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Archive for April, 2008

“So, Josh,” I say, stumbling at the combination of unaccustomed petticoats and the long oily swell of the sea—best not to think about that—”you’ve done very well for yourself.”

It’s very windy on the quarterdeck, and the pages of my notebook riffle manically through my fingers, making me almost miss Josh’s sharp, black, pondering look. He’s wondering why I said that, whether I intended to insult him, what he can say without giving anything away. I know him well enough to guess that this interview will be like pulling teeth, and sigh.

“Peter was glad enough to talk to me.”

His mouth twitches at the side, and the brown eyes warm for a moment before he looks away to hide the smile. “Peter is always glad to talk about himself. It is one of his favourite topics of conversation.”

“How shocked he’d be to hear you say so! He thinks you worship him.”

“Well so I do.”

Silence falls, leaving what seemed a promising start thrown overboard and drowning. The deck tilts and a great fountain of spray bursts over the bow, making me lurch for the rail. But Josh is still standing, perfectly balanced, eyes sparkling, completely at home. “I’m sorry,” he says, seeing my expression. “Sure I’m being no gentleman. Let’s start again and I’ll try and pry some answers out for you like winkles from the shell.”

He raises his russet eyebrows and gives me a peculiarly Irish smile; roguish, full of charm. Predictably I forget my annoyance at once.

“Alright then, lets start with something easy. Favourite colour?”

“Green.”

“Is that through patriotism or…”

“It’s the colour of Peter’s eyes: You’ve seen icebergs? When the bright arctic light slants through white mountains of towering water. You look in there and you can see an emerald whose beauty is not equalled anywhere on earth. Deeper in there are fleeting colours you catch like an enchantment; aquamarine, and leaf green, and the shy, shady, private green of wildernesses where Man has never trod. That colour.”

I take a step back, blinking. “‘Worship’,” I say, a little spooked because this is more like idolatry, “I was right about that. He’s not worthy of it, you know.”

Josh shrugs, still smiling. “Who is?”

“He almost had you hanged!”

“‘Almost’ makes quite a difference. But, don’t you see, if he’d chosen to denounce me I could not have held it against him. I would have known he was doing what he thought was the right thing. He does that. It’s part of what makes him so…” He’s searching for a word, embarrassed by the one that comes to mind. “So pure.”

I realize, belatedly, that we’ve begun talking about Peter again. It’s pleasant enough, but really not the point. “What part of Ireland do you come from, Josh?”

“From Rathmoines, near Dublin. We’re a minor offshoot of the FitzGeralds. Settled in Ireland by the Normans in an attempt to civilize the natives.”

“Did it work?”

Josh laughs. “Depends on how you look at it. We ended up somewhere in between – too English for the Irish, too Irish for the English. Story of my life. If it wasn’t for Peter intervening in my career….”

“Oh no!” I hold out a hand to arrest the turn in the conversation before it starts. “We’re not going there.” I can’t decide if it’s sweet or just infuriating, the way he turns every question into a chance to talk about the man he loves. No wonder the two of them get on so well, completely in agreement as they are about which one of them is the centre of the universe.

“It’s you I want to know about, not him. Now, let’s try again. What made you want to join the Navy?”

His dark, dark brown eyes look almost black in the shadow of his hat. There’s salt on my lips from the sea, but – catching his mood – I fancy it tastes like tears. “I wanted to make it easier on my family,” he says, quietly. “A man like me – with my vice – it’s only a matter of time before I bring them dishonour. I thought if I was gone, long gone to some foreign shore, when my depravity was uncovered I’d only be a distant embarrassment and not a present shame. Or, if God was kind to me, I could die somewhere far away, as a naval hero, and no one would be the wiser.”

Silence falls again. I tuck my notebook into the pocket I have strapped between my hoop and my gown. He’s reminded me why he is so reticent, why he has this habit of secrecy that only love has been able to penetrate.

“Did you always know you were gay?”

“Always know I was a sodomite?” The tilt of his head is mocking. His lips draw up to show his canine teeth, in what I think is amusement at my pity. “An invert? A molly? One of the third sex? Yes, I did. I knew I was different – wrong – from the age of about four. We used to go into Dublin, me and the boys on the back of a grain cart, and throw stones at the prisoners in the pillory for a day out. We’d club together and buy the broadsheets to read about the crimes, and all my friends would laugh most over the sods. So I learned early what I had to expect in life.”

“It’s funny,” I’m leaning forward now, trying to read him better, wishing I hadn’t made him so damn tall. “This is one of the things I don’t understand about you. Didn’t you try and fight it? You’ve been through more casual, meaningless sex than I’ve had hot dinners. There probably isn’t a wharf tavern or backroom where you haven’t picked up a temporary shag. How can that co-exist with the burning poetic glory of your love for Peter? Don’t you have any self control at all?”

His face hardens from boyish smoothness into a man’s cynicism. I’m a woman, so he won’t threaten me – that’s not his style – but all the same I have a new appreciation for how scary he can be.

“Why should I? I was born to go to Hell. I was damned in my mother’s womb. What good would self restraint do me? Why not forget, by whatever means I could, the future that lay in store for me? Who was going to redeem me? I knew it couldn’t be done.”

“But you were redeemed.”

The flash of anger dies away leaving a hollow behind his eyes. He looks as if he’s been punched. “Yes. By death and fire, by Peter, and by Giniw.” Pushing back hat and wig to pull at his hair – auburn as autumn leaves in this Bermudan sunshine – Josh gives a bark of rueful laughter. “I don’t think I want to talk any more. One of my men will escort you ashore.”

“Can I just ask you what comes next? You were both left without a ship at the end of ‘Captain’s Surrender’ yet here you are, on deck again.”

He looks too worried for a man whose miraculous return from a David and Goliath victory must have made him the toast of the Royal Navy. “I’ve been given another command. There’s talk about making me Post. That is, confirming me in the rank of Captain permanently.”

“Oh! Well, congratulations!”

“Except… except that Peter surrendered. The chances are he won’t be reinstated – he’ll go back to being a lieutenant.”

“It’s not a tragedy, surely?” I say, watching Josh’s downcast look with concern. “He was a lieutenant when you met.”

Josh grimaces, raising his hands to draw a nebulous shape of frustration and fear in the air. “Can you see Peter Kenyon being content to take orders from me?”

I’d always thought of the two of them as equals, but really, could I see ambitious Peter, arrogant Peter, playing second fiddle to his own bedmate? “He loves you.”

“I suppose I will have to rest my hopes on that being enough.”

~*~*~*~

‘Captain’s Surrender’ is available here

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