E
June/July 1998

Me & Jonah

by Jeff Weston


The water is cold, cold enough to break the skin of the boat, the skin of me, oh, it's a little too much. We started days ago. That was good, when we started out, leaving port the way you do with the engines throttled full and there were good skies and I was saying to myself, we'll get lots of fish this time out and I think I was planning to take the money and get a new truck. One time I made seven grand on a trip after it was said and done.

Oh, I hear such beautiful music, it makes my heart break, like the ship, was broken, across the rocks.

If I could move my leg along the slick deck, if it weren't already gone to the place where legs go, when they're sick and tired, I would move along the deck and examine the possibilities.

One needs possibilities.

Occasionally I listen. I listen very hard, straining, no, harder than that. I can hear a whole lot of things. Sometimes I hear the engine sputtering. Like it's going, I think, excellent, then we'll continue on to the Banks and nab fish and I'll be out with nets and I'll have my gloves and this is very important, I'll be looking out over the bow and can see the ripple of the surface of the water as waves come towards us as if we were cutting through the lines of a great symphony, like the one on the radio at the moment.

The light of 12 Pound island is a laser. I shiver every time it slices across us, and am slivered into pieces the way you take an egg and sever it into equal sections with wire, the wire in an egg cutter like they have in kitchens. I try not to look at the light. Then I look at the light, trying to fathom a purpose. I remember its purpose, to guide, that's what it does. Everything is being cut. Time, I have seen, by waiting for the swivel of the light of the light house, is a paradox. Perhaps everything cut up is a paradox.

I remember once, I was traveling the length of the coast, in a car, a nice car I had, it was a 2002, one of the older ones, and in driving I could sense that the ocean was cut up into pieces from my view in the car. The landscape in the winding road slid into view, then broke to allow the ocean. It was cold, like now, very cold, and the ocean doesn't freeze, not like lakes and ponds, but around the edges it did, and steam rose from it, as it struggled to remain in motion. There I was, in motion, struggling to remain in motion. I think I was running away from something, from some situation. I don't believe I was running for ever, like, trying to actually escape, I was running for the sake of running, to clear my head. And the water, as I wound around the road of the coast, puzzled me with its distinct personality. I must say I felt fear. So large, so much. Like now. Except I don't want to think about that exactly, I'm just going to try running, in my head, until my head clears. If I could reach the radio down in the galley, I would turn it up. Although it's pretty loud right now. It was left on before we went belly up on the rocks. And the rocks cut too, oh yes, I found that out. But we didn't sink, that we would have, we were speared on the jagged points. It is useless to mention this. Even if I had grabbed the log book from the cabin, in some miraculous foresight, of the time at hand, and a pen too -- I speak for the fishes who taunt me. I am telling them. You then, are the fish. You are listening safely in the tide, warm enough with your fatty insulation from the icy salt.

Blasted radio I hate you I really hate you! Why don't your batteries run low so you can stop tricking me and keeping me listening as if I were tethered to you, with long cords of stainless steel cable never capable of rusting, always closer to the infernal speaker and the commercials, ugh, I think it's the commercials which get me. I would like to go down to Demario's for some new vinyl house siding! I would like to open an account at the Cape Bank! But I can't, you see? It's very simple. No need to get upset about it.

I think it was an argument with a girlfriend.

When the spray comes in over the railing, I can feel it against my face, but it seems to have calmed down, the water and the fish are quietly listening.

I always liked when, in the summer, you went into the freezer and it made your whole body tingle. That was great, although it does occur to me that there in the winter, in the snow, when the snow gets caught between your gloves and coat, just at the wrists, it burns. I guess I liked that too. I'd take either right now to be quite frank.

If I were named Frank, I would no longer be named Mikhail.

My father named me this, you see, and my mother grudgingly agreed. She wanted to name me Frank. No, I believe she wanted to name me Boris. I don't think I would have liked to have been called Boris all my life. There is something absolutely grainy about it, the sound of it, in my ears, with the sound of the water constantly moving, the sound Boris does nothing to please me. My parents say they're from Moscow, but I know they're really from the Ukraine. Just like them to name someone Mikhail rather than Boris, not Frank, not Joe. But I'm from Leicester, not from where they're from and even having to carry around a name like Mikhail, although not Boris, has always been a heavy load. I was ruddy cheeked. Maybe the cold is in my blood, and it fires the area below my eyes with constant streaks of red. I have no mirror now, but if I did, I would check this tidbit of a thought, to verify it.

Let's see, if I were speaking to salmon how would the story differ from one told to tuna?

I have given up on the fish. I don't think they're listening. I'm speaking now to the lighthouse, yes, it will surely listen. My words will be absorbed by the light, and in being absorbed, redistributed over the whole water. I am imagining other sailors have done this too, so that there are layers on top of layers. The waves bump them so they mix, and we have one story mixed into another, like paint spilled, or like something else, something I can't remember at the moment.

There are many things to remember. I have tried to remember them all, but have settled for select things, pulled out at random.

Let's see, there are so many. Here's one.

