Normal for Norfolk

Trosher was rat-arsed, all right. Four pints in five minutes, as the saying goes. He reeled out of the pub looking right queer, his face all bishy.

“Oi!” he yelled, walloping me on the back. “Hold yer hard, bor!”

“Gettin’ on me wick, Trosh,” I said, moving away.

He stopped and held up a finger, then slowly turned out his pockets. A collection of coins spilled onto the cobbles, rolling away as he tried to stomp them.

He looked up and give me a watery smile. “You can keep anything you collect, bor. Enough to stand you a pint, at least.”

He walked over to the wall and sank down, legs asprawl as he sat.  His chin dropped to his chest and he started to snore.

“Bloodly berk,” I muttered, and tried and heave him up by the wrist.

Down the street I saw a pair of constables walking towards us.

What Pegman Saw: Great Yarmouth

Today It Ends

I smoke a cigarette as I walk along the Quai Saint-André, cupping it in my hand.

I have always smoked this way.  Done everything this way, really.

Concealment.

I watch a grain barge chugging up the St. Lawrence churning brown froth as it passes. I flick the butt into the river and turn back toward the market.

Somewhere in this crowd of tourists she is meeting him now, telling him everything is set.

Telling him she will leave me today.

How I came to know this is unimportant. It is a fact, intractable, unchangeable.

What comes next is anyone’s guess.

Friday Fictioneers

Kiss Me, Hardy

Two seamen carried Lord Nelson down through the smoke to the cockpit with infinite care, Captain Hardy following close behind. The buckle of Hardy’s shoe clattered against the deck as he walked, severed by a splinter blasted from the taffrail by the Redoutable’s broadside.

In the muffled din of the cockpit, Nelson offered a thin smile. “They have done for me at last, Hardy. I am shot through the backbone. I am dead.”

“Please to be quiet, my lord,” said Doctor Beatty, shearing away the broadcloth of Nelson’s full dress jacket. “Nothing is certain,” he added, though his voice said otherwise.

“I fear now I must leave Lady Hamilton,” said Nelson a few minutes later. “I am a dead man.”

Lieutenant Burke knocked at the door. “Beg pardon, my lord. I came to tell you victory is ours. The enemy is decisively defeated.”

“Pray let dear Lady Hamilton have my hair,” whispered the admiral.

What Pegman Saw: Portsmouth

Historical Note:

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought west of Cape Trafalgar, Spain, between Cádiz and the Strait of Gibraltar.  The outnumbered British fleet, under command of Admiral Horatio Nelson, soundly defeated a combined force of French and Spanish ships. This victory established British naval supremacy for more than a century.

The downside was that the British lost their greatest naval hero when Nelson was shot through the shoulder by a sniper as he walked the quarterdeck with his friend Captain Thomas Hardy. 

The eyewitness account of the Victory’s surgeon provided the events from which this story is taken:

The ball struck the epaulette on his left shoulder, and penetrated his chest. He fell with his face on the deck. Captain Hardy, who was on his right (the side furthest from the enemy) and advanced some steps before his lordship, on turning round, saw the Sergeant Major of Marines with two seamen raising him from the deck; where he had fallen on the same spot on which, a little before, his secretary had breathed his last, with whose blood his lordship’s clothes were much soiled. Captain Hardy expressed a hope that he was not severely wounded; to which the gallant Chief replied: ‘They have done for me at last, Hardy.’ – ‘I hope not,’ answered Captain Hardy. ‘Yes,’ replied his lordship; ‘my backbone is shot through.’

Nelson’s famous last words “Kiss me, Hardy”  do not appear anywhere in this account.

Donutland

Dominick pushed himself back from the table, sighing like a leaky tire.

Eating was no longer the comfort it once was, the solace gone.

He’d grown up lean and hungry, fifth of seven children, hand-me-downs and half-empty bowls.

He had gone to war and shot at the enemy and maybe even killed them, seen friends die.

He’d come home hollowed-out, his internals a vast and gaping emptiness.

He opened a deli so he could eat all day, his body bulking like a circus balloon, his feet ludicrously small and remote.

These days a dozen crullers couldn’t begin to fill him.

Friday Fictioneers

A White Rose to Tend

Rosita picked up the smooth stick from outside the door and carefully pared the black mud from her feet before she stepped inside, the mended nets drying on the scaffold Ronaldo made for them before the sickness had left him an invalid.

She set the bucket of cleaned shrimps on the stone hearth, then poked the remains of the fire in search of a live coal.  She was lucky and found one right away;  in the rainy season, she often had to resort to their worn flint and steel.

“What have you brought us, my White Rose?” said her grandfather, leaning on his cane.

“Shrimps,” she said. She did not say the rest.

No fish meant nothing to trade for beans and salt and flour. No fish meant that once again they would eat shrimp gleaned from the tidepools.

“In Havana,” said her grandfather for the hundredth time, “Camarones are considered a luxury. We are lucky tonight!”

