Bad Hemingway
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the story: [characters] [chapter 1] [chapter 2] [chapter 3]
last update: 16 december 2000

by a bunch of people



The bottle of Tortuga slid across the tilting table and came to rest in a large calloused hand. It was a worn and bitter hand, and it belonged to a worn and bitter man who had not treated it well. There were scrapes along the palm from many miles of rope and scars on the knuckles from many dozens of broken noses. There was a poorly stiched cut running from the thumb to halfway up the massive forearm, a cut made by the teeth of a barracuda. Despite its state, the hand served this man well. He had fought many storms and many enemies, and had won every time. While others were swept off the deck he stood his ground, laughing at the winds and waving the sabre he had taken from a dead carrabinero.

The others on the ship called him "The Cap'n", for he was the captain.

He caught the sliding bottle with his left hand for his right was holding the cards. His eyes did not rest on the bottle, nor on the cards, but on the face of the man across the table. He did not like the look of this man. This man looked like someone who was running away from his past without looking where he's placing his feet. The Cap'n had seen men such as this on his ship many times, and they were always the first to be swept off the deck.

He raised the bottle to his mouth and let the sweet rum flow down his throat. The man across the table watched this impatiently, and his right hand began to shake. "Scurvy weaklings!" thought The Cap'n. While this man was here trembling like a child, his friend, the one with the woman's name, was hiding in their cabin or perhaps leaning over the side of the ship. "Arrr, I should feed them both to the sharks for their sight disgusts me!" he thought.

The Cap'n was in a bitter mood today. He was in a bitter mood everyday for he knew that he was a pirate, and a pirate cannot live by ferrying jellyfish like these from Cartagena to Rabat. A pirate must rob and kill. A pirate must strike fear into merchant sailors with their chests full of gold. But the age of piracy was long past, and he had to accept this as the crab accepts the tide. And so he did, and drank rum to dull the anger. And yet he kept the jolly roger in a locked chest in his room, waiting for the time he would fly it high upon the mast.

He thought about all this while the last drops of the Tortuga slid down his throat. Finally he put the bottle down and looked at his cards through squinting eyes.


"Eight of Spades" the Cap'n spat out, like a poorly-milled slug might spit from one of the bell-mouthed lugaros carried by the poor herdsman of the Catalans.

"Va Piscatore!" sneered Fred, with glee, in the poorly-formed dialect of men who have learned their spanish neither correctly nor energetically. The glee poured from Fred as glee must always pour from men who can not contain it. Fred could no more contain his glee than he could contain his hatred for fascists and his unwashed stench.

The Cap'n swore a dark and terrible oath he had learned in the slave pits of Rabat. In truth, the Cap'n had known that Fred had no Eight of spades in his hand. The Cap'n refused to ask for diamonds or hearts, for hard men who master the sea have no need for such womanly things. The Cap'n had asked for all of the spades and all of the clubs, and since the game was still going on, he now had started back in on the spades. The Cap'n, who had fought many storms and many enemies, was a very bad player of cards. He pulled a card from the top of the deck. Then he thought of something and stiffened.


The Cap'n thought of the fish, the fish according to LeMarcus (the boatswain). The fish was big. The Cap'n laughed. It made a damn good legend. His mind was starting to work. He knew he could catch it because he was hungry enough. He also knew he was losing the game. He threw the cards on the table and stared Fred down before he could say anything. Without a word, the Cap'n walked out and into his quarters. He went inside, took off his shoes and trousers, sitting on the blankets, rolled the shoes up inside the trousers for a pillow and got in between the blankets. Now he can talk with himself about the fish, the fish according to LeMarcus.

Out through the window, the Cap'n watched the glow of the ocean while the night waves rippled. It was a quiet night. The boat was perfectly quiet. The Cap'n stretched under the blanket comfortably. Too quiet. The Cap'n sat up and lit a match. His paranoia was like a humming mosquito, waiting to be hissed out by a flame.

Nothing. Showered with the glow of the match, the Cap'n's cabin looked much the same as it always does. The Cap'n was embarrassed by his reaction to the quiet. The good thing was that there was no one there to witness his embarrassment. He blew out the match and continued the conversation with himself. It is a fish, of course, but it is necessary that it be THE fish -- the great, white -- what-was-it? You do not want tuna. Certainly, you would not want tuna, he was saying to himself. Nor can you stand before your crew with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. Parnoia, fear or dread?


