Dibney of course was the first one to comment on the choice of wine. “I do say,” he said, “this red is by far the worst I’ve had since I stopped drinking it out of boxes.” He smacked his lips. “It’s not so much a citrus bouquet. Rather, a mouthful of acid.”
Gerald replied to him, “Yes, Dibney, I thought your overdeveloped palate would be the first to pick up on it.”
Dibney swirled the crimson in his glass. The rest of the party looked down their noses at their drinks. “Well what on Earth is this foul thing? What vintage? What year?”
Gerald poured himself another. “I can’t say for certain. You see, I just pulled something off the rack and added the poison.”
Dibney chuckled. “Your jokes won’t cover for your abysmal taste this time.”
Gerald smiled over his glass. The party couldn’t help but notice he was serving himself from an entirely different bottle. “Dear me,” he said. “If I had to endure another one of these petty Thursday evenings with all of you, I think I’d just die.”
Thomas was the first to fall face first into his plate. Elaine went next.
Dibney’s chuckle pupated into a nervous guffaw. “Oh, Gerald, you’re killing me.”
“Yes, I am,” said Gerald. “Let me know if they serve chicken or fish in Hell.”
Dibney died last. He’d scarcely drank enough to warrant a full seizure like the rest. He just sort of looked disgusted and keeled over.
Go down, abranchiate, to the mud and the mire, where your ancestors dwelt; in the suck slithering breaths that rasped through the fluted throats of your ichthyoid grandfathers and grandmothers, crowded broods of egg hatched thieves who robbed the churning, blundering depths of the sunless sludge at the bottom of the sea; down, go down, to where the heavy water sits, bloody blue and thick, like a river eroding the bottom of the world; go down to the ice cold canyons where your cousins sleep in circles, tied up in the jetsam a hundred years old to keep from floating apart in the windless wind down there, where they go down there; go, and sink your fingers in the bottom of the world; and see what you dredge up.
Near the northern tip of Catalina Island we faced a sudden gust of unseasonable wind. It came on heavily for so early in spring, so we tacked within sight of Two Harbors. I scrambled up the shrouds, right over the lubber’s hole, forgetting the harness (it would have taken too long and the ratlines and wood were mostly dry). Owing to lazy hands before me, the baggy wrinkles nearest the topgallant yard were in a state, and somehow the lines to the royals had come loose.
The lines flapping across my ears, high upon the topm’st, I couldn’t hear the frantic shriek of Bethany, our ship’s cook, when a monstrous heron dropped a fat garibaldi on my face. The eviscerated fish flopped wetly against my cheek, its insides slithering down my neck, into my blouse. Instinctively, I reached up, just as we swung aboutship.
The fish and I were suddenly off the mast, in open air high above the decks, nigh on ninety feet. I didn’t hear Bethany’s next cry either, nor the mate’s. I did hear the ragged wind flood the curled holes in my ears, dropping thick thunders upon my eardrums, spilling upward through my hair.
Flailing through the air, the world growing bigger and bigger, the mostly intact fish unfurling with the mast, I thought, that heron must have had a big breakfast this morning to have given up the rest of his meal. It’s funny, in situations like that, what hits you first.