Art Pact 223 - Adrift
The little boat bobbed on the ocean surface, riding out the swells with all the dignity of a twig travelling under a bridge on its way to coming second in a game of pooh-sticks. The three occupants, laying side-by-side but with their heads in alternating directions, looked from a bird's-eye view like the cargo of history's smallest ever slave ship. Their formerly pale complexions now ruddied by the sun, they slept with pages from the newspaper over their heads so that they would not be burnt. Beneath these tiny and topical tents they grumbled to each other, shuffling uncomfortably to get the best position they could in the curving belly of the boat - just too narrow to accommodate more than the middle one of them entirely, so that the two on either side had to hang their feet over the edge.
"I'm just saying," said the middle one from beneath his newspaper, "I'm the tallest. It makes sense."
"You're the tallest by one inch," said the one nearest the prow. "One inch doesn't mean anything."
"Not what your wife said," said the one to the aft quickly.
"Shut up, Andy," said prow.
"No-one here has a wife, how many times do I have to tell you?", added middle.
"No it doesn't. You can't insult people by pretending that you've had their non-existent wives. We know you've slept with girls that don't exist, we've all seen the calluses on your hands."
"Zing!" said prow, and he and middle high-fived - or slapped hands at least, the action not being quite as graceful and dynamic as a connoisseur of high-fives might have wanted. A few seconds later prow must have realised that he had started out arguing against middle, who he punched in the leg.
"Ow! What the hell was that for?"
"Just tenderising the meat," said prow, "in case we have to eat it later. I'm not chewing on some gristly mass of fat."
"You love che-" began aft, but middle cut him off quickly.
"Oh lord, not this again. We are not resorting to cannibalism. We're only a couple of days out, and we're drifting into a shipping lane. We're going to get picked up, I keep telling you this."
"Why are we fishing in the day, then?" asked prow.
"Because we're all fat westerners without the mental capacity to go for a whole day without killing something and stuffing it into our stupid maws, and because just because I don't think I'm going to die, it doesn't mean I want to listen to Andy's stomach gurgling for the next forty-eight hours."
"Forty-eight hours, is it now?" said aft. He reached up with his right hand to prop up his sheet of newspaper, then held up the other arm so that he could see his wrist-watch. "Is that God's own forty-eight hours, or is that the forty-eight hours that lasts approximately one-hundred and seventy-two hours, the one that runs on the same clock that told you we had an hour before the ship sank?"
"My god," said middle, throwing up his arms. "When are you going to let that go? I'm not a fucking fortune teller, I can't tell you exactly when a ship's going to go down. If I could do that I'd be in a nice comfortable corner office at Lloyd's shipping, staring out of the window while my secretary gave me a blowjob."
"You could get a blowjob off Andy's girlfriend," prow suggested, holding up his left hand and making a jerking-off motion which none of the others could see. He realised this after he had been shaking his hand for a minute. "I mean... what I meant was..."
"Don't worry," said middle. "We got it."
Far above them a bird uttered a shrill cry, and aft tore the paper away from his face excitedly, temporarily blinding himself. When he could see again, he laughed and pointed straight up at the dark silhouette of the animal way above them.
"We're saved! A seagull!"
"Oh great," said prow.
"A seagull," aft repeated.
"What's it going to do, carry us to the nearest port? Or do we lure it down here and tie a note to its leg?"
"Ugh," said aft. "It's a seagull, they live on the coast? So if we can see one now, we must be near to land. All we have to do is follow it back."
"Oh yes, follow it back. We can row back to safety using all our oars, right?" Prow kicked at the empty rowlock nearest his feet.
"We can paddle with our hands."
Middle peeled the paper away from his eyes for a second, then let it fall back across his face.
"It's an albatross," he said quietly.
"We can't paddle with our hands, there are sharks here!"
"Oh, of course, there are sharks," said aft. "Sharks, the silent hand-takers. Sharks, the Taliban of the sea. If only there were some way we could see them coming, perhaps by looking into the water, then we could simply lift our hands to safety."
"Albatross," middle repeated.
"I'm sure they'll give you enough warning," prow retorted sarcastically.
"We're not on Krypton, living amongst superhuman sharks," said aft.
"They'd only be superhuman if they were Kryptonian sharks in an Earth ocean," prow pointed out.
"Oh, I'm so sorry my nerd mythology isn't current. Perhaps I'll-"
"ALBATROSS!" Middle yelled suddenly. "IT'S A FUCKING ALBATROSS, YOU MORONS!"
Prow and aft sat up, their newspapers tumbling forward into their laps, and looked at each other, eyebrows raised.
"Okay," said aft carefully. "Fine, it's an albatross. I didn't realise this meant so much to you."
"Yeah," said prow. "Calm down Bill Oddie."
"What difference does it make, anyway? Albatross, seagull, seagull, albatross. It's just a bird."
"Ugh," sighed middle from beneath his broadsheet. "It's not just a bird, you idiots, its the difference between a short-range coastal scavenger and a bird that can fly halfway around the world without setting down once. That bird is an albatross, and it means nothing. We could be in the middle of the Atlantic still."
"Oh." said the others. They lay down again, drew their newspapers over their heads.
"Quite," said middle. "Now, let's have half an hour of silence please."
They fell quiet. The boat bobbed on.