It was, of course, the Great White Marlin according to LeMarcus. A handsome, beautifully formed fish some 30 feet long, known to spear the bravest seamen with it's spear like nose. The Cap'n had fought sharks, whales, even giant, flesh eating minnows, but the Great White Marlin remained unbeaten.

The sea was the Cap'n's world, but it was a cruel world. And as such, he had yet to even see the Great White Marlin and although the sea was filled with nourishment, he was hungry.

His crew knew about the Cap'n madness, to find, kill, and eat the Great White Marlin, but he gave them whisky and rum so there was little discontent.

He thought "I must sleep, for tomorrow is another day, and each day is a day on which I may find, kill, and eat the Great White Marlin." He lay back down in bed and went to sleep.

Outside, the crew sang songs of the sea and chased Maria around as they have been without female company for so long, the fact that he was young and supple was enough for these hardened men.

For many days, this was the way of life onboard the boat the captain called a ship. And as the summer days gave way to the fall days the captain called on his first mate, Gustavus, who hailed from the island of Sicily.

"We have been at sea for 30 and 8 days, Gustavus"

"The sea is hard, Captain"

"It is that, Gustavus"

And he dismissed Gustavus forgetting the reason why he summoned him in the first place.

It was Fred who first realized that something was wrong.

Maria had long grown a full beard, and thus was no longer pestered by the sailors who returned to their assigned tasks of fighting and gambling.

"Fred, you are troubled" said Maria one day

"How far is it from Cartagena to Gibralter, Maria?"

"I do not know Fred"

"I think we should have arrived by now"

Maria understood.

"We're not going to Gibralter Fred"

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you know that the captain is obsessed? Obsessed with finding, killing, and eating the Great White Marlin?"

"How do you know this?"

"Fred, while you spent your days brooding on the bow of the ship, I've been with the sailors and they say the captain is mad and that he has never made it to any destination he'd set off for"

"We must get to Afrika, Maria"

"Why Fred, why?"

"Because there are fascists there, and more work for us"

Maria did not want to go to Afrika. He wanted to live at sea. He wanted to gamble and fight like the others. He wanted to help the captain find, kill, and eat the Great White Marlin.

Fred stared at Maria like the bull that sees the red cape of the taunting matador. Maria weakened. They decided they would talk to the captain in the morning.

Suddenly there was a shout from the crow's nest.

"Awaken the captain!!! I see the fish!!!"


"Easier said than done", mumbled Gustavus, whose task it was to awaken the Cap'n. Waking the Cap'n was as dangerous as waking the ruddy bulls that once roamed Sicily, the island from which he hailed and the island which he hated. He had tried once, as a little boy, to awaken a sleeping bull. It was a mistake. It was a mistake in the way that it is a mistake to laugh at a man who is pointing a pistola at your groin. There were few men in Sicily with pistolas, but there were many, many bulls.

He entered the cabin with great noise, but not as great as the noise of the Cap'n's snoring. He spoke, in the high-pitched voice which was his since the days in Sicily.

"Cap'n! We have spotted the fish!"

The Cap'n did not move.

"Cap'n!! It is time to kill, and eat, the Great White Marlin!"

Still the Cap'n did not move.

And so Gustavus slowly, carefully approached the Cap'n and extended his hand as one extends one's hand when trying to take meat from a feasting lion. He tapped the Cap'n on the shoulder...

Suddenly there was a great motion and bellowing and Gustavus found himself lying on the floor with the Cap'n's boot crushing his right hand and a sabre planted in the floorboards right next to his left ear. It was the sabre that the Cap'n had once taken from a dead carrabinero. The sabre was then lifted and prepared for a second swing, this time with the eyes open.

"Cap'n!!! Stop!!! It is I, Gustavus, and we have spotted the fish!!!"

The sabre froze. After a moment, which seemed as long as such moments must seem, the Cap'n spoke:

"Arrrrr..." he said.


Before Gustavus could say a word, a word that needed to be said, the Cap'n had dashed out of his quarters, down the narrow hall and up onto the bridge.

