the only haole kid in sight. He was standing in the middle
of a tidal channel between the lagoon and the brimless
Pacific. They called it Drifterís Reef, but there was no
reef out here, just restless green water. He wondered what
the Japanese called it when they built the bombed-out
causeway he was standing on.
causeway was made of huge slabs of concrete, stood on edge
and bolted together. Narrow gaps a few inches wide separated
the slabs. These gaps were filled with water and life.
Little day-glo fish swam in the one beneath his feet. He
crouched down to get a better look at them. Mike came over
and crouched down next to him.
neat, yah?" the Japanese-Filipino boy said. "Big schools in
da little cracks."
wasnít short for Michael. It was short for Microphone. His
father, the air traffic controller, named his first son
after the piece of equipment that took him out of the slums
It actually said "Microphone" on his birth certificate.
boy thought about that while he watched the fish. His
name is Microphone. The two boys squatted and the little
violet and scarlet and electric-orange fish swim beneath
one," Mike said.
finger stretched toward a tiny, pale green fish.
Eat it, you die fast."
boy glanced at Mikeís dark face to see if it was a lie. He
couldnít tell. He looked back at the little fish, but it was
would I eat it?"
you get hungry."
to his feet and wandered off down the causeway. The haole
boy watched the psychedelic schools of tiny fish for a
moment longer, then rose and followed his new friend. They
stood at the end of the pitted concrete roadway, where an
American bomb had neatly severed it. He looked down at his
feet for a moment, at the glass-green water surging past,
then followed Mikeís gaze up to some older boys on the
wooden bridge that paralleled the causeway.
them was outside the railing, holding himself up with his
arms behind his back. He and the five boys behind him were
all peering thirty feet down to the water below.
he doing?" the haole boy asked.
ride a ray," Mike said.
He had no
idea what Mike meant. Then there was hollering above him,
and the boy outside the railing let go and dropped into a
dive. The other boys cheered when something happened
underwater. Then they fell silent, and what seemed like
minutes went by. He thought the boy underwater must surely
be drowned. What seemed like more minutes passed. Just as
panic started to rise in his throat, the older boy burst out
of the sea forty feet away, his fist in the air, yelling
on," Mike said, and they went up on the bridge.
* * *
bridge was made of heavy timbers treated with creosote.
Traffic was almost nonexistent and slow moving. Rusted cars
and trucks, ragged holes in their sheet metal eaten by the
salty ocean air, rumbled across it at a few miles an hour.
on the low, thick guardrail and watched the manta rays pass
underneath. They were big, silent, slow-motion bats easing
from the lagoon out into the deep water, riding the current
like hawks on an updraft. He was transfixed.
the older boys was Connor Delima, the eldest Delima boy. It
was his turn outside the railing. He dove out and dropped
into the water, grabbed a ray that looked eight feet wide,
and disappeared when it banked down at a sharp angle.
let go," someone said.
waited. And waited.
let go," someone else said.
waited some more. The haole boy stopped breathing. Far too
much time passed. The haole boy had to start breathing
Connor bobbed to the surface what looked like a quarter mile
away, almost where the water started to churn as it headed
into the open ocean. He yelped once and waved, then went
into a crawl and made his way over to the slow water behind
the remains of the causeway. A few moments later he
scrambled up on the concrete and put his fist in the air.
shoulda let go," someone said. "He coulda drown out dere."
the second eldest Delima, went down to meet his brother. The
others waited. The haole boy tapped Mike on the shoulder.
do that?" he said.
shook his head.
enough yet. Not allowed till you thirteen."
turned back to watch the Delima boys approaching each other
along the shore.
boys wonít let you till you old enough," he said. "Keeps it
about it seemed safe to the haole boy, and he liked that. He
looked down into the water and imagined what it would feel
like to ride a big black manta ray, dropping from the bridge
into the water, grabbing the strange flat fish, zooming out
into the cool green current.
* * *
still daydreaming when the two eldest Delima boys came back
onto the bridge.
rays?" Connor said.
of voices brought the haole boy back to the present. Connor
sat down on the railing and Joseph sat next to him. A breeze
came up and rustled their hair. Little wisps danced on seven
dark heads and on one blond one.
looks like fun," the haole boy said. "Iíd like to try it."
dark heads turned in his direction. Connor broke into a
grin. His square white teeth looked like enameled tiles.
would, yah? How old you?"
boy looked around. Only Connor was smiling.
more years," he said, and looked away.
whispered, Told you, in his ear. Connor turned back
and his grin was gone.
play get da can?"
boy hesitated, then shook his head. He didnít understand
what the older boy meant. Connor stood up.
on," he said.
