He fell in love without much thought. It was wild, barren and lonesome outside and very easy to die. Therefore when he fell in love it didn’t need much thought. The sea growled and sent long scuppers of foam like sexual advances up the rivermouth. The river pulled it all back, and the sea spumed again, hairy at the breakwater and running in a long green hump along the jetty. Up the river until it was lost.
He stood on the bridge watching a crab boat lunge at the current in the narrow and treacherous length of play where the swell ran to ground. Cold grey rain chewed at his ears under the old hat he wore and he carried a light sheath of rainwater on his clothes. He touched his beard and the water in it filled his hand.
You could not count on love.
The crab boat lay in a bed of its own making, climbing the swell as it rolled into the river, along the heaped and cemented stones, near the twisted pipes of a broken-off foghorn, a small steel shack which had been bolted to the stone but at some dim point in history wrenched free by surf and gone. The boat groaned and lost its head and was in the back of the wave, plowing deeply, followed by its own rolling wake and a lump of water which grew and bearded and gained and climbed and grinned over the crabber’s deck and followed.
The constant battle going on was what got to him hardest. Every damn day was a case of fighting with wild animals who would happily have your throat.
Love to him was like a flower in a meadow of toadstools.
A beaker of liquor in a world of sewage.
She liked him when he came in wild and smelling of the sea with his share spilling from pockets and his life boiling out of him. He’d been to the bottom of the sea and seen what swam there, bug-eyed and dangerous and callous toward other living things. Animals that snapped up smaller animals with the blind animosity of bankers collecting. Business is business, even in the rocky creeps and seepages where water climbs its own throat to eject the sparkling and consequential innards.
She’d held him down and sucked him in and toggled her own wide waters about the absent reaches of the bedroom. It had lasted ten days: going out only for chicken from the Club and fresh beer, for cigarettes and cocaine and marijuana bags and long thin bottles of wine.
They’d awake sometimes at dawn to screw and sleep again then screw before someone thought to make coffee. He lost track of details and events and learned daily to check the radio and to listen for the phone so he would know when it would once again be time for work.
Then again to be subsumed in her brine and her nets.
At sea he set forth early with the captain and another hand, tucked into a cabin reeking of damp but smokable tobacco.
The swell triangled into their course, running south at a tangent not exactly parallel with anything but bound to make landfall with a splash. There was a great sense of corrosion and timelessness and the windwave slapped at the bow enough to shoot bursts of white bracing spray into the cabin which none of them cared to avoid. It did them good.
Pelicans in tired precise files went graybacked over the brave undulation of the sea.
Here came the whistle buoy and the bell buoy abandoned to the gnawing ravages of phosphors and calcites and indeterminate flotsam plastered to the bolt holes and skewed across the plated float, in a bog of sealshit drool and birdfeather neckwear.
The boat groaned and lay deep in the troughs before topping the swell at intervals, where she tipped and the gear was re-influenced by the sad light of a sun so far gone as to be nearly useless. Metal surfaces and slick coiled lines glimmered around the ungainly structure of the compressor-house.
They drove in this way four hours.
At last they hove to in a sheltered location, a slot between points and for them further shelter between calipers of restlessly-watered stone, most of it blackly awash but some forming virtual islands, lidded with incongruous layers of topsoil and headland, mere fragments amid compulsory erosion.
He and the other strapped themselves into rubber suits fitted with hoses linked to the air compressor. Over the side they went.
He had never been in love before, had not even screwed, and all he had known of these things had been legend and myth, tales Vikings might have told around the fire and the barrel. It smells salty and has a way of smiling through the mist. It will suck you in like a rip-tide; all you can do is backfloat until you see land
As a child, he wondered how much water you had to swallow before you drowned. He fancied himself stoneheavy and earthbound. He could die without a whisper at any time.
The thing would open if you let it and there you were.
The bottom was no bottom but a series of encrusted obstacles. Great stones dressed in garish and surprising drapes of slithering color, spiny creatures glaring from within crevices, a constant fighting and adjustment, vast appetites and an endless procession of tragedy.
