iovi statori: the

Thursday, July 10, 2008

6. The Tweedle-Dee & Tweedle-Don Juans

Now, I swear to you that, between the two, ex girlfriends are much scarier that pirates. Having said that, when Goblin called down from the bird’s nest that a pirate ship was gaining on us, I looked at Winston wide-eyed. He was cool as a cucumber.

“Goblin: can you make out their flag?” he called up to the bird’s nest. Goblin chirped back a response.

“Ramone: hop on and tell me what you can find out about these guys. Lima, we’re going to be fine--pirates are no problem, but you’re gonna have to change into some of my clothes. Girls can make them a little crazy. Put on an eye-patch.”

I went downstairs and rifled through his drawers. Eye-patch: check. Long-sleeved, well-worn, smelly shirt with rolled-up sleeves: check. Long, cut-off pants: check. Bandana covering hair, pulled back into a pony-tail: check. I threw on a fake moustache for good measure.

When I got back on deck, Goblin was barking down information to Winston, Willoughby and Ramone. “mhaark, mharrrk, mharrkmark”

“Mm hmm”

“mharrk, mharrk”

“Yup. Go on”

“mharrk, mharrrk, mharmark, mhhhark”

“Got it, Gobs. Thanks.” Winston turned to me, “So...oh! you look great!” he interrupted himself. “So, these are the Don Juan Pirates. They can be pretty violent--they’ve sunk four ships already this year and they are primarily interested in treasure-hunting and women. They don’t harm the women--apparently they just take them on board and then try to seduce them. According to the reports on, the large majority of women either go crazy or jump ship.

“Oh. God!” I gasped, involuntarily.

“Don’t worry,” he laughed, “you’ll be fine. Especially in that outfit.” “They’re a motley crew, headed by three Spanish pirates, called Javier, Pablo and Manuel, but they also seem...erm...not that bright. We can deal with these guys. Ramone, why don’t you make a pitcher of ‘Special’ Sangria.”

Ramone grinned and went down to the galley.

We stood on deck, then, and watched as the Spanish vessel got closer. Sure enough, as it approached, three figures could be made out standing on deck.

“Ahoy, there!” one called, smiling with a devious grin. They were a terrifying sight to see--each with long, greasy hair, rings on their fingers, and shirts unbuttoned too far down their hairy chests. Winston nodded cooly back.

On deck were two girls, tied to chairs in the shade. They looked at us with pleading eyes, but a bald ogre with a peg-leg--I’m not making this up!--was guarding them with a musket.

“Hello friends” yelled Winston, “I’d be happy to turn over our women and gold to you, if we had any.”

The three Spainards looked somewhat disgruntled. One of them called back:

“How can we be a-sure you tell us the truth?”

“Well, we’re pirates same as you. You could fire at us, we could fire at you. You could sink our ship, we could sink yours. Or, you can come aboard for some icy sangria and some tea sandwiches and then have a look for yourself and leave peacefully.”

They conferred with each other in Spanish, talked to the ogre watching the girls and threw a gangway across to connect the two ships.

They were even more horrible close up. My GOD, did they smell! Not of sea, and sun, and body odor, but of sea, sun, body odor and an ungodly amount of cologne. And they all three were equally horrible looking, with their long hair, mustaches, and rings all over their fingers. I looked across at the girls on their ship, pained, but I could tell that Winston had something up his sleeve.

We sat down in the shade of the sails. Winston introduced Ramone and me, as his younger brother. I grunted. Ramone fetched and served the sangria, one pitcher for them, one pitcher for us. Loosened up by the sangria, and thinking themselves in the company of men alone, they proceded to speak of their conquests--the vast amount of gold they had stolen from this or that ship; the treasure they had discovered at this or that port, and the beautiful women they had wooed all over the world. Of course, any person, animal--even plant--could tell that not a tenth of what they were saying was true, and I often had to gulp my sangria so as not to roll my eyes.

After a solid hour of this torture, I sneezed off my mustache. You would’ve thought somebody had thrown a gauntlet. Pablo (or whichever one it was) was going on about a bar brawl he had encountered in New Zealand last year, and was just knocking out five men at once, when he stopped dead. The other two straightened in their seats, staring at me intently.

Winston glanced over and, understanding immediately, set his cup down slowly, then rolled up his sleeves.

“Thees!” one of them ventured “Thees ees a woman!”

Winston lept up and socked on of them in the face. We’ll call that one Manuel. A gold tooth went flying. The other one, who we will call Javier, lept at Winston, and the one who had been telling the story (Pablo?) lunged at me. I pushed my chair over with a swift kick and lept to my feet, ripping off my eye patch. I ran a few paces and then--you guessed it--fell right over the railing as usual, landing in the salty water with a splash. Herman gathered me up within seconds and I could hear the brawling on board.

“Put me back, Herman!! Put me back!!”

It only took him a few seconds to deposit me back on deck, and Winston had already dispatched with the tweedle-dee and tweedle-Don Juan triplets, plus the ogre from their ship who can come to their aid. He’s pretty able bodied, Winston.

I gave him a looking over to make sure that he hadn’t incurred any serious injury--in truth, he hadn’t been injured at all--and then I went to untie the girls on board their ship while Ramone went scavaging around for stashes of gold coins. The girls were able to identify a few stashes.

“Winston?” I called over to The Star Dust, “Aren’t they going to come looking for us now that we’ve stolen these girls and their money?”

