hump, an over the rail bang. He doesn’t want to go inside because then they’d know he was there and he doesn’t want to stay because it’s just fucking rude. So he holds his breath and hopes the world will decide and it does. He hears the pad of bare feet, the scrape of the plastic chair, a child’s sudden surprised gasp. Someone flashes past him.
He remembers the couple next door has a little boy and before he’s finished the thought he’s up and over. He whirls out into the bright lights and counts to two before he hits, no impact at all, just a bubbly champagne smack and then darkness. He fights his way to the surface, his “Hemmingway Pissed Here” t-shirt and jeans like soppy anchors. He makes the air, breathes in a deep lungful. The boat is racing past him. He opens his mouth to yell for help but the wake punches him in the face. He goes under again. He rolls backward under the wave, starts unhooking his belt, lets his heavy pants slip away.
“Shit, my wallet.”
He treads water. The ship falls away into the black sky, lights twinkling, music disappearing with it. Auggie starts to swim toward the ship. He thinks there must be some kind of river, like he’s caught in a current rushing him backwards. The boat just gets smaller and smaller until it looks like a Christmas ornament floating just out of reach.
“I’m so fucking stupid!” Then he remembers the boy. “Hey kid!”
He looks around. He can make out the fading foam from the wake on the surface of the water all around him. He sees trash and seaweed and a white plastic cup. It sprouts arms and waves at him.
“Shit!” he swims toward the cup, which becomes a milk jug then an eight year old kid in a white t-shirt. Auggie grabs him, holds him tight.
“Oh my god oh my god oh my god” he says. The boy’s wide eyed and breathing quick.
“Are you ok?”
“I saw you fall. I was right next to you.”
“Did you fall too?”
“No. I jumped in after you.”
The boy starts to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m sooo sorry.”
“I didn’t mean to fall. I was taking a picture and I dropped the camera and I tried to get it and I fell in.”
“We’ll be ok.”
“No we won’t! We won’t! We won’t be ok. Nobody knows we fell. My mom and dad are asleep and they think I’m asleep on the top bunk and they won’t even bother me in the morning and then they’ll think I’m off in the ship somewhere. It’ll be all day tomorrow before they look for us they told me never to go out on the deck at night they said they’d never wake up they tried to scare me so I wouldn’t do it.”
The kid’s right. Even when they do begin to think they might’ve fallen over, it’ll take them hours to get a search going, to cover the gulf. He’s seen this on the news.
“I watch Discovery all the time. They never find people. They never do. And we’re in the Bermuda triangle,” the kid says.
“We’re not in the Bermuda triangle.”
“We are too!”
“Hell no. We’re west of Cuba. We’re in the gulf of Mexico.”
Auggie’s fat and he floats well. He barely has to tread water. But the kid is on him like an octopus.
“What’s your name?”
“Matt. Matt Stasierewski. I’m eight years old. I live in Chicago.”
“Me too. Where do you live?”
“What is that, Jeff Park?”
“No it’s Chi Ca Go. I have a dog.”
Auggie tries to peel the kid off his neck. The kid screams.
“Look, cool out. I’m just—you can hold onto my arm. Try it.”
The kid lets Auggie float him away a little bit but he holds onto Auggie’s arm with a grip like vice.
The dark is a solid fact. Auggie can’t tell where the water stops and he has to push himself to stop thinking they’re in a big black bowl.
“What the hell was I thinking?”
“Why the hell did I jump off the boat?”
Matt starts crying again. “You should’ve called someone.”
“You were supposed to save me. You’re stupid! Now we’re gonna DIE!”
“Goddamit kid, I was trying to save your life.”
“I’m sorry.” The kid starts wailing again. Auggie can’t take it. His head is alarmingly clear. He’s thinking a million miles an hour. He sees a thin hazy gray streak in the sky, realizes it’s the dawn sneaking up on the horizon. In a few hours they’ll be sunburned shark bait.
Years ago, he used to read stories to the kids at church. He took care of the 4 to 8 year olds. There were six, maybe seven kids and they got bored pretty quick with the bible stories and he didn’t like it much anyway so he’d make things up, tell them it was in the bible. Huge terrifying wars between the Philistines and the Nazis. His bible stories had UFOs and Bigfoot sightings. The kids loved it. No trouble on his watch.
“You like stories kid?”
Matt sniffed a wet smack on Auggie’s shoulder. He can feel the kid’s mouth when he talks. “Yeah.”
“This is a true story.”
There was this kid, right? His name was, um, Phil. And this kid, Phil, his dad was a fisherman on an island off the coast of Mexico. They fished for seabass, snook, bluefin. All that shit.
So in the summer, and sometimes when it’s just real busy, the old man lets Phil drive the boat. It ain’t hard. He just keeps it steady and yells if anything goes wrong. There’s a GPS screen with an arrow that shows Phil where they are and where they’re going and he just has to keep the arrow pointed in the right direction.
