Well kids, if you're wondering what I've been up to, here's it. It's kinda long, but I'm really proud of it.
Lemme know what ya think.
Captain of the Sea
Mae Celeste knew her husband Carl was a difficult man to find. He was always seeing clients outside of town, running floor plans and schematics to the foremen and engineers. She could understand how difficult it was to catch a busy man; many times, she had great trouble herself. It was always a lengthy ordeal to phone his office and she would prepare herself by getting in bed, lighting a cigarette and accustoming herself to the idea of waiting. His secretary Marguerite had the unique inability to find Carl and generally put Mae on hold for a long time.
Marguerite returned from the hold, “Mrs. Celeste?”
“I can‘t find him.”
“Then could you find the ability to find him?” She never liked to be brusque with Marguerite, but she very much needed to speak with her husband.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Celeste.”
“It’s an emergency, please, please Marguerite. Find him.” She let out a breath of smoke.
“Let me put you on hold.”
The instrumental music began playing again, an orchestral piece like Mae had heard when she graduated college. She tapped her foot and twirled the cord around her thin fingers. She looked at her engagement ring: a humble princess-cut with smaller, canal-set diamonds in the gold band. Then, a click.
Marguerite said, “Here he is.“
“Yes! Thank you!”
“Let me transfer you.”
“Yes,” Mae said, “wonderful!”
A long silence followed, then a click and her husband’s voice, “Hello?”
“You won’t–you can’t–believe this.”
“What? What’s wrong?
Mae paused, tried to gather the words. In her stomach, a din of bowels sliding, greased in sadness and apprehension. She drew in hard on the cigarette, exhaled. She ashed in the air; little specks of gray and white floated down like confetti to the comforter. She wiped them clear.
“Damn it. Sweetheart, please.”
“It’s Benny,” she said.
“Benny? Isn’t he at work?” Mae could hear the rustling of papers in her husband‘s office. He fidgeted when she worried him.
“No! Well yes! He–”
“Please calm down,” Carl said, “You don’t have to yell in my ear. I can hear you just fine.”
“He isn’t working at the hatchery like we thought.”
Carl paused. Finally, “Then where is he?”
“He’s working at some lifeguard tower.” She got up from the bed, ashed in a little glass tray and sat back on the bed.
“Yes!” Mae said, “Leroy Dalton. I saw him at the bank today and he said that Benny’s doing a great job on the beach!”
“But he has a job?”
“Yes Carl. But he’s putting himself in danger. For money.”
Carl was silent for a moment, “Sweetheart, I’ll tell you what. I’ll have a talk with him tonight about lying to us about where he works. I have to say, though. I admire him for it.”
“What? You’re going to let our son–”
“Our son is old enough to make his own decisions. I’m sure he’ll be fine–”
“Don’t you get it? He can’t–”
“I know he can’t.“
“Then how,” Mae asked, “how on Earth can he be a lifeguard?”
“I’m sure they trained him properly. I know Leroy Dalton. He wouldn’t just hire Benny on a whim. Plus, I bet he’s getting paid a lot better than the hatchery.”
“You can just sit there and let our boy be subjected to life-threatening–”
“It’s not that bad. Blowing a whistle. Staring at pretty girls.”
“Don’t you care about–.”
“You know I care about him,” Carl said, “We just have to learn when to cut the strings.”
“He’s only sixteen! When you were sixteen–”
“I was at the hatchery. I was making nothing. Barely saving any money. All the guys who were anything were lifeguards. I’m proud–”
“Enough!” Mae said. She got up from the bed mashed the cigarette in the tray, “I’m going to go down there and drag him–”
“Don’t embarrass the poor boy Mae. I’m sure he’ll be fine. I’ll talk to him–”
“Don’t patronize me!”
“I’m not patronizing you, Sweetheart.”
“Yes, you are!”
“Listen. I’ll talk to him tonight. I’m sure everything will go–”
“How are you so sure?”
“It’s just one day. Nobody’s ever drowned. On Monarch Beach? C‘mon.”
Mae was silent.
“I’m sure today will be no–”
“How do you know?”
