Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Piratey Nonsense

Writing prompt for 9/19/16


It's a bit too early for visitors, but you figure if someone is ringing your doorbell at 5:45, a full 15 minutes before your alarm usually goes off, it's probably important. You stumble to your front door, pajamas askew. A man is there, standing behind what you can only describe as a Chest. The man is bearded, swarthy and he has an actual, honest to goodness eyepatch. "This be for ye," he says, nodding seriously, before turning and tromping down your stairs and off into the world. 

The dachshunds, of course, went nuts.

They were sure it was the squirrel ringing the doorbell. So sure, in fact, they darted to the back door and howled to be let out so they could get the squirrel – forgetting, of course, that the doorbell button is on the front of the house.

But I let them out. Better to have the whole neighborhood awake at a quarter to six on a Saturday than to have that doggy din making my ears ring.

The doorbell rang again – but I am not its servant.

Through the frosted glass of the side-window, I could see a shape – a massive shape – waiting impatiently on the front porch, or so I judged by its swaying. Beyond the shape, beyond the grass and still-running sprinklers, an immense dark car at the curb.

The churl leaned on the doorbell button. I wrenched the door open.
“Ah, finally! This be for ye!”

“Ben? What the hell?”

The pirate on the porch – no other way to describe the swarthy, bearded man with the eye patch and leather jerkin – maintained a smile. “If ye were expecting Ben, methinks ye’ll be disappointed. My name, it be Solomon. But no never mind,” he said, sniffing in great breaths of the cool morning air. “I’ve done me duty, brought you this chest, and now I’m off. Off again to the seven seas!”

He looked me in the eye, then dropped his momentarily, winking. I looked at his feet – well, a foot and a peg – to see a small chest lying on the welcome mat. He turned and step-thumped down the concrete sidewalk to the vehicle rumbling at the curb. With an enormous squeal he shut the trunk.

“Dammit Be –“ I stepped forward and stubbed my toe on the chest.

“Ah, that takes me back. Makes me miss me mateys, hearing ye use them sailors’ words,” Solomon said. “These days, nobody curses proper. It’s like Old Jack, he said – ah, Old Jack. Last I saw him, t’were in Victoria, slumped on a stool at the Post and Patch. Probably still there. Though last time I saw the Post and Patch, t’were a McDonalds.” Solomon chuckled. “If he still be there, he be drinking Coca-Cola and be sated with French fries.”

I bounced and cursed out to the curb as Solomon, watching, leaned against the car – burgundy-colored, dripping with chrome and with great square tail lights.

“And ‘tis a fair jig ye do there, though I’m not familiar with the tune.” His smile revealed gold teeth. His eyes suddenly widened. He tapped the side of his nose with one hand and with the other reached inside his jerkin. “Forget me own head next,” he said, pulling his hand out and proffering a key. “Ye’ll be needing this.”

When I didn’t reach out for the key, the man smiled wider. “Old Jack warned me, he did,” Solomon said. “’Cold and unfriendly he be, but fulfill yer duty, Solomon me lad. No difference if he be cold as a fish when ye deliver it. Duty be done, by God. Duty be done.’” He hung the key by its silver chain on a button on my pajamas, wrenched the door to the car open and squeaked onto the red leather seats. “’Tis a good thing it be me left leg that’s a peg, or driving this Cordoba would be much more difficult,” he shouted. “Robert Louis Stevenson, I calls it. Not much more difficult than rowing a dinghy, but much, much more comfortable. Bought it new, I did. Though it’s all cold metal. Not wooden, like in the old days.”

“How time passes,” he said, half to himself.

Then he leaned out of the car, from which I could hear country music playing from an 8-track. “It’s a terrible thing, waiting for time to pass, me lad. Why, I’ve waited for ye” – he prodded me in the chest with a blunt finger, attached to a hand disappearing into ruffled lace – “for nigh on two hundred years. That be a long time to be away from the sea. And a long time to be sober. That’s been the worse of it, the sobriety. But Old Jack insisted he did, and he be a hard man if crossed. And don’t think for a moment Old Jack – wherever he be, even if God rest his soul – ain’t been a-watching Solomon all these years, waiting for Solomon to fulfill the Duty. And now it be done. And I go in search of a drink to quench this two-hundred-year-old thirst.”

