A Night of Celebration
On the broken shore, where foreign ships shed their wounded wood, a failed captain drank. As dusk dissipated into a night’s sky, the seafront sang with a carnival and crowd. The Captain, as if submerged beneath water, only heard distorted sounds. The strong alcohol had stolen his balance and so the stone steps he tried to rise from soon had him re-seated. His shoulders slumped, wrists rested on his knees and his head fell between his legs. A passing party dropped a coin into his now empty cup as if he were some beggar. The waves, crashing against the stones, sprayed onto his face and merged with his salty tears.
A second attempt to stand was more successful and the captain swayed as he ascended the stairs onto the celebrating street. Streetlamps and storefronts illuminated the entire waterfront. Inescapable smiles were carried through the air and lingered in his vision long after they had passed in the same way moving light creates a neon streaks in photographs. The blown-out moon hung like a lantern, leering down upon him. Although the children passed unsuspecting, parents stared with pressuring eyes, young couples sneered and spat and the elderly shook their heads before whispering something uninterpretable. The victory parade marched on and people poured in and out of various establishments. An elastic joy, like an electrical current, passed its energy between the individuals but turned violent when passing his heavy-as-iron head. Some of the sailors steered clear whilst others purposely bumped and barged through him. A small pub, tucked away in a side alley, was dimly lit and practically empty. Its sign once read ‘Star of the Sea’ but the initial ‘S’ had faded over time. With his last laugh, expelled with an airy solitude, he entered inside.
His beggar’s coin paid for a whiskey and he found a booth. Sitting silently in the murky orange corner, he spotted a newspaper that had been abandoned in the adjacent booth. Slowly, so as not to alert anyone, the captain stretched his arm over and stole the paper. He read.
IN MEMORY OF THE BRAVE SAILORS
Despite continuing celebrations for our triumphant victory over the foreign fleets, we must not forget the brave men who died in the engagement. What may be seen as a miracle in the eyes of a nation can still be a tragedy for loved ones who will not have their family members returning home.
The sinking of the Meissa, the only lost ship, is a reminder to the rest of us that everything has its price. We cannot let the shame that surrounds this story overshadow the loss of many great men. As you raise your glasses today, do not forget your fellow citizens who gave their lives for your freedom.
By the end, the paper was unreadable, either through blurry eyes or smudged ink, as a consequence of the raining tears. Taming his tightened eyes, he let the newspaper fall onto the table. The few customers allowed their attention to drift in his direction, casually shifting their view when they thought he might notice. He could feel them burning, burrowing their gaze deep into his skull. He stood up to leave and stares shot away. Then an old woman, well-wrinkled, threw her drink in his face. Another two people joined in, emptying the glasses which contained their weak spirits. He refused to retaliate and the drinks showered him like soil being shovelled upon the coffin.
Outside, worsened by the alcohol that drenched him, the cold air caught his skin. His tired mind, awake since dawn, meandered around incoherent thoughts whilst his legs travelled with intent towards the church. A few thoughts passed, as did an unknown number of streets, before he arrived at the base of the stony spire. Inside the priest sat beside a homeless man but the rest of the rows were empty. The captain paid little attention to either and proceeded directly to the donations box. He quickly dropped in all the money he was carrying, a sizeable donation but, otherwise, not a large amount of money. He also removed the gold cross suspended around his neck, an expensive piece of jewellery, and placed that inside the box as well. He had no rings or else they too would have been donated. With nothing left to give he departed. The priest, who was waiting for him to leave, eagerly uttered “God bless you,” but the captain responded with a weak wave of the hand and nothing more.
The last of the alcohol finally caught up with him and he began to stumble quite noticeably.
“Wait,” cried the priest from behind him, running to catch up. He rested one hand on the captain’s shoulder and with the other held out the gold cross. The priest wrapped the chain around the captain’s neck, too tightly at first causing him to choke, then locked it and let it hang slightly looser. “May the Lord’s light guide you,” he said and turned back towards the church.
The captain had to carry his legs, heavy from exhaustion and weak from the alcohol, as much as they carried him. His house was built upon the hill and overlooked the rest of the coastal city. He arrived promptly at the front gate and strolled through his garden admiring all the plant life that grew there.
Stepping into his house, dark and devoid of presence, he started the long walk to the study. That room too was black. He pulled a large, thick rope like that which would operate a theatre curtain and the drapes separated revealing a panoramic view of the city. The stars, suspended in motion for a moment, appeared to concentrate their light directly into the study. Gazing out at them, the captain scoured the sky for his favourite constellations. Orion could not be seen from that direction so he turned to the second most significant constellation to him, Ursa Minor and Polaris in particular. It was a guiding light for navigators but it served him no purpose that night as he had reached his destination.
Supported by the light of the stars, he took a seat at his desk and began to write.
I am sorry I let my men die and my ship sink before I, alone, returned. Floating in the water, I should have let the waves take me. I should have embraced the idea of being engulfed by the ocean’s parting jaws. That was my duty. Instead, I clung to life. I did not trust in transcendent Heaven. I struggled so that I could remain in this insignificant, base pleasure, mortal existence. ‘Anything but death,’ I was telling myself. Now I see I have been punished and know of only one way to make it right. I am a coward, in the eyes of my men, in the eyes of the nation and most of all in the eyes of God. I have shamed us all and what hope have I of ever being forgiven?
He finished writing and looked up at the drape-operating rope. A tear or two was forced from his eyes as his eyelids tightly squeezed together and a deep sigh seeped from his throat as he stood up.
The golden rope gripped his throat, his face turned blue and, as he swung, the starlight averted its divine gaze.
© 2017 Mikey Hodges