By the time Gonzalos settles back on his pedestal at the bow of the dingy the full moon has calmed the ocean. The wind too has become sleepy and breathless. It coaxes the barren surface to a bedtime lull, making the sea glimmer like a dimpled craton of black pewter. Galaxies and star clusters twinkle false vacancies and nebula clouds and cosmic spores fade behind the lunar streetlight ambience.
Rosita snores violently through the desperate serenity. On his perch at the polar end of the boat from Rosita, Gonzalos fills the distance with reproach. But it is desire rather than hate that dictates distance. What calamity befell the Spirit of Maguelone consumes Gonzalos. It rolls around his head in the vast empty moments that link together to form a day then a week. How could he remember nothing – not a sight or a sound?
He longed for the deep drunken rumination found at the bottom of an Old Fashion or Jack Cousteau. Every eventuality he calculated couldn’t equate to the bovine and his existence here in a boat on an empty sea. He couldn’t even compute what unseen catastrophe was capable of capsizing an entire ocean liner? And why were there no other survivors? It vexed his waking thoughts and muddled his clarity because Rosita infuriated Gonzalos.
He couldn’t even stand to look at her dull, fat head and her big, fat, moist, pink snoz. And he despised her singing. It came from her anticuchos – full of free-range farmhouse grit and living that made her sound better than she was. In fact her voice wasn’t particularly strong. She sold it to listeners – filled them up like a Polaroid with nostalgia and loss. It was an illusion that would haunt Gonzalos after she was gone. His lament would torture him and over time embellish her rural talent – his fertile and paranoid imagination recreating memories of a world class Latino heifer bellowing through his poppy seed brain.
The black night begets another phosphorous white day. Gonzalos slips in an out of hunger-drunk dreams. He is transported back onto the VIP deck of the Maguelone where his enfeebled memory resurrects the dazzling sight of Pinchon Aldegado II escorting his prize winning heifer to supper with the Captain. Stuck to a strawberry daiquiri Gonzalos lies mesmerised by the famous breeder and billionaire’s brown glass eye, which sparkles like the Orinoco gently flowing in the afternoon sunlight.
Gonzalos wakes with a snort for the umpteenth time and feels an icy breeze herald the onset of another evening. The horizon has reverted back to black on sand and kindergarten fish skip like angel tears over the glacé water. Gonzalos enviously watches them play in the treacherous strip of heaven above the ocean surface. As the school gracefully banks upwind and tacks to cross the bow of the life raft, an ill fated enfilade of disciples fluttering over the middle of the boat fall into the belly of the hull.
Ignited by the furious asphyxiated flapping fit of scales and flesh bouncing between wooden ribs Gonzalos is beckoned like a lost lover. He launches himself into the air with conviction that is beyond moral consideration. Hovering with a brittle whine over the glistening bilge of puckered lips and stunned skyward stares Gonzalos doesn’t think of himself as a hypocrite. After all fish are simply vessels for unclaimed souls. They aren’t like other animals. They lack personification and are exempt by uncommitted vegetarians. Led into temptation by anaemia and starvation Gonzalos pendulously descends on to the writhing slimy mess. He lands on the heaving shoulder of a gasping juvenile. His proboscis gingerly pierces the imperceptible gap between baby fingernail scales before sinking deep and true into the translucent flesh.
The frigid and sour fish blood gushes up Gonzalos’s proboscis and strikes the back of his sinuses with urgency. It has the colour and viscous inconstancy of yoghurt left out in the sun and the unremitting flow almost makes Gonzalos gag and puke. But his insatiable hunger takes over and his body quickly adjusts. He flits and darts from carcass to carcass, drinking rapaciously with an unholy appetite that is disengaged from his ballooning abdomen. As the rancid nectar streams down Gonzalos’s gullet he has no perception of the dark shade of green he is turning or the waxed webbing spreading between his toes.
Gonzalos’s automatic feasting dwindles sometime prior to the breaking dawn. He finds himself languorously swaying through the light nocturnal breeze back to his podium at the pointy end of the boat, where the poisonous mutation befouling his corporeal soul fills him with hate for the world around him that’s always been there. We all know it’s exhaustive to truly hate the innocent, the amicable and dimly lit souls. But Gonzalos was sick with metamorphosis and growing famished once more with the fleeting nourishment of pisces haemoglobin giving way to a claggy hollowness, like he just eaten a large salad. And being rich in time Gonzalos convinced himself to hate Rosita even more.
Hate had the added bonus of subduing Gonzalos’s fear – a fear that was flexing like the dark ocean swell rising with the green washing through him, wave after wave, getting greener and greener. And his fear smelt like Rosita – it was the delectable putrid tang of rotten papaya and mangoes in his proboscis.
