Back in the Way Back When
“Pápi,” said the little girl in the freshly ironed pink pinafore at the invalid’s bedside, “Pápi, réveille toi. Oh, do wake up, Pápi. It’s been so long, and every day I have to sit here, and I’ve run out of things to say, I really have, and today it’s nice and sunny and I could be out playing Graces with Gina and Lisbet.”
Her lower lip quivered and her eyes filled with tears. Putting a hand on the covers over the invalid’s heart, she added, “And besides I miss you, Pápi, and Mama misses you too. Please wake up.”
She had come to this room every day now for forty-nine days, each time for an hour, and each time, as her mother had requested, she spoke to her father as if he could hear her. He had never answered.
Now Captain Oliver Cole opened his eyes, blinked several times to clear them, and looking not at his daughter but up at the damascened claret-coloured linen canopy overhead, said in a hoarse halting voice, “I was dreaming of a squirrel.”
He freed an unsteady hand from the neatly tucked-in covers and placed it over the little hand on his chest. “And not just any squirrel, my dear Amélie, but a giant one. A giant red squirrel with a great bushy tail … being led on a rope by a bear. A bear of the usual size and yet – and you could see this plainly since they both went along on their hind legs – a bear only half as big as the squirrel he was leading.
“The bear had a patch over one eye. A black patch.
“The two were passing through a clearing in a wood, and I … I was watching from behind a very slender young pine that scarcely hid me. I knew the bear was looking for me, and that he meant to turn the giant squirrel loose on me. And I knew the squirrel was perfectly savage and loved nothing more than the taste of human blood.
“I had offended the bear somehow. Perhaps I was responsible for the loss of its eye. I’m not sure. I only know that with its one remaining eye, the bear was determined to watch the squirrel eat me alive.
“A queer dream, very queer, the sort one encounters when making the passage. Very vivid, but only a dream.” He turned his tired face to Amélie and smiled a sad crooked smile. “What preceded the dream, though, was real, and I must record it, for such is my debt. So be a dear little owl, and fetch quill and ink and my journal. And then much more wood for the fire. It is mortal cold in the in-between passage. The very marrow of my bones is like ice.”
As his little owl ran down the hall, crying out that her Pápi was awake, awake, Captain Cole raised himself in the bed and stacked pillows behind him. While he waited, shivering, he fingered a cuff of his fine green-and-gold-striped cotton garment. “So, a nightshirt,” he remarked. “A nightshirt again, like a civilized man.”
It was not Amélie but his wife Josephine that appeared with the writing materials. A tall gracious woman with gentle grey eyes, she set on the bed beside him the lacquered oriental tray that held the book, pen and ink jar, and bent and kissed her husband on the forehead and straightened his nightcap, that was colored the same as his nightshirt. With the straightening, the cap’s golden tassel fell over his nose. A flicker of humor invaded the tear-streaked sadness of her long aristocratic features and as quickly was gone. She moved the tassel tenderly to one side.
“So, you are back,” she said. “I was just wondering would I ever have my Oliver again, and if I did, could I keep him. As a captain he is more with the sea than with me, and then he is lost to the doctors, and then to a fever. So, love of my life, do you stay a while now, or will you be telling those stories again that will bring back the doctors?”
Cole took her hand and held the back of it lightly to his lips, meanwhile breathing deeply of the smell of her. It was not the smell of honey butter. There was no earthiness to it. He had left that behind. This was lilac water imbued with a body odor so light as to be almost indiscernible. This was his woman like a cloud, his Jo.
It was so hard, having two loves, and always leaving one behind.
“Jo, Jo, Jo,” he said, still holding on to her hand, “Am I so old and infirm that you welcome me home with a kiss on the forehead? When we met in Marseilles, you threw yourself into my arms as if I were the last man on earth. And now I’ve been further from home than any sailor.”
“It is not you who are so much older, Oliver,” Jo said, “though your hair and your beard have gone white since the Bonne Chance went down, whiter even than all this shocking lot of snow. No, it is I who am no longer so young. I have missed you too much. But let us not speak of that.”
“Jo,” Cole said, “I must write. An account must be preserved of this doorway to the future and another life. But we will keep it under lock and key this time. I will not hawk it about again. The doctors may busy themselves with true madmen, and the newsmen with other news. My tale will be my legacy, and a later generation my heirs.”
For a moment his mind wandered, and he looked vacantly about him. The events of his other life beckoned, but their voices were faint. He was forgetting again. His gaze fell on the guttering fire in the room’s hearth.
“Now,” he said, “will you please stoke that fire, dear, and feed me? My own vital spark has burned low, and is in danger of being extinguished entirely. And have Amélie bring the dorje and bell, so I can keep my wits about me. There is much to record, and already the details are slipping away.”
“There is no bell, my darling,” said Josephine. “You called for it at the height of your fever, when you were delirious and waving the little sceptre all about as if either to bless us or keep us at bay. I reminded you then. That was when you fell into the sleep no one could wake you from. I fear to remind you again, but I must. The bell was stolen. The little sceptre fell out of your purse as the pickpocket fled, or it would be lost too. The constabulary cannot find the man, and there is little hope that they will, for he is not a known thief, nor anyone known by the thieves. They say he might have been a sailorman, down on his luck, who has since shipped out. I am sorry. As for food, I was making a bouillabaisse for dinner, and have only to add the … how do you say, the homard.”
“Yes, lobster. I have only to add that, and I will bring you a bowl straightaway. And Oliver, will you receive a guest? Francis Stegman would like to see you. He said that as soon as you recovered – and he alone among all your friends never doubted you would – he would like to talk with you about another venture. Another ship.”
Cole went pale and slumped against his stack of pillows. She knelt at the bedside (with some difficulty, for the hoops of her dress interfered) and took his gaunt hand again. It was trembling now.
“Oliver,” she said, “Please, please. Is a ship not more important than a bell? There are any number of bells, and they are not hard to come by.”
“There is none like it in all the world, I fear.”
“Dear, Francis wants you to go back to India. That is where they make them, is it not? You can get another one there.”
Cole’s head bent till his white beard was tucked into the collar of his nightshirt. The tassel of his nightcap fell forward again, and his eyes blinked shut.
“Oliver. Oliver! Do not leave us again!”
He shuddered and groaned. His back arched as if he had been stabbed and his whole body went stiff. Then he relaxed, and the hand she held squeezed back.
“Well,” he said, opening his eyes again and forcing a smile, “He is a faithful loyal partner, our Francis, and I will be glad to entertain his proposition... tomorrow. But for now the dorje. At least the dorje. And soup and solitude and recollection. Above all, recollection. And a roaring fire. Roaring, my dear!”
She punched the fire up with the poker and brought more logs and laid them in. Before she left she gave him a different sort of kiss, a more amorous one, that even more than the newly stoked fire began to melt the frigid emptiness he felt inside.
Amélie came bearing the little double-headed golden scepter in both hands as if she were presenting it to a king. “Mama had it in her sewing basket,” she said. “She has been using it for a spindle. She would have me hold it while she wound the thread onto it.”
“Your mother has her an unfailing sense of humor,” said Cole. “Now away with you. You have discharged your onerous duties commendably, and are free to go. Never keep your friends waiting.”
“Pápi, may I stay instead? And when you have done writing, may I hear the story of the bell and dorje?”
“If you are quiet as any mouse, you may stay, and I will tell you the story. But you must keep it to yourself now, and not repeat it any more to Gina or Lisbet or any of your other friends. Or anyone at all. It will just be our secret. Agreed? For I have promised your mother.”
“I will just tell my dolls. They will never betr... betr ..”
“Never betray us? I am sure of it. Now come up here.” He patted the bed beside him. “And remember — quiet as any mouse till I am done.”
“May I hold the dorje?”
“You may, but do not wave it around, for it has magic that would make a wand weep for shame, so it would, and if you were to disappear as I did, your mother would never forgive me.”
“No,” Amélie said solemnly, for unlike her mother she believed her father’s every word. “No, I will not wave it. I will just hold it. I promise.”
So they sat, the dutiful daughter with the dorje in hand and the old sea captain with the dragon-decorated lacquer tray he had brought back from Shanghai in his lap. She did her best to be quiet as a mouse, only occasionally forgetting and humming or breaking into song or asking half a question before remembering her promise. He wrote feverishly, in spurts, first pondering and squinting and pursing his lips, then dipping the quill and attacking the pulped-rag pages of his journal.
The ink was running low when Cole’s memory of his time as Raymond Kidd ran out. Setting the tray wearily to one side, he took his plump pink-clad Amélie into his lap and turned his mind to another story, one he never had trouble remembering. At least not in this life.
“Not too long ago, my dear, but very far away, on the far side of the world, the bold sea captain Oliver Cole brought his brig the Bonne Chance to the port of Calcutta in the state of Ben-gal in the country of India where the real Indians dwell, and he ordered the ship’s anchor to be dropped into the black Calcutta mud, and he ordered his coxswain to row him ashore in the ship’s spanking clean gig so he could get to his bargaining. For he had come to bargain – to buy for a little what he could sell for a lot on this side of the world.
“He was a sharp bargainer and a stubborn one, a stubborn man altogether and proud of it, a proud man altogether and stubbornly so. Therefore many days passed while he acquired the cargo he meant to carry back to England and there sell for a profit so handsome it would afford him the second ship that would be the start of his fleet, the seed of his empire, the key to the kingdom he would eventually leave to his little princess Amélie.
“He bargained for jute and bought two thousand bales, enough to hoist a mainsail to the moon. He bargained for flax and bought six thousand bales, of a fineness so fine the linen spun from it would be like a cloud, like the canopy over this bed, that gleams and shimmers in the firelight like a dream. He bargained for rice and bought nine thousand bags of a Basmati sweet and subtle as the perfume of the gods.
“A break came in the bargaining during a bout with a cowhide merchant sharp and stubborn as the captain himself. All morning they had sat on a tiled floor on embroidered cushions in a cloud of cloyingly sweet smoke from a hookah the merchant would not leave alone. Finally the captain excused himself and took a turn to stretch his legs and breathe some fresh air.
