We were sailing past the Kamchatka Peninsula and towards the Sea of Okhotsk. As I climbed the stairs, an announcement came through the speaker system. The crew asked that all passengers return to their cabins, as a storm was about to hit. There was no way to sail around it, the swell was already high and the water rough. But when I reached the lido deck there was still a cluster of people out by the pool and plenty by the bar inside, so I too ordered something, thinking why not, thinking it might at least dull the nerves, as I looked about for Patrick. Behind me a fat man was laughing loudly, smacking his thigh with his hand. Maybe it was just precautionary, the warning. A formality for insurance reasons, or something like that; once the risk was stated, the responsibility would be ours alone. Then I spotted Patrick near the roulette table – he was gesticulating, making a bet it seemed. When I reached him he put a finger to his lips, his eyes fixed on the wheel as the ball went round and round then settled. He whooped with glee and swiftly placed another bet, pulling a wad of cash from the pocket of his bathrobe to exchange for more chips. He was drunk, he must have been up there on his own for hours while I slept, his hair damp from swimming. His chest and face were sunburnt from the morning. He leant on me as he eyed the circling ball. And then he lost. He was insistent that they keep playing, that he place another bet although he had no money and no line of credit to hand, and so became aggressive: loud, wild, roughly spoken.
Then the storm hit. It was sudden and extreme. No one had predicted the size of the waves: ten metres, with winds up to eighty kilometres per hour. So they told me later. I had just picked up my drink when the furniture started sliding from one side of the room to the other, there was the sound of glass breaking, people screaming. Tables and potted plants crashed first into one wall, then the next. I held on to whatever I could: benches, a pillar in the centre of the room. Outside there was the flash of lightning. Then everything went very quiet, very still. I could hear a woman crying. I crawled towards Patrick, clinging to the broken furniture. People were starting to stand and brush themselves off. Patrick had been slammed back against the wall when the storm first struck and now, as I reached to help him, he pushed me away. He scrambled to his feet and started to head back to the bar. Then, all of a sudden, he collapsed into an armchair and closed his eyes. I had taken my anti-nausea pills but Patrick had not, and the storm, mixed with the alcohol, overwhelmed him; a moment later he pushed himself up to standing. I think I’m going to be sick, he said as he stumbled towards the deck, the ship still tilting this way and that. The door was unlocked, I saw him shove it open and step out into the darkness. What was he thinking? I watched him for a moment, wondering if I should go to help, knowing he’d prefer to throw up on his own because he never liked anyone around when he was sick or feeble. I’d hurt myself when the storm first struck and felt a little stunned. Then the ship listed again, more violently this time, and I heard Patrick calling to me. J.B., he called, as he liked to call me, using not my real name but my middle initials under which I published. J.B. Come out, J.B.! His voice cut through the noise of the storm, as it has always been able to cut through anything. The sound of glasses shattering. The sight of the looming dark waves outside and then water crashing down over the railings. I followed him.
As I reached the door I lost my balance, slipping on the wet floor. Outside, the night was cold and the ocean loud. I found him bent over, one hand clinging to the railings. I went towards him, but he brushed me away. Only once before had I seen him vomit from drunkenness. Generally, I discouraged him from drinking more than a glass or two. While it made others relaxed and convivial, after a few drinks he would get cranky. Or maybe tetchy is the word. Sometimes mad. And so I’d often quietly draw his glass towards me and, while he was talking, finish it myself.
The storm was getting worse. Patrick! I called. What are you doing? We’ve got to get you inside. I reached out to him, but he pushed my hand away. Some dark change had come over him, one I didn’t understand. He lifted his face towards me then and said something he perhaps would not have said were he not so drunk.
Something he must have been storing up. Something he must have been trying not to say. Something he must have thought of frequently, but at intervals. Something terrible that I would later try to forget.
You don’t mean that, I said. You’re drunk. You’re really drunk. Then he yelled it again. I stepped back a little, scared and disbelieving. He moved suddenly then, as if to take hold of me – a tiger lashing its paw. The boat tilted. Patrick slipped and vomited once more then wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his bathrobe. We’ve got to get out of the storm, I yelled as I stumbled towards the door. But he moved fast and grabbed my wrist, his
grip hard. What are you doing? I said. He spat at me then and I pulled myself free. I screamed at him through the wind and rain, but he wouldn’t have heard me because just then came the crash of thunder. He took hold of me by the shoulders as a dark wave loomed up beside us, its white froth and marbling visible in the flash of lightning. The boat lifted and dropped, throwing us off balance. My gut lurched as though on the dip of a rollercoaster. He let go of me and I scrambled inside. Then the ship tilted and the heavy steel door slammed shut, separating us. Patrick! I shouted, as I struggled with the handle, but when I finally managed to push the door open he was nowhere to be seen. The waves looked like giant dark mountains, streaked with snow. Heaving, slamming against the ship. The lights on the balcony caught the sea spray and made a halo of it. The boat tilted again. I held on to the railings and dragged myself further along the balcony. But still there was no sight of him. I kept going, holding on and shouting his name, the railings slippery in the wet. It was soon after this that I heard the first call, Man Overboard, Portside.
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