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June 20, 2022

What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor? Part 1

By Carol Anne Byrnes

Prologue

I awoke, knowing something important had happened the night before, but otherwise not exactly being capable of rational thought. My head was experiencing shattering lightning bolts of pain, as if sledge hammers were being pounded against it on alternating sides, WHANG WHANG WHANG WHANG WHANG, incessantly. My mouth felt as if my tongue and the inner surfaces of my cheeks had been replaced with cotton balls, and there was a nasty sour taste that I wished I could swallow away, but there was no moisture with which I could accomplish that swallow. My stomach was churning up a hurricane-force storm as well, sending little spikes of bitter acid up to the back of my mouth, where the cotton worked to hold the acid in place.

There were sounds out there, most especially a loud moaning sound that I was eventually able to identify as that of ropes under tension, creaking. I had a feeling like whatever I was lying on was not stationary, but rather was moving in a light up-and-down motion. Gradually, my senses regained some ability to register my surroundings, and I realized I was lying down on a fairly firm surface, and my head was propped up on a weird structure that my hands probed and I eventually identified as a sloppily coiled-up rope. I seemed to have some vague memories of something having to do with that rope, and those memories seemed to have some importance, but my brain wasn't making those connections.

I came to realize that the clamor in my ears was really just my own heartbeat. I found myself wishing that it would stop, because being dead would be preferable to what I was now feeling, which, now that I noticed, seemed to include a sensation of being rocked back and forth.

Eventually, I worked up the energy to crack an eyelid open, and I regretted the lightning bolt of sunlight that entered in and pierced right through the eyeball to slam another shock of pain through my brain. I let the eyelid snap shut, but not before I'd taken an admittedly blurry snapshot of my surroundings.

I was in the cabin of a sailboat ... I seemed to have some vague recollection of it from the night before. I was lying on the settee, with a table in front of me. From the angle at which I was lying, I couldn't see much of what was on the table, just an empty bottle that had once contained cheap brandy. I could sort of sense that there were a couple of other things on the table, but I couldn't see them well enough to know what they were.

How the hell had I ended up here, I asked myself. Vague pictures flicked themselves up on the inside of my eyelids, a charming fellow with bright-blue eyes, a tale he was telling me, something about his boat. Yeah, it was a good story he was telling me, I began to remember...

Part 1

I was sitting in this bar, and in walks this sailor. How did I know he was a sailor? Well, there are things you can tell. For one thing, his face. It was tanned, but not evenly, the way a guy gets sunning himself on the beach while waiting for the surf to come up. This guy's forehead and eye area were paler, from the hat and sunglasses he must have worn when he was out on the water. And the tanned portion of his face was rough, weather-beaten, marked by a pale scar running down his left cheek. For another thing, there was his language -- saltier than any surfer would ever use. He used the s-word plenty, and the f-word came out often, and once in a while that politically incorrect n-word would show up. Then there were his hands. He had long, slender but strong fingers that might have suited a pianist, but his palms also were calloused from years of hauling halyards and trimming sheets. There's nothing on a surfboard to cause that sort of hardening.

He was immediately noticeable the moment he came in the door, as a ripple of energy flowed through the crowd the way ripples flow outward from where a stone is dropped into a pond. The actual noise level dropped a notch as conversations quieted, and even the silly surf music from the cheesy sound system broke off, but the feeling of sound increased, as if there was some subsonic hum in the background. "Hey, Johnny," someone said. "Hey, hi," someone else chimed in. Johnny waved back as he made his way through the crowd, seating himself on the empty barstool next to mine and hitching one foot up on the mock-bamboo foot rail.

"Gimme a vodka tonic," he said to the bartender. "And get this girl a fresh beer. On me."

I hadn't noticed that my beer glass was empty. I also have enough gray hairs that, well, let's just say it's been decades since anybody ever called me a "girl." "No, no, you don't need to do that ... really, I don't even know you."

"Well, we'll have to fix that, won't we? My name's Johnny," he said, holding out his hand to shake. "I'm a sailor."

"Kathleen," I said, shaking his hand. "I write."

"There, now we know each other," Johnny said. "Now I can buy you that beer."

