Ocean spray leaps up and stings Gonzalos’s large, radiant eyes. He barely offers to blink anymore at such a common indignation aboard a small dingy on open waters. Instead Gonzalos averts his stare and sinks his head into his neck, like an Englishman in face of a steeped breeze.
Incessant keyboard tapping Gonzalos rated the second most irritating sound in the world. Improvisation, he found far more annoying – the craftsman and crusty old seafaring concept of idle whistling or humming without beginning or end.
Rosita lies prostrate and spread out at the stern of the boat. The Argentinean heifer is the sole other passenger. Her senses were blunt, but emotions sharp and plentiful as a summer rainbow. Rosita chews loudly on enormous flat bottle green and russet strings of kelp leaves and hums happily her homeland’s ‘Canción de la Libertad.’
Rosita survived solely on seaweed. She leaned out over the dinghy and dragged her skinny hoof through the sea like a hook, snagging long stems of soaking fetid kelp whenever the boat glided above the vast aquatic forests. It soured her milk after the first day and made her shit stink.
Gonzalos closes his eyes to regret. Every time he does the sound of the calm water bursting and popping that roused him the first morning with a dislocating hang over replays in his head.
Gonzalos and booze were old friends of persuasion and convenience. He didn’t regret the rum punch the night before and quit apologising for ribald indiscretions long ago. He got so wasted he remembered nothing after the forth glass. But like an old friend alcohol didn’t care for the predicament Gonzalos found himself in the morning after.
Unknown to Gonzalos when he woke the thin smoke stretched slick created by the wreckage perversely mocked the tragedy sinking silently below. He witnessed broken timber and plastics, flotsam, wardrobes and chests and other furniture, corpses, toothbrushes, hats and toiletries, empty lifeboats, jetsam steel and rubbish erupt randomly to the surface all day like memories Gonzalos wished he could remember. They bobbed up and down and danced ludicrously in the light swell.
Gonzalos’s self imposed martyrdom succoured his ego and vanity. His somnolent mind contemplated him joining the dark limbo, floating over the sunken graveyard at the bottom of the underwater universe with all the other passengers. Whenever the lifeboat drifted close to any debris the invisible current underneath quickly gripped the small distance and pushed them further apart. It was as if the ocean had a design towards loneliness. He watched all day the trail of death stretch slowly towards the horizon, and then disappear with ocean moods and currents along with the setting sun. The vanquished chattal emphasised the blatancy of his minuteness on the rippling barren landscape. And it immeasurably compounded his growing queasiness with the obvious reality.
Gonzalos and Rosita were alone.
In the gloaming Gonzalos confronted the gravity of his situation – trapped on a floating platform, without shore or dock on an empty world of water that bends slightly at the edges like a colossal floating disk. Gonzalos calmed himself in sight of the immensity of disconnection by recalling all the other scrapes he’d woken up in; when he found himself on board a Somali pirate ship, in a Mediterranean cruise liner cabin during a crime scene investigation, a drug deal gone sour on the docks of Barranquilla, and a terrorist cell rendezvous off the coast of Sumatra.
In Gonzalos’s homeland his exceptionally long and hardened proboscis pierced the leathery red achachairú, soft, fleshy sweet green bellied chirimoya, purple striped Peruvian melon rinds and hard shelled maracuya. He gorged all day on mocha cupuazú, strangler nanahs, star shaped carambola, intoxicating guayaba, decadent papaya, elephant melons, and blood oranges. He was three times the size of his vulpine vampiric fraternity, with a lustrous coat of short black coconut fur that stood on end and shimmered in the sunlight. Gonzalos stood tall on long spider-stick legs and hair-knot knees – a sight of ridiculous disproportion and common focus for resident swarms needling abuse and daily insults that rose with dusk and fell with dawn.
Rosita belches the pungent, brown effluence of seaweed and water to signal a halt to her slow, unmeasured robotic consumption. Any exalted sensation of luck or divine gratitude for being the rare morsels to escape the severity of an ocean’s appetite never piqued Rosita. She always misplaced her emotions with her thoughts like dirty laundry. Gonzalos’s relief at realising he’d been spared the fatal tragedy rippled then subsided along with the cargo and destruction that initially surrounded him. And it was replaced instead with a unique terror of his situation. He still had no idea what force of events had landed him in this predicament. Not that drunken blackouts were an unusual sensation for Gonzalos. But if fuelled his confusion and added to the horror.
God, he missed Santa Cruz. Waking up at midday – and the air is thick out of the shade. Humidity sways through Mercado Florida like pollenised molasses, binding together invisible beaded string aromas of an orchard perspiring – honey syrup, blushing grapefruit, stubborn pineapples, flat kiwifruit and fruit salads bursting from the whirring angry battalion of blenders. Gonzolos can feel himself swimming punch drunk through the undercover honeycomb of fruit stalls.
