بخش 09کتاب: جاده / فصل 8
- زمان مطالعه 43 دقیقه
- سطح متوسط
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
The air leaked out around the rim but he turned the wheel and had the boy hold down the tire until it caught and he got it pumped up. He unscrewed the hose and turned the wheelbarrow over and trundled it across the floor and back. Then he pushed it outside for the rain to clean. When they left two days later the weather had cleared and they set out down the muddy road pushing the wheelbarrow with their new blankets and the jars of canned goods wrapped in their extra clothes. He’d found a pair of workshoes and the boy was wearing blue tennis shoes with rags stuffed into the toes and they had fresh sheeting for face masks. When they got to the blacktop they had to turn back along the road to fetch the cart but it was less than a mile. The boy walked alongside with one hand on the wheelbarrow. We did good, didnt we Papa? he said. Yes we did.
They ate well but they were still a long way from the coast. He knew that he was placing hopes where he’d no reason to. He hoped it would be brighter where for all he knew the world grew darker daily. He’d once found a lightmeter in a camera store that he thought he might use to average out readings for a few months and he carried it around with him for a long time thinking he might find some batteries for it but he never did. At night when he woke coughing he’d sit up with his hand pushed over his head against the blackness. Like a man waking in a grave. Like those disinterred dead from his childhood that had been relocated to accommodate a highway. Many had died in a cholera epidemic and they’d been buried in haste in wooden boxes and the boxes were rotting and falling open. The dead came to light lying on their sides with their legs drawn up and some lay on their stomachs. The dull green antique coppers spilled from out the tills of their eyesockets onto the stained and rotted coffin floors.
They stood in a grocery store in a small town where a mounted deerhead hung from the wall. The boy stood looking at it a long time. There was broken glass in the floor and the man made him wait at the door while he kicked through the trash in his workshoes but he found nothing. There were two gas pumps outside and they sat on the concrete apron and lowered a small tin can on a string into the underground tank and hauled it up and poured the cupful of gasoline it held into a plastic jug and lowered it again. They’d tied a small length of pipe to the can to sink it and they crouched over the tank like apes fishing with sticks in an anthill for the better part of an hour until the jug was full. Then they screwed on the cap and set the jug in the bottom rack of the cart and went on.
Long days. Open country with the ash blowing over the road. The boy sat by the fire at night with the pieces of the map across his knees. He had the names of towns and rivers by heart and he measured their progress daily.
They ate more sparingly. They’d almost nothing left. The boy stood in the road holding the map. They listened but they could hear nothing. Still he could see open country to the east and the air was different. Then they came upon it from a turn in the road and they stopped and stood with the salt wind blowing in their hair where they’d lowered the hoods of their coats to listen. Out there was the gray beach with the slow combers rolling dull and leaden and the distant sound of it. Like the desolation of some alien sea breaking on the shores of a world unheard of. Out on the tidal flats lay a tanker half careened. Beyond that the ocean vast and cold and shifting heavily like a slowly heaving vat of slag and then the gray squall line of ash. He looked at the boy. He could see the disappointment in his face. I’m sorry it’s not blue, he said. That’s okay, said the boy.
An hour later they were sitting on the beach and staring out at the wall of smog across the horizon. They sat with their heels dug into the sand and watched the bleak sea wash up at their feet. Cold. Desolate. Birdless. He’d left the cart in the bracken beyond the dunes and they’d taken blankets with them and sat wrapped in them in the wind-shade of a great driftwood log. They sat there for a long time. Along the shore of the cove below them windrows of small bones in the wrack. Further down the saltbleached ribcages of what may have been cattle. Gray salt rime on the rocks. The wind blew and dry seedpods scampered down the sands and stopped and then went on again.
Do you think there could be ships out there?
I dont think so.
They wouldnt be able to see very far.
No. They wouldnt.
What’s on the other side?
There must be something.
Maybe there’s a father and his little boy and they’re sitting on the beach.
That would be okay.
Yes. That would be okay.
And they could be carrying the fire too?
They could be. Yes.
But we dont know.
We dont know.
So we have to be vigilant.
We have to be vigilant. Yes.
How long can we stay here?