“Now it was not only an abominable smoke, little owl, but also one of strange propensities, for having gotten in the captain’s lungs, it steered him wrong, threw him off course, deviated his compass, disturbed his powers of navigation. He had meant to go visit the stalls of the pashmina sellers, there to purchase for his wife the gorgeous French enchantress Josephine a shawl she would never forget, of that wool from the goats of the high Himalayas that is softer than silk. Instead he found himself wandering the banks of the foul-smelling Houghly. Having forgotten his hat at the cow-hide merchant’s, his head was bared to a sun that beat down like a hammer, so his brains rang again and his bewilderment grew.
“Now it was Durga Purja in Calcutta, the seventh and last day of that great festival, and the riverside was packed with revellers come to return their painted idols to the mud. The captain becoming caught up in their exceedingly close company was bumped and jostled right and left, left and right, from before and behind, till he scarcely knew if he was coming or going. The smother of drums and supplications from all sides only served to confuse him still further.
“They carried him along like a leaf on a stream. At first he resisted and called out in anger, but soon surrendered to the irresistible press. He found himself smiling, then laughing, then waving his arms and even shouting with glee like the rest.
“As they made their way into the shallows, the captain’s boots sinking in the ooze and the brown water pouring over their tops, a machwa with its square sail furled was poled in among them and a body from it laid on the bank. The corpse lay face up, a rather handsome though pock-marked young man in a soggy red dhoti. With his eyes closed and his hands folded over his chest, he seemed merely asleep, and indeed the crowd ignored him and continued to dance, drum, chant, clap, splash and flourish its gawdy deities in an ecstasy of union that I am sad to report included even the captain.
“Later, in the stillness of dusk, when mud to mud had been returned and the floating paint rainbows from the drowned idols had swirled away and the rowdy worshippers and their awful hubbub had vanished, a sober captain sat alone by the corpse, deep in an unlikely mourning. While under the influence of the dream-inducing charas that his host the cowhide merchant had smoked in his hookah, he had come to see the dead man as a drowned divinity, a river god spit out by its own element, refused for some unfathomable reason by the river and cast out in the form of a human nobody. Such a death had seemed an awful tragedy, and the captain had wept. Then the tide of his intoxication had receded and he had realized it was only a man in the first place, a native heathen, of no significance whatsoever. His tears had dried, but the grief in his heart would not be hushed, no matter how he reasoned with himself.
While he grieved, and wondered at himself for doing so, a ragged beggar boy came and crouched by his side. At length, after observing the captain for a while at his vigil and listening with him in the silence to the distant lowing of cattle and the nearby chanting of peepers, the boy addressed him familiarly.
“‘Didst know him, Maharaj? Was he thy cousin? Son? Nay, hold, the color of his skin is wrong. Thy debtor, then? Dost mourn the rupees that will not be thine? So I would were I you. Though how could I ever be you? Thy wealth exceeds mine as the sun does the moon.’ He reached out and fingered the sleeve of the captain’s fine coat. “Twould do thee more good, I am thinking, to share than to covet. A few coins for Ajay would lighten thy load and thy spirit, I swear it. Lakshmi not Alakshmi would thy deva be, and fortune not misfortune thy company.’
“At first the captain took little notice of the boy, but eventually, when it occurred to him that he must return soon or spend the night there, for the light was fading, he heaved himself to his feet and fished in his pockets for what change he might spare.
“As he turned to the boy to make his donation, he was startled to find someone else there. Standing almost directly behind him and only slightly higher up on the riverbank was a short stout shaven-headed man, who smiled a great gap-toothed smile at the look of alarm on the captain’s face and then extracted from the folds of his dusty maroon robe two objects, a golden bell and a two-headed sceptre. Bowing, he held them out toward the captain while saying many strange words.
“‘Do you understand him, boy?” the captain inquired. “He does not speak Bengali, nor any strain of Hindi I have ever heard. Is he Chinese?”
“‘Revered one, Protector of Wanderers,’ the boy said, snatching the captain’s coins before the captain should forget, ‘It would be strange, stranger than moonrise in the morning, should I not understand, for is not Ajay beggar of the crossroads, doormat of the four directions? What language escapes him, so would that person’s generosity. This is a man from Tibet, gentle master, from that remoteness they call Kham. He asks if you wish this drowned man’s life returned. He says it is a bad idea, for jumbies ever make the poorest of servants. Their minds remain partly in darkness so they stumble and mumble and drop what they are given to carry. But he will do the deed if that is truly what you wish.’
“‘Does he mock me?’ said the captain. ‘No one has that power.’
“‘Each country has its faqirs, Wise One, who pretend to feats of magic. They are not honest beg-gars like Ajay. Come, let us leave him. I will take you back to town. I have a sister there who weaves a spell one may enjoy all night.’
“‘Does he want money for this deed? I am curious. Ask him.’
“‘Padma Bhusan, it is like asking a thief if he wants to rob you, but for thee I will.’
“So the boy asked the Tibetan, in the way of that strange language, what was the cost of death’s defeat, and the Tibetan laughed. He laughed till he cried, till he could no longer stand, and then he sat down on the trampled ground and laughed. Unable to stop, he drew his robe over his head and sat shaking and quaking like a large maroon pudding. Finally he uncovered himself and replied to the boy.
“‘The price, he says, is all you have or ever will, Maharaj. He is a madman, who frightens even fearless Ajay. Let us leave him now.”
“‘Tell him he shall have his price. Tell him, for he does not frighten me, and I will call his bluff.’
“In response to the child’s translation, the madman stared hard at the captain, cocked his head and arched his eyebrows questioningly as if to give him one last chance to change his mind, and then nodded and lay down on the ground and closed his eyes and shortly began to snore.
“‘Madman?’ said the captain. ‘I think not. He’s but a halfwit. Lead me back, fearless Ajay. Lead me back to food and drink and lots of both, for though I am one man I hunger for ten. And then lead me to your sister and I will pay you her price. God forgive me.’.
“As they stepped around the Tibetan, who lay across the beaten path up the bank, the man turned on his back and called out, ringing the bell slowly and waved the scepter in an arc.
“‘What now?’ said the captain. “Does he curse us? Are we consigned to hell?’
“‘O Destroyer of Illusion …’
“‘Enough of your names, boy. Call me Captain, only Captain. That is what I am, and all I am, and all I wish to be.’
“‘O Captain, only captain, my captain, he mocks thee. Let us pay him no mind but think only of that which awaits us – food, music, my sister. Above all my sister.’
“‘What does he say?’ the captain said, firmly halting though the beggar boy tugged on his arm.
“‘He says, for I will not lie,’ said Ajay, ‘that for one so wonderfully compassionate, willing to give his all for another and that other a dead man, thou art surprisingly dumb, like a dog with a butcher for a master who would stray for a mere meatless bone. And so he offers thee this bell and dorje as thy bone.’
“‘Does he?’ said the captain. ‘And what are this bell and dorje, and how much does he want for them?’
“‘What they are he will not say, but Ajay knows, o noble captain, and will tell thee as we walk, for thy feast and my sister beckon. Does not thy mouth water and thy loins ache? As for the price, it is just as it was.’
“‘Tell him come to my ship, the Bonne Chance, and a purse will be waiting, for these are charming souvenirs and I will have them. Tell him I am a captain, Captain Oliver Crowe, and ask him his name.’
“‘He says his name is also Dorje, and he will visit thy ship and thy purse, but he will not call thee captain. He names thee anew.’
“‘Oh? And what is this new name?’
“‘He mocks thee, my captain.’
“‘Well then, he christens thee Emptiness Dog, or Howling Cur of Enlightenment.’
“Now, Amélie, my little sleeping beauty, a variety of things happened and did not happen.
“It did indeed happen (as your father I swear it) that as the madman rang the bell and waved the dorje, the drowned man in the red dhoti stood, staggered once to the left and once to the right, and then bowed deeply with joined palms in the direction of the astonished captain and the wide-eyed beggar boy.
“It also happened that the madman then put the bell and dorje in the captain’s hands and patted him on the cheek and pressed a hand over his heart that stopped it beating till he removed it several seconds later, leaving a dusty stain on the cream-colored linen that would not wash out, and marking the skin underneath with a brown scar that is still there.
“It further happened that little Ajay then escorted the speechless captain away, with some haste and no goodbyes.
“It did not happen during their rapid return into town – for Ajay towed the captain at a shambling trot – that he remembered or bothered or dared to tell the captain what the bell and dorje were. He simply hurried him along till the lights of the town were around them and their food and drink nigh.
“It did happen, after a bowl of steaming curry had revived the captain’s senses and a thrice-refilled glass of arrack had dispelled his astonishment, that he took into his lap the little beggar boy’s sister, for she was indeed beautiful, if somewhat thin, and her great dark eyes enhanced with kohl did indeed weave a spell and her ready smile promise wonders.
“It did not happen, though he paid her price and more, that he made use of her. He held her through the night, but any quickening in his loins was as quickly extinguished by his tears, that came out of nowhere, for no particular reason, and would not be denied. Until the dusty dawn, he merely sat on the rickety dishevelled cot and held and rocked her with a grief keen as a razor.
“The next day he returned for his cowhides. Having no heart to resume bargaining, he offered the last price he remembered the merchant naming, and agreed without objection to the higher price that was immediately demanded, the wily native noting the captain’s muddy boots, stained jacket, unshaven face and sunken eyes.
“Josephine’s pashminas the captain bought without bargaining at all, which amazed the pashmina seller and left her talking to herself, for the captain’s reputation pre-ceded him and the seller had tripled her already high prices for foreigners so as not to be beaten down beyond what she considered fair.
“For a week the Bonne Chance waited, fully loaded. The monk never appeared, and the brig finally sailed. As the last line was tossed from its bollard, the captain threw onto the dock the payment purse he’d readied, and observed, as the purse burst open and the bright coins flew, how beggars and stevedores and respectable onlookers alike all scrambled for them, even diving into the water for the ones that rolled off or slipped through the boards.
