International Youth

by Craig Gholson

 

 


Jun Sazuki, Granite, Plexiglas, 59.06 × 78.25 × 27.56 inches, 1979.

“How long have you been here?”

“Long enough.”

“And how long is that?”

“Long enough that it seems like forever. It’s felt like forever since I’ve been here. How long have you been here?”

“Not long enough that it feels like forever, but long enough that I’ve almost begun to forget about forever.”

 

I had chosen this place to come to because it seemed like more than a pleasant enough place to suspend my life for awhile. I had joined the foreign legions who travel to forget, who travel seeking something else. The goal being to find a state of such great feelings, of such heightened experiences that the reality we left behind was not just numbed, but obliterated. We travel with a vengeance to a passive place with the desire of having that passive place reek its own relaxed but devastating vengeance on us. We have suspended our fates in other lands. Those fates are hermetically sealed in one country, waiting to be unsealed in another. We are after the transforming influence that a place has on the soul.

In this place, everybody knows everybody else. I know no one. Everybody knows everybody else whether they want to or not. I know no one because I don’t know anyone.

It seemed easy at first, effortless, to remain in oblivion, to be sucked into the human spillage of a resort town. It is a town with a transient population milling about with no more purpose than transience. I could have sworn I would fit right in. I certainly didn’t imagine I would stick out.

Such is not the case. But by remaining here I became singular just as by traveling there I became singular. My choices are to stay here in the stationary village or to go there in the floating village. In each I develop a profile. In both I become obvious.

I am lonely. I came here to confront that loneliness face-to-face. I am listening for the echo of a solitude so loud as to deafen one consciousness and startle another into being.

 

Wiley Buchanan moved into the waves of heads bobbing up and down like buoys on a rhythmically rough sea. This was the Bar Dipota, the meeting place of both enchanted and disenchanted youth. The one group was trying as intently to strike a bright attitude as the other was to dispel any such signs of enthusiasm. These were the international disco dollies with their international disco daddies. Just as their poses were polar opposites of the same theme, their costumes were variations on a similar subject. They were composed of all the conceivable forms that white gauze could be arranged in and then bloused, gathered and cinched. On top of that was draped chains, hoops, spangles, rings, baubles, and all manner of brightly colored scarves and bandanas. Resort-style pirates decorated by the spoils of countless raids on numberless ports. The booty they claimed, they displayed.

Buchanan moved towards the back through pretty, horsey girls with long shocks of bleached hair hanging down their foreheads and over their eyes with matching heads hanging low on long necks. The boys had that gypsy-prince darkness about them with the swagger that accompanies the look. Plowing through, Buchanan made aim for the back wall, a lookout position. The moment his back flattened, a waiter assailed him.

“What would you like to drink?”

“Nothing right now, thanks.”

“Then you are not welcome here.”

“Excuse me?”

“If you do not buy a drink you are not welcome here.”

“Give me a beer then.”

“One coming up right away, sir.”

Buchanan settled back to watch the lights bounce off bodies and heads, slitting torsos and visages. Finally, he framed a couple and held them.

She was long and lanky like the others, but rather than disinterested or interested only in effect, she seemed interested, observant and aware. She was wearing a metallic froth of a dress and danced only with her hips and wrists. He was a plinth of a man, solid and polished, topped by hair as slick and as oily as an opal. He mostly watched her watching.

Buchanan became conscious of a boy a few dancers away. The boy moved next to him and stared. Buchanan stared back.

“I am not free,” the boy said.

“I figured that much out. Shall we go?”

“Please.”

 

Buchanan walked out onto the beach they called Paradise. It was a white gravel beach bookended by long granite tongues lapping into an endless basin. He chose a spot in the back row of sunbathers and weighted his mat down with stones. Removing his shorts, he walked to the water and dove in. He stayed submerged for a very long time, surfacing far away from the conversations on the shore, the squeals in the water. His back to the land, he faced only the sea.

He floated out further, letting the sea rock him and the sun warm him until he felt the edges of a current nip at his legs, pulling him out. Buchanan played with it just enough to imagine being afraid and then turned to the shore, stroking his way in with a competition-level Australian crawl.

As he toweled off, a woman’s voice from the mat closest to his said, “You were out there far. I have never seen anyone out there quite so far.”

