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Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

The Rescue by Asya Graf

The man took off his white t-shirt, then removed what looked like a gold chain from around his neck. Balancing on one leg, then the other, he pulled off his white sneakers and lined them up on the wooden boardwalk. Lastly, he laid aside his cell phone, on which he had just been talking, vaulted over the railing, and jumped. We heard the thud of his body hitting the water and the shouts that followed. No one looked prepared to jump in, but everyone had their phones out, ready to call 911. If the police had cared to ask, I would’ve said he was in his thirties, black, thin and wiry, and here the semi-certainties would have ended.

We had been sitting on the strip of grass running down the middle of Christopher Street Pier. The sun was descending onto the rooftops of Jersey City, spilling a russet patina over our faces and the sheen on the water. A woman was lying near us face down on her towel, her bikini top untied. A pair of teenage girls sprawled on their backs, schoolbags serving as pillows, absorbed in their phones. A sunset tango class was in session at the end of the pier, and we could hear fragments of music, the poignant plaint of violin and bandoneon. Even though we had noticed the man’s careful undressing some way down the pier, neither of us thought to interrupt the halfhearted argument we were having until several beats after the jump. The man’s methodical actions had seemed scripted and distant, right down to the moment when he slipped beyond the railing, as though we’d seen it already, on Law & Order perhaps.

“He jumped,” you said and squinted into the light reflected off the water. You were still holding my hand but you let go absentmindedly, and at a really bad time, I thought.

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Resurfaces by Kelly Sullivan

Kelly Sullivan wrote this poem for an event in collaboration with Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess. See pictures and read more about it here.


OBJECT: Dead Bodies

BODY OF WATER: All Over


1989

That time at ten when the sunglasses, for which
you felt such pride, slide down your nose and hit
the slow movement of water in the bay, splash, twist,
descend. The way your father watched
and as he held your hand, he said oh no! in mock chagrin
so that — sunlit flash — you remember the day in the aquarium

when a man grabbed your hand and dragged
you across the darkened rooms, the starfish swirling
in kaleidoscopic knots and his hand wrenching
your shoulder as you resisted. You whimpered, yelled,
but nothing sounded in those underwater halls
as if you too were aquatic, mute as a fish, blowing your gills

open and closed, open and closed as schools of humans
parted the way. It was the man who stopped dead like vertigo,
dropped your hand and stood mouthing oh no oh no
I’m sorry, I thought you were mine
. Unrecognizable person
so unlike you, claiming to disclaim, mute mouth aghast,
his face distorted through the light-refracting water and glass. 

2015

Manatees, sea cows made light in the saltwater,
swim up the springs, the temperature always 70 degrees
summer or winter. To cool us in mid-July we enter
as the noon sun slips through moss-covered trees.
She holds the baby aloft. Her husband laughs, snaps photographs,
updates status, Instagram. But from here I wonder at their happiness,  

what comes if it is just display? At the state park we lowered carefully
into the tank. The sea cows swarmed against the glass designed
to give a view of feeding. Now we’re the one’s consigned
to enclosure, their bodies as landscape divided our periphery.
In afternoon humidity above a storm erupted with damning
force. Under the water’s boiling skin the manatees placidly swim. 

And sheltering in that submarine glass it resurfaces: it was your own father him
who put his hand in that girl’s hand and didn’t look and dragged
her through the galleries, brazen serpent, belligerent thug,
child-stealer, unable to recognize his own kin
by touch or scent, and after stood chagrined and apologized to her,
the girl, and not to you, alone, underwater, the unclaimed daughter.


