Mark Pearce is a Pushcart Prize nominee with stories published in numerous literary journals, magazines, and anthologies and plays produced on the New York stage. His first published story was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was selected as Granfalloon magazine’s “Story of the Year.”
A large lifeboat floated in the middle of a calm sea. In the background could be seen a luxury liner in flames, sinking beneath the surface of the water. Two men sat in the lifeboat, each eating a can of beans. Edmund Graves had an oar across his lap. Victor Stavenger had one at his feet. Neither man spoke.
Suddenly a hand gripped the rail. A man pulled himself up from the water; he was sopping wet and breathing heavily.
Stavenger quickly grabbed the oar at his feet and leapt to the side of the boat. He began to beat the man back into the water. It took many whacks, as the man was struggling for his life. Stavenger beat him about the head, the shoulders, the chest, the hands. Edmund calmly continued to eat his beans while watching this outburst. The man over the side never made no noise; he just struggled silently until he finally disappeared into the inky depths. Stavenger sat down and resumed his meal.
Edmund finished the bite he was chewing, then spoke: “I’m glad I got to the boat before you did.”
They ate for a moment in silence. The man’s head appeared once again. Stavenger took up the oar again and clubbed him about the head and shoulders, forcing him back into the water. Once again, it was a long, drawn out process. When it was over, Stavenger sat.
Edmund looked across at his fellow passenger. “You know you’re using up more calories keeping him out of the boat than you’re saving by depriving him of rations.”
“It’s the principle.”
There was a brief pause as they continued to eat.
“Is this your first voyage?” asked Edmund.
“No,” said Stavenger. “I sail all the time.”
“Really? What do you do?”
The man reappeared. His left arm clung desperately to the side of the boat while his right hand waved a fistful of money.
Stavenger took up the cudgel once again and beat him back into the water. As before, the man never said a word, just struggled in desperate silence until he finally disappeared. Stavenger resumed his seat.
“Sorry,” he said.
“That’s quite alright,” said Edmund. “You were about to tell me what you do for a living.”
“Oh. I write travelogues. You know, ‘The Joys of an Ocean Voyage.’ That sort of thing.”
“What about you? Done much traveling yourself?”
“I’ve been on a few cruises,” said Edmund. He peered into the water where the man had disappeared. “None like this, though.”
“I know,” said Stavenger. “This has been pretty rough. This reminds me of that story — you know — six men in a boat, who do you eat first?”
Edmund lifted his oar menacingly. “Don’t expect any votes until you let some more people in the boat.”
Stavenger set aside the can of beans he had been eating and looked up at the sky. “It’ll be night soon.”
Edmund followed his gaze. “I guess so.”
“At least the weather is calm. I wonder if they’ll be able to find us. The rescue ship I mean.”
“I don’t know,” said Edmund. “Do you think the captain had time to get off a distress call?”
“I hope so. We ought to be okay as long as we stay in the shipping lanes. Someone will come along eventually.”
A hand stretched up from the water, fingers outspread like a leafless tree; trembling, it grabbed the rail.
Stavenger ran to the edge of the boat and violently stomped the fingers. It took a while, but the hand eventually disappeared. Stavenger stood with his foot poised a moment, then resumed his seat.
“I didn’t want to disturb you,” said Edmund, “but isn’t that a rescue ship over there?”
Stavenger squinted at the horizon. “Maybe. It’ll do anyway.”
He lifted his can of beans, finished the last few bites, and tossed it aside. Edmund picked up one of the bags.
“Anything you want to take with us?” he said.
“Nyah,” said Stavenger. He peered at the horizon. “How soon do you think they’ll be here?”
“About fifteen minutes. Maybe less.”
Stavenger nodded as if the answer satisfied him. He leaned back against one of the bags and clasped his hands behind his head.
“You know,” he said, “it wasn’t such a bad cruise after all. I definitely think I’ll recommend it to my readers.”
He propped his feet up, closed his eyes, and smiled peacefully as he awaited the arrival of the rescue ship.