Sited in smoky darkness was his blue-black shape that slapped hand against sediment and squirmed like the seep from the last adventure at the end of the world. Blackened remains of tires shielded the ridge behind where we pressed our ears into the limestone to hear the cave’s blowhole speak. Glass waves against chalk. What do you think is down there? he said.
Leprotic ladders. Detroit’s broken bones. I don’t know.
Might be nothing but runoff. We’re clearly not pioneers.
We don’t even have a way to get down there and look.
He stood up and took off his coat and draped it at the edge of the tire-lined ridge. He wriggled over it onto the ridge and snapped off a buckbrush branch and turned and looked back down at the ocean beyond the blowhole. Feet in a weak nest of loam and peat. We can at least see how far down it goes, he said.
See with what?
I’ve got a lighter. We’ll figure it out.
He bent and got a grip on the edge of the ridge and vaulted back down. I tried not to look worried. I pushed myself up and rolled over and sat up looking down into the empty yet noisy skylight. Sour scent with boiling honey. He fished that little steel box out of his coat pocket and tore an arm off of the buckbrush and lit it and dropped it into the darkness. A soft whoosh that snuffed itself out before the branch hit water. Fuck it, he said. He threw the rest of the plant over his shoulder and sat down. I rested a gloved hand on his leg and drew circles in the silt with a free hand. He opened Twitter on his phone to type for a few brittle claps of the glass waves until he closed his eyes. Then he opened them. Tell me again what you thought was down there, he said.
Say that in a different way.
Because ladders don’t get infected by bacteria. And leprosy doesn’t always mean a limb will fall off.
I thought it was a loving description. A ladder missing a few steps, I said.
There you go. Leprotic ladders. Keep on describing things like that and you’ll be a shit writer all your life. This is a natural structure that fucking whales modeled themselves by. Nothing diseased about it. He wafted away the smoke and looked down. It seemed a long way. He stood and turned and made his way back to the ridge in a walking crouch where he slowly pulled himself up again and pushed a tire down. He slid down and when he did he spraddled over the tire in its flattened turkscap bed. Help me out with this, he said.
Only if you tell me how not to be a shit writer, I said.
We heaved the tire up and over our backs. Step five is delete, he said. Delete yourself and rewrite until you get to something doable. Hold your nose.
I did. What’s step one through four? I said. The tire slipped off our backs and kicked up a chalk cloud.
Do all the shit that’ll kill you. He flicked the top off the lighter and click-click-click-clicked it and lit the tire and kept it underfoot while still holding his nose as he made it disappear down the skylight blowhole.
We clambered to the mouth of the blowhole and held our hands at the lip as we watched and listened for what the tire lit on its fall. Sediment laddered down the gaping shale yawn. Even cadence of the tire as it tumbled and sparked against pioneer plants that hung as spittle. Small fire nearly covering rollicking pinprick of water as the tire left the other end of the blowhole to meet with the open cave below. Broken smack of charred rubber against water. We could almost see to the rear of the cave. All the shale walls saltbleached white with the ocean’s cave paintings. Finger of land held overturned canoe that smelled of someone else’s last adventure. Pearlescent searock island at the center of the cave. Human bodies floating at the rear. Sprawled in reverent postures. Shrunken in their rotted clothes. The tire was drawn out to sea leaving a pattern like the sunrise for just a moment. Country of death for one and cannonading incandescence for the other. Then all was dark again.