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  • Writer's pictureKayleigh Willis

'It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day...' by Tom Blake

...So Talk Like a Fuckin Pirate, Will Ya?

Although - and these are my words here so don’t worry, I’m not in the habit of painting people in an unfavourable light, whatever colour that might be, purple probably, by putting words into their mouths that they may not have said regardless of how capable they were of saying them - I’d already been flogged once or twice around the fleet so to speak, I was still of an age when I met you that could in some cases though obviously not mine be described as innocent, that is, no longer in my teens but not so far out of them as to be clear of their nefarious pull, by which I mean the spell of alcoholic seduction still loomed large, alcoholic seduction being exactly what it sounds like, drinking and fucking, the two always together, or at least close enough at hand that one always played a role in the other, that’s how it seemed anyway

Those early nights - by which I mean the nights of the early part of our relationship, which were invariably late, as is usually the case in those halcyon or perhaps dog days - when we finished on rum, though who is to say we didn’t sometimes continue to sodomy, indeed I’d be lying if I said I’d denied the lash, we would often sleep and wake in turns, as if alternating our tiredness, staggering our watch, a crow’s nest once scaled is a dominion of one, even when it is imaginary, or in our case the black office chair that had been the only thing in the flat when we moved in, and so often a can of Coke on the floor next to the chair, one of us always jealous of the wrinkled leather chair where the other’s skin was, though it’s hard to say if jealousy has the power to pervade sleep, and jealousy of a chair seems to be a particularly weak kind, I can’t speak for you but the peeling of my thighs off that chair in the Carribean heat of that London room is something now that is more than a memory but at the time was less than real

One of those little fast boats that people die in that flitted across the old wine-dark like an inconsequential fire, nothing else to see here, not a schooner (which is also a glass for sherry or whatever’s your poison) or a man-o-war (a jellyfish, poisonous - naturally - and the name of a vermouth-based cocktail, also potentially poisonous), not a sloop nor a brigantine in sight, just that little fast boat which, even at that early stage, and Cornwall was our first holiday together, or our first together-holiday as you or I pointlessly inverted it, I saw as a cipher or a metaphor (essentially the same thing, no?) for what by that point I had grudgingly started calling our relationship, so by then I must already have been aware of you, of course I was aware of you, I mean of the person you would turn into or rather reveal yourself to be, and let me make it clear pronto that that person wasn’t and isn’t necessarily bad but was it the person whose body I felt myself inhabit with a sea-deep sigh when I first pulled my sticky skin off that office chair

There were of course times when I questioned you, and likewise you me, but the nature and timing of our interrogations differed markedly, for instance you employed a method that I would describe as coy entreaty which involved a lack of specificity: why are like this? (like what?) do we need a change? (a change?) oh come on, what have I done now? (what haven’t you done?), things like that, characterised by a certain passivity of tone cordialised by faux-cute wheedling, while my approach was more particular and, I think, more practical: why the sudden and inexplicable love for Pittsburgh’s baseball team when you’ve never been to the New World, let alone the Steel City? (your support for Bristol’s, dare I say it, second football team was more understandable: your west country roots - which I now doubt the existence of - and your rather more obvious underdog complex made that foible almost forgivable) or why have you started referring to your morning soft-boiled egg as cackle fruit when in no way is it one of you five or seven or nine a day? but this line of questioning, despite or perhaps because of its targeted nature, was ineffectual against the beamish and cockeyed smiles it came up against: you were not a brick wall but the jellyish face you presented provided more than adequate coaming against the press of my enquiry and the low hang of my jib

Though as it happens I’m not averse to the vernacular, to any vernacular for that matter, fruitier the better, do you kiss your mother with that mouth? a question that has been put to me more than once, most recently - and most predictably - by a male so-called superior at my place of work, really, one doesn’t expect to be chastised for the range of one’s vocabulary when one works in the Modern Languages department of a renowned if overrated university, though in this case the dressing-down may have been justified: if the f-bomb was a calculated risk, the c-bomb played out more like an attempt at a coup de grace on an enemy not yet fallen, and certainly not ready to be coup de graced, I should have saved that particular verbal cutlass for later, for you, but of course there is no ration on the word cunt or any other word, it’s just that the simplest course of action was to take my plaint back home, back to you, and to nurse it with the aforementioned rum

