And the deep blue sea

1

At sunset the next day after the Shoshone went down, the wind dropped to a gentle breeze, and by midnight it was calm. Now that the sea no longer broke, the raft stopped capsizing and throwing him, and he slept for the first time in forty hours. He awoke at dawn, cramped, chilled through, shivering in his wet clothes in spite of the fact he was only a few degrees south of the Line. After the first gut-twisting impact of returning consciousness of where he was and what was coming, he was able to subdue the black animal and slam the door of the cage, wondering at the same time why it mattered. He had nothing to lose now. And he’d already panicked once, or he wouldn’t be here. He could have done it the easy way.

He lay stretched out on the rubberized fabric of the raft’s bottom, his head on its inflated rim, a big man with graying dark hair too long uncut, gray eyes, and a broad, flat-planed face burned dark by the sun and now salt-inflamed and covered to the cheekbones with a week’s stubble of beard. His feet were bare, and he wore only the faded and sodden dungarees, a blue shirt, and a gold-cased Rolex watch which was waterproof and still running. He was alone on the raft, which wasn’t much larger than he was and contained nothing else except a whiskey bottle with a little water in it. His name was Harry Goddard, he was forty-five years old, divorced, childless for the past five months, and until the last of his luck ran out two days ago he had been single-handing across the Pacific in the thirty-two-foot sloop Shoshone for reasons he wasn’t sure of himself except that the horizon provided a sort of self-renewing objective if you no longer had any other.

He was overtaken by another attack of shivering and wished for the sun’s warmth to begin, knowing that long before the day was over he’d be praying even more fervently for its torture to end. The raft lifted under him, mounting softly and in utter silence, poised for an instant, and began to fall away again down the back of another swell rolling across the wastes of the southern hemisphere. The square shape of the Jack Daniels bottle was under his left leg, its neck secured to the fabric eyelet of one of the oarlocks with the lanyard he had fashioned from a strip of cloth cut from his shirt tail. He lifted it and squinted at it against the sky. It still held nearly a half pint of water, and he was conscious of no torment yet from thirst. The only hell was the certainty that it was coming.

What happened at the end, just how did you die? Did you go mad and jump overboard? Drink seawater and kill yourself with nausea and empty retching? How long did it take? He didn’t know, but there was no point in speculating about it now, and he might as well go ahead and sit up to look around. He was sufficiently awake and in command of himself to accept what he would see. Pretending there was still some chance, as long as he hadn’t looked, that there could be a ship on the horizon was something to hang onto, but you couldn’t keep it alive all day.

He raised up, his hands braced against the inflated rim of the doughnut, and as it rose to the crest of another swell he turned, searching the rim of his world where the sea met the sky. There