“I just know it. I trust our son. He‘s quite the–”
“He’s just so young,” Mae said, “My Benny.”
“You leave him to me.”
“You better now?” Carl shuffled more papers.
“I’ll talk to him. I promise.”
“Okay,” she said. “How has your day been?”
“Oh, bad news all around. Can’t find the Weinlich papers. Marguerite must’ve lost them.”
“I’m sure she’ll find everything,”
“I doubt it. Sometimes I think I should just get rid of her.”
“No, don’t do that. She’s been so loyal.” Mae felt slightly satisfied that she had redeemed her brusqueness with Marguerite, though her support would go unseen.
“You’re right,” Carl said. “I’ll–”
“Of course I am.”
“I should get going, Sweetheart. Lots of nonsense around here.”
“Yes, of course.”
“I love you, Mae.”
“I love you too.”
“Try not to be too worried. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
“If you say so. It won‘t stop me from worrying but–”
“Stop worrying. I promise, it will be okay.”
“Alright then. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Yes,” Carl said, “Goodbye.”
She hung up.
“Ah yes.” Maybe a hundred yards out, Benny Celeste could see it: a little sloop lurching and swaying its way over the big, viridian ocean. Its sail shimmered with some vague regality in the wind; its riders sat back and laughed . He could see them all very well with his new lifeguard binoculars. They were all middle-aged: three men in business suits and two slim women in floral cloches and sundresses. They laughed, patted each other on the shoulders, pointed at various parts of the boat and the men nodded with their arms folded across their chests.
Benny could tell what this was. He could tell what it was because he’d just learned about it from a talk from his father. His father had said, “Benny. If you want to get anywhere in this world you got to know how to fake interest.”
Benny asked his father how to do that.
“See, showing you care about something–even if you don’t give a darn about it–is simply this…a slight nod of one’s head and one’s arms folded across one’s chest. And people love that. They need to feel interesting.”
It was a business meeting. Some fancy tycoon was probably trying to impress his clients with his knowledge of the sea.
For a stint, Benny became overcome with jealousy. Why do only the rich get to sail? The richest of the rich. They probably own all of the sea. Sailing, drinking expensive drinks and laughing. Faking interest. None of them probably cared a lick about the boat; it was just something to make the others feel important. Benny spat on the floor. A thin circle of spit cleared sand from the landing’s floor. He looked at.
The sloop reminded him of the whole reason for his summer job. He was going to fix up his own, boat: the S.S. Palooka. The Palooka wasn’t rigged fore-and-aft like the businessman’s sloop but the small size of its headsail was similar. Unlike the sloop, which could weave through the water, the Palooka’s hull was big and cumbersome and damaged on the rudder. It would take a long time to turn port and even longer to turn starboard. His foremast was nearly ruined too, but Benny bought the Palooka that way-wholesale from his father’s friend’s dealership. He knew that he’d have to work hard to get it sailing properly again. There was a lot of work to be done on it, but with the money he would save up from lifeguarding, Benny guessed he’d have her ocean-ready by the end of September. He was going to be a captain.
For a few minutes, Benny watched the sloop rock on the ocean in the distance with his binoculars. The people on board were pouring champagne into long glasses and smiling. They sailed into the horizon’s blue-green ether. Benny put the binoculars’ leather strap over his head and let them dangle from his neck. The sloop gave Benny incentive to keep working. It was July and though he’d only worked for a few days, lifeguarding was beginning to lose its appeal. Unlike what Mr. Dalton had said about the beach, Benny rarely ever saw a pretty girl. The pay wasn’t that great either and his feet really hurt. His toes were blistered, lined with pinkish welts the size of pennies and the skin on his heels cracked with strips of damp flesh. He sighed. What a job. Couldn’t he find something better than this? He sighed again and began with his noontime routine.
