James Lamport was going to sea.
As he strode toward the London Docks, he couldn’t help but smile. He was going to see it. The world. All of it.
All he had to do was ask his Uncle Argo. The sailor’s ship had just come in, and James would make certain he was on it the next time it went out.
He drew more than a few second glances as he walked onto the docks, his pressed waistcoat a stark contrast to the working men’s attire around him, but he paid them no mind. The bustling stevedores, the barrels of pickled herring from the North Sea, the merchants selling tobacco and pearls and shrunken heads – this was what excited him. He inhaled the tangy scent of filth and fish and his heart quickened.
“Oi lad – catch!”
James was struck in the face with a burlap sack that smelled like something dragged up from the bottom of the river.
The booming voice spoke again: “Come to carry me laundry?”
He looked up and saw his portly uncle standing a few feet off with his pipe in his mouth, a second pack thrown over his shoulder.
“Uncle Argo!” They both dropped their bags and embraced one another. James felt his uncle’s pipe nick his ear, and his thick beard chaff against his cheek. His uncle smelled of brine and seaweed covered up by exotic perfumes from the Tropics. “It’s so good to see you!”
“Aye, and you too, boy! Been a long time. How’d yeh know we’d be here?”
The twenty-year-old grinned. “Paid a delivery boy to fetch me when the Saint Angela was coming up the Thames.”
“Well, Father’s money ought to be used for something.”
“I s’pose so,” Argo said with a laugh. “And a good use, at that.”
James brushed back a strand of dark hair from his face. “I have something to ask you.”
“Lamport! Get back ‘ere!” A tall man stood scowling on the closest ship’s deck.
“Right back,” his uncle called out. Then he turned to James. “Sorry. Stand fast while I finish up with the boys.” The older man charged back up the gangplank and disappeared in the fray of working seamen.
The Saint Angela was the largest ship James had ever seen, and looked even larger since a year had gone by. A merchant vessel in the spice trade, it had seen more foreign shores than could be counted. This was the ship with which he wanted to sail.
He had dubbed the mermaid figurehead Nimue, inspired by the enchantress who lured King Arthur’s Merlin away with her song to steal his magical powers. Many nights as a boy were spent dreaming that the wooden mermaid on the prow would come to life and sing him her own intoxicating song.
He watched as the crew brought down the rigging and started to pile on deck the butts, barrels, boxes crammed with powders and trinkets. There was another young man about his age – his blond hair stuck to his forehead as he tied off a length of cordage. What he would have given to trade places with him.
He imagined himself with the crew, hauling down the main sail with his sun-tanned arms. His fingertips twitched at the thought of standing at the taffrail as the ship cut through the water, heading out to explore the world beyond the polished brass and white ties of London society.
Argo had been telling stories of his voyages for years. Since he was a boy, James was enthralled by the tales of fantastic sea creatures, of cannibal tribes in exotic lands, and of waters teeming with bloodthirsty pirates. Stroking his beard, with the smoke from his pipe disappearing above his head, the old sailor’s eyes would light up like flames as he related the storybook adventures in which he had taken part. He was everything his nephew wanted to be.
“All set!” Argo said as he came running back. “Ready to go?
This was it. He had to do it. “I was wondering if I could ask you something,” James began, but was interrupted again. It was the blond boy.
“Excuse me! Mr. Lamport!” He ran over and dropped his pack. “Just wanted to say goodbye, sir,” he said to Argo, offering his hand.
The old sailor grinned. “Tuck! I’ll miss yeh before we head out again!” He shook the youth’s shoulders before turning to his nephew.
“Boy, this is Tuck, one of the lads on the ship this time ‘round.”
James nodded. “Nice to meet you.”
“Joined up with us salt dogs after some sad tidings ‘ere at ‘ome. I took care of ‘im out there.” He slapped his crewmate on the back. “And a right good one yeh turned out to be!”
The tall young man blushed. “Well thank you, sir.”
James, anxious to get back to his conversation with his uncle, made eye contact with Tuck. No offense meant to the sailor, but he had bigger things on his mind than pleasantries. Thankfully, Tuck took the hint.
“Anyway, I won’t keep you,” he said to Argo. “I’ll see you in a few months, I suppose.” He turned to James. “Nice to meet you.”
