I didn’t write a blog post in November because I was busy writing a novel, so here’s a little excerpt from it for you to enjoy.
“I have something to show you,” he said.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Phoebe isn’t coming?”
“She can’t. Shiba Inus are notorious for disliking the water.”
It was twilight; the sky boasted dusty purples and fierce oranges. I followed Atlas down the goat path to the beach. His steps were nimble, instinctual, but he kept looking back at me. I wasn’t sure if he was making sure I was all right, or making sure I was still there, but regardless, I was.
When we made it to the beach, he walked up to the water’s edge, put his hands on his hips, and looked up the coast.
“We’re at the beach,” I said, unsure of what he had to show me.
“You still wearing your suit from before?” he asked.
“No, I changed earlier. You waited until now to ask?” I crossed my arms.
“Oh,” he said, clutching the back of his neck and looking down. “Well, we have to swim some.”
“You’re lucky I’m not shy,” I said, and started to take off my clothes. I kicked off sandals and he followed suit. I was quite chilly without my clothes on, but I stood confidently before him. He tried to look me straight in the eye when he spoke to me, but I saw his gaze drop for a split second.
“We’re swimming to a cove, nearby. You ready?”
“Of course,” I said, walking straight to the water and dolphin diving into an incoming wave. Atlas soon caught up to me and together we made our way to the end of the peninsula.
“It’s just on the other side,” Atlas called out, and I gave him a thumbs up. The waves were choppier there, on the edge of the cape, and I knew that meant there were more rocks. I swam behind Atlas, following his exact route. I assumed he’s made the swim before and knew where the deeper sections were. Normally I would be able to easily tell, but the sun was nearly below the horizon, and the ocean was dark.
“We can go around those rocks over there,” Atlas said, “or we can go underwater here. It’ll only be for about five seconds or so.”
“Atlas, I can’t see down there!”
“You’ll be fine. It’s pretty straight. You’re diving around four feet down and then up again. You can feel your way.”
“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath and exhaling. “Let’s go.”
“It’s right here,” Atlas said, raising his arm above the water and pointing down. “I’ll go first.” And with that, he went below the surface. I waited ten seconds, and then closed my eyes and dove.
Water. Through my fingertips. I kicked and I felt bubbles and foam around my ankles. I bumped my right elbow into a rough surface. Colder water. How many seconds has it been? I thought. The bottom was rocky and shelly. I reoriented my body so my head was above my feet. I pushed off the ground and reached my fingers for the surface of the water. Warmer. Warmer. Air.
“How deep did you go, Giulia?” I heard him ask before I could see him.
“I guess too deep. But I’m fine,” I said. I put my hand on his shoulder to assure him I was being honest. We climbed up onto the landing.
“Well, this is it,” Atlas said, stepping to the side so that I could see. The cove was small, private; an opening faced the ocean, which was pitch black since by then the sun had set. The rocky beach was lit by a natural skylight, letting the moon in. It was a workshop, and front and center sat a canoe. The wood was a honey color, not too light and not too dark. Tools and extra lumber were laid out around the canoe on small tables, out of the water’s reach. “It’s Western Red Cedar, shipped from the west coast,” he said.
“You built this,” I said, a smile instinctively coming to my face.
“I only just finished. I was wondering if you would help me test it out.”
“I trust you.”
“What? You don’t trust anyone else?”
“I didn’t say that.”
I looked back at the canoe, how it shined.
“It’s encapsulated with glass and epoxy,” Atlas said, reading my mind. “That part was way harder than actually stripping the boat with the wood.”
“How did you get you get all these materials out here? Certainly not underwater?”
“A couple of buddies put it all on their boat and we brought it in the long way, through the opening.”
“Why the secretive workshop?”
“It’s a surprise for my mom,” Atlas said. “And kinda for me too…to have something all to myself. A quiet place. And a challenge too.”
I glided my hand over the surface of the canoe, feeling how smooth and sealed it was. It felt like any boat in the marina, or by the town docks. “This is so impressive, Atlas.”
“Let’s take it out,” I said, waving him over. My heart fluttered in my chest; I started getting jumpy. Together, we carefully raised the canoe off of the boat cradle, and walked it to the water. My shoulder strained a little, carrying the weight of Atlas’s masterpiece; I had to take lots of quick steps, but we worked quickly.
“Did you make those too?” I asked when Atlas reached into the canoe and pulled out the oars.
“I did. I actually made these first.”
“Before the canoe?” I laughed.
“Before the canoe.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” I said, extending my hand to take an oar.
“You get in, and I’ll push us out to where we can float,” Atlas said. “You can push from there with your oar too, if you’d like. Just be sure to push straight.”
“I’ve been in a canoe before.”
“You’re right, you’re right. Okay. One, two, three!” Atlas dug his steps into the rocky shore, and pushed us out from the stern. I felt the ocean rush around the keel and keep us moving forward. Atlas hopped in and sat in the back seat.
“We’re not sinking!” he said, pumping his arms up in excitement.
“Amazing!” I said, reaching over the thwarts and the yoke to give him a one-armed hug. We could only hold each other’s shoulders, but a breeze came across the canoe and I felt how warm he was. I wished our seats were closer together. By that point, most of the droplets of water had dried off my nearly nude body, but goose bumps had taken their place. “Where should we go?”
“Well, let’s go as far as we can,” Atlas said.
My body warmed up as I dug my oar into the ocean and propelled us forward. The farther we rowed, the more clearly we could see the many constellations out that night. Eventually we were both sweating, and took a break to lie down on the bottom of the hull and star gaze. Our sides touched and it felt good to be sharing this moment with someone else. Too often I find myself thinking out by the water, alone.
“Does looking at the stars make you feel old or young?” Atlas asked.
“Both,” I said. “We’re all made of star dust, right? We’re all made of the same original elements that existed at the beginning of the universe. So, in that sense, I feel super old. Ancient. But in terms of thinking about the future, I feel incredibly young, small, and mortal too. Those stars are eternal compared to me and the life I’ll live.”
“But to you,” Atlas said, “your life is the biggest thing you’ll ever know.”
I turned towards him, propping myself up on my side. “You’re pretty wise, Atlas.”
“Thank you,” he said, looking towards me but staying on his back. “You are too.”
“Books don’t offer a real escape, but they stop a mind scratching itself raw.” ~David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas