Follow Down the Light
For those of you considering spending the 10k on one of the author’s unpublished manuscripts, Poets & Suicides is happy to share the opening paragraphs of the author’s novel, Follow Down the Light. — The editors
Red Sky in the Morning
Dawn bleeds up from the east and a few stars flicker overhead, the splintered deck shining wetly and the air streaked with the stink of gutted fish. Again Randy Kane is the first to arrive on board The Keeper, reluctant first mate, steward of the catch, an angler for tips among corpulent anglers of flounder. Black water laps against the hull and he takes deep breaths while the masts of a few sailboats marooned amid the fishing fleet clang mournfully. Fish in his clothes, their blood beneath his fingernails, fish in his hair and in his eyes, fish rotting in his body’s every crevice. He puts his elbows on the railing and leans out over the water and lights his first cigarette of the day.
Two shifts daily. 6AM to noon for bay flounder and fluke. Then 6PM to midnight, fifteen miles out where large schools of bluefish torpedo the underwater darkness, The Keeper rolling on black waves, her searchlights scanning a sea seemingly devoid of life and red buoys materializing on the surface like the tips of radio towers belonged to some ancient civilization long drowned. Four months now of this labor, and for what? For whom?
For Wrench, of course. Everything now for Wrench.
At home in their tiny apartment, she sleeps her fitful sleep. Nearly a year has passed since he discovered her, hunched over and vomiting in a dark corner of Hellfire while sneering musicians inflicted punk rock on a carousing, hairsprayed multitude. The stage lights had strobed with color, carrying dimly to Wrench’s pale body and making of her a blue angel, a crimson demon, a golden idol. Wrench, convulsing and so thin as to be translucent. Her spilled bile glowed like neon as Randy crouched down beside her, screaming above the power chords, “Hey! Let’s get you some air!” And she’d lifted one hand with her head still inches from the floor in a gesture she’d later told him meant, Get the fuck away from me, but which he took as, Take me then, get me out of here. His arm around her dewy body, he’d bulled his way through the crowd and pushed into the open night and it was as if they’d left some infernal womb to enter a world even more sinister, standing in the gravel lot packed with battered vehicles and the moon a dim white bulb and the traffic on Old Stump Road rushing past Hellfire in shared fear or denunciation.
Not 5AM yet and The Keeper tugging at the hawsers as if to impress her unease upon the first mate. Her wooden hull is painted a luminous black and a neat pinstripe of red trims her perimeter, the name itself printed carefully across the bow like an advertisement for a dungeon. The Keeper, property of Sonny Singh, a little black charter vessel bobbing fearfully beside sleek white party boats and enormous ferries, their tapered bows buried in the black froth like axe heads embedded in lumber. Bait shops and fishing stations materialize familiarly in the warm air, teetering shacks whose awnings picture huge gamefish dangling from hooks or the jaws of sharks grinning in happy acquiescence to their own murders, and just beyond this shantytown of maritime commerce North Shore Road threads its way for the low-income suburbs to which Randy has delivered his Wrench, a grid of cheap sheetrock split-levels and pocked asphalt that defines this part of Long Island as sure as any other. The American Dream come down to the water. The American Dream come to fish.
“You control your own future Randy,” he tells the air. “Each man makes his own fate.” This directly from Seize Not the Day, but the Hour!, the self-help tome he’d recently finished, the pages of which he’d come home to find yesterday torn from the binding and pierced through, pinned to the bathroom door by a kitchen knife. Wrench’s work, lines of blood drawn beneath the knife in her most lurid ruby lipstick, and just beneath this wound a single word, written in the same carmine red: PATHETIC.