I dont know. We dont have much to eat.
You like it.
Can I go swimming?
You’ll freeze your tokus off.
It will be really cold. Worse than you think.
I dont want to have to come in after you.
You dont think I should go.
You can go.
But you dont think I should.
No. I think you should.
He rose and let the blanket fall to the sand and then stripped out of his coat and out of his shoes and clothes. He stood naked, clutching himself and dancing. Then he went running down the beach. So white. Knobby spinebones. The razorous shoulder blades sawing under the pale skin. Running naked and leaping and screaming into the slow roll of the surf.
By the time he came out he was blue with cold and his teeth were chattering. He walked down to meet him and wrapped him shuddering in the blanket and held him until he stopped gasping. But when he looked the boy was crying. What is it? he said. Nothing. No, tell me. Nothing. It’s nothing.
With dark they built a fire against the log and ate plates of okra and beans and the last of the canned potatoes. The fruit was long gone. They drank tea and sat by the fire and they slept in the sand and listened to the roll of the surf in the bay. The long shudder and fall of it. He got up in the night and walked out and stood on the beach wrapped in his blankets. Too black to see. Taste of salt on his lips. Waiting. Waiting. Then the slow boom falling downshore. The seething hiss of it washing over the beach and drawing away again. He thought there could be deathships out there yet, drifting with their lolling rags of sail. Or life in the deep. Great squid propelling themselves over the floor of the sea in the cold darkness. Shuttling past like trains, eyes the size of saucers. And perhaps beyond those shrouded swells another man did walk with another child on the dead gray sands. Slept but a sea apart on another beach among the bitter ashes of the world or stood in their rags lost to the same indifferent sun.
He remembered waking once on such a night to the clatter of crabs in the pan where he’d left steakbones from the night before. Faint deep coals of the driftwood fire pulsing in the onshore wind. Lying under such a myriad of stars. The sea’s black horizon. He rose and walked out and stood barefoot in the sand and watched the pale surf appear all down the shore and roll and crash and darken again. When he went back to the fire he knelt and smoothed her hair as she slept and he said if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different.
When he got back the boy was awake and he was scared. He’d been calling out but not loud enough that he could hear him. The man put his arms around him. I couldnt hear you, he said. I couldnt hear you for the surf. He put wood on the fire and fanned it to life and they lay in their blankets watching the flames twist in the wind and then they slept.
In the morning he rekindled the fire and they ate and watched the shore. The cold and rainy look of it not so different from seascapes in the northern world. No gulls or shorebirds. Charred and senseless artifacts strewn down the shoreline or rolling in the surf. They gathered driftwood and stacked it and covered it with the tarp and then set off down the beach. We’re beachcombers, he said.
What is that?
It’s people who walk along the beach looking for things of value that might have washed up.
What kind of things?
Any kind of things. Anything that you might be able to use.
Do you think we’ll find anything?
I dont know. We’ll take a look.
Take a look, the boy said.
They stood on the rock jetty and looked out to the south. A gray salt spittle lagging and curling in the rock pool. Long curve of beach beyond. Gray as lava sand. The wind coming off the water smelled faintly of iodine. That was all. There was no sea smell to it. On the rocks the remnants of some dark seamoss. They crossed and went on. At the end of the strand their way was blocked by a headland and they left the beach and took an old path up through the dunes and through the dead seaoats until they came out upon a low promontory. Below them a hook of land shrouded in the dark scud blowing down the shore and beyond that lying half over and awash the shape of a sailboat’s hull. They crouched in the dry tufts of grass and watched. What should we do? the boy said.
Let’s just watch for a while.
I know. Let’s move down a little ways. Out of the wind.
He sat holding the boy in front of him. The dead grass thrashed softly. Out there a gray desolation. The endless seacrawl. How long do we have to sit here? the boy said.
Do you think there are people on the boat, Papa?
I dont think so.
They’d be all tilted over.
Yes they would. Can you see any tracks out there?
Let’s just wait a while.
They trekked out along the crescent sweep of beach, keeping to the firmer sand below the tidewrack. They stood, their clothes flapping softly. Glass floats covered with a gray crust. The bones of seabirds. At the tide line a woven mat of weeds and the ribs of fishes in their millions stretching along the shore as far as eye could see like an isocline of death. One vast salt sepulchre. Senseless. Senseless.