He popped open the landing’s first aid kit and removed a new cylinder of gauze. In his hand, it felt ropey and sponge-like. He perched his right foot on his left knee and stuck the loose end of the gauze to the top end of his arch with medical tape. He carefully wrapped the gauze between each toe, then over the arch again. When the spool was depleted, Benny applied an aloe gel to the gauze, then wound another layer of gauze the slimy layer of dressing. It left his foot fat with a bulbous lump in the middle, but it all felt very cool and stable. It was enough now; he stowed his feet gently into his worn, white, big-tongued sneakers.
The soft part of the beach was usually the hottest. Now that it was after noon it was so hot that Benny had to take certain, annoying precautions for his feet. It was his turn to patrol the softest, most southern part of the beach–Section Ten, around the dunes–in case there might be anybody stupid enough to go swimming there. Nobody ever did, so the beach was undisturbed and the sun’s rays walloped the sand, unabated. It felt like dusty, boiling lava.
Benny began covering the rims of his shoes in gauze. He wrapped another layer of cool gauze around the bristly black hairs of his ankles.
“What are you doing there?” Jack Lorraine, a smarmy, toss-haired lifeguard from Paul Winners High was in the safety landing’s only window. His arms were crossed in front of him, over the white boards of the sill.
Benny explained, “I can’t take the hot sand.”
“I think…uh…you’re in the wrong profession there Benny boy.”
“Ah, whatever you say.”
“Then I say whatever.“ Lorraine shook some sand from his shaggy blonde hair over the sill, into the landing, “Put on your shoes once you gonna leave the landing.”
“No. I‘ll have you know that…”
Lorraine had disappeared.
Benny taped his ankles, sat back in the landing’s chair and thought about Jack Lorraine for awhile. Lorraine called himself a beachbum but he was a punk, really. Always flirting with girls on the beach–even though Mr. Dalton said not to–always smoking Dorals behind the landing. The way he leaned against the long, cracked-white boards, the way he had fun all the time, joking and brushing the sand from his hair, he was like some escapee from the dungeon of the landing.
And the landing really was a dungeon. The air inside smelled heavily of salt, both sweat-salt and sea-salt. In the early mornings, the air felt acidic and damp. When, the sun beat in, sometimes miraculously, it thinned out the smell, pressed beams of heat on the one table and chair impatiently sitting there. A paradox, though. With the heat came the sunburns and the blisters and the people who needed surveillance.
And boy did they need surveillance. Benny had stomped through the sand all morning. He had to warn a dozen or so teenagers of a strong riptide. He had a polite conversation with his mother’s friend Dawn near Pier Eight. Then, he bought a famous deep-fried cruller from Marco Valeria: a fat, red, gregarious Italian man who sat near the beach in his boxy, white stand and yelled, “Gelato! Gelato! Best gelato in the tristate!” It wasn’t a great cruller, but it made Marco smile and call him his little buddy. Benny bought one everyday; he really took it upon himself to care about all the people on the beach. He didn’t know why, but maybe it was because Lorraine and the other lifeguards never did.
For instance, the sand on the landing’s floorboards. They were a perfect example of indifference ruining something. They were always very cool–even sometimes pleasant–but with the varying ins and outs of the other lifeguards, a thick dusting of sand always coated them. If Benny took off the gazue, little specks and grains would become a pain. He always had to wait to pull his feet from the shoes until quitting time. Even then, sand found its way into his blisters, exacerbating the whole problem.
But even before his foot predicament, Benny would not to get a speck of sand in the landing. Every time he came in, he would kick the toes of his shoes on the doorstep and shake out any remnants of it from his crew cut and the linings of his baggy, orange lifeguard shorts. Nobody ever really cared how dirty or sandy or fishy the place smelled and this was a major sore point for him. His father said, “Nobody really cares about anything anymore, son.” Benny was inclined to agree with his father.
A half-eaten cruller in front of him, he watched the little paperweight, a coral-colored conch shell with a circle for the little, white face of a clock in the middle of it. It was on top of uncompleted protocol SECTION ONE THROUGH FIVE forms. It said 12: 35.
“Seven more hours and twenty five minutes,” he said. “And seventeen, sixteen, fifteen seconds.”
Behind him, Clara Moore, an orange-skinned girl with peroxide-blonde hair clomped up the landing’s planks yelling, “Benny Celeste. Don’t you know crazy people talk to themselves?”
