DELIRIUM BRINGS COMFORT to the dying.
I had lived in an ordered world. Salary had mattered, and timetables. My grandmother belonged there with her fears.
"But isn't there a risk?" she asked.
You bet your life there's a risk.
"No," I said. "No risk."
"Surely flying into a hurricane must be risky?"
"I'll come back safe," I said.
But now, near dead as dammit, I tumbled like a rag-doll piece of flotsam in towering gale-driven seas that sucked unimaginable tons of water from the deeps and hurled them along in liquid mountains faster than a Derby gallop. Sometimes the colossal waves swept me inexorably with them. Sometimes they buried me until my agonized lungs begged the ultimate relief of inhaling anything, even water, when only air would keep the engine turning.
I'd swallowed gagging amounts of Caribbean salt.
It had been night for hours, with no gleam anywhere. I was losing all perception of which way was up. Which way was air. My arms and legs had bit by bit stopped working. An increasingly out-of-order brain had begun seeing visions that shimmered and played in colors inside my head.
I could see my dry-land grandmother clearly. Her wheelchair. Her silver shoes. Her round anxious eyes and her miserable foreboding.
"Don't go, Perry. It gives me the heebie-jeebies."
Whoever listens to grandmothers.
When she spoke in my head, her mouth was out of sync with her voice. I'm drowning, I thought. The waves are bigger. The storm is worse. I'll go to sleep soon.
Delirium brings comfort at the end.
AT THE BEGINNING it was a bit of fun.
Kris Ironside and I, both single, both thirty-one, both meteorologists employed to interpret the invisible swings and buffets of global air for television and radio audience consumption, both of us found without excitement that some of the vacation weeks allotted to us overlapped.
We both worked in the Weather Center of the British Broadcasting Corporation, taking it in turns with several other forecasters to deliver the good or bad weather news to the nation. From breakfast to midnight our voices sounded familiar and our faces smiled or frowned into millions of homes until we could go nowhere at all without recognition.
Kris rather enjoyed it, and so had I once, but I had long gone beyond any depth of gratification and sometimes found the instant identification a positive drawback.
"Aren't you . . . ?"
"Yes, I guess so."
I used to go for vacations to lands that didn't know me. A week in Greece. Elephants in the Serengeti. By dugout canoe up the Orinoco. Small adventures. No grand or gasp-worthy dangers. I lived an ordered life.
Kris stabbed with his thumb the roster pinned to the department notice board. Disgust shook his hand.
"October and November!" he grumbled. "And I asked for August."
It was January at the time: August tended to be given to those with school-age children. Kris's chances of August had always realistically been zero, but with Kris hope often outweighed common sense.
It was his streak of wild unpredictability-the manic side of his character-that made him a good evening pub companion, but a week in his company once in the foothills of the Himalayas had left me glad to return to home soil.
My own name, Perry Stuart, appeared alphabetically near the bottom of the list, ahead only of Williams and Yates. In late October, I saw, I could take the ten working days still owing to me by then and return to the screen on the eve of Fireworks Night, November 5th. I shrugged and sighed. Year after year I got especially chosen and, I supposed, honored to deal with the rain-or-no-rain million-dollar gamble on fine weather for the night the skies blazed with the multicolored firework starbursts sent up in memory of Guy Fawkes and his blow-up-Parliament gunpowder plot. Year after year if I got downpours right I winced over sackloads of letters from reproachful children who reckoned their disappointment to be my fault.
From Second Wind by Dick Francis. Uused by permission of the publisher - Putnam.
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