“Oh yeah?” Buchanan recognized the woman from the Bar Dipota. “I guess it was. Pretty far out there.” The dark man was flattened out next to her, eyes closed, silent.

“You are . . . ?”

“American.”

“Oh.”

“I mean I’m Wilson Buchanan.”

“And how did you learn to swim so beautifully.”

“In school. I almost made the Olympic team in college. But I wasn’t quite good enough.”

“Still, you are quite good.”

“Yeah. Okay for an aging amateur.”

“Tell me. In school, you studied swimming.”

“Mostly. But I really was a political science major.”

“Ah. At a good school?”

“Pretty good. Columbia.”

“That was the institution . . . there were many riots at Columbia, no? A large student uprising.”

“Yes, it was a very politicized campus for awhile there. That was why I went there in the first place. But by the time I got there, everybody’s priorities had changed or something. They were of a different generation than I was even though we really were the same age. I could never quite figure it out. Why, I mean.”

“I think I understand.” The woman turned to her companion on the mat.

“Aldo.” She stroked him. “Aldo.” He stirred.

“Do you speak Italian?” she asked Buchanan.

He shook his head and she mumbled a few phrases at Aldo. His eyes remained closed. He was still silent. He seemed even darker to Buchanan than he had seemed last night.

“Nice talking to you. I’m going up to the taverna. See you.”

“Ciao,” she said without looking up although Buchanan felt her eyes on him as he walked away.

When he returned, the Italian couple were not on their mats. He looked out and saw them in the water, not swimming but talking. He wondered what her name was.

Buchanan leaned back and propped himself on his elbows, tripod-like, and panned the crowd. They were in various states of dress and undress: suited, semi-nude, and nude; in loincloths, thongs, and sarongs. There were old men with serial numbers tattooed across their arms and young men with waxed bodies and pumped-up physiques. Some women wore ivory bracelets and sharks’ teeth necklaces. All were topless, most were bottomless. Hair was black, slicked back, even coiffed. On some faces there was evidence of make-up. The men were all uncircumcised. It all made Buchanan feel very left out, very American. So American, in fact, that in an inexplicable fit of jingoism, he had the urge to show these foreigners exactly what an All-American surfer boy could do. He was good at surfing and didn’t mind who knew it.

Buchanan preferred to surf solely with a board, but there were no waves large enough around this island so he had to settle for wind-surfing. He padded up to the rental kiosk and secured the windboard, mentally going over the rigging as he walked back across the beach towards the buoy where the windboards were moored. His fears about being able to do it dissolved when he touched the board. He straddled it, mounted it, pulled the sail up and took off without trouble, tacking and gybing his way to the opening of the cove and even further. It was beautifully done and he was beautiful doing it, all tilt and torque action.

It was a windy day. There were few whitecaps. The winds had rounded the waves off, pushing them back down into the sea, texturizing the water. Buchanan pulled in to make his way back. It was rough going and he sailed in at a processional pace.

Once Buchanan struggled inside the cove it was easier, but still far from smooth sailing. He bounced from one wall of granite to the other, zig-zagging in at a torturous rate. It was choppy dancing with an awkward partner. He reached the point to which most swimmers swam and it became a little easier. Finally, he was skipping along at a steady clip when the board seemed to stumble on some obstacle. Buchanan lost his balance and toppled into the water. When he surfaced, he was beside the thing which the board had struck. It was a body, face down, spread-eagled and floating.

The body knocked three times against the sail and then a hand slithered on top, clutching the board. The rigging snaked around a leg, securing the embrace. Thus bound together, board and body set off together in one direction as Buchanan went in the opposite, his each stroke fueled by shock and repulsion.

There were no authorities to report to on the beach, no police or even lifeguards, so Buchanan headed for the rental kiosk.

“I hit something out there.”

“Why did you leave the board. Is there damage?”

“The thing’s on board.”

“What thing?”

“The thing I hit.”

“Is it carrying the board?”

“No. I don’t think so. It’s a body. It think it’s a dead body.”

The agent let out a curse, yelled for assistance and headed for the small motorboat used to retrieve stranded windsurfers.

Buchanan stood numbly on the shore watching the boat sputter out. Once it reached the board, there was a little poking done and then much discussion between the agent and his friend over what procedure should be used to bring it back. They chose to drag board and body back as one whole. Upon reaching shore they untangled the two, anchoring the windboard and landing the body by pulling the form out by its arms, still face down. There was more poking and more discussion, and then they reached down to flip the body over. From the crowd that had gathered there issued forth one scream in many languages, a long howl of vowels.

