Lethe

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Chapter 29

Chapter 29: Suicide

Caught on the point of a submerged rock, the outrigger tilts acutely. Its float rises high out of the water, dripping. We spin about an apex of stone that bites into the hull like a fang.

Shades gather to gawk, silent, but I sense their excitement.

“Get out on that float!” says Sabonis, bracing an oar against a barely submerged ledge. “If she flips, we’ll never right her.”

I grip a brace so hard, my knuckles pale. I look between the float, the wildly turbulent surf and Sabonis.

“Get the fuck out there!” he says.

I scramble off my butt, ease myself over the side and straddle one of the thick struts supporting the float. The whole shebang teeters like a see-saw. Encouraged, I inch up and out towards the float and my weight forces it down further.

Another swell surges into us and upsets the balance, but in a good way. The float slaps back down against the reef.

The collision knocks me off the strut. I grab on to the slick wood, wrap my arms around it. The boat swirls through the churn. My legs dangle and smack against rocks.

Thick, strong fingers seize my arm and pull me back into the hull. The outrigger spirals away from the islet into the channel. It sits heavy in the water. Every other wave breaks over the side.

One oar is missing. I snatch the plastic bucket before it too can float away. Sabonis helps me bail with cupped hands.

The current disgorges us from the channel, sweeping us free of the islets. The Shades all crowd together on the near-side ledges and watch us leave. I suspect they rooted for us to lose our struggle and join them.

The sheer mass of them astounds me. If these islets were ferryboats, and Shades had the weight of flesh, they all would have capsized.

We drift, spinning with the whims of the wind, no sign of Delgado anywhere ahead of us.

“There’s the other oar!” says Sabonis, pointing. It looks like any other hunk of driftwood, riding the peaks and valleys of the swell. Sabonis sidles us closer with the remaining oar. We swing near. I will have only one chance to seize it. I lean far over the side and paw it out of the water like a bear landing a salmon. It clatters into the hull.

“Attaboy!” says Sabonis. For once, he doesn’t mistake me for a girl. I don’t know whether to feel vindicated or insulted for my adopted gender. I straighten my dress.

Sabonis sets an oar in each oar lock and sits down to row. He gets us pointed towards shore and closing in on a double bay, the first scooped out of the basalt by a collapsed caldera, the second hemmed by a broad arc of ashen beach backed by a scrubby plain that cuts completely across the island. I realize that this is the backside of the “Rift” we traversed a few days earlier.

I go back to my old spot and settle into a good rhythm for bailing. Sabonis gets all sheepish and apologetic.

“Hey man. I’m real sorry. Don’t look like we can get you back to that beach with this piece of crap boat. Looks like we’re gonna have to hoof it after all.”

“No biggie. And actually … I’ve been having second thoughts.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah … uh … I don’t think I’m quite ready to climb. Not yet.”

Sabonis grins and puts a little more oomph into his rowing. “What happened? That little taste of rum go to your head?”

“Yeah. Kinda.” And it’s true. Seeing that magazine made an impression. But the sensual evidence of that rum is even more persuasive. Clearly, there is a way back to life and Mr. Delgado had it sussed. There’s no way we can overcome a guy like him by sheer speed or brute force. But maybe Sabonis is taking the wrong approach. Sure, the guy’s a boat thief, but he seems like a reasonable fellow. Maybe there are ways he could be persuaded to help us. Perhaps he could use a couple of messengers … or assassins.

“Here.” Sabonis tosses me the nearly empty bottle of rum. “Take another swig.”

888

We make slow progress without the sail. A fierce current wants to drag us back to the Shade-infested islets. But I can gauge our progress against the two vastly dissimilar peaks that dominate the heights of Lethe. We are gradually sliding past the volcano, moving ever closer to Mt. Abdiel and the shore.

I always liked mountains, and Mt. Abdiel is a pretty spectacular peak, but seeing it only reminds me of my truancy and makes me nervous. I can’t see much of it. Flanks and buttresses peek over lesser ridges. The summit remains mostly obscured by clouds. Fleeting glimpses remind me of its presence.

The other mountain—the volcano—generates its own mists, wrapping itself in ropy contrails spilling from fumaroles. Its slope rises in one continuous arc from the broken teeth of the caldera to a steep walled cinder cone. I feel like a little kid staring up the torso of a threatening stranger.

The view makes the endless bailing bearable, though my task is not nearly as onerous as Marco’s, who is really struggling to haul the waterlogged boat along.

At least I manage to maintain the status quo with my bailing. Draining the hull dry is out of the question, but the water sloshing at our feet never gets more than ankle deep. At least the wind and waves are less severe here on the leeward side of the island.

“I’m taking us ashore,” says Sabonis.

“I should hope so.”

“I just think it makes sense with night coming and all.”

“No argument from me. You make it sound like we have a choice.”

“We can sink … in the dark.”

“Um … no thanks.”

