The Seafaring Merchantman.

It's a painting which shows a pirate ship atta...
It’s a painting which shows a pirate ship attacking a merchants’s ship. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The lilacs were in bloom and drifted out and mixed with the salt water when I first laid eyes on that great lady the Queen Elizabeth. She was a three-masted schooner, out of Nantucket. Her make was English and she had English backers, but she’d been made here in the New England colonies and had an American crew.

Our course would take us down the coast to pick up a cargo of cotton, then we’d go out across the wide Atlantic to Lisbon in Portugal. The trip was planned for three months, with a bonus to each man if we could complete the run faster.

We’d picked up our cotton and were on our way out into the open sea when we first saw the sail. It was Spanish at first, but was changed as we watched to the crimson flag of piracy.

It set off a great debate among the crew. Should we fight, flee, or surrender? Not knowing the pirates, we had to make a decision. Some pirates took no prisoners, and would kill us to a man. Others would make us partners in crime, making us sign their bloody charter.  Still others would put us off at the nearest port and sail off with the ship.

The debate was all the fiercer because the captain refused to rule one way or the other and the pirate ship grew ever closer. Being full of cotton, we assumed the pirate ship would overtake us rapidly, but it seemed now that they were low in the water and damaged in some way. Even with our full cargo, we were holding steady.

A damaged ship meant the pirates meant to take our ship for certain. Many times they would simply strip the ship and leave us to limp back to harbor to re-outfit at great expense, but these were in need of a new ship. That left us as unnecessary crew, and likely fish food by day’s end.

With that in our minds, we made sail and began to draw away from the pirate ship. She opened fire, and had six guns on the side, but all her shots fell short.  We had only six guns for the whole of the ship, three on each side, but we returned fire.

The pirates began to drop behind, turning and firing without success.  We were congratulating ourselves on our narrow escape when the wind died down to a mere breeze. Behind us, the pirates pulled out their oars and began rowing toward us.  There must have been sixty men on that small boat, and they shouted as they came.

We put to our oars as well, though there were but twelve of us.  We rowed as if our very lives depended on it, which in truth it did.  Two of our number primed the cannon, and we’d turn from time to time and volley at the pirate ship before returning to the oars. We did some damage, and they’d fire back at us.  One cannon ball sailed so close to me I could hear the whistle it made.  Neither one of us did crippling damage, and the pirates pulled ever closer.

Night fell, and we could hear the calls of the pirates over the water as they called out support to one another.  We fired one last volley and caught some of them, for there were screams and curses.  They responded and we could hear the balls hit the water all around us.

It was a battle we could not win, and yet we rowed for all we were worth.  Then around two in the morning, when we could see their torches clearly, the wind picked up again.  We leapt to the rigging and sent her plowing over the water.  Behind us, the pirates shouted and cursed, firing one last volley as we outdistanced them on the open water.

We made the trip to Lisbon, and only when we unloaded the cotton did we find how lucky we had been. The merchants complained that the cotton was full of sea water, and as they removed the cargo the water began to pour into our ship.  We had to hoist her up in dry dock for repairs.  The pirates had holed us three times below our waterline, but the cotton had absorbed the water and swollen to block the ocean from flooding in.

Since that time I have always felt safe when transporting cotton, for if I were to encounter pirates, I do not think they could sink me.


The Rainy Street

English: Storm drain overflowing during heavy ...
English: Storm drain overflowing during heavy rain on University Dr in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The street at night was covered with a sheet of rain. It washed down the gutter in a rush, filling the storm drains.  It was late, but not so late that the neon was off. The rain washed street reflected the orange and red and blue.

A figure hunched over from the rain, as if hunching over in a hoodie would somehow keep the rain off.  The rain would seep right in that cotton whether you were hunched over or standing straight up. The figure paused and started up the concrete steps, cracked with time and slippery from the rain.

Fumbling with the keys, and let into the foyer.  Always when it’s raining it feels like a violation to drip on the dry linoleum. Even though it’s cracked and chipped, you bring the rain inside.

Calling up the stairs to see if granma is still up.  “You still up, Granma?” Trying to get out of soaking hoodie and the sweater mom makes you wear even though you hate the color.  Granma made it.

Granma’s up, and she always yells down: “Don’t you be dripping on my linoleum!” Where else would you drip? But you’ve always got to answer: “No, ma’am,” or tomorrow there’ll be a long call to mamma, and mamma will tell you to be careful of the linoleum in that tired voice.

Up the stairs to the second floor where the only light is.  Granma lives alone in the apartment building, even though the family doesn’t like it.  She says the renters are too much trouble, and she likes the apartments empty.

For granma, the apartments aren’t empty. She still remembers all the people who used to live there. Sometimes you can almost hear Mr. Bertucci, who used to sing along with the opera on Sunday afternoons, throwing his windows wide and twirling around his apartment. Madame Pompadour on the first floor with so many Persian cats no one could count them all.  On still nights you can almost smell the cats, and once when you came home there was cat hair stuck to your sneaker. Then there was the Vietnamese couple who always cooked the really weird smelling food. Granma loves to tell about the time they invited her to dinner. You’ll huddle around granma’s space heater in her apartment that hasn’t been refurnished since the 1950’s, the upholstery all cracked and patched in places. She tells how they got her to try all those strange dishes.  That’s why granma only eats Vietnamese take out now, her old coffee table covered with menus from the take out places. One of them gave her a gold star for being a frequent eater.

The apartment house isn’t empty for granma. It’s full of memories and sounds from another time. You listen to her talk while you wait for mom to get off the swing shift at the five and dime, the last one left in the city.

Then you hear mom honking and head down the stairs, forgetting the sweater drying on granma’s radiator. As she drives home, momma talks about the people she remembers from granma’s apartment. For a little while, she looks younger and not as tired.

Maybe life isn’t made up of the big things.  Maybe life is made up of the little things that we remember.