It wasn’t just the time difference. I woke with the light every morning, the sun rising closer to seven than six, unobstructed unless some small Ionian island was in the way that day. I was yachting with my friend Cleo. She worked harder than I did, sixty hour weeks at the Federal Reserve, which gave her the right to sleep in. She’d sailed before. She could miss the sunrise.

Some mornings I felt too tired to get up. The light would wake me and I’d open my eyes, see through my small cabin window that night was over. I could have fallen back to sleep in a moment, but these were the Greek Islands. When I traveled, I lived and that meant not doing all the non-living things I did in New York. Sleeping too much. Drinking too much. Constantly hunting for sex. Starving myself so I was lean and mean, so I could drink cheaper and last longer. So I forced myself to stand, to leave the cabin, to climb on deck, to watch the sun touch the horizon, a sliver of burning that seemed to lose its intensity as it rose. In New York, I never saw the sun rise. My 145th Street apartment faced west, not east. And the horizon was all buildings, so sunsets weren’t sunsets at all. When the sun went down over the row of top floors, there was still at least an hour of daylight left.

 

 

Cleo and I fooled around for a month but we both realized, both quickly, it wasn’t right. No one was right, slowly or quickly, for me these days. I’d been a successful bachelor for years and years. Then I got bored of being a successful bachelor and got married. And then in grass-is-always-greener fashion, I missed my bachelor days too much. Six months after my justice-of-the-peace wedding, I left my wife and was back to where I’d been. I met Cleo the day my divorce became official. As soon as I tired of someone, I disappeared, but Cleo and I got along well, very well. We broke the let’s-just-be-friends cliché and became real friends, traveling friends. We’d lounged in Cancun. We’d gambled in Vegas. We’d skied in Vail. And now we were sailing in Greece. Calm seas. Light winds. Cleo had given me an early birthday present of sailing lessons in New York at the Hudson River pier, a few blocks from where Cleo worked. The winds had been calm on the Hudson too and after my three-day course, I’d said to her, How hard can it be? She said it could be hard, that strong winds hurt people, but I didn’t believe her. Sometimes Cleo exaggerated her life. Three days on the Hudson. Eight days on the Ionian. Eleven sailing days total, all of them easy.

This morning pink streaks underlined the sun. We’d been keeping a list of sailing expressions since the flotilla trip started. Ship shape. Yeoman’s work. All hands on deck. Down the hatch. A different tack. The two I kept repeating, over and over, were Shiver me timbers, which I delivered in my best Popeye accent, and Chips Ahoy, which I said at the beginning of each day’s sail. Cleo would shake her head and tell me to check the anchor. The pink-streaked sky reminded me of another expression. Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. How hard could it be? Yachts were built not to tip over. Land was in sight at all times. We were both good swimmers. And the flotilla crew was competent, ship-shape Brits with even tempers even when hungover. They could bail us out of any situation.

We’d had another couple on board for drinks the night before. Garrick and Jocelyn. Two true Brits with truly British names. They were celebrating their third wedding anniversary. It was the first flotilla for both of them and they’d asked Cleo questions about her other sailing trips. Then the conversation turned to marriage and I had lots to say. Cleo told them I was jaded. I told them I was smart. I caught Jocelyn looking at me and I stayed looking at her until she moved her eyes.

Empty plastic glasses remained on board, starboard side of the boat. Starboard. Port. Fore. Aft. Main sheet. Genoa sheet. Main halyard. Genoa halyard. I hated the words. I hated the knots. I hated the details. I just wanted to get the sails up when we sailed, fast as I could, and sail. And when the day was done, I wanted to get the sails down fast, get to the dock fast, moor fast. Then we could shower, eat and drink. After the first day, I’d checked sailing off the list of things I had to do in life. I could now tell the story of the time I’d yachted around the Greek Islands.

Chips ahoy. Shiver me timbers.

I wasn’t sure if I’d spoken out loud.

The sun rose a longitudinal degree above the horizon and the morning march to the taverna bathrooms began.