“Nope” he smiled up, dragging Manuel (?) back across to their ship and laying him out on the deck. “That sangria had a special ingredient. They won’t remember a thing about it.”

“Smart!” I remarked, impressed, “And what about the ogre?”

“Ramone will give him an injection of the same stuff.”

“Wow! You’re like the Robin Hood of pirates, Winston!” I took out my notepad and jotted down a few particulars of the incident.

I bumped into him as he dragged Javier (?) back across the gangway. “Ugh! Winston! You smell like cheap cologne!” He made a grimace.

The girls were French and sittting, smiling wide smiles, on our deck, so very happy to be liberated from their smelly captors, saying over and over: “Merci, mademoiselle! Merci beaucoup, monsieur! On peut pas vous remercier assez!!”

After the last of the Spaniards had been loaded back onto their ship, and the most of the gold taken off of it, Herman got their ship drifting West and we set sail due East. Then, Winston went below deck to clean the reek off of himself, and we had dinner with the French girls on deck as the sun set. As we ate, they told us the harrowing adventure of how they had been captured:

“Celeste,” one began, “eez a friend to us. She made a birthday party two weeks past, at ze beach. We ate cakes, we laid in ze sun, we played with ze ball and in ze water. Ze two of us fell asleep because we had lots of wine and when we woke up, eet was getting dark. Celeste and ze rest of our friends decided to go to ze pub. Eet was not far from ze beach. So, zhey left us there to get ze zhings and meet zhem zhere. But, when we get to ze pub, zhey are not zhere. We zhink perhaps zhey have gone to a different pub, so we go to different pubs. At zhe zhird pub we decide to rest and zhink of where zhey could be. Eet is not a very beeg town. And so, we are resting, and have a glass of wine. And we see zhees guys sitting at ze end of ze bar. And we zhink, zees guys are creepy, so we try to Eegnore zhem. But, zhey come over to talk to us. And we pretend zhat we can’t speak Spanish. And zheir French is horrible. So we are trying to Eegnore zhem, and zhey smell very bad. But zhey must have put zhomething in ze wine because zhen we wake up and we are on ze ship! And zhey are trying to be zweet to us. Zhey say ‘we are tough pirates’ and zhey tell us stories and try to impress us, and try to scare us, but we still think zhey are gross and smell badly. And they’ve had us for two weeks and we don’t zhink we will ever escape. One of zhem tried to kiss Stephanie,” she motioned to the other girl, “and Stephanie tried to jump sheep and I was crying but he smelled so bad zhat she just fainted instead. Mademoiselle et monsieur, eet was really very horrible. Zhank you so much for saving us. You are welcome in Bordeaux at any time.” She batted her eyelashes wildly at Winston, who coolly pretended not to notice.

“Psst, Winston,” I whispered to him, “frenchie here is flirting with you.”

“I know” he said.

“And she’s pretty,” I ventured. I wasn’t trying to encourage him into bad behavior per se, but, as a journalist, I guess I was curious to see how the mischief happened. But he would have none of it.

“Uh huh,” he said. And turned back to the conversation, conscientiously avoiding her flirtations. And those of Stephanie, who didn’t know how to speak English, but who spoke “dimples and winks” fluently.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

5. Copenhagen & Storks

The next morning, we were meant to set sail for London, where Winston had to see a man about some buttons and Caitlin Kitty, another of Winston’s exes. But Winston felt that perhaps we should temporarily put off the Kiernens and sail for Denmark instead. And so we did.

The girl we had to visit there was called Helga, who agreed to meet us for coffee.

When she arrived, I understood why it was that Winston had spent a whopping eight months with her: she was tall, lithe, blue-eyed, brown-haired and beautiful. She sat down across from us and cooly explained that she appreciated the apologetic gesture, but that she had not missed Winston much after he left and was quite happy they had gone their separate ways. Her new boyfriend Mads was the hunky ukelele player of the local band The Elephants and she’d never been happier. Then, she gave us a flyer for their show, said she hoped we would come, it was very nice to see him again and good day.

Willoughby was quite disappointed by the lack of flying cups and saucers, but Winston was pleased. He was happy she was happy, and felt gratified at making his first successful apology. He felt re-inspired.

We spent the rest of the day walking around Copenhagen. We admired the various fountains, we lounged in sunny gardens, we took pictures of tourists and I took to elbowing Winston whenever a girl would glare, coyly and knowingly, at him. Which was pretty often. Willoughby, for his part, had a great time checking out all of the Danish dogs (he asserted that Danish dogs, on the whole, are certainly the prettiest population of dogs he had ever seen) and was drooling, now after a Danish Poodle mix, now after Shitzu. I joked that Winston was rubbing off on him.

In the evening, Willoughby saw himself back to The Star Dust (where Ramone was waiting to surprise him with his new Super-Stealth Danish Fart Machine) and Winston and I went to see The Elephants play. Dear reader, I must recommend them! On our entire trip, those Elephants were pretty near the best live music we saw.

I’m going to zip through this next little bit, so that we can get on to some of the more interesting parts of our trip: Anya in Brussels threw waffles at him (I have pictures); Cherie, in Paris, sobbed and sobbed and begged him not to go away again; Emilie, also in Paris, at first laughed and said there were no hard feelings, then drank a bottle of Bordeaux and tried to run him over with her car; Alexandra, also in Paris, made us dinner and sent us merrily on our way; then we headed back up to London, where Becx called him everything from “Arse” to “Wanker”; Michelle said “everything is fine, thanks so much for coming by” but then tried to cut herself, and Caitlin Kitty Kiernen took us out on the town for a night of dancing, proving why she was, rightly, the only one of the Kiernen sisters that anyone ever remembers.

