When the ship made port I knew that my father had indeed returned. I watched the docks from my bed chamber, staring into the darkness while the bells’ chiming resonated through the misty port. Only the moonlight and dock lanterns that reflected off the black water’s surface illuminated the marina.
But even throughout all the black and mist my father’s flag held attention, a display of sheer prominence. A duel headed lion with a serpent entangled between the two was his emblem. An image designed for him long ago by a Spanish traveler he’d met while out at sea, a man by the name of Jorge Santoyo. Or, at least, that’s what he’d told us. My father’s name was famous or rather infamous for his stories. Some brought him the attention he craved as the town’s affluent fisherman while others just got him into trouble; with his flamboyant approach usually doing more harm than good.
He’d been away just shy of two weeks now leaving me and my
young brother, James, to fend for ourselves. He’d forced me into a life of the
cloth at my mother’s request upon
her death bed. She’d loved him, but she’d seen his folly then as I do now. I’d
taken to the good book faithfully and was underway into becoming a minister for
our local church- the youngest in history- with my little brother, James,
closely following in my footsteps.
This seemed unknown to my father or rather went unspoken of as he’d been too preoccupied fulfilling his own lackluster endeavors. He was absent during most of our upbringing. He sailed the seas, lived on the earth’s bounty drinking his days away, free from all the burdens of fatherhood and responsibility. But in his defense he’d hadn’t always been this way. He’d never been the same since my mother died seven years ago. It was obvious that a piece of him died with her, perhaps more than a piece, more like half. Most would say the better half.
“James, father has returned!” I shouted, and just as those few words fled my mouth I saw James dart from around the corner joining me at the window.
“He’s home!?” He said peering through the foggy frame. “Shall we meet him?”
“No. I shall meet him. The dock is no place for a ten year old at this hour.” A look of a pout settled into his expression. “James, no tears now, we shall return shortly. Tend to the fire and keep yourself warm.”
I grabbed my coat and hurried out into the darkness toward the docks. At my arrival the port was still. Silence carried over its mass with only the sound of churning waters and howling winds present. A lone lantern could be seen hovering, returning from the pier, carried by a shadowy figure blanketed by the fog.
“Mr. Mayfield!” I shouted as the lantern stopped then changed direction. The shadowy figure walked toward me and lifted the light to illuminate itself. Now a grey bearded old man stood before me, his hair long and straggly, clothes torn and ragged.
“Master Patterson, how do you do?” He said with a toothless grin.
“Mr. Mayfield have you seen my father?”
His expressions changed suddenly. “Oh, yes. But I’m afraid he’s no longer here. Sort of left in a hurry he did, him and his men.”
“Where’d they get off to?”
His face sank, like someone looking to hide something or had spoken out of turn. “Mr. Mayfield, where is my father? It’s late and I shall see him home.”
“Master Patterson, I-I…“
“Where is he?” I said, sternly, stepping closer to him.
“The brothel master, he went to the brothel! I say plainly, you know him - booze n’ whores are his fancy.”
“Mr. Mayfield, language.”
I looked away, rubbing my hands over my face to soothe myself then quickly turned back toward him.
“Booze you say? Has he been drinking?”
“Well I’d say so.” He said in a hurry. “Man smelled of a brewery he did. Just make sure he doesn’t get himself into too much trouble eh lad? You know your father maybe a drunkard, but he’s still this town’s finest fisherman.”
His kind words fell on deaf ears. “I’ll fetch him and see him home. Thank you Mr. Mayfield.”
I walked through the cold arriving at the tavern. Above the front door hung a sign all too familiar to me with the caption reading la nageoire jaune (the yellow fin), and I pushed the door open to enter. The scent of sex, wine, and cigars filled the air. Sweaty drunken men played cards while ladies smelling of lavender pranced around in their dainties were a common sight to see in this house of depravity. I waved to the barkeep in passing, who gave a nod, as I marched upstairs to my father’s favorite nook in the cathouse. I swung open the door and there before my eyes laid a nude woman in full view, breast exposed, mounted on the edge of the sofa. My father, who stood behind her, was thrusting into her like a mad bull, bottle in one hand, and the other hand pressing down on the small of her back for maximum penetration.
Upon my entry, the pair quickly looked up, both grasping for the bed sheets to cover their nether regions. The lady let out a shrill scream and ran past me down the hallway just as a big smile spread across my father’s face in recognition.
“Henry my son!” He shouted, releasing the bed sheet he’d used to cover himself; the bottle still held snug in the other. He was clearly drunk, lost in the haze of his typical inebriated merriment.