So Phil is working the boat one day and he’s bored by now because he can totally do this and he’s watching his dad fish when he realizes he’s been daydreaming and he looks at the arrow and he’s way off course. Without thinking, he jerks the wheel to the right and the little arrow actually spins and then he turns around and his dad is gone.
Phil yells for his dad a couple of times. There’s no answer.
So he turns the boat around and heads back along the wake they left in the ocean looking for his dad. He drives all over the place for hours and hours and he keeps turning the boat on a dime, switching directions back and forth and finally the engine can’t take it and it floods out and the kid is suddenly all alone on the ocean.
So Phil knows how to keep the arrow straight on the screen but he has no idea how to use the computer. He doesn’t know how to start the boat. He starts crying. He throws stuff.
The sun goes down. Phil doesn’t even know how to turn on the lights. So he’s sitting there in the dark and he notices all the controls on the console are glowing in the dark and he can just barely read them. He reads each one really slowly and finally sees one marked “hailing”.
He turns the knob. The radio crackles. He hears voices faint and indistinct, Spanish and Portuguese murmurs out of the dark. He looks through the windows and sees only black. No stars, no horizon. By the instruments’ glow he can see the mic hanging on a hook by the door. He’s not allowed. But now he takes it down and presses the button on the side. The cracklings stop. He lets it go and they’re back. He presses it again and says “Hello? Hello? Can anyone hear me?”
Some guy talking Portuguese almost makes it through but he’s interrupted by static and crackle.
“My dad fell off the boat. I broke the engine. I’m scared.”
He repeats this late into the night yet nothing but crackle answers him until just past midnight, a voice comes through clear and strong. It is a man speaking with a strong accent.
“You break boat?”
“Hello?! Who’s there?! Please help me!”
“sokay, sokay, boy. I go you.”
“Please. . .”
“[polish] You where?”
“I don’t know. My dad fell off the boat.”
“You Mexican boy?”
“No. I’m from California.”
“Yes, I’m American.”
“What you fish go?”
“What fish . . . what?”
The kid thinks for a second while he hears chattering in the background and the guy shushing someone. What fish go. . .
“We’re fishing bluefin!”
“No--we shipped out of Galveston.”
“[polish] Texasass not go. California go?”
“Uh, boy, uh [polish] you boat go, uh, bluefin how manys days?”
“Oh man. I don’t know what you mean.”
“Philipe! Hi! Philipe! Mya name go Kristobol. Kris!”
“Hello, Philipe! You boat how many days bluefin?”
“Two days,” Phil cries.
Another voice on the radio comes through stronger. It asks Kris something in Russian. Kris answers haltingly in Ukrainian. The other voice says:
“Philip: you maybe net maybe jig?”
“We’re not using nets. We use trotlines.”
Some voices argue over the radio. Kris and the Russian are trying to decipher trotlines. What Philip means is multi leader trolling lines for sport fish. His father is a sports fisherman and a set-up jock who catches a mess of bluefin at night then takes a bunch of tourists out the next day and if they don’t catch a fish, he drags a bluefin out of the cooler for their snapshot. His ad says “Everyone goes home with a fish” and he means it. But he’s a redneck from Shreveport no matter what and he calls three hundred dollar rigs trotlines just like the milk jug rig he used to use in the bayou for catfish. Philip doesn’t know the difference. Philip also doesn’t know how many people are fishing the gulf at night. His radio is a piece of crap and it can’t pick up a signal from too far. He doesn’t know he has a ship-to-shore on deck and a cell phone in the box. All he knows is there is a lot of dark out there and a bunch of guys he can’t understand are yelling at him. So he cries.
“[polish] Sokay, Philipe, sokay. We come now! I say book.”
“Book, uh, no, uh [polish]” voices in the back of the radio argue and someone says sto ree and Kris says “Philipe, I talk you story.”
“One time . . .” There is a burst of radio static and several people pounce on Kris.
“Once high on one time—“
“Once upon a time,” Phil says.
“Thank you, Philipe. Very good. Wansa pana a time, I go on boat. I boy, similar like Philipe. I go me papa to go to fishing. Kristobol mita Papa go too long days then no petrola—“
Crackles. A voice says gasoline another voice says deezil.
“too many no deezils—“
Crackles. Kris tells them to shut up he’s telling a story.
“Papa stop boat. Papa break can mita fish and we eating. Papa say Kris, swim back, Papa too many days. Get help.”
Crackles many voices joining in too far away for Phil to understand them. One voice cuts through in Spanish and Kris sighs heavily and says:
“Many guys telling Kris say Philipe stor ree not for swimming command. Philipe not swimming.”
“I get it,” Phil says.
