In the distance, a white spot hits the water as the coolness of the morning air is penetrated by the godly warmth of the first rays of sun which break over the horizon. Once again a bit of heaven touches the earth for the split second when it is neither night or day, and the clearness of the sky magnifies the brilliance of this blessed event.
The one lone figure, rising and falling with the rhythmical beat of the ocean swells seemed to blend with the sky and the ocean, becoming part of a beautiful idea encompassed within the framework of the craft as a picture within a frame. Lone eyes peered out over the deep azure of the ambivalent sea, now a friend acting to draw out of him the mental anguish of a time that would be no more. He sat as in a daze, silhouetted by the gigantic ball of fire hanging just inches above the horizon, straining with all his strength to pull himself those same few inches.
The vastness of what he was witnessing served only to keep him above the trivialities of his immediate surrounding, The once important people and the incessant nonsense and anguish that dominated his existence. He was, for the first time in his lonely and miserable life, at peace with himself and the world.
Voices from the shore readily shattered his self attained peace. The short, fat man with the phony laugh and the big awkward cigar grabbed his shoulder. He heard not what he said, but vaguely perceived that it was time to shove off. His mind, after being roused violently from a state of glorious melancholy, now fought between pure hate for this round obnoxious representation of humanity, and human decency, of which he had very little left. He managed an OK.
He turned back to the sea, slightly bothered about his feelings for this man, toward whom he should have no reason to feel anger, only indifference. It was the last of the pent-up hate seeping out of this misdirected antagonism towards every other living creature which had so pervaded his actions for the past months. He tried again to put his finger on his contempt for the world. It was impossible. There seemed no end to the frustrations and aggravations of his existence. only here in the sea, isolated from humanity, did he find the least bit of love, that was lost for the most part in the depths of his soul. It was by this unexplainable delving into his being by the gentle swelling of an incomprehensible vastness that he found peace.
He had probably been sitting there on the brink of life all night. He remembered vaguely running out of his house in desperation. It was intolerable. His life was rising and falling between home and ship as the swells of the ocean, the unavoidable low points coming frequently, each one taking its toll in human patience and endurance. No one to blame, just people, insignificant embodiments of a pseudo-humanity vainly struggling to destroy that which is, in reality, an outgrowth of themselves; people whose very existence depends on the level of humanism which they can never reach. No one to blame and everyone to blame, the insoluble riddle of humanity and existence.
Billy Daniels was a lean-faced youth of twenty-two with sandy brown hair that moved about his head as unpredictably as the sea breezes. He had the - type of face that normally evoked concern, seeming constantly troubled and bewildered. And troubled he was, but hardly bewildered. He had an uncanny perceptiveness of things going on around him and an innate ability to unclothe those around him of their self-constructed idiosyncrasies. Despite this ability, apparently known only to himself, he was constantly vacillating, searching for something, possibly the last piece to the jigsaw puzzle of life that would be the key around which everything else would fall into place. Without this, the whole puzzle remained unsolved; he had not found it yet. He was troubled, yes, but hardly bewildered.
Coming from a poor home, his early values had been solidly molded; he now rejected these entirely. He rejected most common criteria for success and happiness, such as money, security and comfort. His struggle was between an idealistic picture of life as he wanted it to be and a world that was not to his liking, but in which he had to live. He knew that in order to achieve any harmony between himself and his environment, he would have to compromise. But now he could not.
This is why he found himself sitting here on the gunwale of this boat today. The real world had mildly withered away in the cool green lull of the smooth green sea. It was as if he were recalling some memorable time in his life when all things were different. He had fallen into the trap of time, and seemed to forget the mental strains that tore from his brain happy memories of days gone by. Years floated by in the ripple from the gunwale and disappeared just as quickly, blending in once again with the gigantic pattern of things. They had left port and were heading out to sea.
Billy turned from the sea to the cabin door of the craft. Standing on the threshold was Sam Gorden, the owner. Sam was a dumpy looking man of around forty, whose belly hung out over a straining belt, threatening at times to fall to his very feet. He was hardly suited to any sort of sea life, but since he had acquired this craft, trusted it to no one but himself.