Gonzalos lands deep in the musty, petrified rump of Rosita – in a jungle of her hair. A fleshy sting of air, thrown off a baby clam wave struck him off his six legs and perch unawares. He had given away so much over the years, he left nothing for the inescapable and inevitable. The gamely, barbeque smell of Rosita burns the length of his proboscis. Gonzalos imagines whining furiously through glades of green in an incandescent blur. With his game-fish nose weighed by gravity making his sight falter from the horizon his battered fly-wire wings scream through the salt and the wind. They strain an octave higher than ordinary mosquitoes – buzzing twice the volume, resonating and penetrating an unimaginable pitch of irritation as he retreats hopelessly to his rostrum at the front of the boat.
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.
He registers the dry scabby smell of sweat. The funk of decay and shit pops his eyes open. Gonzalos stands erect and awake too quickly for his slumbering self to catch up. In a thin white patch on Rosita’s underbelly Gonzalos stares into a forest wall of black hair. Savage unintelligible strings of clicks and scratching fire towards Gonzalos from the darkness like a warning.
The heat is unbearable and joyous. A craving swoons through him, like strong morning coffee making him dizzy and nauseous. It’s unlike hunger or thirst – primordial, powerful and uncontrollable. Gonzalos can hear Rosita lapping up sea water and crunching on seaweed with her fat, red tongue. She begins improvising, ‘Mi amor acuático, mi salvador de marfil.’
She’s gone mad Gonzalos decides. But without warning, or another word to boast on the matter the caustic mammalian pinch swells and entangles his senses with the fruit salad lingering from his sleep. The clash of redolent and fetid odours fashion a brutal gustatory reaction. Gonzalos leaps to edge and dry wretches over the side of the boat.
Green blood fills his eye balls and fresh salty tears smart and makes him wince. He almost misses the monstrous apparition glide silently under the boat. Gonzalos observes it, terrified as it disappears in the murky depth. Then with effortless dexterity and aplomb the watery ghost loops about and makes for the surface. It floats along the boat on its side, brushing beneath Rosita with its wide heavy paws like a horrific hairless offspring of a walrus and cow. The tubby, tubular beast’s bald albino face has deep wrinkles of character like humans and every slight change of angle brings on a whole transformation of features. One beady black peeper stares up at him while a grin hides under its chin as if it’s amusing itself with jokes it won’t share with terrestrials.
Gonzalos staggers back in shock and awe. He stumbles and falls back onto Rosita’s hide. ‘That stupid fat bitch,’ Gonzalos curses. He knew it! It was all starting to make sense. A plot of insatiable desire and denial.
‘Forbidden love – it’s textbook,’ Gonzalos hollers. Mental frenzy strikes Gonzalos. His mind moves too fast to control and he descends into madness. Salivating fissures of irrational and incoherent thought erupt over reason, which dodge and jump and try grabbing all the loose threads of the mystery and tie them in a knot.
He rationalises without tools of evidence or witnesses the only way that lazy cow could ever be in a lifeboat alone is if she planned her own escape Rosita must have learned her fate on the voyage, fell in love with a bovine freak of the sea and sabotaged the journey for her own selfish ends. Gonzalos doesn’t stop to consider his assumptions from morsels of his unreliable memory and measly facts are flawed. He is full of sea water and is stacking a house of feeble cards. His is convinced. And now he is lying in the thick hair on the rump of the perpetrator to all his ill fortune.
Rosita’s hide vibrated as her song of love travelled up through her diaphragm and compounded Gonzalo’s nausea. He couldn’t shake the image of Rosita and the sea cow and didn’t hear the approaching sounds of something alien and frightening.
Gonzalos’s delirium breaks with a renewed chorus of clacks and clicking ticks. They grow louder and more discordant and sibilant like a barbaric war cry.
Gonzalos froze in fear. He watched and listened.
Pink denim tentacles slowly sprout through the dense follicle divide – fluttering like blind tongue flower petals parting Rosita’s coarse hair like fingers. Three univalve entities emerge. They slide on a moist finger slowly over Rosita’s thick scabby skin like salty sea dog’s tall tales of deep sea monsters. Each has one giant protruding eye, in which two black pupils swim in the white soup of their sight. And their fistful of tentacles sways in front of them like a distraction. They click and tick at each other in a gibberish, ancient dialect. The unmistakable language of parasites convinces Gonzalos they are related to the indigenous Amazonian blood suckers of his homeland. But these obstinate creatures are some giant prehistoric aberration, measuring thrice Gonzalos’s height – an indestructible prototype long forgotten in the pregnant waters of a young planet.
