Daniel stood up and brushed smooth the creases in his overalls. His arms had grown hard and thin, and his belly had wasted, worn clean away. He was rugged and lean, a slide back to youth, and he imagined this time as an ecumenical passage, a time of shedding past sins. It was so clear now, what was not at all discernible in his life, and if he had to define it, he could, for the sense of what he felt this morning, watering the dead lawn and watching the worms slither up from the earth, was an adage, an apothegm that he could identify in one word: separate. And it was all so simple, the fallen leaves of an oak tree, squirrels rushing acorns to their nests, the lap of waves on Old Tampa Bay, a cardinal's song, the gusting wind, and sun, and heat, ice, flame, red and blue, and separate, and not as he viewed the world when he lived within its rainy arms. For he had been born believing that all was his for the taking and not that he should hurt anyone in claiming what belonged to him, but rather, like the storm cloud moving across the sky, he absorbed everything in his path, growing more fearsome and powerful for the bulk.
Daniel shook the hose, shattering the water into a hundred glasslike droplets that sparkled in the sunlight. A handsome, powerful buffoon, that's what he was in his life. And hadn't he learned the part early? Growing up the only son of Nathan and Rebecca Westcott, a Gasparilla page at age six, a pirate at twenty-one, and a king at sixty-eight.
King Daniel. Gasparilla King of the pirates.
And on the eve of his crowning, as with many of the memorable events in his life, he thought of Quinn, the river boy, who, through his pride and selfishness had saved Daniel's life, for Daniel would have bartered all of his night crawlers, his pocketknife, and his father's gold watch for just one of Quinn's worms. In the weeks that followed the boy's death, Daniel formulated a theorem, a philosophy that would take him beyond his youth, beyond the country club card games of Palma Ceia into the gambling dens of South Tampa, and out of Natalie's bed into the arms of more women than Daniel could remember.
"Hush, Danny, hush," the girl would say after he lay drunken and snoring, sprawled out on damp satin sheets. Daniel would snore all the louder, believing in Quinn and his selfishness, for had the boy been generous and shared the magic crawlers, Daniel would have pricked the thickish body of the baby rattler with his hook and been bitten just like Quinn. He would have lain beside the boy on the riverbank or in the hospital, with the rattler's venom racing through his veins to stop his heart, because he didn't know those crawlers were snakes any more than Quinn did. The two of them would have fished side by side, enduring the bites, waiting to hook a prize bass. But what disturbed Daniel the most was the menacing thought that he could have been the one to find the rattlers' nest, gathered the snakes in his own bucket, and if Quinn had asked him for one of the crawlers, would he have given the boy one?
Could he be blamed for things he didn't know? Like the separateness of being or the women's souls he'd left behind that now weighed as heavy as stones inside him, while the sun, settled above the twin oaks, overhead and burning, felt fleeting on his skin?