“You as well.”
The young man gave a wave and walked away.
“Shall we go?” James asked, hiking his uncle’s bag up onto his shoulder.
“Let me take that, lad,” Argo said, reaching for the bag. “You’ll ruin yer suit.”
James shook his head. “No, I’ve got it. It’s a short walk to the street.” He needed to curry favor with Argo, anyway, if he was going to make this request of him.
They began walking down the length of the docks. Argo was wobbling back into his land legs. Now was as good a time as any. James opened his mouth to speak, but this time, his uncle beat him to it. He clenched his fist tighter around the bag.
“’Ow was school, lad? ‘Aven’t seen yeh in the four years since yeh left. Yeh weren’t around the last couple times I blew through. Yer a graduated Oxford man now, eh?”
“Balliol College. It wasn’t my choice.”
“Balliol,” Argo repeated as he nodded his head. “Yer father’s alma mater. I was supposed t’go there once upon a time, too, same as baby brother Rex. Didn’t want to be a banker, though. Left that to yer father and yer grandfather and his father and God knows how many more before them.” He clicked his tongue. “More’s the pity. Would’ve ‘ad a nice salary at the First National Bank by now.”
“There’s more to life than money,” James argued. “You’ve seen the world.”
The older man laughed. “Lord, I’ve seen some things, that’s right. ‘Ave I got stories this time, boy! Met a man in Africa who could talk up ‘is dead ancestors. Sat real still with eyes rolled back so’s yeh could only see white, and kept snappin’ ‘is fingers and chantin’ until ‘e was possessed by one of ‘is great-great-great-great-grandfathers er sumthin’ and talked with ‘im right there – two men in one body! Couldn’t believe it!”
James switched Argo’s heavy pack to his other shoulder. “I wish I could have been there with you,” he said. He felt his stomach gurgle with nervousness. His palms were sweating. It was now or never, he told himself; he had to ask him. “Argo, when does the Saint Angela go out again?”
His uncle stopped walking. He hadn’t heard him – his attention was elsewhere. James followed his gaze to a Negro standing about thirty feet away. The man was covered in tattoos, some carved into his skin with eerie-looking white ink. He was talking to a small red-headed man seated on a dock pile eating a greasy chicken leg. They definitely weren’t sailors on the Saint Angela, James was certain. He didn’t know who they were, but neither looked particularly reputable.
“Wait just a minute,” Argo said to his nephew. James let out a growl – he would never get to ask him at this rate. His uncle wandered over to the tall Negro and stuck out his hand in greeting. The menacing figure smiled, his teeth bright white, and shook the sailor’s hand.
The three conversed for a few minutes while James waited, decidedly uncomfortable. He was drawing more looks as he stood still in the middle of the dock with a ratty bag of clothing next to him. A stevedore grumbled about the upperclass getting in the way as he pushed past with his wide cart. A prostitute sidled up to him and asked if he wanted to see a trick she learned in Paris.
Shaking his head, he walked toward his uncle. As he drew closer, the Negro passed a small object to Argo, who pocketed it as soon as he saw James approaching. He gave a large grin and put up one finger in his nephew’s direction. Then, with a final handshake, he left the two unsavory characters behind.
“Who were those men?” James asked as they resumed walking.
“Just some o’ the boys from the Angela,” Argo said, lighting his pipe.
“I didn’t recognize them from the ship.”
“Well, yeh didn’t see the whole ship, now didja?”
James frowned. He wanted to know what the secrecy was about, and what that man gave him. Now didn’t seem like the time, however, as Argo was giving up no clue as to what the transaction was that took place.
Besides, the young man had other things on his mind. He had thought it over for weeks; he had thought about it more than his final exams. He needed to ask. The butterflies in his stomach returned.
After taking a deep breath, he did it: “Argo, can I come with you the next time you go out?”
The seaman did not break his stride, but stuck out his lower lip and looked at the ground in front of him. He grumbled in his throat. After a moment he scoffed and made a dismissive gesture. “Eh, yeh don’t wanna do that.”
“Yes I do,” James replied quickly. “I’m out of school, I’m my own man, and I want to go out to sea. I want to experience what you have out there.”
The man wagged his finger out in front of him. “Boy, there’s no future in it. There’s no life out there.”
“There’s no life in here! There’s no life in this claustrophobic city, with the gossiping women and the money-grubbing men and the children who follow their every whim. With the idle chit-chat in the foyer while the world is happening outside the window!”
“I don’t think Rex’d like yeh to go out there just now,” Argo replied as he shook his head.
“That’s why I’m asking you now. Speak to him. Tonight. Tell him you’ll look after me and that you think I’ll do well at sea. I can be your apprentice!”
“Lad, this ain’t like that,” he said, his face getting tight. “It’s dangerous work. And yeh don’t make pittance out there.”
“I told you before, I don’t care about the money, Argo.”
“But yer father won’t like it. I know he won’t.”
“I think I’m old enough to make my own decisions, thanks,” James spat. “I don’t need my father’s help.”
There was an abrupt moment of silence. They passed the butcher shop and heard the stark thud of a knife chopping through animal bone. A woman passing them reprimanded her young daughter for getting her new dress dirty. James began to kick a small pebble down the street.
Argo puffed on his pipe and said, “Yeh know, lad, yer father ain’t such an ogre. He ‘ad a rough time of it, once.”
James sent the stone down a dark alley. “Uncle Argo, don’t defend him. You each chose your own life. You just chose the better one.”
“Boy, yeh don’t understand it all as well as yeh think.”
“Here’s the cab.”
The Lamport residence was a red brick townhouse, indistinguishable from its neighbors except for the small number 14 above the door knocker. James had moved back in after he had graduated a few weeks ago, staying in his old room until he made a plan for his future.
Although he loved the house when he was a child, it felt more like a prison now, keeping him tied to the humdrum life of the ordinary. The perfectly-trimmed shrubs underneath each window reminded James of soldiers, letting no one in and no one out.
After paying the cabby, he led his uncle up the front steps and grabbed hold of the brass doorknob. Before he had time to let go, the door flew open and Moira Lamport stood in the lighted entryway, her teeth showing in her smile.
“Argo Lamport, it’s been an entire year!” She held out her arms graciously.
“Ah, Moira, could yeh get any prettier?” The old sailor embraced James’ mother and followed her into the parlor.
James closed the door behind him and turned around to find his father, Rex, staring at him from halfway up the staircase. His once strawberry-blond hair was now darker with age and beginning to recede, revealing a horseshoe of scalp close to his forehead. He was no longer the tall and athletic youth that had won over Miss Moira Dannerson all those years ago. In his left hand he held a ledger, and his right was stained with ink from his pen. He had a frown on his face as he spoke to his son.
“Is my brother here?”
“Is he well?”
There was a slight pause, as if he couldn’t make up his mind about something. He took out his pocket watch, studied the time, and then said, “Call me for dinner.” Then he turned and walked up the staircase before disappearing around the corner of the second floor hallway.
James hung up his coat and followed the sound of his sister’s voice.
“Mary, yeh look more ‘n’ more like yer mother every time I see yeh!”
They were in the front parlor, Mary on the piano bench, her scale practice interrupted by her uncle’s arrival, and Mrs. Lamport now nestled on the window seat with her needlework. Argo was soon settled in Rex’s red floral-patterned chair, smoking his pipe and telling Mary about the clairvoyant African. James stood leaning against the wall beside his sister, watching her reactions to the story.
Mary was born only a year after James. She looked exactly like her mother, right down to the hidden dimple on the left side of her mouth. The siblings were inseparable as children. They would spend hours by the Lamports’ magnificent fireplace, making up stories about knights and castles, angels and devils, mermaids and sea monsters.
The one room they loved the most was the nursery. Its giant oriel window looked out over the park across the street - the perfect place to play when pretending to be on a giant ship, sailing into an ocean of trees. Mary was the first mate – James was always the captain.
“Could he really speak with his ancestors, Uncle?” Mary asked.
“Aye lass, ‘e ‘ad me believin’ it, and I seen some sights!”
Mary shook her head with delight and returned to her scales.
Moira leaned forward and asked, “How long will you be home, Argo?”
