A creative assignment to 'add' another chapter of Steinbeck's Cannery Row.
|It is not often that the pre-dawn routine of Cannery Row is broken, but one early Sunday morning such a thing did happen.
It was after the old Chinaman had slap-slap-slapped down to the pier, and the residents of Cannery Row had already been woken up and alerted to the world, if only a little. The young day was calm, there was no breeze and the ocean was smooth as glass, yet something compelled at least one person in each household, to rise from their beds as if a sudden noise out on the street had startled them. Even the Old Chinaman stopped for a brief moment on his way up from the pier.
No one man, woman or child can claim to be the first to have seen what happened next, but many do, despite the fact that a pajama-clad crowd was gathered at the docks by the time anyone even tried to make out what the dot on the horizon was.
“It’s Henri!” someone called out suddenly. The sentiment was picked up by those around the speaker, and suddenly the air was filled with shouts of disbelief, congratulatory hoots and excitement.
“I can’t believe it!”
“Yeah, Henri! I knew he had it in ‘im, just knew it!”
“Such a boat!”
The dot came closer until it was clear to even the oldest eyes that it was Henri’s fine boat sailing smoothly across the water, cutting the glass pane down the middle. The hull was a brilliant pattern of different woods, as if he had a board from every forest in the world in it. The back of the boat was wide, and a little flared, while the body slowly tapered to a needle sharp point. The sails were a brilliant white, and Henri’s silhouette could be seen clearly against them. He waved at the crowd as he tacked, turned around and began sailing back towards the horizon.
“Hey, where’r you going? Come on back I’ll buy you some Old Tennis Shoes!”
“No, let him sail, that boats’ long overdue for it!”
As it became apparent that Henri was not returning anytime soon, the crowd began to disperse. Children, alert and lively, played on the shore by the docks while adults wandered home for coffee and breakfast. Mack and the boys wandered over to Lee Chong’s, and pestered him into selling some bread and a pint of Old Tennis Shoes, even though Lee had only been passing by on his way home. Then the group wandered pass Doc’s and heard some of his sweet music flowing out of the windows.
“Sure was a hell of a party.” Mack said
“Sure was, sure was.” Hazel nodded and tore off a chunk of bread. He ate most of it and tossed some to a nearby gull. The gull looked at Hazel suspiciously, then snapped up the treat and flew off. The boys meandered through Cannery Row and finally up to the Palace Flophouse, where Darling was chewing on the remains of animal.
“Wonder what she caught, rat maybe?” Eddie pondered.
“Dunno, Eddie, looks kind of fat for a rat, more like a gopher.” Mack said. He went to pet Darling but she got up and trotted off with her meal, and continued gnawing a few feet away.
“Guess we’ll never know.” Jones chuckled and then growled at Darling playfully. Darling growled back through her gnawing.
The boys lounged around the Flophouse for the best part of the day, eating pieces of lunch here and there around noon. Mack was playing bishop on the floor when he looked up and around the room. He whistled, high and loud, but quickly. Eddie, Jones, Hazel, Hughie and even Darling came to attention.
“I was thinking,” Mack said, paused, then resumed, “I was thinking that we should go and congratulate Henri. I mean, must’a took an awful lot of gut to get out there, and ‘sides, he donated them nice paintings to us.”
“What if he’s not back?” Hughie asked.
“’Spose so, but its past noon, and I reckon that a man afraid of the water can’t eat on the water, especially if it’s his first time out there. Say, Eddie, what’ve you got in the jug?”
“A lot of wine, some of the usual, but I think its full half wine.”
“Well, that’s full half decent to share with Henri. Come on, let’s go see him!” Mack clapped his hands and jumped to his feet. Eddie grabbed his jug and Hazel found the strip of leather that they used as a leash for Darling. They boys hated leashing her, but some people just didn’t like Darling on the loose around their property. Hughie and Jones grabbed a bag of some fruit, dried meat and saltines, since Henri would probably be hungry.
Mack and the boys whistled and laughed on the way to Henri’s, and ate most of the fruit and saltines before they got there.
“That’s odd.” said Hazel when they reached Henri’s.
“What?” said Eddie.
“It’s just, if Henri took his boat out, why’s it still there?”
“Well he dragged it back up.” said Mack.
“That’s an awful lot of work, I mean, I’m sure he could have anchored it somewhere instead.”
“But then where’d he sleep?” asked Jones.
“I suppose, yeah, he probably brought it up.” Hazel said, a little unconfidently.
The Boys walked up to Henri’s boat, and pounded on the hull with their hands and with sticks, shouting Henri’s name. Darling began to bark, and tug at her leash. Hazel let go of her and she rounded the boat.
“Hey, maybe Darling’s got the right idea. Doesn’t he have a ladder on one side?” Jones said, following Darling, but he quickly returned, ashen faced.
Officially, it was reported as a suicide, and although such a razor cut across the throat could not be an accident, and Henri’s face had no trace of lather, many of Cannery Row’s denizens forced themselves to believe it was an unfortunate shaving cut. When someone asked at Dora’s or Lee Chong’s if it was true that Henri had killed himself, the answer was always the same: shaving accident.
Henri’s paintings gained local celebrity status and sold for more than he had probably had in his entire life. His past lovers briefly mourned his passing, and secretly were glad that no future woman would have to endure the cramped cabin and lack of toilet. His landlord auctioned Henri’s possessions off, including his boat. The people cried out that the boat should be floated in the harbor, an eternal flame for Henri, but upon inspection by a local fisherman, it was revealed that the boat could not have floated for more than a minute: it had never been water proofed or sealed. It was bought by a man from San Francisco who happened to be passing through the area.