Written by Jack Paradise

M34288-8 001
Photography by Nan Goldin

    We’re napping on the deck at night. Is it still called napping if it’s night? The air tics and groans like a cooling car. Scrubby, fecund woods yawn skywards and rustle from both riverbanks. Like they grow off the moon now too. I’d believe it if you told me that. Even easy facts have lost their purchase on me lately.

    Max is starred out slack across the pleather u-shaped bench, emitting long yippy snores into the night. His knees crease the white seat cushions. It looks like the marble fabric of classical sculpture, the stuff that looks soft but is actually stoney hard. Max looks hard but really he’s soft. His sneakers dangle above the deck, the pilled green turf is so thrashed it resembles the imperfect grass it counterfeits. The deck is gently bucking. I wonder when he’ll wake. We got up to no good. We made trouble for hours. I should sleep it off but the boat’s liquid motion and the incomplete permission we have to be here keeps me from falling fully under. Max claims this is his brother’s boat. I don’t believe him. I can’t chill with only provisional status. If Max’s lying and this boat’s not in the family, even within this fictive hierarchy of relation, he’s still closer to the fake brother than I am. Who am I to the fake brother? Just some bum. Just some guy laid out on his pontoon covered in his fake brother’s gummy product. I’ve been downright whorish lately. Lazy. Indecisive. Whatever the opposite of articulate is… Inarticulate. See?

I tasted lots of him tonight, but didn’t swallow anything. Maybe I should have. Protein is protein.

     I study my surroundings. Everything slurs in a druggy way. I can’t sleep but I’m fucked up sleepy. Groggy as shit. There’s no food for miles. I won’t eat for at least a few hours, unless Max’s output is enough for me to subsist on. I tasted a lot of him tonight, but didn’t swallow anything. Maybe I should have. Protein is protein.

     This boat is not a comfort to me. It’s more dinghy than elegant craft. The cabin, if you can call it that, is a low-slung construction of aluminum girding and sliding plexiglass. It looks like a sleek mid-century house dropped from up high. All the right angles askance. It’s got a slightly wrecked look about it. I worry it might buckle. There’s nothing inside, just a chest-high run of countertop, paneled in faux wood that like the deck turf has transcended its own artificiality. It’s broken through to the other side by waiting long enough. 

     Max seems sunk in sleep. Maybe I should jostle him. Make a sexy game of waking. No. 

This guy thinks he knows me well. He doesn’t. But he just might know me better than I know myself. 

     I stare at the countertop. My phone flashes sporadically with notifications, strobing the interior of the cabin in limpid light. Like the saddest nightclub. I’m bored. My thoughts are blunt and widely spaced, like dashes made by a dull pencil. When I close my eyes and focus it hurts. Again, lazy. I’m on a quiet river in a southern state. I sift through the silence like a spoon through the dregs of a soup, searching for any nourishing morsels that might remain. 

     A bullfrog’s throaty croak. Crickets chirp dry, shimmery tones. A quiet whistle of breath lopes through Max’s nostrils. 

     I rise with sudden violence and pull my clothes off. The moonglow generously hardens my form with a solidity I don’t feel I’ve earned. I cough loudly, so Max might rouse and check me out in this rare form, but no. He’s a deep sleeper. I sit on the raw lip of the deck, using the metal rails of the ladder to lower myself into the water. The cold enters at my tailbone and shivers up my vertebrae. Shrinks my cock. My calves disappear into the faultless mirrored surface. Max stirs and mumbles to himself. I slide in with an inelegant splash. The crash is halved as my ears go under. A warbling rush of bubbles bouquet around me. My skin leathers over.

     Each limb loses pliancy in the cold. I tread water with my fleshy oars. I exhale, let myself sink slightly, and open my eyes. The river is black. Pale motes of whatever shimmer in columns of light, and the pontoon is filmed with lime green algae. The undulating surface of the river laps at the top of my head like I’m pacing in a low-ceilinged room. Two feet break the surface. Max crashes in and meets me.

     This guy thinks he knows me well. He doesn’t. But he just might know me better than I know myself. 

     It’s hard to swim and grind against him. The idea of it is sexy but it almost feels like drowning. Dying. I’m not terribly buoyant. I kick hard. Max’s more muscled than me and I’m suddenly frightened by the silent water, the groaning oaks, the vigorous study his eyes make of mine. He could use his power to keep me afloat, or to hold me under. If I die and become a mystery, it will be no one’s fault but my own. 

     I have to stop putting myself in places like this. With strangers. In the vacuum of nature. I make them idols. It’s like I don’t respect myself. Like I’d rather be a totem in their rudderless narratives than steer myself. This is a new fluency. I’m learning more about myself, even if it’s only bad stuff. 

     Max dips below the surface then reappears beside me, arcing spray like a breaching whale. It splatters and shatters the still water behind him. When this picture settles he’s smiling. His hair is curled back over his head. Into a tunnel, like a rug pulled back onto itself. Or a wave you can surf. He looks like a founding father.


Jack Paradise is a California based author. He has a published novella entitled "greenhouse" .

Sky Blue

Est. 2019