It was a man’s body. The body was cut. Cut open from stem to stern.

“Your passport please, Mr. Buchanan.”

Buchanan passed it across a mahogany desk to a man with epaulets. He was a handsome man until he smiled. He was smiling a lot.

“You are . . . loose?”

“Loose? I don’t understand. I’m a visitor to your island just like most of the other people here. I’m not loose. I’m just looking.”

“For . . .”

“Not looking for. Just looking.”

“I understand.”

It looked as if major surgery would be required to remove the look of contempt carved onto the Captain’s face.

“Captain, am I being charged with anything?”

“By no means, Mr. Buchanan. By no means whatsoever. It’s only . . . Mr. Buchanan it would seem as if you have been fishing in dark waters.”

“I accidentally bumped into a dead body with a surfboard. That’s all.”

“That is enough, I’m afraid.”

Buchanan rolled his eyes and chuckled sarcastically. He noticed an ominous red phone on the desk.

“This is totally ridiculous. Am I or am I not being charged with something?”

“No.”

“May I go then?”

“No. It was a very muscular statement.

“I wish you would explain your explanations, Captain. You seem to be speaking a language that nearly means what it seems to be saying, but doesn’t quite. What exactly do you want from me?”

“To tell me how you came across the body.”

“I was windsurfing. It just came up from the bottom, stopped the board, and I fell in. I saw what it was and swam to shore. The kid from the windsurfing place got a friend to help bring it in. That’s all I know.”

“I see. It’s unfortunate that such an accident should spoil your travels but, you see Mr. Buchanan, we have never before had a murder on our island. Never. The consequences of such an act are many and dire. Here, we have a saying, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s smoke.’ It was not a very professional killing. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience this random tragedy has for you, but if you had not found the body, someone else would have. And if I do not tell you anything, it means nothing more than I do not know anything. You were not planning to leave anytime in the immediate future, were you?”

“I have no plans, no.”

“You are loose then. Please stop by and pick up your passport two days from now. Just routine, you understand.”

“I understand. Where there’s smoke, there’s smoke.”

“Exactly, Mr. Buchanan.”

 

Naturally, the news was noised all over town.

The episode certainly didn’t make any friends. In fact, it amplified my loneliness. I did, however, become well-known.

It was as if I had introduced that quaint Western custom, paranoia, into hither-to untainted territories. I felt like a foreign devil.

Quite frankly, paradise was wearing thin. I felt victimized by my discovery of a victim. I was tired of town and if the need to obliterate myself hadn’t been so strong, I most certainly would have laid low for as long as necessary and then left as soon as possible. That was not to be.

 

At the Bar Dipota, the bartender was setting them up and Buchanan was knocking them down. In a packed bar, no one was sitting on the stool beside him and Buchanan was taking it personally. He was considering how easily, quickly and randomly someone who didn’t belong here had become bound to the place, its people and most emphatically, its history. It was just as the body had become bound to the board. He was the American who discovered the first murder on the island. He was a disquieting footnote to an ugly occurrence. He felt his reputation, whatever it might be, unjustified and was, therefore, feeling maligned and not a little outraged. Even worse, he was being slandered in an alien manner in a foreign tongue. It was a language that relied as equally on charades as it did on words and when Buchanan walked down the streets, eyes started rolling and hands started flapping. The theory of guilt by association had become his very stark reality. And here he was at the Bar Dipota, busy trying to lose that reality. Buchanan felt the seat beside him fill with a rustle and a scent. He turned to see what woman had dared to confront his stigma. It was the Italian.

“Hello,” he said.

“Good evening,” she said.

“Can I offer you a drink?”

“Certainly.”

“What would you like?”

“Red wine, please.”

Buchanan ordered with relief, intrigued. It was impossible to imagine that she hadn’t heard and yet she was sitting next to him.

“You’re alone?”

“For the moment, yes. Aldo will be here shortly.”

“Do you come here every night?”

“Most nights, yes. It is the youngest, the most lively bar on the island. It is most fun.”

“I can tell that although I haven’t had much of the good time that’s promoted.”

“You were involved in an accident yesterday. Yes?”

“You might call it that.”

“That is too bad.”