He spent much time in his cabin, working on accounts or business affairs, which held little interest for the others. He seemed not to recognize the presence of the sea, whose vastness frightened, rather than awed him. In one of his rare trips to the stern, he accosted Billy.
"What say Billy boy, smooth sailing, huh? Nice sea for our type of work."
"Yeah, said Billy."
"Be over the area in 'bout half an hour, O.K.?"
"Yeah, said Billy."
"What in hell's a matter with you today, cat got your tongue? You look sick, boy. Down In the cabin- have a drink. It'll help you out. Yeah?"
Yeah, thought Billy, that was certainly what he needed. For Sam Gorden, it was just as simple as all that. Have a drink and everything’ll be OK. Many times he wished he was like Sam Gorden. So simple. Live, make money, enjoy, die. And every now and then a shot of whiskey to sort of prod him along. How very simple, no questions, no problems, a very bare and useless existence thought Billy, and yet how simple. Blindly accepting, no personal identification, no responsibilities, no rewards, no blame, only self.
Sometimes he cursed the intelligence he was born with. What had it gotten him but problems? It had caused him to become sarcastic, contemptuous, unable to be friendly towards all the Sam Gordens there were, at odds with the world and himself. Most of the time he wasn't sure what he believed and what he didn't, what he should stand up for and what he shouldn't.
His parents didn't understand him at all. They realized that he was troubled, but sort of wished he would fall in behind the rest of humanity, to become part of the endless procession of faceless, soulless beings that are born and die and might just as well not have been born at all.
He did not have all of the answers, as the priest whom he knew so well did. Sometimes he wished he did, but he didn't. He kept asking himself the age old question, "what am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?" He had rejected the answer found in religion, which had been developed by mankind over the thousands of years of existence. He had no alternate answer, hence he found himself back at the philosophical birth of mankind, trying to find in one lifetime what it took humanity thousands of years.
Sam Gorden did not need any such answers so desperately, he had no questions. He was blind in the sense that he could not comprehend the insignificance of his being and the utter impossibility of making so much as one mark on the face of the earth. As his ship floated on the sea, so he floated through life, his wake closing behind him, obscuring any hint that he, or anyone else had ever been there. What for, asked Billy, what for?
Billy had signed on the Sea Mist a little over three months ago in desperation. He needed the money, of course, but much more he needed a change in scenery. He had learned much about the sea from his two years in the Navy, and was an excellent SCUBA diver. Sam Gorden was taking the Sea Mist out to the location of a sunken craft, a boat that was believed to be carrying a crew of seven and a cargo of platinum. Sam Gorden was after the platinum, and Billy Daniels was the man who was going to get it for him. This was their first cruise to the wreck and Billy intended to do a preliminary survey, to study the possibility of the need for hard hat divers. They reached the area about noon, when the sun was directly overhead, and the sky was clear and blue. Billy donned his equipment, deciding against a protective rubber suit because of the temperature of the water. He jumped in, descending a few feet and looking up. The water was so clear that he could see the sun shining brightly through the clear crystal. He could also make out Sam Gorden's face, hanging over the side of the boat. He paused for a second and then turned quickly down towards the blackness below.
The sudden change in visibility startled him momentarily but he soon got used to it. He saw about ten yards off the sunken hull of the Ocean Queen. She was an old freighter of the pre-war variety. He had studied pictures of her and knew every detail in his mind. He carefully surveyed the wreck, making mental notes. He enjoyed immensely the utter completeness of the silence here. Everything appeared as if it were preserved in a great, silent crystal. He pondered for a moment and then decided to surface. As he broke water, he once again saw Sam Gorden's face over the side of the boat, looking down at him. He swam over to the ladder and ascended the wooden platform to the deck.
"Looks OK Sam, I think I can handle the whole job myself. Would like Jerry to come down with me next time though, mighty brisk current around that old tub."