From London, we hit the high seas for a couple of weeks and headed for Spain.

Now, if you know nothing of pirate ships, as I did not, you must be wondering, as I was wondering, how it is that people on ships procure victuals:

I had always imagined that there was some kind of hold below deck where food and water are stored; this is true. But most of what we ate while we were out to sea, was food that was--get this!--delivered by Storks. This explained so much to me, I mean about the Storks delivering babies myth and all, because, especially from below, the great bundles of food that they fly around to ships do look an awful lot like so called “bundles of joy”. Every morning a basket would arrive for us, full of fresh fruit, a loaf of bread, some cheese, a bottle of wine, coffee. Sometimes the hermits, who were organizing these deliveries, would include something random, such as Silly String, but usually Willoughby or Ramone would run off with them before we laid hands on them. Although, in the case of Silly String, Willoughby was at a bit of a spraying disadvantage, if you see what I mean.

But anyway, we had been out to sea for about a week, leisurely enjoying the fantastic weather, relaxing swimming with the friendly sea-animals (and Herman, of course) reading books and playing ukelele by candle-light, when we had our first run-in, 100 miles East of Bordeaux, with RLPs: Real. Live. Pirates.

next chapter

Sunday, June 29, 2008

4. Katherine Ann Kiernan

Caitlin Kitty Kiernan was a local legend in Cahersiveen, Ireland.

When she was seven years old, she had run away from home, riding a horse over fifty miles to the town of Killorglen because her parents had tried to force her to eat cabbage. She hated cabbage. When she was fourteen, she recited an entire Canto of Dante's Inferno from her rooftop, shouting in poor ancient Italian to the fishermen and farmers of her town that had gathered, baffled, to watch the spectacle. When she was seventeen, she had organized, cast, and starred in a local production of The Tempest; when she was twenty, she could be often found in the town square, selling copies of her self-published book of grandiose romantic poetry.

She was beautiful, dramatic, and wild. To the people of her small town, she was something of a comet, and people were always asking "what that crazy Kiernan girl is up to these days." Every boy within ten years of her age was wildly and desperately in love with her and, before the age of twenty-two, she had already received no less than nine proposals of marriage. But, of course, she was going to move to London and take the world by storm; no small-town life for Caitlin Kitty Kiernan. And by the age of twenty-five, off she had gone.

Nobody had heard of her sister, Katherine Ann Kiernan.

Katherine was just a bit younger than her sister. "Kind of" pretty, "kind of" intelligent, but diminutive of stature and painfully shy, she often just blended right into the background. Frequently distracted by the shenanigans of her older sister, her parents all but forgot that they had another daughter. And, small town though it was, people only knew of Katherine as "Caitlin's sister" and she most frequently came up in the context of "Oh yes! I had forgotten that Caitlin had a sister! Is she still living in Cahersiveen?"

Katherine was a novelist, but was, in truth, a less than talented writer. The following excerpt was given to me to read:

“It was a blustery morning, a windy day. The air blew around in swirls. The wind played with curtains and the skirts of bustling women. A man’s trousers lifted up to reveal checked dress socks. This man, deep in thought, was on his way down to walk by the river. But it was a windy, blustery day, and he found himself distracted by the bits of paper blowing about in the windy wind.”

(I reckon that’s enough said about that).

She also worked at the local tailor’s shop where the owner frequently forgot her name. Even though she'd worked there for four years, and was the only employee.

The best part of her day was the afternoon when she would take her dog, Rhinoceros, for a walk, ending up at her friend Julia's house. Julia was in every respect, Katherine's very twin of disposition. It was only in looks that they differed: Katherine was just over five feet tall and frail, with pale orange hair and dark eyes; Julia was five foot nine, large and buxom of body with straw-yellow hair and washed out blue eyes.

Winston gave the following account of their affair:

“I met Katherine a few years ago. My Great Aunt lives inland of Cahersiveen and I was going to visit, so I landed there and decided that, because the weather was especially lovely, I should buy a bike to ride over to her town. I found one in Cahersiveen and set out along the way, but took a wrong turn and, while I was lost, got a flat tire. So there I was, walking my bike down a country lane when along comes Katherine and Rhinoceros. I stopped her to ask if she knew where we were and where I could find a replacement tire for my bike. We began walking towards the nearest village and got caught in a massive thunderstorm, so we turned around and went to her house. Then, she caught a terrible, terrible cold that lasted for a couple of weeks, so I stayed to take care of her. When she got better, it was late Spring, and we spent several more weeks together, mostly walking around the surrounding countryside. But then I remembered that I had to get to my grandmother’s house and, as I then knew my way around the country much better, I left.”

Now, when we were plotting out the ex-lovers to revisit, he thought it would be a good idea to start with Katherine, mild-mannered and shy as she was.

Her house is, as she is, small and inconspicuous. Sat on a shady country lane, it is covered in vines, has a brick chimney, and rose bushes in the front yard. Willoughby and I sat down on the grass by the mailbox on the edge of her property, and watched Winston approach the door with interest and smiles of encouragement.

