And The Deep Blue Sea
by Charles Williams
At sunset the next day after the
He lay stretched out on the rubberized fabric of the raft’s bottom, his head on its inflated rim, a big man with graying dark hair too long uncut, gray eyes, and a broad, flat-planed face burned dark by the sun and now salt- inflamed and covered to the cheekbones with a week’s stubble of beard. His feet were bare, and he wore only the faded and sodden dungarees, a blue shirt, and a gold-cased Rolex watch which was waterproof and still running. He was alone on the raft, which wasn’t much larger than he was and contained nothing else except a whiskey bottle with a little water in it. His name was Harry Goddard, he was forty-five years old, divorced, childless for the past five months, and until the last of his luck ran out two days ago he had been single-handing across the Pacific in the thirty-two-foot sloop
He was overtaken by another attack of shivering and wished for the sun’s warmth to begin, knowing that long before the day was over he’d be praying even more fervently for its torture to end. The raft lifted under him, mounting softly and in utter silence, poised for an instant, and began to fall away again down the back of another swell rolling across the wastes of the southern hemisphere. The square shape of the Jack Daniels bottle was under his left leg, its neck secured to the fabric eyelet of one of the oarlocks with the lanyard he had fashioned from a strip of cloth cut from his shirt tail. He lifted it and squinted at it against the sky. It still held nearly a half pint of water, and he was conscious of no torment yet from thirst. The only hell was the certainty that it was coming.
What happened at the end, just how did you die? Did you go mad and jump overboard? Drink seawater and kill yourself with nausea and empty retching? How long did it take? He didn’t know, but there was no point in speculating about it now, and he might as well go ahead and sit up to look around. He was sufficiently awake and in command of himself to accept what he would see. Pretending there was still some chance, as long as he hadn’t looked, that there could be a ship on the horizon was something to hang onto, but you couldn’t keep it alive all day.
He raised up, his hands braced against the inflated rim of the doughnut, and as it rose to the crest of another swell he turned, searching the rim of his world where the sea met the sky. There was only emptiness. Well, he thought, you wanted solitude; you’ve got it. You’re up to your ass in it.
As deadly as it was, there was no escaping the beauty of it. In the vast hush of early morning, the sea was smooth as glass except for the heave and surge of the long swell running up from the south. It was full daylight now, the eastern sky a pale wash of rose becoming barred with gold, and the towering masses of cloud above him were touched with flame. A school of flying fish lanced out of the sea, scattering fanwise, leaving their takeoff trails etched for a fleeting instant across the mirror of its surface. But above all, and pervading everything, was the silence; it was the silence of the world’s dawn, before the beginnings of life. Under sail there were always sounds, the rushing of water past the hull, breaking seas, the flutter at the luff of a sail, spattering of spray, the creak of timbers, and the singing of wind in the rigging, and even becalmed there was the slatting of sails and the rolling and banging of gear that went on forever, but here there was nothing, no sound at all. The raft was an air bubble cushioned on a sea of oil that pushed it up, slid under it without friction or effort, and went on in its silent march toward infinity.
More flying fish shot out of a swell just ahead of him like an explosion of silvery projectiles, pursued by some larger fish below the surface, and he was suddenly reminded of hunger, remembering other dawns when he had found two or three of them on deck where they’d flown into the sails during the night to wind up unconscious in the scupper and then, cleaned and breaded, into the frying pan for breakfast. He thought of how they tasted, with crisp bacon and a boiled potato, as he sat in the cockpit with the plate on his knees and a mug of hot coffee beside him, watching the sun come up. And then the first cigarette of the day— For Christ’s sake, he thought, knock it off.
He felt a moment’s light-headedness with the withdrawal pangs of a cigarette addict nearly three days without a smoke. You could get drunk, he thought, on simple, uncontaminated air. He glanced at the bottle again, but resisted the urge to take a swallow, wondering at the same time why this insistence on cutting the puppy’s tail off an inch at a time. If he had anything to write with, he reflected, he could put a note in it when it was empty. What final bit of wisdom for the ages, what capsuled summation? A single Anglo-Saxon word? No, that was grandstanding. He could do better.
Not that it was important any more, but he would never even know what he’d hit that had sent the
He’d been fighting the frustrating calms and fluky airs along the Equator for nearly a week when it happened. Around noon he’d picked up a gentle breeze out of the south and had ghosted along under the main and big genoa, momentarily expecting it to die out or go swinging around the compass, but it had held, backing into the southeast and freshening slightly by the hour. At sunset the
The sea was almost abeam. One had just rolled under her, and the