"Sure, sure," said Sam, "any sign of the cargo, did you examine it closely?"
"Hell no," said Billy, she was still wallowing in the mud. We ought to secure her first."
"OK" said Sam, "We'll get to it first thing in the morning. I'll pick up an extra tank for Jerry. Here, take this, you look a little fagged." He pushed a glass in Billy's face. The motors roared into life and the little boat plunged back to port.
After much deliberation Billy finally decided to return home. His feelings were slightly ambivalent concerning this venture since he had no where else to go and no one to turn to and desired the comfort of familiar surroundings. The price he would have to pay was very high, but he was willing to pay it- for now at least.
He entered the house without announcing his arrival. He knew very well that this would bring on a torrent of meaningless questions on where he had been and what he was doing. He really wanted to avoid this. He went quickly to his room and turned on the stereo. He was concerned about a funny, or rather unusual feeling that he had had all day long and he lay back on the bed to relax. He could not. His mind had become a cauldron of mixed feelings and emotions, of fears and hates and desires. He vainly struggled each hour of the day to unravel them and to bring a semblance of order where chaos now reigned. He wondered why he was living and he could arrive at no answer. He pondered on the possibility that this whole mess was one big accident and then realized that if it were then he would never find a purpose to his existence because there was none. He could not live for God because he had already discounted him and to live for pleasure alone sickened him. The inaccessibility of immortality made his every move useless. He wondered why he was doing anything at all, studying, working, living, existing. At death, nothing would count, no knowledge of previous life. Why slave a lifetime and then die, seconds after which one would be no better off than if he had not been born at all, or had been born and lived a useless life. But in reality, wasn't all life really useless?
But Billy Daniels did not want to die. He knew that all too well. Aside from his other problems he was developing a hypochondria. He was seized by moments of fear and panic that later proved to be entirely unwarranted. He tried to reason himself out of it but he could not. He was also seized often by a feeling of urgency in his life that everything was going by too fast and soon it would be all over. He had little faith left in mankind and any reassurances by anyone were useless. He could not reassure himself. He finally boiled his whole problem down to finding God, to the finding of hope and faith to bring him out of despair. At first he considered It a luxury, now it was a necessity to be found at any cost. The psychological forces were racking his mind and body, tearing him apart physically as well as mentally. The need was there, the urgency, the utter necessity and to its end his entire system now became oriented.
He rose from the couch and walked down the stairs to the door, still unseen by anyone. He left the house and walked out into the rain swept streets. it seemed as if the whole universe shared his despair and gloom and dared not lift its head to the sky. A cloak of grey shaded his soul as he walked on, unmindful of the streaming rain. As dusk was approaching, Billy found himself walking through a poorer section of the city, filled with tenements, screaming babies, fat mothers with wrinkled skin and washlines of clothes strung from fire escapes. The streets were lined with garbage pails, some toppled over. Rain water mixed with the oil and dung in the streets to form dancing illusions before his eyes.
He was looking downward at the marks on the wet sidewalk which had been made by a dog, which had run in front of him. He was oblivious to his surroundings until he felt the warmth of flesh strike his brow, dazing him and bringing back his previous feeling of nausea. He saw before him a youth of nineteen or twenty with a grim looking face, a leather jacket and heavy, black boots. Two more faces peered from the adjoining alley and another leaned against a newspaper stand in front of a dilapidated old candy store. The youth spoke-
"You should’a stopped vise guy, that's too bad, ya know. I'm sorta delicate an' I don't like people running into met ,see?
"Sorry" said Billy and he proceeded to walk down the street. Suddenly he reeled and fell under the impact of a stone heaved by the youth.
"Where ya going, handsome, ain't ya gonna 'poligise for making me get my hands dirty on that nasty old stone?" The rest of the youths burst into uproarious laughter. Billy stood and looked straight at the leader. For the first time he really got a good idea of what he looked like. The five others backed around him, forming a circle, taunting, Jeering, making a fool of him.