"Where is the fish!", he bellowed.

"Port side, Cap'n! It's just gone below the surface", one of the crew replied.

The Cap'n grinned. It was a grin he had not grinned in ages. It was a grin he had feared he would never grin again. In three great strides he was across the bridge to the port rail. He leaned out. He scanned the waves for his nemesis.

The crew was ready for the hunt. They had spent hours and days and weeks preparing, and learning to respect and maybe love their captain's obsession. It was because of this love and respect that noone in the crew would dare, at this time, tell the Cap'n that he wasn't wearing any trousers. On the other hand it may have been fear, fear of the Cap'n's Sabre that now kept their lips quiet on the subject of apparel. Clearly this was not the time to bother the Cap'n with such details. Besides, they had a job to do. They had the Great White Marlin to kill.

Many moments passed. And the fish did not surface. Many more moments passed. And the fish did not surface. Finally someone spotted it. The Great White Marlin leapt from the water some five hundred yards off the starboard side this time. Returning to the water, it's massive form crashing into the ocean, sent up a splash as high and wide as the ship's great masts.

"Bring her about!" he yelled. And the first mate spun the wheel hard to starboard. The Cap'n dug his fingernails into the rail. His heart was pounding in his chest. But he was not at all anxious. And this suprised him. For, as much as he had longed for this day, he also feared it.

Not too many moments later the fish repeated it's aerial feat, this time over the bow, and only 300 yeards away. They were closing on the beast and the harpoons were poised.


"Hoist the felkenbast!" the Cap'n shouted.

"Ready the blaggerbats!" he yelled.

And the crew hurried about, in great confusion, for none of them knew what a felkenbast or a blaggerbat is. And yet they made themselves busy, for none of them wished to interrupt the Cap'n's commands. To do so was to face his wrath, and his wrath was great indeed. Especially today, for he wasn't wearing any trousers.

"Prepare to clappen 'er down!"...

Meanwhile, Fred was looking out over the railing and onto the sea. His face was wrinkled, not because it was twisted by the forlorn grimace of a man resigned to the prison of the open sea, but because he was squinting. He was trying to see the Great White Marlin.

And there it was, about 200 yards off the bow. It was magnificent, at least 40 feet long from the tip of its spear-like nose to the end of its triangular tail. A great dorsal fin ran along its back, its color gradually fading from the bright pale of Caribbean pearls to the dark blue of Turkish dusk lit by a waning crescent moon. Fred's hand closed around the knife he held in his pocket, and he thought of Enrique. The dark Enrique. She always hated seafood, but would she refuse this?

The great fish turned again and began heading straight for the ship. It swam only a few feet below the surface, and lifted its long spear-like nose out of the water. The tip glistened, tinted by the low evening sun into a reddish color which reminded Fred of the blood which trickles down a bull's back after it is struck by the banderillas. The entire spectacle reminded Fred of the corrida: the red sail of the ship, the charging beast, the sailors with their harpoons ready, and the Cap'n wearing his long underwear. It would be a grand battle.


Poised on the bow, the Cap'n raised the harpoon over his head. The fish was now close, closer than the Cap'n would have believed was possible a few months ago in the harbor at Cartagena when he dreamed of the great fish and of plump young women that cooked the fish for him.

With a mighty thrust, the Cap'n stuck the harpoon deep into the back of the white fish as it's path crossed that of the ship's.

The rope tied to the harpoon unraveled itself between the Cap'n's legs and soon the first of the yellow barrels bounced off the side of the ship and splashed into the water like an overweight pirate doing a belly-flop dive from a plank.

"Hurray" screamed the crew.

"Arrgghhh!" screamed the Cap'n as he pulled up the long underwear that had fallen during his mighty thrust.

Fred stared at the barrel bouncing along the water, for the fish dove now, escaping.

"What now?" asked Maria

"Now we wait for the beast to tire" answered the Cap'n for that is what they planned to do.

Then the Cap'n swore, for moments later the barrel disappeared under the water and once again they were alone in the expanse of the sea that is hard...