I did one hundred push-ups, one hundred sit ups, punching my stomach during the last ten. My book, which I’d left on board, had a water ring on the cover. Someone had used it as a drink coaster the night before. I opened to where I’d stuck the boarding pass for Thomas Cook Flight 152 to mark the page. I’d read Homer once, years ago, in college. The Odyssey. We’d been sailing in Greece for eight days. I was only on page fourteen. I started skimming the lines.

Cleo came up in shorts and a new top for the day. It was light green and showed off her brown skin. She was dark from days of sun, darker than I was and I was dark. My blond hair was almost white, but not white like when I’d been a kid, days and days in the pool’s chlorine tinting my tow-head green.

“Did you sleep?”

“I slept great. I was exhausted,” she said.

An older couple from our flotilla walked by and we said our good mornings. I liked hearing their accent. It made me feel far from home. I guessed Cleo was happy to hear British too. Cleo’s parents had recently moved to New York from Cairo and were driving her crazy with their own fights. And my nights of going out, drinking hard, waking sick, dressing fast and leaving quickly had been beating me down. We both needed breaks from the States.

“I’m getting some coffee.” Cleo stretched her arms to the sky, which was wide and blue. There hadn’t been a cloud all trip. “Do you want to come along or do you want some more alone time?”

“Let’s go.”

“I heard you doing sit-ups on deck.”

I put down The Odyssey and punched my stomach for her.

“You’re so boring,” she said.

“Maybe. But I’m in fighting shape.”

“Who are you fighting?”

“We’re sailing to Ithaca today. It’s me against Odysseus.”

“My money’s on Odysseus,” she said.

“You’ve got no faith.”

“I’ve got faith. You’re the one without faith. But I still think Odysseus would kick your ass.”

“Think of it,” I said. “We’re actually sailing to Ithaca today. Pluto is sailing to Ithaca.”

Pluto may not make it to Ithaca.”

Pluto was the name of our boat. The water pump leaked. The tiller handle was broken. The radio didn’t work. Our flotilla leader Amelia had tried getting the Nielson people to replace Pluto with a more seaworthy boat, but it was summer, all the flotillas were at sea, and the Neilson executives weren’t budging. They kept telling Amelia they’d see what they could do, but so far they’d done nothing. Cleo had already written out a complaint form and we’d been scheming how to make Nielson pay when the trip was done. I suggested blowing up the boat with the on-board flares.

We jumped off Pluto, deck to dock. All the yachts were lined up, tied in, anchored down, looking orderly, as if they belonged where they’d sailed into place, effortlessly. I now knew better, knew the hassle of parking a boat, dropping an anchor, tying a seaworthy knot. August in Greece meant too many tourists, too many boats. We walked to the farthest tavern and took a table outside overlooking the sea. Cleo ordered coffee

“So tell me about Odysseus,” Cleo said.

“What do you want to know? He fought for ten years. Then it took him ten years to sail home. His wife waited for him the whole time.”

“A ten-year flotilla. Where was he coming from?”

“From not that far. A few hundred miles, but he ran into a lot of obstacles. One-eyed giants. Deadly women singing beautiful songs. Whirlpools and multi-headed monsters.”

“Ten years at sea doesn’t sound bad, even with all the hassles.”

“You know what Odysseus used to say to himself every morning before he set sail?”

“What?”

How hard can it be?

“You’re an idiot.”

“Why does that bother you so much?”

“Because you don’t realize how dangerous it can get out there.”

I put out my hand, straight. It didn’t move.

“That means nothing,” Cleo said. “By the way, fear makes us human.”

“Speaking of humans and fear, I think you scared our friends last night talking about all your boating mishaps.”

“You’re the one who scared them.”

“Not at all.”

“You were drunk. You said some mean things. You probably don’t even remember.”

“What did I say?”

“You kept going off on marriage. You kept telling them how lust fades, that it’s inevitable, that people stay together because they’re weak. You said you’d checked off marriage on your list and you’d never do it again. It’s their third wedding anniversary. They didn’t need to hear your cynical shit.”

“They’re old enough to hear it and know it. They’re not kids. If you were so upset, you should have countered my cynical shit with your romantic shit.”

“I’d rather be romantic than cynical.”

Cleo added more sugar to her coffee.

“Very symbolic.”