“A beggar not among them was Ajay, for he had come aboard as the captain’s new cabin boy, the other having passed puberty on the outbound voyage and joined the underpopulated afterguard. From the height of his new position and in the comfort of his new clothes, Ajay watched the melee on the dock, and listened to the captain’s comments on greed the great equalizer, in a solemn stunned silence, and could not be persuaded away from the rail till long after his land and his sister had faded from view.
“They were in that settled stretch of weather between the northeast and southwest monsoon, and the fine days were many. The sailing of the ship was mostly left to Rune Jorgensen, the very capable first mate, while the captain sat aft on the quarterdeck with Ajay and the bell and dorje, going over what they knew about the objects, with which he had become obsessed. Not depending on Ajay’s knowledge alone, he had sent the boy and his sister throughout Calcutta for information. They had returned with a number of pertinent tracts and a wizened old scholar in tow to decipher them, for with all his skill with spoken languages and a memory as long as the libraries of Nalanda, Takshasila, Vikramshila and Kanchipuram joined end to end, the skinny little outcast could not read a word.
“‘Tell me again,’ said the captain, six leagues south of Madagascar, holding up the dorje and marvelling at how the gold gleamed in the equatorial light even under the shade of the awning that sheltered them in their deck chairs. ‘Tell me again.’
“Ajay sighed, for he could not under-stand the captain’s pressing need to go over and over what he already knew. ‘O avatar of Ganesh,’ he said, and stopped himself, for the captain had stifled his native loquaciousness and limited him to a sailor’s address, ‘O Sir, it is the thunderbolt, it is the diamond sceptre. It is the symbol of awakened mind, indestructible and clear. It is wielded by those who would destroy deluded mind.’
“‘Let us begin here in the center — again. This sphere here at the center, that is Shunyata, primordial nature of the universe, underlying unity of all things. From the sphere emerge these flowers, lotus flowers, one on either side, eight petals each. One flower represents Samsara, the other Nirvana — Hell and Heaven as the Christians understand, but here both as pure as the lotus, that grows from the mud without stain.’
“‘Around the mouth of each lotus four makaras, half-fish and half-crocodile. These stand for the union of opposites. These prongs on each end of the sceptre, their tongues, enclose empty space as form encloses emptiness and emptiness gives rise to form.’
“‘It is a symbol, sir, this dorje, of the way our minds create the universe, instant by instant, and so a powerful weapon with which to vanquish duality.’
“‘Thus I have heard, O Insatiable... sir.’
“‘Yes, Ajay,” said the captain. ‘You have heard, and I have heard, till we are sick of hearing. Yet we do not understand. Do you? Today, this time, do you?’
“‘I understand one may feast and still hunger,” said Ajay, putting the dorje away in its soft leather bag. ‘You are feeding me three times a day for a month, so this body has swollen as fat as a tick on the soft inner ear of an elephant, yet this mind still fixes on its dinner as the compass needle fixes on north. My only thought is ever when the next mealtime will be. Even now I hunger.’
“He took up another bag, and drew from it the golden bell with is figured handle. ‘As for this dorje and drilbu, no doubt the Lord Vishnu in his wisdom under-stands, as will the lesser gods in their infinite patience after kalpas upon kalpas, but the words leave thy ignorant servant nowhere, as though stranded on a strand of drifting seaweed in the middle of this boundless sea.’
“‘Now, sir, the drilbu.’ He rang the bell and listened as the long resonance faded. ‘Would that it could call the Lord Buddha as the Tibetans claim, for then The Omniscient One could explain all, and Ajay could go to his dinner.’
“Now the captain himself, little dreamer, though an educated man and a studious one, had no more idea what the words signified than did Ajay. No matter how often he heard them or at what length he pondered them, the teachings in the tracts remained foreign. Yet no matter how utterly frustrating he found them, he also found himself captivated by them. ‘Boooooo-dha,’ he would say to himself, and, ‘Doooooor-jay,’ drawing the syllables out as if they were taffy.
“From Good Hope to Liverpool, he availed himself increasingly of the privacy of his cabin, where he could focus without distraction on Ajay’s explanations, and where he penned long ruminative letters to Josephine about nothing more than the two gifts he had so mysteriously been given, and what their significance might be, for he thought of nothing else.
“His crew commented among themselves on his reclusiveness, and on the rare occasions when he did emerge, as to take the noon sight with his sextant, they cast sidelong glances at him, some merely curious, others critical. All knew of his obsession with the drilbu and dorje. When they named the two religious instruments, which was rare, them being sailors and a naturally superstitious lot, they referred to them obliquely, as his heathen toys for instance, except for the two Chinese topmen known as Hurly Burly and Heigh Ho who would not speak of the matter at all. A few of the more outspoken went so far as to take exception to even having the objects on board. ‘Bad luck,’ opined the cooper, speaking around his pipe in a circle of smokers in the forecastle. ‘It stands to reason they will bring bad luck, for one is called a thunderbolt, and since when has a thunderbolt ever brought a ship good luck? No, mates, what a thunderbolt brings a ship is fire, and what fire does is burn, and what ships do as catch fire is go down, straight down to Davy Jones. He is askin’ for trouble, and when he rings that other item, he is absolutely callin’ for it. And trouble ever comes when called, you know as well as I. Mark my words.’
“There were times when even Ajay was excluded from the captain’s company. On these occasions, the captain sat alone in his cabin with his chair turned to the wall, contemplating an exotic painting, framed in brocade cloth, that the boy had brought back with the tracts. The painting’s subject was a single crowned figure in kingly robes on a lotus throne in an outline of flames. In his left hand, as if he were ringing it, was a drilbu like the captain’s; in his right a golden dorje brandished like a weapon. His expression was forbidding, his attitude profound. Ajay had secured no explanation of the painting; none seemed necessary. Power radiated from it palpably. The captain began to feel that he might imitate what he could not understand. He took to aping the monarch, holding his own bell and sceptre in the same way and likewise frowning. He sat like this for minutes at a time, and then hours. The implements warmed in his hands with a warmth all their own. A sense of invincibility stole over him, a conviction that there was no need to understand, only to be. He was the ruler on the wall.
“When a French privateer attacked the Bonne Chance off the coast of Spain, he stood nonchalantly at the rail with his hands in his coat pockets, one on the dorje and the other on the bell, while the cannons roared and the balls crashed home around him. He met with disdain his first mate’s appeals that they surrender, and when the British man-of-war was sighted that would come to their rescue, he was not surprised. He took it as his due and retired, leaving Jorgensen and the surgeon to deal with the wreckage and the dead and wounded.
“He had no idea how thoroughly deluded he was, and would not till the Bonne Chance reached Liverpool.
“Perhaps the jute had been loaded still damp. Two thousand bales of damp fiber stacked tight in the airless confines of a ship’s hold for a hundred and twenty-one days, it could have set itself afire. I can-not explain it, my dear, but spontaneous combustion is ever so, as secret love may result in a fever if left too long undeclared. Any gate, it is true that the captain, in the throes of the anxiety with which he awaited the Tibetan, had for once disregarded the strictures of loading and not examined everything what was stowed. This haunted him afterward... and now, even now...
“Were you awake you would take me to task for that slip,” Cole confided to his sleeping daughter, wiping away tears with the corner of his bedsheet. “For a storyteller is not to fall into his story. At least not with such a splash.
“What happened was the captain’s luck ran out, hey? When the stevedores removed the lower hatches, clouds of black smoke billowed out. The Bonne Chance burned, Amélie. How she burned! We scuttled her to contain the blaze, but even as the Mersey poured into her and she settled in the dockside mud, her main and mizzen masts came down, crushing the dockside sheds and setting them afire.
“But that was not all. That was nothing, in fact, for the insurance covered the ship and the cargo. But it did not cover Ajay. My dear, had he lived, he’d have made a fine playmate for thee, perhaps even a brother, for he had so endeared himself to me that I thought of adopting him. The bell and dorje had come to me as if I were meant to be their owner, and he as if I were meant to be his father.
“I was on the dock at the pumps. There was a hose in my hand. I was spraying the flames. Ajay stood at the edge of the dock, looking down at the ship. Suddenly he looked up and called out, ‘Oh my Captain, I have forgotten the drilbu and dorje!’
“I called back that he should let them stay forgotten, but it was too late. He jumped down onto that burning deck and straightway dashed into the cabin. When he came out, he was all on fire. His hair, his canvas shirt and trousers … that the boatswain himself, that foul-mouthed old bully, had kindly fashioned for him from a scrap of worn-out sail, and of which he was so proud … O Amélie, he was like a human torch.
“He jumped into the river, and that extinguished him. We pulled him out. He had the bell and dorje in his little fists. I had to pry them from his fingers, just like this.” Cole worked the dorje from his daughter’s grasp, that had not loosened as she slept.
“Yes, I thought to let him keep them, let him take his little medals to the grave, but in the end I could not. They are my curse. My burden. They were meant for me.
“So, on the mail packet that took the captain back to Halifax, word went round among the crew and the passengers that it was grief that kept the poor man to himself, morose and uncommunicative, but it was not. It was the bell and dorje. He shut himself up with them day after day as the sea miles flowed by. There was no monarch for him to contemplate now — the painting had burned with the Bonne Chance — but the image was burned in his mind. It haunted him, taunting him to realize what must be realized!
“It was also intimated that he secretly drank. This was said to account for his slurred speech when he did venture on deck. A natural mistake, yet Lord knows how many revelations of the universe we paper over in our haste to explain things away. The captain, you see, was not toping at all. His vocal irregularities and the facial tics that went with them were what will be called in the future a technical problem. The captain was shorting out, as we will say in our easy familiarity with the vagaries of electricity. His trips to otherwhen and otherwho had begun. The coach-man, as it were, was at the door, wielding the brass knocker with a vengeance, and Oliver Cole’s mind was the door.