The bartender brought us our drinks, and I took a sip of my beer, wondering what this guy was up to. If he was trying to pick me up, he was about as subtle as a freight train, but somehow I got a feeling that wasn't what he was doing. There was something else he wanted, but I had no idea what. For that matter, there was very little about the guy that I could pin down -- I couldn't even make a guess at his age; with his thick, tousled black hair, brilliant blue eyes and slim, muscular build, he might have been in his twenties, but his weathered face might belong to a septuagenarian.

"So you write," he said. "That's good. I have a story to tell."

Why, I wondered, would a sailor go into a surfer bar and home in on the one person in the whole place who could take his tale to the world? I get lots of offers from people who have stories to tell, who want me to ghostwrite for them; I always turn them down. But storytelling is a long-standing family tradition -- my ancestors hail from Blarney -- and this guy's tale, even if not suitable for publication, might be worth a listen. "Tell me more."

"I have this boat, see ... well, shit, I wouldn't exactly be a sailor if I didn't have a boat, would I? Anyways, I used to sail all over the world. You name it, I've been there. South Pacific, Panama Canal, Straits of Malacca, oh, I've had adventures. But this, hell, you're not going to believe it."

"Try me."

"You got lots of time, right?" he asked, draining his vodka tonic and lifting the empty glass toward the bartender. "Another one of these. And keep 'em coming."

"I've got plenty of time." That was true enough. No family, no love life, no nine-to-five regular schedule, not even much of a home to go home to, just a tiny box of an apartment off a back alley. I could think of a lot less pleasant ways to spend the evening than listening to a sailor's tall tales.

Johnny took a deep gulp from his drink. "This time I was headed for Alaska. Inside passage from Vancouver. Great scenery, good weather -- most of the summer, anyways. I shoulda known something was not right, though."

"How so?"

"The animals, they were all acting weird-like." Another large volume of liquid vanished down his gullet. "The sea lions, and those little guys, the otters, they would go round and round my boat, and then suddenly they'd dive away and disappear. The birds, too. And on shore, there was this moose that just kept up with my boat for hours, just watching me, except suddenly one moment, it was gone."

"So what happened next?" I sipped my beer -- or rather, I started to sip it, but then ... well, maybe it was being face to face with someone who was really slugging his drink back, but I found myself taking a healthy gulp.

"This guy came out on the shore. I mean, we're talking utterly untouched coast here, nobody lives within hundreds of miles, but there's this guy standing right there, waving to me. Funny-looking guy, too. He was dressed up like a lumberjack, blue jeans, plaid shirt, but then when I got closer, I could see he was really short."

"So there was a short lumberjack waving to you." I finished off the beer, and the bartender brought both of us fresh drinks. "That's maybe a little odd, but ..."

"Oh, you don't get it. When I say this guy was really short, I mean really, really short. Like, maybe two feet tall."

"A midget lumberjack?"

"And he had on a bowler hat, too." More vodka tonic vanished. "Fucking weird. I was at a pretty deep cove, so I pulled in to anchor. It was close to sunset anyway, and I didn't want to be sailing in the dark. Next thing I know, he's calling to me, he says, 'If ye'll give me a wee bit of a ride, me boy, I'll make it worth your while.'"

"So the midget lumberjack in the bowler hat was Irish?" I asked. "You're not trying to say that you met one of the Little People?" There were certainly leprechauns in my family's store of stories, but then ... well, I did mention we're from Blarney.

"At first, I would never have believed it. I mean, those are just stories, right? Besides, what's a leprechaun doing in British Columbia, dressed up like a lumberjack? It's a long way from Ireland."

"Maybe his family emigrated about when my ancestors did. Came to seek a new life during the potato famine." I discovered I was beginning to get caught up in the story.

"There, you see?" Johnny finished off his fourth drink and paid up. "Why shouldn't the Little People come to the New World, too?" Waving to the bartender and the other people in the bar, we stood up and left. We headed down the hike-and-bike path that ran along the beach, going nowhere in particular. I definitely wanted to hear the rest of the story.

Article © Carol Anne Byrnes. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-12-03
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