“Actually the coffee’s bitter like your outlook on life.”

“You know she likes me,” I said.

“No. She doesn’t like you.”

“She does.”

“You think everybody likes you.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it? Jocelyn was checking me out the whole night. I remember that part.”

Cleo stopped talking. She finished her coffee.

“It was a red sky this morning,” I said. “But you missed it.”

“I’ve seen red skies,” Cleo said. “Let’s go back to the boat and get our map. They’re meeting in fifteen minutes.”

“Pleasant Amelia with her pleasant good mornings.”

“It’s pleasant to be pleasant,” Cleo said. “Maybe you can be the pleasant captain this morning and chart our course for the day.”

 

 

Ithaca was in sight.

Steeper than the other islands, more rocky, more brutal, it looked like the place I’d read about. Homer had done his homework. I was at the helm. Cleo was sitting near me, reading her novel, hat and sunglasses shading her face from the sun. The radio, tuned to a Greek station, was playing an upbeat song with lots of strings. Then the wind hit. A quick gust filled the main sail, a second gust filled the Genoa sail, white faces stretched taut, too taut, too full, and I saw, heard, felt the power. Cleo had already put her book down. She was loosening one of the ropes, the one with the red stripe.

“Hold it hard,” she said.

I assumed she meant the rudder. It was bucking, pulling. Cleo pulled the rope tight.

“What rope is that?” I said.

“It’s called a sheet.”

“It’s still a rope.”
“I know it’s a rope, but it’s called a sheet. Put both hands on the rudder.”

The wind hit again and this time it wasn’t a gust but a steady pull. I looked up at the wind gauge on top of the mast. I was holding the rudder and looking up and I felt off-balance, the wind pressing my eyes.

“Hold it steady,” Cleo was yelling.

But I wasn’t holding it steady. I was looking at the gauge, looking at the sky, trying to judge the wind. The boat was turning. I stopped looking at the sky. I felt the pull. I felt the turn. I saw something moving, fast. Then I wasn’t holding the rudder anymore. My sunglasses were off my face. I was falling against the side of the boat, rails pressing against my back. The boat pulled the other way, the beam shot past my head, the sails rippled above me, loud. She was on the rudder turning the boat. I held onto the rail. I stood. I wiped my hand across the bridge of my nose. I was bleeding.

“You can’t move the back of the boat into the wind,” she was yelling.

Blood filled the lines in my hands. I wanted to punch something back but I was dizzy. It felt like a fight. It felt like a sucker punch, cold-cocked by a swinging beam.

“That’s how hard it can be,” she was yelling.

 

 

The rest of the afternoon was a disaster. Cleo tried to teach me how to sail in strong winds, but I didn’t care. Three days of sailing lessons and eight days of calm seas hadn’t prepared me for this. She was testing me. I felt like she was testing me and I hated tests. Main sheet. Main halyard. Genoa furl. Starboard. Port. Beam reach. Broad reach. Reefing line. Kicker. I didn’t fucking care. I said it out loud sometimes, said it out loud so many times. To friends. To family. To women who cried when I left them, when I walked out of their lives dramatically. I don’t care. I don’t fucking care.

The scenery was spectacular, the island of Lefkas behind us, the island of Ithaca rising in front, the cleanest sea, between aqua and green, all around. History. Beauty. Miles away from too-busy Manhattan. But I didn’t fucking care.

“How hard can it be?” she said. “You almost had your head taken off.”

“It’s just wind. I wasn’t ready. And it’s not even fun.”

“It’s not fun for me either. I feel like I’m sailing this thing alone.”
“I’ll put the engine on. I’ll drive this piece of shit to wherever the fuck we’re going.”

“Where are we going?”

“You wrote it down.”
“Exactly. I wrote it down.”

Cleo was looking at me and then she looked away. She held the rudder hard. She furled, coiled, whatever the fuck you called it, she did that to the front sail, the fucking Genoa sail, on her own. She climbed across the boat, held the beam, got the main sail down.

“Go ahead,” she said.

“Go ahead what?”

“That’s what you wanted. Start the engine.”