I am seeing that place I'd rented right on Agawam Beach. It was a cabin, sort of a cabin, that was open to the air, I had it for the summer, it was open like it had no windows. It had slats which were hinged at the top and held open at an angle by a pole, you could lower them if you wanted, when it was raining or whatever. I had the place all summer. And there was a small foot trail down to the beach, and I spent time drinking wine and playing guitar and I would sometimes build a fire on the beach and cook what I'd caught. I had this girl, Maria, who used to come to the cabin. And we had great sex there, in the cabin, on the beach, the kind of slow sex that went with the tempo of the waves, like we weren't in any hurry. I spent alot of time thinking about things then. Oh, what sort of things did I think about? I wasn't a teenager, but I wasn't grown up either. I guess those sorts of things. Why is insurance so important to everybody? Why did peasants pour vodka down Dostoyevski's father's throat so he died? If I were Nietzsche, and I walked into a bar, how would I explain my philosophy without being beaten up? Why did I say those cruel things years ago to Boris? Why don't people say what they mean, or why don't people keep it to themselves, or why don't people spend more time laying on the beach with a guitar smoking some weed? I really felt I was getting to the bottom of enormous burning questions. I imagined I could impart this knowledge to my fellow man. I told Maria and she laughed. I didn't mind. People are always saying, oh, these are the best days of your life, like, since you were like, three. Maybe those days on the beach were mine. I don't know. They kind of embarrass me too. Those days, the best ones, which I look at now. Now. Not now. I don't want to think about it right now. The fire inched over the wood as if it were alive. That's what I remember. I thought the fire was alive, those nights. And I thought the ocean was too. I could understand, rolling sand between my fingers and toes, why the four elements were chosen. I tried to play an Earth, Wind, and Fire song on the guitar for Maria but I was never very good. My fingers just don't seem to be able to move around in a musical way. It's as if they're glued together. I can only strum in a dirge sort of way. Maybe it's my Russian blood. I've heard my Uncle warble out some terrifically mournful Russian songs. I've forgotten alot of my Russian, but I remember the songs were always about some worker for the people sacrificing something. Ah.

What I would like is something to do. When you're doing things you don't have to think so much, and it would take my mind off the ocean.

When you have bad thoughts, like very bad thoughts about hurting or being hurt it's sometimes best to let them flow right through you, as if you were transparent.

So I'm opening my eyes again, although the lids are hurting quite a lot on my eyes, and the eye balls themselves are aching with the cold, I look at the water, as if I were transparent.

Like the fire. Every bit is moving. Every tiny jutting bit of it is moving of its own free will. This is an enormous animal I am surrounded by. It is angry, maybe it is angry with me, oh, tell me, what have I done wrong, won't you tell me, why go on punishing me this way! The radio is good. I like the radio, it takes away my attention from the water. I'm listening to the announcer's voice, I know the announcer, I mean, I know every thing about him because of each subtle intonation. I know where he went to school, what he had for breakfast, who he's sleeping with, what his goals and pet peeves are. He doesn't like the toilet paper roll put on so the sheets hang close to the wall, I can tell that. And he has trouble sleeping, and he has a few bills he can't seem to get around to paying, and he sits in the morning and wonders sometimes why he doesn't just pick up and move in with his cousin who has this great place in North Carolina, where he can finally get time to paint and maybe even sell some of the paintings of forests and portraits in a small gallery. That's what he's always wanted to do. His dog is very sick. He's worried about him, he doesn't want to have to put him to sleep, after all, he's had him since he was a teenager. I hope he plays a song I like. Even if he doesn't I forgive him. Oh, why doesn't the water forgive me and transport me to the shore so I can get that vinyl siding?

Wait, I think I rushed my interpretation of the radio man. I mean, I believe I was thinking of different tones, in his voice, and now that I'm listening harder I can tell some stuff I didn't have right in the first place. No dog, first of all. He is not the sort of person who has a dog, maybe a cat. Maybe not even a cat. Certainly not fish. I don't want to conceive of fish at the moment, who don't even have the decency to listen to me. A cat would. A dog would. No, the Radio Man is indeed sleepless, an insomniac. That much was correct. He does not paint ideal scenes. He is not an artist. But he does dream of escape. Like me. And why does he? That is a good question.

Maybe he is trapped by forces beyond his control, as if he were bounded in by a huge raging expanse.

