CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (21)

You head back into the passenger cabin with an eye on the crewman named Ernesto. He is glaring at you and then, after a moment, pointedly directs his attention to his clipboard. You breeze past him and approach Pauline. You wonder if there is any significance to your only allies on this boat being high schoolers and Gavin.

Pauline meets you in the center aisle of the passenger cabin. She is beaming with accomplishment of some sort. ‘You’re back,’ she says.

You nod. ‘What’s been going on down here?’ you say.

‘Well.’ She produces her black-covered spiral notebook and thumbs through a few pages somewhere in the middle. ‘A lot of nothing, mostly, but I did talk to people and no one, like, knows anything except that like everyone thinks it’s total bullshit if it’s true that we won’t wove the ship because the captain lady or whoever doesn’t want to get in trouble and someone said—’ she points with one finger at something scrawled on the page ‘—that that makes the captain, like, super suspicious. That was Kevin Brown if it matters, I wrote it down.’ She holds the notebook up to you.

‘Okay,’ you say. ‘Does anyone know anything? Did they see anything?’

She makes a face with her cheeks puffed out and looks to one side. ‘Nothing, really.’

‘Okay,’ you say.

‘Did you talk to Drew? Is he upstairs?’

‘Yeah,’ you say. ‘I don’t know what to tell him.’

‘It’s rough, right?’ she says.

‘It must be weird,’ you say. ‘Maybe he’ll get used to it.’

Pauline folds the notebook closed and scratches at the side of her head with a ballpoint pen and looks at you. ‘Okay, but what? I mean, he has to make a decision, what should he do?’

You feel a small wave of confusion surge through your chest. ‘A decision?’ you say.

‘God didn’t you talk to him?’

‘Yes,’ you say, firmly. ‘About his parents, and their divorce, and now they’re dating.’

Pauline looks at you, at your face. She has big eyes. ‘He told you that?’

‘Why,’ you say. You turn slightly to keep Ernesto in your line of sight. Behind him, through the glass of the large front windows of the passenger cabin, Gavin is standing with his hands cupped around his eyes to allow him to see in through the tinting. Wind whips at Gavin’s polo shirt which from in here looks almost black.

Pauline laughs a bit in her throat. ‘Drew’s parents aren’t divorced,’ she says. ‘They want him to go to college next year. That’s all. What did he tell you?’

You look up at the speckled ceiling of the passenger cabin and imagine that Drew’s feet are right above you on the open-air deck. They might be. You picture his face. The slow way he cracked the individual knuckles of both hands. The snap and wharble of the two American flags hanging off of the back of the boat above the inert underwater engines.

She laughs again. ‘Sorry,’ she says. ‘He’s kind of a shit.’

‘I need to talk to Ernesto,’ you say. Your own voice sounds sticky. ‘Pauline,’ you say.

‘Look,’ says Pauline, ‘It’s fine. Right? It’s fine.’

From where you are standing the bottom of your vision in fully taken up by the crowded blue field of simultaneous headrests. Behind them, between the rows of seats and Ernesto’s feet, you know, between you and the specter of Gavin peering in through the tinted glass, is Mrs. Shorter’s body, cooling from the heat of life and warming from death in the filtered sunlight. She is dead, and in here with you. You are trapped on this boat with her, with Marjorie, the dead, your dead. Out through the windows are waves and the Pacific coast, birds and fish and drifting clumps of slimed seaweed floating on blisterous airsacs. There is a dead old woman and her daughter weeps on the prow, and you wander around getting lied to. As though it mattered.

‘I need to talk to Ernesto,’ you repeat.

‘Who the fuck is Ernesto?’ Pauline says.

You point with one finger held close against your chest. ‘I need you to spy on his clipboard. It could be important. I’m going to talk to him and you stand near.’ Does it sound solid? Sure.

‘Are you okay?’ she says to you.

You don’t respond and instead stride quickly over toward Ernesto, the crewman with the clipboard. You do not look behind yourself to ensure that she is following you. There is a silence blaring in your head. As you clear the rows of blue-upholstered seats the bright sherbet-colored beach towel comes back into view, the polar bear in sunglasses, the wet old woman’s feet sticking out of the end of it.

‘Excuse me,’ you say.

He is already looking at you. ‘Yup.’

‘Hi,’ you say. You consider introducing yourself, offering a handshake. You do neither. ‘Can I ask you a few questions?’ you say.

Ernesto’s expression doesn’t change. Despite the glaring earlier his face is now blank and unquestioning. ‘I don’t see why not,’ he says. He has a particular accent that does not sound like Tijuana.

‘Okay,’ you say. Out of the corner of your eye you see Pauline walk toward the tinted glass and wave at Gavin. ‘I spoke to Charles a minute ago. Your fellow—’ you aren’t sure ‘—fellow coworker. He told me there was a fight between Joan and the old woman. That you were there.’

He looks at you levelly for a while. ‘And?’ he says.

Behind him, Pauline turns away from Gavin and the fore window panel and you do not focus your attention on her. ‘What was the fight about?’ you say.

Ernesto sighs and looks down at his clipboard and then presses it flat against himself. He speaks in a low voice. ‘The woman was crying,’ he says. ‘She was saying, “It’s not too late, it’s not too late,” crying with tears down her face. This was up above. A very messy scene. She told the captain to turn around and return to shore. The captain refused. This happens occasionally, you understand, people become alarmed on the ocean.’

‘It’s not too late for what?’ you say.

He bites his lower lip. ‘To turn around,’ he says.

‘Why did she want to turn around?’

‘Excuse me,’ Ernesto says. ‘She did not say.’

‘What did she say,’ you press.

‘Excuse me again,’ he says. His voice is flat and affectless. He turns suddenly and looks at Gavin for a long while until Gavin uncups his hands and makes a gesture and backs away from the tinted windowing. Ernesto turns back to you. ‘She said, “I don’t want to see him.” About whom I do not know. Now, please.’ He motions with one hand for you to leave him alone.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
Shared publiclyView activity