The Captain was a callous man, both in body and in spirit. No man had ever seen him laugh, and he was only known to smile when fortune rought him good cards and busty barmaids served him mug after mug of his favorite mixture of turpentine and salt water, and even then his smile was like a game of poker in the local saloon -- crooked, and invariably followed by a stream of profanity so foul as to make hardened criminals shake their heads in shame. The Captain had treated his life like a wash woman on the shores of La Playa del Orlando Cepeda beats her children's clothes against the rocks to dry them for the running of the bulls. And it showed. His body was covered in calluses, most of which were covered in stubble or tattoos long worn down by the salt air and poor nutrition of a life at sea. Yet the Captain lived for the sea. In his quarters, he awoke each morning covered in calluses, stubble, tattoos and a pervasive stench of foot odor, alcohol, and brine, but always with one thing on his mind -- the Great White Marlin.

Oddly, this morning had been different. He had been awakened by that sea monkey Gustavas while dreaming The Dream. The Dream that entered his quarters every night to dance a torrid flamenco across the arid desert of his slumbering consciousness. And every night the dance was the same. His mind's watery eye reflected images that no man should have to behold. And the Captain relived them nightly. The Captain as an orphan. His younger brother. Fleeing the orphanage after a grizzly incident with a stiletto. Taking to the sea. A Great White Marlin. A vicious attack. Ramon!!!! The Captain would try to cry out in his dream, but he was always paralyzed with fear, as he had been so many years ago.

And each morning he renewed his vow of vengeance against the foul creature who had turned his only brother into a flabby one-armed assassin, the butt of jokes. As the Cap'n scanned the calm expanse of the sea for his enemy, he contemplated The Dream. Could a man so callous be motivated solely by a vendetta now decades old? For even this implied a tender spot, a feeling for his maimed brother which no one who knew the Cap'n would have believed possible. He looked into his heart like the fresh-faced gringos who lower store-bought fishing lines into the murky depths of the sea in hopes of pulling up some salty sea creature to impress their surly, overweight wives, and much like the gringos, he was rewarded with nothing. His heart was as empty as the rum bottle in his beefy hand. The Cap'n knew what drove him on his quest, and it was not a thirst for revenge. For he knew that Ramon's arm was not alone in the belly of that vile Marlin. There was something more, something that men had died for, that women had dyed their hair for, something that would not allow even the most callous of men, once having seen it, to return to lives that revolved around the love of a woman or the pursuit of material things. For his mistress was now the sea, and his sole desire was for that which was contained in his mutilated brother's clenched fist, as it lay embedded in the innards of the Great White Marlin. But for the moment the beast was gone.


So they waited. And after the waiting was done the fish did not appear and so they waited some more.

And the game of waiting bore down heavily upon their tired minds like bundles of hay weigh upon the backs of the old women who feed the withered horses of the carrabineros. Most of all, its weight bore down on Fred, for he had always hated waiting. For Fred, waiting had a smell to it. It smelled of musk and sweat and of dried manure. It was a smell of the stockpens where the bulls were kept for breeding. Here, in the open sea, there were no bulls, but somehow the smell had followed. Fred clutched his trembling right hand, his enemy, his betrayal, and thought of his father and of the bulls that run.

Miguel, the cook, was also thinking about bulls. He pictured himself as a famous matador, proudly standing in the center of a grand Plaza, the eyes of a hundred young buxom women fixed upon him, admiring his handsome looks and tight pants. They inhaled deliciously as he fearlessly stood his ground when the monstrous beast bore down upon him and then, just as the horns were about to pierce his groin, deftly stepped aside. "Ole!" they cheered. But the sea was hard and there were no bulls here and no young buxom women within many, many miles. There were no women, only gruff sailors whose skin was like leather hung out to dry in the salty air, skin that smelled of musk and sweat and rum, and which was covered with stubble and tattoos.

Gustavus also thought about the bulls. For him, the thought did not bring dreams of heroic acts that would never, in this life, be performed, nor did it reveal old and desperately forgotten memories. For him, there was simply fear.

For the long sharp nose of the Great White Marlin held a reminder for him. A reminder that all pointed things meant the same to a Sicilian. Death is their meaning. Whether the long pointed horns of the Sicilians bulls, which were called Bufela Macho, or the long bill of a marlin, which some called a nose but was really a bill. Even the stiletto of a fat, one armed assassin could be deadly, long and pointed as it was.


