Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Swimmer part seven

The ocean's emptiness appals the swimmer, but only because it can supply nothing for his own survival. He cannot entertain flabby polemic about dolphins. His is the mind of a man lost in the sea. Yet even as he struggles to save himself he is hollowed out by despair. What is it that he is saving? The thought corrodes his every intention. In this wide salt world which he treads he is nothing, has nothing but a face mask and a pair of trunks. Until one loses everything it is never clear what it was one had. Now, in a bleak inner glimpse, he finds he has dissolved. The landscape of his own past, his private history, seems to have vanished, leaving only a sense of attrition. As he glances down through the water his body dwindles whitely like a distant peg and sheds a small discolored puff of urine which briefly unravels itself in thready convections like those of lime juice being diluted. Nothing but ocean. His entire body is dissolving, too. He only ever existed as three tenths and that fraction is melting into water.

However, this 30 percent contains an animal which does not want to die. A passive animal, maybe, but still perversely convinced that help will turn up as if by more than mere chance. Sooner or later someone surely has to pass within hailing distance of the psychic beacon he must have become, broadcasting his distress signal on all frequencies. He squints at the sun. Now that he no longer wants it to be stuck vertically at noon, it seems reluctant to move at all. Night with its hope of fishermen is still many hours away.

The swimmer tells himself he need not bank only on them. He has been overlooking all the other sorts of boat which continually cross these waters. Besides tattered interisland launches there are all the craft which used to fetch up on "Tiwarik": friendly gunrunners, wanderers from the south with their faces wrapped against the sun, poverty-stricken vagabonds neither peaceable not violent but chance-takers of more or less competence. Any of them might spot him from miles away with a vulture's quick eye for a weakening beast. He tries to imagine into being a huge arch of cloud letters in the sky: REWARD!, and underneath a gigantic arrow pointing straight down whose tip balances on his sunburned head. It is a message aimed impartially at any of the seagoing mavericks who still inhabit this last corner of the ocean.

So hard does he will it that he soon thinks he hears, above the infuriatingly loud slop of wavelets, the faintest putter of an engine.

James Hamilton-Paterson, Seven-Tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds.

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