From the end of the spit to the boat there was perhaps a hundred feet of open water. They stood looking at the boat. Some sixty feet long, stripped to the deck, keeled over in ten or twelve feet of water. It had been a twin-masted rig of some sort but the masts were broken off close to the deck and the only thing remaining topside were some brass cleats and a few of the rail stanchions along the edge of the deck. That and the steel hoop of the wheel sticking up out of the cockpit aft. He turned and studied the beach and the dunes beyond. Then he handed the boy the pistol and sat in the sand and began to unlace the cords of his shoes.
What are you going to do, Papa?
Take a look.
Can I go with you?
No. I want you to stay here.
I want to go with you.
You have to stand guard. And besides the water’s deep.
Will I be able to see you?
Yes. I’ll keep checking on you. To make sure everything’s okay.
I want to go with you.
He stopped. You cant, he said. Our clothes would blow away. Somebody has to take care of things.
He folded everything into a pile. God it was cold. He bent and kissed the boy on his forehead. Stop worrying, he said. Just keep a lookout. He waded naked into the water and stood and laved himself wet. Then he trudged out splashing and dove headlong.
He swam the length of the steel hull and turned, treading water, gasping with the cold. Amidships the sheer-rail was just awash. He pulled himself along to the transom. The steel was gray and saltscoured but he could make out the worn gilt lettering. Pájaro de Esperanza. Tenerife. An empty pair of lifeboat davits. He got hold of the rail and pulled himself aboard and turned and crouched on the slant of the wood deck shivering. A few lengths of braided cable snapped off at the turnbuckles. Shredded holes in the wood where hardware had been ripped out. Some terrible force to sweep the decks of everything. He waved at the boy but he didnt wave back.
The cabin was low with a vaulted roof and portholes along the side. He crouched and wiped away the gray salt and looked in but he could see nothing. He tried the low teak door but it was locked. He gave it a shove with his bony shoulder. He looked around for something to pry with. He was shivering uncontrollably and his teeth were chattering. He thought about kicking the door with the flat of his foot but then he thought that was not a good idea. He held his elbow in his hand and banged into the door again. He felt it give. Very slightly. He kept at it. The jamb was splitting on the inside and it finally gave way and he pushed it open and stepped down the companionway into the cabin.
A stagnant bilge along the lower bulkhead filled with wet papers and trash. A sour smell over everything. Damp and clammy. He thought the boat had been ransacked but it was the sea that had done it. There was a mahogany table in the middle of the saloon with hinged fiddles. The locker doors hanging open into the room and all the brasswork a dull green. He went through to the forward cabins. Past the galley. Flour and coffee in the floor and canned goods half crushed and rusting. A head with a stainless steel toilet and sink. The weak sea light fell through the clerestory portholes. Gear scattered everywhere. A mae west floating in the seepage.
He was half expecting some horror but there was none. The mattress pads in the cabins had been slung into the floor and bedding and clothing were piled against the wall. Everything wet. A door stood open to the locker in the bow but it was too dark to see inside. He ducked his head and stepped in and felt about. Deep bins with hinged wooden covers. Sea gear piled in the floor. He began to drag everything out and pile it on the tilted bed. Blankets, foulweather gear. He came up with a damp sweater and pulled it over his head. He found a pair of yellow rubber seaboots and he found a nylon jacket and he zipped himself into that and pulled on the stiff yellow breeches from the souwester gear and thumbed the suspenders up over his shoulders and pulled on the boots. Then he went back up on the deck. The boy was sitting as he’d left him, watching the ship. He stood up in alarm and the man realized that in his new clothes he made an uncertain figure. It’s me, he called, but the boy only stood there and he waved to him and went below again.
In the second stateroom there were drawers under the berth that were still in place and he lifted them free and slid them out. Manuals and papers in Spanish. Bars of soap. A black leather valise covered in mold with papers inside. He put the soap in the pocket of his coat and stood. There were books in Spanish strewn across the berth, swollen and shapeless. A single volume wedged in the rack against the forward bulkhead.