Yes, Gustavus knew death, and knew it well.

Death had stalked him his whole wretched life, from the brown hills of Messina to the blue ocean depths of the Seychelles. Only once in all his life had death nearly caught him, like a rabbit in a snare. Even that time he had escaped, or mostly so. Only his high voice and lack of facial hair gave evidence of the calamity of that fateful day.

During the Festival of St. Augustus the Blind Barber of Satimia , it had happened. A boy of eight, the number the Mexicans called 'ocho' Gustavus had been dared by another boy to wake a sleeping bull. He had done so, for in Sicily they had a saying that said 'Let sleeping dogs lie'. Since the saying did not mention bulls, the boy had no reason not to wake the bull. He was then emasculated by the bull, his tiny, limp genitals left in the dust amid the empty chianti bottles and dusty refuse of the peasants.

When the other boys brought Gustavus back to the house of his father, Gepetto Vespa, they laid his small body on the steps and ran away. The boy's father, seeing the boy who was no longer a boy, cast him out with his mother, Immaculata togetherthey roamed the streets of Messina, scorned by all who valued manly virtue, which in Sicily meant everyone, including the nuns.

One nun, though, took pity on them, the matronly hairy legged mother and her boy with no boy parts. This nun was Sister Carmelita Appelonia de Francisco, who was the Mother Superior at the Convent of Our Courageous Corsican. It was Sister Carmelita that took them in, and fed them and gave them work. She taught the boy to sing, in his beautiful soprano voice. He sang for the Pope once, in Rome.

When his mother died of fever induced by depilatory poisoning, he fled Sicily, never to return. He was shanghaid by the British Navy at age 14, and was mistaken for a boy of seven due to his high voice and lack of facial hair. He was a gun carriage spring shaker, and later a deck spline caulker on His Majesty's ship of the line HMS Truculent. After nearly drowning when the Truculent was sunk by the French Ship La Quiche Lorraine`, he made his way to Libya, where he worked as an inspector in a camel meat processing factory.

His nose for spoiled camel meat led him to the Captain, who smelled no worse and yet no better than some of the meat brought to market by the Bedouins in their black robes and blacker teeth. The captain had taken him on as a rudder board barnacle rasper. After a near fatal attack by the dreaded Mediterranean Giant Sea Cucumber, which the Sicilians called La Nudabranca Horiblio, he was assigned to be the Captain's personal attendant, a job no more dangerous, but certainly no less dangerous than the rudder rasper's.

So now, here he stood as the sun set behind the mountains of distant Amalfi. Facing death in the afternoon. Slightly downwind of the Captain, or as the Sicilians would call him, Capo. With his back to Sicily, and his mother's memory at his side. It was going to be a long day into the night, under the stars, and over the back of the big fish below them.


The rum of the past night wore off.
The Captain woke.
He fell to the floor with a rough curse.
"Su madre est una putana barrata e sin la vihuela"
Someone had cut off his other leg as he slept.
"It is good. The leg meat will be bait for The Fish."
The big fish whom the Arabs call el Mobedhj but we Spanish simply spit "Ricardo El Blanco".
Years past the Fish had taken his first leg.
"It is only just to bait him with my other leg!"
The Captain made a crude leg-thing out of baling pins. he secured it to the raw stump with the necktie of the unkempt Whore Edguardo.
"He will never miss it, that hombre de basura!"
He step-thumped his way to the foredeck, snarling a mean song of the sea:

Mi madre fue una mulata y mi padre un federal
Y yo teniente de una fragata que va y que viene para ultramar
Cada vez que me veo rodeado de mar
Cojo la guitarra y me pongo a tocar
Pregunto a mis penas quien pudiera hallar
El rostro divino que un pobre marino no pudo alcanzar
Mil veces busqué; la suerte sobre ls olas del mar
Mil veces quise la muerte y no la pude encontrar
No llores mi vida, no llores mi amor
Mira que tus penas me causan dolor
Si lloras la la ausencia del bien que te amó
Llora vida mía, llora vida mía, también lloro yo

