Title: Of Pineapples
Word Count 824
It was not that Will was empty hungry. He had felt that before, in childhood, and he knew the ache of it. He knew the way that the gnaw turned to pain, and then to cold, and huddled stillness. He knew the way that the bodies outrage turned to patient misery.
This was not that. There was ship's biscuit, and brined beef, as there had been every day now for months. There was water, unlimited for now, and not too lively. Will scarfed the beef in two bites. He knocked the biscuit, and waited for the exodus. He counted the insects as they fled. (The doctor, that strange man, was keeping a count.) He broke the round of it against the tables edge, with the flat of his hand. It shattered into pieces he could mouth.
He had food. They all did. Captain Luce had in no way failed them.
But last night Will had dreamed of lettuce.
He remembered the dark earth of Sally's little garden, and the crooked gate that never kept the rabbits out. Mother took no part in the garden. It had always been Sally's domain. She did the planning, every year, with stakes and string, trying to get the most out of the small space. When he was very small, he had come behind her with the dibble. One morning they had found a rabbit, hidden in her watering can. It had frozen, when they tipped it out, mad with fear. Sally had made a gesture toward it, a flap of her hand, and the moment had broken. The rabbit turned to a streak, too fast for sight, and it was gone.
That was the memory. But in his sleep it had been more. He had dreamed of the lettuce itself, the green of it, infinite, stretching on out of sight. And there had been carrot tops, and spring onions, and row and row of the bold tops of leeks, “Go ahead Will.” the dream-Sally had said. “It is all for you.”
He had fallen at her feet, small as the rabbit, and pressed his mouth to the earth.
But a man did not speak of these things. It was unseemly. And it did no good. His legs ached.
He was on watch, next morning when they cleared the reef. Tack and tack again, and came in on the rush of tide, close as they dared. He could not see much through the fog, but he could smell the land, the heat rising off the earth. The whole of the land smelled like a garden. William realized he was drooling.
Ashore, he stumbled. His aching legs were foolish, his walk rolled wide, seeking swells that were not there. The sun was bright, and he could feel the sweat start under his arms. Green birds shrieked overhead.
The woman had a broad dark face. She smiled to beckon him. There were onions. He pointed at them, held out his coin, moved his hands, bigger, more, more. She caught his grin, and returned it, her own smile motherly and wide. She said something soft in Portuguese. He shook his head, pointed to the heaps of glossy fruit, gestured again, moremore. She put her own hand out, laughing. He held his coin up, did not hand it over. He could feel the saliva slicking his teeth. Banana, figs, he wanted them all. She gestured to the dried fish. It gleamed with salt. He shook his head, he wanted none of them.
And there, dangling from her wrist he saw it. “That!” Her face creased. He gestured to his own arm, pointed again.
He fished in his pocket, drew out the last of his coin. She was laughing.
“You? This? Thisyou?”
“No me.” He shook his head vigorously, but he was laughing too.
“Sister. My sister.” He made a woman shape with his hands.
So she stripped it off her arm, dumped its contents out. She wrapped the food up, and handed him the other thing last of all.
He ate and ate, even as the juice ran down his smiling chin. His teeth ached, and something had gone tight up under his tongue. His hands were sticky. He saved the onion tops for last. He had just enough money to send the thing home.
It was a fine and foolish thing. She might never use it, but she should have fine things. Wrapping it up that night, he took a moment, held the silk of it, and the fine bead-work against his face. His hands
were too course to feel it properly.
He added a few sentences to the end of his letter, and included it too.
'This reticule is from the Azores, where we stopped for resupply. It is in the shape of a Pineapple. It is for Sally. Love from your brother, William.'