CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (26)

‘Okay,’ you say to Charles. You look around you at the boat and the ocean and the sky. Off the starboard bulwark Catalina Island glowers on the ocean and seems, somehow, impossible.

Charles stands to one side to allow you past him and into the Captain’s Lounge. He is looking at you with an expression that mixes pity and curiosity. You look at Bob, leaning against the aft bulwark, his arms stretched out in a wide V, the one patch of missed white stubble on his jawline.

‘What do you make of her,’ you say to him quietly. Charles is probably too far off to hear you over the sound of the wind and the waves and the gulls that circle and call and light on the antenna array atop the white boat’s cabin.

‘Her?’ Bob says.

‘Joan,’ you say, ‘the captain.’

‘I don’t have any idea what you mean,’ he says.

‘Look,’ you say. You feel Charles’s impatience behind you and you step closer to Bob. The rough painted cement of the deck makes a tiny scraping feeling on the underside of your cheap flip-flops. ‘She’s trying to pin this on me. It doesn’t make any sense. Based on what a toddler said? And she won’t call the Coast Guard? Why?’

His eyebrows furrow slightly. ‘You accuse me,’ he says, ‘and now it sounds like you’re accusing the captain.’

‘No,’ you say.

‘I don’t think you know what you’re saying at all. In fact,’ he says, ‘it sounds to me like you’re the one trying to “pin” this on someone.’ He crosses his arms across his chest and you see the fine hairs on his forearms.

 ‘It seems strange,’ you say. ‘And you don’t have an alibi.’

He laughs. ‘Find those kids fucking in the bathroom if you want my alibi,’ he says, and shoos you away.

You turn to go and Charles is peering at you skeptically. You shrug at him and head in through the door to the Captain’s Lounge.

The tiny interior alcove looks exactly the same—the end table with the silver vase, the single silk flower rooted in gelatin, the large photograph of the Islander Express plunging through the surface of the Pacific. With the door to the open-air deck ajar behind you there is a wide glare on the framed glass that encloses the photograph and the brightness of the sunlight hitting the wall and the flush door opposite you makes the alcove seem even smaller, your shadow cast life-size against the cheap wood grain a couple of feet in front of you. You hesitate and then grab the knob of the interior flush door and Charles comes into the alcove behind you and closes the door out to the deck and the room is, for an instant, ludicrously dark.

‘What am I in for here,’ you say.

‘It’s not an execution,’ he mutters.

You turn the knob and see the Lounge again, the blue upholstered diner booth, the glass-topped coffee table. The hideous grey and red and blue wafer-thin carpet, the tiny television up in the fore starboard corner. Joan is sitting on the counter by the microwave, her legs dangling over the red First Aid Station placard. She looks like a child at the doctor’s office. The door opposite you with the plaque that reads Do Not Enter: Boat Crew Only is off of its hinges and leans crookedly across the doorframe. On the right-hand side by the knob the wood of the door is gouged and scraped into a soft concavity.

Charles gestures to the padded blue vinyl seating and you swing your feet under the coffee table and feel strange and silly. You turn again and face Joan, who is looking at you levelly. She does not say anything while she peers at you. You feel self-conscious in your cheap California outfit, the ill-fitting teeshirt, the shorts, the flip-flops.

‘So,’ you say, after a silence that feels overlong. ‘We’re going back?’

‘I’m forcing the issue,’ Joan says to you. There is a tinge of condescension. ‘I would like your cooperation, of course. But yes, we’re going back.’ She is silent again, pointedly. Charles looms quietly by the shut aft door.

‘I’m close,’ you say. ‘I know a lot more than I did.’

‘Close,’ she echoes.

‘I do have some questions for you, though,’ you say. You lean forward, your elbows on your knees. The sun pours in through the window behind Joan and you have to squint to look up at her.

‘I don’t care,’ Joan says, ‘about your questions.’

‘You didn’t tell me that you had an argument with Mrs. Shorter,’ you say. ‘That she was scared, that she wanted to turn the boat around.’

Joan’s poker face is excellent. ‘You’re an idiot,’ she says.

‘She was scared,’ you repeat. ‘Why was she scared, Joan?’

The captain smiles broadly. ‘Mrs. Shorter came to me early in this trip because she’d left her purse in her car,’ she says. ‘She was worried it would be broken into in the parking lot in Long Beach.’

You continue to lean forward but you do not look at Joan, now. Your eyes fixate, for no particular reason, on the handle to the dishwasher to Joan’s left. You wonder how much use the dishwasher sees here in this tiny room with the single-basin sink, this little area tucked behind the bridge of a boat that takes hour-and-forty-five-minute trips twice a day. The front of the dishwasher is a brushed aluminum finish and your face is reflected back in broad abstract horizontals.

You think about Mrs. Shorter tumbling through the air, twenty feet down to the ocean. The smack of her skin against the water. Who is standing over her? Who is up there, leaning over the bulwark to watch her fall, peering past the twin white aluminum flag poles? As she falls, does she see the face above her? As the cold salt water floods her ears, does she hear a voice?

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