which meant simply

My mum was a mulatta and my dad in a soldier in the forces
I am a lieutenant on a frigate sailing across the seas
Whenever I find myself on the ocean wave
I take up my guitar and start to play
I feel sorrow in my heart and dream of the happiness
That a poor sailor could never achieve
A thousand times I tried my luck on the waves
A thousand times I sought death in vain
Don't weep my love, don't weep
Remember that your sorrow grieves me
If you shed tears for the love that cherished you
Weep on, my love, weep on, I too shed my tears.
he did not care that others thought:
"this tedious number from Carmen is a travesty in several ways. Firstly it is a sort of erotic number whose lyrics proclaim that love is the child of Bohemia etc. The singer (Carmen) is supposed to be sexually seductive. Bizet lifted the habanera from Sebastian Yradier, composer of La Paloma, a ballad much dreaded by Jussi Bjoerling (he would not sing if he happened to hear it before a performance) and which has given its name to the rumbustious Barcelona dancehall.

The habanera, which had its origins on the seafront of Havana, great crossroads of oceanic trade, as evolved by Yradier and others, was a song of nostalgia, sung by the seafarer missing his home comforts and specifically his girlfriend, usually a mulata called Dolores (la bella Lola) whom he has left on the seashore waving a white kerchief Otherwise the habanera authentically sings of life on the ocean wave, its pleasures and its perils. So by turning the habanera in to a sort of erotic lilt, Bizet was taking an outrageous liberty, in fact debasing it and desecrating its nobility. As if this were not about, the habanera is a song
of the sea, or of the coast, but not of inland Seville where the action of Carmen takes place.

A further appalling liberty taken by Bizet here is having the habanera sung by a woman. The habanera is exclusively a male ballad, to be sung by seafarers hoisting the topsails or the marines facing the cannon. Moreover it should have no instrumental accompaniment whatsoever, let alone an opera orchestra, but sung simply to the rhythm of the lapping, or roaring, waves.

Correctly it should be sung in chorus by male matelots swigging tots of rum. Of course, today, just as there are female civil guards, taxi drivers, and usherettes in the opera houses, women are also trying to get onto the habanera bandwagon, dressing up as matelots and singing words which belie their sex. Enough is enough! This current decadence of a basically noble musical genre was started by Bizet, who should be called to account through a thorough reappraisal of his artistic standing....."

yes, the captain recalled having read these exact words in an opera critique, for although he was a rough man, he was a deeply complex man. His eyes filled with a blood image of el Mobedhj whom we Spanish simply spit "Ricardo El Blanco".
he hawked a great clam.
"I will have this large fish and place him over my mantle, next to the head of Alberto Garcia!"
He came as close to a smile as a rough man of the sea can come to a smile.
He bit off the head of his breakfast.
The sea was a flat lead cat asleep with mean secrets but the men could sense something.
"The last time we sensed something we were all killed!"
"shut up!"
The bulls deep in the hold dreamed uneasilly of Barcelona. They wondered if they could swim.
In the galley the cook groaned.
he knew it was his job to proof the galley sheets and extract the punctuation and syntax which would have rendered the prose comprehensible to ordinary men.
men who did not reek of clam and cheap wine.
Men who did not have the caca of the toro under their nails.
normal men.
"if i do not do this right, i face the lash".
If i do not do this right, i face the wrath of the captain!"
"the wrath"
"the lash"
"the wrath"
"the lash"
"the wrath"
"the lash"
"the wrath"
"the lash" he said, until he could no longer speak.
he stirred the stew.
"captain leg stew for mess."
he laughed meanly.


The captain heard the sad and knowing and resigned laugh from the galley, and he knew that the savory and oddly familiar smells from the cooking meant strength for the crew. But his meal would be meaner, from the sea, for that is where the captain drew his strength for the ultimate battle with the Great White Marlin. He called Gustavus to him, the man with the voice of a boy whom the Italians called castrati but whom he sometimes called Elian in his dreams. "Bring me one of the tins, Gustavus. El Pollo del Mer."

Gustavus went to the captain's cabin, and stifled a wretch as he entered for that is what first mates with delicate noses do. He found the wicker basket with the tins, and brought one out. Tuna, packed in water. He saw that the expiration date had passed years ago, and he knew that was good, for the tuna may be the chicken of the sea, but it is an honorable fish, showing almost human compassion for its young, and it is right and good that the tuna should expire before being packed in water into the small tin. He regretted that they had no more of the wonderful mayo for the tuna, called il Whip Miraculoso by Sister Carmelita Appelonia de Francisco, but that is the way of the men of the sea. He took the captain's sharp knife and the tin up to the bridge.

