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'TITANIC VICTIM SPEAKS THROUGH WATERBED"/Robert Olen Butler THIS IS A BIT of a puzzle, really. A certain thrashing about overhead . Swimmers with nowhere to go, I fear, though I don't recognize this body of water. I've grown quite used to this existence I now have. Tm fully conscious that Tm dead. And yet not so, somehow. I drift and drift, and I am that Ui which I drift, though what that is now, precisely, is unclear to me. There was darkness at first, and I failed to understand. But then I rose as some faint current from the depths of the North Atlantic and there were others around me, the corporeal creatures of the sea whom I had hitherto known strictly on fine china and dressed lightly in butter and lemon. I found that I was the very medium for the movement of their piscine limbs, and they seemed oblivious to my consciousness. In their ignorance, I could not even haunt them. But I understood, by then, of what my fundamental state consisted, something that had eluded the wisdom of Canterbury. Something for which I was unprepared. And after many years—I don't know how many, but it is clear to me that it is not an inconsiderable sum—there are still surprises awaiting me. This impulse now to shape words, for instance. And the thrashing above me, the agitation it brings upon me. I returned to the first-class smoking lounge soon after I realized what had happened with the ship. I sat in an overstuffed leather chair and then looked about for a dry match to light my cigar. But I was well aware of what was going on out in the darkness beyond the window. Perhaps that accounts for the sUght betrayal of fear, something only I could notice, since on the surface I seemed to be in control: I sat down and reached for a match. But I sat down already fearing that the matches would be wet. I should have searched for the match and then sat down. But I sat. And then I looked about. And, of course, the room was quite dry. Just at arm's length was a silver-plate ashtray on the table with a sUver matchbox engraved with the flag of the White Star Line rising on a pedestal from its center. It was full of matches. I took one and struck it against the side of the box and it flared into life and I held it to my cigar and I thought, What a shame that this quite charming ashtray will be soon lost. My hand was steady. To anyone watching, it would seem I had never doubted that the matches in this The Missouri Review · 11 room were dry. Of course they were. At that hour the ship was beginning to settle Ulto the water, but only like a stout feUow standing in this very room after a long night of cards and feeling heavy in his lower limbs. It was, of course, impossible for water to be in this room as of yet. That would come only very near the end. But still I feared that the matches would already be spoilt. AU through that night, the fear was never physical. I didn't mind so much, in point of fact, giving up a Ufe in my body. The body was never a terribly interesting thing to me. Except perhaps to draw Ui the heavy curl of the smoke of my cigar, like a Hindu's rope in the market rising as if it were a thing aUve. One needs a body to smoke a good cigar. I took the first draw there in that room just below the fourth funnel of the largest ship in the world as it sat dead still, filling with the North Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night, and the smoke was a splendid thing. And as I did, I felt an issue ofperspiration on my forehead. This was not unpleasant, however. I sat with many a fine cigar on the verandah of my bungalow Ui Madras, and though one of the boys was always...


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