We didn't see who opened the door, but Winston disappeared through it. Not more than one minute elapsed before the relative silence of Katherine's front yard was interrupted by loud, angry, yelling, the bang of pots hitting walls and the crash of pottery smashing. The front door swung open and Winston rushed out, wide-eyed and holding his head. A small figure came dashing out of the door behind him, spewing a tirade of curses in a rollicking Irish accent, launching a stapler, then a small lamp, then a knife after him.

He ran down the path, grabbed for my hand and pulled me away with him at a full run. Willoughby followed, laughing, behind us.

"So, how'd it go?" I asked, as we bounced along down the road. He looked at me, unamused.

After a quarter-mile, we slowed our pace to a walk and enjoyed the rest of the Irish countryside. The sun was high in the sky, the fields were green, and, in the distance, the ocean was eye-squintingly blue. When we got back to the ship, I looked at his battle wound. Katherine had left a goose-egg almost the size of herself on his forehead, by means of a toaster.

I held some ice to it for him. Apparently Katherine was a very small person with a very large temper. I suggested he maybe write her a letter

When his head and spirits were something recovered, we went on deck to make dinner, drink some wine and watch the stars come out. Ramone was playing his ukelele and Willoughby was plotting his next evil deed to play on Ramone.

next chapter

3. Herman

Now, I’m just going to go ahead and tell you that, in the course of the story, I fall overboard many times. It’s just my clumsy nature and whenever the weather gets a little stormy, whenever the water gets a little choppy--heck!--whenever I’m standing close to the railing period there’s a good chance I’m going over. Thank you, god, for my two left feet and the many adventures they have occasioned.

Anyway, this time was the most terrifying, because it was the first. The water was cold and dark and choppy and as I plunged into it, I was thinking “Great! Here I am, setting off on this great adventure and I didn’t even going to make it to our first port of call.”


I was sucked into a cold, churning, blackness. Opening my eyes was useless; I couldn’t even tell if they were opened or closed, which was terribly alarming, nor could I tell which way was up or down. I was doomed.

Then, all of a sudden, my head was above water. Something had pulled me up by the hair and was holding me there, suspended, but I couldn’t make out what it was. I groped blindly around, but there didn’t seem to be anyone next to me, and my first thought was that Ramone had somehow hooked me from above. I reached up into my hair and felt the most alarming thing: a fat, rubbery, tenticle.

My eyes went wide with horror.

But then I thought that perhaps, if whatever animal owned the tenticle was going to eat me, it would’ve already smuggled me down to the ocean’s depths instead of preventing me from drowning.

An instant later, another rubbery arm had scooped me up like so much ice cream and lifted me out of the water. I was shivering convulsively. As my eyes adjusted to the moonlight, I couldn’t see The Star Dust anywhere. But I did see two, giant, inquiring eyes set into a huge bulbous head right in front of me.

“Are you going to eat me?” I quaked. The bulbous head swung itself slowly side to side.

“Phew! I’m so glad.” Then I heard what sounded like a walkie-talkie.

Bzzcht... “Herman, now’s not a good time to play”...bzzcht... “It’s very windy and Lima Bean must be very cold after falling into the ocean” ....bzzcht.... “could you kindly bring her back to the ship?” Bzzcht.

It was Winston’s voice, but I didn’t understand where it was coming from. Herman blew air out from, well, wherever it is that giant squid blow out air, like a six year old being told that it is not the right time to tumble on the lawn, and started gliding through the swells.

The ship was somewhere behind me, because it still wasn’t anywhere in my line of vision and I didn’t see it until Herman had lifted me back over the railing and Winston received me into a big fluffy towel. Boy was I relieved to have some wood back under my bum! But it was still storming, and the boat was still tossing from side to side, so I leaned feebly against Winston and concentrated on not throwing up.

Herman did a few spins in the water, like a top, frollicked a little to and fro (have YOU ever seen a giant squid frollick?? It’s cuter than you’d think) and sidled back up to the side of the ship. Winston reached his long arm over the railing and scratched the top of Herman’s head.

“That was very good work, Herman, thank you for catching the lady.”

Winston took me downstairs and told me to take off my wet clothes. He gave me warm, dry sheets to wrap myself up in and tucked me into bed.

“I see that this trip is going to require a little taking care of you”

I grimaced, then indicated with my thumb and index finger ‘just a very, very little bit.’ He laughed.

“Perhaps you could have told me that there’s a friendly giant squid spotting your ship?” I managed.

“I was getting around to it,” he said, sitting down, “but I had no idea you were so clumsy.”

“Oh yes, I’m very clumsy.”

“Well, good thing he’s there, then. He’s very friendly; wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s an excellent spotter because when we’re in warmer waters, we dive off the ship in all different directions and he darts around and gathers us up as fast as he can. It’s his favorite game.”

“I see” I said, yawning. That was a pretty mighty, if brief, exertion I had just made.

“There all kinds of interesting characters in these oceans,” Winston went on softly, “I’ll tell you all about them tomorrow."

There was a moment or two of silence, then he stood up, abruptly. He bade me goodnight, and, as my eyes gave in to the weight of my eyelids, I saw him bound back up the stairs.

next chapter

Saturday, June 21, 2008

2. The Star Dust

The Star Dust, Winston’s ship, had seen better days, and those days were probably two-hundred years ago. All of it's various ropes were yellowed, it's anchor woven with thick moss, and it's four white sails frayed. Even so it was an elegant, if small, vessel; for all of its wear, its rich wood surfaces were slick and glittery in the sunlight and it had a buxom, well-carved mermaid on the prow.

