Young Man With a Spear
An engineer who served in the Navy during the war, JOSEPH WHITEHILL,now in his thirtieth year, has settled on the eastern shore of Maryland to devote his full time to wrting. “Able Baker” was his first story to appear in the Atlantic, and it won him an Atlantic award and a place in the Prize Stories of 1956. A collection of his best narratives, entitled Able Baker and Others, has just been published in book form under the Atlantic—Little. Brown imprint, and rumor has it that he is well along with his first novel.
by JOSEPH WHITEHILL
FIFTY yards seaward of the line of commencement of the violent white breakers, out where the yellow rubber life raft was anchored, the incoming ground swell was not yet much mounded. The flaccid life raft buckled easily as it nodded up the slope of each swell, straining at the clothesline rope that served as anchor rode; then, as the swell passed, the raft relaxed and idled down into the trough, and the anchor line came slack.
Clinging at equal spaces around the saggy, inflated rim of the raft were three tired and desiccated youths in swimming trunks, each hunched half out of the water and resting on his chest. Each wore on his submerged and dangling feet a pair of black rubber flippers shaped like the feet of bullfrogs, and on his head, pushed up out of the way, a rubber-rimmed, glass-lensed diving mask. They were staring bemusedly at the litter of fish and other sea junk that lay dying or already dead on the sloppy, undulating floor of the raft.
Of the three young men, only Joe Ortiz was an intellectual, and thus, post hoc propter hoc, was the only one who was actively unhappy. He was thin and dark-skinned and dark-eyed, but his bony chest, his rib cage, was enormous. “You guys did all right,” he said, looking at the fish in the raft. He pointed to a silvery plump corvina which Bob had speared earlier in the afternoon.
Also on the floor of the raft were two large pinkfleshed abalones, an adolescent flounder which still curled its tail at intervals, and a tiny uninjured octopus whose body was no bigger than a pullet egg. “The octopus needs some water,”Bob said. Bob was loosely fat and had fair, red-blotched, goose-fleshed skin.
“You gonna save it?” asked Holly.
“Oh, I don’t know. For a while, I guess. I want Ellen to see it. Alive. Reach me that coffee can, Joe, will you?”
Joe scratched his salt-encrusted shoulder. “ Won’t reach it to you. I’ll hand it to you, if it’s all right.”
“All right, all right. If you please. Thank you. . . . There now, Mr. Oetopussy, you feel better?” Bob poured sea water gently over the miniature octopus, which went rigid in delight. Bob wheezed as he took in a breath. “Joe, you’re like everybody else that came to the English language late. You’re too chivalrous to it.”
“What time d’you s’pose it is?" Holly asked. Holly was last year’s high school hero who this year trundled carts in a seafood cannery. He worried about things.
Joe Ortiz, pushing down with his hands on the flabby rim of’ the1 yellow raft, raised himself higher out of the water and squinted at the white-stuccoed, red-tile-roofed clubhouse of the beach club at the south end of the mile-long broad beach. “It’s either four-thirty or five-thirty. I can’t see very well. The rich people ought to use bigger clocks. What would Veblen say if he knew that the rich weren’t consuming conspicuously enough?”
“Oh, Lord,” Bob said. He skinned off his mask and dropped it to the bottom of the boat among the fish; then he climbed awkwardly and heavily out of the water and into the raft and sat rubbing his forehead where the mask had left an arcing red weal. “Dammit. Joe, does everything have to have a social or an economic significance?”
“It’s none of my doing,”Joe said. “It’s not a quest ion whet her t hings do have to or don’t have to.
They just do or they don’t, that’s all. I’m not a charlatan. I don’t invent these tilings.”
Holly said, “It sure sounds like you do. Why don’t I see all those significant things you do?”
Joe said, “You aren’t a greaser.”
Abruptly, Holly climbed into the raft, lie shook his head after removing his mask. “Why d’you hafta say things like that? All it does is embarrass everybody.”