I could do that. I went down to the cabin. I switched the power on. I climbed back up, flicked the switch and the engine started. Our boat, masts bare, no better than a motor boat now, moved pitifully forward to Ithaca. I looked at all the other yachts, sails taut and proud gliding over the sea. From a distance it looked fun. From a distance it looked easy.

I steered the boat. We didn’t speak. Cleo was probably calculating how quickly she could leave Greece, leave me, fly back to New York.

 

 

“You’re a bully,” she said. “You don’t do something well, you’re not in your comfort zone, and instead of accepting that maybe things can get a little uncomfortable, you take it out on the people around you.”

We were back on shore. Ithaca’s shore. The boat was docked and we were sitting on deck. We hadn’t spoken while we showered and changed, but I’d mixed us each a strong gin and tonic, then another and Cleo’s hard face softened, though not much. It had been a shit day.

“You are,” she said. “You’re a bully.”

“You didn’t tell me it was going to be like this.”

“There you go.”

“You didn’t.”

How hard can it be? That’s what you kept saying. How hard can it be?

I was too cocky sometimes, but it was more than that. I was stronger than she was. Faster. More coordinated. If she could do it, I could do it too. Whatever adventures Cleo had had, and she’d had many, they couldn’t be that amazing, that difficult. Maybe I was jealous of all the traveling she’d done, all the far-off places she’d seen, all the challenges she’d taken. India. Asia. The Galapagos Islands. Safaris in Tanzania. Jeep trips across the Sinai. Hiking in Laos and Cambodia. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Maybe it was my way to negate her life, a part of her life, a part she seemed to genuinely love. I could relegate her travels to a checklist. I could relegate everyone’s lives, everyone’s loves, to justify my day-to-day not-living, which I’d done for too long. I pretended my not-living was fine, was worthy, was an adventure itself. When travelers bragged too much and asked me where I’d been, I’d tell them I’d visited more pussy than they’d ever visit, that I’d played around the world with hundreds of women from everywhere, that my adventure was bedding one woman after another woman after another. I didn’t need to travel at all. My checklist wasn’t a Tibetan tour or a Himalayan hike. My checklist was cunt. I could do anyone so I could do anything. If Cleo could sail, I could sail. But then the first true gust hit and I got sucker punched. But it wasn’t a sucker punch. It was a swinging boom, fair and square, square into my nose.

“I’m going to have another. Do you want another?”

“Don’t get too drunk,” she said.

“I’m not drunk.”

“Then you’ll be mean all over again.”

“I’m done being mean.”

“You’ll start bullying.”

I held up my empty glass and started backing down the hatch.

“Okay,” she said. “Make me one more. Just one more. We should eat.”

“What are you craving?”

“You choose. You’re the one with the sailing injury.”

Shiver me timbers.”

“Great,” she said. “You were a real Popeye today.”

“I’ll tell you what I’m really craving.”

“Spinach.”

“Nope.”

“Tell me.”

“Greek food.”

Cleo smiled, she had a great smile, and like that we were best friends again. She tossed me her empty cup, plastic, no breakables on board.

I climbed down the rest of the way. The bottle of Tanqueray was already on the counter, the bag of ice open, the lime cut. I poured two drinks, stiff, squeezed extra lime in her glass the way she liked, used one hand to hold the glasses, one hand to hold the ladder to climb on deck. I was buzzed. I felt like I could beat the world.

We drank. We laughed at our day. I had to be careful not to push the joking too hard. Cleo got mad quickly, too quickly for me. When I was married my wife got mad too quickly so I left. I didn’t feel like leaving Greece, not yet. So I didn’t push things, didn’t force Cleo’s smile away. When we drank, when her smile disappeared, she’d list my transgressions. The time I criticized her friend so harshly about her fiancé, her friend broke down crying. I’d been drunk. The time I stomped a kid’s bare toes because I didn’t like him wearing flip flops in a bar. I’d been drunk. The time I stranded her between two desolate avenues at 4 a.m., pissed off at something. I’d been drunk. So I drank my gin and tonic and watched what I said. I didn’t want to hear the list. Not from her. She wasn’t my fucking wife. I’d had a wife and I’d run.

“So what are we eating?” Cleo said.