When I was traveling across Alaska, with a backpack, and working for a while at the fisheries there, hoisting huge salmon onto conveyor belts, I was distinctly aware of many hedgings and expanses. Becoming conscious of the gravel beneath my feet, and the mosquitoes, and the north winds, I sought to follow the footsteps of Jack London and see the whole wide world. My eyes, so pained now, had wings. I wanted them to fly the entire way around. Tagging behind, I could pick up the pieces of my journey. But there were large chunks of time when I was only concerned with solitude I was never able to find. I was continually interrupted from more than a half hour of aloneness. Once I was out in the woods in Alaska, and I had walked three days out of Juneau, and I thought, my god, I am going to get away from things now, I'm actually going to be alone like I've never known before, and then maybe I'll get to the bottom of myself, and I'll be like the Indians and have known and be visited by Mother Nature herself and understand everything I need to. So there I am, having pitched tent for the night. I'd put out the fire. I laid down on my sleeping bag and was so very much at peace and content like I'd never been able to know before, when I can hear this sound in the distance. It's this whizzzzing sound. It's the sound of bombs falling in miniature. Then a great big BOOM, and laughter. Oh Jesus, what the hell almighty Christ is going on? Out of the tent with my flashlight I walk over a rise and see below me a truck and a few kids -- oh I don't know, they were my age -- and they were drinking and yelling and shooting fireworks. Out in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of everywhere. In the middle of my god-damn solitude and peace and quiet and diplomacy with Mother Nature. I was mad. I was livid. I shouted WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? and the guys they stopped and they looked up at me, and one of them said Hey dude, what are ya doing way out here? And I said TRYING TO GET SOME PEACE OF MIND. Hey, they said, come on down we got some beer and some good tunes. And I went down and had a beer with them, and we talked and they were working with a logging company. I liked them, we got along. I suddenly understood that seeking this solitude was impossible, that it wasn't meant for me, and you know I just sorta gave up then, seeing them there. So isn't it sort of ironic, I think, that now I've got it, when I don't want it.

The captain went over the side in an inflatable lifeboat on the first day. He said he was sure he could make it to 12 Pound Island and the light house.

I mean what's it about?

I have questions. I'm not sure what they are exactly, but I feel them in there, nudging the insides restlessly. Often I like to sit outside, on the porch I have, and drink a beer and smoke some, and the questions go away for a while. Sometimes they get so big and so bad, that I feel as if I'm slowly being swallowed, like Jonah was in the whale. Maybe he was swallowed up right away, so I'm more like being digested. That's what people imply, I guess, when they say 'what's eating you?' Questions, I have some. I would tell you what they were if I knew them.

What was the story, the one about Jonah, being swallowed by the whale. Wait. Let me think. Yes, God told Jonah to go to Ninevah as a messenger, to tell Ninevah it had gone sour and that God was going to punish them. But Jonah didn't do that. He ran away, he got on a ship, going somewhere, a place whose name is too long and too biblical for me to remember at the moment. Oh that I could. That the tiny details would come to me easily. I could be on Jeopardy with an ability like that. Anyway, I don't recall where Jonah was going, but the important part was, he was going there on a ship. God was pissed off. Made a storm. And Jonah lay sleeping in the ship, and a sailor shook him awake saying, Why are you sleeping? We're about to be smashed by the storm, don't you have a God to pray to? Oh yes, says Jonah, I have a God to pray to, the one that made the land and yes the storm too. Made the storm? they said. Well, tell him to make it go away. I can't do that, Jonah said, he's got to punish me I guess. Punish you? They conferred. Sacrifice him, the sailors said, throw him out where his God can get him and so we can survive. So the sailors said prayers and took Jonah and threw him overboard. And in the water a great beast waited, sent by God, who swallowed up Jonah, in whose belly he stayed three days and three nights. It was a great beast, OK, let's get that straight, it does not actually say a whale, but I prefer to think of it as a whale, so abide me will you? Jonah prayed and apologized I guess. Afterward, he was vomited up and went to Ninevah to preach the end because they had been very bad. But everyone listened to Jonah, in Ninevah, when he said God was going to destroy them in what, forty days. So everyone in Ninevah went and fasted, and threw away their clothes and wore sackcloth. And they repented. God saw that Ninevah was changed, and he forgave them and didn't destroy them. But Jonah was upset. I guess he really wanted to see Ninevah leveled. And this is the part I don't understand so well. The thing I can't figure out is the gourd. I can't figure why Jonah wants to die either, but I'm going to put that aside, at least momentarily. Let's just say Jonah wants God to kill him. But instead of killing him, God makes this gourd, which hangs over Jonah, which shades him from the sun. Can you figure this out? A floating gourd? Out of his gourd? And this isn't all. Jonah still wants to die, and he gets used to the gourd being there, and Ninevah being there, so God creates a worm that he places in the gourd, which makes it shrivel up. End of story. Does this make any sense whatsoever? It starts nicely, with the part about the whale (how I started on this whole thing) and ends up with a floating gourd and a worm.

Maybe Jonah wanted to die because he could not escape God. He was, in a sense, stranded. He sat out in the desert after saying what he had to say, and God wouldn't leave him alone, bothering him with floating gourds.