“It doesn’t embarrass me,”Joe said. He made no move to get out of the water. He paddled gently with In’s fin-footed legs to keep even with the easy motion of the undulant raft.
“God, am I tired,”Bob said. He hung his head loosely and let his shoulders sag.
“Me too,”Holly said. “I feel all wrung out. We must’ve been in the water three hours. ... I wonder if the girls are there yet. Can you see?”
Bob raised his heavy head to look toward the beach. “Not now. Wait till a boomer comes in.”
“Here comes a boomer,”Holly said. “Get ready.”
When the seventh swell of the seventh series of swells came (the highest of any of its kind), Holly stood up just as the raft, reached the crest, and looked in toward the beach. He smiled and waved and sat down quickly. “They saw us. They’re building a fire. Why don’t we go on in an’ get warm?”
“Good deal,” Bob said, and he began hauling in the clothesline anchor rope. His fat breasts jiggled as he pulled.
“No,” Joe said, clinging to the raft with one arm while he took off his mask.
“Oh, come on, Joe, let ‘s go in,” Holly pleaded.
Joe put the mask on again, so that it covered his eyes and nose and pressed in hard against his upper lip. The clamping pressure on his upper lip made it lift grotesquely away from his long white teeth. His voice became nasal and curiously flattened: “You boys both have something to show in there ashore. You’re victorious fishermen, but me, I haven’t got anything yet. Why don’t you let me make a run over there to the swimming rope and back?”
Bob sighed and released the coils of anchor line he had gained. “You’re overdoing it, Joe. You’re tired too. Como on. Let’s go in.”
“It won’t take ten minutes. . . . Besides, it’s my boat.” Joe gathered his light spear line into a loose coil and thrust his arm through it, then cast off from the raft and lay prone on the surface of the water while he twined his legs about the wooden shaft of his spear in such a manner that the shaft was gripped securely between his bony shins, while its fisga, the green-painted, five-tined spearhead, was three feet in advance of his body.
“You trying for flounder again?” called Holly.
Joe lifted his head from the water and nodded, He looked about to fix his course, then took a long breath and buried his head in the water and, with a humping stroke of his arms, submerged.
JOE ORTIZ came up for breath, and he rested for a short time, fanning the water slowly with his hands. Then, after three deep, precharging inhalations, he went under again. Fifteen feet below him was the desert plain of brown sandy bottom, wave-ribbed and corded, played on by shifting, glittering folds of wave-broken sunlight. This ancient fabric had about it the timelessness of a deserted theater: there was a sense of life’s having been there before, and a tacit promise that life would someday be there again, but now, in the meantime, in the waiting period, there were only the sounds from invisible sources. The sea this day was more turbid than was usual; Joe Ortiz could see no more than fifty feet in all directions before the lowering curtain of microorganisms turned the distance to a featureless, seminal green. But the sounds were there, the sounds of the living ocean bottom. There were little creaks and tiny anguished groans, and the scraping, sliding, clicking, rustling noises of bottom things feeding out of sight, clinging to dark rocks in deeper water. There was only one man-sound under here: the clink of an iron chain.
Each passing swell carried Joe shoreward ten feet, then returned him with its ebb, and his giant frog-shadow on the sand below him was the only moving thing in his world.
Here is really alone, he thought. This is alone like no other kind of alone in the whole world. In the whole real world, I mean. There’s just me and that shadow of mine and the pressure in my ears. And the noise of the chain that anchors that swimming float. O sweet, gentle Christ, what a place to exercise your fear! This — hey, Joe — is the same ocean that whales and barracuda swim in. I can never forget that, ever. What would I do if I saw a whale under here? Or a barracuda? Or a dead body? Mad re, I could see anything here!