As we creep up on an inlet flanked by a pumiced plain, I realize that we are directly across from the place where Bianca confronted us when I first left the mountain. We are on the opposite side of the Rift, at the far end of the sickly blue Loch.

There are all these rock piles scattered about. Their distribution is far from random. As we get closer, I notice some of them have doorways and windows.

“Are those … houses?”

“This is Sixwing. Nice little place. Nothing at all like Gihon. Squatters here ain’t nearly as crowded or desperate. Everyone’s got plenty of elbow room. There’s traders. Music. Even whores. Not the best whores. You gotta go to Zion for the good ones. Probably where Delgado’s headed. He does a lot of business there, I hear. Nothing we can do about that, not without repairs.”

This may be an odd question but, is Zion … Jewish?”

“Hell no. They take all kinds. Not just anybody, it’s kind of a gated community. Where all the big shots—well, big shot Squatters—go. Like me … and Delgado.”

I absently pick at a rough spot on the top of my foot. My fingers come back wet and smeared with red. I look.

“Holy crap, I’m bleeding like a stuck pig.”

There’s a gaping contusion on the top of my foot. I must have injured it righting the boat. Only when I noticed the blood does the pain register in my mind. I find I can control it with the intensity of my attention.

“Is forgetting pain supposed to be part of this whole Clearing process?”

“Well, yeah. Any kind of feeling. Lettin’ go of the animal part of you. Giving up the meat.”

I focus on my wound and make the pain bloom, sharpening it, dulling it, toying with it like a volume control. I relish the sensation of feeling something other than numb.

“I don’t think I’m ready for that. I really don’t. I kind of like a little pain. I miss it.”

“Pain? A little boo boo like that don’t cause any pain. Not real pain. Cancer pain. The kind that turns morphine into kiddy aspirin.”

“Is that how you died? Of cancer?

With, not of. Malignant melanoma. Pretty name for a nasty disease, don’t you think? Rolls off the tongue.”

“I’m sort of glad I went quick,” I say. “I don’t even remember hurting. I don’t envy you dying of cancer.”

With,” he says. “I … uh … sort of helped it along.”

“You mean you—?”

“Yup. Suicide.” He has an odd look in his eyes, a mixture of mischief and shame. “Ain’t proud of it. Fought as long as I could. Got to the point ... wasn’t worth fighting anymore. Morphine stopped working. Cancer clamped its jaws on me and started dragging me down its hole.”

“How did you do it?”

“Jeez kid. Don’t you think this is getting a little too morbid?”

I shrug. “We’re dead. What else are we supposed to talk about?”

Sabonis pauses between strokes, but keeps on rowing.

“Towards the end, my cousin Sarah sat with me … hours every day. And she had a family at home. But Joanne … my wife … we were … uh … separated. She refused to come see me. I asked Sarah to give her a call, get her to come over, so I could fucking say goodbye. So I could fucking apologize for screwing up her life. And Joanne, she would tell Sarah yeah, of course, she would come by when she got a chance, But she never did.”

“You never gave her a chance, though. Right? I mean, if you killed yourself.”

“Believe me, she had plenty opportunity!” His voice rises as he powers through his oar stroke. “I was in hospice for weeks. Longest weeks of my life. A waking nightmare 24/7. She never showed. Seeing her again, was the only reason I stuck around so long.”

He pauses and drifts, letting the current take us. He looks rattled, like he’s going to cry, But his eyes stays dry.

“When the pain kicked in big time, they doped me up extra heavy. Still hurt, but … one day I opened my eyes, looked up and saw … Joanne sitting there.”

“But I thought you just said—”

“Let me finish!” Sabonis glares me down and resumes. “I was so goddamn happy to see her. I asked where she’d been. She said she’d been there all along. Held my hand while they changed my IV. I told her next remission, I’d take her up to Vermont. We’d go leaf peeping at Smuggler’s Notch like she was always nagging me to go. Stay in one of those bed and breakfasts. Talk things out. You know, I was fuzzy-headed towards the end, but I would have these moments when things got clear. And so I had one of those and realized … there wasn’t gonna be any more remissions. So I told Joanne that. Broke the news. Only problem was—”

His eyes go blank. This time the trickles come, running down the leathery folds along his nose into his beard.

“She wasn’t Joanne. The whole time, the person I was talking to was Sarah, sitting there, playing along with my delusions. Joanne never came to visit me. I sank back into that rack like a sack of lead. Decided I had enough of that shit. I had days and days of pain killers I had pretended to take but tucked away in the back of a drawer. Don’t even know what they were. I took ’em all and they took me down fast. Burned my gut. But not for long. This droning started up that drowned everything else out, just blew everything away.”

He digs in with the oars, takes a deep, long stroke and stops. Lets us drift.

“So what then?” I say. “You wash up on a beach?”

“Nope.” His eyes are red. He stares at the remnants of the caldera rim.

“Then how’d you get here?”

He dips his head and his eyes roll up, revealing the whites beneath.

“The hard way.”
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