Chapter Twenty One
The change in Pin’s disposition came swiftly and much to the joy of the children.
It began early when they returned from the valley and were enjoying a warm night on the beach. Pin cooked dinner on the sand while the children played in the surf, all the while sipping brown liquor from a long, pearly shell Emma had fished out of the sea for him.
The shift in his behaviour was subtle at first. Watching him from afar as he worked, he seemed to have been injected with youthful energy, bobbing and swaying, almost dancing as he prepared food.
Emma could hear him singing over the sound of the waves, his voice hoarse and broken, the tempo upbeat and full of life.
Emma didn’t attribute this show of happiness to the power of the strange drink— in fact she didn’t question where it sprang from at all. She was merely happy for Pin, who had been so prone to being quiet and demanding quiet from her and Adam. Seeing Pin acting this way made her feel like they were all having a celebration together.
When the fish was cooked, Pin lumbered down to the edge of the water and called for the children to, “Come and get it before the not-parrots pick it to the bones!”
Laughing at Pin’s enthusiasm, Emma and Adam ran up the beach and sat in front of the fire. They shivered as the night breeze brushed against their wet skin, but the fire dried them quickly.
They watched Pin brush sand off their long flat carving stone before laying the charred pink body of a fish across it.
He poured a shell-full of brown liquor and slurped half of it out before dragging a sharp-edged stone across the fish’s scales. They flaked off easily, sparkling like a silver snowfall in the firelight as they flew up and landed on the sand.
Once scaled, Pin cut three large hunks of meat and passed them around. Then he sipped the rest of his drink and poured himself another before setting to work on his food.
To the children’s delight Pin was full of conversation that night. He pointed to the stars and told them stories of Earth, about cities made of glass and steel so vast they spread from coast to coast, some even plunging under the waves.
“Some folks,” he said slowly, “lived their whole lives in underwater townships, never once venturing to the land or seeing the sky. Kelp and krill farmers made a point of it, I remember. Odd lot, people used to say.”
Pin stopped and looked around as though seeing if anyone was watching before leaning in closer and saying, “Some people said they’d lived under the waves so long they’d grown gills and were turning into fish people.”
Emma and Adam shot each other the same disbelieving look before yelling, “Pin!” and laughing heartily.
“That’s impossible,” said Adam with a dismissive wave.
Pin raised both his hands and made an innocent face saying, “It’s just what they said, Adam, I don’t claim to know if it’s true or false. But I will say that strange things were happening on Earth by the time I left it. Poison smog, acid rainstorms. The environment was changing people in all kinds of ways. Making them sick. Fish people under the waves would not have surprise me in the least”
“Where did you live, Pin?” asked Emma suddenly.
“Yes,” Adam chimed in. “Tell us more about Earth. Tell us about life when you were a boy.”
Pin refilled his shell and scratched at his beard. “The details are foggy, it was so long ago. Memories of my youth are more like feelings now, but I’ll do my best to recall what I can.”
“We lived in government housing like most everyone else. The mega towers housed thousands of families stacked one on top of another other like cans of tuna. It seemed as though life for my parents was hard, but my memories of being a child are mostly fond.”
“I lived with my mother and father and my two sisters. Then my grandparents moved in with us when I was about ten years old—not much older than you two in fact. They brought our four cousins with them due to the fact that my aunt and uncle had been killed during a robbery of some kind or another. Can you imagine all of us living together in a two-room dorm not much larger than our old escape pod? It must have been absolute madness...”
Pin trailed off and Emma lay down on her back. She wanted to watch the stars as Pin recalled his old life on Earth, a place that seemed so far away at that moment.
“Now where was I?” Pin said, suddenly snapping back to reality.
“What was your father like?” Emma asked, her thoughts turning to her own father.
“I think he always dreamed of a place like this, Emma,” Pin answered her. “I remember he’d always say he’d get us to the top floor one day. Everyone said dorms on the top level had more space and even skylights so you could see blue sky above the smog. Everyone wanted to live up there, but no one seemed to know how to make it happen.”
“Did you get to the top floor, Pin?” Adam asked.
“No, Adam, I’m sorry to say we never did. And I think my father probably felt like a failure most of his life because of it. Imagine it: here was a man who wanted more for his family as the world crumbled around him. It must have killed him a little bit each day. So he drank. Everyone drank.”
Pin raised his shell as if about to give a toast before announcing, “Life’s a struggle, children! Humanity’s great curse is restlessness and a desire for something else. Something better. Something to bring us peace of mind. Nature made it impossible for us to be happy, so we made ourselves a cure.”