He found a rubberized canvas seabag and he prowled the rest of the ship in his boots, pushing himself off the bulkheads against the tilt, the yellow slicker pants rattling in the cold. He filled the bag with odds and ends of clothing. A pair of women’s sneakers he thought would fit the boy. A foldingknife with a wooden handle. A pair of sunglasses. Still there was something perverse in his searching. Like exhausting the least likely places first when looking for something lost. Finally he went into the galley. He turned on the stove and turned it off again.
He unlatched and raised the hatch to the engine compartment. Half flooded and pitch dark. No smell of gas or oil. He closed it again. There were lockers built into the benches in the cockpit that held cushions, sailcanvas, fishing gear. In a locker behind the wheel pedestal he found coils of nylon rope and steel bottles of gas and a toolbox made of fiberglass. He sat in the floor of the cockpit and sorted through the tools. Rusty but serviceable. Pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches. He latched the toolbox shut and stood and looked for the boy. He was huddled in the sand asleep with his head on the pile of clothes.
He carried the toolbox and one of the bottles of gas into the galley and went forward and made a last tour of the staterooms. Then he set about going through the lockers in the saloon, looking through folders and papers in plastic boxes, trying to find the ship’s log. He found a set of china packed away unused in a wooden crate filled with excelsior. Most of it broken. Service for eight, carrying the name of the ship. A gift, he thought. He lifted out a teacup and turned it in his palm and put it back. The last thing he found was a square oak box with dovetailed corners and a brass plate let into the lid. He thought it might be a humidor but it was the wrong shape and when he picked it up and felt the weight of it he knew what it was. He unsnapped the corroding latches and opened it. Inside was a brass sextant, possibly a hundred years old. He lifted it from the fitted case and held it in his hand. Struck by the beauty of it. The brass was dull and there were patches of green on it that took the form of another hand that once had held it but otherwise it was perfect. He wiped the verdigris from the plate at the base. Hezzaninth, London. He held it to his eye and turned the wheel. It was the first thing he’d seen in a long time that stirred him. He held it in his hand and then he fitted it back into the blue baize lining of the case and closed the lid and snapped the latches shut and set it back in the locker and closed the door.
When he went back up on deck again to look for the boy the boy was not there. A moment of panic before he saw him walking along the bench downshore with the pistol hanging in his hand, his head down. Standing there he felt the hull of the ship lift and slide. Just slightly. Tide coming in. Slapping along the rocks of the jetty down there. He turned and went back down into the cabin.
He’d brought the two coils of rope from the locker and he measured the diameter of them with the span of his hand and that by three and then counted the number of coils. Fifty foot ropes. He hung them over a cleat on the gray teakwood deck and went back down into the cabin. He collected everything and stacked it against the table. There were some plastic jugs of water in the locker off the galley but all were empty save one. He picked up one of the empties and saw that the plastic had cracked and the water leaked out and he guessed they had frozen somewhere on the ship’s aimless voyagings. Probably several times. He took the half full jug and set it on the table and unscrewed the cap and sniffed the water and then raised the jug in both hands and drank. Then he drank again.
The cans in the galley floor did not look in any way salvable and even in the locker there were some that were badly rusted and some that wore an ominous bulbed look. They’d all been stripped of their labels and the contents written on the metal in black marker pen in Spanish. Not all of which he knew, had burst free of their labels. He sorted through them, shaking them, squeezing them in his hand. He stacked them on the counter above the small galley refrigerator. He thought there must be crates of foodstuffs packed somewhere in the hold but he didnt think any of it would be edible. In any case there was a limit to what they could take in the cart. It occurred to him that he took this windfall in a fashion dangerously close to matter of fact but still he said what he had said before. That good luck might be no such thing. There were few nights lying in the dark that he did not envy the dead.