I had intended to write a poem about all of the bodies that end up in the New York City waterways. I was thinking about the strange case of a man named White who murdered his roommate, named Black, in a homeless shelter in the Bronx. For a few days helicopters trolled the Hudson. Then I read that they had found White’s body, apparently the victim of suicide. But this exploration of drowned bodies turned into a litany of the things we submerge and that later emerge again, sometimes in a different form. --Kelly Sullivan


Kelly Sullivan’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Salmagundi, Poetry Ireland Review, Southword, and elsewhere. She published a novel, Winter Bayou, in Ireland in 2005. She teaches Irish literature at NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House. kellyesullivan.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Islands

 

At low tide on Easter Sunday we walk the donkeys

across an chois, the step, to Straw Island, the one time of the year

when new moon and sun converge to make the aquatic

almost terrestrial. The donkeys graze for three months

on marram grass and vetch, birth their foals, drink rain water left

in angled rocks except some years someone forgets

we’ve left them there and drought or storms or geography

constrict so they are half-starved, parched, and try their best

to swim. In 1974 we found their skeletons scattered across

the ground, dry as desert. An chois — the step — because

to step across from Inishmore to the island of straw rests in principle

on the fact that bodies in gravitational pull grow stronger

the closer they come together. And Easter an ancient celebration

of the rising year, when we shift our balance back to day.

Just a step between coming together or falling away.

 

 

This poem derives in large part from a beautiful passage in Tim Robinson’s Stones of Aran Pilgrimage in which he explains the gravitational forces underlying tidal movement, and the practice of taking donkeys out to graze on Straw Island off Inishmore, accessible by sandbar only at the lowest tide of the year. 

The Quiet Edge by Lauren Dockett

This piece is a part of WATERFRONTS, a series of personal essays engaging with the waterways of New York and/or Los Angeles, presented in collaboration with Trop.



Moving to the northern edge of Manhattan can be a lonely venture. The island’s tip is formed where the Harlem River pushes west into the Hudson, and in my first days living there, coming home felt like trekking into a metropolitan wilderness. Train lines sputtered out, the city’s streets gave way to an untidy landscape and big waterways, and wildlife that would normally be road kill in midtown squawked and scurried about.

I had lived in this part of town as a small child—it’s where my parents grew up—and moved back for the solace of family memory after a close friend threw herself out a Flatiron window. We were estranged when she died and the guilt stayed thick on me for a year afterward. I figured the farther uptown and into my own past I travelled, the farther I’d get from my shared past with her.

Though few friends found it novel enough to visit, I took comfort in being in a place where video stores and bars catering to seasoned drunks could cover the rent. The food was cheaper, there was a Dominican vibe and a counterweight of cologne in the cleaner air, and on days when the city felt like a prison, there was always a big river in the background that opened north to anti-urbanity.  

Shortly after moving I went out in the gloaming and perched on a rail at the quiet edge of Dyckman Pier. With the ruffling darkness of the Hudson below, I called my seventy-year-old father in Florida. He didn’t know anything about R.’s death when he said, first thing,

"You are standing on the spot where I saw my first dead body.”

“I’m surprised the cops didn’t shoo you off that day,” I said.

“Ah well, there was a crowd. Awful, though. They yanked her out of the water with poles and she skid onto the boat like a dead fish. And the things they said...”

“Like what?”

“They could carve her up and have her for lunch, for one.”

River corpses are almost always police cases. Homicides and suicides. My dad was eight when the naked, bloated body of a woman surfaced near a crescent of sand north of Dyckman Pier. He’d told me this before. He and his friends were chasing each other through the crumbling asphalt at the end of Dyckman Street when they saw a police boat anchored off shore.

Sixty years later, plenty of women still float up to the Hudson’s surface like broken mermaids. Two were found along Manhattan’s tip a couple of months apart last spring, one again here at the pier. Men appear too, especially in the warmer months, when the heated water reinvigorates decomposition and gives their sunken bodies a gaseous lift. But they mostly emerge with their clothes still on.

Dyckman Pier isn’t far from the George Washington Bridge, maybe twenty blocks north by foot, and the Hudson—part river, part tidal estuary—flows both ways. I turned toward the bridge’s lit towers and tried to see the woman my father saw not as a murder victim but as a jumper too, in control of her own fate, who aimed herself downtown so she could merge eternally with her city, and got swirled upstream.