“Yes.”

“But now it is in the hands of the authorities. No?”

“Yes.”

“You seem troubled. Were they not friendly? Were they discourteous possibly?”

“Decidedly. Their particular brand of courtesy would otherwise be labeled suspicion.”

“Yes. I am very sorry. I’m afraid that is the way in this country. Being touched by something automatically makes you in some way responsible for the thing touched. And until whomever is responsible for it claims it or is claimed by it, it is yours.”

“It’s not. I had nothing to do with it.”

“That is not true. You did find it. That is something to do with it.”

“You sound an awful lot like them.”

“I have been here a very long time. I understand. I was just seeing how you react to their thinking. I will tell you something, Mr. Buchanan, being indignant is a very American attitude. That is what is suspicious to them. It is pompous. Americans have held up very high ideals as a shield for their own motives. And when caught within those motives, have held up those ideals indignantly. That does not work here anymore.”

“My discovering that body is not a political act. I don’t need to work out a strategy to defend myself against something I didn’t do.”

“Yes you do. Don’t be naive. You do. I must go to dinner. Aldo is waiting at the door. Think about it. I am knowledgeable in the ways of this country. You are not at home here. You do need help and I can help you.”

Shit, he thought. What kind of help did he need and what kind of help was she talking about. He didn’t recognize it.

“What’s your name?”

“Katrina. Ciao.”

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Buchanan, but we must keep your passport a little while longer. As I am sure you have noticed, things, particularly official matters move, shall we say . . . leisurely, around here.”

“Judgments and assumptions seem to move quickly enough. It’s the facts that don’t get anywhere.”

“Do not forget the seriousness of the act under investigation. It takes time. Time, Mr. Buchanan.”

“But it’s taking my time and I didn’t even have anything to fucking do with it.”

“Then you have nothing to be upset about, do you? You have said you are loose. Enjoy your stay. As I said, if it had not been you who found the body, it would have been someone else.”

“That’s not the kind of logic that makes me feel any better. It’s not any logic at all. Haven’t you found out anything?”

“No more than what is evident by his appearance. He is male and would appear to be of Mediterranean extraction. He was disemboweled. It was not a professional killing. I have told you what we know. We know no more than you and maybe less.”

“I know nothing. Nothing. Can’t you understand that? I wish I did know more to tell you so you’d get off my back.”

“It is unwise for you not to tell us what you know, but it would be even more unwise to attempt to find out what you don’t already know.” This was a remark made without tensile strength. The captain was smiling. “Please check with me again in two days.”

“It’s a pressure working with you, Captain.”

The captain smiled broadly. “Goodbye, Mr. Buchanan.”

I, the witness was calm. Where I was was exactly where I wanted to be and what I was doing was exactly what I wanted to do. It was real. It was not a matter or believing of disbelieving, it just was. I knew exactly what to do. I didn’t have to do anything about it. I was still. It was taken care of.

Me, the self, was agitated. I didn’t want to be here and I didn’t want what was happening to happen. It was unreal, I didn’t believe this was happening to me. I was at a loss as to what to do. There didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it. I was helpless. Something had to be done.


Jun Sazuki, Granite, neon, 29.56 × 98.43 × 33.47 inches, 1979. Courtesy of Gallerie Royag, Zurich.

“Ah . . . we meet again. Same time, same place . . . same mood?”

“Hello, Katrina.”

“No change?”

“No. They don’t seem to be getting anywhere and as a result, I can’t move.”

“But you were not leaving, were you?”

“I had no definite plans, no. But being forced, however subtly, to stay, increases my longing to go, to go further on, to go as far as possible. I’m just here grinding my gears.”

“So. Let it be my turn to buy you a drink.”

“Certainly. Thank you.”

“And why don’t you join Aldo and myself for dinner tonight. To pass the time. For our company.”

“Sure. Great. I’d really like that. Other than the Captain, you’re the only one who speaks to me more than in passing. I think I have a certain reputation.”

“It is only natural. It will pass with time.”

“Time is certainly held up here as the great equalizer.”

“No more so than in any other culture, Mr. Buchanan. It just has the immediacy of centuries here.”

“So I might have to wait that long for the facts to emerge?”

“Possibly. Is being here such an odious fate? There’s Aldo. He prefers not to drink before dinner. Please finish your drink. We will be waiting on the terrace.”

