Taking time to gaze upon rainbows or sunsets or the likes was never very high on Jesse’s priority list. Today, however, was a different story. Any minute the sun would peek above the dark eastern horizon, and he could be no more eager – for it had been months since he’d seen the sun, let alone bask in the splendor of a sunrise. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder, he mused.
From several miles out on the Pacific Ocean, and standing on a catwalk suspended seventy-five feet above sea-level, the view would be spectacular. He visualized the image; the sun edging above the earth’s crust to beam pioneering rays across miles of ocean. The very thought brought him calm. As beautiful as he knew it would be, the pageantry took a back seat to the pleasure of warmth against his dark skin. Jesse shivered in the cool twilight, felt his anticipation rise…it wouldn’t be long now.
But he had work to do first. Several gears still needed to be lubricated and a few more solar panels needed to be polished. Five minutes, he figured, if he hustled. With birds no longer busying the skies at least he wouldn’t be slowed by having to scrape poo.
Turning back to continue his work, he slid on a gob of spilled lubricant. He flailed and grabbed a support stanchion to brace himself, but not before slamming his shin against the railing. He yelped and cursed, directing the invective at the railing for being so darn hard, and the algae based lube for being so darn slick. As much as it hurt, the railing prevented him from falling off the narrow catwalk and into the ocean below, or even worse, slamming into one of the slowly rotating wind turbines on the way down. He sighed, reached down and rubbed his shin.
The fall ripped his wet suit and gashed his skin. He inspected the wound. As he did he took note of the yellow shark POD strapped to his ankle just beneath the injury. The shark POD was designed to help prevent shark attack by emitting a low level electrical halo around the diver. He’d need it in short order for the dive back down to his home. Fortunately the shark POD was undamaged. The irony of blood right next to a device intended to repel sharks did not escape him.
Jesse tied a rag around his calf to stop the bleeding, grabbed the grease gun and picked up where he left off. As he worked, he reflected back to the most recent shark attack. It had taken place about a month ago, the details still fresh in his mind. There had been a handful of other attacks over the years, but only one other had been fatal – as this one had. This most recent incident had sent shockwaves through the community; the unease less a product of the carnage, than the discovery of the cause.
Parts of Ben Grimsley turned up in the waters around Pacifica soon after he’d gone missing. Along with his rebreather SCUBA gear, his head, right hand, and left leg had been discovered adrift in the kelp fields. Although discolored and festooned with little noshing critters, the remains had been intact, the shark POD still strapped around his leg.
The unit still worked, but curiously, had been switched off. Turning the unit off was a two step process, so it wasn’t likely that it had occurred as a result of the attack. Equally as peculiar, Grimsley had been out in the water during a fishing campaign, a time when the water was filled with bait, a time when everyone knew better than to be outside. The physical evidence, along with Grimsley’s well documented battle with depression had left little doubt as to motive. The diver had encouraged the attack, the injuries self inflicted.
It was suicide by shark.
The incident had affected Jesse deeply. Although not close friends, Jesse knew Ben. Living in such a small isolated community for such a long spell, he knew everybody, at least to some degree. But it was more than the fact that a man he knew had been killed in such a grisly fashion that had Jesse so troubled. It was because the depression Ben Grimsley fought was of the same origin as his – acute cabin fever.
Jesse took a deep breath, tasted salt and autumn in the fresh morning air. Postcard blue began diffusing through a bipolar sky. He moved to the next panel and picked up the pace, the time allotted him to sit in the sun was limited. The strict schedule had nothing to do with time-cards or clocks, but was in heed to a calling far more fundamental.
With daylight came danger.
“Yo Jess,” a voice suddenly came, wrestling him from his reverie. Jesse turned. It was Alberto Cruz, a friend and fellow worker assigned to the detail. Along with two other workers, Cruz was positioned on a parallel catwalk some thirty yard away. Throughout the wee hours Jesse had intentionally strayed to the outside edge of the massive alternative energy platform, distancing himself from the other workers. He wanted no distraction during his moment in the sun.
“What?” Jesse replied, shouting above the whirr of a hundred huge wind turbines.
“You playin’ hoop tonight?” Cruz shouted.
“I’ll be there.” Jesse nodded and flashed a thumbs up. He wasn’t sure if he’d be there, or not. Quite frankly, it was about the last thing on his mind. But he knew if he said no, or even maybe, Cruz would then inquire why, and then do everything in his power to change his mind. He might even decide to mosey over to do so. A great guy in general, Cruz was just wired a little tight, a five-foot six inch Latin tinderbox with raging A-D-D. And Jesse simply wasn’t of the mind to deal with that kind of energy, at least not at the moment. Because as he looked upon the last solar panel he just finished polishing, he saw the first cilia of sunlight stretch skyward in the reflection.
His assignment complete, Jesse shed his work shirt. He wanted nothing to come between him and virgin sunlight. Along with the shirt, he stowed his gear in the nearest watertight locker. He then paced to the edge of the ALEN platform, sat down and waited for the sun to rise fully. An unusually dark rain cloud came into view above the coastline a few degrees to the south, the only blight to an otherwise pristine sky. Fortunately it would not interfere with his view.
Like a striptease, the sun slowly disrobed from twilight. Ahhh…how magnificent. The arriving warmth was every bit as beautiful as the view. He felt his soul begin to thaw and his muscles melt like polar ice on a fevered planet. But despite the swell of harmony, it was difficult to silence his mind. He couldn’t help but dwell upon his ongoing dilemma. He just wasn’t sure he could live on under these conditions any longer. He sighed and closed his eyes, tried to back burner his thoughts.
Just as he started to drift off, he was startled by a sharp whistle.
“Yo Jess,” Cruz shouted, followed by another whistle.
Jesse stirred and slowly turned. Cruz and the others were heading down an open stairway, back to the ocean. It was time to leave. “On my way,” Jesse shouted and waved. Knowing it’d likely be a while till he got topside again, he took one last look at the sunrise. Wisps of sunlight now shimmered atop the vast Pacific Ocean. The distant horizon bisected the panorama, the California coastline like a thin magic marker separating earth and sky. Jesse found the view achingly exquisite, and only served to underscore his torment.
Jesse stood and checked his dive gear. Most of his equipment – tanks, mask, regulator, and fins – were still down below on the wet deck. Before moving off he reached down and removed the rag from his calf. The wound had stopped bleeding at least. He looked down at the shark POD. For an instant the notion of turning the unit off during the dive to Pacifica flashed through his mind, but he dismissed it. Sucking it up and continuing on another day had to be better than the alternative. Jesse Baines then thought of Ben Grimsley, and wondered.