“His first excursion was a short one. He rose from his chair. That is to say, he did not stand, but actually rose several inches into the air. When he came down, however, his chair had shifted with the roll of the ship, and so he landed on the arm of it and came crashing down on the floor, which rather let the air out of his grand moment.
“Nevertheless he resumed sitting with a feeling of great accomplishment, as if he were mastering the situation after all.
“The next time he did not rise but was flung, from the chair into the bulkhead before him, with such force that it bloodied his nose and left him lying on his back. Of course, being a seaman, he suspected the treachery as being the sea’s, but when he stumbled out of his cabin to see what foul weather had overtaken them, it was a sunny day with gentle breezes and never a white horse in sight. No rogue wave had been his undoing. Only his roguish pride.
“Of that he felt so certain that he conducted the next session with his head bowed, in such humility and with his spirits so dashed that he ended by going to sleep. He woke a century and a half later as another man. But of that I have promised your mother not to speak again.
“The captain’s body remained in the chair, as if in a drugged sleep. It was discovered, untenanted so to speak, after his continued absence from meals concerned the packet’s captain and caused that worthy gentleman to send an attendant to check on his colleague.
“After a far from triumphal disembarcation at the dock where his wife and daughter waited — you will never forget that, now will you, my dear, your Pápi tied onto a stretcher and raving and straining at his bonds — after that, I say, those versed in such matters among medical men diagnosed him as having gone mad. They had some grasp of the electrical impulse, thanks to Galvani’s pioneering treatise De Viribus Electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius, published some years before, and so correctly comprehended the captain’s physical symptoms. They went on from there, however, to conclude that the shock of his loss was merely an electrical one, and that his tales of the future and a subsequent life were merely products of a mind disordered as if by lightning, as if by the dreaded thunderbolt.
“Now, he was an eminently respectable man, was our Captain, and counted among his cronies such notable Haligonians as brewmaster and sometime mayor Alexander Keith and shipping magnate Francis Stegman. In an effort to justify the confinement of a citizen of such prominence, the doctors paid for the publication of an article in the Novascotian. I have it by heart. Here is a passage:
“‘The mad make all sorts of noise and utter astonishing remarks which lack recognizable or common meaning and the consistency demanded of ordinary logic. Worse, their expostulations strike listeners and observers as fantastic and absurd, having no bearing to a shared reality. Negative values are conferred. For madness lacks any heuristic power and communicative force that might contribute to a positive moral and social enterprise. It is a phenomena needing diagnosis, explanation, and treatment. It makes a dangerous gap in human efforts to establish relations through mutual and rational understanding. Political downfalls and upheavals often emerge from those infected with madness. Ethical quandaries and moral disputes become irresolvable when participants take flight of their senses.’
“And so Josephine Cole was deprived of her husband, and Amélie Cole of her father, a while longer than any of them had expected — one year for his voyage to the other side of the world, another for his voyages to another time, another life. And when he was released at last, having recanted his preposterous tales (though really merely ceasing to relate them), he fell victim to a treacherous thief, an experience which brought on a strange fever, so that more time passed before his loved ones knew his company again.
“My darling, darling girl,” Oliver said, stroking his daughter’s hair ever so lightly so as not to awaken her. “I will never forget that snowy street and your dear loving faces turned toward me — so close, so close again at last — and then slipping and falling, and then that vile scoundrel rip-ping my treasures from me as a ravening beast would tear the heart out of its prey.
“And now I have only the dorje, and must fathom the bell in its absence. Must, I say, for to wield a king’s scepter without a king’s wisdom, that is madness. That was my mistake and I fear has long been. The Tibetan was not a madman but a healer of madmen, a rescuer of lost souls. The bell... I read that it proclaims the truth of emptiness, and that by understanding this truth, nay, by realizing it with one’s whole being, one gains compassion for all beings, all things, and thus defeats the lords of illusion that lead us astray into endless realms of suffering. And yet I have understood nothing, realized nothing. And now must listen for a missing bell. But I will listen, and I will hear. Though it kill me, though I be judged a madman a hundred times o’er, I will hear. For your sake, and for us all.”
Josephine Cole returned with the bowl of steaming bouillabaisse on a tray to find her husband up and standing at the bedroom window, still in his nightshirt, holding back the heavy inner curtains and the lace undercurtains with both hands as he looked out. With the brighter natural light flooding in around him, he looked extremely pale and gaunt. And he stood with a slight stoop, like the older man he had come to resemble.
“Oliver! What are you doing out of bed, in your bare feet on the cold floor?”
“I am sore,” he said to the patch of glass whose obscuring frost he had wiped clear with his hand, “stiff and sore. So I am stretching while I contemplate the snow. Our garden in the snow. Our garden wall in the snow. The street beyond, with people of this century on the sidewalks, the carriages no longer horseless carriages... and a pig, a pig in the gutter for all love... all in the snow, in that blank background of whiteness, so … so relieved of something. Perhaps of the clutter of too many details. Past, present or future, so many details. Any gate, I find it soothing — the view and my cold feet. On my own cold floor. Our own cold floor.”
“You will please to lie back down now in your own warm bed,” said Josephine. “Our own warm bed.”
“I will not think of it as ours until I have lain in it with you again.”
“It is ours. There is our daughter.”
“So she is. So she is. Having been put to sleep by her boring prematurely ancient father, who is not really much of a storyteller after all, especially not for children. I absolutely heard myself say ‘quickening of the loins’. How would I have explained that had she been awake to ask? A ‘stirring of a man’s imagination’?”
“It is good that she sleeps. She has missed you so much, so fearful for you been, that she has hardly slept at all. Not as a child JL Jim LindseyHow old? How much time has passed? Make more clear.should. She cries out in the dark. Sometimes she roams the halls without even a candle to light her way, poor thing. But come. Eat.”
“This is good, this is fabulous,” said Captain Cole, in bed again with the china bowl of bouillabaisse in one hand and a silver spoon in the other. “Ah, Jo, was it for love that I married you, or your French cooking, that can transport a man if not from one time to another then at least from the doldrums into bliss?”
“Enough of your flattery. Be quiet now and eat. And remember your promise. No more talk about another time. The only time we may discuss now is tomorrow, when, if you feel able, we might all go out together. Would you like that?”
“And have a picnic?” said the captain. “I would like a picnic. Our little sleeping beauty here would like a picnic too, I’ll wager.”
“Yes,” said Josephine. She could not bear to point out that it was January and he had just been staring out at a chill landscape of inhospitable snow, “Yes, my love, and have a pic-a-nic. We three.”
Cat Comes Calling
Cat Kidd née McCallum was plunged into darkness.
Around her an anxious murmuring and agitated movements in the warm water that was up to her neck, and then the clear calm foreign voice of their instructor saying, “Do not panic youselves. Moon still in you hands. If dahk, if light, still hold. If dlop, no good. So, steady, steady. Dead, alive, hold moon and hold you mind. No ploblem heah.”
And so Cat and her twelve classmates settled down and in the dark actually continued the exercise called Embracing the Moon in that slow motion aquatic ballet known as water Tai Chi in the swimming pool called the Centennial on Gottingen Street in downtown Halifax. They continued for five whole minutes, guided by the bad English but good attitude of their teacher Li Chang, until a pool employee with a flashlight came to say that the emergency generator could not be got working and so they could not get the building’s lights back on, and since there was no telling when Scotia Power would restore the electricity, the pool was closing for the day.
By flashlight they dressed and departed. It was not till she was outside in her borrowed car in the late afternoon’s waning daylight that Cat thought to check the cell phone in her bag for messages.
When she did, she got Raymond’s several calls about his ghosts. No sooner had she listened to them, and frowning poured a cup of hot licorice tea from her thermos and peeled the wrapper from a tiny Chinese sesame cracker, than the phone rang with a live call.
It was Galen from the Brewery, calling to tell her that Raymond had disappeared.
“I know you two are separated, but I saw you on the tour today and... well, he told me about you giving him the keys to your apartment, and I thought I ought to call you. It’s probably just a joke. Raymond’s got a strange sense of humour. I mean, his costume was laid out on the chair as if he had just vanished right out of it, and there’s this whole thing about ghosts in the Stag’s Head, and he’s heard the stories. Still, his bicycle’s here, and his street clothes are still in his locker... I don’t know. Nobody here wants to call the police, but...”
“Don’t call the police,” Cat interjected, instinctively, not knowing exactly why, “I think you’re right and it’s probably just his eccentric idea of a joke. He’s probably at my apartment, waiting for me in the nude. I told him... well, we are still man and wife...”
“Understood. Enough said. I’ll tell everyone it’s taken care of. We’ve got enough on our hands as it is. We’re in the dark here, and flooded with beer.”
“Thank you, Galen.”
But there was a problem. At her apartment on Clifford Street, no Raymond awaited her, nude or otherwise, and when she called him no one answered, not at either of his numbers, home or cell. She got back in the car and drove to the Rennekers’ on Henry Street, where she knew Raymond parked when he went to work. His old pickup was still there in the big graveled lot.
“Dammit, Raymond!” She smacked the dashboard in frustration, “Why must you always, always, make up your own rules?”
She cried out with her window rolled down. A hand-holding elderly couple, who had started into the lot as a shortcut from Henry to Vernon Street, reversed course in alarm.
She listened to Raymond’s messages again and then set out for Prospect. If she could not find Raymond, she thought, feeling crazy, she would talk to the ghosts that he said had turned into his guests. Who else could help her? But when she got to Prospect and 7 Lands End, no one answered the door no matter how insistently she knocked or called out that it was okay, that Raymond had told her about them.
“I’m an idiot,” she said to herself, looking around furtively to see if any neighbours were watching. “The dead may hang around, in our minds or otherwise, who knows, but they definitely do not come back to life.”