Joe swam along the surface with a slow breast stroke, feeling the water-roughened wood of the spear shaft scrape his chest as the swells and his own motion made it rub against him. Some water had crept in around the rubber side of his mask, and it trembled in a little triangular pool just before his nose. He raised his head into the air and made a grimace that swelled the flesh of his cheeks and lifted the mask a little away from his upper lip. He blew air out of his nose, and the water in the mask drained out and ran down his chin. Then he took the shaft of the spear in his hands and released the clamping pressure of his shins and trod water with his finned feet to take the stiffness and the chill out of his legs. The coils of his spear line floated ticklingly across his shoulders and he shrugged them hastily away. Jesus, he thought, anything at all touches you while you’re in the water and you can’t stand it. You get goosy.
lie inhaled and submerged again. The clapping roar of the breakers, muffled even when he was on the surface because he was on the back side of
them, turned underwater into a far-off cottony thunder. When a wave broke inshore, all that came to Joe was a small, solid thump. Let’s go down a little farther, he thought. That shadow’s moving around too much down there on the sand. With two broad, shoveling strokes he descended to a depth of ten feet. Making a curious, practiced motion of his jaw, he cracked open his Eustachian tubes, freeing them from the deafening pressure of the water. He let a little air from his mouth into his nose, and the mask pressed less against his face.
I was designed for this, he thought, I couldn’t be any better made for this. . . . Poor fat, wheezy Bob. No wonder he gets tired, he has to keep swimming himself down all the time. And he can’t hold his breath for beans. But you take me, I can hold my breath. What was that funny term? Vital. . . . Vital capacity was what Dr. Kinsolving said. I thought he meant “capacity for living it up and burning with a flame most hard and gemlike” or “the energy endowment of the superman.” Not so. It was much simpler and almost as nice. Vital capacity, as he said it, means the difference between the capacity of one’s lungs when fully inflated, and the residual capacity when they are fully deflated. The average for men of my height and weight is five and a half liters, How his eyes popped when I blew into his machine! Eight and a half liters. That ain’t no bad thing.
HEY, flounder, where are you? Come on, dead desert of a sea bottom, show me a mistake in the sandy ripple pattern. Show me a place where a giant flounder has laid himself down on the bottom for a snooze. Show me some disturbed sand, a wide shallow hollow, with a comb of dorsal fins sticking out at the side, a place where this flounder has fluttered and kicked and squirmed and raised a cloud of sand, then has slid under this cloud and thus sanded himself all over his top. Show me no thin spiky tails of stingarees. The magic is gone out of stingarees now.
Christ, what’s that noise!
Joe’s body convulsed and his masked head turned wildly about in a streaming tangle of black hair as he suddenly heard from nowhere the sharp metallic whine of propellers. Because of the curious closeness of underwater acoustics, the grinding chord came to Joe from all about him; then, horribly, it came to lodge loudly within his very head. Joe abandoned his spear and shot to the surface. He looked hastily about in panic, but there was no boat bearing down on him to shred him with its propeller. As he rose; to the crest of a swell he made a surging kick with fear-inspired legs, and then he saw the boat. Fully a mile away, a fat gray tuna trawler, heavily masted and with splayed booms, had just rounded the sea wall at the point. Joe Ortiz collapsed back into the water and rolled over belly up to recover from his rabbit fright. His whitened lips moved silently as he looked at the bright sky.
Mother of God, how can a boat that far away make so much noise in the water?
He pulled the floating spear to him by the light braided line w hich was fastened near its fisga; then he remounted the spear shaft between his shins and looked about to set his course. The beach club’s square, heaving float was thirty yards away now, somewhat to seaward of his position, and he could see the white blocks of wood through which was reeved the long rope that led from the swimming float to the beach. The floating white blocks, spaced twenty feet apart on the hawser, served to keep it afloat and visible; weak swimmers were encouraged to stay near it lest they grow tired and succumb to panic. Moreover, and more important to Joe Ortiz, the rope, or, rather, the Rope, marked the seaward extension of the beach club’s property line. Members of the beach club paid two hundred and seventy-five dollars a month for the privilege of remaining undisturbed on the south side of that boundary. Sea-wet dogs who trespassed in a happy gallop along the beach and spear fishermen who voyaged south of the Rope were equally regarded as disturbances. Several times before this, Joe, stalking a wary corvina or sea bass, had been led by the fish beneath the Rope, and had been obliged to abandon the pursuit in frustrated anger. The lifeguards had sharp eyes and shrill, embarrassing whistles, and they were heavy with the weight of righteousness.
