“So,” said Paddack, a forkful of pork by his mouth, “I hear your ship was stove in by a whale.”
“That is true,” said Pollard.
“Remarkable,” said Paddack. “Must have been a big whale.”
“A monster,” whispered Pollard. “Rammed our ship. He came back and made sure that we sank, and most of us still in the herd hunting among the cows. The sea was red and bubbling with blood. Owen Chase, my first mate, was still aboard repairing one of the whaleboats. He saw the monster—a bull ten leagues in length— but was scared to harpoon it, scared it would shatter the rudder in its anger.” Captain Pollard raised his two wiry arms, which cast a long shadow on the wall behind Paddack’s head. He inhaled a raspy breath and let his arms sink folded into his lap. “Then it dove. The Essex sank quickly.”
“Right,” said Paddack. “That’s quite a story.”
“My poor man,” added Coffin. “And what a miracle of good navigation and a merciful God have delivered you.”
“Hang on,” said Paddack, “why didn’t you head for the Tahitian Islands? They’re a good deal closer than Chile.”
“We’d heard,” whispered Pollard, “that there are cannibals there. We feared…”
And then Pollard, mid-sentence, fell asleep.
“He’ll come to in a minute,” said Coffin. “He’s been doing this all day, just a part of recovery.”
Pollard stayed asleep for about twenty minutes, enough time for Coffin and Paddack to finish their meal, enough time for Paddack to speculate on the amount of baleen a whale’s head large enough to sink a ship would contain.
“Be worth something, a whale that big.”
“A ship-sinking monster,” said Coffin, “does not interest me. I’ve enough to fear without that leviathan stalking the seas.” Coffin stuffed his pipe, as did Paddack and the cabin filled with smoke. Soon, Pollard, overcome by coughing, woke up.
“Captain Pollard,” said Coffin, his pipe in his teeth, “can I offer you my extra pipe?”
“I’ve all I need,” said Pollard.
Captain Paddack raised his eyebrows over Pollard’s head, but Coffin politely ignored him. Pollard was digging around in the pocket of his pants. He came up with a short, wide portion of bone that he raised to his mouth, as if it were a cheroot, and began to suck on it.
“What, my good man,” asked Captain Paddack, “is that?”
“This,” said Captain Pollard, “is Barzillai Ray.”
From "Monsters" TALES OF THE NEW WORLD
Manila Noir launch at Asia Society
Fab Pinoys looking at the dark underbelly of Manila
The Writer's Perspective: Literary Imagination and Living History
A lecture at the Honors College of my beloved UMass Amherst
Harmsworth Lecture at the Rothermere Institute of American Studies at Oxford University
"bouncing across the plank," i talk about everything for an hour.
TALES OF THE NEW WORLD