Below deck was a small, sparsely decorated living space that consisted of a bedroom, with an attached kitchen, bathroom, and dining area. Winston brought my things down--a bag of personal affects and a couple boxes of books--and helped me arrange them amongst his own.

“Erm, Winston...?”

“There’s only one bed. I’ve already thought of it. Don’t worry, I will sleep on deck with Ramone and Goblin. I often do anyway.”

He didn’t seem terribly put out, but it didn’t seem right that I had invited myself along on his adventure AND I was stealing his bed.

“No, I couldn’t let you. I’ll sleep on deck.”

He laughed heartily. I mean, he doubled over with laughter. Then, he patted me on the back appreciatively, and went up the little stairs that led outside.

His “crew” consisted of a chimpanzee named Ramone and a three-legged squirrel named Goblin. They pushed The Star Dust away from the riverbank where it had passed the last week or so and the five of us--Willoughby came along, of course--headed for the open ocean.

Now, many of the following adventures will involve run-ins with Winston’s ex lovers. This may or not strike you as an interesting topic to explore, but let me assure you: it’s fascinating. The sheer number of girls that Winston had been involved with at any given port almost matched the number of indigenous plant species--and the girls were about as varied in both aesthetics and personality. And his stated intention for this voyage was to make amends with as many as them as he could. I thought it a noble idea, and also, more importantly, likely to produce an exceptionally high rate of excitement and adventure. Can you imagine a more dangerous mission than intentionally throwing yourself in the way of hundreds of resentful women? Okay, so maybe I’m exagerrating the numbers slightly. But just slightly.

We made a plan, as though we were staging a complicated bank heist, ranking our stops in consideration of how many women, and the varying degrees of their expected initial violence and then laid it out on a giant map across the dining room table with pins and thread. There was Alexandra in Western Morocco, Karina in Columbia; there was Cherie in France and Anya in Belgium, there was Em in Malaysia, Kat in Australia and Dessie on Tasmania.

But in Nova Scotia was the girl that would cause us the most problems, a girl named Simone with a vicious temper and such a propensity for cutting insults that even now, thousands of miles and several years away, the mere mention of her name was enough to cast Winston into a despondent, even fearful, silence. They had been lovers briefly, but things ended poorly and he had ended up leaving behind his Parrot, a loving and intelligent African Grey named Rinaldo, a fact by which he constantly felt pained.

We put her at the end of the list. We were still far from the coast of Nova Scotia, in time not miles. Our first stop would be in Ireland, and we were crossing the wide, cold, Atlantic.

Ramone was a remarkably able First Mate, and he had a quite a sense of humor to boot: Willoughby had a bed set up on the deck where he could lay in the sun and feel the fresh sea wind on his muzzle. As soon as Willoughby would get comfortable and start snoozing, Ramone would steer the ship ever so slightly North, or ever so slightly South, so as to shift a shadow back on top of Willoughby. Willoughby, roused from his nap by the chill, would get up, and pull his bed back into the sun, only to fall asleep again, and again wake up in the shadow. It took him at least two hours to realize that Ramone was playing this prank on him. He revenged himself by shaving Ramone’s eyebrows off while he was sleeping. The rivalry only escalated from there, and every day they would each turn up with some new outrageous scheme afoot, or the evidence of some outrageous scheme on their person. Goblin remained conscientiously uninvolved in the feud.

About two or three days off of the coast of Ireland, we hit a storm. It wasn’t a tremendous or terribly blustery storm, but it was windy enough to take up the sails and the swells of the sea became quite large. It was just when the last vestiges of daylight were slipping around to the other side of the planet, and I was clumsily trying to help Ramone tie up one of the sails. There was one piece of rope that I had accidentally let go and it was flailing behind the ship, in the wind; two more seconds and it was going to fly away entirely. Ramone was yelling something to me, but there was so much wind in my ear that I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I reached out six inches farther than I should have, and as I felt the weight of my body transferring to the outside of the railing, felt myself tumbling towards the frozen water below, I finally put it together in my head:

“Don’t worry about that rope; we have another!”

next chapter

1. We Were Pirates

In the end, there were other women. There were tight fists, bar fights, and lies. There were sunk ships, and fat lips. There were indiscretions, insults and a complete loss of dignity. But once, we were happy. Once, we sailed the high seas, we laughed and loved, and took up each other’s arms. Once, we set foot on all nine continents, made babies and concocted schemes.

Once, we were pirates.


It all began in the dawning Spring of a couple years past. I had taken to studying in a under-frequented corner of a park near my apartment. Usually, I could sneak to this park-corner from my apartment, spend the day absorbed in the scholarly works of whatever hermit had caught my interest, and sneak back again without running into another person of any sort. I had become so good at inconspicuity, I began to wonder whether or not other people could even actually see me at all (one of the benchmarks of true hermit-hood is that most regular people actually can’t see you. Except for under very certain circumstances, when the light is just so, and they are abstractly thinking just so, and their eyes focus just so. Otherwise, you could be right under their nose and they wouldn’t even realize! It’s quite a funny thing to observe, but the chances of ever making such an observation are few, given hermits’ distaste for peopled environments). At any rate, I got very used to going unnoticed.