Looking now at the swimming float, searching among the brown-skinned, white-capped girls and the hairy-chested men, Joe saw a muscular youth more darkly tanned than the rest, from whose neck swung a brass police whistle on a glittering chain. The young man, the lifeguard, was idly watching Joe without seeming to.
Joe took three fast breaths and held the last one, flattened himself on the heaving surface of the water, and continued his course toward the Rope. He swam with slow breast strokes, hungrily searching each discontinuity in the ribbed, sandy bottom.
Please, hey, giant flounder, where are you resting? I know you are there somewhere, because I have taken your little brothers and sisters on days before. I need you now, big flounder. I need you to be about twenty pounds. No less. (How many kilos is that? Eight or nine or ten, in there somewhere. My father would have known right off.) And let’s see, I need you to be strong and fine and a hard puller, speared well and securely in the muscle meal, not in the gills or entrails, because you must not get away, but you must make winning you hard. And when I have won you I. shall drag you to the rubber boat, and Bob (fat Bob) and Ilolly (the worrier and complainer) will look at you with wonder and they will forget that they had wanted to quit before and go in to the beach and the fire and the girls. And when the girls see you they will be full of sighs and cries, and they will not even see the big corvina Bob got, and they might squeal at the little octopus, but they will look at you, flounder, with respect, and they will think how much chowder and how many fillets you will make. And Nanda darling will know that I am the greatest spear fisherman in all of California.
In his intent ness Joe had forgotten the Rope and the lifeguard, and he swam with even, metered strokes, searching the corded sand below him, letting the oscillating swells cast him from side to side and thanking them for widening the path of his search by the measure of their motion.
I know what I have to do! Of course. Why didn’t I think of it before? I must make a votive offering of some kind. I must earn this flounder before he will be shown to me. . . What can I offer? . . . Well, that little juggler of Notre Dame, all he did was juggle and he made out all right. I can hold my breath longer than anybody else. Let’s have it be that. Okay. I’ll hold my breath until you are presented to me, big flounder . . . beginning now, not with a fresh breath, but with this one that is already half spent.
C ertainly the King of All Fish will hear the pain under my ribs and the explosions in my throat where the air is trying to get out, and he will show me my flounder. Are you listening, King of All Fish? Here comes the first pain. Listen carefully. You hear that breath wanting out? Do you hear my body crying air? Crying even to be let to breathe through my shoulder blades or the back of my neck or the top of my head where it is out of water? But I will not. . . . And ... so ... is
. . passed . . . the first pain and the lull sets in and the body retreats to a previously prepared position.
The body grants the first round of the fight and begins all over again in fair comfort and greater economy, using what air there is and for the moment demanding less. A wife’s first labor must be like this to her . . . the pain surges coming closer together every time, but after each one is past, there is then a resting time when she can think she has won a small victory, and she can be proud, for having won a small victory she is stronger to meet the next one, the bigger one, coming. Each pain in the cycle is a primer preparation for the one to follow it, and her reward is the lull between. But laboring wives have it. better than me, King of All Fish, because they can scream. If I scream I have lost it all.
Can you faint under water? Can your men will whip your body?
