We were on the ocean liner to Greece. I looked up from my book, Admiral Lord Nelson’s How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and across the deck saw an astonishing young lady playing at bocce. “My god,” I said to Hayes Quigley, my constant companion on these jaunts, “tell me, old boy—is that the most exquisite creature you’ve ever seen?”
Hayes squinted. Instead of following the discreet motions of my head in the direction of the astonisher, he misinterpreted my ballistics badly and ended up sighting a largish tentacle creeping over the bow. A pallid thing, purple and translucent, feeling its way over the edge. Hayes said later that this viscous limb was on the order of something you might find in a soup served at one of these less reputable eateries down Hover Street when, after a brisk several in the club, you find an ache in the pit of the belly, realize you feel rather like the whale sans Jonah, and begin to lust after foreign gods and exotic fare, curries, biryanis, and the rest. The appendage did not wander lonely for long but was joined by a host of fellows. Hayes was not impressed.
“I have to say, young trash,” he said to me, lips a-curl, “your tastes have always run a bit strange from my vantage, and I can’t say that I agree much in this instance. Most men feel a strong inclination to the pink glow of health, where you appear drawn towards the lightless regions of the deep. It’s not the siren song of a mermaid catches your ear, but the loathsome clicking of a mollusk’s beak. Well, she’s all yours, old fish.”
I turned to him. I wondered at him, jaw declined more than a little chestward. I knew how Moses felt, coming down the mountain, witness of the divine, face-shining, only to meet old Jethro or Boaz or Tubal-cain or whichever, and hear that it’s all well and good to feel a bit of awe after gazing on the numinous, but it’s not exactly cricket to go clumping around in a distracted state with a face like a dancehall marquee in Piccadilly. But I could not dally at these meditations for long. A quick movement drew the eye and Hayes and I both saw the tentacle from earlier in full career, darting towards none other than the bocce-playing incarnation of the divine light. I mean that virus of a girl, cause of my fever, naturally.
Hayes clutched at my arm, but missed. The tentacle clutched at the girl and got her, I’m sorry to say. It was the work of a moment and she was whisked quite away, hid beneath the veil of the shadowy deep, never again to feel the caressing light of a benevolent sun and all that.
Hayes and I looked at each other, as we well might after such a display. Slowly, my knit brow disentangled itself, as I moved from shock to amusement.
“Oh,” I said. “You thought I . . .”
A gasping chuckle trickled forth from Hayes. “Oh, my lord,” he said. “Too funny.” We shook our heads and both turned back to our reading.