Katrina didn’t so much walk out of the bar as move towards Aldo, one force converging with another. She spoke to him directly and efficiently and they stood shoulder to shoulder, their backs towards Buchanan. Katrina turned and said, “Shall we go?” before Buchanan could make his presence known behind either of them. They walked to the restaurant single-file and silently. Conversation began only once they were seated.

“You’re tanning very well, Mr. Buchanan. What beach have you been going to?”

“The same one. Paradise. Since the accident, nobody’s been going there. It’s deserted. Very nice that way.”

“It doesn’t make for bad memories?”

“It’s feelings I seem to run away from, Katrina, not events.”

“I admire your pragmatism, Mr. Buchanan.”

“Call me Wiley.”

“Wiley, yes. Would you prefer red or white wine.”

“The choice is yours.”

“Red, then?”

“Fine.”

Katrina had been the one to initiate all conversation and Buchanan was beginning to wonder if Aldo ever spoke unless he was spoken to. In an oblique effort to find out, he stared across the table at Aldo, hoping to make him uncomfortable enough to say something. Aldo took Buchanan’s stare for a long time, saying nothing. Aldo was dark and dandyish, with one of those European mouths that look almost like a hairlip. He was very sexy.

Finally, it was Buchanan who became so uncomfortable that he reverted to questioning Katrina.

“You have been here a long time?”

“Yes. We like it here very much.”

“Do you work here?”

“Sometimes. We work for Italian interests wherever they may be.”

“International business then.”

Katrina nodded. “And you?”

“Also a businessman.”

Katrina nodded again and Buchanan continued talking with the braggadocio that vacation allows a vacationer to use. “What I did was I got through college selling illegal substances, well . . . drugs, got a degree in English, made some money, not in English, and hope I’m smart enough to take stock of my options while I still have options.”

“Which you are doing here and now?”

“I guess so, although this is definitely not the way I imagined it. With my problem and all I mean.”

“You didn’t come here to escape from an unhappy love affair?”

“Sort of, but not really. I didn’t come here to get away from a love affair, but from love affairs period. They weren’t doing anything for me except supplying a chase, a way of killing time. I’m looking for something else. Here, of course, with all this free time, that’s what everybody concentrates on, isn’t it? The chase. A way to kill time.”

“Exactly. Constantly.” It was Aldo’s voice at last. It was long, low, and rounded.

“So, would you like to join us in our room after dinner?”

“Yes. I would.”

 

Buchanan woke up in a hexagram of three bodies, head to thigh to head to thigh to thigh to thigh. There was a mirror and a straw on a marble nightstand. He remembered a jagged night full of hard lines and right angles. Everything was soft now. Katrina was sighing softly. A soft breeze crossed Aldo’s thigh. They were all, together, sleeping softly on a soft bed in soft light. Buchanan tried to untangle himself softly, but his limbs were theirs. When he stirred they did also.

“Stay,” Katrinia whispered, looking at him softly.

“Okay,” he whispered back.

Aldo rolled over and soon things were hard again and again. Buchanan convulsed and threw part of himself into one of them and then convulsed again, throwing himself into the other and finally folding in on himself. Things were quiet and soft again.

“You’re a good swimmer,” Katrina laughed. “You go out very far.”

“Sometimes,” Buchanan said reaching for a cigarette. “Tell me what you dreamt last night, your dreams,” he said blowing smoke vertically. “I can never remember mine.”

“There is . . .,” Katrina began to question Buchanan.

“Nothing.” Buchanan said.

Omerto. The silence,” Aldo said. “That is something.”

“Tell me.”

Aldo said, “If I tell you my dreams I will have to explain my realities to you and I don’t know if I am willing to allow you to share the responsibilities of knowing those realities. You may not even want to. And basically it would amount to the same state as you are in, omerto, for although you would know of my dreams, you would never be allowed to tell them.”

“Okay. I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Aldo put his lips to Buchanan’s and inhaled, his in-breath drawing out

Buchanan’s. “Omerto, then. The silence.”

Buchanan choked. “Right. The silence. You Italians sure are dramatic.”

“Yes. Whatever,” Katrina said. “Listen. Our dream is one and in common with many other peoples. It is of a united world in which no one is oppressed. It is of . . .”

“You’re kidding. You dream about . . . I don’t think you understand the question.”

“We understand. You, I’m afraid . . .”