On this particular afternoon, I was reading Astro-Physics & the Mating Habits of Noctural Marine Mammals and Mermen by Camilla Buttersworth and Moby Dick (I hope I don’t have to remind you that Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick), when I noticed a guy swagger over to a nearby tree and fall asleep. Now, as you may have intuited by my description of him--“a guy”--I didn’t take much notice and, after an hour or two, forgot that he was there at all. Several hours later, while ruminating on a particularly delightful passage of Moby Dick, my eyes came to rest on this figure. To my great surprise, I realized that, not only had he awoken, but he was staring at me. I started, fidgeted with the book resting in my lap, and stared intently at the pages so as not to provoke further interest from him. But I had become acutely aware of him and, after some minutes, grudgingly looked past the corner of my book to see whether or not he had turned his attention elsewhere. To my horror, not only was he still looking at me, but he had turned onto his belly and, resting his face in his hands, was persistently--obnoxiously!--staring at me. Greatly discomfitted, I turned my back to him, and weakly whistled to Willoughby.

Willoughby, who is my favorite companion, and also a dog, had expected to be at the park for at least another few hours. He was rolling around some distance away in a patch of newly sprouted clovers. He didn’t immediately hear me whistle, but when he did, he looked plaintive and uninterested. “Going now” he looked at me? “But this is graaaaand!” Since you can’t publicly speak to animals, outside of North Carolina, I gave him my best alarmed and “we have to go now!” look. But it was too late. He had no sooner began a slow saunter towards me, than I heard the crunch of leaves and determined footfall at my back.

“Hi” said a voice behind me. I jumped around to face it. And I must have looked pretty scared, because he--the guy who had been napping under the tree, the guy who had persistantly stared at me, and now was intent upon speaking to me--started laughing, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you. Here,” he said, backing up, “I’ll stand a little further away.”

Though I was alarmed, this struck me as comical. He was going to endeavor to talk to me from a distance of four or five feet away, as though we were speaking across an imaginary precipice.

“Do you have a cigarette, by chance?” he asked.

“No, no I don’t”

“Do you know where I might get something to eat around here?”

“No” I lied, “I, uh, don’t eat. Often. Out, I mean”. I’m not usually this conversationally awkward, but, as I said, it had been a long time since I had talked to anyone, let alone unexpectedly, let alone to a boy.

“I’m Winston” He leaned out across the invisible precipice to shake my hand.

“Lima. Lima Bean. I’m sorry for, umm, seeming so alarmed. I was just so absorbed in my book...”

“Lima Bean!” he cut me off, “The Lima Bean?? I’m a terrific fan of your work!”

I looked at him, dumbfounded.

“Err, I’m sorry, you must have me confused with some other Lima Bean”

“Not at all, not at all! I’ve read your reports from the Hermits’ Convention, all of them! Then, I did some investigating, asked some friends, and got ahold of some of your poetry as well. It’s really very good! I might go so far as to say you’re a genius. I’ve wanted to meet you!”

Willoughby trotted up and sniffed the stranger with interest, who immediately leaned down and began scratching him behind the ears as though they had always been friends. And, from the grin on Willoughby’s face, you really would’ve thought that they had. I was, at the least, curious about this fellow; Willoughby was already in love. There’s nothing like a good ear-scratching to sway Willoughby into very deep love.

“I’m sorry, what did you say your name was again?”

“Winston. Winston D. B. Oliver Zwinton”

It is hard to recapture the innocence and strangeness of a first meeting with a person you have later known intimately, but I will, at any rate, do my best. He was tall and extraordinarily handsome: well-proportioned, with a mess of black hair, Atlantic-blue eyes, a rosy complexion, deep dimples and strong, well-formed hands. He wore heavy rings in both of his ears, a bandana around his neck, and almost every part of his body that was visible, was tattooed in thick black strips. He was handsome in a rugged, weathered way. Handsome as a bird of prey might be, or a very large coyote. Or, say, a pirate.

“I think I’ve heard of you, too, actually. The terror of the Seven Seas.”

“Ah, my reputation precedes me” he said knowingly, almost bashfully.

I had, at a Hermits’ Convention, heard talk of him. A hermetically-affiliated Don Juan of sorts, who was notorious, not for romancing women, but for breaking their hearts. He would love them, sort of, and sail off abruptly, leaving behind a intercontinental rash of scorned women and fatherless birds.

The hermits’ interest in him was manifold. The child of rather hard circumstances, he had grown up wild, but searingly intelligent. And while they weren’t sure what would become of him, his vagabond ways and emphatic resistence to everything ordinary made him natural kin to the hermits,who looked on, often bemusedly, often alarmedly, as he bumped through his complicated and rocky life.

To be perfectly honest, I had developed a lurid curiosity about him at the Convention and was pleased that he had run himself into me at the park. As I understood it, he was a man of incorrigibly bad behavior, adventures, misadventures and excitement; he was a real life pirate! But, as any stealth journalist, I curbed my enthusiasm.

“How long will you be in town?” I asked

“A few days, I think”

“Would you like to have dinner with Willoughby and me?” I offered. Willoughby looked smilingly up, wagging. Winston nodded.

We cooked and laughed, and slowly warmed. We drank wine and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes on the fire escape. I showed Winston some of my recent writings, and got a few fantastic stories out of him. Like the time he had to scale an impossible cliff, beat a Spanish fencing genius in a duel, wrestle a giant, outwit a Sicilian, and trek through an unsurvivable swamp in order to save a princess.