The captain had moved to the main deck, near the drums with their sinewy lines of strong Columbian hemp. He found one with almost forty fathoms of line still attached. A lot of the other line was gone, replaced with the dark black ash covering his toes and the cucaracha clips littering the deck where his crew had dropped them last night. Perhaps that was why Gustavus had such a high voice, he thought idly, but then got to work. The drum must be ready when the Fish returns, so that the sharp harpoon thrust straight from the shoulder into the glaring bright sun's reflection on this mare tranquilitatus to pierce the Fish, would.

He laid out the line, and coiled it quick and true into a coil. He placed it on top of the drum, called el Bouy del Piscatore by the Spaniards and the Cork with a Fork by the dull Anglos. He reached down to clear the line from the bottom of the drum when Gustavus arrived and, not seeing the captain, bumped into the drum as the ship took a lurch in the mostly placid but momentarily choppy sea, which is the way of the ships of the sea. The line tightened on the captains hand, cutting it. Gustavus saw the blood, and dropped the tin and the knife and rushed to the leeward side of the ship downwind of the captain, and lost his lunch overboard, for the sight of the blood had transported him back to the day of the waking of the bull. The reaction was always the same, and violent, and short lived. It refreshed him, but reminded him to order his hamburger well done and to avoid ketchup. He also involuntarily bent forward a little at the waist, but that would pass.

The captain went to the windward side, and kneeling carefully washed his hand in the ocean and held it there, submerged, watching the blood trail away and the steady movement of the warm water against his hand as the ship moved. It reminded him of simpler days, when his sainted mother would call to him through the bathroom door and say, "Are you playing in the water again? Let someone else have a chance, for the sake of Pete."

The captain would have liked to keep his hand in the salt water longer but he was afraid of another sudden lurch by Gustavus and he stood up and braced himself and held his hand up against the sun. It was a small cut, but it was in the working part of his hand. He knew he would need both his hands before this was over and he did not like to be cut this early. It made things too slippery.

"Now," he said, when his hand had dried, "I must eat the small can of tuna. I can open the can with this knife and eat it here in comfort."

He knelt down and found the can of tuna where it had fallen and drew it toward him keeping it clear of the coiled lines. He held the can to the deck with one hand and cut into the top of the can. He pried out chunks of the meat in wedge-shaped pieces with the knife. When he had cut six chunks he spread them out on the wood of the gunwale, wiped his knife on his shirt sleeve since he still had no trousers, and lifted the empty tin and dropped it overboard.

"I don't think I can eat six," he said and drew his knife across one of the chunks. He saw that his left hand was cramped from coiling 240 feet of hemp and cutting into the tin, and he looked at it in disgust."What kind of a hand is that," he said. "Cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good." Such comments would normally cause a small crowd to form, because a man of the sea seldom talks to his own hand in such a way. But the crew knew to keep their distance from the captain, especially after seeing Gustavus still green to the gills. The left hand, in response to the captain, drew up into a tight, painful claw.

Come on, he thought and looked down into the dark water. Eat the tuna fish now and it will strengthen the hand. It is not the hand's fault and you have been many hours thinking of the marlin fish. Eat the tuna now.

He picked up a chunk and put it in his mouth and chewed it slowly. It was not unpleasant, but it lacked the flavor of the mayo. Chew it well, he thought, and get all the juices. Next time, perhaps some celery. He ate another chunk. He chewed it carefully and then spat out a bone.

"How goes it, hand? Are you getting stronger?"

Gustavus watched from a distance, knowing that the captain should eat a banana loaded with potassium to ease the cramp, but knowing also that the bananas were stowed below near the bulls and banana does not go well with tuna in a tin. He knew that it was the captain's way to talk to his hand.

The captain took another full chunk and chewed it. It is a strong tuna, he thought. I was lucky to get him instead of sardines. Sardines are too oily. This is hardly oily at all.

Be patient, hand, he thought. I do this to strengthen you, for we will all fight the great fish together. For that is our way, and you will know it when the sun is low and I give the order, "All hands on deck".