To give herself time to calm down and consider what she knew, she walked the mile out to the High Head and watched the sun in its approach to the horizon take on a hue of dusky orange and impart that same hue to the waves. It wasn’t easy to be objective. Even looking out over the romantic Atlantic sunset brought back haunting memories, for she and Raymond had sailed there together in her namesake the yawl Happy Cat. Their trips together up and down the coast from Yarmouth to the saltwater lakes of the Bras d’Or in Cape Breton ranked highly in the handful of true glories in her life. No matter that they fought and argued terribly at times. Out on the waves under sail they were royalty fighting and arguing. Her mind wandered to whales they had seen, and dolphins sometimes by the hundreds, and the golden eagle that once landed in the upper spreaders of their mainmast while they were at anchor, that stayed there till the stars came out and for a short magical interval was silhouetted by a full golden moon. Then there was that September eleventh when their friends the Henkels in St. Margarets Bay had radioed that they would not be rafting up because the World Trade towers had been destroyed and they were too shocked to do anything but sit by the TV and watch the nightmare footage of the jets crashing into the two skyscrapers over and over again. The dead, Jen Henkel had said quaveringly over the ondeck speaker, might number more than fifty thousand. So the Happy Cat had anchored alone off Luke’s Island, and its crew of two had rowed ashore with the big picnic dinner Cat had made for four, and they had sat in stunned silence on a driftwood log on the beach eating and drinking until after the champagne was finished when their hands finally touched, and then their lips.
They had made love on that blanket in the coarse pebbly sand, first as tenderly and sadly, and then as passionately and recklessly, as if they were the last two survivors on Earth.
Cat knew Raymond was gone now, as she had known he was coming before he ever arrived, before she had met him or even heard of him. The day his old pickup had pulled into the driveway of the vacant apartment across Lyon’s Avenue in Spryfield, she had known she should abandon her dishwashing and go meet him immediately. When he had moved out to Prospect soon after, she had felt his absence acutely but had known he was still within reach, and had found him again and in a few years had married him. The day she left him and went back to the city, it was as if she had torn her heart out and left it on the dock. Yet she had always felt him near. When Raymond was not there, he had come to be even more there. But now there was nothing, no sense of him at all. And it wasn’t as if he were dead. She would have sensed him dying. It was as if he had never been. As if he had simply stepped out of the picture and whisked his tracks away behind him.
She felt herself getting angry. She wanted to pound the granite beneath her into smithereens, to scream so the sea would evaporate. How dare he?
When the black rage came down, as it did now, it blinded Cat just as surely as if she had been staring into the sun, which indeed she had been doing there in that stony niche with the sea rumbling and shattering below and her thoughts running wild. There were dents in the walls of 7 Lands End where in such a state she had flung things at Raymond – cups, dishes, a telephone, their folk art carving of a great blue heron, whatever was at hand. The thought that he was gone now without even a trace made her so mad that had he been there, she would have thrown him off the cliff.
She would not call the police. She would find him herself. And when she did, he would wish another hurricane had found him instead.
“Mother, may I have a cup of cocoa?!” Shannon O’Keefe shouted as she tugged at her mother’s apron. “And Mother, something strange at Booda Ray’s again! It could be another terrist! Only it looks just like Mrs. Booda Ray!”
Dawn O’Keefe switched the vacuum cleaner off and as it whined to a halt said to her daughter, “Lord, child, how am I ever going to get my work done if you keep interrupting me? I still have dinner to finish and the table to set. No, you may not have a cup of cocoa. And you are not to call her Mrs. Booda Ray. She deserves our respect, the poor thing. You are to call her Mrs. Kidd. Though I wouldn’t blame her if she took her own name back.”
“Mother, Mrs. Kidd just smashed in their door with a log.”
“She knocked a long time and no one came, and then she went all round the house trying to look in the windows, but the curtains are all drawn – I know ‘cause I go round their house and the curtains haven’t been open for days – and then she came back to the door and took a log from the wood crib and bashed the door open and went in.”
“Oh. Well. Don’t you worry about her, dear. It’s probably just a question of something she left behind.”
“Why doesn’t she just use a key?”
“It’s likely she’s given it back. She doesn’t live there anymore, you know.”
“Doesn’t she know there’s a spare key on top of the wood crib?”
“But why not? It’s easy to see. And why mayn’t I have cocoa?”
Mrs. O’Keefe sighed. “As for the key, girl, you were looking down at it. With your father’s binoculars, no doubt, which I have told you and told you you are not to be using. And how would Mrs. Kidd be seeing such a key and her not as tall as the crib? As for the cocoa, it would spoil your appetite. What you may do is help in the kitchen. You like peeling cucumbers. Take three of them out of the fridge and start peeling. I’ll be in soon. Do a good job and don’t make a mess and you can have your cocoa for dessert. As for Mrs. Kidd, we will leave her to take care of her own business. She isn’t a terrorist. She’s only a wife, God love her, and wives are far more terrorized than terrorizing.”
“Mother, if she doesn’t live there anymore, why is she still his wife?”
“Sweetheart, love is a mystery. One of those that doesn’t bear much looking into, like our Lord’s. Now run along. And put your father’s binoculars back up on their hook!”
In the narrow tiled entryway of her old home, Cat stood clutching in both hands the stick of firewood that in her black rage she had used to bash open the door. To her left was the closet behind whose sliding doors her own outerwear had once hung, to the right the flimsy homemade shoe shelf that once housed her boots and shoes, and beyond that the old hatrack that had once held her many hats. In front of her, the door that led into the house proper had its glass panes covered with a pink and peach plaid curtain she herself had sewn.
That door was now jerked open by Octave Daggon.
“Who are you?” Cat demanded, cocking the stick of firewood for another blow. “And what are you doing in my house?”
“My name is Octavius,” said Octave, jerking his head awkwardly in an abbreviated bow, “Octavius Daggon. Excuse me, Mrs. Kidd. You have just, as my brother would say, scared the bejeezus out of me.”
“Octavius,” said Cat. “Octave?”
“To my friends,” said Octave.
“So, you’re one of Raymond’s ghosts.”
“An unfortunate term, madam. As I told your husband, we were never ghosts but only lost souls. However, even that appellation would now seem incorrect, for we seem to be found. I am once again much as yourself. I bleed when I am stuck. I blush when I am stared at.”
“Mr. Daggon, you’re wearing one of my husband’s robes. A robe I made for him. He’s missing. You’re here where he should be. I’ve never met you and yet you know my name. No wonder I’m staring.”
“Raymond is missing?”
“I know your name, Mrs. Kidd, because I was here in this house when you were here, as Raymond must have told you. I watched the two of you whenever I felt like it. Forgive me for what must seem unforgivable, but there was little else to do. Now, what do you mean Raymond is missing? He was here just this morning.”
“Mr. Daggon, if that’s who you really are, my Raymond is a good man — at heart he’s a very good man — but sometimes he can be very simple. He could swallow a story like yours. I don’t know that I do. Tell me why I shouldn’t call the police and tell them there are a couple of swindlers in my house who may have murdered my husband?”
“Oh, dear. You’re quite incensed. I had forgotten how it feels to be the object of a woman’s anger. It is a wonderful argument against reincarnation. Will you lower your weapon and come in? There are things I can tell you that might help you believe me. Things no one would know who hadn’t lived here day in and day out since the house had a basement. And then we can talk about Raymond and how to go about finding him. For we must find him. He means everything to Angle and I. Without him, I’m not sure we can manage. Being alive again, I mean.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you need to tell me right here?”
“Because someone might happen by and see me if we stay out here. You may have noticed all the blinds are down and curtains drawn around the house. Raymond wants us to remain a secret — to lie low, as he put it — till we have a plan, an explanation for our presence here that doesn’t involve revealing that we’ve come back from the dead.”
“By the same token, if I go where I can’t be seen, then you could do what you want with me and no one would know.”
“Oh, dear. We have an impasse, a predicament, a standoff, a dilemma. Or as Angle would say, we’re in a fix.”
“No, we’re not in a fix. You’re in a fix,” said Cat. “You have five seconds to start proving yourself before I walk out of here. And when I come back, you won’t be a secret anymore.”
“Oh, oh. Let’s see... you wrote a poem once!”
“It goes like this:
My heart is like a ship upon the seas.
I am easily moved.
Scolding will not improve me.”
At the mention of the poem, one she had indeed written many years and three marriages ago, Cat was subjected to a rush of conflicting emotions. She was touched as she had been touched when the poem first appeared in her mind. She was no sort of writer at all. It had been a pure gift, a relief from the emotional battering her first husband had subjected her to, and she had always prized it and never tried to write another. She was perplexed that a total stranger was quoting it to her. And she was deeply suspicious. And though her black rage had mostly evaporated with the smashing of the door latch, traces of it lingered like a shadowy mist in the back of her mind. She had lowered the log. She raised it again now.
“Mister, that poem’s hanging on the wall in the hall behind you. It’s very short. You could have memorized it. If you’re lying, if you’re trying to con me, I will break your head. Don’t think I won’t. Don’t think I can’t!”
“Mrs. Kidd, I know you wrote the poem out on that napkin yourself, and that you gave it to Raymond as a wedding present, and that he held it so dear – not only the sentiment but the penmanship too - that he had it framed and hung it there so he would pass by it every day and never forget it.”
“He could have told you that.”
“I also know he found the very same poem in a book, a Japanese book even older than I am, one called The Tale of Genji, a book you claim never to have read.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Raymond believes you. He loves the mystery of it, that perhaps you wrote the poem first in another life.”
“Look, you, I don’t know why my husband would have told you these very personal things, but they don’t prove anything. Except maybe that he talks too much about things that he shouldn’t. It certainly doesn’t prove you were a ghost who was living in this house at the same time as me.”
“Dear, dear, why is this word ghost so appealing? I’ve never threatened anyone. Look at me. Am I the sort of person anyone would find threatening, dead or alive? My father used to say my mother dressed me as a boy just to please him, because he only wanted sons, but he was never fooled. ‘Slight and delicate as any slip of a girl’, he used to say. I beg your pardon. I digress. I’ve never forgiven my father, I’m afraid, nor forgotten anything he said, though he got his comeuppance when they hung him, and I danced a little dance that fine day. But here we are now, and you still want convincing. How about this? I also know that when you moved out, while Raymond was away attending his grandmother’s funeral, down in those United States so-called, you took your poem off the wall and packed it with your other things, and were almost out of the driveway when you changed your mind and brought it back and hung it up again. I know there were tears in your eyes when you did. Raymond couldn’t know that. He still doesn’t.”
