The Next Day
Last night my sleep held more rest than I have had for weeks – ever since I first woke in the hospital, severed from my ship. Methinks my sleep will not be entirely peaceful until I regain her, but this past eventide, by the kind agency of the Rosenblums of the Volare, at the least I did sleep aboard a ship. Cradled in salt-scented air, rocked by the night’s gentle waves as soft as moonbeams; aye, ’twas a sumptuous repose. MacManus and I slept athwart the benches on the Volare’s deck, while Kelly snored thunderously in the cabin below – and my pity was with my thanks, on the heads (and the ears) of the Rosenblums, and I know not which is upmost for those kind folk, who cared for my bosun and then slept rocked by his breath. Like a stag in heat, that man blows. Lynch had the right of it: rather than share a cabin with the drums and pipes of Kelly’s slumber, he accepted a bench like mine aboard the Emperor Grable.
Aye – the Grables. A most puzzling clan. I have come to know George Grable and his son; Chester has a flair for the shifting of face and form, of voice and manner, that befits a smuggler or an actor – aye, or a Brother of the Coast. But he hath it not from his father, whose face is as clear as glass whene’er there be somewhat shadowed behind it.
He attempted to make the first contact with the rightful owner of the Verizon-stones; it was agreed that he and I, once I had learned the manner of it by observation of him, would assay the telephone contacts, while Chester, a dab hand with the magic windows, would navigate those waters. But his father George so stammered and quavered through his first parley that we were forced to change our course: he would push buttons and activate the spirits within the stones, and then hand them to me or to Lynch, and we would speak to them what answered the call.
The manner of it was simple enough. These cell-phones could signal the allies and compatriots of their owners; George had a means of reaching first to those closest, the which he called “speed-dial.” Then I would address this person and inquire if the person whose cell-phone I was calling from was in truth connected to the personage to whom I spake, and if said erstwhile ‘phone-owner was currently bereft of this very property. If so, I begged, might I have an introduction to the aggrieved party, that I might return their rightful property? Often the man or woman to whom I spoke would beg time to contact the owner, the which I granted gladly; then would I hand the cell-phone back to Master Grable. The greater part inquired as to how I came into possession of this object; had it not been plundered? To this I replied succinctly: “The men who stole it attempted to rob myself and my companions, as well. We did not permit them. This cell-phone and several others were recovered therefrom, and we seek to ameliorate what harm these dogs inflicted on innocents – innocents such as your friend. Will you help?” ‘Twas most efficacious.
This friend would signal the owner of the Verizon-stone, or grant us a number-set by which we might hail him ourselves, and these owners were most oft overjoyed to hear of our intent, and eager to meet with us in order to receive their property.
This was yestere’en, after I last kept this log. Now this day, which now settles with the sun into the west, to sleep through the night with us all, we made our way through the streets and villages of this mighty city of New York, dispensing cell-phones – and aye, collecting the rewards proffered in exchange: for Master Grable hath not a silver tongue – but he doth have a nose for the gold, as my brethren would say were he one of our number, and joyously would they speak it, too.
Young Chester, who had managed to “unlock” some, though not all, of the magic windows he called lap-tops, used one of the same to plot our course, with the aid of something he called Goo-Gull – most strange. He laid all of our ports of call into a single map, and then called out headings to his father, who manned the wheel.
What did he steer, might one ask? The great white-painted beast-wagon which had been stabled ashore beside the pier, the keys to which Master Grable produced, most fortuitously, as we were steeling ourselves to front Brother Bob and regain our wagon and team for the day’s work. When he produced them and offered the use of the beast-wagon, I thought he acted somewhat abashed; but produce keys he did, and offer to steer, he did, while young Chester sat beside him, magic window alight on the boy’s lap, calling out directions and chattering excitedly the while. The boy is enraptured by this pirate’s tale in which he finds himself.
