Ocean Bound

by Paul de Denus

The water boils, just like Danny said it would. It’s a slow churn, the water gently bubbling like when Mom made spaghetti, the surface steaming vapor without much splash. That’s what this water looks like. Steaming vapor with a light splash, gently drifting away, all the way to the horizon.

Dad said to stay on the upper deck, up high, away from the water. The air up here is sweltering. Dad’s a scientist. Does he not remember heat rises? He’s below deck in the main cabin. Danny says he’s plotting something, figuring out a course of action. I ask what that means, but Danny doesn’t answer. Has he, too, forgotten we ran out of fuel an hour ago? We’re not going anywhere.

The air is much heavier now, like a broken sauna. We are wearing wetsuits and they are constricting. I wonder if we are slow-cooking inside them. Our glistening faces look out onto an empty sea. There is nowhere to go, no escape up or down, only this boat. I want to talk to Dad but Danny says to leave him alone and then turns away. I think he’s crying but it’s hard to tell on such a wet face.

I’m not scared; I’m not sure why. My thoughts drift back to Science class a couple of years ago when old Mr. Kalabass told us about the boiling frog experiment. Jimmy Sutton and his creeps were suddenly all ears at that announcement, the hateful bullying types that they were. I’m sure they were intrigued at having something new to torture. Mr. Kalabass said if you put a live frog in cool water then slowly—and I mean ever so slowly—turned up the heat, the frog will just sit and not try to get away, that its senses will become numb to the gradually changing temperature and even at its boiling point, will not move to escape. By then, well it would obviously be too late.

He paused and let that sink in. I remember how Jimmy Sutton’s eyes gleamed as he whispered to Ronnie James sitting in front of him and then the look on their faces when Mr. Kalabass said all of that was not true, that it was all just a myth. A frog will not just sit still, he said. The change in temperature will most certainly activate its movement and it would likely attempt to escape. What about lobsters? someone then asked, followed by giggling. The kind of live ones you see in those restaurant tanks. I recall Mr. Kalabass’s slight smile and pause. Well, he said, in certain hands, they don’t really have much of a choice, now do they.

The horizon is a boiling sea, white and foaming, the smell of brine sulphury. The heat is unbearable. I turn to Danny but he is not there. The frothy water near the bow rises, breaches the railings, hisses on the deck the same way the overflow water from Mom’s old spaghetti pot would hiss on the stove. I long for a cool breeze, a splash of cold water, any sense of relief. I flash on a memory of a coral reef Dad once took us to, the feel of soothing cool waves on our skin, the clear emerald water teeming with life near the cold ocean floor. I wonder if fish are still alive. Whales, sharks, anything? My eyes droop and I want to sleep. I think of the frogs in their slow boil. The door to the lower cabin opens. Dad? a voice says though it sounds submerged, gurgling.

The lobster is the size of a man, bigger. It is a faceless thing, its exoskeleton almost completely detached, its body a pinkish white. The lobster’s antennae waves, its disjointed appendages knock and thud as it struggles up the short stairway. The drowning voice tries to speak but the scalding air tightens my throat, tears simmering on my puffed red eyelids. The broiling water floods the decking, rises quickly, the water on the horizon, one monstrous foaming wave. In it, I see Jimmy Sutton’s bloated face turning, bulging eyes etched with terror. The lobster rises above me. Its claws, the size of lifeboats, open wide and pull me close. Its exoskeleton, a hardened shell, neatly and calmly covers my body. Looking up, I am a reflection in its eye and together, we take the plunge.

Paul de Denus publishes excerpts from novels he’s never written. That was one of them.
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