Lethe

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Chapter 25

Chapter 25: Recovered

I awaken from the blankest sleep of my existence: an utter void with not a hint of a dream—an atheist’s vision of death.

I lie scrunched against the center post of the hut, wrapped in a frayed and perforated quilt that I don’t remember draping on myself. A rubber boot is my pillow.

A jolt zings me as I remember that snake and realize I’m on the ground, but I see the door pushed tight. A dim light seeps through gaps around the frame. I relax.

I hear a scraping and a rustling beyond the hanging partition. Sabonis is humming something jazzy—Mack the Knife, I think—his voice deep and toothy as a rip-saw. The curtain parts and he scuffs out, spikes of hair and beard jutting like a frightened porcupine. Flakes of dried vomit and spittle crust his beard.

I sit up. “Holy shit! You’re looking great!”

“Oh yeah? How come I feel like a heap of turds?”

“I mean … you’re all put together. Whatever Bianca did to you … it worked wonders.”

“Wonders,” Sabonis mutters, running his fingers through his tangled hair. “Whatever.” He squints into a chromed hub cap he has hung for a mirror. “It didn’t come cheap.”

“Oh?”

“She says if I don’t bring you back to the mountain, they’re coming after me big time.”

“Worse than—”

“Big time. Not just Faciltiators. We’re talking Mercenaries.”

“Oh my.” I tap on the partition and whisper. “Is she—?”

He scrunches his eyes at me. “Don’t worry. She’s gone.”

“Well … if they’re threatening you like that. I mean, if they really want me back on that mountain. Maybe I should go. I’m a lot more ready now … than I was ... I think.”

Sabonis wheels around to face me. “What are you talkin’ about? You gonna give up that easy?”

“Well. I had no idea coming down here would cause you so much trouble.”

“Trouble? Pfft. You’re no trouble. Delgado is trouble.”

“Still. Maybe I should do what they want. Take the pressure off you.”

“Fuck no. I ain’t taking you back till you show me the way.”

“Show you … what … exactly?”

“The place where souls come in. Remember? That big sewing machine in the sky you told me about?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“A deal’s a deal. You’re taking me there. Afterwards, I don’t give a shit what you do. You go wherever you want. But first, you gotta take me to the sewing machine. Got it?”

I don’t remember making any deal, but Sabonis glowers at me like the guy who confronted me when I accidentally cut him off on Route 13.

I want to come straight with him. The part about the giant sewing machine, I kind of fudged. I actually remember very little about coming here. But now doesn’t seem the most opportune time to break the news.

Sabonis stares and glares. Gradually, his eyes soften and the calm returns to his countenance.

“I’m starvin.’ Want some breakfast?”

I squint as Sabonis pushes open the door to a yard reflecting the orb in full gleam. I rise slowly and follow him outside.

He’s already knee-deep in the lagoon, picking things off the bottom. He holds a plastic garbage can lid upside down like a waiter with a platter.

He veers over to some thorny bushes and plucks something off the branches, and brings it all over to something that looks like a picnic table. It’s bumpy and rickety and made of lashed together lengths of driftwood.

The platter is full of sea urchins and rose hips. We crack the urchins open and pick through their peach-colored roe with our fingers. The rose hips are dry and seedy but their tartness makes a nice counterpoint to the fatty roe.

Sabonis cleans up by tipping the table on its side. He strides off past the lagoon and over some dunes. I marvel at how strong he’s looking. What a difference a day makes.

I follow him to a rocky cove where the ocean comes in deep. A hulking shape covered with reed mats lurks atop a stone ramp on rollers fashioned from straight, round lengths of sapling.

Sabonis peels off the mats, revealing a de-masted outrigger canoe, its main hull carved from a single massive tree trunk. It’s decayed and ancient, like something one might find in a museum of Polynesian history. It looks far from seaworthy.

Sabonis wrestles its detached mast into position.

“Need your help to hoist this.”