“I want octopus. We should order two orders. And that Spinach pie. We don’t even need a main dish. Let’s just order hundreds of appetizers.”

“Hundreds.”

“And I want a Mythos. Two Mythos. Let’s sail drunk tomorrow.”

“No,” she said and I checked myself, left it alone.

We jumped deck to dock and walked hand in hand to the row of restaurants. People thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend.

 

 

 

The dishes were gone, but the glasses remained. The day, the wind, the arguments, the disgust, the making-up that wasn’t quite made up, it all needed alcohol. We were drunk. Mythos beers turned to shots of ouzo that went down licorice-sweet, whiskey warm. I almost forgot the swinging beam. She almost forgot my bullying. We’d eaten Greek salad with tomatoes so red, so perfectly ripe they really were fruits, not vegetables. We’d eaten octopus and skewers of lamb and a whole grilled Red Snapper. We’d laughed about past days on past trips, good days. The moon was high in the sky but small, maybe ten nights into waning.

Garrick and Jocelyn walked by.

He was holding her around. She was laughing. They were both a little red-faced.

“You should make nice after your diatribe the other night,” Cleo said. “It’s their third anniversary. I think it’s sweet. I think they look sweet together.”

“I think you’re drunk.”

“I’m on vacation.”

“Whatever.”

“Don’t be a bully,” she said and then she stood and waved them over.

“This wasn’t what we decided,” I said. “We were supposed to hang out alone tonight.”

“There are lots of things we didn’t decide. Look at your nose.”

Cleo was social even when sober, but this had nothing to do with being social. She wanted me to show her something. I wasn’t in the mood to apologize for what I’d said about marriage the night before. Just like I wasn’t in the mood to beg forgiveness for my day’s transgressions. I touched the space at the bridge of my nose. The scab was wet. Blood smudged my finger.

“Good to see you,” Cleo said, talking to them, not me.

Garrick took two chairs from an empty table and placed them between Cleo and me. He made a big production out of seating Jocelyn first. His knee was too close to my knee.

“And what happened to you?” he said, leaning forward to inspect my face.

“You should have seen the other guy.”

“You had a fist fight? It was the Italians, wasn’t it? They’re animals.”

“He was hit by the beam,” Cleo said.

I looked at Cleo. I looked at Garrick.

“Now you know. I got hit by the beam.”

“That must have hurt,” Garrick said.

“How hard can it be?” Cleo said.

I called the waiter over. I ordered eight shots of ouzo. If Cleo wanted a party, then we’d have a party.

“How did you guys do out there?” Cleo said.

“It was a bit rough today, wasn’t it?” Garrick was squinting, playing the sun-scorched sailor. “But we weathered the gusts quite well after a few mishaps. Before we left home, our friends reckoned if we could get through a yachting holiday together our marriage would last forever.”

“So far, so good,” I said. “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”

Garrick took Jocelyn’s hand. I could see him squeezing it. Like I love you. Like Sailing is nothing compared to the strength of our commitment. Like Let’s just hear what this asshole has to say, drink a shot or two, then head back to our yacht.

“So far, so good,” I said again.

I felt Cleo watching me. The waiter came with our shots.

“What should we toast?” I said.

“Health and happiness,” Garrick said.

“Let’s try for something more original. We’re in Greece. We’re in Ithaca.”

“What’s wrong with health and happiness?” Cleo said.

“It’s been done.”

“What do you propose?”

“I’ll tell you what I propose. I propose we drink to heavy winds tomorrow. I want to get some revenge on the fucker that did this to me.”

“You did it to yourself,” Cleo said.

“That’s it then. I propose a toast to myself. Here’s to me.”

I raised my glass and moved it forward and by instinct they moved their glasses forward, glasses against glasses, and the toast was official. The ouzo went down warm. I watched their faces. Garrick took it. Jocelyn took it with a quick purse of her lips. I didn’t look at Cleo. She could sail like a sailor and drink like a sailor. I’d gone through bottles with her. We had a history in bars.

“And to me again,” I said and lifted the second shot. Only Garrick joined me. Cleo and Jocelyn left their glasses on the table.

“No?” I said.

I was looking at Cleo.

