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Alone at Last
Woody sat alone in the shade on the rear deck of the dive tender El Huachinango. He was tired. His group had dived Devil's Throat on Punta Sur that morning, bottoming at one hundred and thirty feet. A vertical shaft inside the coral caverns on the wall's lip, it dropped through darkness and then out into the blue abyss. Every time he did it, something in him was reborn.
You either panicked in the Throat, or were enchanted by the shadowy caverns inside the reef. When a diver swims out of the opening, through the rope and barrel sponge fringing its mouth, he hangs in space, with the wall plunging five thousand feet straight down. Look down and the outcroppings and spires and arches descend into nothing; look up, and you see the uppermost thirty or forty feet of wall above you, deeply grooved, with inlets and tunnels and gigantic corals investigated by infinite schools of hovering fish.
Woody drank his Coke, with the last few days replaying in his head. He loved Cozumel. He'd come many times, but never tired of it. Today, he led a group of mostly green divers through their first technical dive, and miraculously, there was no trouble. The group from Texas did a pretty good job. There was one diver he was particularly interested in, because during the few days of the trip, he'd fallen in love with her. It was eating him alive.
Her name was Deborah. She lay opposite him on the deck of the old chuggedy-chug fishing trawler. Converted for duty as a dive tender, there was a canopy built over the deck, with hooks and rungs and cubbies for people to store things, and below it a large rectangular bench that took up most of the floor space on the deck. Yellow tanks were stored standing in racks against the gunwales. There were divers sprawled around, reading, dozing, listening to Walkman stereos, and talking in small groups about the dive. Then there was Deborah, lost in her own world.
She lay on the bench, one arm across her forehead, seeming to doze. Her dive boots were still on, with the tops rolled down. There was a fine coat of unshaved hair on her legs, glistening gold in the slant sun. She wore only her bikini, having shed the wet suit. Her limbs were pale. She was thin. The areas shaved around her bikini line had grown back some. Angry red follicles showed. Her pelvis shoved two points up to support the curve of belly in between. Although she'd had two kids, her abdomen continued concave to the rib cage, on to the light green bikini top that didn't have much to conceal. She shifted her position and lay so that her open crotch was aimed directly at him. Still, she seemed to sleep.
Everyday they'd gone out on the boat Deborah somehow managed to make a spectacle of herself. She was a physician's wife; her husband was a professor of pediatrics at Southwestern. He had no time for dive trips, so she got the nanny to keep the kids, and signed on.
There were twelve divers in Woody's group, eight of them men. Deborah resembled a person standing at a buffet spread, not quite knowing where to start. She flung herself in every direction possible. In this group, there were eight different directions to go, six if you only counted the single guys, but still, quite a smorgasbord. And, she was hungry.
The spectacle involved Deborah making a fantastic sexual display of herself. Never wearing more than her bikini on the boat, she flung herself into the most preposterous of splayed open, ready-to-be-fucked positions imaginable, all with the pretense of rest or relaxation. The men more or less hung around gaping at her, even though she wasn't much to look at. Reddish curly hair, green eyes, some acne pits left from high school, she nevertheless had a primal instinct for seduction.
Everyone talked about her in his or her room at night.
Rene, a married guy about 45, was originally from Mexico City. He had black onyx eyes like an iguana, and teeth so white they looked ceramic. One night, in a waterfront bar before the rest of the group arrived, Rene spoke his mind.
I tell you wh-one theeng, dis woomon, Deborah, ees focking beetch! Somebody going to give it to her good, becoss she is asking for it beeg time. Woody just stood around with his hands in his pocket, looking off toward the sunset, a faint smile on his face while this talk was going on. Little clouds of color came into his cheeks, his eyes unfocused, and his ears glowed red. He pretended to be slightly amused by the talk, but really, it was like they were talking about his mother. Somehow, and he didn't know how, Woody had fallen apeshit in love with her.
Woody saw how Rene was gaping at her just like all the other guys, and you know what? He wasn't looking at her like she was a focking beetch. He was looking at her like your dog looks when you are opening the Alpo. Somehow, Deborah had snared every last one of them.