“Uh…,” he said.
She entered the landing and blew a wispy strand of hair from her face. “And aren’t you supposed to be out in the dunes already?”
“Alright, alright. Get off my back.”
“Enough of your back, Benny Celeste. Get your butt out of here.”
“Okay. Lemme put on some protection first.” Benny frantically shuffled through his pockets and fished out a tube of sunblock. He squeezed a dollop of it into his hands. He spread the sandy, warm gobbet over his shoulders, nose and chest. It felt like liquid sandpaper.
“Why are you using that stuff?” Clara asked.
“It protects my epidermis.”
“At least you’ll have good skin when you finally go bonkers.”
“Just shut up, wouldya?” Benny left the landing via a set of two-by-fours, gradually sloped to the flat, wet part of the beach. He thought about Clara. She was his age, only a year more experience at lifeguarding, but Mr. Dalton had given her Person-in-Charge status while he was gone. Boy, did she abuse that power. Benny supposed it was because Clara was a disagreeable woman, very ugly to boot. She was a perfect leader really. She had a short, upturned nose that looked much like a freckled lightswitch in the On position. Her teeth were big and flat-shaped Chiclets, which is why the other guys called her Turtle Teeth. In contrast to her orange sun-beaten skin, her eyes were sunken in squat, inky ovals. She might be on drugs, Benny thought, or something like that. After all, she did think he was crazy.
Benny walked towards the ocean and felt slightly ridiculous for the binoculars bouncing against his narrow chest and the gauze around his skinny ankles, but only until he was distracted by a few wet-headed kids near the crest of the waves. They were building sandcastles, trying to outrun the ocean; others were chasing after the dumb gulls that squawked and floated over their site.
A stout woman, pale and broad-shoulder sat amongst them, holding a reflecting board close to her chin. “Jeesis Keeeyrise Jeff! Would ya mine Mama’s payshens? Botherin dose paw burds! Lawdy!”
The smallest of the group, a round-faced boy with a narrow waist and a very cleft chest stopped and looked towards the woman, “But Mama, we doe git ta see no like dis ri hea!”
“Whyyy doe ya be a goo boy fuh Mama an play wit Mart an Bette?”
The little boy, said with his eyes down, “Kay Mama.”
Benny smiled at the kid until he walked passed the crowd. In some strange way, the Southern lady reminded Benny of his own mother and he couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the boy. He didn’t want to think about his own mother, though. If she knew where he was, she’d only guilt him into working at the hatchery or the deli, so he just kept walking and focusing his eyes to the ground. Once he made it to the compacted sand, still a little damp from high tide, he headed south for the dunes.
Soon, Benny was away from the people. He could begin saving his feet. Stomach foremost, he walked tip-toed and quick, plucking his feet high over the sand then planting them, raising his knees as high as they allowed between steps. He couldn’t cover much ground in this way, but it was better to waste time than it was to injure himself. He again plucked and strutted a few more hundred yards. Lawdy, Lawdy, he thought, You probably look like the Stork.
Though the people had vanished two hundreds yards back, Benny felt embarrassed. He began walking normally until he checked all angles so there was no chance any people could see his ridiculous strut. Then, he again quickly drawing the feet from the hot sand in his usual way.
At the Section Ten border sign–a small, white-wood plank dully lodged in the sand as if it was waiting for something–Benny walked to the top of the highest dune and looked north with the binoculars. He could barely see the people; they were all hundreds of yards away in Section Eight, tan and pink miniatures in the blue distance.
Nobody ever ventured this far south; they never really had a reason. For one, there wasn’t anything to see but dune grass, fluffy sand and maybe little granite stones. Second, even though it was usually barren, there wasn’t much privacy. If an eager couple snuck off from their parents and tried to make it behind the dunes, Patrolling Lifeguard Signs were all around Section Ten and probably frightened the idea of any and all hokie-pokie. And then, nobody ever tried to look for buried treasure there either. All of the old beachcombers with their metal detectors stuck around Section Three, where a guy named Murphy Klein once found a Spanish Bullion.