Whether it was due to the same shield-breaching solar storm that had triggered Raymond’s disappearance, or some other vagary of the flaw in the fabric, or simply a wry sense of humour on the part of Victor Cooley, Angle Daggon and another boatload of monster cod, this time on being transported from nowhere to somewhere missed the basement at 7 Lands End and instead made their landing on the stairs, which they descended in a slithering avalanche before fetching up with a resounding smack against the wall across the hall at the bottom, just behind the door to the entryway where Angle’s brother Octave stood striving to bring home the truth of Raymond’s story to Raymond’s wife.
“And then,” said Octave, shoving the pink-and-peach-plaid-curtain-covered door open through that helter-skelter heap of cod, with Angle naked in its midst, “there’s this.”
All that evening and into the night, as they cleaned and dressed the catch and sponged the bloody counter and mopped the slimy stairs and floor and afterward sat round the kitchen table eating cod croquettes and drinking tea, still bloody and slimy themselves, fish-fragrant and speckled with scales, too tired to bother with their own cleanliness, the three of them talked, and as they talked, about all that had happened and what to do next, they saw that they might help each other.
Angle, though humbled in his attitude toward others by his long sojourn in the in-between and the contemplation of the dagger-swallowing rose on his chest, still retained a certain valuable piratical attitude — what needed to be seized and could be seized should be seized (as long as no one was hurt in the bargain), and it should be seized now, for there was no time to be lost in the seizing of it. By which he meant the cod. “Although they come from there and then,” he said, placing both hands palm down on the table and leaning forward to peer intently at his company, “there’ll be no problem sellin’ ‘em here and now. The buggers are so big we’ll have the buyers flocking to our door, for these days there’s nothing like ‘em. We can sell all we want, and we should, and we should start straightaway. For who knows how long we’ve got with Mr. Victor Cooley? And what do we need, mates, more’n funds?”
“Identities,” said Octave, for he brought to the table an adaptive intelligence that fed like wildfire on the forest of his new world’s information. Unlike his brother, he had not only watched Raymond and Cat through the walls during his time in their basement, he had studied and learned from what they did. He already knew how to use a computer, and had spent much of his short stay in his resolidified body sitting at Raymond’s desk surfing the Internet, absorbing ideas and forming others at a breakneck pace. “We need new identities, you and me, Brother. Birth certificates, drivers licences, social insurance numbers, health cards, credit cards. We’ll have to break laws, but what other choice do we have? You can’t do business as nobodies, and if we let on who we really are, they’ll lock us up as lunatics.”
“That’s right,” said Cat. “And if they do that, who’ll help me find Raymond? Because that’s your job. As far as I’m concerned, that’s your only real job. My head tells me to call the police and report him as a missing person, but my heart tells me he’s not where they can find him. I think he’s gone out of this world. And since he’s the one who invited you back into this world, and since you still seem to have some connections elsewhere, I think that makes finding him your responsibility. Don’t you?”
“When first I come back from the other side,” Angle said, absentmindely toying with a clump of scales in his beard, “when I was still feelin’ it, you understand, the cord not bein’ altogether cut, like, well, there I was at the Cap’n’s bedside, and he was havin’ a dream, and I could see into it. In his dream, he was a white-headed old man who had nearly got clipped by a buggy, and it made him fall down in the street. The man who helped him up picked his pocket. The Cap’n lost something so valuable, I’m thinkin’ he never forgot it.”
“I’m sorry,” said Cat. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. What does all that have to do with finding Raymond?”
“You were talkin’ about responsibility. Well. That worn’t really no dream. That was somethin’ that once really happened. I know, because the thief was me.”
“What I’m sayin’, I robbed that old man back in my day, just that way, and that old man, well, he’s our Cap’n. Has to be. The Cap’n worn’t dreamin’. He was more like rememberin’. Only it worn’t even that. I think he was slippin’ back to the past through that same flaw in the fabric that let Octave and me out of the in-between. That’s why I could see it happen, like through the window of a stage goin’ by. And now he’s gone back altogether, I’m thinkin’. And so bringin’ him back here, to this time, and to you, well, it’s more up to me than you knew, innit?”
“This is getting weirder and weirder,” said Cat, “Still, it makes some kind of sense. You and Raymond have unfinished business.”
“So it seems. Only I’ve no idea how to go about finishin’ it. It’s not back to the past I’ve been able to go, only back into the in-between.”
“Well, it’s a start,” said Cat, “and we’ve got to start somewhere.” She ran her fingers through her hair and then saw blood on her fingers. “Oh, Lord,” she groaned. “I’ve got fish blood in my hair. Yes, we’ve got to start somewhere, and all we’ve got is each other, and that’s going to have to do. At least for now. Maybe in the morning, after we get some sleep, we’ll think of something else. Right now I’m so tired I’m not even surprised I’m believing all this. Look, you’re going to need an administrator, you boys. If you’re going to sell fish, you need someone to sell them to, and I for one am not going to sit in a car by the side of the road with a hand-lettered sign doing it. We need to sell to a store on a regular basis. A chain like Sobey’s or Superstore. I’ll look into that. Also transportation. We’ll need to haul the fish. We can go get Raymond’s truck. I’ve got a key he forgot to take back. Right, and I’ll have to teach you how to drive. Oh, Lord.”
Later, with the cloth tape she always carried with her, a bleary-eyed Cat measured the two brothers for clothes. She meant to go home after their supper and planning session, but a maternal urge had arisen in her middle-aged bosom that would not be suppressed. The tenderness with which Octave had introduced her poem as evidence, and the slapstick silliness of Angle’s appearance in the cascade of cod, spread-eagled nude with his long sailor’s braid and his many tattoos, had brought back memories of her own three sons, all grown and off on their own. Whatever they had been, wherever they had come from, her two new accomplices needed clothes of their own. Raymond’s ragged old robes were for Raymond. Continuing to wear them instead of consigning them to the rag bin was his eccentricity, and though it was one she was fond of, having made two of the robes herself, she did not want it visited upon anyone else. Especially not upon these two poor young newcomers. They were not babies, far from it, but still they had come into this world with nothing. And now they were under her wing.
For their part, the brothers did not want her to leave at all. They were touched by her mothering, and they trembled to think of her being so tired and yet trying to manage a self-powered vehicle that could travel at ungodly speeds.
“Boys, I know it must seem fast to you, who grew up when a man on a horse was the king of the road,” she said to them there in the driveway, with the car window down and the engine idling, “but to me, even with a hundred horses under the hood, as we say, if I just go the speed limit, it’s only creeping. I could do it with my eyes closed almost. And it’s so late, there’ll be hardly any traffic to worry about even if I should doze off and slip over the line for a second.”
That left them gaping, even though they knew from her smile she was joshing them, yet they rallied as she drove away, and waved and called out their good nights until her car’s red tail lights vanished behind the next house as she motored away up the road toward her apartment in the city.
“What a woman,” said Angle, still looking in the direction she had gone, “stub-born as any mule and yet with looks any angel would trade her halo for. And the way she smells, no wonder the Cap’n can’t get over her. Up to our necks in fish guts, and yet there was that sweetness o’ her’n, holdin’ its own. Lord, it’s been so long, if’n she wasn’t the Cap’n’s, I wouldn’t care how old she is.”
“She reminds me of our mother,” said Octave. “Spirit-wise, anyhow. Hard as a rock and then soft as a blanket, turn and turn about. A woman who would give everything and still go off on her own when the time came. I wonder if she has a rocking chair, and if she does, if she might let me sit in it, and it still warm with the warmth of her.”
“You watch yer mouth, now, Octave Daggon. Don’t you go too far.”
“You know,” the studious brother went on, undeterred, his heart overflowing, “for the first time since we came alive again, I believe we can do it. With her help, I believe we can be human again. And entirely be free of ... you know who.”
The seagoing brother looked up into the night sky with its vast spread of stars and breathed deep of the calm ocean coolness. “Well,” he said, “God bless her. And God bless the Cap’n. God bless us all. Mayhap we can all come together again.”
Angle’s Morning Outside
Morning found Angle outdoors again, this time in a lawn chair, a sort of rocking lawn chair that creaked as it rocked because the salt air had penetrated its special no-rust paint and rusted its joints. He was out by the cove on the remnants of Raymond’s dock platform, that rested, tilted and askew, on the eroded pile of rocks that before the hurricane had served as the pad for both the dock and Raymond’s boathouse. The boathouse still rested in the mud in the playground across the lane where the tidal surge had carried it. Angle had retrieved the chair from the boathouse in the dark and placed it as nearly as he could where Raymond and Cat once sat and rocked in the mornings, facing the sea and sipping steaming mugs of coffee, sometimes in conversation, sometimes in silence, sometimes holding hands, sometimes touching lips.
He had watched the sun rise, first over the village churchyard where he and Octave had been buried, and then over the church itself, silhouetting its high spire and cross. The early light filled the brimming breeze-wrinkled cove with a soft brilliance that moved him to tears. More than two hundred years had passed since he had witnessed the dawning of day and felt that first warmth on his face and that renewal in his heart.
Not that he had been far from tears anyway. It was grueling, he found, not only to need sleep again but to be unable to get it. To know now that he had once stolen from the Cap’n — even though that was another life and there was no way he could’ve known it was the Cap’n since he wasn’t the Cap’n yet back then — the thought had kept him awake through the night. He closed his eyes and sat listening enthralled to the lonely cries of the seagulls, a serenade he dearly loved. A tear crept out over his cheek and down into his beard.
To be human again felt so good, yet demanded so damn much.
Unlike Octave, he was not sure he was up to it.