What Pegman Saw: Cuba

Ah, Cuba. I steeped myself in research a few years ago while writing my (still unpublished) novel Miramar, which takes place in Cuba during the 1957-58 revolution in which Fidel Castro, Frank Pais, Camilo Cienfuegos, Huber Matos, and many others overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista’s corrupt regime and threw out American corporations (including the gangsters Meyer Lansky and Santo Traficante). Like every other Cuban revolution, it was only partially successful. As always, the poor suffered the most. They still do.

The Cuban revolutionary poet José Martí said: “We light the oven so that everyone can bake bread in it.”

Martí penned the most famous poem of the 1895 revolution,  I Have a White Rose to Tend.  This brilliant work was adopted by Castro’s M-26-7 as their own.

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.
Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazón con que vivo,
Cardo ni oruga cultivo:
Cultivo la rosa blanca.

 

Just Like In The Movies

Stella considered herself an incurable romantic, albeit a secret one. Her wide circle of acquaintances and few close friends were equally ignorant of her inner yearnings and wild flights of fancy.

This was deliberate. “Webster’s second definition of romantic,” Stella would often say, “is imaginary.”

Yet every time she boarded an airplane, her eye would rove the faces of the seated passengers, looking for the man at once new and familiar, awaiting that bee-stung feeling in her chest.

That she was invariably disappointed never affected her longing, never dampened the ardor that glowed deep inside her like a distant sun.

Friday Fictioneers

Él Regresa

Gibbs stepped out of the Zenith onto the cracked cement of El Ronco airfield.

A slender man in black BDUs and sunglasses climbed out of the Humvee idling a hundred feet away, his sidearm bumping as he walked over with arms outstretched.

“El Bergón!” he cried and he threw his arms around Gibbs. “Mi compañero. It’s been a long time. Let me look at you.”

Gibbs stared into the familiar face of  Roberto D’Aubuisson, the man he considered to be the savior of El Salvador. He grinned. “I enjoyed your obituary in the New York Times.

Roberto returned the smile. “A necessary fiction once your country turned its back on freedom.”

“It’s a new day, my friend. I have it on the highest authority we will be able to operate with no constraints whatsoever.”

“And the budget?”

“No constraints, my friend. Including financial.” He laughed.  “As I said, a new day.”

What Pegman Saw: El Salvador

 

Note:  In the 1980s,  El Salvador’s bloody civil war pitted leftist revolutionaries against the alliance of countries, oligarchs, and generals that had ruled the country for decades—with U.S. support—keeping peasants illiterate and impoverished. 

More than 75,000 Salvadorans were killed in the fighting, most of them victims of the military and its death squads. Peasants were shot en masse, often while trying to flee. Student and union leaders had their thumbs tied behind their backs before being shot in the head, their bodies left on roadsides as a warning to others.

A character in this vignette is based on a real person, Roberto D’Aubuisson, the infamous leader of the death squads who ordered the assassination of  Archbishop Óscar Romero. The real D’Buisson died in 1992, but with monsters such as he, one can never be sure.

After two decades of relative non-interference, the United States quietly began funding and equipping elite paramilitary police units in El Salvador accused of extrajudicially murdering suspected gang members.

Since George W Bush’s term in office, successive US administrations have provided tens of millions of dollars in aid for Salvadoran military and police in support of the government’s “Mano Dura” (“Firm Hand”) security program.

 

Las Vegas Airport 3AM

New York is the “city that never sleeps,” but for genuine insomnia you can’t top Las Vegas. I stroll though the airport at 3AM after eighteen hours of hell in O’Hare.

The place is sprawling, with garish islands of slot machines strategically placed to shake out the nickels of passersby.

It’s there I see her, a pretty girl who might be beautiful in another time and place.

She stares into the flashing screen amid a chorus of chirps and beeps, picking quarters from a souvenier plastic casion bucket and feeding them to the machine, her face a mask of despair.

 

This is a story based on a poem I wrote a couple of decades ago

Friday Fictioneers

Fort Canby Days

Fort Canby was constructed during the Civil War.

God knows why.

By 1863, all the hostile Indians had been deported to Shitsville, Oklahoma and the looming threat of the Confederate Navy was confined to Mobile Bay and its environs.

I was stationed there in 1941, a regular Army sergeant on my third and (I thought) final hitch.

I had two privates under me, amusingly named Caine and Abel. The three of us were billeted in a British Nissen hut down the hill from the Cape Disappointment lighthouse.

We played cards, drank coffee, and wrote daily reports. It rained all day, every day. 95% of our reports read Zero Visibility. No activity.

After Pearl, the government came roaring in to throw up buildings and fortifications that included a shielded barbette emplacement of reinforced concrete that contained a six-inch naval gun.

They finished it in 1944, by which time the Japanese Navy was as much a threat as the Rebels had been.

What Pegman Saw: Washington State

Kitchen Vignette


Dick and Mike sit at the kitchen table playing two-handed rummy. Dick is drinking whiskey. Mike is drinking beer. He grunts every so often when he lays down his cards, but other than that they aren’t talking.

The phone rings, making all of us jump.

Margaret goes to the wall and picks up the receiver.

“Flahertys,” she says, exactly in the way we all had been taught to answer this phone. “Margaret speaking.”

I wonder if she does that at her own house.

“Yes,” she says, and hangs up. “That was the coroner. We need to go pick up dad.”

Friday Fictioneers