“I’ve had enough,” she said.

“More for us.”

I handed another shot to Garrick. We touched glasses, drank.

“So what got you through the day?” I said. “What got you through the wind? The two of you haven’t sailed much more than I have.”

“We used the reefing line,” Garrick said. “We cut the sail in half.”

“You cut it in half?”

“You know. We took in half the sail. With the reefing line.”

“Which line is that?”

“It’s one of the two middle lines in our boat. The blue-striped line. I don’t know which line it is in yours.”

“No worries,” Cleo said like she was suddenly British. “He doesn’t know which line it is either.”

Garrick smiled, red-faced. “Well. Well, it takes time. It took Jocelyn a while too. We’ve been quizzing each other.”

“How does that work out for you?” I said. “Me, I hate getting quizzed. I hate getting tested.”

“We make a game of it.”

“A game. I like games better than quizzes. Let’s hear the game?”
“It’s private,” Jocelyn said. It was the first time she’d spoken.

“Why’s that? Is it some sort of sex quiz?”

Garrick laughed too loud, an easy tell. He was drunk. His hand was on Jocelyn’s thigh. She hadn’t looked at me since she’d sat down, but now she was looking. I looked at her. Put the image right in her eyes. It was my hand on her thigh. My hand moving up her thigh. My hand touching her cunt.

“It is a sex quiz.” I said. “Why don’t you give me one of your quiz questions? I know sex. That’s my best subject. In fact, why don’t we play for some stakes? With a little sex, I might end up remembering all this bullshit sailing terminology.”

“Enough,” Cleo said.

Her hands were flat on the table like we were at a Fed meeting, like we were in the boardroom, but we weren’t. Then I felt Jocelyn’s eyes.

“It’s not bullshit terminology,” Jocelyn said. “Not if you want to use the wind.”

“What does that mean?”

“My husband saw you.”

“Your husband saw me?”

“My husband saw you through the glasses. You didn’t have your sails up.”

I felt my face fill with blood. I didn’t care, but I did. It had been a perfect day for sailing, but we hadn’t sailed. I breathed into it. I wasn’t looking at Jocelyn’s eyes. I was looking at the bridge of her nose, at the place on her face where I’d been hit. My hand was a fist.

“There’s a reason we weren’t sailing.”

“Really?” Jocelyn said. “I’m curious. What was the reason?”

“We were playing our own game.”

“And what game was that?”

She was pushing. I always pushed. That’s what bullies did. They pushed.

“It wasn’t a sex game,” I said. “Cleo and I don’t play those.”

“No we don’t,” Cleo said.

“Then what was it?” Jocelyn said.

“We were reenacting the myth.”

“The myth?”

“From The Odyssey. We were coming into Ithaca and I remembered the story of Odysseus. His son threw himself into the sea when he saw there were no sails on his father’s ship. If the sails were up, it meant Odysseus was alive. If the sails were down, it meant Odysseus was dead. That was their code for when Odysseus returned home to Ithaca. Sails, alive. No sails, dead. He’d been at sea for ten years and Odysseus forgot to put up his sails. It was a fatal mistake. His son was so grief-stricken, he dove into the Ionian sea and drowned.”

Jocelyn laughed. I’d never heard her laugh before.

“So you wanted to reenact a mistake? You wanted to pretend you forgot?”

“Forgetting is more interesting than remembering,” I said. “If you keep forgetting, everything seems new.”

“Forgetting,” Garrick said, but I didn’t look at him. I was looking at Jocelyn. She was smiling, but not a smile for me.

“That’s not the story,” she said. “You forgot the story. It was Theseus, not Odysseus. It was black sails, not no sails. It was the Aegean sea, not the Ionian. I always loved mythology as a girl and I remember all the stories.”

“Excellent,” Cleo said.

“You lost the game,” Garrick said.

“I don’t care.”

Now I was looking at the bridge of Garrick’s nose.

“I think you do,” Cleo said.

“Don’t be a bully.”

“How hard can it be?”

“Double or nothing,” I said.

“I didn’t know we’d agreed to play for stakes,” Jocelyn said.

I raised my hand to the waiter, four fingers in the air.