Despite the ending, R. used to tell me she never felt better than she had when she first arrived in New York.

“Finally,” she would say, “a sense of belonging.”

But the city was no match for her collapsing life. She couldn’t make a job work. Her husband was divorcing her and living a few blocks away with someone younger. Her only real comfort was a sweet, white-haired dog with a panic disorder that wore kerchiefs soaked in lavender to calm him down. The two of them slept together every night on a big bed with red sheets.

Toward the end R. continued to cook lavishly for a shrinking circle of friends but she had begun to eat like a dancer, all cigarettes and watered-down coffee. In her beautiful apartment with the giant windows that looked out onto Gramercy’s water towers, she had a silver fridge big as a sci-fi movie set piece and just as empty. She kept no food, only flavorings: tiny cans of truffles or sprigs of sage in little plastic trays from upscale bodegas. I’d be sure to bring nuts on the train and open the bag on her counter between us and for a minute or two she’d eat, palming five at time and talking with her mouth full until she noticed the bag getting emptier and stopped.

R. asked me about suicide once. We were drinking and in our pajamas and I told her we owed it to those who loved us to hang on. After that I tried to take us to happy places. She’d want to scan the shelves at Chelsea Market without buying anything and I’d steer her toward the river and down to 10th Street where we could watch the sun go down on tough gay teenagers trading hats on the pier. But the river was never really her thing. She wanted the inner streets with their tall buildings huddling overhead like guardians, herding and containing us. Nature was less a respite from her problems than an opening for more painful contemplation.

She and I finally fell out on a busy street on the edge of Chinatown. Standing in the blaring light of an accessories store, its bins overstuffed with bedazzled hair combs, I insisted she pay attention to my problems. But she couldn’t do it. I remember turning from her with a tiny bag of barrettes swinging from my middle finger. I took my rage up Broadway, cursing the precedence of her depression.

When R.’s husband called, I knew she was dead. He held a memorial service for her in a sun-drenched loft near their apartment and stood her photo on an easel before a window as tall as any of us.

That night on Dyckman Pier, suspended over the Hudson with the darkness deepening and the phone growing hot in my hand, I wondered why I couldn’t stop imagining what R. must have looked like jumping. How in the beginning I’d thought of her crying and flailing as she fell but later I’d come to see her full of peaceful intention, her hair a floating fire and her face lifting to the sky. And then, as the months passed, how that dreamed-up image of her, quiet as a restful swimmer, had come to supplant so many of my real memories of her.

“So what do you think of the old neighborhood?” my father asked.

I shifted on the railing, hesitating, not wanting to talk about how untethered I still felt here. What I really wanted were more details about his dead woman, at least enough to give his ghost the power to overshadow mine for a little while. But I was afraid if we went there I’d spill about R., and I had no intention of being soothed, of having the ugliness of our estrangement plucked with parental certitude from the many reasons she was gone.

I told him instead about a fish, a sturgeon big as an arm that I’d just learned lived at the bottom of the Hudson. It had swum past Dyckman Pier since dinosaur days and endured a noxious last century by pointing itself low and dropping its jaw under the moting silt at the bottom of the river.

“In my day the river was no place for fish. It reeked of sewage,” my dad said.

Yes but this fish was indiscriminate, I told him. It vacuumed in everything: the sediments of fresh poison and rotted trash, but also the little shelled and crawling creatures whose skin mottled and glowed but didn’t disintegrate. They and the ancient sturgeon held on together until a dozen years ago when mussels striped like zebras loosed from the hulls of European container ships, multiplied on the river floor and became the sturgeon’s miracle—endless food; so constant that pulling one of the fish from the river now is like holding a fat, slick bag of castanets.

I let go of the railing to mime “castanets” to no one and ended up lurching forward. The black river rose up, rattling me, and it took a moment to quiet my breath.

“Are you alright?” my dad asked.

 “It’s OK, just a slip.”

“Jesus kid,” he said. “Hold on.”