Woody couldn't get his mind off of her. Since she had come by herself on the trip, she had no dive buddy, which meant she had to buddy up with someone from the group. Woody, as the dive master, signed himself up. When they came up from dives, she would climb on deck and throw her equipment off as fast as she could, peel the wetsuit off, and then spread out on a bench, yelling Woody! OH, Woody! And for all the world it sounded like Woody was slipping her a woody right then. It got to be the joke of the trip. Woody! OH, Woody.
But the guy that Deborah couldn't keep herself away from was Mike. Mike was a tall, dark haired dude with big sad eyes, and a silvery beard. He was a stuntman in Hollywood for many years, said he'd doubled for Clint Eastwood in a lot of those cop movies. He still worked out all the time, and spent the rest of his time managing his ''vestments', as he put it, and working on hot rods. Everything he touched turned to money. He wore a diver's Rolex and a diamond stud in his left ear. He didn't say much, but when he did, he spoke in a low voice, so you'd really have to focus to get what he was saying. Mike caught most of Deborah's stuff. She circled him like a mosquito circling a mammal.
One night, they all went into San Miguel for dinner. Las Tortugas, a place lit by fluorescent bulbs strung way high above walls plastered and painted yellow with a frieze of red and green flowers about five feet up, going all around the room. There was a fish net slung from the ceiling, and trapped in it were items from the sea, including the polished brown shells of las tortugas.
The hard plaster bounced the music and donkey laughter of the drunk American divers around to the point of pain. Earlier, Mike had gone to a farmacia to get some Percodan for a 'toothache' he was having. Either that, or he just wanted to kick back extra hard.
By about ten o'clock or so, he'd had a couple margaritas, and maybe a couple Percodan. Mike and Deborah were seated at the opposite end of the table from Woody, who watched her as best he could without being noticed. He didn't smile much, a mongoose concentrating on a cobra. The party was laughing energetically at everything by this point, whipped into a frenzy by the waiters pouring and serving tequila shooters. Mike and Deborah were having a great time. Woody pretended to be swept up in the fun, but he was not having fun. He saw that she had her hand on Mike's thigh under the table.
The group got up to leave, and walked out into the Cozumel night, thick with the scents of sea, sewage, cooking, and ten thousand others. They passed an enormous squat Mayan man standing in the middle of a side street, looking like he'd just stepped down from one of the frescoes on a temple excavated from the not too distant jungle. He tilted his head back and merrily bellowed out Buenos noches, Caballeros y Damas! They all shouted Buenos noches, amigo! and walked on to their taxis, two or three to each cab, and then headed for La Perla.
La Perla was a white rectangular lozenge of a hotel parked on the shore just outside of San Miguel. There was a shallow tide pool that you could wade into and begin a shore dive from. It was about 6 stories tall, and had a nice swimming pool, too. The group convened on the patio by the pool for more drinks when they got back from the restaurant.
Woody's heart ached. She had not made eye contact with him all evening, even though they'd dived together all day. He had even let her buddy breathe from his octopus when she ran her tank dry on a shallow dive, so she could have more bottom time. And, so he could have more time near her. It was true. He was, as his fraternity brother used to say, apeshit in love with her.
At the pool, she made herself the center of attention. She was wearing a white, flounced senorita blouse, a pair of cutoffs, and sandals that showed her peachy orange nails. A pair of large gold hoops emerged from the reddish curls on either side of her face. In a stronger light, you could have seen the faint dark hairs of her mustache, but Woody didn't care. He thought she was so ugly she was beautiful. She leaned forward in her pool chair and spun the contents of her glass around, put one elbow on Mike's knee.
Sooo, Rene, what kind of work do you do? Glass to the lips, drinking, looking wide eyed over the rim at Rene. Waiting for him to get the body language. Rene said, I run de Dallas offeese uf a Mexico City averticing company. I am de, de como se dise? El Jefe. The chief.
Smiling as if pleased to learn this exciting information, Deborah leaned back at an awkward angle, her torso across Mike's. Mike put his hand and arm across her ribcage and abdomen. Goddamit, Woody thought. He tried to smile like the rest, but he couldn't. There was an empty spot filled with ache inside him, weights tied to the corners of his mouth. Why doesn't she flirt with me? OH, Woody, Woody! He thought maybe he'd buddy her with someone else tomorrow, a woman perhaps. That'd fix her.