* * *
younger boys followed Connor and Joseph off the bridge. The
haole boy asked Mike what was going on.
play get da can."
can in da wata, wait till it sink, go get it."
boyís heart skipped a beat. Connor and Joseph led them out
onto the causeway.
boy stopped and turned.
a can?" Joseph asked.
smiled, then pointed at the water on the up-current side of
the causeway, where it slowed and pressed against the pitted
concrete. He went about ten paces further and dove in. About
forty seconds later he came to the surface and tossed a
rusted Coke can to his brother.
made a rattling, crunching sound. Joseph tilted it to let
the water drain and a coral pebble tumbled out. He decreased
the angle to keep the other stones from following.
got back up on the concrete and turned to the haole boy.
rules. I toss da can in da wata, over here where currentís
not so bad. When bubbles stop, you go get it. Easy, yah?"
boy looked at the water.
deep. Thirty, forty feet."
stepped over and stood next to the haole boy. He handed the
can to Connor.
about twenty-five feet, maybe a little more," Joseph said.
"Connor just wants to scare you."
in complete sentences and without the pidgin accent. The
haole boy looked up at Joseph and studied his face. The
non-haole kids spoke that way when they wanted to make him
feel better. He almost smiled, then looked back down at the
Twenty-five feet, maybe more. Twice as deep as the deepest
swimming pool he had ever been in. And full of living things
he had never seen the likes of. And with a steady current
pushing against the causeway, sucking every loose thing out
into the ocean.
he said. "Thatís simple."
grinned at him again, flashed his little rows of bright
you wait till the bubbles stop?" the haole boy asked.
canít follow íem down," Joseph answered.
donít you fill the can with water so it doesnít leave any
looked at his brother.
thinks of everything."
grinned again. Joseph explained.
water in it, the can goes straight down. Itís too easy to
find. Air makes it skip around a little, because it floats
some. It doesnít go straight down."
he said. "Makes sense."
into the water.
me to go first?" Joseph asked.
boy glanced up at him, then looked at Connorís blank face.
He turned back to Joseph.
patted the haole boyís shoulder, then took a few steps away
and stood near his older brother. Connor spoke to the haole
say go, okay?"
boy was staring into the water again.
boy snapped his head around.
flipped the Coke can into the water. The haole boy moved to
the edge of the concrete and stood in a slight crouch. Eight
boys waited in silence, eyes on the small stream of bubbles.
They fizzled and stopped. A moment passed.
* * *
boy jumped almost straight up, and dove almost straight
down. He went about five feet under without a stroke. Down
below him, the can had tilted slightly, and a last few
bubbles had slipped out. He saw the little flashes of silver
emerge from the opaque layer below and he swam toward them.
grew colder and greener and his chest felt heavy. He saw
dark forms swimming away from him, nothing too big, probably
the outer fringes of a school of mullet. He couldnít help
hoping that a ray would come along and he could grab a ride.
silver flash, below and a little to his left, and he changed
course. Then he could see a glimpse of red, and he swam
toward that. He lost it in the murk, but kept going and it
the Coke can standing upright on a seaweed-covered block of
concrete from the bombed-out causeway. The concrete chunk
was about the size and shape of a steamer trunk. The seaweed
billowed in the current, tendrils about three feet long
rising up around the can. His heart throbbed as he swam
close and reached in among the waving fronds, clutched the
can, and turned to the surface.
when he saw it, high above him, a rippling greenish-silver
ceiling. It looked too far away, too far to go. He watched
it shimmer and undulate like spilled mercury, and somehow it
came closer and grew softer.
wondered if Mike and Joseph were worried he would drown.
Part of him wanted to stay down there, watching the surface
shimmer and ripple, and wait to see how long it would take
before someone came in after him.
He let a
few bubbles slide out of his mouth and watched them wobble
and rise. Then he gave a sharp kick and let the big bubble
in his chest carry him upward. The rusted can felt perfect
in his tight little hand.
Al Sim turned eight on Wake Island, a coral
atoll 1,800 miles west of Hawaii.
Can won the 2001 Glimmer Train Stories Very Short Fiction
Award. His stories have appeared in a number of
publications, including Thin Air, Crab Creek
Review, and Red Cedar Review. Stories are
forthcoming in the Raven Chronicles and the
© Al Sim, all rights reserved