He slammed the door shut. “Any message for Old Jack?” he asked through the open window. “He’s waited even longer than I. Blest be his name if he still be alive to receive it. But --” he laughed “—I still live. Why not he?”

“Ben – ”

“Solomon,” he said. “Only know one Benjamin. Got himself marooned somewhere, last I heard. Deserved it too, by the last account. Probably went mad. So I can see why he might be a friend of yours. But back to OId Jack. He sent ye this gift. No kind words for the daft old man?”

“Um – ”

“Um it be, then,” Solomon said. “The cops, they’ll be coming back. Been following me ever since I got to town. Don’t like the looks of me, I suspect,” he laughed. “Not that anyone ever does.” He revved the engine. “This beast, I’ll miss,” he added. “Look smart!” I leaped back. With a whinny, the car lurched from the curb and bolted down the street, then turned east.

Away from the sea.

A thousand mile journey to the west.

Ben’s done some jokes, I thought, walking back to the house, toes throbbing. But this one. Well . . .

I got to the porch and stubbed my other toes on the chest.

Small. Neither dachshund barking in the back yard would have fit inside. Wood and leather and hammered iron. Just like in the movies. And, just like in the movies, a tiny lock holding it closed.

The key and the chain dropped from the front of my pajamas as I bent over.

I hefted the chest. Small, but heavy. And freshly-oiled, smelling of Stockholm tar and sea salt.

I shook my head. That’s stuff I read in books. I’ve never been to the ocean. And the tar – weren’t they fixing potholes on the next street over? Yes, that ‘s it.

I put the chest on the table, where it dribbled a little oil.

The dogs at the back – one black with a cut like a schnauzer, the other dapples black with brown and white spots – leaped at the door.

Underneath one of the straps, a folded bit of paper, sealed shut with a gob of red wax. Pressed into it, what looked like a backwards capital J.

Old wax. When I pulled the letter out, the wax crumbled, leaving flakes on the straps, flakes on the chest, and flakes I brushed off the paper onto the table.

The paper was oiled as well. Translucent. Covered with a filigree of words in turn covering other words, layered and faded, with swirling f’s where the esses should be.

The first word I could make out on the letter: Crenshaw.

My first name.

Passed on for generations. I hated it. I go by Ishmael, my middle name. Not much better, but certainly better than Crenshaw.

I read further, scratching my beard.

The clothes washer roared, set on a timer to start at 6 am; the water sloshed, slurping and bumping as if against the legs of a pier, jostling many boats. The dogs squealed at the back door. Squealed like seagulls.

I scratched my beard again.

But I have no beard. I hate them worse than I hate my first name.

Beards remind me of Ben.

When I looked up from the letter, it was at grey canvas sails fitfully flapping. At oiled ropes dangling from arms and pulleys, and white clouds scudding in a blue sky.

I scratched my beard again, and it had always been there.

There was a smell of burnt coffee and dead fish.

An elbow jostled me. “Better get to scrubbing!” The voice belonged to a suntanned youth, holding a bucket of water in one hand and a dripping brush in the other. He nodded at a bucket and brush by my feet. “Old Jack will be here soon, and you know him. ‘Everything clean! Everything ship-shape!’”

“I am not the brush’s servant,” I sneered.

“Tell that to the brush when Old Jack jams it in your mouth,” the youth said, laughing.

I laughed back, and the youth marched off, followed by two small long dogs, one a schnauzer-looking black, the other dappled black with brown and white spots. Both had earrings and wore blue-and-white striped bandanas. A seagull flew by low and the dogs howled, pursuing it.

A sudden roar went up from the crew, and I looked. They had rushed, to the man, to the pier-side of the boat and waved their arms, their hats, their head-bands, cheering. I joined them – a head and a half taller than most – to see Solomon waving his own hat to the men as he descended from a burgundy carriage pulled by six black whinnying horses. He caught my eye, smiled, and tapped the side of his nose.

I went back to the chest, perched on a barrel. I took the key, hanging from a button on my leather vest, and set it into the lock.

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