The man shifted in his chair and ran his fingers through his beard. “Eh, that’s the rub. Only t’night. Gonna go out tomorrow on a new ship.”
James perked up. “New ship? You’re not going back out on the Saint Angela?”
“Oh no, boy. She don’t go back out for a while.”
Argo had never gone out on another ship, James knew. The Saint Angela was the ship that took him on when he ran away as a young man. Why would he leave the crew now? And so suddenly?
Moira frowned. “Well, you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”
“Thanks very much Moira, but times bein’ what they is, it’s good t’have ‘eavy pockets.” Argo chuckled, almost uneasily. “This go ‘round, ol’ Angela didn’t make what we thought she would.”
“Well, even if you’re only here one night,” Moira said, “do make yourself at home.”
James wondered if this abrupt change of plans had to do with the meeting on the dock. And he still wanted to know what was in his uncle’s pocket. Sitting down beside his sister, he took note of the jewelry Argo had brought back for her. He held up a long, beaded necklace with a light-colored ruby as the pendant.
“James, I got that from a witch doctor in the Bahamas. Traded five buttons for it. Not a bad deal, eh?” Argo let out a loud laugh.
James ran his finger along the polished front and said, “It’s beautiful.”
Mary stopped playing the piano and turned to their guest. “What did you bring back for James, Uncle Argo?”
“Oh, somethin’ mighty special that I’ll give ‘im later tonight.” The round man winked at his nephew.
As the conversation continued in the front parlor, no one had noticed the entrance of Rex, who stood rigidly in the doorway. Seemingly annoyed by this lack of attention, he cleared his throat. Moira was the first to see the newcomer.
“Yes dear? Won’t you sit down and join us?”
Rex held his ground. “No, thank you, Moira. Hello, Argo.”
Argo rose, arms extended, to greet him. “’ello, baby brother! Come ‘ere and -”
Rex pulled away from him, sharply. “I thought you might wish to clean up a bit before dinner.”
Argo gave a confused look, and replied, “Nah, I’ll just do that tonight before I go t’bed. I’ll just wash my hands so’s I don’t ruin the silver!” He gave a hearty laugh and slapped his belly as he looked around the room for a smile. When he was met with none, he returned his gaze to his frowning brother.
Rex, unamused, rebutted, “Actually, I think we’d be much more comfortable if you didn’t reek of the unsavory Orient while we attempt to eat our own meal. This is a respectable home, you’ll remember; not the galley of a ship. No matter how far your language has slipped these days.” He walked briskly past his brother through the door on the other side of the room.
James rose and began to speak. “Uncle Argo, if you’d like…”
“No thanks, boy,” said the sailor. “Think I’ll just gather my things and tidy up a bit.” Argo picked up his bag. “The usual room up on the left, Moira?”
Moira tried to recover the light atmosphere, saying, “Yes, Argo. Here, I’ll have our housekeeper Hannah take your things,” but he had already left.
James was livid. The position of First Vice-President of the National Bank of London didn’t make you a better man than an honest sailor. He hated it when his father bullied others. Bad form, they had called it at Oxford. Argo worked hard and didn’t deserve to be embarrassed by his own brother. If he hadn’t left home, he would have held that position, anyway; as the eldest, he would have been Rex’s superior.
“I’m going for a walk,” he said as he stormed out of the room. He grabbed his coat from the hook in the front hall and started to put it on when Mary stopped him.
“I can’t be in this house right now,” he told his sister. “I can’t be around someone like that.” He needed to clear his head. He needed to figure out what he was going to do now that Argo was leaving the next morning. Especially since Argo didn’t seem keen on helping him leave home. But he couldn’t wait another year to go out into the world, he just couldn’t.
“He’s not that bad,” Mary said. “He just doesn’t know how to talk to his brother.”
“He’s rude. And he needs to learn there’s more to life than his bookkeeping.” He tried to put his right arm into the sleeve but his sister was holding the cuff closed. “Mary, please,” he said, pushing his hand against her closed fist.
She shook her head. “No.”
He tried again, pressing harder. She was using two hands now to keep the sleeve shut. “Mary, come on, this is silly.”
He thrust his hand again and Mary smiled as she squeezed tighter. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Against his better judgment, he could feel the corners of his mouth start to twist. He smiled. She had won. With a sigh, he took off his coat and hung it back on the hook.