He found a can of olive oil and some cans of milk. Tea in a rusted metal caddy. A plastic container of some sort of meal that he did not recognize. A half empty can of coffee. He went methodically through the shelves in the locker, sorting what to take from what to leave. When he had carried everything into the saloon and stacked it against the companionway he went back into the galley and opened the toolbox and set about removing one of the burners from the little gimballed stove. He disconnected the braided flexline and removed the aluminum spiders from the burners and put one of them in the pocket of his coat. He unfastened the brass fittings with a wrench and took the burners loose. Then he uncoupled them and fastened the hose to the coupling pipe and fitted the other end of the hose to the gasbottle and carried it out to the saloon. Lastly he made a bindle in a plastic tarp of some cans of juice and cans of fruit and of vegetables and tied it with a cord and then he stripped out of his clothes and piled them among the goods he’d collected and went up onto the deck naked and slid down to the railing with the tarp and swung over the side and dropped into the gray and freezing sea.
He waded ashore in the last of the light and swung the tarp down and palmed the water off his arms and chest and went to get his clothes. The boy followed him. He kept asking him about his shoulder, blue and discolored from where he’d slammed it against the hatch door. It’s all right, the man said. It doesnt hurt. We got lots of stuff. Wait till you see.
They hurried down the beach against the light. What if the boat washes away? the boy said.
It wont wash away.
No it wont. Come on. Are you hungry?
We’re going to eat well tonight. But we need to get a move on.
I’m hurrying, Papa.
And it may rain.
How can you tell?
I can smell it.
What does it smell like?
Wet ashes. Come on.
Then he stopped. Where’s the pistol? he said.
The boy froze. He looked terrified.
Christ, the man said. He looked back up the beach. They were already out of sight of the boat. He looked at the boy. The boy had put his hands on top of this head and he was about to cry. I’m sorry, he said. I’m really sorry.
He set down the tarp with the canned goods. We have to go back.
I’m sorry, Papa.
It’s okay. It will still be there.
The boy stood with his shoulders slumped. He was beginning to sob. The man knelt and put his arms around him. It’s all right, he said. I’m the one who’s supposed to make sure we have the pistol and I didnt do it. I forgot.
I’m sorry, Papa.
Come on. We’re okay. Everything’s okay.
The pistol was where he’d left it in the sand. The man picked it up and shook it and he sat and pulled the cylinder pin and handed it to the boy. Hold this, he said.
Is it okay, Papa?
Of course it’s okay.
He rolled the cylinder out into his hand and blew the sand from it and handed it to the boy and he blew through the barrel and he blew the sand out of the frame and then took the parts from the boy and refitted everything and cocked the pistol and lowered the hammer and cocked it again. He aligned the cylinder for the true cartridge to come up and he let the hammer down and put the pistol in his parka and stood up. We’re okay, he said. Come on.
Is the dark going to catch us?
I dont know.
It is, isnt it?
Come on. We’ll hurry.
The dark did catch them. By the time they reached the headland path it was too dark to see anything. They stood in the wind from off the sea with the grass hissing all about them, the boy holding on to his hand. We just have to keep going, the man said. Come on.
I cant see.
I know. We’ll just take it one step at a time.
Dont let go.
No matter what.
No matter what.
They went on in the perfect blackness, sightless as the blind. He held out one hand before him although there was nothing on that salt heath to collide with. The surf sounded more distant but he took his bearings by the wind as well and after tottering on for the better part of an hour they emerged from the grass and seaoats and stood again on the dry sand of the upper beach. The wind was colder. He’d brought the boy around on the lee side of him when suddenly the beach before them appeared shuddering out of the blackness and vanished again.
What was that, Papa?
It’s okay. It’s lightning. Come on.
He slung the tarp of goods up over his shoulder and took the boy’s hand and they went on, tramping in the sand like parade horses against tripping over some piece of driftwood or seawrack. The weird gray light broke over the beach again. Far away a faint rumble of thunder muffled in the murk. I think I saw our tracks, he said.
So we’re going the right way.
Yes. The right way.
I’m really cold, Papa.
I know. Pray for lightning.
They went on. When the light broke over the beach again he saw that the boy was bent over and was whispering to himself. He looked for their tracks going up the beach but he could not see them. The wind had picked up even more and he was waiting for the first spits of rain. If they got caught out on the beach in a rainstorm in the night they would be in trouble. They turned their faces away from the wind, holding on to the hoods of their parkas. The sand rattling against their legs and racing away in the dark and the thunder cracking just offshore. The rain came in off the sea hard and slant and stung their faces and he pulled the boy against him.