He lay back, looked up at the sky, tuned out all the laughter and random conversation. The moon hung, a fat, mist shrouded lantern piercing a bright hole in the star strewn sky. He could hear the tiny wavelets break themselves in the tide pool a few feet away. He floated. His mind went to his ex-wife, and immediately, his stomach hurt, his heart ached. Where was she now? That Vicodin chomping, tequila hosing, beer guzzling waste case. Dope smoker. The fucker of all that moved but he, Woody Nichols. Sharree. Shoulda known, shouldn't he? With a name like Sharree?
Once, a buddy told him Look man, a girl named after inanimate objects? Flowers, seasons, minerals, weather, jewelry, precious stones, or worse, made up names-stay away. You can fuck 'em, but let it go at that. For the long haul, ya want girls with real, honest to god, old fashioned names, like Martha, or Georgia, Paula. Or Deborah?
His eyes closed, the voices around him began to muddle together. He had come to make a little dough, get a free trip to Cozumel, do some diving, and he'd gotten this shit. He slept. He didn't know for how long, but when he woke, he heard voices again.
Very hushed, quiet voices. Let's not wake anyone up kinds of voices. He looked at the sky. It was clear now, and the moon had resolved itself sharper and smaller in a different sector. It cast a very direct but muted light. The voices were coming from across the pool. Deborah's voice. And two men. Mike and another guy. Murmuring.
The two guys were seated side by side in chaises, Deborah kneeling in between them. She had her senorita blouse rolled down and one guy was massaging her small droopy breasts with one hand while jacking off with the other. His shorts were lying on the deck by the pool. She was bent over the other guy, Mike, sucking him off. Mike lay with his head back, Yeah baby, oh baby you're so good at that, oh yeah.that sort of stuff. Then she stopped, and worked on the other guy, who sobbed and moaned the same kind of thing. Mike suddenly stood in front of her, his dick arcing into her face, and she took it again, bobbing her head back and forth, Mike grunting like a feral pig.
Woody's dick swelled and his heart broke. He froze, pretending to still sleep. But he slit his eyes to watch. Mike suddenly groaned and swayed back and forth; Woody could see Deborah's hand pumping the shaft vigorously while holding the head in her mouth, and Mike ejaculated. Then the other guy started to go, and she did him the same way, as Mike slumped over into the chaise, his dick still bobbing and starting to shrink in the moonlight.
Woody almost passed out from arousal and pain in equal doses. At one point, she looked over her shoulder to see if he was awake, and he slammed his eyes shut to feign sleep. Then she stood, and twisted her cutoffs so she could slide herself down and onto the still stiff prick of the guy whose name Woody had forgotten. She rode him at a slow gallop until he started to moan again, and she did, too.
I can't believe this shit, he thought, sneaking a glance at his watch. Three nineteen ayem. After a while, everyone was worn out. There was a shuffle for clothing, each getting dressed in a trance. They wondered off to their rooms, hardly saying a thing to each other. Woody waited until he was sure they were all behind closed doors, and then went up to his. When he got in his room, the tears hit and he threw himself on the bed and let the sorrow come, washed by the wind of a high speed ceiling fan.
The tears passed away, but the horniness did not. He got up and looked at himself in the mirror. A short man in his late thirties, with a softening gut and slumped rounded shoulders. Sandy hair not parted but pushed to one side of his head, and rimless glasses without which he was utterly helpless. Not a hair on his body. Kind brown eyes. A wispy mustache, like that of a fourteen year old boy. He dropped his shorts, and his prick stood out like it was trying to take off and fly around the room. He closed his eyes and saw again the moonlit scene by the pool, Deborah and the two guys, and he jacked off as if he were trying to break his dick off. Done in less than a minute, he slumped back on the bed, and collapsed.
The white noise of the fan soothed him, and he slept. He awakened with the alarm from his dive watch, got up and led everyone through the Punta Sur dive. The scene with Mike and the other guy was still fresh in his mind and heart as he now sat looking at Deborah on the deck of the dive tender, El Huachinango. Something out of some porn movie. He'd never heard of real people actually doing anything like that, though he could see it coming from Mike, who'd spent time in Hollywood where it was no doubt customary for people to have sex in small groups in public places.
But he could not erase the desire to be close to her, to investigate her, to find what lay in that chaotic, omnivorous heart of hers. To rescue her. It was the same trap he fell into eight years ago with Sharree. She stirred. Closed her legs, stretched in her 'look at me, I'm stretching' way, opened her eyes, looked at him. Woody, what's our next dive site going to be?