“Let’s eat dinner,” Mary said. “Father said he has important news to share.”
“I have an announcement to make,” Rex said as he took a fork to his wine glass. “James, would you please stand?”
His son was suspicious. “Why?”
The banker smiled – a rare act to witness – and said as he rose from his seat, “Because I have an announcement to make.”
“Get up,” said Argo, sitting next to him. His wispy hair was combed wet over his round head, making it look like he had fallen into a vat of candyfloss at the fair. He tapped James’ arm. “Come on, boy. Up.”
Reluctantly, James got to his feet. He looked over at Mary, who smiled like she knew something he didn’t. His mother was beaming at him. What was going on?
“Son,” his father said, that silly grin looking odd on his face, “it is a great accomplishment to graduate from University.”
“Hear hear,” Argo chimed in.
Rex’s smile faltered at this interruption for a moment. “Yes,” he said, curtly. “We celebrated your homecoming on Monday last,” he continued, “but I have gotten word today of a new reason to celebrate.”
James’ mouth went dry. There was only one reason that his father could be smiling so much. Only one reason why he was standing up in front of his family. Only one reason why they would be celebrating.
“I am pleased to offer you a position as my new secretary.” He raised his glass. “I relieved Mr. Douglas today to make way for my son. Your Professor seems to think you’re destined for great things, and I couldn’t agree more. This is the same position I took when my own father was First Vice-President, and now you’ll be following in my footsteps, destined for greatness. To James!”
Moira, Mary, and Argo all raised their glasses. “To James,” they echoed as they smiled up at him in admiration.
He couldn’t breathe. He knew this would happen. He knew that it was only a matter of time before his father brought it up. If only he could have told him he was leaving first. His chest hurt as the family applauded him.
He looked over at Argo, who grinned at him just as big as everyone else. This man, the one he thought was going to endorse his decision to leave, was no different than the rest, he realized. It was clear he wanted to stay at sea all by himself and leave his nephew here to rot. James was not about to have it.
“I’m leaving!” he shouted. The dining room went silent. His sister had a worried look on her face. “I’m leaving. I’m going out to sea. I’m sorry, father, that I’m not going to take the position, but I want to go out and see the world.”
Rex’s face was calm as he set down his wine glass. “What did you say?”
James breathed deep. “I cannot accept the position at the bank because I’ve decided to go out to sea.” He sat down and stared at his plate.
His mother leaned over the table. “James dear, let’s discuss this later.” Rex put out a hand to silence her.
“You will accept the position at the bank,” he said with flared nostrils. “Many pains were taken to make this so. A man lost his job today so it could go to you. Do you understand what that means?”
James could feel his pulse in his neck. He could feel his knee shake under the table. Why was his father doing this to him? “I understand what you are saying,” he said as he tried to stay calm, “but I would like you to understand what I have been saying to you for the past year. I would like to go out and see the world.”
“James, it’s time for you to grow up,” his father said, his eyes narrowing. “You went away to Eton, then you went away to Oxford. You’ll have time to travel when you retire. But now you have to start building a life for yourself.”
James shook his head. “I said I was going to leave, and I am going to do so.”
“You most certainly will not!” Rex said, his face flushing.
James stood up and blurted, “Argo said I could go out with him!”
His uncle, beside him, jumped out of his seat. “I did no such thing! I said the boy should stay ‘ere.”
“No you didn’t,” James said, knowing full well what he was doing. He desperately wanted to get someone on his side, even if he had to force them to it. “You said you’d take me out tomorrow on your new ship!”
“Is this so?” Rex asked, a look of disdain shot at his older brother. “I open my home to you and you go behind my back to steal my son away from me?”
“Rex, that’s not what-“
“Get out of my house right now!”
Argo held up his hands in innocence. “Little brother!”
Rex pointed a finger at the door. “Leave my table this instant!”
“You can’t do that!” James shouted.
“Yes I can. The man had better leave or I’ll phone the constable.”
Mary stood up. “Father, is this necessary?”
“S’alright,” Argo said. The balding sailor looked up at James with pain. “I’ll be goin’. Just let me grab my bag.” He walked out of the room.
James didn’t know what to do. This was not going at all the way he had planned. He had to talk to Argo, to convince him to take him along. But the man was leaving, to go who knows where.
“Son,” Moira said, “let’s think about what your father has said. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity.”
“No. I went to Oxford for you, father. I’m not going to the bank.”
“You’ll go wherever it is best for you to go,” Rex retorted.
“I’m going up to my room.”
“You certainly will not! This conversation has not finished.”
James ignored the man and marched out of the dining room.
“Leave him be, Rex,” he heard his mother say as he walked away.
“He needs to learn,” his father said.
“He’ll calm down in a little bit. Then you can talk to him.”
“I hope you’re right. For his own sake.”
James caught Argo as he was coming down the stairs in the front parlor, his cap now returned to his head. The balding man tried to run past without saying goodbye, but his nephew grabbed hold of his shirt. “You have to let me come with you,” he whispered.
The seaman pulled away from his nephew. “Why did yeh say all that? It ain’t true! Yeh should stay ‘ere and earn a decent wage, boy!”
“Shh,” James warned. “Let’s go upstairs.” He wanted to get his uncle alone, to talk this through quietly.
“No! Yeh listen, boy – stop all this nonsense ‘bout shippin’ off. There’s no money out there. Look, I gotta go.” He opened the door and left the house.
James quickly followed, closing the door behind him. “Argo, I don’t want to stay here.”
The round man didn’t stop. He walked down the front steps and onto the street. “You’ll be fine, boy. Don’t worry so much.”
“I don’t belong here!” the young man said, following him down the lamp-lit avenue. “I don’t want to belong here!”
Argo shook his head and picked up his pace as he continued to walk.
“You must have felt like this once – you must have felt like you had to get away. Why is it so hard for you to understand?”
The older man stopped and looked back at his nephew. After a moment, he sighed and sat down on a bench by the park, placing his bags on the ground. Patting the wooden slats beside him with one hand, he took out his pipe from his boot with the other.
James glanced back at number 14 up the street, wondering if his father would come storming out at any moment to demand that he come back inside. Not yet, it seemed. He sat down by his uncle as he lit his pipe, filling the air with sweet tobacco. The sailor took a long draw and blew it out again, the smoke rising above his cap and vanishing into the night sky.
“Lot o’ stars out tonight, ain’t there? Sure, there’s lots more on the blue, but it ain’t too bad ‘ere, neither.”
“I want to see them. Out there. Like you did.” He admired the way Argo had dropped all pretenses of his past identity. The man was to have been shackled to a desk his entire life, but now his skin was tan and his speech was riddled with traces of accents from around the world. James was envious.
Argo shook his head as puffed on his pipe. “Boy, yeh just don’t know.”
“What did the Negro give you?”
The man scratched his beard for a moment, then reached into his bag at his feet and took out a small bottle, colored deep purple. “This is yers.”
The sailor handed the palm-sized bottle to James, who uncorked it and poured some of its contents into his hand. For a moment, he was certain his uncle had given him a bottle full of sand. As he examined it more closely, however, he realized that this substance was not heavy enough to be sand and far more interesting to look at. When it caught the flickering light of the streetlamp, James had to shield his eyes; a thousand different colors shot out at him. It was one of the strangest things he had even seen.
“What is it?”
“Pixie dust?” James eyed his gift closely.
Argo cocked his head, took his pipe out of his mouth and, as he spoke, his eyes twinkled almost as much as the strange stuff in James’ hand.
“Legend ‘as it that there’s an island out there full up on all sorts o’ strange magical bein’s, and faeries count among ‘em. Now, faeries are mighty strict creatures an’ ‘ave mighty strict laws. An’ if a faery breaks one o’ these laws, they’re turned into a little sprite called a ‘pixie’ and they’re banished. This dust is what gives pixies the magic t’fly. It’s like sweat to them; they have it all over their little bodies. Scuttlebutt is that if yeh know ‘ow t’use it right, their dust can put yeh up in the air, too.” He put his pipe back in his mouth and grinned. “Now ‘at’s better than yer sister’s old necklace, ain’t it?”