Words very rarely fail me, not completely anyway, by which I mean there is always something that can be said even if it is not entirely satisfactory: the word 'orlop' for example, which I cannot say I had ever heard before I met you, so in one sense I have to thank you, it’s always better to know a word than not to know it, though in some cases - and the case of the word orlop is one such case - the word makes me think mostly of what it isn’t rather than what it is, in the example that I am using here, the word orlop makes me think first of the lop, as in the breed of rabbit, then the word dewlap, which I now always associate with rabbits even though I’m not aware that rabbits - lop or otherwise - have a dewlap, and finally of the word warlock, which for some reason I never associate with either rabbits or dewlaps

It became a problem, I think, when it became public, or more precisely, because it had never been private, not exactly, when people other than you and I began to be aware of it - when you told that hotelier in Rabat that he’d hornswaggled you that wasn’t so much of a problem, if only because his English was excellent up to a point and non-existent after that point, and when you described that guy who accosted me as a son of a biscuit-eater that was quite cute really, quite sexy, but asking the barman for a clap of thunder in that pub by the harbourside we were convinced was going to be our local, that didn’t land quite how you’d hoped, and as for all that hempen halter stuff with my aunt, well, she always thought you were a strange boy, that was her turn of phrase, and who am I to disagree

Your tattoo: I sometimes ran my tongue or more rarely my chin or cheek over it because that’s what I thought you wanted, after all doesn’t everyone want their aesthetic choices praised in the most erotic of ways? Well, evidently not, and although you didn’t complain I was well aware that what you really wanted was a discussion, historical in content and didactic in tone, about the occult meanings and relative merits of the flags of various infamous buccaneers, not for you the cheap iconography, so often purloined by the heavy metal community, of Calico Jack’s famous ensign, that jolliest of Rogers, and not for you the egg-timer and disembodied arm of Christopher Moody (the hipster’s pirate flag, you called it, but really I think you were stymied by the hardship of representing red and gold in tattoo ink), no, your upper arm bore the curious standard of one Walter Kennedy, a crewman of Bartholomew Roberts who was hanged in 1721 (all this I learned from you whether I liked it or not, and to be honest I liked it), which showed, rather than the usual skull, a fully-fleshed head on which sat a melancholy expression and an equally unskeletal figure holding up the traditional hourglass, a sign to all, if one were needed, that time was and indeed is running out

The certainty of your yars and ahoys: I couldn’t help but counter them with these incomplete rambling sentences, these unbalanced, seasick syntactic equations that represent now nothing other than the plundering of my memories for some buried treasure or other, equations with only a y, no x to mark any kind of spot, in fact the only spot I can conceive of now is the black kind, sign of the deposed, without are dogs and murderers and all that

Memories, like the memory of you abaft me

The last time you shivered, so to speak, my timbers, long after those dog or perhaps salad days, I felt something akin to treading water, in a physical sense I mean - I’d been doing so figuratively, and so had you, I imagine, for a while - like I had to develop a new technique just to walk down the street, what I’ll call the flutter method was no longer stable or efficient enough to stay afloat, I had to employ the eggbeater, while you, approaching the tropical beach of our parting, seemed always to breach as confidently as a whale, spyhopping and lobtailing like you had a boatload of tourists ogling your every flip

Yep, the plank was walked, more than once, sometimes more than once in a single day, and after a while it didn’t seem to matter which one of us was doing the walking, or the planking, so to speak, and which one was looking on from the rigging, because what mattered was what happened afterwards, which to start with took the form of a pleasant reunion, in bed, in the office chair, in the briny deep of the park’s expanse of grass, a reunion which always left me licked clean of the salt that my body had tried to rub into its own wounds and I felt - I won’t pretend that this is an exaggeration - as if I’d been cleaved, or is it cloven, or cleft, to the very brisket

Then the talk was had, the right of parley invoked, though it was me not you for once that did the talking, I don’t know, I guess I just had to have the last word even if the word keelhaul was an unusual, not to say cruel, choice for a last word, I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it, I just found it hard to believe that you, of all people, had never heard that word before and I had to explain it to you, they pull you underneath, imagine that, I said, they pull you underneath and the barnacles rip your skin to tatters and your lungs fill up with plankton and and they drag you out and make sure you’re still conscious and then they pass you round again, all the way underneath, imagine that, I said, and you said I am imagining it, with a look that said for all the world or only for me that you didn’t need to imagine it.

Copyright. Tom Blake.

Tom Blake is an author, poet, and part-time music journalist from the southwest of England. His poems have appeared in The Frogmore Papers, Smiths Knoll, and Obsessed With Pipework, and his most recent short story was published by 404ink. He has an MA from Middlesex University in Novel Writing and is currently working on a PhD proposal.

Twitter: @TomBlake17

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