“Sir,” said someone behind him, who turned out to be a tall solemn man in a priest’s surplice and stole. “Sir, you are not where you belong.”
Neither in life nor in death had Angle been so surprised. In his first life, the ambush and destruction of the Queen Mab and the hanging of his father had taken him all aback, but as a pirate it was in the way of things. His sword had been stained, after all, with the blood of the innocent. And realizing after his demise in the snowstorm that he was in the in-between had been a shock tempered with relief, for he had not landed in hell. And coming back to life, well, a pleasant surprise was always welcome. But this was a man of the cloth. The golden crosses on the violet band of his stole gleamed like polished weapons. He had the power of exorcism. He could banish you straight to the devil.
“So,” said Angle Daggon son of William and Letitia Daggon who was no coward and would not quail, “My sins have found me out. Where is it I belong, then?”
“Please don’t take offense, sir,” said the priest. “It is simply that where you are, where your chair is, is where I need to stand. The bride and groom will stand here, facing the sunrise and myself, and all the guests will stand behind them. I take it you live here. You may join us. I’m sure no one will mind. Now if you please, we’re running a little late. We were supposed to be doing the vows at first light. If you could just remove the chair. And there’s no time to change out of your house robe, so you might want to stand in the rear where you won’t be so noticeable.”
The guests appeared as if on cue, driving into the lane in a long line, parking their vehicles up and down on both sides, and proceeding toward the dock from both directions. For the first time, Angle noticed the pink van across the lane behind the priest that had Sunrise Weddings on its side in large curlicued dusky-rose lettering. The crowd in its formal finery soon overflowed the displaced dock and the space where the boathouse had been and the launching ramp alongside. A boy and two girls, one of them Shannon O’Keefe, stood on the whale’s jawbone in the yard of 7 Lands End, craning their necks to see over their elders.
At a loss for words, Angle nodded to the priest, took the chair and retreated across the lane to the jawbone.
Shannon turned to him and stuck out her hand. “Hello again, Mr. Pirate. Remember me? My name is Shannon O’Keefe. Why aren’t you in your Sunday clothes? Why do you wear your hair in a braid like a girl? Where is Booda Ray’s dinghy that you said you was going to bring back? What have you done with Booda Ray? And why are you a terrist anyway?”
“Shush, now,” said Dawn O’Keefe, who was standing behind Shannon with her hands on her daughter’s waist to keep her steady on the whalebone. “They’ve started the ceremony.”
“I’ll tell ‘ee later, mate,” said Angle. His natural good humor returned in a flash in the presence of Shannon’s childish familiarity. He enveloped her little hand in his own hairy paw and gave her a conspiratorial wink. “We’ll share a glass o’ grog and I’ll tell ‘ee all about it.”
Shannon’s mother scowled at Angle, a very questionable addition to the company in her estimation, and might have rebuked him had not the moment come for vows to be exchanged. Afterward, as the newlyweds kissed and the formally kilted bagpiper perched on the seawall behind the priest began skirling away, she simply hastened her daughter away back across Raymond’s yard to their house and indoors, not quite slamming the door behind her but shutting it with a pronounced emphasis.
The entire party melted away without anyone explaining the presumptuous event to Angle or even saying anything further at all. Who all these people were, what made them think they could use someone else’s property without permission, as if it were a commons, he had no idea. The cars motored away up the road and he was left all alone in the yard. He felt strangely cheated, taken advantage of, used and abandoned. He stood there, in Raymond’s ragged robe and rubber boots, stroking his beard and staring down at the whale’s jawbone. The little succulents in the cavity had been crushed underfoot by the children into a gooey mess. He stood contemplating this crowning injustice and puzzling over the pain he felt. It wasn’t his dock and they weren’t his plants, yet his emotions writhed inside him like a ball of snakes, as if he’d been personally disrespected. He had not felt so unbearably disordered since having his bottom beaten with the flat of his father’s sword.
To be human again, and wildly sensitive in the bargain, he definitely was not sure he was up to it.
On his dock in the outer harbor, Gordon Daggon had been too immersed in his morning routine and the usual cloud of noisy seagulls to notice the wedding at first. By the time the piper began piping, though, the morning’s catch had been cleaned, packed and trucked away by his partner and the gear cleaned and stowed. When the martial cry of the pipes pierced the mere domestic squabbling of the gulls, Gordon heaved himself out of his comfortable chair, though he had only just settled down into it, and leaving his untasted toddy on the broad padded arm went to see what the occasion might be. He lit his pipe as he shuffled along off the stage, over the gangway, and onto the land.
He was a little disappointed, as he topped the low fissured rock dome where nets were laid to dry, to hear the piper’s tune end in a last wailing shriek and to behold the hasty exodus of the wedding party. Then he saw that the man who remained, all alone in Raymond Kidd’s yard, had a beard and a braid and wore one of Raymond’s house robes – as had the self-declared old sea dog who Dawn O’Keefe said had made off with Raymond’s dinghy. Gordon had seen the dinghy again that very morning. It was still anchored over the Cabbage Patch, bobbing and breasting the incoming swell.
The sight of a suspect perked the retired detective up and put a spring in his step. Damn the arthritis, he thought. From a hundred yards it was obvious that the man in Raymond’s robe had something troubling on his mind, the way he stood looking down, stroking his beard and shaking his head to himself. It might not be guilt, but thirty years of experience told Gordon it was some sort of secret. And if there was one thing Gordon Daggon dearly loved, even more than his gulls and the bagpipes, it was ferreting out secrets. He would never be too old for that, he assured himself.
As he passed the woodshed and then the rosebush-bordered porch of the house of the widower Turner Charles and swung into the lane past the O’Keefe’s house with its three-story turret, he kept his eye on the stranger, and so he missed Shannon O’Keefe watching him from the top floor of the turret with her father’s binoculars.
When he came abreast of the whale’s jawbone and the man still did not look up or acknowledge his presence, Gordon drew on his pipe, let the smoke trickle out, and then asked, “Was that the one that got away, then?”
“Eh?” said Angle Daggon.
“The bride,” said Gordon Daggon. “Was she an old girlfriend — one you wish you had married? Is that why you’re in such a study?”
“She’s no one to me, mate. Just another stranger in a crew o’ strangers. No idea where they came from, why they came here, where they went. They never asked me so much as a by your leave. Not even that bloody... not even the priest.”
Now that they were eye to eye, Gordon was even more enthused. There was something in the other man’s face, in the prominent cheekbones and Roman nose, in the shaggy thick eyebrows and challenging thrust of the chin that the beard exaggerated – something that tickled his memory.
“I got it,” said Gordon. “Oh, that was too easy.”
“Got what, mate?” said Angle, now thoroughly irritated, “A bad case of the piles?”
“You,” Gordon said, pointing his pipestem at the man, “I thought I recognized you. You’re an actor, right? You’re here filming a movie, and you’re staying in character. That’s what this is all about — the beard, the braid, the earring, the nautical talk, I bet even the wedding. Another movie in scenic Prospect. Some kind of comedy this time with the past and the future all mixed up. Jeez, the stuff they come up with these days. So, where’s the cameras and all? You must be rehearsing. I’ll come up with your name in a minute. Say, tell production my house is available if they need another location besides Raymond’s — I wouldn’t mind a little extra income. And you left Raymond’s dinghy anchored out there why? Oh, don’t mind me. I used to be a detective. I know you can’t talk too much about your show while you’re still shooting. But listen, I got a boat over there too if you need one. Happy to help out and share the wealth. Well anyway, it’s on the tip of my tongue but I can’t spit it out — who are you? My name’s Gordon Daggon.”
Now Angle was staring hard. A latter-day Daggon! He searched the other man’s face. Slowly the likeness became apparent, only slightly muted by the many generations. He extended his open hand to meet Gordon’s, in a rock-hard clasp in which they both tested each other, and he said, “Ang... Andrew... Dunevan. And mayhap you could render a service. That there dinghy... I’d like to go out and retrieve it. Would you mind ferryin’ me out in your vessel?”
“Not at all, Ang Andrew,” said Gordon, winking as he puffed, “And I won’t even charge you for it. This time. I’ll do it for the pleasure of your company. For I’m sure you’re a star even though you won’t break character and I can’t come at your name. And a star gets the right treatment from Gordon Daggon.”
“I’d be right obliged, Mr.... Daggon,” said Angle.
“Call me Gordon, Ang Andrew.”
“Mother!” Shannon O’Keefe called from the O’Keefe turret, keeping her eyes glued to her father’s binoculars. “The terrist has taken Mr. Daggon prisoner. They’re going out in Mr. Daggon’s boat! He’s going to do away with Mr. Daggon like he did with Booda Ray!”
“Shannon O’Keefe!” her mother called back to her. “You come down here right now. The bus will be here any minute, and you are going back to school today!”
At twenty-six feet, the Severence was among the smaller of the Cape Islanders of the recent generation. Having a homebuilt deckhouse and needing a new coat of powder blue on her peeling hull, she was also among the more quaint. But a man could stand and walk around on her back deck, and so Angle loved her. For the first time since the loss of the Queen Mab and his father’s hanging and his own death by freezing and his long soul-searching sojourn in the shadows, he was back on a seagoing boat that let him stand, stand like a man and glory in the give in his knees as he and another Daggon rode the waves. The motion was jarring, he had to acknowledge. A motor-powered boat, he found, had no notion of going along with the rise and fall of the waves but instead bashed through the crests and crashed into the troughs in a headstrong, awkward and unsettling manner. Still the very posture, the standing and being carried along at his leisure instead of sitting and slaving away at an oar, roused his blood and made him recall when the sea was his highway, his, and the world his oyster. He had never pretended. He had captured, and he had killed.
“I ain’t no actor,” he growled.
In the deckhouse at the wheel, Gordon Daggon could hear his probably famous passenger talking, but the engine noise interfered with his understanding. “What’s that?” he called back, his pipe clenched in his teeth.