 


Lauren Dockett left New York to teach journalism at the University of Hong Kong, where she had a view of the floating commerce on Victoria Harbor. She now lives near a creek in Washington, D.C. and is a print, online and radio journalist and an editor. She’s published a mix of fiction and nonfiction, including three books that have been translated into six languages. 

 

If You Look by Sarah Mostow


Sarah Mostow wrote and illustrated an artists’ book inspired by what lies beneath the surface of the river, and by her own personal history with the Hudson. Each page contains an original painting or drawing depicting such images as a dead giraffe, Henry Hudson’s ship the Half Moon, and a view of the River seen from Sarah’s childhood home.


Sarah Mostow is a painter, artist book maker and teaching artist living in Brooklyn.  She has presented solo exhibitions at Columbia Greene Community College (2006) and the Philmont Library (2011) in upstate New York, and participated in group shows at A.I.R., the Blue Mountain Gallery, and the Brooklyn Artists Gym.

You Will Not Find Her at the Bottom of the River on Whose Shores Your Life Has Been Squandered by David Hollander


Well then down you go.  Spiraling into darkness with the regulator hissing and the funk of the Hudson clinging to your suit like rime, the spotlight held at arm’s length and advancing its bad joke into a slurry of black mud and pollution, the bubbles racing from your mouth toward a theoretical surface as you penetrate deeper into that living darkness which cinctures the earth and makes a mockery of your personal ephemera, of the husband you no longer recognize, of the advanced degrees that belie your fecklessness, of the psychotropic prescriptions that mediate your pain, of her empty crib with its bone-white spindles, of the lewd smile of the young man at the dive shop, of the dappled morning sunlight outside your bedroom window and the ferocious joy it has occasionally instilled, of your fear of spiders and your fear of bridges and your fear of stained glass cathedrals—the darkness making a mockery of love.

Your heart punching at the wetsuit as you sink to the bottom of this urban river on whose shores your life has been squandered, this river which preserves that original conundrum from which the entire cosmology was birthed in an unfathomable instant of fire, pushed from some icy womb of Nothingness so as to spread out virus-like and then die its slow death.  The depth gauge glows green in the murk, fifty feet, then sixty and then yes, as promised, here is the oily bottom rising up to meet you and you lay your belly down in the earth’s black blood, indulging in the deep gulps of air you’ve been counseled against taking, your body hot and electric within the suit as if the neoprene enclosed only pulsing organs and circulatory twine.  You peer out across the riverbottom and down a corridor of visibility above which the particulate matter hovers like smoke in a housefire, then you kick hard once and glide out above the planet’s bottom where creatures deformed by metropolitan poisons live out their sorry half-witted lives.

You sail into a strange dreamscape, as if the Hudson were articulating the collective remembrances of those countless cadavers drifting through the roiling current, skeletons and zombies conjuring up a limbo of fantastic design: Here a freight train ten cars long, half buried in the mud yet still endowed with illusory motion by the visibly streaking current, the penumbral forms of phantom hobos slithering back within the enormous cargo boxes as your spotlight rotates.  Here an ice cream truck whose former delights are yet promoted on a side panel, Ice Cream Tastes Good!, alongside a grisly portfolio of the truck’s one-time wares, treats now betumored by bulbous mollusks that shrink eerily beneath the light.  Here a collection of ten-foot ivory worms attached—at their gaping mouths—to a wooden beam weighed to the bottom by a thick iron chain, the worms stretched taut and wavering like the stripes on some wind-stiffened flag and each thick as a thumb.

She can’t be that sick.  Just look at her. Oh but she was, goddamn you all, she was even sicker than that.

Here now a grand piano, squatting perfectly upright in the black mud and so you pause at the keys, adjust your buoyancy, one hand holding the light and the other reaching slowly through the water, fingers splayed to tap out the opening bars to Fur Elise, and though no sound issues forth you nevertheless hear the notes as played by your own mother whose warm smile and warm heart only served in the end to foster those illusions to which the river is antithetical.  You push gently back from the instrument and the keyboard’s perfect teeth seem to smile grotesquely and something silver flitters in your periphery, reminding you of your own alienness and of the demons that lie in wait for those who would search out angels here in the darkness of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered.