I should take some time to explain my position, to you, on the radio. That's who I'm addressing, I've given up on the fish. The guy on the radio will listen to me, as I've listened patiently to him. But he's not exactly in the same situation is he? He can probably leave whenever he likes. He could put on a very long album and walk outside the station and look at the sky and sit on some stairs, and maybe even drive down into town for a little while before he has to return. I would too except for this leg. What happened. When the waves started coming over the sides, and the engine went kaput, and we began drifting, I sloshed around on the deck unhooking the lines, in hopes we could gain some control, and then with a crack we were impaled on the rocks, and everything went crazy like the sounds of screams and the metal hull crumpling and that's when the winch came down and smashed my leg. I don't see much left of either. I would like to think that the leg hurt the winch as much as the winch hurt the leg. The pain was bad for a while. I mean, when I'm talking about pain here, I'm talking about excruciating bone wrenching flame rocketing around the whole surface and inside of the body. I squirmed. The captain tried to move the thing off, the winch thing, but he couldn't budge it. No choices, he said, very few choices, I've got to try and make it to 12 Pound island and then send somebody back. There was a survival suit in the pilothouse, along with the wrecked radios (the one's that broadcast, oh why am I tormented with one that only receives? One out of reach at that) and the shattered glass and busted electronics must've been quite a stab at the captain's heart, what with how much money he's put into this boat. There was a brief moment of him debating about the suit, which is a sort of orange bunny suit for low temperatures, and of course I couldn't have gotten the thing on what with my leg and the winch being so intimate.

But I don't feel so much pain now, I get real sleepy, but I know I shouldn't fall asleep, cuz that's what happens when you get too cold.

How long has the captain been gone? I could fathom large blocks of time that were, well, near forever. I have been here forever. There was once a class I took, in school, a physics class, about how time and space are connected. This always excited me, and I often thought about it, in a playful way, when we left port for six weeks when going on a big trip, how if we were moving the speed of light when we got back more time would have elapsed than what we had experienced. Everything would've changed. Everyone would've grown old and passed on, and their children too, cuz that's what happens they say, when you mix up time and space like that, by going so fast. Perhaps, now I muse, I am experiencing the opposite reaction: I am not moving in space, not one inch, not one less than one inch, and so time slows down for me while it progresses at the same rate in Leicester. So that when I get back, it'll seem to me like I've been gone for years, decades, and everyone'll say, oh, back so soon? How was the fishing? I like to think about this. What would happen to space, for instance, if you moved through time at a different rate? I mean, this isn't possible I know, to time travel, but if you could, what would happen to the space around you? If I were a physicist I would know the answers to these things.

I believe what is playing now is a Curtis Mayfield song.

When I was young certain songs had an effect on me. I would sit in the back of my aunt's VW bug (she was a hippie, who wore bell bottoms and braided her hair and decorated herself with flowery patterns) and the songs would make my whole body vibrate. The hook, of the songs, the pop songs. It was radio then, playing stuff I hear again once and a while but those songs don't make my whole body vibrate anymore, instead, they seem to hook the hook. You know what I mean? Like the reflection of a reflection of yourself in a mirror. It's removed, and yet it has a sort of effect. It isn't exactly reminiscence. I'm not specifically reminded of specific times. I don't travel in time. The songs don't do that. It's more like being poked, in the head, with something you're not really conscious was there. This is not entirely coherent. Let me try saying this another way, because this seems very important at the moment and I would like to get to the bottom of it.

Certain songs remind you that you remember.

There, I think that's it. That's like one of those drawings, by that guy, oh shit what's his name, the one who does the drawings of staircases that ascend into themselves and of endless patterns and waterfalls that go down and up at the same time. I think it's Etcher. Something like that. I guess he did etchings, that's not really his name. Those drawings have always been some of my favorites. There was one, a poster of one, in Sabina's house when I knew her, right above her couch. And I would sit there and stare at it alot. It was of a tower, and stairs going around the tower, and men walking on those stairs, and they were walking up and down at the same time, all together, forever. There were columns, and a fountain too, and looking at it, I would get glimpses of thoughts I never knew I had. Like they were buried very far back, and only occasionally would they shift and show up -- but never fully, they never came out all the way, which often disappointed and frustrated me. And I would say something, about one of these thoughts, but stammer and it would make me very frustrated and people would laugh. Well, don't get me wrong, I don't blame them for laughing. My tongue gets worked up, and then I realize I'm not actually saying anything. Like one of those men walking on the stairs and not getting anywhere.

I have often wondered about illusions too. I think since the captain's been gone I've gotten to the bottom of some things. I'm not only thinking of getting back to Leicester, I'm thinking about what it means to get back to Leicester. I can't help it. It's out of my control, to make some meaning out of some things.

You need to have some meaning.

Perhaps I will be like Jonah, and after the three days are done I'll be deposited back home, vomited up by the ocean. But if that is true, if that is the case of which we are speaking, that means I'm here because I've done something wrong. I'm asking you, Radio Man, what have I done wrong? The Radio Man tells me I have forsaken him, done him ungodly wrong and when I should've been listening I wasn't and when I shouldn't have been listening I was. I'm sorry OK, I'm sorry about that, and now that I'm in the belly of the whale I'm gonna prostrate myself (that sounds worse than it may be, I dunno) and everything'll be OK and the Radio Man and I will be right as rain. Radio Man! Listen to me! I want to sing you a song, about my leg, about the winch, and about what Jonah found in the whale's belly!