Suddenly everything vent black. Instinct took over in place of fear. He was no longer in control of his faculties. He lunged at his primary tormentor, trying to choke him. Shining steel glittered in the air as knives were drawn. Billy then lifted the youth up bodily and heaved him into the others, knocking them down. He was acting like a madman, feet flying, fists swinging as all began to pile on.
He did not letup until four of the aggressors were out cold. He reached down and picked up the fallen knife, blindly and aimlessly stabbing at anything in his reach. Someone came up behind him and grabbed his neck. The knife flung laterally and Billy plunged it into the soft flesh. He turned and saw a blue-jean clad youth fall to the ground, clutching his gut. He did not have to be told that he was dead. His first impulse was to run away as fast as he could but the sight of the boy's body made him too sick. He walked over to the curb and threw up in a puddle. He was crying like a child when the ambulance came and took him to the hospital. Shortly after that blessed darkness overcame him and visions of horror were wiped from his troubled mind and body.
It was a cold, damp, foggy morning and a light drizzle was falling. Billy Daniels walked slowly down the steps from the prison ward of the City Hospital into the depressing gloom. He turned right at the corner and headed down towards the pier, where he knew he would find Sam Gorden. The thought repulsed him so he walked down the adjoining block to a poorly kept coffee house. He entered and sat down.
One thought and one thought alone pervaded his mind. He could feel the weight of the limp body on his arm as it slumped down to the pavement. Over and over it happened until his arm became numb and sore from the tension. No matter how hard he tried, he could not rid his arm of the weight. He tried a conscious attempt at rationalizing his action. Self defense the police had said ... and yet ... he could feel the weight of his guilt bearing down on the instrument of death. Maybe it would have been better if he had killed me, he thought.
He suddenly felt as if the whole world was closing in on him and threatening to choke him. The oppressive heat surrounded him and he began to gasp. A cold sweat formed on his forehead as darkness once again threatened to overcome him. He ran to the door and flung it open. He stumbled out into the foggy street. He began running as fast as he could. He wanted to leave all the agony and horror behind him in the filthy streets. He could not run fast enough. He stopped at the dock and slumped down into a corner. He was terribly aware of a feeling of complete emptiness. He had absolutely nothing left. Humanity and love of fellow man was his prime duty on earth, It had replaced the religion and God of the idealist and the pleasure and security of the materialist. It had formed the whole reason for his meager existence and although he had not been really aware of it until now, it was all too clear. He had done the unforgivable thing. He had killed a man. No excuse warranted it, only one punishment was worthy of it. He jumped from his position and began walking down the dock towards the Sea Mist.
As he reached the boat, he noticed that Jerry was getting the craft ready to put out. Despite the fog, which seemed to be improving slightly, Gorden was determined not to lose a days working time.
"Well hello," said Jerry, apparently much relieved at seeing Billy. "We were wondering what happened to you. We're getting ready to go out. That all right with you?"
"Yeah, that'll be fine" said Billy.
The boat roared away from shore and out into the sea. It wasn't until almost ten minutes later that Billy spoke- "Hey Jerry, you may as well save your energy today. I don't think I'll need you."
"Not on your life" said Jerry, "with this damn fog you'd be crazy to go down alone. I'll come along."
Billy suddenly jumped up furiously. "Goddamn it Jerry, I said I'd go alone. Don’t give me a hard time."
Sam Gorden, who had apparently heard the whole conversation from the doorway now interrupted-
"You better let Jerry go down today, Billy. it's pretty rough."
"No" said Billy.
"I’m still boss here, Billy boy. Jerry goes down or we go back to port and I find myself another diver. That's final. I don't want no deaths on my conscience." "OK" Billy muttered.
They reached the area about ten o'clock and Billy and Jerry were soon in the water. They worked for well over an hour, propping up the wreck with beams and ropes. Jerry decided that he had had enough and started to surface, motioning Billy to come along also. Billy nodded but did not follow. Jerry broke the surface of the water and began to climb aboard, but noticed that Billy was not behind him. He decided it was best to investigate, since Billy had at most only five minutes of air left. He couldn't be idiotic enough to continue working, Jerry thought, not with so little air.