The general manner of our encounters with the owners of Verizon-stones was thus: we would arrive at a destination chosen by young Chester’s magic Goo-Gull – betimes ‘twould be a house, and recognizable; at times a tall tower, the which the Grables referred to as “apartments,” though as I understood it, these mighty keeps were the homes of many and many, and all sleeping right atop and beside each other, as at an inn on a crowded crossroads; such a situation does not put people “apart,” and thus I took to calling them Togetherments – and we would stop the beast-wagon, rummage through the sack of cell-phones for one labeled according to Chester’s reckoning as attached to this domicile, and then he and I would exit. A house we would approach directly; a Togetherment would call for the press of a button. At some smaller Togetherments, only slightly larger than the richest man’s city dwelling in my Ireland, there would be but four or six buttons – which for some daft reason he could not explain to me (any more than he could explain why they were called “buttons” when they clearly hold no clothing together; though at least there is somewhat of a resemblance in this name), young Chester continually referred to as “bells” or “doorbells.” Clearly they were not affixed to any doors, and just as clearly, the sound they made was more akin to the croak of a dying crow, or perhaps a young boar divided from its mother. Sure and there was nothing of bells about those buttons. And little of buttons.
Any road, the Togetherment buttons would summon a voice, inquiring as to our business. It struck me as passing rude that these people cannot even be bothered to open a door and greet a guest, invite him to share at least a modicum of one’s hospitality. In my mind, an open and welcoming home is a place of pride and the receiver as well as the giver of blessings, whether of the Lord – for the Bible teaches hospitality, does it not? – or of Dame Fortune; but here, and now, these people do not even greet a man with a humble blessing or a Well-met, sir; no, ’twas oft only an impatient-sounding “Yes?”
If these people do not enjoy each other’s company, why do they live so close? On a ship we live in one another’s pockets from necessity; but here, I passed through hundreds of miles of land that was all but empty. Why do these people not live there, with some peace and quiet away from the people they seemingly loathe? Why do they choose a life that does not bring them joy?
Could it be that they do not choose? Is this land so tyrannical, these people so lacking in natural liberty, that they cannot, any of them, choose the manner in which they live? Or could they be so ignorant they do not know that better exists?
Perhaps it is but my ignorance at hand, here, and I should not sit in judgment.
‘Tis hard, though, when they be so clearly wrong.
Aye: stay the course, man.
The “bell” would “ring,” and the somewhat irate “Yes?” issue forth. I spoke first, controlling my temper and my desire to correct their want of manners, and identified myself as sire of Chester; I would inform them that my erstwhile son would like to return something of theirs. Then Chester would interrupt – by the third iteration, we had our timing set, and we wove around each other as do shipmates singing chanteys as they weigh anchor and set sails – and call out, “We have your phone!” He pitched his voice high, so as to seem young; he opened his eyes wider, too, to improve the deception. I would then repeat the lad’s words, and beg entry, which was granted nigh invariably. When so, we would climb some flights of stairs, or stand in a strange doored box called an “elevator” for some moments. (I do not comprehend these “elevators.” I press a button, a door opens; I stand within, press another button, the door closes. There is some sense of motion, not unlike standing on a deck when a wave rocks the ship, but nothing like riding up and down swells in a clean wind, and nothing like the living motion of a horse; nor yet the jarring of a wagon crossing over ruts. Ah! Now it comes to me that it is akin to riding in a beast-wagon: perhaps these elevators are similar. Some displacement must occur, for when the doors open anew, the vista without is changed, generally from one corridor to a somewhat darker corridor. Bah. Americalish magic. Though I would wager that I would be more unsettled by this had I not been transported across 300 years by my Druid mother and an enchanted ship.) Then we would arrive at another door, on which I was to rap with my knuckles; the door would open, and the wide-eyed youth with me would thrust forward a Verizon-stone, the words “Is this yours?” bursting forth from between his teeth, though he knew full well that it was, having aided in bringing this prey to ground.
In the general, we met with success. I would act the part of a proud Da; I confess I ruffled the boy’s hair a time or two, in pursuit of my role. We would make much – more than was deserved – of the boy’s cleverness and honorable intent in seeking out the true owners of the cell-phone; if the recipient pursued it, I would make some shadowed reference to the manner by which I came to possess it: somewhat in the drift of, I and my several cousins and siblings (the elder Grable had intimated that, myself being tangibly, audibly Irish, this would not be glanced at askew; this made me question my people’s reputation in this time, but it proved correct) had tripped to the deceit with these would-be charitable fellows collecting for victims of The Bitch Irene; there had followed something of a donnybrook, ending in the recovery of loot. Et voila. Those who were charmed by the lad gave dollar-papers to him in reward; those who smiled at the thought of a sound pummeling chastisement of the mongrels what had pillaged them handed the money to me. All but one Verizon-stone was returned fitly; for that one, the owner shrugged and told young Chester, “Keep it. I bought a newer one.” On our way back down the stairs, Chester proffered the cell-phone in question to me, saying, “Do you want it?” I was fair loath even to lay a finger on it, and responded, “Do you not?” But the boy shook his head, and with a somber mien but a glint in his eye said, “There were two others that I couldn’t find the owners at all, so I figured they were mine now. Finders keepers, losers weepers.”