The huge jaws of the whale gulped water in and Jonah, who struggled in the webs of the baleen, flailed around terror stricken. Pushed by the rushing water, he rolls head over heels swept down the very gullet of the beast. Spinal bones above his head, under a thin veneer of red slick flesh, a cavern before him stretches half a mile. Small waves subside around his feet. He walks on resilient ground. There are smells of rotten fish, and something else, blood and oil. There is very little light. What little light there is makes Jonah wonder, and he's looking to where it seems to come from, and it comes from, get this, from a boat! And Jonah walks to the boat, through the slush of fish parts and mucous, and when he gets to the boat who does he see sitting there with a lantern? It's you Radio Man! You're there in the whale, with Jonah. And he sits in the boat with you, and you both look at the lantern, running on whale oil, and then you start, the way you started a little while ago, before playing that song, saying, "It's quarter of eleven, and it's a nippy thirty five degrees out, and we're sitting in the belly of a whale, I'd like to play you a song, this is going out to everybody working on the docks, maybe just to warm you up a little bit." Then from your mouth Radio Man comes the sound of the radio, of a song, I think it's a Paul Simon song, Kodachrome or something, and this is like when they have freak occurrences of molars with fillings tuning in to radio. And Jonah sits and listens. His head is downcast, the song doesn't cheer him up. After all, he's sitting in the belly of a whale. You have to admit it's hard to be cheery in a situation like that. When you are done with your song Radio Man, Jonah tells you his troubles, and you listen intently, nodding your head bottom lip jutting out a bit and face drawn in sympathy. You can identify with Jonah. After all, you are in the whale too.

This does nothing to speak of the leg which has begun to beg me with icy air, slowly climbing up my hip like a poison, or from the winch, into my leg, up my hip, into my chest, where it squeezes my heart. Like a cold hand.

But you have the same trouble too Radio Man, in the boat, in the belly of the whale, with Jonah. You are trapped by a fallen winch. Jonah tries to move it off of you, but it is too heavy. Occasional shreds of day light come from the blow hole far above both of you, when the whale surfaces. Like, this magical whale has no insides, just a huge cave. Jonah tries to lift the winch off with an oar. This doesn't work either. All the while Radio Man you have your mouth open and out comes music.

I'm concentrating on the light house again.

I went there a couple of times. Who hasn't?

I imagine John, Billy, Joe, and Sal in their bunks sleeping peacefully, under the water of course, under the cold water, peacefully, wrapped up in blankets and snoring. It would be nice to sleep, but I know I shouldn't. I believe I have already stated this. It's remarkable, noticing the broad loops which certain elements continue to surface. The leg. Sleep. The captain. The water. The radio. That's all there is. No, there is more. If I want to really get to the bottom of things, there is always more. I've changed my mind, the basic elements are in fact only other things in disguise. Do you see this? Wait, I want to make sure I have this right. If one thing, like the leg, actually means another, then the leg itself can no longer be a source of pain but merely reflection. I think I was closer to the truth with the drawings that never end than I gave myself credit for. And when I was thinking about space and time too. Why do I sell myself short like that? The leg means nothing, but it hints at everything. It does not move, I do not move. Have I ever moved?

I am determined to make some sense of this new thought. It seems to me that movement is not possible, and that the reason the physicists have so much trouble with space and time is cuz they don't exist. They are an illusion. Everything is static. And I'm sure Radio Man would understand me when I say everything is static. What is he doing anyway, but moving tiny pieces of static around so that it forms words and songs. He doesn't change the static, nobody changes the static, just shapes it momentarily. But what is static molding static? More static? OK, I must admit the idea seems to have gotten beyond me. Better to watch the ocean than think about things like that. The ocean is good. The ocean is always changing. The ocean is always moving. Like the world is a glass globe and shaken up by some very large child standing out by the moon.

Oh! I want to shout and scream!