Just kidding: that’s obviously the Princess Bride. But his stories were--and I make this statement carefully--as good. We fell asleep mid-conversation, side by side, as innocently as children, and when we woke up in the morning, my mind was made up: I begged him to take me with him on his next sailing adventure. As I had recorded the Hermits’ Convention, I wanted to record the Adventures of Winston D.B. Oliver Zwinton. I was bored with being a hermit. I wanted to be a hermit-slash-pirate.

next chapter

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Nine: Summer Rise, Summer Set.

The next three days were a blur of hither and thither activity that felt like nothing more than just that: I had caught the end of summer blues, and was feeling rather lackluster.

I spent the morning with a pair of different musical hermits, who aggravated my hangover with their innovative renditions of Bizet’s opera Carmen, to my great dismay, which I fear was but thinly disguised.

I spent that afternoon with Pipton, reading, and the evening with one of the most famous hermits of all time, Santa Claus, who jovially explained to me his true involvement in the Christmas holiday (he invented the concept to promote global altruism through international gift exchanges, but when the idea was pirated by a co-operative of multi-national toy corporations--his face and name kept as the figurehead against his will--he became a hermit and has since been formulating a counter-initiative, nicknamed “Project The Grinch”, to re-create Christmas as the holiday it was originally intended to be.) (You can expect the evidences of this initiave to become apparent beginning 2009, if all goes as planned).

The day after that I listlessly bummed about with Calvin in his garden, then went to visit Herman and Delia (who are officially ‘a couple’ by the way. Claudia, Vance, and Shirelle fixed the spell so that Delia can keep her legs--sans nasty sleeping side-effects--as long as she takes one herbal pill each morning and evening) They are quite happy, and moving back to the mountains together, along with Eleanor, Pooka, and Augie, of course.

The day after, I woke up and the forest was empty. Just like that.

Even though the hermits’ presence was undetectable by the naked eye, I could just feel it: the difference was palpable.

In true hermit style, Willoughby and I slipped away without ceremony, without saying goodbye to Pipton or Calvin. Who invented goodbyes anyway? What a dumb idea.

We didn’t speak much on the ride home and once we had snuck back into our urban hermitage, after we had un-packed our few things and napped, after we had eaten some late-night pancakes and sipped some herbal tea, we stood on the fire-escape and in the relative quiet of the wee-morning hours, we were sure we could hear it:

the quiet shuffle across prairies, over mountains, through forest and brush; the pitter-patter of light footfall across dells, to farms, to the ends of country-lanes thought to be abandoned. The brush of steps towards remote ranches, to caves and bungalows.

It was the end of summer, and hermits everywhere were returning from their Annual Convention.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Eight: Boil, Boil, Toil, and Trouble.

I woke up in the morning so tangled in arms, sheets and legs that it was a good minute or two before I dared move. I wiggled myself loose a bit, and looking over my right shoulder, found Peter’s head not far from mine. His hair was messy and obscured all of his face, save a bit of mouth. I admired him for a second or two (sleeping Peter looks so sweet) then I put my forehead against his and shook my head, using the volume of my own messy hair to tickle his sleeping face into awakeness. And then I bit his lips--I figured there were worse ways to wake up in the morning.

He stretched his arms over his head, peeped an uncovered eye open, and grinned, then threw an arm around me and slid me back onto the warm, cuddling side of the bed (his). I was on the point of falling back asleep when I remembered that I was a professional, and there was work to be done! I had not been invited to the Hermits’ Convention to cuddle with a cute hermit, after all, I had been invited to record the event and its participants, and there were still many more to meet. So I rolled us both right out of the bed with thud.

“Oooh, Lima.” Peter complained, halfheartedly, “why did you have to do that?”

“Because, sir, there are many things to be done today and I just thought that our chances of waking up would improve greatly once we were actually out of bed. Don’t you feel more awake?”

He groaned, but then sat up and blinked his two blue eyes open. “Yes.”

“Good! I’ll fix you some root coffee.”

“So where is it you’re off to today, Miss Bean?” At this point, I was sitting at his table sipping my root-coffee, revising some notes, and he was sat in a chair playing with his guitar.

“Well, I have an interview with Isabelle Du Bontemps in the morning and THEN...”


“...then I’m going to meet Claudia, Shirelle and Vance.”

“Well, that’ll be fun. Are you taking Willoughby?”

“If I can find him! He’s made so many friends I can hardly keep track of him!”
But no sooner had I said that, then I heard his own happy bark at the bottom of Peter’s tree.

“Speak of the devil!” I leaned my head off of the porch, “Good morning, love.”

He smiled his toothy smile up at me and suggested we get a move on. Apparently Willoughby wanted to meet the witches as well. I ran over to Peter and, yanked on a bit of his hair and kissed him goodbye. Little did I know it would be the last time I'd see him.

I climbed down the stairs and into the fresh morning air, whereupon Willoughby dragged me to, and quickly from, my appointment with Isabelle du Bontemps.

She was interesting to look at: tall and waifish, with large-eyes and ankle-length blonde braids, but she answered almost every question with a single word answer--often a single syllable--and would periodically fling herself at a canvas mid-conversation and begin furiously adding details to this painting or that, which were too high-concept for simple-minded me (please detect a note of sarcasm here). What I can say for Isabelle, is that amongst the hanging plants and wide-windows of her treetop studio, sitting on her stool, surrounded by canvases, with a long cigarette in hand, she remained at all times with her fair face in the best lighting and at the most advantageous angles. Even in the absence of everyone but, well, me and Willoughby.