G'morning, Deborah, throwing a little dig at her. We're gonna do a shallow dive since we went so deep at Punta Sur. Gotta stay shallow. Woody put a finger to the bridge of his nose and shoved his specs back up. He was looking out over the small waves of indigo glass rolling under the hull of Huachinango. Flying fish whizzed the surface like ordnance and skittered away over the waves, careening thirty, fifty yards in small groups of six or eight. The Caribbean sky was faultless blue, with a tower of blinding white cloud climbing maybe forty thousand feet up one sector of the eastern horizon. The sun was high and direct, perfect for penetrating into the blue water and lighting the reef. I think we're gonna do either Shallow Colombia or Paradiso. Depends on the Capitan, he knows the currents.
She began to stir around and locate her gear. The other divers did the same thing, recovering from their narcolepsy with the adrenaline produced in anticipation of the next dive. Mike and the other guy seemed positively reptilian in their lethargy. Mike had to have a monster hangover from the booze and Percodan, but Woody speculated he'd cured it with even more Percodan. Neither one of them had spoken a word either to him or to Deborah.
In fact, you'd think they hated each other. Woody wondered what it was in people that they could only have sex like that with people they didn't like, didn't even know. Sharee'd been like that. She would have played in traffic on LBJ Freeway in order to have sex with some dickhead that for sure would slap her around when they were done. But he, Woody, who loved her from the bottom of his heart, had once seen her looking at a post card on the bedside table while he went down on her.
Mike's eyes looked even sadder and emptier than usual, and the other guy looked like someone who'd just learned he had a tumor. Woody hated them both, while in some way that not even he understood, he excused Deborah from all complicity in the scene by the pool last night.
Pretty soon, Capitan stopped the Huachinango over Paradiso Reef. He and Woody and the local divemaster, Luis, all stood on the starboard side of the boat, studying the nuances of blue to figure out the current. Capitan pointed to a line in the waves, and they followed his finger as they saw the line moving out, off shore-a strong, ripping current. They were going to do a drift dive.
Luis pulled his face up into a tight knot and staccatoed Spanish at the Capitan while pointing at the Eastern sky. They were looking at the cloud castles piling up over the Yucatan, and they argued a while. Finally, Capitan whistled loudly, and climbed back up into the conning tower, his shirt not quite covering the inward curve of pendulous belly. Luis gave the signal for everyone to gear up. Tanks clanged, compressed air hissed as regulators were checked. Woody waited until everyone got his or her gear, then donned his own.
He looked at Deborah, gave her the buddy sign, the two index fingers held parallel close together and she nodded with a stoned, faraway look in her green eyes. She reached in her gear bag, and pulled out something she wanted to show him. It was a can of Vienna sausage. She wanted to feed the fish. No, Deborah, let's not do that this time, we got a big current and we can't get screwed up feeding the fish. Some other time, hunh? She gave him a big pout and sad eyes, a look that said But I wanna! Woody ignored her and went on with his gear.
He suddenly felt good. He'd have her all to himself, at least for forty five minutes, even if it was in the wordless world forty feet below. Luis lined everyone up for the pre-dive briefing. Hokay, leesen up now, dis is Parrra-deeso, an' we are going to go to forty feet max, forty five minute. Eef you on computer, fifty feet, den you do what it tells you. Dare ees strong coorant, so stay together, watch your buddy. Hokay? Everyone een de water!
Divers hit the water like depth charges being dropped on enemy subs. Buoyancy vests whooshed, and Woody, Mike, Rene, Deborah and the rest sank into the blue. Woody could already feel the current pulling at him as he sank toward the reef, equalizing his ears, adjusting his weight belt and mask, squaring his fins. He looked around and found Deborah. She was floating down slowly, her hair drifting around her head, her green eyes magnified by her mask, mouth distorted by the regulator. She was so skinny she had to wear a 3/8" wet suit even in these tropical waters. When they got to the bottom, they formed up as a pair.
That was when the true power of the current really struck Woody. He neutralized his buouyancy, which for him was no operation at all. He had been diving so long that he had developed completely neutral buoyancy with only two pounds of weight. He could control his depth simply by breathing in or out. He made eye contact with Deborah, and again made the buddy sign. She nodded. Up ahead, he could see bubble plumes rising as the group strung out along the ocean floor by the reef. Almost immediately, a big Nassau grouper came over to investigate them, changing himself from a mottled brown to an almost pure white as a diver made a gesture at him. He flitted off with a flick of his great tail.
