SEARCHING FOR CLEMENTE by SAM PRICE

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Boats raced to points determined by approximated impact point and the movement of surface currents. Divers moved off the boats, disappearing into the swallow of a splash.

A lit-up buoy marked Manny’s location among the dark waves. He’d been warned about sharks—Hell, it was the Caribbean—but stayed down, his underwater torch giving off enough light for him to go slowly along the reef.

He came upon an explosion of color. Fish in and out the pores. Knew there were other divers down here with him who were also seeing beauty instead of what they were looking for—a plane, three men, one of them Roberto.

A few hours before Manny had been in San Juan, calling in the new years. He hadn’t gone home to Panama that offseason because he’d been playing winter ball. Mostly working in the outfield, keeping his swing intact. Sure, right field was a sentimental place in Pittsburgh. The stadium lights seemed to shine a bit brighter on Roberto than the rest of them. Manny knew his place was behind the plate, but moving to the outfield would keep his knees fresh, maybe extend his career a few years.

When Manny had arrived at the island, he’d told Roberto, “You better be worried about me in right. I’ve been known to steal a job or two.”

“I hear there’s a left field in the San Juan league too,” Roberto said. “It ain’t like Panama. Down here we’ve got regulation fields. We’ve got all nine positions to play. Why not be realistic?”

In and among the strange, silent caverns of coral, Manny’s divelight caught parcels of endless ocean as Manny moved slickfinned and quick. He felt the rope around his waist tighten. Breath caught in his throat with fear and then he tugged the rope and whatever part of the sea that had snagged him let him free.

He’d told Roberto he’d go with him. Nicaragua wasn’t Panama but it wasn’t far either. People, poor people, had suffered in that earthquake. Earlier that night, though, he couldn’t find his car keys. Without them he couldn’t get to the airstrip. Without getting to the airstrip he missed the loading of the plane, the decision to keep piling supplies on, the short, disastrous flight.

Couldn’t he have started looking for his keys earlier, when he realized they weren’t on the bowl on his table? But he’d wanted to walk down the street to the local club to party, to let loose, have a few. He could’ve found his keys. Who wants to fly on New Year’s Eve while everyone else is drinking champagne and kissing their girls? Manny called Robbie, Robbie told him not to worry. He felt better, then.

When Manny surfaced, he found the other divers talking about the pilot’s body, which was being taken to shore on one of the other vessels. Manny climbed in the boat. His wet suit clammed onto his body. The night sky kind of stretched about into the black water. All there was was darkness.

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About the Author: Sam Price lives in Philadelphia, PA. You can find him @sam_w_price.

Story Song: “Attached to Us Like Butcher Wrap” by Julie Byrne

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone