24 February 2007

Rick Bass

[Rick Bass, "Pagans" from The Lives of Rocks, 2006]

Richard and Kirby bought an old diving bell in an army-navy surplus store for fifty dollars — they had to cut a new rubber gasket for the hatch’s seal — and after that they were able to give each other crane rides into the poison river.

For each of them it was the same, whether lowering or being lowered: the crane’s operator swinging the globe out over moonlit water the color of mercuty, then lowering the globe, with his friend in it, into that netherworld — the passenger possessing only a flashlight, which dimmed quickly upon submersion and then disappeared — the globe tumbling with the current then and the passenger within not knowing whether or not the cable was still attached, bumping and tumbling, spotlight probing the black depths thinly, with brief, bright glimpses of fish eyes, gold-rimmed and wild in fright, and the pale turning-away bellies of wallowing things flashing past, darting left and right to get out of the way of the tumbling iron ball of the bathysphere.

The cable stretching taut, then, and shuddering against the relentless current: swaying and shimmering in place but traveling no more.

Then the emergence, back up out of total darkness and into the night. The gas flares still flickering all around them. Why, again, was the rest of the world asleep? The boys took comfort in the knowledge that they would never sleep: never.

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