Buchanan fidgeted in the bed, feeling a current stronger than his own pulling at him. The three of them began moving again with something more substantial than the enthusiasm of exploration as a starting point. There was a heavier charge there now. It was a depth charge of vigor, an athleticism of the spirit.

 

Aldo, Katrina, and Buchanan were drinking strong black coffee at a cafe on the port after a long day in the hot sun.

“It is nice that Paradise is deserted,” Katrina said.

“Nice, but also creepy,” Buchanan said.

“Another wave of people will come without knowledge of the incident and

those with knowledge will forget. Paradise will fill up again."

“That’s true, Aldo. I suppose we should enjoy it as it is. Still . . .”

“It’s not what was on the beach or what was in the water that bothers me, it’s what’s in the town. That’s where my supposed guilt lives. Even though Paradise was the scene of the crime, in comparison to town, Paradise is heaven,” Buchanan said.

The three sat around the round metal table watching as ferries continued to dock, unloading fashionable beach bums and backpackers. The entire Ivy League was represented by name. There were Vassar sweatshirts on Moslems, Harvard t-shirts on Italians and Brown visors shading slanted eyes. The tinny racket of headphones pulled down off ears buzzed around them all, an audial aura. As much as they were trying to look American, they had the studied scruffiness of European youth.

“I’ve never seen so many non-American Americans,” Buchanan said. “It makes everybody, even Americans, seem foreign to me. Look at you guys. You’re . . . you’re terrorists, but you . . . well, you dress so stylishly.”

Aldo took the comment seriously. “We are urban guerillas. It would be counterproductive, stupid even, to dress like peasant warriors. Besides, like you and everybody else, we like to look good.”

Katrina took the comment less seriously. “Yes. He dresses like a Garibaldi. His personal revolution is to put the chic back into anarchic.”

Buchanan noted how dilated their pupils had become. There was love and truth in them. He wondered if his pupils were dilated.

Katrina turned to him. “Wiley, you should try exercises to remember your dreams.”

“I have and they haven’t worked.”

“Then they were not the right exercises. Do you still use psychedelics?”

“I don’t take them much anymore. Occasionally. Once you’ve seen the elephant, you’ve seen the elephant.”

“Wiley, it is time to get serious. You must commit your personal excellence to a larger cause, your particular into the general. Ability makes you good. You are good. Character makes you great. You can be great.”

Buchanan looked straight into their eyes. “I know the cutting has something to do with you. I don’t care. I’m not afraid of you. I’m afraid of what you mean to me.”

Buchanan’s pupils opened up, becoming bigger, rounder, blacker.

I am one, they are two, we are three. That is the equation. What is the sum. It is unknown. What is missing is what we equal.

I spend a large part of my life longing for belonging. Here, it is being offered to me in a form I am attracted to but of which a larger part of me does not know about and cannot or will not approve.

What is the price I will pay for knowing something I can’t tell and not telling it. What is the price I will pay for knowing something I can’t tell and telling it. Can both prices be paid. Can neither price be paid.

I now know I had more to hide than I knew I had to hide.

Omerto.

The captain was in what to all appearances would seem to be a very good mood. He was smiling all the time. He looked grotesque.

“So, Mr. Buchanan. Do you have anything for me yet?”

“No. Have you found out anything?”

“No. The facts remain the same.”

“You mean the events remain the same. The facts have yet to be discovered.”

“Yes. I am still looking for that unknown quantity—what happened. You seem depressed today, Mr. Buchanan, less . . . outraged. Is something wrong?”

“I’m becoming accustomed to the country I’m in and the state I’m in. And I’ve decided not to do anything about it.”

“That is wise. You are becoming touched by this place. And it has been decided that you may have your passport back.”

 

“Well? What do you think? Did he give it back to me because he knows something or because he doesn’t know something.”

“He’s watched what you do when you don’t have it. Now he’s watching what you do when you do have it.”

“What if I choose to leave?”

“I doubt if he considers that an option.”

“Why?”

“I just don’t think you will and I think he thinks you won’t either.”

Cornered, Buchanan said, “There seems to be a hell of a lot of second-guessing around here concerning other people’s actions, intentions, and motivations. You really know nothing about me. Or what I’m going to do.”

“Calm down. Don’t become indignant. There’s time. There’s speculation. They’re one and the same here.”