After an half hour, Willoughby was squirming with boredom, so we excused ourselves and waved goodbye to Isabelle, who was back at attacking a canvas before we had so much as closed the front door.

On the way to visit Claudia, Shirelle and Vance, Willoughby was walking at such a fast pace, that we kept missing turns, and so got lost three times before finding their place. Which was by no means easy to find. This is where you are expecting me to say “witches’ den.” I know you are.

I have to admit that even I--hard though I may try to ignore stereotypes--was also expecting something along those lines. But, boy oh boy, was I surprised!

Claudia, Shirelle and Vance, three former Southern Belles, had constructed the most lavish residence on the North Carolinian property: a sprawling single-level, bright-white house, with huge floor to ceiling windows, whose shutters opened onto a wraparound porch complete with hanging plants and COLUMNS--yes, their house even has columns!--AND a yard with sloping, green grass and two shady trees, underneath one of which was a set of tasteful white-iron lawn furniture, and from whose branches hung a swing, in which Shirelle, wearing a floppy brimmed summer hat, was lightly swinging back and forth, drinking Pimms and soda. She lifted her glass in salute as Willoughby and I approached.

Shirelle saluted us from the tree-swing, Vance was sitting at the table slowly flipping through a book of mammoth proportions, and Claudia was lying on a blanket, under an umbrella, on the lawn, sunning her legs.

Shirelle was tall and buxom with dark brown hair that fell in loose curls from beneath her hat, down around her heart-shaped face and winking green eyes; Vance had blonde hair with teased bangs and a and blue eye-liner'd blue eyes that always seemed wide with pleasure or interest and Claudia had straight, cropped red hair and freckled skin: they were the Golden Girls but slightly younger and infinitely more fun (as we would soon find out).

“Well, hello!” Claudia waved, sitting up.

Vance got up from the table to greet Willoughby and I with a scratch behind the ear and a kiss on the cheek, respectively.

“Come! Come have a seat” she welcomed, motioning to the table. The three of them were all smiling at us their most hospitable Southern smiles. Willoughby’s tail was wagging so furiously that it took him multiple attempts to get and keep his bottom sitting.

“Now isn’t he daaahhling!” Shirelle said, “Can I give him a treat?”

Willoughby looked slightly incredulous that she should ask my approval, then nodded at me furiously. I laughed.

“Of course he can.”

Whereas other witches of repute have had cauldrons, wands, or, more recently, twitching noses, Shirelle had a large Louis Vuitton handbag, inside of which, she could find anything. To be honest, we couldn’t ever be sure if it was magic, or if she just traveled well-prepared. At any rate, she produced a tasty treat for Willoughby, who took it in his mouth and then glided by each of us in turn, giving us broadside dog-hugs. The ladies were delighted.

I sat down at the table with Vance. Claudia got up to get another pitcher of icy Pimm’s for everyone.

The ladies were great to talk to, because they needed so little prompting. Really, I had to just sit and smile and listen as they bounced stories off of themselves, including the time they disguised themselves as Slovenian socialites, leased a villa in Italy and seduced a trio of Italian shoe designers, thereby winning a lifetime supply of Italian pumps; the time they beached their yacht into a deserted island in the Caribbean and coaxed the local animals to help them harvest coconuts to nurse their hangovers; the time Vance accidentally turned a girlfriend into a Weimaraner and the time Shirelle purposefully turned an ex-boyfriend into an ox.

As the afternoon waned, so did the pitcher of Pimm’s. And the next. Soon we were saucy and laughing. I was taken on a tour of the house, but all I remember of it, is that I tripped over the rug in the Parlor, which had the girls (and Willoughby) in fits of laughter, and Vance fell into the pool with all of her clothes on.

As the evening progressed, so did the crazy antics. If you’ve never spent an evening with three drunken witches with a good sense of humor, well, you should try to arrange it.

Shirelle turned Vance’s blonde hair pink mid-conversation, Claudia made my lounge chair start walking across the yard, Vance made bouncy balls materialize from all sides of the property until poor Willoughby (who’d also had a bit to drink) was smiling sloppily and nearly cross-eyed from chasing them. The hijinks continued until Peter came to fetch me--Pipton had sent him to see me home safely--and carried me away, stumbling and laughing as the girls laughed and waved from their doorway.

Now mind you, I said that that morning was the last time I would see Peter, and I was telling the truth. It was dark when he came to fetch me, and once we were back in our neighborhood (and the walk had sobered me up a bit) we laid down on the shore of the lake and stargazed as I recounted to Peter my experience of why the witches were everybody’s favorite hermits.

Then, he put his forehead to my forehead and his nose to my nose, and admitted in low tones that he was leaving in the morning. I said well, we knew the summer wasn’t going to last forever, and then I kissed his face.

The next day, I woke up in my bed with a pretty serious hangover. Willoughby, who was lying on his back with face pressed into his cushion, was snoring audibly. I suspected he wouldn’t feel much better.

I dragged myself into a sitting position and slowly took stock of the night before. I laughed, just thinking about Claudia, Shirelle and Vance, and laughed again imagining their parallel hangovers.

Then I remembered the end of the night and my head resumed throbbing. Peter was gone.

next chapter