r i p p l e
...and reach and dip and cup and push, as put-put-put-put, less sharp on his eardrums underwater, the sputter of the fishing-boat's outboard became a fading rhythm to Ripple's stroking through the evening sea, as he filled up his mind with the motions of his effort, broke them down to basic moves, and reined his concentration to full performance, and kick and rock and reach and dip on through his wet world, where right now all was dip and reach and cup and pull and push, and roll and kick and rock, and BREATHE and reach and smoothly slip along the sea just as they say, just as the story went, The sea was slippery hill to Ripple, just a slide, a kick and rock and reach and dip and cup and who they say could play go-catch with kingfish? and who was kin to dolphin?
...and BREATHE, and reach and cup and dip and pull and wonder, why they let him argue on so long with Son-Son, most prob'ly 'cause they knew for Ripple sea was easy, had tracks, had grip, had branch to hold and pull himself along, and reach and dip and cup, and this road was getting harder to push, and rock and kick and he was starting to strain the kick and dip, and rock and reach and pull and BREATHE, to shove and dip into this endless sea, this warm yielding sea he felt so home-found in, just as they said, But for the gills, he could've been a fish, and BREATHE, and that the life water in Ripple had sea salt, and reach and cup and pull and roll
...and yes! he was getting tired, and the dip and reach and cup and push as if against that sleepy tiredness, as if the rocking sea was hammock, as if the swirl and swish was lullaby, and push and dip and rock for a tired Ripple ready for the comfort of a solid bed, because he was definitely getting tired and, in truth, for the first ever water, he was feeling in too deep and straining every stroke, and suffering every push and dip and roll and pull and BREATHE, and sometimes even sucking in his mammy sea from tiredness at laboring with each pull and kick and rock and yes, to say the truth, that natural in the salty, that water-boy who could cover water swift like walking, trample it like flat land, was suckling on tips of tiny waves, each dip and rock and kick he took, striving just to float side-faced
...and Ripple was in trouble now, with fatigue saw-sharp at his muscles and pain bitter in his mouth, and each twist he managed was harder to repeat, and each push and rock and pull and roll another dip of agony from climbing the long-distance sea that should be a slide for Ripple, who, as everybody knew, but for the fins could've been a swordfish cutting through familiar combers, slicing along the briny with swish and push and pull and dip and rock in place of crawl the wet haul in with reach and cup and kick and slip along best as he could, not think, not sink, just swim and twist and rock and reach, and fill his mind with motion aiming beach, and eke on home with patient pushing off the yielding sea, pulling at its fluid mass, rocking cupping dipping pulling kick-splashing on the ocean's face, shifting from strict form, grabbing for scant purchase to slide on through the sheen, slapping at the surface, sharding the glitter, over and over, with cup and pull and roll and shove and dip and reach and kick and CRAMP!
...a pain like fire in his left calf, and Ripple gasped, and losing rhythm, gulped sea far down his throat as he went under
...leg a dead fin, Ripple spread arms and surged up into air, and gasped and coughed his clenched throat clear, then flipped onto his back, hand-paddling lightly. Night-side to his left, the vast ocean above ranged puffy purple into right-side gates of gilt clouds welcoming a brilliant sunset. About him, the sea was a great, smooth skin aquiver with a rush and rustle of wavelets, a swelling and falling trembling mass as far as he could see. Gold to sullen grey, the evening clouds drift slowly overhead, so out of reach that Ripple felt marooned, the only as himself out there. He strained his neck to search past his knees, but caught no sight of a fishing-boat's carbide lamp. He was alone inside this sultry sea. Still flinching to flex the leg, with an anxious knotting in his guts, Ripple tread belly out the water, and swiveled and craned and sought with hard-squinted eyes until at last! the shoreline was there, coconut treetops barely detailing themselves. Target enough, he set to a dogged chop-chop stroke that gouged and gurgled the surface, brought to his mind holes and thoughts of the blackening ocean, the nightmare depth below him
...tentative but steady, with a froglike pull and glide, getting it automatic, Ripple rode the black sea, while alongside him floated up frights that he had barricaded away all his young life, terrors that gained might in the night's sea, and he alone in the embrace of this wet darkness he had always shunned, this alien place that without sunlight where unknown creatures lurked, where prowling beasts with reaching teeth, devoured whatever moved ungainly, like he was moving now, as right then something harsh and solid grazed against Ripple's right thigh
...a gargle, a cry, he kicked it away, terror powering with both legs, and pain in the cramped calf exploding again
...and BREATHE, and flail and thrash and strangle at the surface until he noticed the bit of branch seaweed disentangled from him and floating steadily a-further out to sea, and alarm sailed off with his battering heart as he realized anew his plight: tide going out, while lamed as flotsam him was cutting no distance against the ocean's flow
...strained and strengthened with panic, absorbing pain, Ripple threw himself over and settled into an urgent, primitive dog-stroke, his legs a-dangle - a crippled dogfish almost crawling, low in the water, awkward as turtle beached, concentrating paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, and when thoughts of distance and time needled his mind, he stuck his face underwater and exhausted his lungs, until he could think only of pulling out and BREATHE and the overbearing need to keep his dog-paddle going, crowding out where and when worries
...rising on a cresting wave, Ripple craned his neck and caught long-last a glimpse of distinct shore, of windblown coconut crowns. His energy surged and shuddered, at once hopeful and anxious, the promise urging Harder! although his arms were becoming heavy as logs, and could hardly paddle on much longer, and just as he thought it, his shoulders seized up in cramps
...arrested by the sudden pain, Ripple slipped under again, and swallowed some sea before he reared up snorting and coughing to BREATHE, and gasp himself to some measure of self-control, and lie limp in a dead-man's float, his face aside, sucking air through his mouth, while his hands carefully raked underwater, cup and pull, and cup and pull, and try to concentrate
...beneath his face, the sea had gone glistening opaque grey, and across it the molten gold horizon of flame and scarlet was losing color to the looming twilight, purpled black, and closing in. Mere minutes before night and then he'd be lost to sight, disappeared into this vague darkness, just him, a speck in the vastness, an insignificant ripple on the ever restless ocean, just him in a heaviness of despair, a tiny sad wrinkle on its endless face
...empty and wasted past tired, his feeble paddling all trifling, and getting his heavy, trailing legs nowhere, not even Ripple could ride the sea with shoulders tight and numb as board. His plight in his face, salt into brine, allof a sudden his tears welled up, the weeping bringing tremors with thoughts that, in this swift tide, they might never find a body, and slack with shudders and self-pity, with that he swamped under
...spluttering and heaving and gasping for air, his chest aching at even that, he released his drowning Hope, rolled over to his back. He'd have one last look at heaven. He saw that Night was almost there, pale stars peeking at the brazen sun tippling the bloody horizon. Then Ripple, like a lance, let go
...and bravely down, free of further need, he went, and down, until his shocked soles slapped at sandy bottom, and a surge of reprieve rebounded him astonished, up and up and not so far up to gasp in all the air that he could BREATHE. As pains dissolved into an ecstasy of elation, and with his pole-straight body tingling with anticipation, once more he let himself go down, measuring with reaching, feeler feet again to find close firmament
...so that with a lunging and listing and pulling and wading, all mindless arms and half-dead legs a-scrambling, Ripple soon crept crablike from the surf, and collapsed on the fresh-lengthened beach the departed tide had made so he could live.
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