Master of the Art of Longrange Tenpins

by Fortunato Salazar December 19, 2011

The nun says, King of the Hill, and I say, Wait…King of the Hill? and the nun says, Uh-huh, King of the Hill. Katherine Heigl, Adrien Brody, Spalding Gray, Jesse Bradford. And I say, Katherine Heigl? Jesse Bradford? And the nun says, Uh-huh.

The nun says, And, directed by…Steven Soderbergh.

I say, Steven Soderbergh! Shit!

I’ve fallen so far behind there’s no way I’ll catch up. I flip over onto my side. I start doing sidestroke circles around the nun. I start on my left side but it feels weird because I’m facing the nun. I flip over onto my right side and that feels weird because I’m used to doing sidestroke on my left side. I go back to treading water. The nun is treading water, too.

I say, Billy Elliot, and the nun gives me a sweet smile but other than that doesn’t bother to respond. To myself, I say Shit. It occurs to me that the nun is conserving energy. It occurs to me also that we’re both conserving energy and not talking about conserving energy.

I flip onto my back again. After a while the nun says, L’enfance nue. So it’s like, chalk another one up for the nun.

I shut my eyes and imagine the Puerto Rican farmer slipping a halter or whatever around the neck of the bull. The Puerto Rican farmer says to the bull, Hey, Filiberto, what’s up with you? You have such a sad look on your face. Are you grieving over something? Did you come all the way down here to the beach so you could be alone with your grief?

And the bull is thinking, Not at all. No grief whatsoever. In fact, I’ve been having quite a day. I’ve been watching people tread water until they couldn’t tread water any more. I may look a little weary because you’d be surprised at how long people can tread water.

*

Every so often I open my eyes to check how far I’ve drifted toward the orange ribbon.

I open my eyes to check on how the nun is doing. It occurs to me that all our sunscreen has washed off. It occurs to me also that I have plenty of hair on my head.

I’m about to say Pass, but then I consider that maybe Pass isn’t sending the right message at this juncture. Maybe anything would be better than Pass. I say The Blue Lagoon. When I hear myself say The Blue Lagoon I regret that I didn’t say Pass.

After a while the nun says, Pather Panchali. I say, Pather Panchali? and the nun says, Uh-huh, Satyajit Ray’s directorial debut.

Shit! I know the name Satyajit Ray. I just haven’t seen anything by Satyajit Ray.

The nun adds, With a score by Ravi Shankar.

Shit. I shut my eyes and imagine the Puerto Rican farmer coming along and lifting up the bull’s chin, away from a stalk of seaweed, a super-long stalk, all stretched out and drying in the sun. And the Puerto Rican farmer says, Filiberto! You crazy excuse for a bull. You’re nothing but trouble, breaking down the gate and wandering all the way down here. And now look, are you getting into the seaweed again? Don’t you remember what happened the last time you got into the seaweed? What am I going to do about you, Filiberto?

And the bull tugs free its chin, and noses the stalk of seaweed, thinking, A stalk of seaweed such as this one certainly does resemble a bullwhip. You could take a stalk of seaweed such as this one and make a bullwhip out of it. It has a nice fat handle and it tapers to a nice smooth end. It would be a sensible and humane bullwhip, as opposed to a bullwhip made from the very animal it’s designed to whip.

*

The nun is floating on her back, but she can’t float on her back for more than about a minute at a time. Floating on her back is hard for her. Maybe because it’s hard, she doesn’t want to just float, waiting. It’s my turn but she says, Cria Cuervos?

When I don’t answer, again she doesn’t wait but says, The Spirit of the Beehive?

And then, Johnny Tough? Then she says, Johnny Tough isn’t really fair. Almost no one has seen Johnny Tough.

I haven’t seen Johnny Tough. I’ve never heard of Johnny Tough.

I shut my eyes and imagine the nun watching the bull, the nun treading water again, and thinking, What a difficult life you must lead, Filiberto. You’re a living being and at the same time a possession, a belonging. Someone paid good money for you, or if not for you, for your mother or father, or maybe both, or possibly their mothers or fathers. You’re property and yet you have a mind of your own, and wishes, and quirks. I completely understand that you would want to get away on occasion to mull over your predicament.

The nun is also thinking, Sometimes a belonging that causes problems can create suffering for us.

And the bull is standing in the shade, the shade cast by the treeline, and thinking, I do like this beach. Hardly anyone ever comes here. I probably come here more than anyone else. It’s my beach, kind of. I’m pretty much left alone here to do as I please. The whole deal works out very well. The beach is just around the corner. The beach is in my back yard, basically. I have a beach in my back yard that’s everything you could ask for in a beach. I wouldn’t change a thing about this beach. I wouldn’t change a thing about the river, either.

About the Author:

Fortunato Salazar lives in Los Angeles.

About the Artist:

Dave Reale graduated from Arcadia University with a degree in English. Originally from Philadelphia, he now has set up temporarily in New Orleans to paint.