Title The things we learn
Word Count 1119
Disclaimer I did not invent them
The Things We Learn
He looked back sometimes. No law against that-- was there? Some officer types might think that an able sea-man didn't have brains enough to remember the past. Well, they were dead wrong there. Shows how much some people know.
There had been much that was good, about being the youngest of 10. Maybe the food had gone scarce. But there was always a sister to lug him around. There was always a brother to laugh with. Parents – well, you get what you get. Matty had had a father at least. More than many boys could say. And beatings, not too much. No, Matty's father had been more given to terrible jokes. All the others had normal names. Bob, Tom, John, so far so good. His father had had the naming of the boys. He had tried to be good, and hold back. But baby Matty was last and least. His father had lost it. Named him Matthew Matthews. He even gave him a middle name. Em. A joke. See?
So he thought on the past, he kept his hands busy. He thought about how he would never have named a helpless baby Matthew Em Matthews.
Still it had worked out all right. He had been Matty for the first half of life. He had been Matthew's--shouted-- for the second.
He had completed the second now, as far as he could tell. Not that he was planning to kick it any time soon. He meant just the second half so far. He had come into the Navy at 20. Before that he had done-- other things. Things that didn't work out. Matty he had still been at 20. He had been as fair of face, and almost as stupid as young Oldroyd there. Well, maybe not quite as stupid as Oldroyd.
Matthews was past 40 now. Sometimes it seemed as if he got older, moving from ship to ship, and everyone else stayed the same age. Oldroyd was young enough to be his son. The jokes Styles told were old the first time Matthews heard them.
The young gentlemen were that way too. The years went by, and he got older. They came and went, faces shuffled like cards, and they all stayed impossibly the same age. Most of them were all right. Scared mostly. That was good. Scared could keep you alive. By the time he came to Justinian, Matty Matthews knew how to get around most of them. He could do just enough to look like working, and live comfortably. He didn't mind pulling the forelock to some man half his age. He'd be doing it on land too, after all.
But Simpson. He'd been a real bad one. At first it had been all right. Justinian was a joke itself. Just not a funny one. Plenty of free time. No one to bother them. Simpson shouted sometimes, but he was mostly about his own ugly games, he left his division alone. He never tried anything on Matthews, or any of the ratings. He was after easy prey.
The way with that kind was to say what they wanted to hear, and to wait. They would go away sooner or later. Matthews could wait. He did wait. Simpson was like a stain though, that got bigger when you tried to wipe it up. He brought out the uglies in everyone.
It had been hard to watch. Mr Kennedy had not been the first, not for Simpson, not by fathoms. Matthews couldn't help, couldn't even speak. Mr Kennedy, and his sorrows were as distant as the moon. Rich boy like that, he shouldn't need help anyway. That was what Matthews had said to himself. But it was hard to watch.
Looking back, sure there was nothing he could have said to Mr Simpson. But he could have done more maybe, for Mr Kennedy. One night he had. Little enough.
That night Matthews had gone up topside, to the head. Middle of the night. Cold bitch of a night too. He had been finding in recent years that he had to piss in the middle of the night. Why that head, on a cold night, he couldn't remember now. Down to the bilge was warmer. Still, he had gone up.
Mr Kennedy had been on watch. All of about 15 years old, freezing his arse off on deck. A kid. A rich officer kid. As Matthews passed by, Mr Kennedy had looked up.
“Good Evening Matthews.” He had said. 'Good Evening' Well what sort of thing to say was that?
“Aye Sir.” Matthews had said. He had had his piss. But the moon had been full on Mr Kennedy's face.
Some things a man saw, even when he didn't want to, or plan to. It wasn't that Mr Kennedy had been crying. That was expected. They called them 'Snotties' for a reason. No. It wasn't that. It was that Mr Kennedy was young enough to be his son. And he looked so sad. And he had said 'Good evening.' Stupid boy. No bruises on his face. Mr Simpson didn't do that to Mr Kennedy. Still, Matthews was certain he knew what Simpson did do. And where the bruises were. Nothing he could do about that.
But he had gone to the galley, and called in a favor. Got Mr Kennedy a cup of coffee. Mr Kennedy, he had been surprised. “Thank you Matthews.” He had said, fine enough, except his voice had broke. Mr Kennedy had held the cup in both hands, to warm them probably. But it had made him look even more like a child. Matthews had stood there while Mr Kennedy drank it, not saying anything. Nothing he could say. But he had taken the cup back to the galley with him.
Well. That was years ago now. He could look back on it. Small thing. But he was glad he'd done it.
The Indy now. Indy was a fine ship. Matthews had waited Mr Simpson out. Mr Hornblower had the division now. He was one to remember. He was not too proud to learn from a man who might know something. He spoke fair, mostly. There was the rat thing, but once it was over, that was it. Mr Hornblower wasn't the kind to keep blaming.
So today, on the deck, in the sun, on the Indy. Things were better. The ship in front of them had hauled her colors. She was Marie Gallant. Full of rice, and lying Frenchies.
Mr Hornblower looked foolish when he smiled like that. But he was calling for Matthews. Matthews was happy to go.