The morning of the third day out Margold woke with a jolt as the boat took a sharp roll to starboard, then rolled to port. He went topside to see what was going on. The air was noticeably cooler, the sky darkly overcast, and the seas the color of slate, heaving in the wind.
“We have a bit of a storm brewing,” the captain said.
Jeffrey was busy hauling in sail.
“How bad?” Margold asked.
“The report shows a tropical depression forming south of us. We will try to sail around it, but things could get a bit hairy.”
“What can I do?”
“Stay below for now and let us do our thing. Make sure everything is stowed and secure.”
“And take your seasick pill.”
“If you do come out, make sure you have a life vest and harness.”
Margold went below. Some things had already been knocked about the cabin. He secured everything, then poked his head out, standing on the ladder of the companionway to keep out of the way. The wind was stiff, but not gale-force. The height and power of the swells gave Margold a fright. Huge steely-gray walls rising and falling all around the boat, bits of white froth blowing off the tops. He remarked about it to the captain, but he said this was nothing. A little rough, but nowhere near a storm. But the storm was coming.
The boat took a violent roll, then a wave washed over the bow, sending the boat almost over on its side. Margold lost his footing and landed at the bottom of the ladder, smashing his forearm on the edge of the table on the way. The pain in shot through him like a herd of screaming baboons. His hand dangled at an unnatural angle, the bone popping through the skin, blood flowing. The captain heard his scream of “Fuck” and came to the ladder.
“Margold!” the captain shouted, “stay there!” He leapt into the cabin and guided Margold to the bench, holding his arm against his belly. He grabbed the first aid kit, took out a large gauze pad and applied it to the wound. Margold shouted with the pain.
“Hold it still,” the captain said. “I’m gonna have to set it.”
The boat pitched and rolled. A pan came loose and clattered across the deck.
“How in the fuck we gonna do that under these conditions?”
“Ain’t gonna be easy, cuz, but sooner or later we gotta do it.”
“Should we wait?”
“The seas are going to get rougher.”
“I have some numbing agent in the kit. Gotta inject it, but it should help.”
Margold felt terror and anger at the same time. He should have just sat his dumb ass down and read a book. It only could have been worse if he broke his leg. Goddamn it, and at the beginning of the trip. He’s not even in the Atlantic yet.
“All right, captain, you know what you’re doing?”
“I took the paramedic course. Could have ridden ambulances.”
“Okay, get to it. Jeffrey got control of the goings-on topside?”
“He’s got, don’t worry.”
The captain prepared the syringe and immobilized Margold’s arm on the table.
“Wait,” Margold said. “Get the bottle of scotch out of the cabinet there.”
“All right, but I ain’t got all day, son.”
Margold took a long pull off the bottle, set it down and said, “All right, let’s light this candle.”
“Hold your arm with your other hand. Try to keep it from moving.”
The boat continued to pitch and roll. Margold held his arm, which had now quit bleeding, so the captain could inject the numbing agent. He inserted the needle. The boat took a sudden roll of about twenty-five degrees. The captain lost his balance and fell to the deck, leaving the syringe bobbing around in Margold’s arm. The scotch started to brighten the outlook. The captain got back to the syringe and injected its contents into Margold’s arm. After a few minutes the agent and the scotch had taken away a lot of the pain, and the captain prepared to set the bone.
“Now this is gonna hurt, even with the pain killer.”
“Remind me to show you something when we’re finished,” Margold said. “Now do what you have to do.”
The captain counted to three, then pulled the arm and reset the bone. Margold let a “fuck” or two, then grew quiet. He felt exhausted, as though he had just wrestled a whole gaggle of midgets. The captain put a splint on the arm, and Margold took another big swig from the bottle.
“Now stay down here,” the captain said, “and try not to fuck anything else up.”
Margold lay on the sofa-like bench, propping up the cushion on the edge to reduce the chance that he would fall out. The pain and the booze had made him sleepy.
When he woke breakfast was cooking and the weather had improved, the seas calm and the sun coming up on a clear horizon. His arm throbbed.
“Good morning,” Jeffrey said, putting a cup of coffee on the table in front of Margold. “How do you feel?”
“I feel like I just went a few rounds with Mike Tyson.”
“You would have been better off,” Jeffrey chuckled.
Ah, well maybe Jeffrey was not so bad. It’s the first time he actually talked to him.
“You have anything I can take to ease the pain in my arm?”
“Just the usual over-the-counter pain killers.”
“I’ll have a handful.”
“We’re going to nurse your arm for a few days, then go to a doctor in Key West to make sure everything is okay. Something like that gets infected in the middle of the North Atlantic and you are in trouble.”
“Good idea,” Margold nodded.
After breakfast Margold went topside where the captain was in the cockpit. The sun was just above the horizon and shined warmly on Margold’s face. It felt comforting after the previous day’s fun.
“Morning,” the captain said.
“Morning,” Margold responded. “Things look a lot brighter today.”
“Yeah, we steered away from the storm. Should be clear of it now. How’s the arm?”
“It’s been better, but I think I’ll pull through.”
Margold took off his shirt. “The sun feels good.”
“That’s quite the tattoo you’ve got there,” the captain said.
“Is that what you said you wanted to show me yesterday when I was doctorin’ your arm?”
Margold came into the cockpit. “No, this is what I wanted you to see. Has to do with pain.”
The captain looked at the scars from the O-kee-pa. “Goddamn, what’d you do to yourself?”
Margold told him.
“That’s wild. So, you are no stranger to pain.”
“I prefer to be painless, but pain does have a certain awakening power.”
The captain laughed. “That’s a great way to put it. Turn around, let me see what’s on your back.”
“Goddamn, that’s some brilliant work. What’s the painting called?”
“The Triumph of Death.”
“Where’d you get them? They look new, and you don’t look the type, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
Margold told him why he did it.
“Then this cruise is part of your attempt to avoid Death?” the captain asked.
The captain laughed. “People come to sea for a lot of reasons. Sometimes something bad happened to them and they come looking for answers, and sometimes they just want to check out. Looking for some kind of spiritual peace. But trust me, this is not a place to hide from Death. As you can see, this is a place Death resides. We are never more than a few inches away from it.”
“Now you tell me.”