When I was five I pushed another kid down the stairs and he was hurt pretty badly. He was, his name was, Bobby Something, Bobby Palmer. I didn't push him cuz I hated him or anything. I remember it very vividly. Like it was yesterday. Of course it isn't. I was wearing this awkward pair of overalls which I couldn't stand cuz the straps were always slipping and consequently the pants themselves almost falling each time. Funny how kids can't stand of being thought of as cute. I didn't like having my hair ruffled by some idiotic adult guffawing at my preciousness. Cooing bothered me as well. OK, so this gives the impression I was a mean little bastard. Maybe I was. But that's not why I did it, pushed him down the stairs. We were playing in the neighbors backyard where there was a pile of sand being used for god knows what. The sand was damp and cool. We were out there digging tunnels and caves and roads for our matchbox cars. We made this whole town. Over a couple of days. Each day we woke up excited, we couldn't wait to get back out there and expand the thing, making more elaborate tunnels supported with flat sticks, and roads that wound around and up the sand pile, and secret tunnels and storage places for the cars. Sometimes there'd be a cave-in, and we liked that too, cuz we imagined all those tiny people in the tiny cars being trapped under tons and tons of earth. Nobody actually died or anything, they had like air tanks in their cars which could go under water too of course. And we could do this day after day after day. We were doing it that day, the day I pushed Bobby Palmer down the stairs. He was my best friend. It was late in the day, the sun had started to descend. We went to the bulkhead of my basement, I don't know for what, we had to go down there for some reason. I know, it was to get a flat broad piece of wood, we wanted to make a huge secret area under the sand to keep the cars in over night. And Bobby was standing in front of me, at the top of the stairs going down to the basement, and I wondered, what would happen if I pushed? Not like I didn't know or couldn't visualize it. Not see what would happen entirely, which is why I guess I did it. He went down. Split his head wide open. Immediately I felt resounding guilt. I'd never felt it like that, I mean, he was my best friend right? What was I going to say? So here's the worst part. I ran and told my mom he'd fallen. And they found Bobby down there with his head spilt and they called an ambulance, and he was in the hospital years and decades and forever. That's what it seemed like. When he came around he had no idea what happened, oh, he said, I must've fallen, oh, they said, you must've fallen. And I said, yeah, he fell, just like that. I didn't tell them. Never have. And that stayed with me, oh yes it did, and now if I get back to town I'm going to look Bobby up and tell him, Bobby, you remember that time you fell down the stairs, well, I pushed you Bobby, I pushed you down them because I wanted to see what would happen.

So sometimes you carry stuff around with you, for a long time. I've been keeping it all in my leg. Just filling up the leg, year after year after decade. And now that it's smashed open, I can see all of that stuff, jammed in there. Well, I can't see it with my eyes or anything, since the winch is taking up a chunk of my majestic view. If you could crack open people, the way you do with a nut or a lobster, you'd find alot of lost things there, stuck and encased by sacks like cocoons. You'd find old pictures, alarm clocks, baby dolls, shoes, nails, oh all sorts of stuff. You'd find light bulbs like lost ideas (that once floated above your head the way the gourd floated above Jonah) and bits and pieces of other people you've been selfishly stashing.

I've got a book at home about freaks, and there was this one part about Siamese twins. Well, they weren't entirely formed Siamese twins, the way Chang and Eng were, the most famous of the Siamese twins, no, these were jutting out of the person's body like, not quite done. They were called One-and-a-Halfs. There was one man who's twin's head came out of his chest and grew whiskers and everything, but the small thing never opened his eyes or spoke or anything, and they had him baptized anyway since they thought he possessed a soul. Sometimes I feel guilty about being interested in this sort of topic. I've hidden the book and a couple of others from people because from what little indication I've seen they seem terrified not by the freaks themselves (or Prodigies, as the freaks wanted to be called in a strike against Barnum) but more frightened by someone interested in it. But there's something there. Something very powerful. Something that says alot about getting to the bottom of the questions I can't quite get right. Let's see, I think the medical way of describing the One-and-a-Halfs is Autosite and Parasite. It's easy to remember stuff you're interested in.

I would have liked to have met Koo Koo the Bird Girl.

Me and Jonah and Koo Koo and Radio Man could get together and hang out on the beach for a while, waiting for that whale. Maybe Melville could be there too, after all, it wouldn't really be a party without Melville. I'm thinking now of two pictures of Melville: the first was painted around the time he was thirty, when he was probably working on Moby Dick, and the last was a photo taken in old age when he was working at the customs house, working a regular ol job. In the first picture he looks like a lion, very arrogant, and the last he looks like an old toothless lion, very defeated. Maybe he made a big mistake presuming people would like Moby Dick. I mean, it takes people a long time to figure things out. Like now. I'm just starting to figure some things out.

The main observation I have right now is that there seems to be a fog forming. It starts with a gray, a gray which rises up out of the water, imperceptibly, to grow and congeal around me, and what's left of the boat, and the leg, and the winch, and the distances between me and the water is becoming fuzzy. Not fuzzy, that's not the correct word.

I've got one foot in the spirit world, I know.

What is now has been before, of that I am sure. It has become remarkably clear for the moment, like the fog, is in one sense remarkably clear. Here's how that works. When everything is evened out, becoming a plane in which ideas and objects are equal, you have no need to measure things against one another.

The steel of the hull creaks along, in time, with the song on the radio. Radio Man has left for this second of absolute understanding. That is good. It makes sense to me. The light house is obscured so I have one foot there and another here, trapped under the winch. What does a winch do, but pull. Pulling, winching, falling on legs. You know. The steel of the hull and the steel of the winch, with droplets of water, from the ocean. That's what's around me. I can see that now.

