I was Eight. There were no more than Eight. I was nothing more than my number. There was no need for a name beyond my number, because that would only cause confusion. There was no need for a name for that matter, because Eight was one of a set of numbers, a simple, closed set that resided in a collected system. In that system, I, as Eight, sat and could see the tired backs of One through Seven. At times, I could not recognize the face of Six, or the laugh of Five. But when we were in order, I could watch and time my movements by the rhythmic tired sway of the distinctive yet identical swing of their backs.
There was only one division in our mismatched group – the separation between “Even” and “Odd”. I, as Eight, was an Even. This division was only for our master, so that he could direct our whole like the articulated legs of a spider, to produce an even harmonic web of velocity. Even was no better than Odd, and Odd was no greater than Even. The collective was supposed to move as one. There was no need to think. Our master would direct us to think, in words that fell down from his skiff like pitiful blows from a defunct lash.
I was Eight and nothing mattered. I was Eight – and the world came back into focus. I was not Eight. I was a real, flesh and blood non-number. The gunnel of the boat had bored down on my partially healed and opened wounds, jarring me from the comatose state my brain adopted during the repetitive circles of crew practice. Angrily, I shook my head to clear the last threads of blind obedience. I hated being a mere appendage; and my rebellious individuality agitated for me to drop the boat in an act of pure defiance. Despite the depths of my disgust, I grudgingly kept walking. I realized that if I dropped my share, the instrument of my oppression would be fine, but I would probably break Seven’s toes. Since the whole was also trying to consume Seven’s identity as much as mine, there was no need to torture him further.
However, I mused that, if he had been the Assistant Coach, I would have dropped the boat several feet before. Roughly, I kept moving into the boat corral with gritted teeth, and released my section of boat onto the rack. Then, in a cranky manner, I gingerly moved out of the rickety fenced area. The path to the vans seemed clear. Out of nowhere, the Coach loomed and lurched in that gait of his, and blocked our exit.
“I’d like to address some rumors.” He said lackadaisically, “Practice is now going to start at six – in the morning, and now that you’re getting proficient on rowing, I’m giving each boat a coxswain. It’s going to be their job to you know, yell at you, get you amped up during a race, give directions, that kind of thing. So, be at the usual spot tomorrow morning at five. Any questions?”
I ignored the questions. I half-listened to the answers. They were the standard useless reasons, like people missing class, traffic, conflicting schedules, and many more in that vein. They were everything I had expected from the rumors Party had told me, in a state of panic, a week before. There had also been the other warning flares. The team was composed of ninety-nine percent freshman. There were almost no upperclassmen to speak of. No one had ever rowed before, and those that had rowed had left in disgust at the beginning. There was no way I could be surprised about the announcement based upon the millions of super-gigantic problems that had occurred in the limited time I had been on the team.
My molars gnashed like shifting stones in futile angst about the direction things were heading. I again contemplated quitting. The vaulted ceiling of the van was tomb silent. My desperate thoughts bounced around the padded reaches, raging against the conclusion that I had already decided upon and despised. I was going to stay. I hadn’t permanently scarred my hands and exposed myself to serpents, pollution, and dread diseases just to walk out when things got a little rough. Fortunately, Party decided to stay as well. Unfortunately, he stayed because he was the sole fervent believer of the crew propaganda, and because he liked being known as “One”.