I laughed at that, loud and long, and clapped the boy on the shoulder. I have not heard a more apt motto for a rover such as myself. The boy would make a fine pirate. I took the stone from him, giving it in turn to Lynch, who seems both intrigued by the trinket and capable, with Chester’s help, of making it answer to his call.
This day has made me wonder a thing I have not in many a year – aye, not since my Genevra died, and I wed myself to the sea. I wonder thus: how would I stand as a father? Having had none of my own, I do not know the manner of it, though it seems I can counterfeit the part sufficiently to earn gold. But in truth: could I be a Da?
What would my sons be? Would they be true men, or would my corrupted blood out in them, and they take the fashion of Lord Blackwell?
Would my lassies be bonny?
Ha – that would depend on the mother, I trust.
Ah: and on the thought of fathers, one more chance of this day must I record. We did anchor at midday, purchasing sausage-bridies for our supper – the which all the Americalish called “hot dogs,” prompting just a bit of consternation in Kelly, who had to be reassured that these meat-pies were not in fact dog meat, but rather beef ground fine – and I found a moment alone with the elder Grable. I gave him my thanks for piloting the beast-wagon for us, and he did blush at it and look abashed. Said I, “I noticed that you did – hesitate, in producing yon wagon. Did you not?”
Grable sighed, and then nodded. It needed more than one attempt, but at the last, he spoke his confession manfully: “Yea, I was sort of – telling myself it was all right not to mention it to you. It wasn’t really yours, after all, or Ian’s – I mean, he stole it from thieves. And then I told myself that he gave it to me. Or at least, he gave me the van, and the phones, and I thought, if I gave you the phones, then I could – you know – ”
“Keep the wagon,” I finished for him, mortaring in the gap in his speech.
“Yea.” He nodded. He would not meet my eyes.
“Is not the wagon of more value than the phones?”
His shoulders sagged like a sail when the wind dies, and he roughed his hands together as though they had something unclean on them that he would remove by this chafing. He did not speak for a span of breaths; I held my tongue and let his conscience devil him as it would.
Aye: in truth, I thought the wagon were his. I certainly had no claim to it, other than an Englishman’s claim – my man had taken it in battle, and thus it was mine as wergild. ‘Tis much how the English kings held sovereignty o’er the free peoples of Ireland, aye, and of Scotland and Wales and many another place. But I have rights only to what is given to me and what I win by mine own efforts. The Grace of Ireland is mine, for I paid for her with my well-earned gold. When I take another man’s ship, either he gives me what value he hauls, or else I take it in battle. I share equally with my men whose strong backs and arms have allowed me the capture and the victory; they do agree to grant me an extra share for the maintenance of the ship that keeps and sustains us all. ‘Tis all the efforts of each separate man, or else gifts freely given.
Well. Perhaps not freely given. Bah. What do I care of the right of it? This is the way of the world, and I have pulled this thread overlong.
The wagon was Ian’s, who took it in battle. He gave it and the phones to Master Grable, and were it me to whom O’Gallows had given such prizes, I know well they would have stayed mine, come Hell or high water, or Ian himself to reclaim his property. So I thought no less of Grable for his wish to retain the greater prize. But if his conscience wished to give all the plunder to me, well. How can I stand betwixt a man and what he thinks is the right?
“I’ve got a family on that boat,” he said, his hands still wiping at one another, his gaze fixed on the ground at his feet, a thousand miles beyond the horizon. “Four kids. I told them this was a vacation, a big adventure – we’ll sail the ocean blue! All summer! What I didn’t tell them is that we don’t have a home to go back to at the end of summer.” He looked – not to me, but past me, then; I saw that he had the eyes of a father. I have seen them before, in men worn down to the ends of their bones, who have given all they have and then robbed themselves to give more – because behind those eyes are their children, and their children are in need. It is a look beyond mere fatigue, and far beyond worry or fear; it is a deadness, held up by love: it is a look that says this man would gladly lie down and let the Earth cover him – except he has children, and they need food.