And there was this one time, I should say before it might no longer be able to be said, to those to whom I'm speaking, that I once figured everything out. At least I felt like I did. For many years, and years, and decades, I worked in construction near the sawdust that was particular in scent and dull white covering the floors the beams of walls level and the glorious sound of hammering and drills and saws and yelling. It was kind of exciting. I mean, we all wanted to get off work, but when we were working we were really working. It's that way fishing too, except you can't go home at night, you get cooped up on a boat with a few other guys, and after a while you just want to finish and go home until you do go home and you can't wait to get back out. But in construction we built. It was a slow process and when you were away from the building you would think about building and how soon it may be something complete. Making something whole and complete and how you can touch it and live in it, or whatever. I would satisfactorily re-check the joints. Satisfied that everything was right. But I didn't have that job for very long. Not that particular one. Although I'd done that sort of thing for a long time, it seemed. I don't know how long, just a long time OK? And I wasn't fired, but I simply became sick. Not sick like the way you sit in bed with a fever coughing and sneezing and wishing you could get out of bed. Not like that. I was sick of the job all of a sudden. It was an impulse not to do the job anymore. Maybe I only wanted to get back to fishing, even though I knew fishing was much more dangerous and lonely and fisher's wives leave them cuz they're out so long and it's not unusual for fishers not to come home at all. I guess I quit cuz I was thinking I would wait for my ship to come in. I mean that literally. I would spend alot of time going in the woods and drawing trees and stuff. I can draw about as well as I play guitar, but it's something to do you know? I never had a class but sometimes on boats I would draw and give them to people and people seemed to like them, so that was good. There's this one day I'm out there, in the preserve, not really woods in the old sense, and I've drawn a couple of squirrels and birds and rocks and I swear to you it was like being hit over the head with a two by four. Just was. I stopped and looked, and looked, and at the same time I could sense this feeling slipping away...

When the captain left he was sitting in the life boat and it was rocking around in the waves and my God I don't think I was ever so upset to see someone go even though the captain has always seemed a big SOB to me. Isn't the captain supposed to go down with the ship? Maybe this rule falls apart cuz the ship isn't actually sinking. The captain, the skipper, although, it's funny, whenever any of us ever called him skipper instead of cap'n, we always thought of TV. You know what I mean little buddy. So it's funny how TV has changed something that was common for so long. Makes it just laughable. Sometimes we would call him skipper, and he knew what we were alluding to, and he would grumble about it. Not like you can take charge when you're being compared to TV. For a while we all took titles to make the skipper part easier. I was the professor, I guess cuz I could monkey with the engine and cuz they thought that I was thoughtful. But I never believed the professor on TV to be real thoughtful, just handy with coconuts and wire. Maybe cuz they thought I had been raised with class. At least my parents always thought they had class. Even though they lied about Moscow. Maybe when they visited Moscow they'd gotten it into their heads that they were part of the city somehow. My mother was in the theater, but believe you-me that does not automatically give you class. It wasn't even in Moscow, I know this from my Uncle who breathed it in my ear, but in the Ukraine, and it wasn't even theater like Shakespeare and stuff, but more like TV. I don't begrudge them their fantasy. They got out in the early sixties. Heard the story a hundred, a thousand, a million times. Mother was visiting France in some respects in a theater way, and my father was in Poland doing something statistical, and they both jumped the hammer and sickle and met up in Normandy where they scooted over the channel and in London had a friend who got them over here on a boat with a bunch of IRA guys and when they got here they just stayed and stayed and stayed. They've been here longer than they were in Russia but they pine, oh they pine. They gave me books and music and I guess they wanted to give me class that I never wanted cuz I wouldn't feel right having to plow through Tolstoy when all the other kids were watching Battlestar Galactica, or listening to Tchaikovsky when everybody else was cranking ACDC. None the less, some invariably seeped in. So I guess I'm thankful, I don't know. Sometimes it's not easy to be thankful for events out of your control.