They stood in the downpour. How far had they come? He waited for the lightning but it was tailing off and when the next one came and then the next he knew that the storm had taken out their tracks. They trudged on through the sand at the upper edge of the beach, hoping to see the shape of the log where they’d camped. Soon the lightning was all but gone. Then in a shift in the wind he heard a distant faint patter. He stopped. Listen, he said.
What is it?
I dont hear anything.
What is it, Papa?
It’s the tarp. It’s the rain falling on the tarp.
They went on, stumbling through the sand and the trash along the tideline. They came upon the tarp almost at once and he knelt and dropped the bindle and groped about for the rocks he’d weighed the plastic with and pushed them beneath it. He raised up the tarp and pulled it over them and then used the rocks to hold down the edges inside. He got the boy out of his wet coat and pulled the blankets over them, the rain pelting them through the plastic. He shucked off his own coat and held the boy close and soon they were asleep.
In the night the rain ceased and he woke and lay listening. The heavy wash and thud of the surf after the wind had died. In the first dull light he rose and walked down the beach. The storm had littered the shore and he walked the tideline looking for anything of use. In the shallows beyond the breakwater an ancient corpse rising and falling among the driftwood. He wished he could hide it from the boy but the boy was right. What was there to hide? When he got back he was awake sitting in the sand watching him. He was wrapped in the blankets and he’d spread their wet coats over the dead weeds to dry. He walked up and eased himself down beside him and they sat watching the leaden sea lift and fall beyond the breakers.
They were most of the morning offloading the ship. He kept a fire going and he’d wade ashore naked and shivering and drop the towrope and stand in the warmth of the blaze while the boy towed in the seabag through the slack swells and dragged it onto the beach. They emptied out the bag and spread blankets and clothing out on the warm sand to dry before the fire. There was more on the boat than they could carry and he thought they might stay a few days on the beach and eat as much as they could but it was dangerous. They slept that night in the sand with the fire standing off the cold and their goods scattered all about them. He woke coughing and rose and took a drink of water and dragged more wood onto the fire, whole logs of it that sent up a great cascade of sparks. The salt wood burned orange and blue in the fire’s heart and he sat watching it a long time. Later he walked up the beach, his long shadow reaching over the sands before him, sawing about with the wind in the fire. Coughing. Coughing. He bent over, holding his knees. Taste of blood. The slow surf crawled and seethed in the dark and he thought about his life but there was no life to think about and after a while he walked back. He got a can of peaches from the bag and opened it and sat before the fire and ate the peaches slowly with his spoon while the boy slept. The fire flared in the wind and sparks raced away down the sand. He set the empty tin between his feet. Every day is a lie, he said. But you are dying. That is not a lie.
They carried their new stores bundled in tarps or blankets down the beach and packed everything into the cart. The boy tried to carry too much and when they stopped to rest he’d take part of his load and put it with his own. The boat had shifted slightly in the storm. He stood looking at it. The boy watched him. Are you going back out there? he said.
I think so. One last look around.
I’m kind of scared.
We’re okay. Just keep watch.
We’ve got more than we can carry now.
I know. I just want to take a look.
He went over the ship from bow to stern again. Stop. Think. He sat in the floor of the saloon with his feet in the rubber boots propped against the pedestal of the table. It was already getting dark. He tried to remember what he knew about boats. He got up and went out on deck again. The boy was sitting by the fire. He stepped down into the cockpit and sat on the bench with his back against the bulkhead, his feet on the deck almost at eye level. He had on nothing but the sweater and the souwester outfit over that but there was little warmth to it and he could not stop shivering. He was about to get up again when he realized that he’d been looking at the fasteners in the bulkhead on the far side of the cockpit. There were four of them. Stainless steel. At one time the benches had been covered with cushions and he could see the ties at the corner where they’d ripped away. At the bottom center of the bulkhead just above the seat there was a nylon strap sticking out, the end of it doubled and cross-stitched. He looked at the fasteners again. They were rotary latches with wings for your thumb. He got up and knelt at the bench and turned each one all the way to the left. They were springloaded and when he had them undone he took hold of the strap at the bottom of the board and pulled it and the board slid down and came free. Inside under the deck was a space that held some rolled sails and what looked to be a two man rubber raft rolled and tied with bungee cords. A pair of small plastic oars. A box of flares. And behind that was a composite toolbox, the opening of the lid sealed with black electrical tape. He pulled it free and found the end of the tape and peeled it off all the way around and unlatched the chrome snaps and opened the box. Inside was a yellow plastic flashlight, an electric strobebeacon powered by a drycell, a first-aid kit. A yellow plastic EPIRB. And a black plastic case about the size of a book. He lifted it out and unsnapped the latches and opened it. Inside was fitted an old 37 millimeter bronze flarepistol. He lifted it from the case in both hands and turned it and looked at it. He depressed the lever and broke it open. The chamber was empty but there were eight rounds of flares fitted in a plastic container, short and squat and newlooking. He fitted the pistol back in the case and closed and latched the lid.