But Billy had stopped working. Once again he was captivated with the silence and peace of the depths. He started to lose his senses as all the misery of his life floated away in the cool green sea. He saw before him only peace, beauty and happiness, all preserved in the silent crystal of the sea. Jerry was at his side, motioning for him to rise, but he did not want to. He did not want to return to the real world above, the world filled with hate and agony. A struggle ensued.
Jerry succeeded in overwhelming him and slowly returned with him to the surface. He placed him on the deck and loosened and removed his tanks and weight belt. Billy felt the sting of hot coffee on his lips and Sam Gorden hovering over him. He was suddenly seized with a panic. His paradise was floating by below and he was being left behind. He jumped up and grabbed his heavy, empty tanks, strapping them on his back as he ran.
Hot foam shot up as he hit the water and soon only bubbles could be seen. Jerry quickly donned his tanks, but suddenly realized that they were just as empty as Billy's. He looked down at the water and realized that he could not see the bubbles any longer. There was nothing anyone could do. Billy had accomplished his purpose on earth.
Billy awoke gently. Something within his own being, way down deep where not even he had dared venture, had rebelled. He did not fear it and he did not despise it and yet, while he knew what it was, he was totally incapable of understanding it. For one split second in that vague spectrum of mind that lies somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, he had glimpsed the reality of his own existence. For one split second he had seen the truth.
He wished with all the power of his mind and body that he could somehow recapture and expand that split second, to make it as real as the flowers and the trees and all of the other tangible entities that existed in the world. For somewhere between the dream world of his unconsciousness and the world that existed in the reality of his own awareness of his existence there was something that he wished could survive, something that he wanted more than anything in the whole world. Something that he wished he could enlarge to fill him whole life. Now, in his conscious state it was escaping him. It was melting at once into the limitless expanse of the universe whose bounds are so physically minute yet so indeterminably broad. Yes, for one split second he knew who he was, what he was and what he must do. Now he must fight to recapture it, to find it somewhere, wherever it may be hiding in the depths of his soul. The pain and suffering were not over, the war was not won, but Billy knew there must be a reason, there must be an answer.
As Billy slowly arose and walked over to the window, he sensed a kind of purity in the air. The clock said eight thirty and he knew it was morning. As he opened the shade, the sun shone brightly in. He looked out pleasingly over the green grass and on into the clear blue sky. Yes, thought Billy, somewhere in the world, something had the capacity of acknowledging Billy Daniels. Somewhere the real Billy Daniels existed. That knowledge alone was enough to give him hope. He donned his clothes and walked out into the hallway towards the kitchen.
As he entered the kitchen, he was confronted with yesterday. Everything he observed had yesterday written all over it. But Billy knew that he did not like yesterday. Yesterday was a bad day and as far as he was concerned, it did not exist. He paused for a moment to speculate on the reality of yesterday. Where did it exist, if at all, but in the memory banks of his mind. Was yesterday a good day or a bad day, or come to think of it, did it really matter? Does yesterday in any way affect the reality of today? He thought not. Did it rain? Did the sun shine? He really couldn't remember, or whats more, he really couldn't care less. Yesterday's rain left no imprint on today’s sunshine. It was as useless as last week’s newspaper. Why did it rain yesterday,, thought Billy, when today would still be today even if yesterday had never occurred?
He remembered cursing the rain as he walked home. He had gone out that morning and had left his rain coat and umbrella behind. While the farmer was rejoicing, he was cursing. Kind of depends on your point of view, he thought. But now as he looked out over the green grass he noticed something. The flowers seemed just a bit taller, and the grass just a bit greener. So that's it, he thought. Somewhere, somehow in the long run it was all worthwhile. The memories of yesterdays drenching were vague and unreal. But the flowers were taller, and the grass was greener. Thank heavens for rain, thought Billy.
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