It just didn’t look like a good spot for anything. The sand wasn’t white, like those of postcards of France or Italy. The grass was high and ugly.
It was called marram, the grass. Mr. Dalton had told Benny that. Apparently the State had planted it there along the dunes to keep them from eroding. Benny still had trouble understanding why the State had any interest whatsoever in preventing dune erosion, but that was their business, not his. His business was simple: to make sure there wasn’t anything afoot in Section Ten and that’s what he was going to do.
He started at the far end of Section Ten, the softest, hottest sand on the beach. It was hot. Like hell. But Benny’s father told him once that the world is be divided into two types of people: those who do the difficult task first, then the easy task and those who do the easy task first. This made a lot of sense to Benny. Even in Africa–where the people had to decide between fetching water first or killing tigers–they still had to choose between the easy and difficult. He was sure that there was people in Africa who argued over doing the easy water fetching first or the difficult tiger killing first.
Benny was a difficult-task-first kind of guy. He began his patrol on the hottest, most western side of the beach and moved south by southeast until Section Eleven–the white-collar city of Kipling’s jurisdiction. Then, he walked north by northwest until the section was covered again. With the binoculars and a straight sixty-five degree angle south by southeast, Benny could see everything in the section at least twice. This usually took about an hour each way–which was much more effective than how Jack Lorraine had said how he scanned the area–some guff about a circular patrol staring in the middle.
Not that anything ever really happened in Ten. There was never much trash, maybe a few cigarette butts or soda bottles. No dead fish ever washed up there. Only twice had Benny seen a jellyfish ashore and they were both so damned dead he didn’t even bother reporting either of them.
Even so, it was his job to patrol Ten for the next two hours and Benny was like his father: he was a difficult-task-first kind of guy. The dressings on his feet would last longer if he walked the soft dunes first, too.
He began his route at the corner of the section, trying his best to figure a sixty-five degree angle in the desert of the beach.
Over the dunes, into their little valleys, between the marram and the granite stones, Benny looked. Every so often, he stopped, checked the gauze around his ankles for integrity and then looked through the binoculars for suspicious behavior. Nothing ever looked suspect, so he kept walking and stopping, then walking and stopping some more. Eventually, he had walked to the midpoint of the section, determined by a small opal dune with another little white marker for Section Ten with a thin swatch of blue paint over it. The other lifeguards had painted the blue there, to mark the middle of the section. It was posted amongst the tallest marram on the beach. It was sometimes difficult to find but when he saw it, Benny knew that had successfully followed his intended route.
“Good job, Benny old boy,” he said. “Let’s us have a looksee.”
He grabbed the ribbed plastic caps from the binoculars and twisted them from their lenses. He put the small rims of the binoculars to his eyes. On the dunes, nothing special. More sand and granite pebbles and empty, electric-red trash bins that lined the grasslands outside of the beach. On the ocean, more viridian water. He scanned it thoroughly, once seeing a manatee spring up from the ocean. It wasn’t real. Benny came to the conclusion he was imagining things. “One more scan.” Nothing. More ocean, more sand. Sweat was lining the rims of the lenses now and felt greasy on his face.
Benny used the binoculars to look at the sky. The creases in the clouds were very distinct, each nodule puffed up like lumps of his mother’s mashed potatoes. The underbellies of the clouds were flat and dark gray; they threatened of a storm.
He began walking again, but a little faster. He walked for twenty minutes, and finally reached the wet, compacted areas of the beach. Benny felt a slight sense of pride for covering the hot, downy sand without incident. His feet were unscathed.
He looked up to the sky. Big, bilious stone-colored clouds were quickly moving in from the west, much darker than the clouds before. It even smelled of a thunderstorm. A sickly green-electric smell.
Benny smiled. “A low pressure system!” This was a victory for all of the lifeguards. Not only would it finally cool down, but people–nearly all of them–would start leaving the beach. A thunderstorm would be a welcome break.
