about the author

Mike Itaya lives in southern Alabama, where he works in a library. He has work forthcoming in Oracle Fine Arts Review, The Airgonaut, Bending Genres, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse.

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The View from Ship  

Mike Itaya


My person, the vessel, and the entire skeezerton crew cower—doom-laden—beneath shadowing crests, dick-shivering winds. Seconds before, high gusts catapulted our cabin boy, Tom, from the crow’s nest, out into the black. It was a thing to behold.

He was a favorite for the death pool. In merrier times, we’d celebrate: song, rum-bets, redistribution of coin. But despair sits hard and dark over us, and the sure-thing bet is we’ll all drown within the hour.

Black waters breech our quarters, through windows, cracked to mitigate the pyrotechnics of “Bean Night”—these things matter.

A few of the stonier lads upend the eunuch soothsayer and dump him overboard, like a rotten fish. His dickless humors felt persecutory, his benign predictions a tax. Yesterday, he divined “cerulean skies.” His papers checked out in port, but that is the way of things. These times are tough, that they must be lived through. Derik says.

Derik, first mate/chef/undertaker, once ate a quarter thigh of genteel Frenchman. He has since affected genteel tastes. But Derik is a baker of things one does not wish to eat. He turns shoe leather to jerky, seagulls’ droppings to pudding. He tried to make “Tempeh Night” a thing, but suspicions prevailed. Still, he was a steady hand during the “Vargas Mutiny.” Vargas—this Cornish asshole—tried to boil the crew’s rum discontent (we’d been turned away in Tahiti) to full-blown mutiny. While giving the speech of his life, Vargas strayed in front of a ten pounder: Derik fired. Blowing a moonhole in Vargas you could’ve tossed a coconut through.

The men paused, then cheered. Everyone got hammered. We feasted on shoe jerky, gull pudding. It was legendary. For a moment, we felt beckoned by the gods, as though we’d entered a hopeful, changing world, where we might change too.

We didn’t.

The following AM, we scraped a vessel of highbornes, who saw fit to cast verbal degradations upon us, in our vulnerable state. I won’t fib: tossed in morning chop, rum-sick, and called, “weenies,” by a crew of fancy pants, took the starch from our sails. Derik slung a mummified scalp—to defend our honor. But the shrunken head splashed well short, and those of us who could stand, looked on with faces of stone. The fancycraft, full of coin we didn’t have, and dignities we didn’t know, disappeared from view, and even after the fog burned off, none could see where they’d gone.

The morning chop leveled to flat dullness, and I felt the melancholy fall upon us. We’d been all gassed on change, but our hungover thoughts were the same as ever. We milled about in our salt-caked trousers, a band of ghouls. Life on ship was merciless. Many wished to bury disappointment, bury ideas of who we’d been on land, out in the deep waters. Men halfway cracked. Several disappeared (“Midnight Jumpers,” we called them). Our cabin boy took to song. We’d hear his atonal dirges from below deck, nursing wounds, invisible to us.

One night, I paused before his room, which opened, like an invitation to know and be known; to be lifted from aloneness and dark. But I heard a noise, and the strangeness of the moment took the “Yes,” quivering on my lips and buried it in the calm ruin of my heart.

After the breeches-soiling storm; after Derik made many promises and burning confessions (that he asked I not repeat here), we emerged from catastrophe much near the port of our destination, Jamestown. The men managed a tepid cheer. But after a look through the spyglass, it’s clear as day, there’s some scandalous shit afoot.

Smoke pyres burned from within the fort walls. A waving cadaver welcomed our ship. Derik spotted a pile of severed limbs beside the west wall, like unwanted timber: we dropped anchor. Took a vote. The cadaver lost patience, fired a warning shot from cannon.

Several of the men wished to turn ship, return straight to the gale that brought us here. Others wished a “shoot first,” plank. I volunteered to go ashore alone. And in the time I rowed to shore, and walked the beach, I—a calm ruin—moved with a single desire, to find myself amongst these others, to discard self-deceit and ideas of the old, failed world. To be sure of life, and not ground below it. To be known. That someone might recognize me.

That they might promise, “You belong here.”

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