“Fuck your oracles, pal. I’m leaving tomorrow. Speculate on that awhile, Aldo.”

“I am sorry to hear this, Wiley. I shall miss you. We will both miss you.”

“We’ll all get over it.” Buchanan softened. “Cocktails tonight?”

“You know I never drink before dinner, but for you, for this, of course.”

What am I doing. I came here to suspend my life for awhile, to reflect, to gather my energies. Somehow, suspended, floating. I’ve been sucked into a situation with currents which seem even stronger than the life I’ve suspended. It’s as if I’ve found the quiet I was seeking, but in finding that quiet it has only made the cries of my search more piercing.

I must stop it. Stop what.

In the time before dinner, Buchanan decided to go to Paradise, to go back to the water, to go to the place where what was given was given and to give what was given back.

The water was calm, blue, and clear. The granite formations framing each side of the beach opened like a jawbone and he dove into the yap. And once inside the sound he opened his eyes and the search was over for a place in the world where you could get away from the world, a real place in the world where the world was unreal.

Buchanan surfaced and resurfaced again. He knew that something learned underwater is more readily recalled underwater than on land even if that something has nothing to do with water. He was determined to remain submerged until he remembered, until he encountered what it was he had forgotten he had learned.

Again he surfaced and resurfaced again.

He swam out, out past the opened jawbone, further and further. He let time wash over him. Finally, he reached the point where all of the shore was the farthest point of a V.

He surfaced and resurfaced.

Again he surfaced and resurfaced again and at that farthest point of a V he realized that he was at the narrowest point of a belief. He was at the point of a belief where the pressure is finally on action, on decision, on choice. He had come to this place to choose.

He jackknifed down into the water thinking he would stay. He surfaced knowing he could not.

He looked up. It was twilight, the time when the sun, the moon, the stars are all visible in the sky at once held in the same time. What became visible to him was the syntax of the skies: a crescent moon like a comma, a falling star like an exclamation, the big dipper positioned like a question mark. The stars were periods. All the punctuations of the skies were revolving periods, ends, ends that never stopped. From out of the water he looked up at the stars, considered them the constellations of his actions and started for the shore.

“He is going to go.”

“He can not.”

“I think he will.”

“No.”

“He is. He will leave.”

“We will tell him something to make him stay. We will silence his leaving.”

“There is nothing to say to do that.”

“Something will happen.”

“Something will happen, but it will not make him stay.”

 

Down in the water Buchanan moved towards the shore as on the water the reflections of the constellations moved across him. In the twilight there was poison around him that he could not see, poison he confused with the light refracted on the water.

Wiley, hardly felt the first sting. The second was stronger, the third the strongest. It was like being electrocuted once, then a few seconds later being electrocuted again at a higher rate and then again higher. A battery, a socket, a power line.

The people who had remained at Paradise knew, they had seen. They ran up to Buchanan. “Piss on it. You must take your own pee and wash the sores. It will neutralize the sting.”

Buchanan did as they ordered, but the sting was not neutralized and the poison continued its course through his body.

 

I went into convulsions. For how long I don’t know. I had fever dreams. Some horrifying, all tempting. And in all the dreams I was thirsty and kept drinking water, but it was the kind of water that makes you thirstier; sea water.

My eyes remained closed and I could not see and I had this vision: Katrina, Aldo, the Captain, and I were submerged in the water at Paradise. I was clinging to Katrina and Aldo, trying not to float to the top. I looked into Katrina and Aldo’s eyes and the pupils of their eyes were opened so wide that the water was flowing into them and through them. They looked back at me and smiled and let me go. I turned towards the Captain. He was smiling, too. There was a zipper running the length of his stomach. He kept smiling and unzipped his stomach. Masses of jellyfish floated out, stinging first Aldo, then Katrina, moving towards me. Aldo breathed his last breath to me as his arm snaked around Katrina’s stiff body. I breathed his breath and shot to the surface.

I now know I was seduced by the the unknowing of the situation, enjoying the mystery of the question more than the answer. And that was the sense of this place: to leave, to leave not knowing, to leave not knowing for sure but certain. To leave silently. Omerto.

My body built up a tolerance to poison and I was well enough to leave. Nobody stopped me. Unloosened from this place, I left.

Tags:
Short stories
Homicide
BOMB 7
Fall 1983
The cover of BOMB 7
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