Chaplin cocked his ear as if trying to listen, holding to his temple his useless tin cup as if it were an ear trumpet, and, with the boats rotation increasing, he stepped up his own counterrotations until he was all but a blur.
The swells drew back. The boat stopped, Chaplin continuing to spin until he toppled over. With acrobatic momentum, the tumble carried him upright, and he stood, arms in fists at his sides, looking as if he had just triumphed over the sea. He did not see what loomed behind. With the weight of a mudslide, a wave crashed down upon the boat, and Charlie Chaplin was blown below the surface.
Pressure mounting against it like the thumb and forefinger of Uranus, the hull of the skiff rocketed out of the depths, sailed six feet over the waves, and crashed into shards like a wine bottle against the Wall of Death.
The sun was beginning to rise; there wasnt yet its actual glow or warmth, but instead the gray promise of daylight. The lighthouse beam was thus fading in comparison with natural light, and the many colors of the sea were being restored: the olive bulbs of kelp atop the rich obsidian rocks, the emerald nightmare that was the sea, the lapis of the dawn skies. Leland and his companion rowed in place. They had lost their spirit. How terrible it was that God had created in humans the urge for compassion, a sensation that nature itself withheld.
The simplest pairs of code flags rode up the stations monkey pole, the blue- and- white A and yellow Q, then the powder flag and St. Georges Cross: boat lost, man overboard. An emotionless message, all was lost, all was lost. The St. George Reef telegraph operator, weeping, began to tap out a note to the naval station to the south, and to all the ships at sea, a spotty and impressionistic account whose clarity was far outweighed by its emotional devastation. And yet, at the same time, he was receiving something that was not a response, that made no sense, a message of dots and dashes from the east.
From la pared de la muerte there was a quick bubbling, and Leland pointed, just as his mother, eyes red and wet with tears, swung the telescope to see what he witnessed: surfacing, dome up, the battered blackderby, with a single strand of seaweed, like a rose upon a coffin. Then rained down the next wave, and the hat was lost forever.
Excerpted from Sunnyside by Glen David Gold Copyright © 2009 by Glen David Gold. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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