Down Section Ten’s shoreline, he scanned with the binoculars. There, maybe three hundred yards away, he could see the faint outline of what looked like a boat with its sail limp, drawn up to the mast and boom. It was docked near the beach, held by a little orange buoy maybe fifty feet in the ocean. Probably resting just above the sandbar.
“Well I’ll be,” Benny said. He couldn’t believe it. He took the binoculars from his neck and held them in his hand. He looked with them again. Still the same form. “The sloop!“ He began running towards it. The sand penetrated his shoes; the gauze unraveled from his ankles and the fat tongues of his shoes. He kept running. His legs and arms pumped in a chaotic rhythm. His lungs felt pressured, his stomach sick. It took a long time. It never seemed like the sloop was getting closer, only getting bigger in image.
Then, Benny was on the shore in front of the sloop. He checked with the binoculars. He saw that it was thoroughly empty. Only six champagne glasses were littered around the deck; a cloche was upturned on a seat. The sail was indeed drawn to the mast and looked like a flat, limp balloon.
He scanned around the dunes, seeing only the tall marram, the clouds in the distance and a fallen red trashcan in the grass outside the section. Then, silhouettes. Pink and red figurines. He focused his lenses. He could see them. Down the beach, the men and the women from the sloop were in the ocean, all presumably naked. Benny could see clothes strewn about the Section Eleven shoreline. In the water, he spotted a pair of breasts. They were small, but he could tell what they were. “Wow,” he said. As their owner jumped backfirst into the waves, they bounced and jiggled slightly. Benny continued watching them.
Around the breasts, the others kept jumping in the waves, but something about them wasn’t right. They surfaced from the water slowly, with big gasps and stupid grins. They stumbled around the beach for awhile, too. Benny could tell that they were drunk. He shook off the idea of bare breasts, “Ugh!”
“Skinny-dipping! Drunk! A major offense!” He held the binoculars firm against his eyes, took the shiny whistle from his pocket and began blowing. He blew loud, quick tweets towards the nude people. They didn’t respond. They were too far away.
With the whistle between his lips, Benny began walking, sternly, toward the group. The heels of shoes pushed deep into the slimy floor of sand. As he stomped down the beach, he felt like his father hustling to an important meeting. He would write them all up for misconduct. Maybe even get a raise.
After twenty feet of progress from where he had spotted them, Benny stopped and turned back to the sloop. A new, better, quicker S.S. Palooka. It rocked back and forth on the ocean; a thin yellow rope swayed from its foremast to the buoy. “You could easily cut that rope,” he said, “and take her for a spin.” The clouds had now moved in completely and the sun was gone. He would have to be quick. He decided to check of the people with the binoculars again. Some were still jumping around in the ocean; one man and a woman were making it on the beach.
Benny looked back to the sloop for a long time–what felt like an hour–and put the binoculars over his neck. He would have to take off his shoes. He began unwrapping the gauze from his ankles. He couldn’t get them wet and then still convince his mother that he was working at the hatchery. He had always shoved his lifeguard shorts into his jeans, which was enough to hide them from his mother, but he couldn’t do anything with wet shoes.
Once the ankle dressing was off, he stuffed the each ball of gauze into each pocket. Then, the most difficult part: he carefully removed his feet from his shoes. They were drenched in sweat. What was left of the aloe was cooled slightly by the approaching storm’s wind.
He stepped gingerly to the sand, bent over and tied the laces of his sneakers together. With them tossed over his shoulder he shouted, “Let’s go!”
The ocean in July was still cold. It hit his covered feet quickly and burned. “Ew!” he shouted. Once the initial pangs of salt on his wounds subsided, it all felt decent enough. If only the sand wasn’t there.
“Now Benny boy. Be careful.” He descended into the larger waves. They were up to his navel. He kept walking, shifting his hips to move faster through the suds of salt on the ocean. His heart began to beat steadily. The waves were hitting his chest now. He walked into them, jumped before they crested and floated down smoothly to the sand again. His shoes loyally stuck to his shoulder, as did the binoculars to his chest. It wasn’t the first time he’d been in the ocean, at least. He could easily walk up to the sandbar.