Here now an old muscle car, a painted eagle splayed across the hood and a small spiny fish behind the spiderwebbed windshield.  Here a formica dinette, several chairs upset in the mud as if an aggrieved family had only just departed, their accusations already regretted, their long-pent rage now spent on internecine resentment.

She can’t be that sick.  Look at her.  It’s impossible. Sleeping peacefully among a menagerie of stuffed animals whose dead eyes stared back at you with an absolute detachment that you would remember later, when she was in the tiny casket with her own eyes sewn shut but surely aghast beneath the tiny lids and you ran your hand over that dead face and found yourself unable to make the connection between this pale corpse and the little girl asleep in the white crib who could not be that sick just look at her it’s impossible and already there before the casket you were thinking of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered, because she had asked you from her hospital bed if this meant she wouldn’t get to go paddling with you, Mommy can I still go when I get better?, and even then you knew that you would make this one and only dive and that you would tell no one, not the doctor nor the university colleagues nor the husband you no longer recognized, down you’d go into darkness just as your own father had those many years ago and you had seen the man swim,Captain Tuna, his navy buddies had called him, and men like your father did not succumb to rivers though they might choose them.

And now the wreck of the Princess Anne, just as they’d promised at the dive tutorial, a 350-foot side-lying behemoth with an enormous iron smokestack embedded in the slime like the barrel of some doomsday weapon.  You peer into a cabin porthole half expecting an ulterior world to fashion itself from the ship’s debris, your breath hissing and the bubbles racing upward toward a surface you remember and long for and despise. What accompanies your exhalations and dissipates into this idiom impervious to language?  What will remain of you to drown?  And is she after all at the bottom of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered?  Is she here where the dream symbols incubate, where the dead are born and the living perish?  Is she here among the refuse of a city that never gave a goddamn about you, that inflicted its own tidal erosion upon your soft and ill-prepared heart, that wore away at your every desire before destroying the one thing it could not take by simple attrition?

Maybe you ought to have climbed our tallest remaining skyscraper instead, scanned the windows as they rushed past for some fleeting glimpse of her brown-blond hair.  Or you might have searched the expression of a subway conductor as you hovered before his brighlit onrushing cockpit in one last, enduring caesura, looked there for meaning or for forgiveness.  (The crunch of bones, the explosion of light and blood.)  Or you might have done what the others do and just endured, the way he was enduring, you might have lived with her ghost always just outside your periphery, always waiting for you to alight upon the secret spell that would drive the marrow back within her phantom bones so that she could again embrace your legs and giggle, and fall, and laugh with a joy that ripped your heart in two.

You push now within the hull-split wreck.  Ruptured plates and once-inhabited cubbies.  Horizontal movement through the ship’s vertical layers. You take enormous breaths.  Your thoughts race for the surface of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered.  Her tiny body on a tiny bed.  Tubes and wires.  Monitors with their bright peaks and valleys.  Her blood a poison to itself, her blood not unlike this dark river in whose downdraft you now coast.  Up there on earth there were people moving about, surefooted and unapologetic.  Up there they ate and drank, they laughed and made love, they suffered and died.  The river does not care.  You hear it now… Fur Elise… drifting toward you on a wave of pure light, an anti-oblivion that will preserve you—as if in amber—here at the bottom of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered.  You turn back toward the wreck’s sundered hull and you see the colors rush toward you, a many-hued brightness with the notes spinning visibly within the blinding quanta and the river now an empty channel through which this deadly beauty flows and you, down here, sorry at long last that nothing, not even this, will restore you to yourself.

