"Are you there, God? It's me! … Look at me! Recognize me! It's me, your…! …The whole of me! This broken me! …The one you've always forgot… to hurt too bad!" I watched from a covert corner as the man with his shirt off growled into the sobbing leaden firmament, while coping with the drastic convulsions of the ship.
The storm made it impossible to keep eyes open except for a slit or take a step out the deckhouse. But I didn't want to leave. The man, the insurance salesman who had wasted forty years practicing the perfect regular life he had depicted to everyone thousand times a day, the atheist, was sparing no effort to pour out words towards a moonshiny target.
I heard the agitated voices of the crew downstairs, grumbling about leaks, throwing in sarcastic remarks about the ship, the voyage. I heard the captain's rough voice, despondent but uncompromising.
"We'll get him," repeated the captain calmly.
"We'll get him."
It was a mumble nearer, accompanied by footfall. The cacophony of protest continued, like it finally broke out for the first time, with everyone criticizing but none stopping to address problems. "We'll get him!" The captain repeated as loudly as a voice vibrating with sputum could. But he wasn’t pacifying. "…Because God will bless whoever pays hard work." He was also an atheist.
I turned again to the insurance salesman. He was pressing towards the railings, waving his shirt. The slippery deck left his shoddy feet nowhere to rest, as they were trying to match the heroic upper body. This march could rob him of the last thing he was depending on: his health. It was almost torture to be thumped by such solid raindrops.
Suddenly, a draft hauled me out to confront the gloom and the viciousness of the squall. The man turned and grinned with arms open. The wet gray hair on his chest outlined a cheerless pattern. The storm completely drowned out the inner sounds, but I knew that we would soon be dragged into the warm lair again. But I enjoyed what I felt at the moment, as painful and icy as a high school teacher could feel outside of widowerhood and his job.
I laughed, cornily, and let the cyclone scrap my watch, an equivalent of what I saved for years. The ship surpassed waves at least ten meters tall, as the violent shock threw the man off balance and slammed him to the deck, still roaring.
I waited for hours at the bar at the fishery harbor by the putrid sea, which stunk to heaven, before I spotted through the tanned windows the smoky Chrysler he said I would be expecting arriving finally. I would be gone already, but likewise, leaving was without a purpose. Cash Newman, the old sober man stepped out, grimacing, clutching his leather briefcase. He opened the door to let in others, his face changed, smiling to nobody, before drooping again, when he saw me. I was bemused: I never drank. Neither did he. At least he never did in high school, when everybody did.
He finally staggered towards me as we maintained the silence for ourselves. I expressed doubt, I believed I did, but perhaps it was my wrinkles: they looked like a petrified tsunami of grease.
I watched Cash rub his hands, his eyes clouded and wandering.
Suddenly he started: "I'm sorry, Bowman, I forgot."
Before that, it occurred to me that more than once he had raised his hand at me invitingly, only I didn't know what it meant. Then after a while he let it go gently.
"Hey, Cash, good afternoon." I'd been saving this line. "What have you forgotten? "
"They often asked me to come here, after work, for entertainment." He was still clasping his bag. "But I forgot. You don't drink. … You drink?"
"It's okay, Cash." I felt momentarily depressed. "What happened? It's unusual for you to call this morning. You kept my number."
"They think I'm too slow, Bowman." Cash was still holding his bag, but his eyes began shifting until they breached the window as workers tossed trout onto stinking trucks. I could imagine walking on this blood and squalor, so quivered.
"So they fired you." I was happy for him.
"No. No, that's not within my concern. …There was this superior, I must’ve told you about him, who looked like my fallen son. He smashed my watch. He did it on purpose."
I had to sit up. "Cash, we haven't seen each other for thirty years, I… I really…" I never knew he had a son. He never told me, or told me anything else other than his job once, centuries ago.
This might be the least of his tragedies. He gave me glances every now and then, glimpses like I was one of his clients. Then his voice started drifting out again. I knew he was a man who hardly talked.
"…I haven’t closed a single deal since fifty. I know it can't be true, like I'm trying to forget something I don't really remember anymore." He paused, and I just looked at him, as a high school teacher would.
"Tracy and I adopted a son, Godfrey, when I turned 35. His name was Godfrey. We called him God. He kept urging us to call him that, on the way home from the orphanage, I remember. He was taken away later, by the real God, at sea." He paused again and I saw him look about momentarily, then turned back dejectedly to see through me with pity for the first time.
