Story-a-Week #2: El Capitan

Christmas et al rather got in the way of the Short Story a Week challenge and it’s taken me some effort to return to it. I actually began this one the week after the last one, as per the rules, but then everything went to festive hell and I abandoned it, thinking at least I’ll have something to work on when normality resumes. Now I’m not sure that was a good idea. Momentum was lost, and because I had the ghost of a story, the first couple of paragraphs, I assumed picking it up again would be a doddle. Not so! I’ve not finished it, and I currently have no idea if I ever will.

I didn’t make it easy for myself in the first place when I decided to write the story in the style of Beckett. What the hell was I thinking?! But having set off on the path I haven’t been able to turn round and choose another. I did briefly consider scrapping it and starting again with a different character, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do that, and, anyway, this is supposed to be about learning. One of the things I’ve learnt is that I need to read a lot more Beckett, another is that it’s not always good to have something to work on. By which I mean a blank page isn’t necessarily the worst thing you can start with. I lost the feel for this story over the break, and I haven’t been able to rekindle it, I think I would have fared better had I not tried. It is possible, after I’ve read and incubated Beckett’s entire output and written a lot more short stories, that I’ll be able to pick this one up again, finish, and polish it to brilliance, but not now.

It needs a final scene, and I know what that is, I just don’t know how to write it. Anyway, here it is, for your amusement:

Here I am then. Really. Rather here. Nowhere but here in fact. Physically, mentally, emotionally here. Emotionally and mentally, are they separate categories? Perhaps I should have said intellectually and emotionally, but I’m not quite sure if I am intellectually here, yet. It may be some time before I am. I may never be. Not for lack of wanting or trying, or hoping, but there’s the question of experience. I’ve only just arrived, and that, as you know, I know you do makes me experientially less here than I am emotionally. Or physically. I’d say I was one hundred percent physically here. So now what?

Apart from here what am I? 

Male, of course you know that; thirty two, married, a father. I just got to teach my daughter to ride a bicycle, before I left. Glad about that. Didn’t have long, but the bicycle was a birthday present from my mother-in-law, her grandmother, and. Let’s say it’s better to have taught her to ride it in the time I had, a week, than not. Amy could have done it, I know that, it’s not a question of ability but that. Let’s just say she has other things to do. Like throwing up. A new thing; she didn’t throw up when expecting Kate.

In pain. That’s another thing I am, and hungry. Nothing’s broken as far as I can tell, but. I should try to stand, no idea how long I’ve been lying here and lying for long stretches isn’t particularly good for the body. Things decay remarkably quickly, remember uncle Hector? Okay, let’s do that, pull yourself up, ouch, yes, careful. Now move your legs. Why am I talking to myself in the second person? There’s no one else here. No voices outside either. What is this place? Let us describe.

A foot or so longer than the cot, about three times as wide, there’s a chair that looks cobbled together out of a sawn trunk and a few branches, a tin table with a pitcher on it. Mud floor? Wood-plank wall through which I can see slices of daylight. A small window that could be a painting by Yves Klein, maybe the sun will look in as it falls later. Okay legs, feet to the floor, come on. Damn. Damn and double, and bloody damn. Water! There must be water in that pitcher. Thirsty as hell. 

So it’s some kind of wood hut I’m in, how long have I been here? Yesterday I was. Yesterday I was? Arriving. Yesterday I arrived. Then what? 

The man wants me to take the cargo, just take it, no one has to know. Know what? He changes his tune: I should take the cargo as agreed. Would I do that? I ask for water, he gives me some. I ask him where I am but he asks if I’m hungry. I am, but where am I. He calls to someone in a language I know only a little of – beer, bread, can you tell me the way to the post office? – He tells me I’ll get some food, then I can sleep if I like, then I must take the cargo. His men will drive it down to the dock. Where’s Jeb, I came here with Jeb? He tells me Jeb will go with his men to the dock to ensure they are given access to the hold. I tell him I want to speak to Jeb, but he only tells me food is on the way, then I can sleep. When I wake in the morning someone will take me back to the boat. But what is this cargo?

What happened to me I ask, but a lad comes in with a plate. Here, eat. What happened to me? I take the plate, it’s beans, bread, there may be some pork in it. You fell. Fell! How? You fell, man, eat. Tomorrow we’ll take you back to your boat. I have a boat. I have a fucking boat! 

I don’t own a boat, I drive one, am its captain. Employed. My employer expects me to bring home the cargo, his contract requires that I do, I’ve been entrusted. But I didn’t expect to be jumped, and that, I’m sure, is what I was. Jumped for asking too many questions and not liking the answers. I won’t be bullied into. What? Looking the other way; turning a blind eye; sweeping my ethics under the proverbial carpet… Just the once. Bananas aren’t guns, but when you clear rainforest to grow them they may as well be. Marquez knew it and I’m with him, I’m not adding to that fucking problem. No. So what’s the plan Mr Banana Boat Captain?

The premise for this story comes from my brother-in-law who is a retired banana boat captain. He did once refuse to take a load of bananas when it transpired that they’d been grown on cleared rainforest land. I made up the bit about the hut, the man, and the violence, and El Capitan is a figment of my imagination.

The featured image is Hiroshima, by Yves Klein and comes from ideelart

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