Coastin’

“Look up,” Tuan said. “Smile and wave.”

Which was the opposite of what MeiMei had been doing. But she lifted her head to look at the hovering helicopter, so close its downwash was ruffling the water on the off side of Tuan’s kayak. Gave them the beauty pageant smile and window-wiper wave she hadn’t used since she was Miss Academic in the Miss International District contest her sophomore year. The chopper bobbed in what might have been a return salutation, and moved down the coast, perhaps seeking more smiles, waves and cleavage shots from tourists frolicking in front of the big hotels.

“When you’re hiding, it seems like everybody is after you,” Tuan said. “So you end up acting like somebody they’re looking for.”

MeiMei continued to paddle in the oddly lilting rhythm she’d picked up and honed during the hours of skimming across the dark waters of the Bay. Interrupted by two repetitions of the turtle/dolphin gambit. With the coming of daylight, they’d hugged close to the hotel zone, blending in with the swimmers and players with other expensive water toys. MeiMei had so far exchanged waves with three jetskiers, two paddle boats, several other kayaks, and some weird thing that looked like a lunar lander tricycle with big fishing floats for wheels.

“You seem to have some experience in this whole fugitive thing,” she said to Tuan over her shoulder. “Is there a one-armed man in your life?”

“Just one more example of generalism,” he replied. “And of course I’ve been a fugitive from the laws of thermodynamics for years.”

“On the lam from the Entropy Cops?”

“As are we all. In the end they corner you when you’re too feeble or stupid and unlucky and these withered old people, or splattered stiffs take you in hand and lead you back to justice. Or at least homeostasis.”

MeiMei laughed. It was kind of fun carrying on conversations with a man she couldn’t see. With Tuan seated behind her, matching her waterbug paddle strokes like some sort of Chinese sync teamster, she didn’t have to maintain eye contact, didn’t have to make appropriate facial expressions, could just talk and listen to his fascinating line of gab. It’s like the internet, she thought: pure expression with no meat involved.

She glanced down to see if the sun was getting to her skin yet. They hadn’t exactly had time to apply emollients while fleeing the forces of justice, homeostasis and rape/murder/artifact theft. Not to worry, her arms already had some tan and she was catching some shade from the brim of the big ugly cloth hat Tuan had given her. The hat that could be twisted down into some mobius disk that sprang out into a hat because it had a wire sewed around the brim. Perfect topper for a generalist/inventor/geek. And her neck was protected by the bright yellow T-shirt stuffed under the hat, but draped around her shoulders. Covering her hair, was the main point there. At last, she had thought, I’m a sought-after blonde. Fortunately the arrangement of the T-shirt didn’t show it’s logo, A geek on a beach sporting a huge bulge in his trunks, a bevy of adoring mammaries, and the legend, “Girls Love A Guy With a BIG JOHNSON.”

It figured to be a long day, after a long night. She was starting to get lost, she felt: her life cut down to the chase.

“Tuan, will I have a life after this insane goose-chase?” She asked over her shoulder as he did a little something with his stroke to guide them around a gleaming Donzi anchored in front of the Ritz Carlton. It had no visible passengers but was rocking in a staccato rhythm that, taking into consideration various sound effects being emitred on board, suggested that somebody was getting shtupped in the scuppers.

“Did you have one before?”

More or less, she thought. Unless you consider “life” to include a circle of friends, sex within the last year or so, romantic moments, maybe even kids and dogs and that whole bit. But hey, that’s life. “Well, I had a career, anyway.”

“Been there, done that. I get so much more work done since I retired. But yeah, we’re going to get you out of this mess and back home.”

“But I’m washed up in the country I specialized in.”

“They say Cambodia is the new Mesoamerica. Architecturally speaking.”

“Oh, good. I’ll pick up some Khmer or whatever and head right over.”

“Look, you don’t know how this is going to play out. That guy could get shot by a narco cartel tomorrow. Or his yacht blow up. Or he gets caught on camera and extradited to a U.S. prison for something totally unrelated. It happens.”

She rather liked the exploding yacht angle. Bet Aphra could hook that up in a jiffy. Figure out a way to get that pilfered museum off first. For about the tenth time, she felt an almost sexual yen to catalog that collection. “And aren’t they overdue for another revolution or coup or something? But I guess it’s one of those ‘one step at a time’ things.”

“One stroke at a time, anyway. Exactly what I was going to suggest. The future looms less when you focus your awareness in the present. Look at this: we’re paddling along in wonderful limpid water, with a great view. Those teeming idiots over there are all paying big bucks to be here, fifty pesos an hour for kayaks. Wait until we get past the buildup, down into the biosphere reserve. It’s breath-takingly beautiful.”

“You’re right. And thanks. Be here now, right?”

“Once you start seeing time as relative, it’s a quick step over to it being illusory. Increasingly I’m starting to view the physical world in exactly the same terms I heard from this old Sufi master in Iran twenty years ago. The world is made out of attention.”

“What did he mean by ‘attention’?”

“Exactly what I asked him. And he said, ‘Attention means attention’.”

“Was he a drill sergeant? I guess that’s too deep for me. Or mystic or cryptic or deficit spanned or something.”

“Don’t make me show you the equations.”

“Any fate but that.”

“This whole thing started because you wanted to find out what’s beyond the end of the world, right?”

“World according to a stone calendar by a vanished civilization, anyway.”

“Okay, you look around and see the world. Close your eyes and you see a lot less. Get really focused and you see more, more detail revealed as you pay closer attention. Now you go to sleep. What happened to your world?”

“It stepped out for lunch with the light in the refrigerator. So this is one of those subjective/objective things?”

“That’s a distinction that’s been falling apart ever since Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.”

“You sound pretty sure of that.”

“Absolutely certain.” He smiled happily, watching her flex and reflex in front of him, her flawless cocoa skin glistening slightly from the heat of the sun. Fun lam companion, he thought. And feeds me straight lines: I like that in a woman. “So what are you paying attention to while you’re asleep?”

“I don’t have dreams,” she said. Then quickly added, “I mean, I don’t remember them if I do.”

“So what’s the difference, then? Somebody watches a needle plotting a graph of your brain rhythms and clocks your eye movement and concludes you’re in there swinging aboard a pirate ship full of clowns and naked schoolteachers, but just don’t know it.”

“Yeah, I guess. I have trouble with the Deepak Chapra view of physics, but I can see it about time, I guess. We kind of made time up ourselves, didn’t we?”

“We didn’t make up days and years, but hours and minutes are completely artificial. But I guess I’m saying something like, let’s say you’re drifting down into sleep. Your view of material things is fading out, sounds are dropping off into silence, your speech ability is going to nothing, maybe you’re talking nonsense to yourself. Thoughts slowing and winking out. All your charts of the world are crashing down to the zero ordinate. Where’s the zero point, your end of time?”

She thought about that for awhile, then stopped thinking about it. She took his advice and drank in the scenery, the pleasure of the slick knifing motion of their boat, the calming rhythm of paddling; like a physical mantra moving forward by means of the rotary swing of paddles. Her arms pulling the paddle around the air/water like a geometric cone, an hourglass of movement with it’s center directly in front of her solar plexus. This is now, that’s then, she thought.

After about ten minutes Tuan spoke again. “Once we’re south of the airport we’ll put into a little mangrove hole I spotted once. Eat, get some sleep. I think we’ll take the next leg of this little jaunt by night.”

“Works for me,” she said. “Day, night, what the hell? Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”

Tuan feigned a disapproving tsk. “Just row, row your boat.”

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