"I never believed in God, though I seldom told anyone. But when I want to sell insurance to people who have no hope in the same world like me, I would pray along." His eyes filled with light. It was the last fawn cast eastward by the sun before it sank downward, mixed with modena and mazarine. "There were times when Godfrey would do something strange enough, and make things strangest enough happen, to make me believe… but now I can only think of my son, my child by thinking of the face of a fellow who abhors... me."
I nodded, which was not even the most basic courtesy of a listener. But I couldn't project the same feeling into this conversation. Throughout 41 years of teaching, students killed themselves. My students. I changed schools almost annually. It was like they were foisting. I knew they were trying really hard to pardon someone when that someone couldn`t even pardon himself, when ladies dissolved in tears were tearing my collar and were sobbing while screaming to get an answer from perplexed mouth: why I did nothing when her boy jumped. My wife died ten years ago, and time seemed to have left me no further trace of her. I remembered when I was younger, when I was depressed, telling myself that you had done your best, when that boy killed himself without hesitation. The scariest part was that now I knew for a fact that I really had tried my best, that I had spent my life trying to achieve a same goal for nothing I actually cared about, just because my mom told me teaching would be fun and would feed a family somehow.
I looked at this stranger in front like I was looking at my everyday self in a mirror. He tried to cover his shattered watch with his rough, wrinkled palms. Cash caught my eye and smiled. "Yes, God gave this to me." He stroked the cracked watch face as if thumping himself.
People began to leave: mostly fishermen, some slackers. The bartender began to take notice of us, and I decided it was time for departure, if there was nothing else, other than a talk like we had arranged, or a reminiscence, though we reminisced nothing at all. I planned to leave quietly without saying farewell, to save that for his funeral. Cash Newman was staring out at the ships.
So I got up, my thighs tingling before a man walked in with that familiar, disgusting smell.
He peeled down his dirty, wet overcoat: I finally noted that outside the bar it was already pouring heavily. That was a silent abreact, for I could only watch those transparent whips mercilessly lash the men picking their way. A long crack opened amongst the man's grizzled beard. He hung his coat on the only hook at the door, calling someone up, but not me: While he nearly knocked my cane over.
I sighed: this was the education of my generation. But the man, who I gathered was probably much younger than he looked, seemed to be aware of something no one of his sort would be. He turned with a gentle smile on his face, gentler than the seabreeze. He knew what I was waiting for. He took off his soggy beret and bent down, apologizing. Then he went about his business, talking to the bartender about the only business he knew: fishing.
As I hesitated to step out into the storm, I listened for a few more minutes to the fisherman's account of the truth and his dismay: he said he hadn't caught fish for a long time now, but I was sure he was referring to some fish in particular. So I hovered a little longer, because I thought he was more than just a little familiar, like someone who would greet you in your dream, which was impressive.
So after a while I started talking to him. He was indeed a talker, especially when he was squiffy.
He talked about fishing. He said that men like him around this district were mainly engaged in catching these Stormfish, and hence he gave a lot of information about it, but that was clearly not the name of the fish I had just heard. So, I asked him why he called them that, fish that were no more than eighteen centimeters long. He said it was because they only come and feed at nights when the gale bit and the rain was pelting. "And, when they're out in force, you'll see a real storm, 25 meters down the ocean surface." He said.
The man seemed as enthusiastic as ever, telling the same old stories about his failures so close to success for a fisherman. He probably was repeating these to others every day. He also talked about his belief, which was none, and his past, which I didn’t catch a word of. The rain was subsiding, as the fishermen's voices were strangely fading out synchronously. I turned around and saw Cash Newman still sitting there, staring out the window, probably still staring at the lingering sunset in his eyes. So beyond expectation I decided to introduce this fisherman, Wint Harbor, who was actually much higher up the ladder than I had expected, to the old man.
And just like that, I wasn't surprised when I woke up the next morning in one of the cabins of a jolting, fishy boat.
Cash Newman and I spent three days on Wint Harbor's ship, where time almost stood still. The crew treated us with bound respect, and I hope it wasn't because I could barely move. On my way to the deck, the morning when I first woke up, I overheard Mr. Harbor talking to one of the sailors.
"Captain, the equinox has passed, and I don't think we have a chance of catching a Priapus this year."
"I'll tell you when the period is over, Isaacson. There're still chances. The last wave of bait hasn't left yet. "
"Wint. It’s been five years. We come out every spring, then wander on the sea every day. And I know you are out here for your reasons, I do understand, and I had paid my condolences. But start pulling in the net, Wint. It’s getting cold."