The current really carried them along, and Woody could see divers' bubble plumes already getting farther and farther apart. He heard a regular metallic clanging, which in the water seemed to come from everywhere, and he knew it was Luis trying to get everyone to come together by banging on his tank with the steel rod he carried. This was a serious current, and could blow the group apart in nothing flat. He and Deborah drifted along the reef, as if in a stiff breeze, as if on a trolley car, observing the reef roll by. There were clouds of tiny blue fish filling the water above the reef, which turned greenish as they changed position and reflected the sun at a different angle.
There was the usual profusion of yellow tailed snapper; a huge barracuda hung in the water, a streamlined polished aluminum column of pure speed standing still by facing the current and sweeping his tail from side to side. At that moment, he saw an individual in a school of chub that he liked, and disappeared in a blur. He reappeared about ten yards away, the head of the chub parting from the tail in a cloud of red, with Mr. Barracuda in between. Awesome. How could you ever get tired of coming down here? Woody thought. He checked his watch.
Twenty minutes. He looked around. Deborah still floated dreamily beside him. He saw no one else. Somehow, the current had separated them out. They were alone. He listened for the motor on the tender boat, but it sounded fainter. He looked up, and did not right away see its shadowy hull above them, then he looked down the reef, and saw it quite away from where they were. Probably had to pick some one in trouble up, he thought. We'll stay with it. And then, something blurred in out of nowhere, a grey solid, foot long shape zipped across his field of vision, and whapped into his wrist.
He looked around, and realized that there were chub swimming at odd tangents all around him. He could not see Deborah. It was like Hitchcock's The Birds, only this was The Chubs. Flying in at him, and then away. He looked at his wrist and realized that a small chunk of flesh was gone. He'd never seen chub act like this before. And where the fuck was Deborah?. She was flat gone. A little drip of adrenaline started. Diving was like that. Utterly serene, but very capable of turning incredibly ugly in a less than a second. He wondered if it had gone that way now. He dropped down to the bottom, put his chest flat against the white sand. He knew there was a layer about twelve inches deep right on the bottom where the water was still.
You could drop down into that still layer and swim pretty effectively against the current. He made his way back, to get around a cut in the coral, to see if she was on the other side. When he did, he had to grab himself, because of what he saw. She was there all right, but Jeez!
Deborah was about five feet from the bottom, turning back somersaults in the water. In her hands she held the can of Vienna sausage, holding it out for the chub to help themselves. Which they were doing. The little fuckers were in the middle of a feeding frenzy, which explained the behavior of the outriders that Woody had just encountered. Only, where about fifteen or twenty of them bugged him, hundreds beset her. She was encased in a swirling, teeming, chaotic ball of increasingly crazed chub, all trying to get to the little can of Vienna sausage she was holding. Many of them had begun to ignore the can, which by now was empty, and were dive-bombing her.
Lucky for her she was wearing the wet suit, or she would have been a mass of tiny inch long gouges like the one Woody had on his wrist. He swam into the swirling ball and began waving his arms and legs, and he took his octopus regulator and discharged bubbles with it. It was over just like that. The little savages suddenly changed direction and as a group drifted off and up, reforming themselves in a delta to swim into the current up the reef.
Woody made eye contact with her, and then made the Are you okay sign with thumb and index finger meeting to form a loop. She made it back, then held her hand to her forehead to say she'd been scared. He grabbed her arm, took the can of sausage and dropped it in his plastic bag on his BC. All the while, the current had been carrying them along, and Woody remembered he had to locate the other divers. He looked around, and could not see a one of them.
Instead, he got that feeling of utter aloneness you get underwater. He looked around and saw the line of reef stretching off into the blue, rising and falling, encrusted in rope sponge, barrel sponge, swarmed with fish great and small, the occasional barracuda. The surface of another planet. Planet Ocean. Nothing had happened to change the little adrenaline drip. Woody decided it was time to go up. He made the thumbs up sign at Deborah, telling her it was time. They both went vertical and kicked to the surface.