The sleeping child in your arms, her warm breath on your neck, you turn to face the crib with its bone-white spindles and you suck in her smell and you hold it deep within your aching lungs and you do not exhale, you will choke on it, goddamn these goddamn people who never lost a thing.


David Hollander is the author of the novel L. I. E; his short fiction has appeared inMcSweeney’s, Post Road, Unsaid, Swink, and Best American Fantasy.

Wet Work by Ben Greenman


Water is not simply a beverage, not simply a medium in which to swim or shower, and it is one of the egregious errors of our thinking to limit the role of this miraculous substance based on function, and in doing so to deny its ability to define, energize, and sanctify our daily lives.

Jason Santorini, having made this point in an interview, elaborated upon it in his journal.

“We are hell-bent on thinking of water at something at the end of a hose, or the leavings of a faucet, or what the sky deposits when it is displeased, or what fish are wont to soil,” he wrote, “but we do not admit the degree to which it is our parents, grandparents, and stern uncle all rolled into one miraculous molecule, an atom of oxygen sentinelled by two of hydrogen, in the fashion in which a certain cartoon mouse’s head was sentinelled by his two ears.”

In fairness, Santorini had been institutionalized since 1982, the year before this entry was written, and before that he was better known as a surrealist painter than a rigorous thinker in science or philosophy.

All the same, though, Santorini was especially conversant with the magical properties of water prior to his hospitalization.

“Water is in us all,” he wrote in 1978, “if we are fruit.”

This remark was taken as a joke in the spirit of one of his paintings or, at best, a glib comment on the rumors of Santorini’s bisexuality, but it was also a form of prophecy.

Scant months after writing that sentence, he met Sylvia Benton.

Benton was an apple heiress—her grandfather had hybridized several varieties and found his way to a large green specimen he called the “fantasmo.”

His name was Sylvio Antonelli, though he later Americanized it to Sam Benton and made millions from his fantasmos and their cousins: the brillantes, the ancoras, the saporitas.

His son, Jefferson Benton, was a responsible businessman who perished in a seaplane crash just off the West Twenties in his late forties, the result of which was that his granddaughter, Sylvia Benton, inherited the apple fortune when she was nineteen.

“That’s lots of high heels, cocaine, and rock-and-roll records,” she told a magazine columnist, who had the good manners to add that she “threw back her head (and the coppery red hair that was overgrown on top of it) and laughed.”

At the time, Benton was a fashion model, one of the most famous in the nation.

She had begun modeling at sixteen, and developed a reputation as a wild child: there were countless stories of affairs with captains of industry, actors, even a U.S. Senator.

She did not admit to these rendezvous but she did not deny them either.

At 21, while attending a private party aboard a docked lightship owned by one of the actors with whom she had been romantically linked, she met Santorini, who had just celebrated his fortieth birthday and was at the height of his fame as a painter.

“I heard you were a handsome man,” she reportedly told him, “and you do nothing to disappoint.”

“I heard that you like handsome men,” he reportedly replied, “and if that is so, then neither of us is disappointed.”

“Unless you, too, like handsome men,” she reportedly said, “and then I will experience a different sort of disappointment.”

“I prefer a beautiful woman,” he said.

“Let me make a note in your file,” she said.

This bit of banter evidently impressed several others, as it has surfaced in no fewer than three memoirs, the titles of which will not be reprinted here in the interest of space.

Santorini and Benton had an immediate and powerful attraction to one another.

For years, she denied what he insisted from the first, that they had consummated their relationship in the bathroom of the lightship as it went past the spot where her father had met his final reward.

Santorini saw the sadness in the situation.

“Life is death, and both are only feathers,” he said, possibly not surreally.

He also saw the carnal comedy in it.

“If the ship is a rockin’,” he liked to say, “use it for camouflage,”

That remark was reprinted in numerous newspapers.

Eventually she admitted that they had repaired to the bathroom for this reason.

Over the next two years, Santorini and Benton were inseparable.

They were both known as ardent travelers, but during their relationship, they spent most of their time at her home in Jersey City and his in Tribeca.