And there was a time some friends and I were on the howl, partying hard like spending our lives easily as if the it were bottomless, and the nights seemed much warmer than now, how has it grown so cold, we'd lounge with comfort on the rocks, having split up for some frolicking, there on the island, and we had the whole thing to discover, like brand new, and it was exciting and maybe we felt a little too alive. Route 1 curves around the edge of the island, and we ran up and down it, tickling the road, from cove to cove, roaming with nothing to do and it seemed like with everything still to do. I'd hang my arm out the window and it would be pushed by the force of moving. I had long hair. It whipped around in the car. We had beer under the seat. Somebody rolled a joint as we swerved potholes. We drove past haunts and ruins, those estates on the nub of the neck which rotted after the prosperous period of rum running in the twenties, old Romanesque columns and vines and windowless mansions full of trash, spray paint, and blackened by fires we'd start in trashcans to make heat and light. Driving without headlights was scary and daring. Dom was always telling me to slow it down for god's sakes, and then I would and he'd say what're you gonna do jump off a bridge if yer friends tell you to? the way my folks would say, but making fun of it, in a reverse manner. And Charlie was usually laughing, oh he'd laugh at anything, until sometimes he'd laugh so hard we'd get worried, as if we were still kids and the milk would shoot out of his nose. I think Charlie had some kinda problem. And once we started this scavenger hunt, which really caught on with everybody else, until there were maybe fifty of us in on the thing, and we made this most ridiculous list we could, figuring, my lord, nobody is gonna be able to get these items. A brick from the Garret ruin. A plastic lobster and a lobster bib. A motel registry book. A sign from a mortuary. A laundry cart. A Jesus Christ bird fountain. An ashtray from Spark's, which always had Spark's printed on the bottom so that when you put out your cigarette it went right in the eye of the fisherman. A golf ball washer, the kind you find on the course. A copy of Mrs. O'Heany's poems, that she printed up herself and always tried to pawn off on people. A photo of John Norton, head of Norton fish. A bunch of other things. Whoever got all of them won. The ashtrays and plastic lobsters turned out to be difficult, because after a dozen ashtrays were swiped Spark's had a keen eye out, as well as Ship Ahoy, whose collection of plastic lobsters that hung in fake nets from the ceiling was decimated after a week. And there weren't that many golf ball washers, but you could go far to other towns for those. A whole wall of the Garret ruin was broken up. Motels panicked when their lists disappeared. And! With fifty people sneaking around tailing Norton not only were the police called by him, repeatedly, to the police's skeptical amusement (they thought he was a paranoid coot anyhow) but there were several photo's snapped of him rendezvousing with his mistress -- which was no great secret anyhow. There was an uproar! What hooligans are running the town looting? All the plastic lobsters gone! The no-parking signs at the mortuary, dug up! Along with the very plaque on the door, ripped off! Anarchy, destruction, are we being invaded by a new criminal element, the Leicester Times claimed. A rush on O'Heany's fucking poetry! Was it the end of the world as we know it? They seemed to think so. I was determined to win. There was one thing on the list that no one dared swipe. We were pretty far in, a couple of months, and no one had dared. I'm talking about the ship's bell on the stoop of City Hall. Supposedly this brass bell was brought on the very first ship -- although that has been disputed again and again, that actually the founders of Leicester came in a beat up skiff, not even a sloop, too small and inauspicious for such a fancy bell, no, they were criminals escaping the oppressive air of Plymouth. But no one had stolen it. Consider the difficulty. It was well lit. It was the center of town. Even at night, so close to the police station. And it was fairly secure, hanging on a steel pole bolted in either side of sturdy wooden posts big as railroad ties. The problem to get the bell off the pole and not be seen besides. I didn't think I could do it alone. There was only one bell, that was the problem. So I'd been asking Charlie about how he was doing with the whole thing, and he wasn't too much into it, like, he laughed in the funny way he would, and I think he was something of a simpleton. But he agreed to help me. What we did was drive up and park a few blocks away, not too far away, between the cops shifts. They were usually making a circuit of the island, and we all knew, had timed it, so that at about one thirty in the morning we knew they were always bound for the north end. They were pretty regular about it. So we figured we had maybe twenty minutes before they swung back down. Even better if they found some trouble and were delayed and we'd thought, all right, I'd thought that if we could get one person to create a distraction on the north end then we would have more time, but I couldn't find anyone else to get in on it. And they'd probably have to spend the night in jail anyway, for whatever distraction it was they made. Charlie laughed when we parked the car and took our saw and crowbar and wrench. I wanted to win something fierce maybe partly cuz this was also a wanton action against the false symbol of the town. It was cool, a brisk wind, and there were high clouds made of ice obscuring the quarter moon, when we snuck around corners, dressed in black, to the side of the city hall which was bright and sterile. The bell hung from its place, very solid and quietly, like it'd been waiting for us to come along. The rope dangled out of the bottom. I told Charlie he would be the look out and he could hand me tools when I needed them, as if it were a sort of surgery. Maybe it was. Charlie grinned and glanced around dramatically. I told him to cut it out and just look natural. Everything goes right in old movies if the criminals just look natural. We were what, sixteen? So I get up there on the steps with Charlie, and I start going at the bolts with the wrench, and man are they rusted in, fixed there by the salty air of years and years. Gimmee the crowbar, I say. Charlie hands me the wrong thing a few times and this makes me even more nervous. But I think I'm making headway with the crowbar. Shit, but I've stripped the end, and then I just take the saw and go right for the metal loop holding the bell to the pole. It cuts quickly, and I kick myself for wasting so much time already. How much time do we got Charlie? And he looks at his watch and I can tell by his snickering that we're real near the time when the cops come back down. I yank hard on the bell, trying to avoid making it ring any, and the metal loop snaps right off freeing the bell. We hustle back to the car. I'm wired with elation. All of this thrill is pumping through my blood, like the same when you're on the boat and you've got a problem pulling in the nets or something, and you have to fix it fast or the take could be ruined. We stash the bell under the back seat of the car, where we'd taken up some of the cloth (no, vinyl) and dug out a spot where we'd keep beer or whatever, cuz when you're out after midnight the cops always stopped you no matter what, and walked up slowly to your car, with the sound of their shoes in the gravel and they'd hang their belly in the window then shine a flashlight around the inside of the car while they make small talk, asking about your dad or similar tactics. But thank god they didn't see us, making our way home in a straight fast line, as fast as we could, cuz either they would've already noticed the bell was gone and search us, or see nothing, but remember us when they did find out the bell was gone.

We set up the bell in my basement, an object of pride. And I won.

Read the rest of 'Me & Jonah'


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