They broke in a thunderstorm. The huge pile of cloud over the mainland had moved out across the channel between Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel. It was a real beater. The rain strafed their heads like wet glass needles. The surface was worked up into a severe chop. They rose and fell in the chop helplessly. Huachinango was nowhere to be seen. He looked at Deborah. Her face was blank, with the red welt from the gasket on her mask circling her features. Her eyes were glazed over, not really seeing the huge storm they'd emerged in. She was waiting for him to tell her what to do.
There was not a lot to do. They'd run their tanks dry, so they could not submerge again, and besides, they needed what was left in them to inflate their BC's. Each time a swell lifted him up, Woody scanned for the boat, but never saw it. Faintly, he heard someone blowing their whistle, and he thought he heard the chuggedy chug of the boat, but there was so much racket from the storm, he couldn't tell. Somehow, he knew that panic lurked somewhere nearby, lying in wait.
In his gear bag, Woody carried an inflatable red mast that you could blow up, and it would stand about six feet straight up as a marker for the tender. He also had a whistle. He withdrew both these items, handing the whistle to Deborah, while he got to work blowing up the mast. All the while, the chop was growing steeper, and more violent. He also realized by the change in their position relative to shore that they were still in the current, and were being carried out into the channel. He blew on the mast; Deborah blew on the whistle.
Capitan and Luis were having a terrible time getting everyone into the boat. The storm had come in with incredible swiftness, the divers leaving in bright clear sun, and surfacing forty five minutes later in furious seas. The old trawler heaved violently in the chop, the rain drove under the canopy, ammo fired from a wet gun. Luis gave Capitan the signal that everyone was in, and they set off for the dock at San Miguel. Then he got busy stowing and straightening gear. He counted tanks. They'd left with thirty, he counted twenty-eight.
He counted again. Twenty-eight. Luis immediately felt his guts run cold and clamp down, hard. He dared not count the heads, but he did. He counted ten. They left with twelve. They'd been in such a hurry to get going out of the storm he hadn't really counted. He thought he would remember everyone. But he didn't. They'd left two divers, the Anglo divemaster, and the crazy gringa puta. They were going to have to go back. Without giving anything away, he picked his way across the rocking deck, and climbed the ladder up to the Capitan.
No one on board noticed as the boat began to swing an about face, back out toward the reefs. They were all too miserable and scared, feet braced wide on the deck, gripping the benches for balance, some chattering their teeth in the cold.
Deborah's teeth clattered together as if she were a windup toy. She and Woody had been on the surface about a half hour, without a sign of the boat. Woody saw their position change by maybe as much as a quarter mile as they continued to be swept along by the current. When the swells threw him high enough, he sighted land, and each time, he knew they were farther out. The problem was that it would be very hard in the high seas to see them, down in the troughs of the waves. The other problem was the wind and thunder, which continued on with no end in sight. He was amazed. It never occurred to him that anything like this could happen.
And the red locator mast. It had a leak. He hadn't checked it in years. So it leaked. He'd blow it up, and it would stand erect for a while, and then go limp, develop a crimp and eventually sink back down to the waves. When it did, he would blow it up again. He wasn't about to give up. So he took the whistle from Deborah, who'd given up within minutes, and started blowing.
She said, Woody, what are we going to do? Are we lost? Why don't they come and get us? And all Woody could think about was the fact that even though her face was white and blank like that of a corpse, he was alone with her now, finally, and he could fuck her there, floating in the chopping waves, suspended in the inflated BC's. He even thought about trying, but let it go.
She continued. Woody, are we going to die out here? Woody, do you hear me, are we going to die? Woody heard her, and he saw the blue in her face, and the widening in her eyes, and the dilated pupils, and he heard the panic that had been lurking now come to the fore. Woody! Woody? I don't want to die. Please tell me we're not going to die; this sort of thing has happened before hasn't it? Are there sharks out here? Is that what's going to happen?
She was screeching now. She was staring right through him, right through this world into the next. Still the rain came sideways and lashed their heads, stinging them numb, and looking up, he could see nothing but towering black cloud, and lightning exploding inside the cloud, and thunder, and the roaring hiss of the waves. Then she was on him, clawing, scratching, grabbing, hitting, jabbering, IDONTWANNADIE! IDONTWANNADIE! MYBABEEZMYBABEEZ! And kicking with her fins, kneeing him in the belly. Her mask, perched on her head, flew off, sunk in the waves. She was gone, totally gone in her panic.