He called her the “apple of his eye,” always doing so in a hearty rounded tone that appeared to be thick with irony but was probably entirely without it.

She called him “her brush with greatness” in much the same spirit.

His pet names for her included “ancora,” “brillante,” and “delicato.”

She had no known pet names for him.

The two of them were photographed extensively, largely as a result of her celebrity and beauty, though Santorini himself took a good picture—he was often told that he resembled a much shorter Robert Mitchum.

The paintings that Santorini made during the beginning of his relationship with Benton need not be remarked upon in great detail, as they have been shown in several retrospectives and reprinted in assorted modern art texts.

They were always of boats, or rather always of a single boat, the lightship on which the two of them met.

What varied was what was occurring on board the boat. Sometimes, Santorni painted love scenes.

Sometimes, he painted scenes of shipboard theatre.

Sometimes there were animals in attendance.

Sometimes there were trees growing up from the deck, though they were not for the most part apple trees.

Often, there was a line of text scrawled along the side of the boat, sometimes an aphorism, sometimes a question.

Santorini insisted that the boats were not the true subjects of his paintings.

“It is not the vessel but the water beneath it,” he wrote, “which contains all the power, hope, and mystery that the poor and insubstantial craft, the bandit boat, trades upon.”

Critics wrote admiringly of Santorini’s technical abilities, particularly the way in which he captured the complicated pattern of light and shadow along the boat’s waterline.

Always, there was a woman hidden somewhere in the corners of the frame, whether standing or crouching or leaning over the rail to the water, a young woman with a voluptuous figure and red hair: Benton.

Santorini never tired of talking about her.

He liked to say that the two of them had been fated to meet, that they shared an ancient bond as a result of their common ethnicity.

“She has a little Italian in her,” he liked to say, “and it’s often me.”

This remark, too, was reprinted in numerous newspapers.

Santorini also told the newspapers that he and Benton bathed together every evening, and that though the ritual began as a way of celebrating the fact that they met aboard a boat, it came to have much broader significance.

“Water is not simply a beverage, not simply a medium in which to swim or shower,” he said, “and it is one of the egregious errors of our thinking to limit the role of this miraculous substance based on function, and in doing so to deny its ability to define, energize, and sanctify our daily lives.”

This remark, being wordy, was printed only in one newspaper.

Santorini spoke of Benton so much so that the preoccupation further fueled the rumors of his bisexuality.

She continued to model.

He continued to paint.

Her stock rose.

In 1980, Benton was hailed as “the most beautiful face on the planet” by a national magazine.

Santorini clipped that article and saved it.

In 1981, it was said that “beauty was in her like water was in the ocean: on the surface but also at far more profound depths.”

He saved that as well.

He put the clippings in a file that he labeled “Mia donna saporita.”

In 1982, for reasons that have been discussed in detail elsewhere and will not be restated here in full—it is enough to say that they involved the arrest of a dealer, the death of a critic, and the rezoning of a downtown waterfront neighborhood—Santorini’s paintings began to fall out of favor.

He denied that these factors played a part in diminishing his reputation, and instead placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of a trio of young painters he dismissed as slavish imitators.

One painter in particular, a tall and strikingly pretty young man named James Fogue, executed a series of canvases which restaged Shakespearean scenes on cruise ships, and became the sensation of the season.

“A ripple,” Santorini wrote, “resulting from another idea dropped into a pond years ago.”

Fogue sought out Santorini and admitted that the elder man’s paintings were an influence on his work.

Santorini softened his attitude toward Fogue.

“An echo,” Santorini wrote, “can sometimes be louder and more distinct than the original noise, and though this is not the case here, it is not so preposterous to assume that it may one day be so.”

Santorini befriended Fogue and was frequently seen with him in public, further fueling the rumors of his bisexuality.

He confided to friends that he was spending time with Fogue out of fear that Benton’s interest in him was cooling as his star fell.

“What could she possibly want with a dried-up old thing?” he wrote in his journal.

