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"Captain's Walk," short story excerpt

Wednesday 6/23/21

“Well, he’s back again,” my husband Jacob declares as the breakfast march begins. The breakfast march comprises the two of us coming down the hallway on a Saturday, single file, after a night three feet apart in bed, because it’s not possible to stand side-by-side, which is the dimensional reality of the corridors of a house from 1721. The oak of the walls is blackened in the manner of quality, aged rum, or the honeycomb of a well-worked hive that falls to the ground and cracks open in autumn. Charred, tarry wood, brushed with beeswax and a veneer of smoke from cured fish.


“Whatever,” Jacob adds, the tart, thin smile of an apple rind in his voice. One of those smiles that tries to go somewhere and doesn’t get there.


“Old bastard’s earned it,” he concludes.


He’s talking about the footprints, or what appear to be footprints, from the pantry that lead down a corridor with more of the blackened oak and comb, and into the kitchen. They’re made of water. Spaced apart—because we measured—in even installments of thirty-one inches, which would mean they were made by a man who was 6’2’’.


We’ve invented a sea captain who is tall, and was especially tall in his time. Jacob prefers to treat him as a devoted salt who’s been fixing for a nip of port or brandy from his accumulated stash, which he thinks is still here. He wants but a jigger, and maybe a bumper of whist.


The captain is dead now, but the way we tell his story to each other, he returns to the house that he built centuries ago, which we’ve occupied for the majority of our time together, as if he wishes to check on us before we leave. Before one of us leaves. We’re not certain who will take the house. I think about proposing that neither of us does, that we up and sell, but I’m not sure that’s fair to the captain, who has chosen our blood as an extension of his blood, and may not welcome the new variety.


We put him through a lot when we talk about him. We’ll say that he hung himself in the root cellar, and just as he was crossing out of this life, he regretted a decision that was now too late to reverse.


“I bet it’s always like that,” Jacob said.


“Someone could think, ‘good choice, this was worth it, my pain is over.’”


“Just as their neck snaps? Nope. That’s the nature of hanging. You’d say, ‘Oh shit,’ if you could still talk.”


Or else we figure he’s returned home from one of his epic voyages, replete with rum but nonetheless thin from long having tired of hard tack, what fat he had on him being the result of feasting on maggots that inevitably get into the bread on year-long journeys.


In he came and there was his wife in the hands of somebody. The smithy. The schoolteacher with more cheek than sense. The village idiot everyone called Cobbler because of the length and thinness of his cock, which resembled a long, tapered boot.


I want to gather up the captain’s footsteps and put them in a glass. Drink them down. Pour one life into my own. Imbibe a past that is not mine, dump a wiser existence into who I am.


“What did you see in him?” Jacob sometimes asks.


We’re not talking about the captain now.


We pick the scab that Jacob will say started what we call “it” with axiomatic ambiguity and yet a precision that could drive a dagger through the smallest, most particular pore on a person’s body.


But I know a scab is a layer. The scab is not the wound. A wound must exist for the scab to have reason to come into being.


Which is a cop-out on my part. Certainly not a feat of bravery or skillful logic.


The captain would be disgusted. The things he’s seen? The things he’s gone through? The sea-hag that swam alongside his ship for a full fortnight and caused some of the men to lose their reason and throw their bodies with their raving brains into the ocean?


And these were good men. The captain only shipped out with the best. A whore he might call me, but I think he’s a gentleman. His height has something to do with it. I associate that long stride with gallantry. Jacob is even taller.