Woody grabbed at her arms above the elbows and shoved her back. DEBORAH! He howled back at her, then lower, Deborah. You gotta getta hold of yourself, your babies'll never see you if you panic and lose it out here. And I am not gonna let you kill me or hurt me either. Now if you wanna get back, you will shut the fuck up, blow this whistle, and float, goddammit! Float, cause that's all we can do. Float and wait. And you stay over there.
And she came at him again, the same way. He fought her off, kicking violently with his fin to get some space between them. He reached down to his left calf, and pulled his dive knife. Deborah, if you come at me again like that, I am gonna stick this blade in your BC, and you are gonna sink your ass, but you won't be able to do me like that again. Now you shut the fuck up and you stay over there. You hear me? She nodded.
Next, he pulled a length of nylon rope out of his gear bag, and tossed her one end. Tie this to your BC, that way we can stay together. She took it and did as she was told. He tied his end, and then lay back in the water. Now lay your head back and float and pray. They'd been on the surface almost an hour, steadily going out into the channel, farther and farther from shore.
El Huachinango patrolled the waters near the dive site at Paradiso for nearly an hour, but everyone on board was getting sea sick and scared, and Capitan had to think about getting the divers he could see back to shore. He had radioed for assistance, and there were about a half dozen boats in on the search. No one was finding anything, though. Luis' heart sank. The storm raged on, and the Texans all stared grimly at the deck, shivering and huddling in the cold rain. Capitan headed for shore.
Looking at the sky, Woody could see the storm clearing. The wind lessened and then died, the rain stopped. There were light patches showing. Even the sea stopped its chop and began to smooth out. He looked at his watch. They were approaching two hours without rescue. Deborah lay with her head back, floating in her vest. She had her arms out to her side, resting in the water, as though she were enjoying a day in the pool. They had traveled way back to the south, almost to Chankanab, and were a good thousand to twelve hundred meters off shore, with the irresistible current still carrying them subtly away from land. When he saw lights on the island, they were few and far between.
Woody could sense that the panic that had gotten Deborah was right there, waiting to get him, but somehow, he was able to let it stay where it had been. Right there, but still separate from him. He could not imagine that there was anything less than a full on search for them. When he looked again at the sky, it was fully starred. No more twilight, no more clouds. The storm was gone completely. It was night in the Caribbean Sea, and he supported only by his buoyancy vest. When would they come?
Deborah was quiet, still. She moved not at all, only keeping a slow oscillation of her fins going. He could hear her teeth chattering, and he was glad she was wearing the wet suit. She would be in deep shit with no suit on.
She was a stranger to him now. A complete blank. It occurred to him that as much as he'd been in love with her, he didn't know her last name. Deborah Doctor's Wife was all he knew. That, and two kids. That was it. He began to wonder what was the big deal. Now that he was alone with her, had been alone with her for hours, he felt nothing for her. Felt as if he'd never felt anything for her. It was as if the prior days of the trip, the nights out, the scene last night with Mike and the other guy on the pool deck, all of that was a dream, involving other people on another planet.
Woody wanted nothing so much as to walk in the front door of his apartment, say hello to his cat, read the mail, make a snack. Look at his answering machine and see that his Mom had called and ignore it. He stared into the clear night sky, his pupils dilated, and he thought about Van Leeuenhook, looking through the microscope. The more he looked, the more he saw. There were falling stars, some blinking out in microseconds, and odd ones that lasted longer. One traveled from left to right across the sky, turning from yellow to red as it went, leaving a visible vapor trail.
He kept looking. He saw the satellites traveling in their orbits, and he saw the Little Dipper grow clear and distinct in his night opened eyes. In the west there was a glowing purple light, low on the horizon. It spread up into the sky. It covered the zenith, and he began to see a shape, the shape of an angel, opening its golden fiery wings. Its halo burned like a sun in galactic space, and it held a dark and shapeless mass before it.
Suddenly the sea was alive all around him; there were tiny purple missiles whizzing out of the surface of the dark water and rocketing towards the mass the angel was holding up as an offering to the Creator.
Woody tried to grab one of the rockets as it flew out of the water, and he noticed that spirals of gold dust unfurled from his fingers, tiny cosmic whorls, spinning like the Mandlebrot set on the cover of his coffee table book about Chaos. He waved his hands some more in the water, and more gold dust went spinning off into the infinite. He realized this was a sign that having been so long without rescue, the Lord had taken over, and sent his angel to the rescue.