They were seaweed pirates hitching rides on the massive ocean belts of kelp for eternity until they find a suitable host. Their names were all Gonzalos understood, Ko, Tu and En and that was all they appeared to say to one another, incessantly repeating each other’s names like some depraved, primitive sonar.
Gonzalos clears his throat. Ko spits a silky thread of purple ink over Gonzalos’s left shoulder. ‘What we have here gentleman, and possibly ladies is a failure to communicate,’ Gonzalos announces.
In reply another purple string sails directly overhead. Gonzalos protective instinct kicks in automatically. He stares absently like he is lost, looking for a street sign, or wondering abstractly about the time.
It makes Gonzalos a peculiar spectacle in a tight spot. But bamboozlement was his only weapon, and it was very effective. In his experience confusing one’s opponent always bought enough time to make a cowardly escape. It fails miserably. A third well aimed spit-bullet rockets out of En’s tentacles.
Gonzalos didn’t notice Rosita had stopped singing. He did momentarily hope she was aware of his minuscule world and would come to his aid with a flash of her tail. But bovines were imbeciles. And his want was swallowed before he exhaled. It turned to despair in his throat that he and gulped back down.
Gonzalos instinctively ducks but the acidic saliva catches his sorrowful wings. Their delicate glass wire frames sizzle and melt down to stumps like hot wax. Gonzalos feels the remnants run down his back in a warm goo. He can’t stand to survey the damage. He know he is fucked, castrated, mutated and about to die alone and sober. To look over his shoulder is an indignation he won’t allow.
Suddenly Rosita bellows an ungodly wail. The life boat violently flips starboard and swings back with equal force portside. Gonzalos is catapulted into the air. He hears a great splash. And the world goes black.
Gonzalos knew where he was before he opened his eyes – in the stink of dead fish at the bottom of the boat. He looked up. Rosita was gone and his terrifying foes vanquished with her disappearance. Gonzalos didn’t know how to react. He didn’t shout. He didn’t move. Instead he closed his eyes and let the odious piscatory funk wash over him until it didn’t bother him.
Gonzalos drifted for three more days and three more nights with the futility of purgatory – through blistering sun, unrelenting wind, rain that flew in from heinous angles like poisoned darts and a midnight tempest with waves that glinted in the dull quicksilver light like skyscrapers of apocalyptic destruction. He wept uncontrollably and laughed hysterically until he was dry and exhausted and drunk on his own psychosis. His deranged spurts, pops and nefarious giggles filled the boat and echoed in the empty belly. And when the wind held its breath and the water turned to glass the way that gave sailors the heebie jeebies he felt his voice take flight across the ocean. Dreams and waking moments integrated into a fog until Gonzalos couldn’t tell if he was alive or dead. His loneliness and desperation sunk deeper than single malt whisky. He had no energy left to surrender. He wished he was dead and wondered why it was taking so long.
In the raven pit of self loathing and defeat he heard Rosita sing in his head like the sun breaking through the graveyard morning mist in La Paz. It’s funny how the tumbler of time and nostalgia skews our memories like childhood holidays. Gonzalos declared to the dingy he missed the Argentinean heifer and he wasn’t lying. A faint waft of sheep and crap arrested Gonzalos’s delirium. Is he awake, or asleep or dead? he asked the sea.
He peers over the starboard bow and sees a cargo ship floating like Lego on the horizon. Gonzalos briefly questions if what he sees is real, but he remains obedient to carelessness. For the second time in his life he knows exactly what to do.
Rosita had decided her own fate and Gonzalos knew his time had come. He smells rain in the air like wet bitumen. He has never smelt the rain before and he likes it. Gonzalos knows he can’t go back. The sea has changed him. The great silent deep all around that only gave him consternation compels him to his feet and onto his rope shackle rostrum like a Pina Colada or Mint Julep. It is the irresistible voice of the ocean speaking directly to him like a siren song driving him – possessing him. He looks over his back at the plastic spatulas that were once his escape and freedom. If this cursed water erased his past, it is now his home.
He is one with his new form and surroundings. And Gonzalos concludes quickly so he won’t be struck by doubt, these winds must carry his future. He thinks of Watto and Rosita and the gorgeous metallic taste of his first love Maria and leaps out over the water with a spirit full of faith.
It was a strange sensation wearing infinity and nothingness on his feet. He leapt from the life boat, his island and saviour and launched him into the unknown. A peculiar calm overtook him. It scared him in fact. He had always carried fear with so much familiarity he felt uneasy and naked for an instant. He almost willed it back. But now he didn’t care. From somewhere unknown rose a deep sense of assurance like a mother’s lullaby he would be alright.