With him now fully exposed I shielded my eyes.
“Father please.” I said as he looked down and grappled the bed sheet once more.
“Come in, come in lad.” He said walking toward me and slinging one arm around me, bottle still in hand.
“Would you like a drink?”
“Father, you know I can’t.”
He paused for a minute. “Oh yes, I’d forgotten. The book, the good book, you are right to follow the Lord so devotedly. My son, a member of the clergy! Who’ve guessed?!”
I ignored his ramble. “Father I’m here to see you home. You look weary and I think you should rest.”
He released me from his warm embrace and walked over to the dresser to sit down the bottle.
He sighed, running his figures through his oily black mane, looking up at the ceiling.
“Oh, perhaps you’re right lad. I haven’t been feeling like myself lately I-I.” His focus shifted.
“It’s a bad season. Our first week at sea we had nothing, couldn’t find the schools for the life of us. The nets were faulty and ragged; it appears I neglected to replace the bloody things, and the winds- they were merciless. I didn’t think we’d come home with a catch. But then-“ He said as his eyes widened.
“I thought of you, your mother, and your brother. You brought me good fortune. We caught a big catch the next morning, broke us even in fact. Then afterward we were able to get by on a pocket here and there.”
“Father,” I said grabbing his trousers and tossing them to him. “We need to go.”
He’d made a fine catch then looked me dead in the eye.
“Don’t look at me that way boy.” He said sliding into his slacks.
“See my cap do you?”
“Here.” I said tossing it to him as well.
“I just don’t see why after two weeks at sea your first stop would be the tavern and not your home. And I find you drunk and fornicating none the less. Father, the whole act is rather unsavory. What am I to tell James?”
“James? You tell him nothing you here? And in my defense I was drunk before I left the ship. Oh- and the lass? Well, weeks at sea with none other than lads for company can do strange things to a man. Certain needs go unfulfilled let’s say.”
I shook my head with disapproval, staring down at the floor. “Gather your things father, we’re leaving.” I said in serious tone as I stepped toward him.
He pulled his shirt over his head and our gaze met again. He smiled, his eyes now tearful with melancholy and sentiment. “You have your mother’s eyes boy. It pains me sometimes to look at you because you remind me of her so.”
“She loved you father, as do I. Now come, let’s be on our way.”
“Very well,” He said gathering the last of his things. He stood up and walked toward the door, staggering briefly. I rushed to his side to take him by the arm. “Here let me help you.”
“Come now lad,” He said gently nudging me away. “I’m fine. I just stood up to fast is all.”
We made our way downstairs and out into the cold. The sleek inky cobblestone road spread out before us. Town lanterns flickered in the darkness, shimmering off the damp roads surface. Our breaths could visibly be seen in front of us, flowing onward into the chilled air as we walked home. I stuffed my hands into my coat and pulled it tightly round me.
“It’s freezing out here. Haven’t you a scarf, Father?”
“Eh?” He groaned, groping his bare neck. “I must have left it on the ship.”
“Alright, we’ll grab it in the morning.”
An awkward silence followed as we continued on, the only sound that could be heard was the clicking of our heels echoing back at us in rhythmic conversation. I heard my father laugh to himself and I’d asked, “What’s so funny?” in an attempt to break the tension. He wouldn’t reply, but I won’t lie and say I wasn’t indifferent to his response. He just continued to keep pace with me; his hands nestled warmly in his pockets. We were about half way home, nearing the docks, when he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.
“I need to see her.” He said.
“Mary-Linn, I need to see her.”
“Father the ship is fine. We need to get home. James is waiting for us.”
He started walking quickly toward the harbor in the opposite direction of our home.
“No! Wait!” I said stepping in front of him, demanding his attention.
“Get out of the way Henry!” He shouted, moving me aside with a hand. A sudden gust of wind swept past us as my father suddenly halted, tilted his head backwards, and an odd expression crossed his face. He took a deep breath through his nose.
“I smell smoke. Something is burning.”
“That gust is coming from the sea.” He said, now running toward the harbor.
“Wait!” I said. “What are you doing!?” I followed after him. Then I figured he’d been right. I too smelled smoke. The smell of fire, and as we ran onward the smell intensified. I could see a yellow glaze just over the rooftops of several homes that masked the dock. Black smoke rose high over the lighting and the faint sound of screams could be heard off in the distance.
“The pier is on fire.” He said as we rushed around the final bend and out to the marina. We’re shaken by what we saw when we arrived. The Mary-Linn was engulfed in flames.
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