He spied abalone ballooned above the rocks, bright slugs and dull crabs dressed in mordant armor. Sea stars lay purpling and ajar, making space where there was none with elastic bodies pulsing grimly. Their investigative tentacles and spurs crept over each edge and under all obliquenesses. Capacious mouths dropped open and slapped shut. Squinting, maladroit eyes stared back at him unthinking, waiting for him to die before advancing to pluck him nit from treacle, bugle and thorn; eyeball, epiglotis and spidery thread; one at a time until his bones settled to wrack and became encrusted and dissolved inside a quivering, willful sarcophagus.
He could die there easily. The captain loafed above him, smoking a pipe and reading a considerably interesting novel. There were trees in it, lovers’ quarrels, and cold bottles of beer. Yet he could be trusted to run the compressor adequately, so that one trusted his life to the airhose.
Sweet rubbery air amid the troubled and unceasing waters.
He breathed evenly and deeply through the hose, going among the beds of urchins with a short rake and a basket, drawing the purple and red clusters of revolving spines dumbly toward him, where they wrestled spine on spine and contended with one another beneath the gradual increase of their brotherhood, until the basket was filled and drawn boatward.
He waited between times watching with wary fascination the shoals of perch sliding bladelike through the waters around him. The rock cod humped on grievous and bloodstained lairs, the cabezone brownspotted and savage, the bulging necks and flared gills of territorial piscene anomalies and missing links, crushed by the enormity of tidewater, profiting greatly from its dangers, for each moment brought them new victims, detached and flailing, or simply bruised and slow, but always fatally attracted to the springloaded bite of something atrocious.
She had come to him cautiously. They met in a seaside bar, a kind of coastwise hangout where the clientele was notoriously felonious but in a sporting way, and generous with the spoils. It was his habit to retire to this place upon receipt of his check at the scaleshack. Trooping over squashed gudgeonous masses underfoot, the mossed egglayers flattened by tromping impediments half-witted and salacious, unmarried and unschooled faultfinders who died intestate and were never heard of but lay cracking jokes in the mud at sundown between the tarred escutcheons and the bindered hoists, along the short muddy track which led from there to the bar.
He collected a commendable $1,200 in cash which he thumbed into a pocket of a pair of jeans creased hard. There was plentiful accommodation open to him. food and drink. Individuals at the bar who traded as he knew in substances best not alluded to openly. But openly dealt, among friends. And they all knew him.
She smelled the sea on him and gained his attention with a flirty ruffle of the gills. He anchored near her glowing slightly from the enthusiasm of the big haul. They had crated the old scow down with tier on tier of darkly agitated urchins, Each urchin sat twirling those unbroken spines it had left, and vomiting small clear streams through suggestive orifices.
The load sat the boat down low and they had plowed north, the swell quartering from astern, she responding sluggishly but faithfully, as they watched the slow evolution of the blue treeline which was the coast.
At last they saw the bridge and soon made out the height of the swell crawling under it. Spray bloomed ponderously off the breakwater and ripped along the jetty unfolding in a long sublime and awful burst of foam, which followed, trickling daintily behind. Their payload balanced over the deck in dark bristling crates lashed securely in place.
She complimented the light in his eyes and he felt the sea gibbous and pulsing in his legs.
Afterward they walked out across the clammy and shuttered town at four in the morning, lightheaded and delirious. He found that she smelled of eggs, but only slightly, but also toast and peppermint. Her cigarettes were minty and she chewed mint drops habitually but that made her kisses taste like candied peaches and that was a soft spot with him. The night lasted until it ended and the first robin chirped. Dawn differed from night in that the black threads of moisture sewing them to the sidewalk altered to a slight grey, and in that they could see the sidewalk before them. Stores went on shuttered and close, and only a sporadic few drivers cored the mist with downturned headlights.
She took him to a room, a kind of apartment mostly blanket and carpet with incense-burners improvised from abalone shell and driftwood armatures upon the windowsills. The money lay fat in his pocket as they sat on a boney couch viewing broadening lights through a small, chipped window. Spiders dangled over the porch from their eaveside terraces, laconic and vivid, and birdlife began to speckle the row of berrybushes across the yard. When he first turned to her she had been waiting.