He drank heavily and doodled images of himself crucified, with Benton turning away triumphantly.

He began to add these doodles to his “Mia Donna Saporita” file.

For some reason, the magazine statement likening Benton’s beauty to the water in the ocean obsessed him.

He made copies of it and then, beneath the text, added doodles of her in which her hair, streaming behind her head, was drawn as waves.

Santorini did not show Benton the contents of his file.

He told her that he was writing poems about her.

He spent many nights drinking with Fogue.

He told friends he was drowning in despair.

“I know that she loves me, and know that as a result I cannot look at her directly without seeing the disappointment in her eyes,” he wrote in his journal.

In that same entry, Santorini declared that he was planning on rededicating himself to his relationship with Benton, and even expressed an interest in having a child with her.

“If we manage to combine her looks and her brains,” he wrote, “that child would have a chance to be something in this world.”

A few days after writing that entry, Santorini had a public falling-out with Fogue.

One man threw a glass of water at the other man, who returned fire with a glass of scotch.

Santorini stormed out of the bar and returned home.

“Upon reflection,” he wrote, “he was no more than a ripple resulting from another idea dropped into a pond years ago.”

Just before the holidays, Santorini and Benton were invited to another event on the lightship on which they had met.

The boat took the same course as it had previously.

Fogue was in attendance but kept his distance.

Santorini and Benton squabbled.

Santorini told Benton that he did not trust that she would stay with him and Benton admitted that she had thought of leaving.

Santorini was drinking heavily.

He noticed that Benton was not drinking and accused her of being pregnant.

She did not deny the accusation but did not confirm it.

“If you are, it’s not mine,” he said.

He waved his hands around.

“Affection has been alienated since before the summer,” he said.

She tried to walk away.

“I have to use the restroom,” she said.

“I know how you use it,” he said.

She did not answer and began to walk away.

“You are rotten to the core,” he said, and followed her.

The specifics of this argument are not in dispute as it has been entered into the record.

On the way to the restroom, Benton went off the side of the boat.

The boat was very near the spot where Benton’s father’s plane had gone down.

No one witnessed the events other than Santorini.

He did not report her as missing.

He slumped down in a chair.

Fogue came to talk to him but Santorini would not respond.

Another passenger, not Fogue, said that Santorini looked sick.

When the boat docked, Benton’s assistant, who had come to meet her, noticed her absence.

The ship’s staff established that she was not on board.

Police searched the river for Benton.

They found her body the next morning.

She had a bump on her head that was inconclusive.

Santorini surrendered to authorities.

“I did not push her, but I wanted to,” he said, “and that is crime enough.”

An autopsy confirmed that Benton was pregnant, and that the child was Santorini’s.

Santorini was never charged in connection with Benton’s death.

Over the course of the next year, Santorini had a series of nervous breakdowns that left him unable to care for himself.

On the anniversary of Benton’s appearance, Santorini was placed in a psychiatric facility.

The hospital building overlooked the Hudson.

Santorini frequently reported seeing seaplanes flying too close to the hospital.

He imagined that he had visitors, including Benton and Fogue.

Nurses bathed Santorini twice a week.

He could not bear to bathe alone and said so.

Every day at lunchtime, he set a fantasmo apple in front of him and took a single bite.

He saved the remainder of the apple and asked his nurses to cast them into the bay.

For the most part, they threw them away in a garbage can behind the nurses’ station.

Every once in a while, a nurse would experience a pang of pity and let Santorini watch as she walked out to the water’s edge and threw the apple into the river.

He asked the nurses who walked to the bay for him if they had seen the seaplanes.

Some of them patted his hand and told him that they had.

His daily lunch ritual included, along with the apple, a single glass of salt water.

He made it himself by shaking salt into the glass of water that the hospital provided for him.

He told the doctors that he was priming the pump of his tears.

They made a note in his file.


Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction, including SuperbadA Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both, and the recent novel The Slippage. He lives in Brooklyn.