“See that motorcycle in front of us?”
Jack had made scarce with his words for most of the car ride. Mornings were like molasses for him. Rougher on him than on either of his brothers, and definitely rougher than for his rise-and-shine pops. It wasn’t unusual for Jack to keep monk silent for hours, slowly coming to the surface of the waking day, as if instinctively dodging the bends of consciousness.
He restarted. “See how his bag of fish looks like it’s about to fall off the back of that motorcycle? That would be so gross. I bet there would be fish everywhere.”
The end of his sentence was still breathing when the motorcycle hit a bump in the road, his dad’s car going bump too, only a second later. Jack’s eyes fluttered with the tiny concussion, then steadied again, and found the bag of fish. The tiniest instant expanded before him as he tracked the bag’s parabolic arc through the air toward the windshield of his dad’s car. End tumbled over end in the perfect sommersault, and the bag hit the glass all belly flop and splatter, spreading as it flattened from impact, distending until it finally burst, spilling its world across the surface of the glass, water racing to the edges of the windshield, to the corners of peripheral vision, to the ends of the sky.
Water rushed in through the vents and the sunroof, through a relentlessly proliferating network of seams, cracks, and crags in the car. The force of the flood seemed to dissolve the car, and when it was no more, Jack found himself alone and deep underwater, still holding his breath as a school of dolphins swam past, surrounding him in something like a stampede, then disappearing into the shimmering blue darkness of the ocean. His breath! This - his first awareness of his breath - shot through him like a harpoon, and he felt the air begin to leave him as he turned his head upward, toward the surface, where a tiny, dark, wedge hovered above him. He pushed his arms down against the resistance of the water, pushing himself toward the boat. The air was escaping faster now, and he raced his own steady exhale for survival, propelled more now by his will to live as by his tiring arms. But the boat was so far, impossibly far away, and as the last air bubble escaped his nose, the flow of everything reversed itself and his mouth fell open and water raced inward, pulled by the desperate expansion of his lungs, and his body relaxed in a way he’d never felt before, and the fight left him and he became like the water.
As the shroud of of the darkest night fell around him, he felt his skin begin to burn in streaks and lines across his feet, then his legs, his bottom and back, his lifeless arms, his chest and neck. He imagined this was how it felt to be slashed and sliced by swords like in the movies, and as the weight of his chest crushed him, he welcomed the final respite he knew the blades were delivering. Next, there was a light and the sensation of speeding up. His body seemed to race now through the sea to the light, like one end of a magnet, he thought, drawn to its opposite pole above.
When he came to, he was on the boat, his grandmother lifting him up as his grandfather removed him from the tangled fishnet. Rope burns covered his body, but his grandmother’s gentle smile fixed upon him and he gazed into the soft kindness of her eyes and all his pain and fear dissolved back into the sea. He stared into her eyes until dryness in his own overtook him and he could no longer keep them open.
Jack let his eyes blink shut, and opened them again as the car’s rear wheels cleared the bump, and he looked out the window at the road before them. The motorcycle’s left turn signal blinked now too. As Jack watched the man and his bag of fish veer off of Liberty toward the 31st St. Bridge, he reached to hold his dad’s hand. He found the familiar spot on his dad’s thumb where a wart had grown, and he stroked its scaly skin and squeezed his hand as his father replied.
“Fish everywhere, huh? I bet so, too.”