As he approached the sloop’s buoy, Benny took careful, little steps, feeling the plush sand melt between his toes, into and around his blisters. “Ah. Ew. Eeee.” The riptide pulled a little at his ankles, but wasn’t overpowering. He felt strong as he walked. The jelly-like water rushed passed his ankles.
Then, a shell. It was a small shell, an abalone. It dug into his right foot and sent a sharp pain up his leg into the plain of his lower back. “Christ!”
He looked down and pulled his right knee close to his stomach. “Ouch! Ouch!” He rubbed his foot in tight, concentric circles. “That smarts!” He breathed in, held it and pinched his eyes shut. He exhaled; there wasn’t any more time to waste. He sat the foot down into the riptide again and pushed onward. The sloop’s bouy was right in front of him.
He grabbed the orange, smooth, round buoy and propped himself up. The rope was thin and not tied very well. Only a standard knot. Benny dug his fingernails into its main crease, pulled it open. The rope fell quickly. It pulled away from him and stuck to the top of the foamy saltwater like a dead snake. Benny grabbed for the rope; he had to use it to stay close to the sloop, which was already floating out to sea. But the rope was moving away very fast.
He rushed to follow it, using his arms and hands as oars to push towards the boat. He had already passed the sandbar, waves were cresting well over his head.
Benny screamed into the waves, hearing himself occasionally in gurgles, “Come back! Come back!”
The ocean would not let him have the sloop. As he waded deeper and deeper, the white, shiny surface of its hull faded into blue-yellow ripples and distortions of gray clouds. The sky had consumed its image and burped back to Benny a rumble in the sky. Thunder.
Benny kept walking. The sand sloshed beneath the tips of his feet. He geared and grinded his teeth. The water around him churned. The ocean was over his eyes, his head. The waves pushed walls of water over him; they never touched his body.
Pressure rose in his temples, his blood felt cold. His arms and legs were as heavy as lead; his face was airy and hot. His heart tensed. Pain shot through him. He took another step; he felt weightless.
Benny once had a dream that he was smoking a cigarette in a large, oaken church somewhere in the woods outside of Kipling. His father, at the head of the grand pulpit was wearing long, flowing purple robes. He was speaking to a large congregation of people who Benny didn’t know. “The dove,” his father said there, “is the smoothest, sweetest, slowest bird of them all. It is the bird of love, the icon of dedication.” The congregation had clapped and shouted. The mass went on with his father reading scripture about the dove. Benny couldn’t hear his father anymore. He wanted so badly to know what his he was preaching.
He woke with a start, realized he was still at work. The dream felt as if it had taken at least an hour but by the conch shell’s clock, he had only been asleep for five or ten minutes.
“Have a bad dream?” Mr. Dalton had asked. He had been filling out paperwork.
“Yeah. Strange, though. I thought it was an hour in my dream but I was only asleep for a few minutes.”
“Dreams are like that. Short bursts, you know?”
Benny had thought about this for a long time. Dreams, he concluded, were hidden thoughts that expand their wings upon waking. Some cage is opened and the thoughts flow out, settle in the grass and make themselves known when the time comes.
But when would the time come?
The ocean, in her slow, indiscriminate way, wasn’t killing Benny, only answering him. She allowed Benny the right that is not given to just any man: he was permitted another dream.
Benny…the sloop’s deck… standing akimbo in the sunshine… a white captain‘s hat… his heart happy… blood in his throat… his feet grasped to the firm, grayish carpet. They were aching no longer.
Boy, was it a fine ship! Benny’s ship! The finest of them all!
Around the deck, he looked. No cloche or glasses. Only a large, green bottle of champagne upright. It was half-full near the wench. Someone must have left it for him.
Benny walked over to it, plucked it from the carpet. He looked at it. A little red label with black marker scribbled: CAPTAIN OF THE SEA.
He held it to his mouth, shouted, “To me!” He smiled and took a long, victor’s drink.
The champagne was not cold or fresh. It was warm and flat and briny. It was not champagne at all… the drink someone left….it was salt-water….he spat it out… Benny… the drink… the drink for Benny, …CAPTAIN OF THE SEA.