IN HIS swimming, carried on now in a mindless automatic rhythm, Joe was so absorbed in his votive mortification that he did not see the heavy algae-bearded hawser as he approached it. He swam with only his arms, for his legs were immobilized by their rigid grip on the lower end of the spear shaft. The fisga of the spear, like a green steel hand, preceded his body by the space of three feet, out of water most of the time. His body washed loosely with the swells, moving from side to side, but the Rope, tied at its outer end to the anchored swimming float, held firm, resisting. The trailing algae of the Hope first streamed shoreward, then reversed and pointed out to sea. Joes spear shaft, inclined slightly upward by his body angle, passed across the floating hawser. Then, with the next ebb, the spear shaft pressed down hard on the slimy Rope, and when the backflow carried Joe seaward, the lumpy helices of the Rope sent a thrumming, jarring shock down the shall and into his oxygen-starved body. Aik!
Flailing blindly, as if he had forgotten how to swim, Joe beat at the roiled surface of the water and gasped for air. As from his agonized throat came a wordless cry for help, he swallowed burning sea water. Then, in the midst of his coughing and retching, he saw the Rope, and shame and hate rose in him like a corroding flood, lie was treading water limply, weak with his fullness of angry relief, when he heard the insolent skirl of the lifeguard’s rolling-pea whistle. Joe snapped his head around to look out at the tossing swimming float. The tanned lifeguard stood balanced on the edge of the float, pointing at him. “Get that spear outa here! We don’t want any spear fishing around here!" Then the lifeguard put his fists on his hips, making his overdeveloped latissimus dorsi muscles stand out like triangular sheathing columns down the sides of his swimmer’s chest. Joe saw the girls on the float looking busily from the lifeguard to himself in the water, and on the only inspiration he had, Joe raised his fist with the middle finger insultingly erect. The lifeguard continued to glower, but made no challenging move.
A passing swell swept Joe into the hard, slimy Rope; then the Rope cast, him away, and he paddied feebly along while he coiled his spear line and prepared to swim the long way back to the rubber boat.
What I should have done, he thought, what I should have done was swim over there to that float and wiggle the fisga points in that slob’s face. . . . Really, now, would I ever have done something like that? No. . . Of course not. . . . O Lord, am I going to spend all t he rest of my life wishing I had done thus-and-so or this-and-that, instead of what I really did do? Is a man the creature he dreams himself? Or is he just the victim of what he does? Hey, Joe Ortiz, I hate you. No, let’s say it right. Here. Hey, Jose Ortiz, I hate you.
With no fun left in him, Joe swam directly toward the yellow rubber boat he could see over the tops of the swells. The idea of the flounder was gone from him now. The flounder had been a bright dream; now it was impossible, unattainable, undeserved. Joe swam with loose strokes; his bones felt as if they had turned to milk, and he was suddenly very tired. He rolled his head aside often to * breathe, and he paid scant attention to the featureless bottom beneath him.
HE WAS within a hundred feet of the rubber boat when, quite by chance, he saw the shark. With his face plate down in the water between breaths, be saw a shadow far ahead on the bottom, at the very edge of the green-curtained gloom. Believing the shadow to be that of the raft, he raised his head to alter the course of his swimming accordingly, and he knew at once that the raft was too far off to cast this shadow. He sucked in a great gasp of air and submerged. Releasing the spear shaft from his legs and taking it in his hand, he began a furious driving flipper kick forward. His terrified heart suddenly seemed now to have acquired palpable shape and size and weight in his chest, and he felt a curious resentment that this unruly muscle should take up space in his chest that was more needed for air.
Only by its black eyes and its blinking row of black gill slits, and by the graceful form of its tail, did Joe see the shark at all, for its gray-tan color was virtually the same as ihe color of the sand over which it nosed, and in the diffuse light of underwater its shape was not clearly defined. Joe swam on, holding the spear in one hand while he cleared the coils of his spear line with the other. The shark and he were on converging courses; the shark was coming in from the deeper sea, snuffling sleepily along the bottom, gliding forward with a barely noticeable flicking of its limber tail, cruising.
