I was waiting for my flight, a little puddle jumper from Miami International to Nassau, and I found the only person at the bar not already talking to someone or looking at the soccer game on TV. He had longish, unkempt hair and a frown, and was drinking a gin and tonic with true reluctance, as if it were a foul-tasting but necessary medicine.
I sat beside him. "Where are you headed?"
He looked at me, and I expected him to be visibly put off by my intrusion, but he just shrugged and said, "LAX." I thought I detected an accent but hadn't heard enough to be sure.
"Work or pleasure?" I asked.
He appeared to give it some thought. "I guess I'd have to say neither," he said, and I confirmed his accent: Australian.
Which made my next question easy: "Well, if you're not here for work or pleasure, then what's an Aussie doing here? Isn't this basically the other side of the world?"
He took another reluctant sip and gave me a slightly mean smile, like he knew something I didn't. "Not basically," he said after a moment. "Exactly."
"Exactly on the other side of the world?"
"Yes. Was a hell of a trip, too. Perth to Sydney, Sydney to LA, LA to Miami, and Miami to Bermuda. And from Bermuda I sailed a little northeast. And then I was exactly on the other side of the world. I'm on the return trip now."
"Exactly the other side of the world from what, though?" I asked. "From your hometown?"
He gave me the thoughtful look again and settled on: "Mostly from her."
His theory was, try what the alcoholics call "the geographic cure." Though he readily admitted he'd taken it to quite the extreme. Following his breakup, which had been confirmed by friends and witnesses as "nasty" and an "all-timer," the man, whose name was Clark ("Like ‘Lewis and...,'" he told me) decided on a fresh start, and one night between drinks had been spinning an old globe in his office, lightly grazing his forefinger along the topography until he'd exerted just enough pressure to stop the spinning. His finger had landed on Madagascar. It was a game he and his sister had played when the globe belonged to their father. He gave the globe another absentminded spin, tracing the curvature of the orb, then stopped it again: Lake Superior.
A half-idea struck him, and he slowly rotated the globe back to his home country, sticking a finger over Perth, over himself, over Anne and their shared apartment, dog, and Land Rover, none of which had gone to him in the aftermath, which was unfair, even ridiculous, considering that it was Anne's infidelity that had torched the whole thing. Now he kept his finger still, imagining poking through, straight through, to the other side. Through the earth's core, through the magma at the center, until his fingertip emerged in another hemisphere. He rotated the globe, keeping his finger on Perth, and estimated the spot to be somewhere in the Caribbean.
It seemed as good a place as any.
"In the U.S. we call that ‘digging to China," I said. I'd paid for his next drink, which he was now tentatively sipping. "Though I suppose the exact opposite side of the world, if you're poking through the globe like that, would really have to be in the southern hemisphere somewhere."
He grunted a laugh at that. "Well, I calculated it," he said. "Down to the latitude and longitude. My personal China ended up being a little ways northeast of Bermuda. But it's not like I decided that day to make the trip. It sort of marinated for a while, I guess. I don't think I fully decided until Anne dropped off some mail that had gone to the apartment—through a friend, mind you, she didn't come anywhere near my place—and in there was a reminder about some airline miles expiring soon. We'd been saving them up for a big trip together. We were thinking either Thailand or Singapore. And so I had all these miles—on my own card, thank God, right?—and some money saved up, and I thought about the possibility of a little getaway for myself. By then I suppose I'd subconsciously settled on the other side of the world."
"It's dramatic," I said. "I'll give you that."
"Dramatic," he agreed.
But what was life without a little drama, even if you had to generate a little bit of it on your own? Clark packed a carry-on with just the essentials and began a succession of airport bathrooms, baggage checks, safety demonstrations, in-flight drinks, and jetway bridges that eventually deposited him, jet-lagged and not entirely sober, on the island of Bermuda, where he drank a double gin and tonic and slept for eleven hours with his shoes still on.
Over an acid-black coffee brewed in his hotel room the next morning, he reflected that he was as far from Anne as he'd ever been in his life. But he was still only 95% of the way. To be exactly as far away as possible, he would need to charter a boat for the last leg.
"And why would you want to do that?" the squinting, leather-skinned boat captain asked him on the docks outside St. George. Clark tried to explain, but verbalized aloud the idea sounded stupid, immature. Still, he'd come all this way, and he had the money, so the captain shrugged and gave him a hand aboard.
He had imagined a certain lightness when he reached the spot, a lightness that would come over him and maybe tell him something about himself, something about self-reliance, or perseverance, or mental toughness. But when the captain shouted above the choppy waters that they'd reached the coordinates Clark had given him, Clark didn't feel much other than a low-grade seasickness. He couldn't see land in any direction, and the pitching and rolling of the little vessel prevented any kind of inner peace from taking hold.
It was stupid. It didn't tell him anything except that he had a remarkable ability to waste a considerable amount of time and money. He leaned against the railing and looked down into the water. If he went straight down, swimming, then tunneling, through sand and dirt and rock and fire, he would eventually emerge in Perth. He saw himself climbing out of a manhole and squinting in the light of day. Except, no, it would be almost three in the morning in Perth, wouldn't it? So it would be nighttime as he walked alone down Monmouth, past the liquor store and the dog park he wouldn't frequent anymore, not a sound in the night as he reached the clay-bricked flats where Anne's light would be on. He was up the exterior ironwork stairs that he'd broken a toe on last summer, banging on the door, hearing her music inside, repeating her name until she opened it, and her eyes were wet with remorse and she was sorry, so sorry, Clark, and she reached for him and asked, why was he all wet?
An ill-timed pitch of the boat had kicked him, lost in his reverie, over the edge and into the water. He swallowed a mouthful and sputtered salt, fighting to right himself, kicking hard, trying to see the boat—
"Captain rescued me," he said between sips. "Threw the little life ring, dragged me in. Put a towel over me and gave me an orange to get the salty taste out. He got us back to Bermuda and from there..." He raised his glass.
I raised mine back. "Do you think it did any good? Your big dramatic gesture?"
He shrugged and finished his drink.
In the boat, with the towel over his shoulders, his hair dripping onto his lap, a slice of orange under his tongue, it occurred to him that from here on the other side of the world, no matter which way he went or how fast, he could only get closer.