Peter walked into the store in his wet bathing suit. He'd never been to Point Allison before -- it was on the western edge of that remote, depressed part of Maine that didn't get much traffic. There was no one by the cash register, no one in the grocery aisles, or in the small hardware section, or behind the sandwich counter. By the back windows, though, a man with a crew cut and a brown mustache sat on a bench drinking coffee.
"I'm wondering -- excuse me, I'm sorry -- I need a hand," said Peter. He could feel water from his suit rolling down his legs.
"You've been out swimming," said the man.
"Can you help me?" asked Peter.
"Damn cold, isn't it?"
"Well, it's just -- my wife is out there in the boat, with our baby, and we're tangled up. The propeller is all fouled."
"You need a diver," said the man.
"Exactly," said Peter.
"Tough day for it, Sunday," said the man. He had a long face with a square jaw; there was a frankness to his expression that Peter saw as vaguely canine -- he looked like a spaniel.
"Divers don't work on Sunday?"
"I don't know one who does."
"Could you give me a name? I could call him and ask."
"What's your question?"
"I don't really know what to do. I have a baby out there, and my wife -- she's scared." In fact, Peter was the one who'd been alarmed; Margaret was fine. Most likely she was reading her book.
"Get a price ready," said the man. "Know your price. That's what he'll be looking for." "Price? I have no idea. Twenty-five bucks?"
"Can you give me a name?" asked Peter.
"Why'd you swim in?" the man asked.
"We were stranded out there," said Peter.
"Don't have a rowboat?"
"Theline came loose today. We were towing one, but we didn't notice when it came loose. I guess we lost it in the channel."
"You sure the propeller is fouled?"
"There's a huge tangle of rope around it. I saw it. I swam down."
"I know a diver."
"Could you give me his number?"
"I know a number," said the man. "What's your price?"
Peter removed a soggy mass of bills from the pocket of his bathing suit. "Well, there's sixty. My wife might have more."
"That should be fine," said the man.
"Is there a phone here?"
"I'll do it. I'll dive."
"You're a diver?"
"Not on Sundays."
Peter smiled meekly. "Could you do it, though?"
"Well, it is a Sunday, friend." He sipped his coffee, then rolled the cup back and forth in his palms.
"More than sixty?"
"Just pulling your leg," said the man. "I'll do it for fifty."
They walked side by side down the hill to the town wharf. Blackberry bushes taller than Peter flanked the dirt road. The air was clear enough to see the Matinicus Lighthouse in the far distance. At lunchtime, Peter and Margaret had sailed past the lighthouse, which was set on a small rock outcrop, five miles away from any island. Two puffins had swirled around their mast, then flown back toward the rocks, landing in the surf. It had been warm, and the baby was sleeping in the cabin below. Margaret mentioned her desire to be a lighthouse keeper; she said it was the most romantic job in the world. Peter said it would be boring and lonely and cold -- it would make you go crazy. Plus, he said, all lighthouses are run automatically these days. "You're lots of fun," she said. They headed closer to the wind, tightened the sails, and as Peter steered the boat,Margaret knelt on a seat cushion and pulled off Peter's suit. "Now we're talking," Peter said. He thought of God. He thought about heaven, about dying and living forever in the clouds.
Theirs was a good marriage. They had similar interests: sailing and food and local politics and camping. They rarely disagreed. Peter felt happy and content; Margaret had long brown hair and light blue eyes; she had an athletic figure and a graceful way of carrying herself. The restaurant turned a decent enough profit and it kept their lives full. He felt close to her when they made love. There was always a part of him, though, that remained well insulated, entirely separate. This was not by plan; when she knelt there in the cockpit, for example, he looked at the top of her head, gazed out to sea, and he felt exalted but alone. He would hug her afterwards, and she smiled and kissed him. This is fine, he assured himself. It's great.
Sunlight slanted across Point Allison, catching the sides of the dozen or so lobster boats all pointed in the same direction, with their glossy hulls and radar cylinders. Peter's small sailboat faced the other way.
"I wonder which boat is yours," said the diver. "Might it be that yacht, friend?"
"That's it," said Peter. "Not much of a yacht, really."
"Bet you got cocktails out there, though."
"You're a lawyer?"
"We run a restaurant. We live here."
"That's not quite here, friend," said the diver.
The diver kept his equipment in a box on the public wharf, hidden under the walkway. He stripped down to his briefs, then stepped into the neoprene suit. He was stocky; maybe he'd been a high-schoolfootball player. He smelled of tobacco and mildew and sharp, sour sweat. Peter saw himself in the diver's eyes: wearing a bright blue and yellow swimming suit, getting his propeller wound up in lines. A yachting jackass.
"You know what it looks like down there?" asked the diver.
"Not really," said Peter.
"Imagine the thickest fog you've ever seen," he said. "But it's brown." "Polluted?"
"No, just mud. It's clean around here. Lobstermen, purse seiners, draggers, mussel farms." He grinned. "But you know what they say."
Peter shook his head.
"Clean water makes for dirty minds, and dirty minds make for lively winters," said the diver. "Or something like that." He laughed with shiny white teeth.
"Many fish down there?" asked Peter. Once he'd said it, it seemed like just the kind of question a jackass yachtsman would ask.
The diver pulled the wet suit hood down over his head and zipped the jacket. "Plenty. They're hard to see, though. They sneak up on you. You know what a sculpin looks like? They come out of nowhere. They're covered in sharp spines with big bulging eyes and huge rubbery mouths." He opened his eyes wide and stuck out his lower lip, then laughed at himself. His neck strained; it was broad and muscular.
"You must see lobsters down there, too."
"Oh, they're like cockroaches. They're everywhere. And they eat anything, garbage and dead fish. They eat their brothers, too, like cannibals." He smiled and strapped a knife to his leg.
"What's that for?" asked Peter.
"Say you get your hoses tangled in kelp. Or a shark comes at you." The diver took the knife out of its sheath and wiped off the blade, then, to test its sharpness, scraped it on his palm.
"Come on, friend," said the diver. "Joke."
"Oh," said Peter. "Right."
"The seals here bite, though."
"Jesus, you're gullible. Where'd you say you're from again?"
"We live in Portland."
"Where's that?" asked the diver.
Peter looked at him. Then he forced out a laugh.
"You almost thought I was that dumb," said the diver. "I'm pretty dumb, but I know where Portland is. I may not run a fancy restaurant, but I know where the city is, friend." He attached the hoses to his tank, then hefted it all to his back and clipped himself in. "Grab me those flippers, will you?"
Peter grabbed them and handed them to the diver. "You're my diving buddy, friend," the diver said. "Don't let
Lewis Robinson was born in Natick, Massachusetts, and grew up in Maine. He attended Middlebury College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was a teaching-writing fellow and winner of the Glenn Schaeffer Award. He has written for Sports Illustrated and the Boston Globe, and has had day jobs ranging from fire warden to crab slaughterer. He lives in Portland, Maine.
The driver -- Officer Friendly -- The edge of the forest and the edge of the ocean -- The toast -- Ride -- Fighting at night -- Eiders -- Cuxabexis, Cuxabexis -- Puckheads -- Seeing the world -- Finches.