“Don’t worry. It’s not a drinking game.”

“I’m not worried,” Garrick said.

“You’re drunk, aren’t you?”

“I’m a bit pissed,” he said and started turning the empty shot glasses over on the table.

“We’re all a bit pissed,” Cleo said, trying to make nice.

“Double or nothing.” My voice was too loud.

I watched the waiter carry the drinks on the tray. I watched him set the glasses down. I lifted mine without a toast, downed it.

“Here’s the next question,” I said. “We’ll see how much mythology you remember. How many women did Odysseus fuck?”

Jocelyn raised her hand like she was in class. She was pushing it. Bullies all around.

“That’s easy,” Jocelyn said. “More than you.”

“Well played,” Garrick said loud, laughed.

Jocelyn smiled for her husband.

I waited for her eyes to come back to my eyes.

“Want to bet?” I said.

“Bet what,” Jocelyn said. “What could you possibly give me?”

Garrick was laughing again, drunk, red-faced, his hand on her thigh.

I stood. I put my hands on the table. I was a little unsteady and wanted to make a point.

I was standing, leaning forward. I wanted to make a point, but I forgot what point I wanted to make.

“Your cut is bleeding,” Cleo said.

I touched my face, looked at the blood. I didn’t care.

“You’re drunk,” Cleo said.

I saw it, drunk saw it. Flying back to New York. Saying Fuck it for real. Cutting everyone off and never talking to anyone again, never. That’s how I’d done it with my wife. I cut her off as soon as I moved out. I forgot all about her and went back to what I’d done before.

I was already standing.

I started walking.

I was walking back to the yacht. Back to Pluto. No one was following me.

The Nielson yachts were docked all in a row.

The sky was dark, not red.

Chips ahoy,” I said. I was talking loud, talking out loud. “Chips ahoy.”

I struggled with the ropes, thick ropes, struggled to loosen the knots. I wasn’t good with knots. Hitches. Fucking hitches. The rope was too fucking thick.

I loosened and pulled and pulled and threw the ropes on the boat.

I pushed against the boat and felt it move

The space increased, the space of water under me, and I jumped from deck to dock.

I knew how to start the engine. I knew how to use a rudder. It wasn’t much different from steering a car. I went down, started the engine, came up, flicked the switch. I kept my hands steady on the rudder. The boat moved forward. I pushed the throttle. The boat moved faster. I was out of the harbor.

I pushed the throttle harder. I looked back and saw the line of Nielson yachts, the row of restaurants lit up, the mountains behind, steep mountains, Ithaca’s mountains. It had taken him ten years to get home. Maybe he’d forgotten so much it seemed new again. Maybe he remembered so much he did everything he could not to come back too quickly.

I drove the boat out to sea, far enough where the lights were small, where I could see other lights of other towns.

It wasn’t windy. I wanted it to be windy but it wasn’t. I shut the engine. It took a while but I got the sails up. I didn’t know the names of the ropes. I didn’t know the names. But I got them up. And then I sat down at the back of the boat with my hand on the rudder.

After a while I took my hand off the rudder. There was no wind and the boat didn’t move. It just stayed there in the middle of the sea. I didn’t care. There was nobody around. Nobody. That’s what Polyphemus had screamed after Odysseus stabbed out his eye. Who did this? the other giants asked Polyphemus when they saw their blinded leader. Nobody, Polyphemus screamed in agony. That was the name Odysseus had given himself. Nobody. That was the story. I almost had the other story right. I thought I’d had it right. The sailing story.

The boat didn’t move.

I sat there, in Pluto, in the sea, in the dark.

I could go down and get the flares. I could light one up, watch it rise into the sky, a call for help while late-night drinkers finished their last drinks. I could touch the bridge of my nose, rip at the scab, paint my fingers with blood. Or I could sit, just sit and wait, just sit and watch until the sun rose.

 

Adam Berlin

Adam Berlin

Adam Berlin is the author four novels, including Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award) and Both Members of the Club (Texas A&M University Consortium Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize), and the poetry collection The Standing Eight (FLP). He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and co-edits the litmag J Journal: New Writing on Justice. For more, please visit adamberlin.com

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