You stand upright again and yell for help. ‘Hey,’ you yell. You turn to the mass of people crowded into the front of the boat. ‘Hey!’

A couple of teenagers turn to look at you and then cast their gazes back to the dolphins skipping along the water below. One man closer to your age raises a long arm upward in acknowledgement, as if to say, Hello. You can mostly see the backs of peoples’ heads, the swirls of cowlicks, the reddening lines of sunburning parts.

‘Hey!’ you shout again. You thrust one pointing finger at the figure receding on the swells of the ocean behind the boat. Already it is difficult to make out what it is—a mass of floating plastic bags, maybe. Not a person. A few more heads swivel at you and then away again. You feel ridiculous. You cannot compete with dolphins. ‘Man overboard!’ you say. It sounds ludicrous coming out of your mouth, something from a cartoon about pirates.

That works, though. Everyone turns first toward you and then out to the sea beyond you. The front of the boat is abandoned as the assorted high schoolers and vacationers and tourists rush over here to the side (Starboard, you think to yourself) of the boat to see. Dolphins are no match for pirate cartoon clichés.

The figure in the ocean now seems impossibly far away, though. The boat does not seem to move relative to the larger world—the water unchanging except for its undulations in stasis, the horizon a flat and terrifying sameness all around you, an unbroken straight line in perimeter, Long Beach just a sort of brown smear clinging greasily to the far edge of the world—but the figure in the ocean seems to rush away into the distance at an alarming speed.

Everyone is shouting, now. You feel a weird and somewhat guilt-inducing sense of validation and celebrity. Someone is running up the ladder to the open-air deck above and now a dozen people follow. There is a woman holding a faded orange child-size life vest, the nylon buckles clacking against themselves with every motion she makes. There is chaos. You see a young man in a tight white teeshirt standing very near to the bulwark and for a moment you are certain that you’re about to see him dive off the boat and into the ocean, to swim the heroic distance to the vanishing figure. Instead he paces with nervous energy.

The boat begins to turn. Someone must have found the captain. You glance up at the bulk of the boat up above you and try to figure which dark glass window holds the bridge or whatever. It would be up at the top, right? A fistful of white antennae stud the top of the enclosed area above you.

You realize that you are standing here uselessly. To your immediate left a high school girl is chewing something and staring out at the ocean, her hands on the bulwark just like yours, her posture exactly yours. You should be helping. What can you do, though? The boat is turning around in a long circle, the wake curving around in front of you, this side dipping down toward the surface of the water. The dolphins are gone. The person in the water is just a white clump of nothing, a collection of broken Styrofoam, a bit of frothed up sea water. There is a tornado of seagulls swirling over the boat.

Over the roar of the engines—louder now as the boat turns, and you have an image of the extreme cant of the boat hanging an engine in the air, uselessly suspended over the water—you hear a woman’s voice yelling, ‘Mom! Mom!’ At the V-shaped bow there is a woman in her twenties or thirties with wide eyes and a man the same age behind her. Both of them are walking tentatively as if looking for a dropped wallet or contact lens.

‘Mom!’ the woman screams.

The boat rights itself suddenly and you sway away from the bulwark and the woman and the man sway backward and you move toward them. The sun is on the other side of you now and the whole of the boat looks new in unfamiliar configurations of light and shadow. You continue to the front of the bow and the figure is still there and growing nearer and the woman is alternating glances between the person in the water and the ladder up to the deck above. She is now silent. The man has not said anything.

Now that the boat is level again the mass of people who had rushed up to the open-air deck are coming back down to the bow to keep the figure in view. You can see teenagers and adults and children all whispering to one another but there is too much noise to tell what anyone is saying. Some people are gesturing to the inside seating area and you look through the windows there and see two white-uniformed crew members clearing people away from the boarding door. They are young men with close haircuts and black slacks. They look more like waiters than anything.

The woman standing near to you runs to the side of the bow and leans way over and the man with her comes up behind her and places one hand flat on her back. The sound of the engines cuts off and you can faintly hear the woman’s voice.

Through the window of the cabin you see the two crew members open the boarding door and lying down on the floor and stretching down and out. Their backs are to you. With the engines off the world is all of a sudden too silent, the lapping sounds of the waves against the hull of the boat and the whines of the gulls above and the murmuring of the people on the boat almost comically quiet. You look forward off the bow of the boat at the bit of dirt on the horizon that is Long Beach. The ocean is enormous. The boat bobs up and down like a cork.

Some more noise from inside the cabin and you walk to the door inside in time to see the two crewmen haul the figure up and out of the water and into the interior of the cabin. For a moment it doesn’t look like a person at all—maybe just some brown and white seaweed, somehow—and then you see the slack face, the heavy limbs, the wet clothes. It is the older woman who spoke to you on the open-air deck just a few minutes ago. Her thin-lipped smile. She isn’t moving.

Someone says the word Doctor but no one steps forward. The people in the cabin are crowded awkwardly around the rows of plush red and blue seats, craning their necks to see. One of the crewmen does something to the woman’s neck and then he half stands up and looks at the other crewman and you see him go a bit pale.

‘I don’t think she’s alive,’ he says.

The other crewman makes a stern expression and stands up fully and looks around the cabin. ‘Does anyone know this woman?’ he says.


A. Indicate the young couple outside on the bow.
B. Say that you spoke to her on the open-air deck.
C. Say nothing and wait to see what happens.
D. Go immediately up to the open-air deck.
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