He waded ashore shivering and coughing and wrapped himself in a blanket and sat in the warm sand in front of the fire with the boxes beside him. The boy crouched and tried to put his arms around him which at least brought a smile. What did you find, Papa? he said.
I found a first-aid kit. And I found a flarepistol.
I’ll show you. It’s to signal with.
Is that what you went to look for?
How did you know it was there?
Well, I was hoping it was there. It was mostly luck.
He opened the case and turned it for the boy to see.
It’s a gun.
A flaregun. It shoots a thing up in the air and it makes a big light.
Can I look at it?
Sure you can.
The boy lifted the gun from the case and held it. Can you shoot somebody with it? he said.
Would it kill them?
No. But it might set them on fire.
Is that why you got it?
Because there’s nobody to signal to. Is there?
I’d like to see it.
You mean shoot it?
We can shoot it.
In the dark?
Yes. In the dark.
It could be like a celebration.
Like a celebration. Yes.
Can we shoot it tonight?
Is it loaded?
No. But we can load it.
The boy stood holding the gun. He pointed it toward the sea. Wow, he said.
He got dressed and they set out down the beach carrying the last of their plunder. Where do you think the people went, Papa?
That were on the ship?
I dont know.
Do you think they died?
I dont know.
But the odds are not in their favor.
The man smiled. The odds are not in their favor?
No. Are they?
No. Probably not.
I think they died.
Maybe they did.
I think that’s what happened to them.
They could be alive somewhere, the man said. It’s possible. The boy didnt answer. They went on. They’d wrapped their feet in sailcloth and bound them up in blue plastic pampooties cut from a tarp and they left strange tracks in their comings and going. He thought about the boy and his concerns and after a while he said: You’re probably right. I think they’re probably dead.
Because if they were alive we’d be taking their stuff.
And we’re not taking their stuff.
So how many people do you think are alive?
In the world?
In the world. Yes.
I dont know. Let’s stop and rest.
You’re wearing me out.
They sat among their bundles.
How long can we stay here, Papa?
You asked me that.
That means not very long.
The boy poked holes in the sand with his fingers until he had a circle of them. The man watched him. I dont know how many people there are, he said. I dont think there are very many.
I know. He pulled his blanket about his shoulders and looked out down the gray and barren beach.
What is it? the man said.
No. Tell me.
There could be people alive someplace else.
I dont know. Anywhere.
You mean besides on earth?
I dont think so. They couldnt live anyplace else.
Not even if they could get there?
The boy looked away.
What? the man said.
He shook his head. I dont know what we’re doing, he said.
The man started to answer. But he didnt. After a while he said: There are people. There are people and we’ll find them. You’ll see.
He fixed dinner while the boy played in the sand. He had a spatula made from a flattened foodtin and with it he built a small village. He dredged a grid of streets. The man walked down and squatted and looked at it. The boy looked up. The ocean’s going to get it, isnt it? he said.
Can you write the alphabet?
I can write it.
We dont work on your lessons any more.
Can you write something in the sand?
Maybe we could write a letter to the good guys. So if they came along they’d know we were here. We could write it up there where it wouldnt get washed away.
What if the bad guys saw it?
I shouldnt have said that. We could write them a letter.
The boy shook his head. That’s okay, he said.
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