Later That Afternoon

by Clyde on 8, April 2013

“Where are you taking us?”

“On a course due east. Or possibly due west. Compass is broken. You take a look at the sun and in ten minutes I’ll tell you for certain.”

After a half hour, Ocelot declared we had arrived and cut the engines.

“Right here is the perfect waters for octopus. You just watch and toss me the line when I come up. We’ll have octopus stew with wild fennel tonight.”

Ocelot dispersed the contents of his rucksack on the deck and picked out the pieces of his snorkel gear. He was a consummate diver and taught snorkeling at the Resort from time-to-time.

Long ago he dreamed of scuba, but when he panicked in the middle of a lesson, ripping off the face mask of another student and pushing off from her chest with his feet to get to the surface, the instructor effectively blacklisted him. After that snorkel was his only choice.

I watched him plunge into the water. He took a few enormous breaths and disappeared beneath the surface.

A minute went by and then two. Finally he shot up like a missile, panting. Removing his mask and snorkel he yelled “Switch on the depth finder.”

I went into the cabin. The whole place was stained the color of nicotine with tarry smoke residue that had glued legions of gnats and flies to the walls and surfaces.

I located the depth finder and turned it on. It blinked some non-sensical characters and then numbers started to display. After a moment it settled on 6000. I didn’t know what the units were, but unless they were pinheads, Ocelot was certainly not going to find his octopus here.

“Past the Continental Shelf. That’s ok. We turn around and head back just a bit. Must have crept over it from the current pushing us.”

So that’s what we did. We turned back, this time with the depth finder engaged. In ten minutes we were in 40 feet of water and Ocelot declared that this was the spot and he would try once more. And so I watched his ritual and saw him again disappear beneath the azure sea.

On deck, deprived of the rush of air you have when the boat is moving, the intense sun had begun to cook off a thick brew of fumes from the boat’s varnished surfaces. It was an chemical scent that was easily recognized.

When you visit the island hardware store to purchase something like varnish or paint thinner or ‘fire-starter,’ the clerk will scamper through the congested aisles, pushing back hoses that dangle like serpents from the uppermost shelves, sweeping aside armfuls of aluminum downspout to heave his way through a swinging door leading to a mysterious back room where he performed various alchemical arts. Moments later he would bustle back to the counter and write out a receipt in pencil. ‘Paint Thinnerr,’ double-underlined in an officious manner. Then he would hand you a plastic antifreeze jug with the words ‘paint thinnerr’ written in marker.

‘What’s this? I’d ask.

‘That is your paint thinner. Paint thinner is what you asked for. This is what you use to cut paint. If you have some other purpose in mind you have to tell me. You can’t just tell me you want paint thinner if in your mind you have some other purpose you are planning. Do you understand?’

The underlying problem with the hardware store concoctions wasn’t that they were unsuitable for whatever purpose you had in mind. In fact, they were typically quite effective.

No, the main problem was that the base, the starting point, the vehicle for all these potions, was ladled from a black 55 gallon drum of spent solvents from a methamphetamine lab. Captain Dusty bought it at sea, brought the drums back, and fed the local economy a steady diet of waste solvent that it used as the blood supply for its industrial processes.

So on a hot day like today, the fumes of ether and meth would rise from the wooden rails of the boat and circle your head like flying demonic spirits, and pretty quickly you would be on the verge of losing any meaningful touch with reality.

And that was the state I had reached when Ocelot bobbed back to the surface.

This time he shouted, urgently, “Throw me the line quick. There is a slight problem.”

“I saw her, the most lovely octopus that ever swam this ocean, and as I reached to snatch her away, my hand missed and I caught a dart from a snail. Now the pain is creeping up my arm, like a metal wire in my veins.”

Out here, if a creature had spines, darts, warts, if it was brightly colored or even if it just looked at you in a funny googly-eyed manner, you could be certain it was poisonous. And if it was poisonous you could be certain it carried a threat of lethality. You might outpace the toxin if you reached medical help before the pain stung you in the heart, but many victims were not so fortunate.

I fought off the effects of the vapors and did the best I could to comply with Ocelot’s instructions, sensing in his voice an unspeakable dread that made me queasy on top of the sea-sickness I was now experiencing.

As I hauled Ocelot aboard, the faintest veil of fog began to creep in. The wind shifted and the water turned choppy. The sun began to fade ominously.

Ocelot collapsed on a bench.

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