Gonzalos’s fear began to cumulate like the weight of dirt – stronger and stronger in the light chop that started to bounce the boat. Fear was creating its own universe and Rosita and his hate were soon jettisoned to a distant orbit where they no longer registered light or temperature in his thoughts.
A fox wave splashed and broke like champagne ten o’clock off the portside bow. Gonzalos projected a war room display of doom stretching out to the blackness before him – clocking the curl and lips of waves and tracking them like ballistic warheads, which all, without prejudice blatantly intended to be his downfall. His feet webbing start to flap violently in the gentle breeze. Fear builds into a storm in his chest, as anxiety and panic gathers tighter and tighter into a complicit whirlpool of doubt aimed at obliterating his tenuous control over his sanity.
Gonzalos spots a five pronged acrobatic ripple of air spit out at him off the white wash. He shuts his eyes tight and braces himself by sinking his needle toes into the protective enamel coating of the life boat. The salty breath blasts through him. Gonzalos’s head whips up and his wings break back like patio doors. He desperately invokes the sun-soaked lazy days on the Spirit of Maguelone that sailed into warm velvet evenings. And like it is ether he inhales the processions of drinks that got him through each day.
Gonzalos dreams of the bottom of a midday sole gin and tonic. Early afternoons of the house Sangria and Jamaican Mules served in bucket pitchers. A three o’clock Bellini, Pimms or Spritzer manoeuvres towards a sundowner served with an arancia sanguigna slice or muddled mint and lime. Come five-thirty and a Negroni aperitivo is followed by a cheeky pre-dinner Margarita or honey and cherry oak infused Manhattan. A dusty raisin Rioja, or current and plum scorched Australian Shiraz sees Gonzalos salute the meal service for an after-dinner Fish House Punch. And by late evening Gonzalos is typically stuck to a Port thimble or Almanac balloon glass.
Gonzalos opens his eyes and the wind is gone. He spins around to follow the ocean cough spinning, tumbling and jumping down the boat, and sees it terminate in a watery puff on Rosita’s bosom. With eyes wide to confusion and dehydration Gonzalos sits atop the boat as it drifts deeper into the liquid night. He now feels an acute discomfort of travelling both somewhere and nowhere – because that’s how mortality greets the infinite.
Exhaustion presses on Gonzalos like a child’s thumb. He conjures from wildlife documentaries the great burnt landscape of Australia, the ship’s destination. From overheard conversations he knew Rosita was to be transported from Fremantle to a northern cattle station for breeding. Gonzalos imagines himself gliding along the coastal highway – the endless belt of sandy floodplains and coastal quagmires that stretch inland to meet the dust and shit and oblivion of scrub paved plains of livestock and files. Gonzalos feels himself now floating over the terrain on a thermal cushion of hot air, rippling three feet above the rock and red earth like the sea under the boat.
Stories of the Aussie Argonaut Watto run through Gonzalo’s head. It is rumoured the mozzie enigma made his way to the far north of Western Australia and settled there during his last day. Watto was a lunatic genius, scientific weapon, warrior and soldier of fortune. He was conceived on Red Penguin Island and stories claim that during pupal metamorphosis he declared to truly live one must be free. His incorrigible audacity dared a suicide escape, crossing the 134 km Rugyendo Strait. It was a feat instantly ridiculed and immediately rejected for it was preposterously impossible. But the plague of death marked on the mainland coastal inlet where it is regaled he landed was undeniable. Gossip spread quicker than the virus. A legend – both bandit and hero. Gonzalos remembers hearing the imported stories in shanty port bars with hair-of-the-dog cynicism. He feebly wishes they now were all true.
With his eyes shut again, Gonzalos doesn’t sense the change in the wind’s direction or breath. But he feels Rosita musky, bovine stench fill the dawn thicker than pollen. Rosita’s dumb, red grin dances around his thoughts which crash and tumble in his head from the onset of a new day’s helpless ennui. In his reverie of fatigue Gonzalos obsesses about what part this dumb cow played. He didn’t trust her and irrationally concludes she is in part to blame for their predicament. An explosion flashes in Gonzalos’s mind. His mind frantically recalls the moments before – witnessing dark clouds descending like an unholy messenger in the late afternoon. How did a cow get in a lifeboat? She must have escaped her enclosure Gonzalos decides. But as rapidly as Gonzalo’s thoughts simmer to inflate his imagination, tiredness cools his curiosity and irritation. And the blackness of sleep hits Gonzalos before he reaches another conclusion.
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