I step in and help him lift the mast. I look like a Marine on Mt. Suribachi as he chinks it into place with wedges he bashes with a mallet.

He unrolls a sail: a patchwork of rice sacks, blue tarps and windsurf sails, stitched and patched with fishing monofilament. It attaches to the mast and boom with bits of netting and nylon line of every color, knotted together.

I run my hand along the hull. Bits of wood break off, crumbly with dry rot. Cracks sealed with pitch run down its length.

“Does this thing even float?” I say.

“It’ll be fine,” says Sabonis. “Long as we keep bailing. Not like we need to be out there long, if you know where we need to go. Then there’s no need to dawdle. I don’t give a shit if it sinks once we reach the interface. I’m not like Delgado. Once I leave, I’m not coming back to this shit hole.”

“Interface?”

“The place where souls cross over. That’s what Bianca calls it. You do remember, don’t you?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“What do you mean, you guess? You said you saw it.” He flashes me a worried look.

“Well, yeah. But it’s all a bit fuzzy now.” I pick at the punky wood with my fingernails.

“You said you knew.”

Anxious to please him, I dredge my earliest post-mortem memories for details of my floating. “I remember bits and pieces. I was up in the air, looking down, and the sea … it was curved.”

“This place,” he says. “Is it a single spot or does it circle the whole island?”

“Uh. I don’t rightly know.”

Sabonis grunts and shuffles his feet. “Let’s get our ass out there. Maybe it’ll jog your memory. We gotta skedaddle anyhow. If Bianca says heat’s comin’, the heat is comin.’”

“I don’t think I can get you where you want to go,” I blurt.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I don’t exactly know where this interface place is.”

“You just said you did.”

“I told you just about all I know. And honestly I’m not sure I want to go through with this.”

Sabonis clenches his mallet and takes a long breath. “What do you mean? What is it you wanna do?”

“I don’t know,” I say, fidgeting. “I was confused, scared, when I was on that mountain. But now … I think, maybe, I want to go back.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“No. I’m serious. I want to give it another shot.”

I’m not sure I believe my own words. But going back would put me back in Bianca’s good graces. And it would relieve some of my worries. Face it. I’m a wimp. I crumble at the will of authority. As much as I pine over Gina, I have trouble imagining how I could possibly go back to life, sewing machine or not.

Sabonis looks out over the ocean, wistfully. “So where exactly do you wanna go?”

“I don’t know. That first beach might be a good start.”

He scrunches his face. “Really? You wanna go there?”

“I think so. From there, I can head back up the mountain. Find my … stratum.”

He stands studying, pitying me.

“Fine,” he says, bouncing the mallet in the hull. He kicks away the chocks that keep the outrigger from rolling. “C’mon. Help me push this in.”

“But—”

“I’ll take you there by boat,” he says. “It’s quicker. Safer.”

I go over and help.

“Sorry … if I misled you.”

“Forget about it,” says Sabonis. “I’ll find it on my own. I was just … hopin’ … you might give me a lead.”

He throws his shoulder against the prow. I dig my heels into the sand and shove as hard as I can with both hands. The boat won’t budge.

A storm rages in my stomach. Maybe it’s that sketchy breakfast we just ate, or maybe it’s my reaction to abandoning the prospect of returning to Gina.

But how much confidence could I have in this raggedy man and his even more raggedy boat to bring me back to life? Particularly, since he was counting on me to show him the way.

And I dread being set adrift in that ocean again. Something tells me that next time it won’t be so gentle on my body.

“Push, goddamnit!” says Sabonis, straining.

I’m just standing there, leaning against the thing, but now I press my full weight against it. We strain and strain until one of the logs he’s using as rollers snaps off a knot and the outrigger rattles down the stone ramp and splashes into the cove.

Sabonis climbs in and holds the boat against the ledge until I can join him. As I set myself down on a strut, he tosses me a broken plastic pail, the sort of beach toy a kid would use to make sand castles.

“Make yourself useful,” he says. “Get ready to bail.”
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