Because a Dream Is a Kind of Mutiny Too
Mutiny leaves a hole.
For years, Our Mother has dreamt of a gaping hole in Our Father’s chest. Sometimes, in her dreams, Our Father’s heart is still in the hole, quietly beating down to stillness, leaving behind only the gentle rupture of waves. In other versions of the dream, there is only a blank space where Our Father’s heart should be. His eyes closed, his silver tooth glinting inside his mouth. In this form of Our Mother’s dream, Our Father’s heart is tumbling softly, side to side on the ship’s deck, pulled out from his body, lulled by the waves.
Our Mother never wanted Our Father to be a pirate. Our Father said the rubies called to him. He said he had no choice. He said he tried to be otherwise, but Our Father could never get ahold of an explanation she would understand.
The table was cleared of dinner dishes and Our Mother sat cradling her nightly lemon water. Our Father leaned back in his chair, one elbow cocked over the chair’s back, one hand flat on the tabletop. The clock ticked down the hallway. Us twin boys were in the playpen in the living room. They could see our heads bobbing as we grappled with toy ships and chewed on wooden blocks.
Our Father said: When I close my eyes, and sometimes even when I don’t, there is, beneath it all, beneath the sound of the waves and the seagulls, or the swatting of quiet bat wings at dusk, or the sounds of the boys, their mumbling up in their room, or beneath their sometimes crying from trying to get to sleep, yours or my feet shuffling to go talk to them, to calm them down, to rock them to sleep, a lullaby or a story we whisper, beneath all of that sound, all of those noises, I always hear another sound. I hear the call of something I can’t get rid of.
Our Father is a pirate, not a speech maker. His words weave more gaps than completions. When he speaks of himself, his stories are wrapped in a gusset of defense or shame or embarrassment. Our Father’s arms are slimly muscular, his legs taut, his chest a striding surface, but his mouth, in the face of truth, is weak and fallible. We know. We’ve experienced it before. Like when he’s preparing to leave in his jolly boat, to row to the tall side of his pirate ship. We say We love you and he only sighs or quietly replies Okay. We know the failings of Our Father’s words. We know how much more he wants to say, how hard he wishes, how he wants for words his lips and breath and the tongue can’t produce.
Secretly, Our Father longs for a crewman to snip the tongue from his mouth. It’d be like a flood of bleeding, a sense of drowning, but when all was healed he’d finally be left without an obligation to words. No one would doubt his emotions for the lack of proper phrases. No one would make him speak on matters he couldn’t. There would be an abundance of silence from his mouth, and it would be allowed, accepted, revered even.
What is it you hear? Our Mother asked him, her hands encasing the mug, steam rising into the lamp-shaded night of the table around them. What other sound is it?
Our Father did his best that night to explain to Our Mother his lust for pirating, the draw of seaward rubies, treasures he said he was seeking for us. He did his best to show her how he felt, how they called to him, what little control he had over the trajectory of his existence.
To build this family into an armada, he said.
Our Mother didn’t understand. Our Father’s words failed him. He couldn’t explain the calling he heard, the glimmering sound beyond all other sounds. Our Father couldn’t describe it with enough desperation, couldn’t rattle out the bright red bodies how he heard them in his head, pinging as they did no matter the time of day, no matter the course of his blood, no matter the wants of his heart.
Eventually Our Father grew silent for a lack of words. His tongue was exhausted. Our Mother left the table without finishing and Our Father didn’t move to follow. Instead he listened to the rain on the window panes, on the roof, to us in the playpen murmuring with each other, plus the ticking of the hallway clock. Our Father stayed, listening to the whisper of rubies from across the sea.
The most recent mutiny on Our Father’s ship was quelled at the top of the stairs, where he faced and skewered each in turn, halting in his fluid motions only to stab and flay those who had slipped through his first moves. Not one crew member was left alive in his wake, not one crew member to tell the world how Our Father dreams of living forever, how he believes bats are otherworldly, how he longs for infinite time. Not one crew member is left who heard him saying all these things to himself on the deck when they woke and listened and mutinied. Waves washed the planks clean of their blood and Our Father toed the remains overboard. The lightness of freed limbs bobbing on the water and the weight of other fuller bodies sinking forcefully under the weight of soaked clothes and weaponry, those cutlasses and pistols not even drawn yet from their sashes, the mutiny so quick and effortless in Our Father’s hands.
Previous mutinies have come to Our Father’s decks, many of them, time and again. Some were finished as this one, decisively, while others rent Our Father in various ways either physical or psychological and so took longer to subdue. But Our Father always won, always was left the last man standing on the wooden deck, sometimes tired and sometimes not even a breath out of place, each victory followed, as it was this time too, with a long laboring journey back to the nearest pirate port, to piece together another crew, to find the new men who would bravely join him on the sea. Our Father worked as a dozen men then, maneuvering his worn ship back to some isles or landfall, a place to rest his feet, a port to find the next rendition of his mapping.
The place Our Father arrived this time was Port Honte. He dropped anchor outside the island’s rim, quelled the sails and latched safe all the riggings, made the ship as stowed cargo nestled quietly in the bay. When all was ready Our Father lowered his empty jolly boat to the water, turning the cranks one then the other, as if he was two men but in slowed succession, then dove from the bow and swam to it where it floated on the water, held by its harnesses, released it and rowed across an even tide to the sandy shore and the short docks and the unkempt outposts and the island’s shadowdark foliage. Our Father, exhausted from doing the work of many men, his body capable of splitting in parts, of infinitely mocking itself, but not without drawing down on its reserves.
The moon sat above, perched as a sliver in a sky of stars.