Aye. Perhaps it is best I do not have sons.
Grable went on. “I lost my job a year ago. We lost the house in June. This boat and the clothes on our backs are all we have left.”
“I have known men with far less,” I said, gently, but in truth, what need had this man for this maudlin self-sorrow? He had a ship. And she was a fine craft, despite her addlepated name.
He nodded. “I know. But we can’t live on the boat. Not any more. The kids have to be back in school – already should have been. And we can’t stay in this harbor – the harbormaster’s been looking the other way with the fees, because of the storm, but he won’t do that forever. So I’ll have to sell the boat and find us an apartment to rent. But New York rents – they’ll kill us quick. There’s no way I’ll make enough starting out, even if I find a job. I was hoping we could sail somewhere, somewhere else, somewhere cheaper, but I don’t know how to navigate. And if we’d been out in the water when Irene hit, we’d all be dead.” He sighed. “I was hoping that I could sell the van and get some leeway. Or even, I don’t know, keep it – it would help with work.” He shrugged, and then to my surprise he spoke in French. “C’est la vie,” he said, and sighed again. I had thought these Americalish had no interest in the tongues and manners of other peoples; those to whom I have spoken have barely heard of Ireland, most of them, and not one in fifty knows that ’tis the mark of Erin on my speech, not the damned King’s English.
Grable went on. “I am glad it’s going to help you guys, though. And Ian, and Llewellyn and everyone.” He met my gaze, at last. “You’re stand up guys. All of you. I’m glad Chester got to know you.”
So ’twas then that I cursed his name, spat in his eye, robbed him blind, and took his wife to be my molly and his children to swab my deck. Aye – sounds like, does it not? How, after that speech, could I do other than I did then?
“Ye can keep the wagon, man,” I said, and clapped him on the shoulder when his jaw dropped agape. “I and mine have no use for the vile-smelling thing. Consider it your wages, you and the lad, for the fine service ye’ve done us this day, and yester.” I reached into my shirt to withdraw a respectable wad of dollar-papers. Grable swallowed twice, his eyes shining, and then thanked me, quietly and manfully.
Aye – I did wonder if ’twas a machination: had he tugged at my heartstrings – already tuned and ready by the mere fact of my Irish blood – hoping for my pity and subsequent largesse? He knew that none of us could handle the infernal thing. I thought back over his words – and an idea came to me then.
“I’ll offer ye a bargain,” says I. Grable tore his eyes away from the beast-wagon, his mind from the calculations and aspirations I had no doubt were whirling within his brain-case. But I had seen that his gaze rested as much on his son, laughing with Lynch and Kelly over a flock of gray-and-white birds that sought bits of Kelly’s luncheon, as they did on his new prize, and I have no doubt as well that those calculations and aspirations were of the father’s sort, not the trickster’s.
When he turned to me now, I cast out my line. “Ye know that we have places we must go, and tasks before us. But the gods willing, we will win the day – and then we shall be as free as birds, and ready to repay good service rendered us.” I paused, and after a moment, Grable urged me on, having sighted my bait. Now for the hook.
“If ye are willing to pilot this wagon for us southwards to Charleston, not only can ye take yon carriage with ye – but after we have taken back what is ours, I and my men will come back here and sail your ship wheresoe’er ye wish it.”
His eyes widened – but his mouth pursed.
A tug on the line was required.
“And if ye’ll teach one of us the manner of managing these wagons – we’ll take it in turn to show ye the way to steer by stars and sextant, and lay your own course. The world’s seas will all be yours – and the beast-wagon, too.”
The corners of his mouth turned up, and I knew I had my man. This was a man in love with the sea; ’twas but his family that held him ashore. But it spoke well of him that he stayed dry for them, and despite his yearning for the wind and the waves. All I offered him was his heart’s wish; how could he say nay?
He had but two more questions – could his boy Chester come along? and Would we pay for fuel for the beast? I answered both in the affirmative, and thus was our bargain struck.
And now, ’tis night, and the moon shines down on me on the deck of the Volare, its light the means by which I keep this log. We have 430 dollar-papers, and we have transportation to Charleston. We have a cell-phone of our own, and soon we will be able to steer a beast-wagon for ourselves.
I pray our course remains so straight and true.