With that he gulped back the rest of his drink and moved to pour himself another. Before doing so however, he stumbled forward as though losing his balance and fell face first into the sand.
He looked up at the children and laughed drunkenly, spitting sand out of his mouth as he struggled to sit back up. Then, looking at Emma and Adam he said, “Having said that, don’t drink, children. Stuff’ll turn you inside out in the end.”
Pin laughed heartily again at his own words and poured himself another drink. Then he plugged the stopper back into the bladder, raised his shell and started sing a funny song about eggs and bacon.
He sang low and huffy, his voice craggy and his face turning a dark shade of red from the drink.
Emma and Adam laughed and clapped along and Pin got to his feet. He danced on the spot, balancing his drink and kicking up sand as he raised his feet one after the other in a slow, awkward kind of way.
It wasn’t long before the children were up and dancing too, the three of them cutting a comical image as they raised their knees and bobbed back and forth in the firelight.
When Emma grew tired, she dropped back down on the sand and watched Adam and Pin as they took up lumbering around the fire together, singing and dancing the funny dance. She laughed at how silly they looked and realized it had been so long since they’d all laughed together. A feeling swelled within her and she realized she was quite pleased that she’d found the smelly moonshine for Pin to enjoy. For, not only did it fill him with song and stories, but it had brought joy to them that night. And that was something they’d all desperately needed.
Later, when the fire had died to cinders and the air had grown cold from the wind coming in off the water, Pin covered the children’s sleeping brown bodies with green fronds. Emma stirred, but did not wake.
Though his head was swimming with alcohol, Pin wasn’t ready to lie down for the night. Instead, he dragged a heavy bladder through the sand towards the rocks where he could lose himself in the sound of the ocean and sing if he wanted without disturbing the children.
Once he set himself upon the rocks, Pin poured himself another drink and looked out across the water. The light from the red planet above gave it a stunning pink glow that made him think of the lost sunsets of earth.
Speaking about his family and thinking back to his childhood made him feel profoundly small and far away from everything, and everyone. Like a spec of dust in a great sand dune blowing across an endless desert, Pin felt helpless against the pressures of time and space.
His heart ached terribly. He’d lied to the children that night. He hadn’t told them his father had killed himself before he was thirteen years old. That was a truth for him to wrestle with. And now, knowing what it is to have children in your care, Pin cursed him even more for leaving him all alone in the world at such a young age.
He also didn’t tell the children that after his father died his family were forced to move to the lower floors of the tower where the lowest income residents lived in shared slum space. Or how his mother became sick and his sisters had come to—by necessity—rely on the value of their natural commodities as they grew. Or how he was unable to help them off the planet when he’d finally gotten his first off-world mining job.
Indeed, he never saw any of them again, and speaking about it now made his heart burn with regret.
Why, with all my impotence and failure, do I deserve to end up here in splendor and comfort when so many I know suffer?
Pin threw the shell into the water, watching it skip across the pink surface and sink into oblivion. Then, picking up the heavy bladder of strong, alien liquor, he pulled the stopper and gulped deeply from it. The liquid burned his insides, but he didn’t care. He welcomed the pain.
When his stomach wouldn’t hold any more, he sputtered and closed it up again. The world spun wildly as powerful and dangerous drugs swam into his bloodstream. For a moment he thought he might throw-up, but managed to bring about focus by staring at a single spot on the beach—their raft sitting at the edge of the lagoon.
Seeing the raft there, he was suddenly struck by the most wonderful idea of escape and slid off the rock and onto the sand.
Grabbing the bladder and grunting hoarsely as he heaved it across his shoulders, Pin staggered drunkenly towards the raft, swaying and tripping over his feet a few times before he reached it. When he did, he placed the bladder upon it and looked back towards the children asleep on the beach.
They’ll be fine alone for a while, he thought and he pushed the raft into the ocean and got on it. I just want to drift alone amid the pink light for a little while.
And so, with a heavy heart, Paddington Pin drifted out to sea alone.
He watched the stars and marveled at the red gas planet. He felt small, a spec of dust in an endless galaxy.
Nobody saw him drink. Nobody heard him sing, or comforted him as he cried. Nobody watched over him as he closed his eyes and fell asleep, and no one noticed his raft disappear into the darkness.
Or saw three tentacles rise from the darkness and pull him under the waves. Or heard the sounds of his body breaking.
The tempest of his end—like his beginning—fell upon the deaf ears of a heartless universe. As he had always suspected, it was the uncaring way of things.