“Papa say Kristobol, big boat too close. Go. Swim it. Big boy!”
“Your dad told you to dive off the boat and swim back at night!?”
Crackles argue, Kris talks to his people. Polish voices argue quietly. Somebody laughs.
“Philipe. Mexican man say you say me Papa crazy bad. Papa not bad man. Papa old man. Nobody swim. Only Kris swim. Not today, not California. Old people times. Kristobol you Papa’s papa. Many olds.”
“Okay, but I think it’s crazy.”
“You not swimming, Philipe.”
“No, I’m not swimming, Kris.”
Laughter crackles through the radios.
“[polish] Kristobol eat many fish. Drink coffee—“
“Coffee? How old were you?”
Crackles. Polish arguments.
“Kristobol go baseball, go schools, ride bikey. Maybe like Phil.”
“Sokay! Sokay, Phil. Kristobol 8 years too. So I jumping. I swimming. I swimming too many times. I make, uh, baby eyes – [polish]”
A Mexican voice chimes in. “He means he was crying, main.”
“Kristobol cry eeng too many times. Swim many many. Many many more, Kristobol say stop. Too many. I die, sokay. No big boats. Only Kristobol.
Wait a minute, Kristobol stepping on thing. Kristobol making big Oi! What is thing! Christos!”
Crackles and laughing.
“What was it, a Shark?”
“No shark. I thinking shark too! Kristobol cry eeng mita big. Thing moving like boat. I kick thing. Thing metal. I thinking big hew boat. Submarina. So I kicking. Nobody say. Kristobol sitting. Kristobol sleeping. Kristobol wake up! Papa! Kristobol swimming.”
Crackles and supportive argument. Kris shushes the company.
“Kris, how many people are on your boat now?”
Someone translates roughly.
“Kristobol’s boat Miranda. Papa. Papa. Papa.”
“Who are all those other people?”
Someone translates roughly.
“Mexican guy is Mexican guy; Russian guy garbage captain; many boats on night ocean, Philipe. Everybody gonna come you ok. Sokay, Philipe. Kristobol story for everybodys.
“So my swimming. Submarina! Kristobol kicking! More submarina! Making swimming too many-sokay. Kristobol no stopping. No seeing. Kristobol swimming only. Swimming. Swimmi
Crackle and arguments. Kris yells at someone.
“My swimming and my singing. Make me brave boy. Swimming. Singing. Too manys then somebody singing too!”
“Philipe, I say true! Singing! Same songs! My stopping. Him stopping. My saying Oi him saying Oi. My swimming to him saying big sounds; him swimming to my saying big sounds. Too fast I swim hard hitting big wall. No boy swimming. No boy singing.”
“Where did he go?”
“Boy is Kristobal! My singing hitting wall coming again.”
A voice calls out through the radio, ‘echo’.
“What kind of wall was it?”
“Philipe: No wall: Ship. Big no-talk ship: Deuschland Navala! Small light comes on Kristobol. Small boat coming to Kristobol on wall. Kristobol go boat mita Deustch sailor guys. Sailor guys saying in Polski Where you swimming?! Where you spy?! Kristobol cry eeng many. My say Papa papa! Deustch sailor guys go. Bring Papa. Deustch Sailor guys love Papa. Many talking. Papa saying my boy brave brave brave, strong strong strong. Sailor guys giving Kristobol Wodka mita fish. Kristobol talking stor ree swimming and saying sleep. Sailor guys saying sleep? Laughing. You no sleep. Kristobol say true! Sleeping on baby submarina. Many baby submarina. Sailor guys no talking. Many many hard looking to Papa. Papa talking small saying Kristobol, no submarina. Non. Only bombs. All ocean with bombs. You sleeping on bomb, Kristobol.
Sailor guys go talking, tell papa many stor ree. I remember one guys find Amerikanjka posta. Poppa in Amerikanjka one time so Papa reading:
To Whom it May Concern;
My name is Joe Ganje. I was a merchant marine on the freighter, Big Tombigby. My mother lives at 3109 South Moromba Lane in Ikrete, Indiana. She runs a sewing business out of the add-on on the back of the house. She belongs to the Order of the Eastern Star, the Rotary Club, the Women Friends of the Ikrete Public Library, and the Lion’s Club. She’s respected so even if I’m not, you can believe I wouldn’t lie to my mother and I wouldn’t tell any big lies that might make her look bad in front of all those lawyer’s and doctor’s wives she plays bridge with, lemme tell you.
So when I tell you this story is true I’m telling you: it is true.
The Big Tom (we call it the Big Tom) was cruising through the north pacific. We’d just dropped a load in Greenland and we were taking mail and iron back to New York. The ocean was crawling with U-Boats and the Krauts were taking down everything. 135 merchant vessels in one month. 135! I wish we could mine the bottom of the ocean. We’d be rich.
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