That night after dinner I was lying in my cabin when Wint Harbor burst in. I mean, he knocked, but he hung his head and he seemed sad for a man his category. He craved advice, if only some space. How I wanted to tell him that I was just a high school teacher playing hooky, not a psychology professor.
He started saying personal things. For the extent of our acquaintance, it was just incredible. First, he finally told me what he was after. "The Stormfish were just baits," he said. He had been trying his best to catch a Priapus, a very common shark, but very rare in these parts of sea. So I asked him why. I really did, while going back to my book, listening to the storm roaring outside my tiny porthole.
"My wife died five years ago," he said, calmly. "A month before that, we saw this shark for the first and only time together in the middle of Pacific. They were agile and cunning, and played around the ship. There were two of them. Katlin was very fond of these mysterious, quiet creatures. So I got into this after she died, when I heard from elders that they used to hang out here as well. But no one has ever caught one. So I gathered some of my old classmates. They never left me."
He suddenly reached out and took my hand. It sent shivers down my spine immediately. "Five years," he said. "They never left."
I freed myself from that humble stiff hand, and remained steady. "Why not head back to the same waters? It won't take this long."
"Oh, because of my father. He needs my help." He was hanging his head again. "He doesn't remember much about certain things. Dementia, you know."
So that night captain dragged us down to see what he called the trap. I noticed that Cash was opening up rather quickly, as if the unique disposition of the sea had melted something enfolding his fortress.
Honestly, I'd never seen anything so spectacular in my life.
Twenty-five meters underwater, I saw this enormous lamppost. According to the captain, the straight beacon, which emitted faint blue lights, stretched 125 meters downward. It looked like the lost eye of a leviathan. And there were Stormfish, hundreds of thousands of them circling around the stalactite. "They love the light, especially glimmer in total darkness," Wint said.
The thin, silvery threadlets enveloped layer upon layer around the inner core, creating a terrifying vortex. I could hear the growling of water, like the whine of some colossal, dying, tangled beast. I could clearly see the underwater tornado with a sanguine halo orbiting.
"When they can't stand the hunger, they gnaw each other," Wint explained.
"But why?" Cash asked. "What are they after?"
"Nothing. Just that glimmer," Wint said. "That's all he lives for."
"Stormfish are actually one of the sensitive kinds," he continued. "They have a hearing that is unmatched by other fish, and any predator approaching will send them running in panic. But they are also very stubborn. With this, for example."
We stayed for another long while, until Wint reluctantly turned off the periscopes. "That'll be all for today, gentlemen." But something had clearly evoked some parts of Cash’s oldest desire, because he looked just singularly excited for someone frail.
He suddenly began to climb up as fast as he could, right when the news came from the control room that the hull had leaked. But it didn’t stop Cash, nor me.
And that was how the first act happened.
By the time Wint found me, my cane clutched in his hand, the tempest had almost rived us. He seemed relieved when he spotted the two floating corpses. With all his strength, he dragged me and the insane Cash Newman back into the cabin, then collapsed and coughed off the reel like his heart could shoot out.
Then I heard the deep, puissant howl, like a volcano erupting on an ocean ridge, like Glaurung starting to get serious. I had a sneaking feeling that this was it. l darted at the two men. They were not looking at me. I heard loud footsteps on the stairwell before dashing into the storm again.
But I didn't need to go any farther to the edge. That infinite nondescript outline like an upright nuclear submarine tore the night from the depths of the sea. Far from attracted by the menial Stormfish, it leapt out of the blue, soaring into the clouds scattering thunder. It brandished its dorsal fin as wide as a wasteland, and when it blustered again, sea water careened down to bury us. At least fifteen meters in width, I would say, I would never guess the length. We were supposed to try and catch, but now, we were enslaved.
I was almost sure I saw it, and its sad, heavy eyes, though the next thing I remembered was waking up in the cabin on a fine morning in a neat change of white shirt. But as long as I remembered, I couldn't be wrong. It must be Priapus. And what Wint Harbor saw five years ago were merely roes.
I suddenly found myself waking up in these mornings again, with a purpose. Because I had seen a miracle myself, I knew I could be a part of one.
Cash Newman and I got off the ship two days later. Neither of us mentioned anything about it. We parted at the bar like we'd never seen each other before. But I did ask him what he planned to do next. He didn't say. That was the last time I saw him. Wint Harbor kept on driving me to the intersection because my car was stolen. He seemed younger, so as to be a little more familiar, but when he walked he said nothing, which wouldn’t fit his character. He said he would see me again next year, at around the same time. I didn't understand what that meant.