O Mother of God, this is better than any flounder. Better than any flounder in the whole ocean. Hey, sand shark, how big are you? How much do you weigh? You arc not as big as a submarine or a whale, and you are not as big even as a cow, but you look like a cow there half asleep. Please don’t see me yet. Not till I am closer. Closer. . . . Why, you are not even as long as I am. Look at our shadows there on the bottom. Mine is two feet longer t han yours. How much do you weigh, shark? Sixty pounds? Seventy?
Joe was well above the shark and slightly to one side. Their shadows on the bottom were an arm’s span apart; the shark’s shadow showed almost no flexing with its swimming, but Joe’s shadow, gawky and frog-shaped, had to flutter to keep even. Joe shifted the spear shaft to his right hand, drawing the spear line taut along the shaft and clamping it with his fingers.
Oh, dear, there now. You have seen me. You start to swim in your great circle on the bottom. Don’t run, shark.
The shark did not run. Having caught sight of Joe in the top of its eye, the shark showed no fright , but only shortened the sw ing of its head as it swam. Instead of swinging from full left to full right as a shark’s head will do when the animal is swimming efficiently and just browsing, the head now swung only from right to center and back right again. This, that it might keep Joe always in its eye.
Joe slid his right hand back into throwing position at the tail of the spear, and he aimed by holding the forepart of the shaft lightly in the finger tips of his left hand.
How much to lead him? How much will he jump ahead between the time the spear starts down and the time the fisga kisses his back? He is heavy, so he will be slow to start. No, he is Shark, so he w ill move like the wind. Somewhere between those aiming points is the true one. Well, what the hell.
Joe gave a sudden lunging kick to bring him down nearer the fish, and launched the spear. The shark burst ahead in a cloud of sand and came out of the cloud carrying the fisga of the spear planted loosely just behind its dorsal fin. The shark disappeared waving the spear and Joe had time only to break the surface of the water and cry, “Shark!” and suck in a short breath before the heavy, hand-burning pull came on the spear line and dragged him underwater again.
It is not to outswim him. It is not to just drag him to the boat. It is to go to the spear and hold the spear and bring him to the boat holding him closely, that is how it is. Madre! How scared can I be? Is there any more scared than this? There you are, shark. All right. Bull toward him on the line.
Joe Ortiz knew from the crazy way the bottom moved that the strong shark was pulling him through the water. Hand over hand Joe took in the light spear line. When the shark stopped to think, Joe took two turns of the line around his hand and surfaced for breath. He came up close to and facing the yellow rubber boat. Bob and Holly stared at him. They were poised awkwardly on the inflated rim of the leaky boat, straining to see. Joe smiled to himself at their helpless idiocy. The shark tugged again at the line and Joe went under.
Where are you, boy? Oh, there. What? Not giving up, are you.? Don’t be silly, shark. You haven’t yet begun to work. Don’t just lie there on the bottom like a log; get up and go some more. Hey, wait a minute . . . not this way. Don’t come this way. You aren’t supposed to think up ideas. Stop it. Go back!
The shark had turned to face him, and Joe saw its toothy, lipless mouth for the first time. The shark snapped pettishly in the empty water, and even though it was still thirty feet away, Joe saw plainly how the triangular teeth leaned inward in its mouth. Joe took in several feet of line and jerked hard to turn the shark with its own pain. The shark did turn. It started off" at right angles to the taut line, swimming in a circle with Joe as the center.
O God, what a thing you are, shark. I wish Mr. Hemingway was here. This beats bulls. Hey, shark! Come here now.
Joe hauled in line steadily, narrowing the shark’s compass until it swam in a small closed circle directly below him, hugging the bottom. The shark did not seem angry, only confused and patient. Joe reached out wildly with his free hand and successfully captured the free end of the spear as it came by. The shark felt the solid touch as the spear gained Joe’s weight; it quivered, then heaved off across the bottom in a limping straight line, scuffing the sand with a pectoral fin as it moved in its hampered course, dragging Joe behind.
