The old man sat in a chair in a dark corner of the place, out of sight. Out of mind. A dark bottle sat on the table before him, and a cold pipe lay next to it, as he sat in his chair softly snoring. His hands were folded in his lap, a seaman's cap low on his brow, his white whiskers brushing the front of his weathered sea coat.
The young couple sitting at the bar, city folks, from their dress, saw the old man in the corner and putting heads together, sniggered and giggled at the sight he made. The young man beckoned the bartender to come over to where they were.
"Who's that, over there in the corner?"
"Him? That's Cap'n Jack."
"Is he for real? I thought people who looked like him disappeared a hundred years ago."
"Oh, Cap'n Jack's real enough, my lad. And yeah, yer right. People like him are long gone, and we're no better for it, I'll tell ya."
The young man looked at the bartender, his mouth agape, but then he broke into a smile, and then he laughed, put his arm around his girl.
"Yeah. And you two probably sailed together, right? C'mon, Sally. Let's go."
They got up and started toward the door.
The bartender watched them start to leave, took up his bar towel and started cleaning the spot where they had sat.
"AHOY!!! Cap'n Jack!! Yer pipe's gone cold."
The old man stirred, coughed a deep and throaty cough, opened one eye and shot a look at the young couple as they were leaving the bar. The young woman stopped, while the young man continued toward the door. She looked at the old sailor, and suddenly found herself moving toward his corner of the bar. The young man reached back to grab her arm, but she shook him off, kept moving toward the old man.
"C'mon, Sally. It's gonna get foggy pretty soon. I don't wanna drive through that shit."
"Wait, Randy. Just a minute or two. Okay?"
She pulled a chair out at the table next to the old man. Sat down. And smiled at him.
"He's right, ye know. The fog get's fair thick hereabout. You'll not want to be in it, if ye can avoid it."
The old man's voice was a thick rumble from deep in his chest, heavy with an accent she couldn't quite identify.
"My name's Sally. What's yours?"
"People round here know me as Cap'n Jack. That's good a name as any, I 'spect."
The old man shifted in his seat and she saw he wore a heavy boot, on one leg, and the other leg, from the knee down, was a wooden peg. Her face softened as she realized what she had seen, and softened yet more when she realized his other eye didn't, wouldn't, open. She saw the thin scar, almost hidden in the wrinkles of his face, that started above his brow and ran down to just below his cheekbone. Through his eye.
"What happened to you, Cap'n Jack?"
Her question was so softly spoken, so gently said, he couldn't help but answer. He took off his hat, picked up his pipe and lit it, and poured himself a glass of whatever that was in the dark bottle on the table before him. He tossed back his drink, took a deep drag on his pipe, and slowly blew out the smoke.
"We were a hundred days out of Halifax on the 'Jeannie C', finest whaler there ever was out o' Nova Scotia. We wuz full up and headin' in. The weather was due t' turn bad and we wanted t' make harbor afore the first bad storm could hit us. We wuz heavy with oil, runnin' low in the water. All we had t' do was t' make shore and we'd all have enough ta take us through winter and inta the next season."
He stopped and took another drink, and another drag on his pipe.
"What are ye doin' with tha' young man? He's not for you, ya know?"
Randy, who had been standing by the door, heard what the old man said.
"Hey. Mind your own business you old fool. C'mon, Sally. Let's go."
"Just wait, Randy. We'll leave in a minute. I want to hear the rest of his story."
She turned back to the old man. She smiled at him, again.
"Go on, Cap'n Jack. Tell me more?"
Cap'n Jack looked at her with his good eye for a long minute, puffing gently on his pipe.
"As you wish, Miss. Now where was I ..."
"C'mon Sally. Let's go."
Cap'n Jack thundered.
"Trim yer sail, fancy boy. She'll be on yer beam soon enough."
Sally looked at the old man and smiled, nodded her head, asking him to continue.
"We were about a day and a half out o' Halifax Harbor when we could see, low on the horizon t' the south, a storm comin'. A Nor'easter. We could tell by the tops it was a big 'un."
He took another long pull on his pipe. And another drink.
"It was on us quick. It was all we could do to batten down afore that storm hit us hard. Try as we might, we could na' keep 'er afloat and she foundered. Her decks were awash when a wave come an' threw us all overboard. Into the sea."
He turned and looked at Sally.
"Are y' sure you want t' hear this? It gets rough from here."
Sally heard the gentle turn in his voice, but she told him to continue.
"We was all t'gether, makin for the starbr'd boat, which had broke free of the ship and, although she wuz swamped, she hadn't sunk. Li'l Jack Scoville, our cabin boy, gave a jerk in the water and disappeared. There were sharks."
Sally's eyes got big and her hand went to her mouth.
"Oh! Sharks!! Oh no!"
"Aye. Sharks. The smell 'o blood and meat never leaves a ship like the 'Jeannie C', and once her decks were awash, every shark for miles 'round caught 'er smell and came fer a meal."
"Oh my God."
"Me and the Mate had got them all into the boat when a big white tip come and took me leg. I thought I was a goner sure. I could see his fin as he turned back toward me. I reached down fer the knife but it was gone with me leg. I cut me hand on a tooth the bastard had left in me thigh. As the shark made his pass at me I took his eye with the tooth I'd took out o' me thigh. I'd beat 'im. The crew though me crazed as I started to haul meself over the side o' the boat, laughin' as I wuz, at the top o' me lungs. But just as I wuz to flop meself inta the boat, a guy wire snapped on the Jeannie C, whipped across me face and took me eye."
He stopped to take a drink. He smacked the glass down on the table.
"Y' don' take nuthin' from the sea but that y' must give sumthin' back. The Jeannie C was gone. Li'l Jack was gone. And so were me leg and me eye. I guess we wuz even because we all made it t' shore."
He waved his hand in Randy's direction.
"Y' best be off now, Miss. Yer young lad is waitin'."
Sally stood and took several steps to go. She stopped and turned back to Cap'n Jack.
"Thank you, Captain Jack. I'm glad you made it to shore."
"Yer too kind, Miss. Go on now." And lower voice .. "And remember. He's not fer you."
Sally walked up to Randy, who took her by the arm and they left.
As they walked toward the car, Randy felt in his pockets.
"The keys!! I left the keys on the bar. Wait here. I'll be right back."
"Oh, Randy. You're not going to leave me out here in this fog, are you?"
"Alright. C'mon then."
They walked into the bar to get the keys. The bartender wasn't there. The old man wasn't there. The place was dark and empty, with a single light on over the bar.
A big black man walked into the room from the kitchens, off on the right. He was hugely muscled and wore a skin-tight blue and white striped sailor shirt and a little white sailor cap.
"Can I help you folks? We aren't open for a half hour yet."
His voice was high and thin. And slightly effeminate.
"We were just in here. I left my keys on the bar."
As Randy pointed to the spot at the bar where they had been, he saw the keys in his hand. He held the keys out for Sally to see. Sally took the keys from Randy, and held them to her chest. She looked at the bartender.
"Do you know someone called 'Cap'n Jack'?"
"No sweetie, I don't. But then, I don't really live here. I've got this cute little flat in the next town over and we don't really come down here, these people are so primitive, you wouldn't believe. Why, if I didn't need this job so bad I'd just never come here at all, dearie. It's so .... yuck."
Sally turned around, still clutching the keys, a slow smile on her face, and headed for the door.
"What the hell is going on here? What's this all about? I don't understand!!!"
"No, Randy, I don't suppose you do."
She dropped the keys in his hand.
"Take me home, Randy. It's time to go."
This was written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory.