Shelagh Power-Chopra's work appears or is forthcoming in BLIP, Fwriction, Electric Lit's Outlet Blog, Used Furniture Review, The Significant Objects Project, Metazen, and elsewhere.

The Drunken Sailor

posted Mar 29, 2011

She found the drunken sailor in the morning; his head under the blanket, canvas cap in hand. He wore a uniform—well, half of a uniform, his chest was bare, his shirt thrown in the corner on the floor. It looked like a standard sailor's shirt; heavy cotton with the flap of a blue collar, white wide trousers but rolled up to his knees as if a flood had occurred in the middle of night—the sailor rushing about, swabbing the bedroom of water. Where did she meet him? What had they done? She had only pockets of memories of the night before—hiccups so to say—of wrestling on bathroom floors and vinyl car seats. Wade? She remembered that, it might be his name, or his brother's name, or the captain of his vessel? She liked that word: vessel, it was an old fashioned word and fit her world fine just then.

She pulled the covers from his face; he was a redhead with tight curls, little fists balled up on his head. She was surprised at herself for picking up a redhead—didn't they always spell trouble or was that only in comic books? He had a wide, bright face like a dopey boy from a small town. But just brushed over the innocence, like butter basted over a roast, was a huge scar—a wide gash across his cheek. Had they slept together? Fucked like wild chimps while her roommates drank red wine and gossiped in the kitchen?

She met him in an alley behind a supermarket dumpster where they ditched stale bread and last week's birthday cakes, "Happy Birthday" lazily scrawled across the tops. He asked for a light—now she remembered, he had stood so straight before her—a plank of hard wood, the florescent light of the store sign behind his back. She noticed the hat right away but not the uniform, it was obscured by the dark—only his face and hat appeared out of nowhere—like one of those old advertisements for hot cross buns or devil's food cake—the grinning boy in the sailor suit bearing sweets and she thought of Crackerjack boxes and finding all those cheap little paper toys inside. The hat sat on his head, a crisp cotton, a high domed wedge like a dirty Dixie cup. Care for a drink? He'd asked her and it caught her by surprise that this tall caricature had a voice.

They went to a bar down the road, something called the High Priestess and he laughed and made a joke about sacrificial altars and she like liked him right away. He was from a farm, a small village in the middle of nowhere he said, we have nine cows and my mother's dead, were his exact words and it reminded her of Jack traveling to try and sell the family cow for money. She told him she was raised in a studio apartment in the city, her mother was an artist who worked in stone, they often had huge boulders in the center of the apartment and one had to maneuver around them to do anything. That's like living in a Star Trek set, he said. She nodded and saw that he got it and grinned. They got drunk, drank Gin Rickeys, he had never had one, found them "mercurial", he said, she had never ever heard someone describe a drink like that, usually it was bitter or bland but certainly not mercurial. He licked his lips a lot, ran his fingers over his thick red brows nervously and she noticed he had a spattering of freckles under one eye just above the scar.

He was on leave, a short stint in town for a few days, staying at the Crestfall down the road. Did you want to come over—but she cut him off and asked if he wanted to come to her place and before she knew it they were in bed, his shirt gone, hat off, rolled up like a washcloth in his hand and she admired the practicality of it. She looked down at his crotch, moved her hand over and started to unbutton the button fly—so nautical she thought and wondered if other sailors made passes at him below deck. His skin was soft, his pubic hair darker than she expected, like dark rust on an old machine and he smelled good, salty and briny like an old rowboat. He touched her breasts and turned her over and she looked at the wall, at the photo of the ocean she had taken from the ferry going over to the Vineyard one summer. Then he flipped her back over, drew his body over her and wrapped his long arms around her and fell asleep.

What shall we do with a drunken sailor?

What shall we do with a drunken sailor? Early in the morn'?

He was singing now, awake, leaning over her, singing the song and she smelled gin again. His voice was high-pitched like a choirboy's but it wallowed down towards the end, sunk to something dark and pitchy.

I'm not sure, she whispered and peered over at him, scanned his lengthy body. When had he put his pants back on? She ran her fingers over the scar on his cheek, where'd you get that thing? She asked, not really sure of what else to say. It's a long story of short importance but I'll tell you anyway, he said and went on to tell her about one of the cooks on board who a habit of throwing kitchen knives on the deck with some of the other sailors. They set up this target made out of an old "No Running on Deck" sign and spent half the day there, in between meals, shooting the shit and whacking the sign and one day I passed by, was called to the upper deck, by the first lieutenant, had entered some wrong calculation in the Richter Field Gauge—could have actually killed a ton of folks, you know? But she had no idea what he was talking about. So, I skipped by them, sweating and nervous and one of the knives flew right at me, slashed my cheek real good. The cook was real sorry but I know he didn't really care, but it did make the lieutenant a bit softer on me.

He sighed, rolled over, reached into his pocket and brought out a bent cigarette. Drills on the ship are pretty intense, he said, you got all these guys running around, chickens with no heads and the officers charging down at you, I'm in the engine room, so I got low troubles compared to the boys on deck, cleaning up after the officers and such, I got to look after the fuel systems, I play around with the controls and they handle the guns, those boys but the storms, man those storms and he took a swig of what was left of her drink from last night. Gin, gotta love it, he said, who the fuck drinks gin anymore? Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Now that's my drink.

He found some matches in his other pocket and lit the cigarette and she watched him as he talked and wondered if she were really attracted to him, it seemed to her he was sort of wintry—weathered so to say, a splintery lamp post one might bump into on an empty street.

The sea's rough, you know, he whispered now, coming closer to her face, so rough that once you arrive, your stomach goes out, your brain plays dead then one day you sort of settle down and play a part in the motion—the motion of the ocean, the universe and all that. He sighed and groped towards her like a man reaching shore after a shipwreck, then kissed her awkwardly, pushing his tongue up inside her mouth. Maybe he was still drunk, she thought, drunk and morose and she pictured him on the deck of a ship saluting the dark horizon. It's a deep hollow we all fall into—a wounded belly. We rock ourselves to sleep, dying there in that simple hammock, alone. He said and swung his head away from her mouth. He peered up her, took a long drag of his cigarette and let it roll out of his mouth like a slow fog.

I'm not really a sailor, you know, he said, I just like that song. That's all.