James stared at the substance in his hand with a newfound respect and awe, shifting it around over his palm with great care. He wasn’t quite sure if he actually believed all that he had just heard, but it was still a pleasant story and a very thoughtful gift.
“Came from that Negro. ‘E’s an old friend o’ mine, and I stopped to get it for yeh.”
“It’s wonderful,” he said, feeling foolish that he was so suspicious of the transaction. “Thank you, Argo.” He poured the dust back into the bottle and corked the top.
They both looked straight ahead, watching a coach go by.
“Yeh know yeh gotta stay ‘ere, right?”
James nodded silently, glancing out of the corner of his eye to catch his uncle’s reaction.
The older man’s shoulders relaxed as he nodded in return. “Was real good to see yeh, lad. Truly was. Gonna miss yeh when I push out tomorrow.”
“Where are you staying tonight?”
“Reckon I’ll sleep on board with some o’ the other boys.”
“Where are you bound for?”
Argo hesitated, then said, “Don’t rightly know at this point. Lots o’ places, I’m sure. Maybe I’ll drop yeh a card at some port.”
“I’d like that.” James nodded at Argo, even though something inside him said his uncle knew full well where he was going. “Do you know the men you’re sailing with?”
Argo took off his cap and scratched his head at his question. “Well, some o’ them, sure, I’ve sailed with before. Them’s the ones ‘at got me the spot on the ship.”
“What’s the ship’s name?”
Argo chuckled. “Tell yeh the truth, I don’t recall offhand. Mighty bad luck, I know, not rememberin’ yer ship’s name, but who really believes in all that?” His tone became falsely cheerful. “It’s a job. I don’t ask questions; I just do what they tell me.”
“Don’t you know the captain? His record?”
At this point, Argo stood up. “Look James, I dunno.” His eyes were darting, searching for something to say. “If yeh don’t mind, I think I’m gonna go. So ‘ave a good night, boy. It was real good t’see you.” He picked up his bag and took a few steps.
James stood as his uncle walked backwards down the street. “I’ll take you to your ship, if you’d like. We’ll send Hannah for a cab.”
“Nah, don’t worry ‘bout it,” said Argo, still moving. “Keep my baby brother in line, eh?”
Then the sailor turned around and continued onward into the night. James knew the man was hiding something, and he was going to find out what. He stood up to follow him when he heard a clink on the street. His bottle of pixie dust had fallen.
He bent down to pick it up, and as he rose, looked up at the stars again. They were bright this evening, especially two small stars off by themselves toward the southeast. James knew that neither was Polaris, but what were they? As he gazed longer, the one on the right seemed to twinkle. Almost as if it was beckoning him.
He was going out to sea. There was no question anymore. His life was waiting out there. Behind him, the lamp beside number 14 illuminated it with a hazy glow, as though it was already a memory in his past. He shoved the purple bottle into his trousers pocket and set off down the street in pursuit of his uncle.
Harsh winds tore the man-sized leaves off the palm trees. Dark clouds perched like vultures on the rim of the sky, blurring the black night into a bleak nothingness.
The crocodile growled; after thirty eggs, she was tired and hot. As she dispatched her litter, the pale moon shone down on her coarse, green skin. Although it was only March, the humid air served as an incubator in the unseasonably heated climate. She let out a low hiss; piece by piece, the cream-colored ovoids were squeezed from her body. She struggled for over an hour until the last egg settled into the swampy earth beneath her with a painful plop.
After a moment to catch her breath, she groaned with relief and collapsed beside her clutch, making an indentation in the mud where she landed. Her sharp claws sank and the wet swamp closed around them. The surrounding ferns rustled as the wind shook the marshland. If you can say such a thing, the young mother smiled, showing off her teeth – just a shade darker than the soft-shelled eggs nestled in the weeds.
As she situated herself to sleep, a flash of lightning pierced the sky, lighting up the entire marshland for an instant. She let out a guttural noise and peered up into the dark. With another bolt of lightning, she saw it – a massive bird with no wings. As she lay there, raindrops falling into her large black eyes, the great wooden bird glowed with a dim light as it passed over the treetops. It moved slowly through the air, and for a moment the crocodile wondered if it would make a decent meal.
With the next flash of lightning, it was gone, leaving her alone to rest in the cool mud.