Home » ‘Under the Wave at Waimea,’ by Paul Theroux: An Excerpt

‘Under the Wave at Waimea,’ by Paul Theroux: An Excerpt

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He stirred; he seemed to know, hyperalert in his nakedness, that he was being observed — and perhaps felt her warm breath on him. Then he turned over and saw that she was wide awake, hovering; he kissed her, embraced her, her small warm breasts fitting his hands.

Sharkey loved to sleep, because his sleep, like the saturation of a drug, was so much like drifting in the ocean, toppling and bobbing like flotsam, and he was, as they said in Hawaii, a waterman, the Shark.

In his house in the woods, on a bluff above the sea, he lay buoyant in sleep, levitated in noiseless night and darkness. There he hovered, tremulous with the ripple in his sinuses of small snores—hours of that, until in the aqueous shallows of slumber the day got into his dreams. Someone must have mentioned surfing while stoned or asked him if the story was true, or repeated it to him — of his eating mushrooms and paddling into the surf at Waimea in the dark, and the rest of it, swimming on his board out to sea for safety and ending up thrashing ashore beyond Pipeline, the old tale haunting him in his dreams.

He was so expert a big-wave surfer that stories like that — his own fictions, the wilder exaggerations of others that were attributed to him — added to his fame and made him a legend. His admirers were the most inventive, eager to improve upon their hero.

The dispute in his dream unsettled him, because there were always doubters. But he smiled when he woke from it, because he was so young in his dreams and, awake, he knew he was sixty-two. And at once he was aware of Olive’s warmth and her nakedness, and he turned over and slid toward her. She parted her legs to welcome his searching hand and enclose his body. Then he lay in the dark against her, as on a wave, and rode her while she clutched at his arms as though climbing through a hold-down, and in their delirium their bodies were phosphorescent, lit with desire.

He sank to sleep after that, then floated, drugged and wrung out by the convulsive lovemaking, lying on his back, his mouth half open, like a castaway, adrift again.

As the sky above the treetops paled at his uncurtained window, he stirred—the light seeping into him, reddening his eyelids—and he settled lower into his soft bed in a body-shaped pod of warmth. In the rising light the dream came again, more vivid now, in full color; he was flat on his board, paddling in turbulent water, and anxious — the anxiety woke him — and he blinked, recognizing his room, and was free of the dream.

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