Angle stumped forward in his borrowed black fisherman’s boots, his sea legs not under him yet, and with his hands on his hips and his houserobe flapping open in the wind he bawled out, “I ain’t no actor, you hear? I am what I am ‘cause I done what I done. And here’s what it is, mate — I ain’t skeered o’ what comes with the truth anymore. Ye say ye’re a detector? Well, detect and be damned.”
After a pause during which he tapped his pipe against the wheel to get the dottle out, Gordon chuckled and clapped. “Bravo,” he cried as he turned his gaze back through the windshield to the plunging bow. “You’re first rate, Ang Andrew. You stick with it like a dog with a bone. I hope you don’t intend on rowing Raymond’s dinghy back. If you don’t mind, I’d rather tow it and let you keep on talking. In fact, I’ve got a little something here to wet your whistle while you do.” He reached under the grey-painted plywood control panel to a net bag strung there and fished out an old mayonnaise jar full of amber liquid.
Angle stepped into the deckhouse out of the wind and took the bottle. Unscrewing the lid, he sniffed the contents and with a grim and disapproving look said, “Rum.”
“Don’t you like it?” Gordon said. “You’re playing an old-time sailor, and you don’t like rum?
“Which it ain’t that,” Angle said.
“Maybe you prefer the storebought version. This is a tad strong, being homemade, and maybe taste-wise not up to your standards...”
“No, it ain’t that neither.”
“You could tell ‘em back in Hollywood you went native, turned into a real Nova Scotian.”
“Mister, I’m Nova Scotian already. Inside out. Never was a Nova Scotian more Nova Scotian than Ang... than yours truly.”
“I believe you. I’m convinced. You’re really good. So what is it? Got to work again today?”
“It ain’t nothin’ like that.”
“Okay. No problem. I won’t shove it down your throat. Here, I’ll put it away again.”
“No, no,” Angle said, keeping his eyes fixed on the bottle and the bottle clear of Gordon’s grasp, “No need to be hasty. It’s just that, well, I made a promise. But it wouldn’t do, would it, to say no on a day like today, with my new life on the slipway, all ready for launchin’? A fellow might give offense. No, that wouldn’t do at all. So maybe just … just a taste then. Just a drop. To be ‘micable, like.”
“Good,” Gordon said, fumbling a couple of plastic tumblers out of the net bag as the boat bucked under them, dusty tumblers that he proceeded to wipe clean with his shirttail. “And when we’re done, maybe you wouldn’t mind giving me your autograph. I got a marker here can write right on glass. You can sign the bottle.”
“I can hardly believe what I’m writing,” wrote Gordon Daggon, in the log which he normally carried on the Severence but which he now had in his lap as he sat in the chair on his dock. “And maybe it ought not be written at all, for the only thing anyone who reads it will believe is that I’ve lost my mind or I’m making it all up for a joke, both of which is what retired old farts like myself do in Prospect to pass the time on their way to the grave. But here it is anyway, for what it’s worth, before I forget it or Doris calls me in for dinner, the testament of a former law officer. And a relative with a long overdue duty to carry out. And a fellow who’s just met his match in the article of rum consumption. Given the latter, it may be hard to know who’s talking at any one time, or if we’re all talking at once. I can’t help that. Here goes.
“Judging the suspect himself not to be of sound mind, I proceeded to bait him in an unorthodox manner, pretending I thought him an actor. Thus I was able to confuse and befriend him and get him out to what I thought might be the crime scene — the anchored dinghy. Not where I thought he might have killed Raymond Kidd but where he might have dumped the body. On the way I produced a bottle of bootleg rum which I had confiscated from Shorty Cornwall last year when we raided his waterside joint in east Dover. I had kept the bottle for years never drinking it because of its unusual potency — eighty-six point six six six percent it tested out in the lab — but always thinking it might come in handy one day. Had Shorty not got his throat cut in prison, I might have shared it with him when he got out. I knew his family. We all agreed a little detention might be good for Shorty. There were no hard feelings before he got his throat cut.
“Anyway, it was my intent to loosen the suspect’s tongue with the overproof liquor and then to induce him to confess by returning to the dinghy and asking him suddenly where was Raymond Kidd, what had he done with him, and what was he really doing in Raymond Kidd’s house.
“Result: the suspect did indeed confess. Only not to the murder of Raymond Kidd. Not in fact to any murders at all for which he could be convicted, for he committed them almost two hundred years ago, and although there is no statute of limitations on murder, the murderer himself died not long after, and thus exceeded the reach of the law, at least as far as I can tell.
“What I am saying is — and I believe it to be true, God help me — is that the suspect is my ancestor the privateer and pirate Angus Daggon, who passed out drunk and froze to death on a rock on the High Head in the winter of 1843, and who has now come back to life, along with his brother Octavius, who died on the same day in the same way.
“The duty that I have is to help him now, for though he was never brought to justice for his crimes as a pirate, he seems to have served his time anyway, a sentence more severe than any court could have assessed him. It is my duty because it was my branch of the family who after his death took his house and belongings and made no effort at all to convey them to his mother Letty, who after her husband was hung moved to Halifax, and who later (and I know this from Doris’s genealogical studies) died destitute there. In fact, she smothered herself in a snowbank on Barrack Street, now called Brunswick Street, after prostituting herself to a soldier.
“I did not tell Angus this about his mother, who was my great-great-great-great-great-aunt. That would not have been so great.
“Also I did not tell him I completely believed everything he said. I gave him a day to find Raymond, or at least to show proof he and Octave had not murdered him for his house, which once upon a time was theirs.
“What else could I do? The man has to be found, and if he really has gone back to the past, Lord preserve us, who better to go after him than someone who has just come from there?”
“You told him what?” said Octave.
“The bleedin’ truth,” said Angle, “That’s what. Brother, there ain’t room in my head for half that yarn you and the Cap’n’s missus spun up. We ain’t the Cap’n’s nephews, and we ain’t no Boodists, and we ain’t been on no retreat. I don’t even know what that means. Was someone to ask me, all I could say was we lost the damn fight, didn’t we, and was runnin’ away till we sorted things out.”
“That wouldn’t be so far wrong. I watched Raymond when he did retreats here, and I’ve been reading in his library,” said Octave. “The Buddhists consider normal life, unexamined life, which they call samsara, to be like a battle nobody can win. So they retreat to examine things. To examine themselves. To see that the battle is just an illusion. That there is no one really there to be fighting, and so no fighting to be done.”
“There you have it,” said Angle. “I never could remember all that. And if I did, I could never explain it. What does it mean, there’s no one really there? Here we are! And there the Queen Mab was, for that matter. And there our father was, a’danglin’ from a yardarm of the gummint ship that blew her out of the water. And here he is under the house, though no longer a man...”
“Hush, Brother, not even between us. Never speak of him ever again.”
“I’m sorry. It’s the rum talkin’. This here time we turned up in may be soft in some respects, but the rum’s hard as ever.”
“Oh, well done. You’ve let the cat out of the bag, you’re drunk, and Mrs. Kidd is due back any minute. And now we have to tell her the whole world knows about us. Did you stop to think what this would mean in terms of finding the Captain? Hell itself will be a less popular stop than this village once the reporters get here with their cameras and put us on television. If he’s gone where you say he has, a big fuss is the last thing we need. Peace and quiet is what we need if we’re to figure out how to get him back. Plus not being in the bridewell, or a mental hospital, or …”
“Ye’re a deep old file, Octave, and ye’ve always kept up with the world. Reporters and cameras and tellyvision, I don’t know about all that. But what you don’t know, because ye won’t stop talkin’ long enough for me to get it out, is that this here Gordon Daggon, takin’ his ancestry serious-like, feels a certain family loyalty toward us. He ain’t goin’ to tell no one about us right off, and mayhap not at all. All we got to do is find the Cap’n. He give us a day, either to perduce him, as he says in his policeman’s lingo, or at least to show proof we ain’t done away with him.”
“Ah, well, that makes things all better, doesn’t it? A whole day. To find someone who’s not even here anymore — who hasn’t even been born yet.”
“Might ye not lower yer voice a bit, Brother? As if I were not at the masthead but lyin’ here next to ye? It’s punishment enough tryin’ to wring sense out o’ yer jabber, with-out ye drivin’ me deef in the bargain.”
“Oh, let me apologize. On the one hand, it seems to me that I’m speaking perfectly normally. On the other, all that liquor you swilled may have sharpened your hearing. Your brain may have swollen to the size of a peanut, which would bring it somewhere near your ears. What it is, Angus Daggon, I’m concerned. Here we are, to use your lingo, in an unknown sea without a star to steer by, and you’re drinking hard liquor again. And looking a trifle transparent, if I may say so. I can almost see through you. It’s as if you’re going back on me. And I can’t do this alone.”
Octave had hitched himself up on one elbow to face Angle and make this emotional appeal eye to eye, but Angle’s eyes had closed, and all he got in reply was the soft sort of snorting that was the usual precursor to his brother’s full-fledged snoring. So he lay back on the cold concrete floor of the basement at Angle’s side and tried drawing what comfort he could from their old haven, as Angle had mysteriously suggested they do, while waiting for Cat to return.
To be or not to be, Octave thought. That idiot Shakspeare had no idea what he was asking.
It seemed to Angle, with the room spinning around him and the warmth seeping out of him through the thin houserobe into the cold concrete floor, that he lay drowning in a whirlpool in a sea of troubles. Troubles that for a certainty were all of his own making.
He had thought himself lucky. All the blood he had let, all the wealth he had seized, all the trust he had betrayed, and what was his sentence? Not forever in the bonfires of Hell, but only an age in the shadows. With a brother there to help him see the error of his ways and guide his change of heart. Which was all that had ever changed in that unchanging place, and yet had been enough. Repentance had relieved him of the burden of his guilt. Or so he thought.
Now he saw that there was no escape. In the realm of the living, there was no getting around it. What you did found you out.
He wished no matter what it cost that he could bring the Cap’n back.
(cont. Buy the ebook @ http://amzn.to/w8bB3x)