He saw many things then.
He was in the tree house they'd built in the old hackberry behind the garage, eating a peanut butter sandwich. His ball and glove lay beside him. On his feet were brand new Converse All Stars, smelling of rubber and glue.
Then he was on the altar at Immaculate Conception, holding the censor with its roiling cloud of frankincense. He was so hungry he was getting faint. His head spun, and he fell, and the Monsignor O'Brian ignored him where he lay on the altar steps.
He saw the old scarred up pit bull they had, Snookie, and her bright, intelligent eyes questioning him.
He smelled the bacon and pancakes his mother made on Saturday mornings. He saw Sister Mary Charles, and felt again the crush he'd had on her.
Then, he found himself standing in the dark doorway to his mother's bedroom, in the tiny house they rented in Cockrell Hill when he was little. It was late, real late, and he had fallen asleep on the couch in the living room with Johnny Carson talking to that flaming fag Little Richard. That was what one of his step-dads called him: a flaming fag. He awakened and heard voices coming from his Mother's room, and it scared him.
He snuck quiet back down the hall in the dark, and stood there looking into the part open door. They were in there, his Mom and a man. She was naked, he could see her breasts hanging down in the dim light coming through the window. She was bent over at the waist in front of the bed, and there was someone standing behind her, a man, with his hands on her waist. He had his shirt on, but unbuttoned and open. His mother's breasts were swaying back and forth, and it was like the man was hitting her with something in the behind that he couldn't see. But they were cooperating. She turned her head, her dark hair falling over her shoulder, and she said, Honey that's so nice, keep doing me thataway longs you can. The man only grunted.
Woody, standing in the dark. His little pecker standing up, through the peepee hole in his jammies. His mother put her head down, and rested her weight on her elbows on the bed, and said, Come on now, you give it to me GOOD now, and the man grunted again, but Woody couldn't see what it was he was giving her, but somehow he knew that it had to do with the man's dick. And Woody was scared, he didn't know what to do, but when they both began to holler, he took his cue to sneak back down the hall and pretend to be asleep.
* * *
When she awakened, Deborah found she was still in the water, and the dawn sun shone bright and yellow from a blue sky and the sea was clear as glass. There were people on a boat yelling and pointing at her and she realized that it was one of the snorkel excursion boats headed out for the first run over Chankanab. The boat came over, the Mexicans yelling at each other, and shouting on the radio about the American who disappeared. Hands came down and grabbed her under the arms and lifted her into the boat. She felt good to finally get out of the water; she'd been so cold.
They helped her out of her BC, and it was then that she noticed the length of yellow nylon rope knotted around one of its D-rings, about six or eight feet of it, the other end neatly sliced but starting to fray.and she knew that that meant something, but for a long minute she couldn't remember what, then it hit her like a head on-collision.
Woody was gone! And she stood, and began to jabber to the American tourists on the boat that there was another diver still in the water, and there was more radio-ing and Spanish flying around, and she suddenly had to sit down, her head was spinning. She was so hungry she was about to scrape the scum from the wooden floor of the old boat and start eating it.
What happened? someone asked. I don't know, Deborah wailed into the sky, appearing to be in shock. I don't know what happened. After we'd been lost a while, he got just real irrational, ya know? Like he was scared shitless and started to panic, and I told him he better get his shit together, ya know, like ya gotta do sometimes when people get like thatand he seemed to settle down, and we agreed to tie the line between us, and then we just floated, but it seemed like sometime in the middle of the night, he started to hallucinate, something about the Angel of the Lord coming in the sky, and I heard him talking to himself, but it was too dark to see him, and I figured he'd be all right, and I didn't even try to talk to him, cause I didn't want to get him going again. Ya know?
And they all seemed to be listening closely, hanging on every word.
They eventually got her a Coke and a sandwich and explained to her they were going to take her into town to the clinica, but she said, no, she was all right, she wanted them to just stay out and keep searching. They agreed they would, but when they were done she would still have to go to the clinica. And Deborah went up near the bow of the boat, and sat with her eyes riveted on the water, and they spent all that day slowly trawling back and forth in the waters above the reefs of Cozumel.
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