On shore, his jolly boat tied and captain’s garb dripping from the dive off the ship, Our Father made his way down the main path, a harbinger of a town where all was a mixture of desire and desperation, defeat and destruction so thick the moon felt blackened above it. Nearly all the windows were alight with candles or lanterns, the voices within rowdy and dissembled from drink or incapable minds, born into a life they couldn’t control. All of the men here wanting to be buccaneers, all of the women holding up the walls.
Though Our Father didn’t walk with the limp of a peg leg or the shrieking squalor of a bird on his shoulder, all who saw him pass as they rumbled into doorways or peered through the thin curtains of quarter houses knew he was a captain. It wasn’t the plume of his tri-corner or the sheen of his silver tooth. They could see it in his body, his stature and his pride, the gait of his arms, the way the blade of his cutlass shone like a thousand skirmishes had already passed over it, and a thousand more sure to come, a cutlass wiped clean a thousand times on the handkerchief tucked in his doublet. They admired Our Father, the vixens and pirates of this port, and he walked taller for it, stood broader, swelled with a pride that overrode his exhaustion.
Our Father passed bars and inns until he heard one shack calling to him, as if chanting his pirate name from the slats of the siding. He entered and sat at a table. He moved the table’s candle to the side and laid out his parchment, the call to arms for a pirate on his crew, then he carefully took down the names of each new man come to find him there, to join up for the next journey. Each one who approached was tanned and inked, full of muscles and grit. They formed a line before he’d even looked up from the page, and then the pen was a cutlass in the first man’s hand. This on down to the last, until there were no spaces left on Our Father’s page. He had them, the next burly and rough-necked set for his ship, some of the largest and most aggressive looking men he’d ever signed. The mutiny of this crew, when it happened, would be difficult to put down, but Our Father wanted the most brutal and menacing men, no matter the risk. And in order to get them, these most awful of awful men, Our Father didn’t lie, didn’t tell them he was a typical pirate with the usual maps, the normal plans for treasure. No. Our Father told them, each and every one, the scraggily bearded and the lazy-eyed, the grim muscled and leech scarred, the chiseled and gutted and over-ripe: When the moon is bright and fat on the horizon, dipping into the water as it does one night in every thousand, we are going to sail into it, where we’ll find an island more beautiful and bountiful than any other. Are you willing to join a journey you maybe can’t rightly believe?
Here, Our Father was a wordsmith, and those new men lined the tavern’s floor in this port until they instead lined the rails of this ship. None of them needed the proof of map or compass. None of them needed an description of the sound rubies make. None of them needed to hear that mutiny would be the only option left, if the moon didn’t pay out the treasure Our Father promised.
Our Mother could never see the importance of rubies, the shimmer of reward. Our Mother found her treasure in us twin boys, treated us like gems and gold stowed in a heavy chest, one she wished was locked up and buried far out of the world’s reach. This was the only way Our Mother ever understood piracy.
The very first time, when Our Father left pretending to be a fisherman, instead of fish he returned with a palm of rubies. This was Our Mother’s confirmation, Our Father’s christening as a pirate, and that small sack of gems bought a house in this rain drenched township, a dim place for Our Mother to give birth in, to stow her treasure. Since then though, twin boys later and Our Father out at sea in longer and longer stretches each time, Our Mother has yet to see any more returned plunder than a handful of rubies at a time, only ever enough to keep the household going, to keep her boys fed and clothed, a dribble of arcade coins in their pockets which she intended to protect them from piracy but which made them feel more pirate with every jangle around their bodies.
When Our Father does return home, those few nights in every thousand, he is doused with land-sickness. His head spins and his throat goes dry. He shrivels to coffin-sized. The sickness hits harder each time he is back. It used to be he could stay on shore long enough to tuck us in, to tell us the story of seagulls turning into bats, to weather the storm with Our Mother, to attempt fathering in whatever way his sea battered heart directed. But now he is in bed nearly as soon as his jollyboat hits the sand, and it is all Our Mother can do to get him righted again a day or two later, for the journey back.
Our Father the pirate, Our Mother giving birth to him over and over again.
When Our Mother asks about treasure, says to him Remember when you said the rubies called to you, glimmered?
Our Father nods his head, rubies behind his eyes.
Yes, he says.
Well? she asks.
The ship is loaded with them, he says. So full I can’t even drag her into the bay anymore. I’m afraid I’ll split the bottom. Rubies in piles as high as my forehead, he says. Rubies enough to buy and sink this whole township into the sea.
Right, Our Mother says. And I’m a mermaid. I’ve fins for legs.
Our Father is losing her. Each day she turns more ghost than mother, more seethrough than wife. Our Father’s sickness is steep.
You said you were building us an armada, she says, but he is already gone again.
At Port Honte, as he turns down the hardened dirt road back toward the coastline, Our Father thinks of Our Mother, how she’d look dressed in this rugged town, this shanty village where the women sport wavering rags instead of handmade dresses, where weary and worn chandeliers sway from ceilings. Our Father thinks about how he said the piles of rubies were as tall as his forehead. Our Father thinks about how he isn’t dizzy here, on this island, at this port, because an island is a part of the ocean, and he has no obligations on this shore. He is fondling these thoughts while the tagalong collection of muscled new crew members trail behind him, jostling their cutlasses and buccaneer pistols in sheathes against their hips or thighs or chests or backs. He is lost in these thoughts when he sees her, standing there, a woman who is not his wife. She is watching him, his captain’s garb in her sights, her hands cradled together in the small of her back, legs crossed demurely at the ankles, a tattered hem of dusk and soil layers draped on her body, reddish hair devilishly swirled. She is a beauty, and when she flares a smile at Our Father, he believes he sees the tiny cusp of fangs, and his heart feels the pangs of living forever.
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