A man is going down with the ship.
|Oliver Hanson had been out fifteen days headed for the Marquesas on a forty-one foot ketch. He was by himself and his boat was slowly sinking, but other than that, he was doing fine. Fine, until the little bald chauffeur arrived dressed in a brown suit, the jacket buttoned despite the heat. He wore a matching chauffeur’s hat turned backwards.
“Hey, pops--what’s poppin?” the man said. He sounded New York and looked relaxed, sitting there with his legs crossed at the knee like he’d been sitting here the whole fifteen days with Hanson in the cockpit, like they’d been talking to each other the whole time through the spokes of the big wooden wheel that stood between them now.
Hanson found himself blinking rapidly, hoping the chauffeur-fellow would disappear mid-blink, but he didn’t disappear. Instead he blinked his eyes back at Hanson with great exaggeration, mocking him.
Hanson showed nothing in his face; not worry nor anger, not anything. He forced his attention away from the man. He saw a cushion float by inside the cabin. He could hear the bilge-pump working and knew it was not keeping up with the flow of water coming in at a slow steady pace. He told himself he should probably go see what he could do to stem the leak but he didn’t have the energy.
Hanson scanned his instrument panel. He verified his sailboat was still in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He already knew it. He was faintly surprised none the less. All is fine, he told himself, and shut the auto-pilot off. He sat slowly onto the blue cushions port side where he could watch the water rise in the cabin below.
“You sit like you ain’t planning to stay long,” the little man said and seemed to lighten his eyes with the onset of an idea. He sat back, his hands clasping his legs, now raising his legs, his brown shoes high above his head. White socks showing.
A tremendous outburst erupted that was unlike any fart Hanson had ever experienced in terms of volume. The fart continued and lengthened and went on and on and on and on, and finally, after it was over, Hanson simply watched the oddly familiar little man and tried to keep his face blank, knowing full well that he himself was alone on the boat and the little chauffer farting bastard was not real and not there. And Hanson knew too the awful repercussions of what this meant, being as he was on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and all. He wouldn’t be the first sailor to go insane at sea.
“Don’t worry, Ollie. Sanity is highly overrated,” the little man said, obviously reading his mind. “Don’t you think?”
Hanson stared off across the ocean shaking his head. He guessed the time was nearing fifteen hundred and there was not a breath of air over the water. The sails sat and the two booms swung in lazy movement back and forth to starboard. There was not a cloud in the sky. “Sanity is a good thing…” he said to the ocean…or maybe he spoke to the little man. He was no longer sure.
“Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Yes,” Hanson said.
He watched the man light a cigarette. He smelled the tobacco. When he smelled the tobacco he knew he was insane. The little man offered him his pack with four or five cigarettes rising gracefully one higher than the next, and Hanson took the tallest one. He accepted the flame the man offered from a gold lighter and Hanson inhaled deeply.
“You remember me?”
“Oh yes,” said Hansen.
“Who am I?”
“Little Sammy the Swale,” Hanson said.
“Yeah, that’s right, Little Sammy the Swale. That’s me. ‘Remember my last words?”
“Not a clue.”
“’Hey, Pops, what’s poppin?’”
“No...It was, ‘What’s poppin, Pops.’”
“No, believe me, it was, ‘Hey, Pops, what’s poppin!’”
“Well, it should have been, ‘What’s poppin, Pops?’” Hanson said.
“It should have been a great many things…What the fuck’s a Swale? I been meaning to ask…”
“It doesn’t matter any more,” Hanson said. He flicked his half cigarette overboard and was immediately sorry he had done so. He watched Sammy bring out his cigarette pack a second time and accepted another cigarette. He leaned forward as Sammy again offered him a light. Hanson hadn’t smoked in forty years and was surprised how good it felt to be smoking again.
“No, it don’t matter no more. You got me outside waxing the old guy’s caddy, the flat-foot comes up the driveway and talks to me.”
“Lonny Ellis, and he was a pee-eye.”
“That’s right, kid. Lonny Ellis, a private dick ‘with cold gray eyes…’ It was the best novel you ever wrote!”
“It was crap,” Hanson said. “I never finished it.”
“No, you never finished it, for damn sure! You got me in the driveway waxing the car and the great Lonny Ellis with the cold gray eyes comes up and I say, ‘Hey, Pops, what’s poppin?’ and that was the end of me, the end of Lonny Ellis with the cold gray eyes, the end of the novel, gone, poof! Just, ‘Hey, Pops, what’s poppin?’ The end.”
“I don’t know why I never finished that book…” Hanson said. He was looking at something a long ways out to sea. “It was pretty good.”
“You wrote four chapters and quit!”
“I got a divorce, for fucksake!”
They sat in silence.
“I guess I could always finish it,” Hanson said.
“That’s the thinking, kid!” Little Sammy the Swale said.
Hanson rose and snatched a plastic bucket from the side-rail. He flicked his cigarette overboard. "You coming or not?" he asked, and didn't wait for an answer.