I’d give a dollar fora breath, shark. . . . Go up, why don’t you? Well, stop pulling so hard. You’re hurting my arms. My shoulders are coming apart. Where’s that line? . . . I’d give a dollar to have that line. But I can’t let go to reach it. . . . You’re going out too deep, fish. Quit it. I said quit it. . . . You’re going to get me sore in a minute. Go up, I said. All right then, dammit.
Painfully, Joe pulled himself along the spear toward the retreating shark until he had enough of the spear to himself to clamp the end between his thighs and take some of the strain off" his arms. The shark was tiring.
You won’t go up by yourself, all right, I’ll steer you up then. I’ll ride you up, you dope. I’ll look you in the eye, even. That’s what I’ll do. I II subdue you with my magic eye. You haven’t a chance.
It was here that Joe saw that the fisga was not well planted in the back flesh of the shark. Only two of the barbed tines were properly lodged in the hard ridge of muscle; the other three were free. Gray-white meat gleamed around the two buried tines, showing that the barbs were working loose.
Well, that’s just too bad, that is. Really ought to swim ahead up on top and ram the rest of them down in. How do you get on top of a shark? . . . Climb. And stay away from those free points.
So Joe Ortiz, almost at. the end of his long breath, inched forward on the spear until his head was directly over the. fisga. The laboring shark seemed oblivious; all it wanted was the peace and quiet of deep water. With the backward leverage so heavy now on the fisga, the shark’s tough, sandy-gray hide swelled up in tumid wens where the tines were rooted. Joe twisted his legs securely around the shaft of the spear and pounced out along the length of the shark’s back and caught hold of its thick, rough pectoral fins.
It was as though he had thus pulled a trigger in the shark. It heaved in panic, and struck Joe a crushing blow in the chest with the hard, blunt point of its dorsal fin; a bolt of raking pain burned up along his thigh.
Next he knew, he was at the surface choking; his mask was half filled with water that ran freely into his nose, searing it inside with an awful agony. Within his skull there came a short meowing sound as air trapped in his sinuses broke out into his nasal passages. Knowing he was somehow wounded, he was terrified lest the shark turn on him now. Hastily, half blind, he blew the water from his mask and ducked his head beneath the surface, but the shark had gone. So had his spear. Below him in the water a white filament crossed his vision; then the end of the spear line disappeared too in the green shadows. There was nothing left.
He looked down at his thigh. Shrouded in a veil of gray-red blood were two trailing strips of what looked like pale kelp attached to his leg. Then, what looked like pale kelp changed in his eyes to what looked like strips of uncooked bacon, lie raised his leg to set* better, and his throat closed in a vertiginous spasm; the two strips were skin.
Joe raised his head and took two lead-armed strokes toward the nearby raft and could take no more. Something felt broken in his chest. He crossed his arms loosely and kicked toward the raft with his finned feet.
Was I dumb? Didn’t I do it right? He didn’t even let me look him in the eye before he ran away, the coward.
Bob and Holly, mute with respect, reached out to help Joe over the side of the yellow rubber boat. “Pull me in by my pants,”Joe said. “My chest hurt s.”
They did as he asked, rolling him over the flabby gunwale and easing him gently down to the slimy floor of the boat among the dead fish. “My God,” Bob said, removing Joe’s mask, “did he bite you;
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. . . . Gee, I feel pale.”
“Oh, you are,” Bob said.
“I think —he—dragged th’ —fisga ‘long m’leg.”
“I knew it,” Holly said. “I knew it, I knew it. I told you not to go out that last time. Bob. got in the anchor. No, don’t bother with it. There isn’t any room for it, even. Just cut it loose there. We’ve got to get him to the hospital before he bleeds to death. Look how white he is. I wish somebody would tell me how we’re going to get this tub through the breakers.”
Oh, Mr. Flounder, I don’t care. Good-by, Mr. Shark. Good-by, Mr. Lifeguard. Who needs flounders and sharks anyway?
And Joe Ortiz was smiling as he quietly fainted.