< The First in Anyone's Memory
The pirate who raised me, dragged me up from the negative suck of the sea, snatched me from the needy mother who was never mine, is dying. "Is this how you want it?" I ask for the umpteenth time. He nods his head in overemphatic vertical motions. Maybe he's trying to imitate the parrot he once kept, or the one I pretended to be, sitting on his shoulder.
His breaths are stacked, heavy. Yet he still smiles at me--for him-- a kind of victory.
"If you won't go to the hospital, " I say, as if his ineffectual father, my voice about to break into a million pieces of ships, "then take another pill."
He and I both know that hospitals are not places for waterlogged pirates.
He agrees to another diuretic that will help deplete his love of ancient sea-water. He has never believed in tap water.
It takes his breath away to admit that he loves me, maybe more than sponges or hostages with spilling bosoms.
Here's a hook: My father's eyes begin to droop. I think of marbles at the bottom of the sea. He used to call me his Captain Flint. I would dance for him. What I wouldn't do for a silver dollar of love.
I think of how when he was young, he must have kidnapped and charmed a whole fleet of rainy day women. He could fill a room with illegitimate deck hands. I was one. I remained loyal when men no longer listened to him, gypsy women no longer bared their breasts for loose change, when our luck turned to scurvy and unreliable stars.
His last wish is for me to close the door and never return. He wants to decompose by himself. He holds this mistaken assumption that when you die, you return to water. It's the body's way of returning to the source. He told me.
I feel so awkward on this hard floor. I work up what must be an incredibly stupid smile. I've become a kid again. That small, never worthy. I leave and shut the door.
In the dark narrow hall of the tenement house, my feet tap an irregular rhythm, maybe a kind of funky eulogy. I hit the streets. I want to cry. I think of all the places we visited, some no longer on the map, beneath the sea or five and a half miles into the sky. I think about the time we almost capsized on the streets of New York City, how kind words and strangers kept us afloat. I want to mimic the cry of a dolphin. But I am too dry, with tattoos of anchors on my back, names of women who sank with me, our hearts always open to the sea. Loneliness will be my wooden leg. I lick the salt from my lips. I'll drift towards new land. I'll bury my old life with him in a sea of laughing skeletons.
published 16 January 2013