He straightened up, wiping his good but cut hand on the necktie of the unkempt Whore Edguardo holding his stump-leg thing in place, where his trousers would be if he were wearing trousers.


The Captain, whom the crew now called, The Respected stumpy One, or "El Jefe de Los Amputados" sat to eat roughly of the ships mess, but not so roughly as to blunt his keen eye, what he had honed on an oilstone only that morning. as he had lost his tooth brush, the brush reserved for his tooth.

My kneecap.
It is in the soup.

a distant mournful voice began a minor key Zarzuela lament. the substance of the lament, and indeed the title was
"my own patella is in my paella"
and this he droned until he was killed by Philippe el Ramone, the captain's favourite lad and aye, the reverse being true or having been so before the death of this most womanly of the brothers.

The Ramones.

baby i love you thought the captain somewhere in the below deck of his mind.
this threw the captain abruptly into the reverie state in which he had begun and ended his life, that being another interminable tale of the sea:
(and this is my internal monologue, thought the Captain, for I am a complex man) the drone of the men, the captain nodded and thought
"It was on the one hand a merit of our great Verdi whom we call, el Woppo, that he did not plagiarize, but sought in his own way to give the appropriate foreign musical flavour, as in Aida.
However it must be said that his Spanish corrida music, as in Traviata, is completely farcical, as if he had never heard or heard of the pasodoble.

Stumpodoble is more like it, grunted the captain, before sinking down again into his thoughts...
Earlier, in Ernani and Trovatore, he had missed a wonderful opportunity to feature the jota, the most picturesque dance of Spain. As he started in Traviata, so he went on in his many other Spanish operas, ignoring totally the pasodoble, flamenco, and gaditanas - not to mention the habanera which was at its zenith in Verdi's time.

But he did mention the habanera.
This may of course have been revenge for the coldness with which he was received in the Andalusian capital, Seville, where the inhabitants were miffed at a lack of espaniola in his compositions. This cannot be excused when you consider that the Busseto Bear made several excursions to Spain. What did he do there, one must ask, other than enjoy the manzanilla, the ham, the paella,
and parade up and down at the ferias, and admire the manolas? Did he not attend a corrida or enjoy an evening in a taberna flamenca?

had he not broken and then repaired bread with Manolete?

Even the rough captain flinched, or would have, if he had not been in a reverie, at the mention of paella, having only so recently seen his own patella floating in the dishwater which the cook served up as paella....that paella is chum now, thought the captain, and sank back into his reverie.

"for On this Spanish front, the work of Rossini is much more meritorious.

Even worse,composers have failed miserably in their operas to give the true musical feeling of Caledonia. the skirl of the kilt is entirely missing. As for Rossini and Donizetti, they were completely insouciant and stole tum-te-tum Italian rhythms lifted from the local bands in the piazzas of Bergamo and Fossombrone.

....The captain had known Fossombrone and had spent many a night playing hide the chorizo with him, and bristled to see his name taken in vain, but still he lapsed back into his internal monologue, thus:
"The same attitude is seen in the many Italian stage producers who dress the chorus wearing tights or even trews under their kilts in productions of Lucia, Maria Stuarda etc.

This jolted the Captain from his reverie, as was he not bare ass naked on raging ocean? well, was he? or was he not? He checked. yes, i am bare-ass naked he thought with mean glee.

but still, the reverie, fueled by the salmonella and perhaps the botulism, which is the legacy of all who eat out of date or expired tuna from cans, fueled his inner madness, which would soon be his outer madness:

"It is time that some skillful modern composer turned his attention to these Romantic operas and attempted to adjust their scores in order to inject them with some true Scottish musical paying attention in particular to bagpipes, drums, strathspeys, and the Gay Gordon.

"I never knew Gordon was gay!" spoke the captain aloud, and just then the great fish, or one of them, Ricardo, hurtled skyward, cleaving the leaden sea and making a great manly wetness on the deck.

the strathspeyers slipped, having lost their footing in the water.

and the captain woke in a foul mood, with bad fish breath, such as the cat will have after dining on the food of the rich, it is called "Fancy Feast" and the men clamored for some, and begged to be put to port.


©1999-2000 by J.Cisek and these folks