Hughes woke to the call of a tropical bird, he didn’t know the name of.
It was the rare morning when he didn’t have a hangover, nicotine headache, or indigestion. The Greek healer who talked about the four humors was right; mostly, Hughes felt that he was full of bile. Ralph would bring his paper, soon, and clean his pool. If it wasn’t for an ancient sin, Hughes could’ve enjoyed this morning, like the boy. He admired him. Ralph had a perfect body, tanned, and supple. Hughes wasn’t homosexual—it was that he saw the boy in his younger self. Men were disgusting, today. They weren’t quite men, and they weren’t quite women. They belonged to their women. Hughes, belonged to nobody. The girls came over when he was in a good mood, but his mood had changed. It was the big C. He was ill and he thought of social ills; no wonder everyone hated the white man.
“Put your life in order,” the lab coat said. He was white—Hughes didn’t hold it against him, just like he knew the dentist had to drill.
“Oh, it is,” Hughes replied. “I’ve already done what’s necessary.” He was speaking of the book he’d written on dragonflies. People don’t think of insects. They are annoyances. You can step on a fly without feeling anything. Perhaps, because you know where it’s been. But a dragonfly is different. It’s beautiful, and, there is something in man, that wants to preserve beauty.
“Your paper, Mr. Carlton.” The boy smiled through white teeth. Hughes sipped his coffee and smiled back. His teeth had started to fall out six months ago. There was an itching sensation in his gums, then odd satisfaction when each tooth fell out. It’s like tearing your toenails, self-destructive, and satisfying. There was no fairy—Hughes didn’t care. He only had to live with himself for a month or two longer. His breathing was forced. His energy—low. It was his liver, sorosis, from drinking, and now 50% cancer.
“I think I’ll go for a swim,” Hughes said.
Concern for the old man creeped into the boy’s face like insects, but he didn’t say anything. Hughes had to wear a corset to social occasions, but those were infrequent now. He was completely alone. He was a bachelor. His friends tried to convince him to get married, as they each got married, but Hughes could never trust the female. She was good when she was good, but when she was bad, everything was bad. He trusted something in himself. The sin was calling to him. He put on his scuba tank for the last time, and awkwardly walked down to the beach in his flippers. His white belly looked sick in the sun. His varicose veins popped, like spaghetti.
Hughes loved the ocean. He had been waiting until the day he felt strong. It had arrived, as unexpected as the green flash at sunset. He submerged and swam to the bottom, sloping to the shelf, 100 meters below the reef. There was the strongbox, he had shoved into a hole. Scores of lionfishes swam by. Their fins excreted a toxin that would make his body turn against itself. A moray eel got dangerously close. Hughes didn’t have any protection. He reached into the hole and grabbed the box. A tentacle grabbed his hand, but it was a friendly handshake. The octopus remembered his deposit from two years ago.
“I got to go, old buddy,” Hughes said. “This is my last withdrawal.” The octopus let go, and smiled. Hughes filled a buoyancy balloon with compressed air and followed the strongbox to the surface. It took all his strength to move it up the beach to his deck. He took a key from his pocket and opened the lock. Swiss Bars, uncut diamonds, and British Pounds greeted him. He took some stationary from his writing desk, and put the key is a sealed envelope.
For college and responsible decisions, he wrote. Love, Hughes.
He breathed a sigh of relief, like it was his last breath. When the safety deposit box was sealed and registered in the boy’s name, he decided to have a drink on his deck. He had nothing more to do. In the late afternoon, as chance would have it, an inspector showed up, inquiring about some valuables that went missing off a British yacht, visiting Jamaica approximately two years ago. Some Swiss Gold was taken, and a broken dragonfly was left behind.