You’ve paid a lot of money to get over the border, money you couldn’t really afford to spend, but what the heck. Family’s family, right? So you give your last piece of specie to the washed-out man in the black slouch hat and hope you’re okay to trust him. He doesn’t look very trustworthy, looks exactly the opposite, in fact, but trustworthy people don’t generally smuggle things, whether it’s alcohol or drugs or pieces of discarded humanity like you. Trustworthy-looking people sometimes hold up smugglers, though – you’ve heard a couple of stories in town about the holdup men who like to pose as border guards – stories that don’t exactly inspire you with confidence, but again, what else can you do? Family’s family, and your brother and his wife and your parents and your little niece are all living down south in the timber camps and they’ve been writing to you for months about how gorgeous the area is, and how life is there for the taking.
You’re about halfway through the Islands, just over the border, you and the man in the slouch hat and his partners and the two other contrabands that you aren’t talking to, since they look even dodgier than the man in the slouch hat, and it’s a black foggy night and you’re sucking that clammy, damp air into your lungs and trying to feel the future that’s in it. You’re not sure you can. A light comes knifing through the air, bright and sharp and other words that sound like blades, and the man in the slouch hat hisses, “Shit,” and suddenly you can taste the future. It’s warm and buttery and promising.
They pull the boat up next to a small island, a rock really, just a weathered dot of mountain that the birds nest in during the summer, and they make you get out onto it. Your fellow blackmarket goods don’t want to go, but the man in the slouch hat opens his hand to show them his gun and they go. You’re already sitting on the top, the rock sucking the heat out of your rear, looking for the dangerous light to come back. “We’ll be back as soon as we lose ’em, whoever they are,” says the man in the slouch hat. “One, two hours, tops.” You lose sight of his boat before he’s gone more than a hundred feet, the whole operation swallowed up by the Sound. The other two are lower down on the rock. You can hear them talking, and even if you can’t hear the words you don’t like the tone. One of them laughs, and the sound of it comes up to you and soaks into your bones like the fog.
You’re there for three days, beaten by the sea and the rain. When the man in the slouch hat finally comes back, he’s got his arm in a sling and his hat is gone. “Holy shit,” he says. “They’re still here. All of ’em! They’re all still here!” He’s balding, thin hair plastered to his scalp by the weather, and phenomenally ugly, but at the moment he’s beautiful, more beautiful than all your family put together or the mountains that you remember from your childhood. The other two are so weak they can barely stand, shaky from hunger, thirst, exposure, but you’re spry, you jump into the boat even before the man without the slouch hat calls out, water dark as the past snapping at your flying legs, the taste of the future sweet in your mouth, warm, summery, and secure.