Dismissed

The Physician has been summoned to the Captain’s cabin. A continuation, of sorts, of The Physician and the Siren.

An inferno of reflected lamp light blazes in the looking glass behind the Captain.

“You sent for me?” he asks.

She sits at her writing desk, a small strongbox at her elbow. She doesn’t look up. He has not been inside her cabin since the night he delivered the baby.

He shivers at the memory.

The Siren had overtaken a slaver bound for Hispaniola with a late summer storm blowing in from the southeast. With the ship stripped of anything the Captain deemed valuable, she’d ordered the crew’s execution. The Africans she’d unshackled and left aboard, the hull damaged but still afloat. He’d been the only one to notice an unsteadiness in her gait, a pearl sheen of sweat on her fierce, white brow.

Seven hours later he knelt between her knees, her screams muted by his belt between her teeth, as the cook and cabin boy carted hot water and linen to and from the galley. The Siren’s crew held their silence, but heavy, haunted chanting from the slaver, adrift nearby, sung the baby into the world between pale green flashes of Caribbean lightning. 

As the child crowned, the Captain pushed herself up on her elbows. Her blue-gray eyes, glazed with pain, met his as she bore down.

From across the water, a deep, keening cry cut through the cacophony of rain and wind, and the rhythm of the chanting quickened as the child, a girl, took her first breath and wailed in response.

As if summoned by his thoughts, the baby mewls from its makeshift cradle, hung from the ceiling of the cabin near The Captain’s berth. She nudges the cradle with a distracted hand before smoothing out a folded sheet of paper; a letter, he surmises by the close-pressed penmanship on the page. She does not speak.

“Captain?”

“I have a brother in Port-au-Prince,” she says, fingers caressing the worn creases of the letter. “For obvious reasons, I cannot go to him myself. You must take her—“

She pushes the gently swaying crib again as the baby grizzles from her swaddling.

“—To him. We shall send you ashore in the captain’s gig under cover of darkness. You will take a letter of introduction to him. He will take the child and see that you are given passage to England.”

He says nothing. There is nothing to say. She is law and god on this vessel.

The dancing amber light makes the room feel close, and he is more aware of the gentle roll of calm sea beneath him than he has been in weeks

“I presume you were going to England,” she adds as an afterthought.

She doesn’t turn her face to him, but he hears in her tone that he is dismissed.

You or your character find a forgotten letter or card from someone important in your life–whether good or bad.  What does it say?  How does it affect you or your character?  What is done with it?

21 responses to “Dismissed

  1. I like how we both use characters actions as cues as opposed to their speech. It’s just cool to read.

    I’m digging the language a lot. It holds your attention. Good entry.

  2. oh, paul bettany, you sexy thing!

    er, sorry. was that outloud?

  3. Your writing elevates the written word to an art form. I really mean that, too. This is just so poetically, and perfectly done. I love everything you write-but with this piece you are definitely in you element C:) I can’t wait to read more!

  4. SO good. Weirdly, what has stuck with me was the phrase “writing desk” – though that might be my weird focus.

  5. I wonder who the father was…and what that letter said…
    Yet another intriguing story you are weaving. I look forward to more

  6. “She doesn’t turn her face to him, but he hears in her tone that he is dismissed.”

    And then it’s the title.

    As always. Love.

  7. Ooh, very enticing. I love the sense of place and how you transported me there.

  8. I love the possibility of the doctor going on an adventure with a baby. It’s interesting, for me, I’m not really interested in the Captain as a character but more so in the path/adventure that she seems to be setting the Doctor and her daughter on.

    Although, I did wonder why she would give up the baby since the crew seems to know that she is a woman, and the baby seems like she has a bit of her mother’s fire in her, “…chanting quickened as the child, a girl, took her first breath and wailed in response.”

    Your ability to set multiple tones and atmosphere’s in one piece is amazing.

  9. Very interesting. I like the story line and wonder where the baby will end up and what her life will be like. I’ll be back for more.

  10. I want to know what is up with this woman. What drives her? Who is the father? How can she so easily kill? What are her feelings toward her daughter?

    I have questions!!

  11. I am more intriqued now, I can see why the baby must go to shore, to a safe place while her mother captains the ship.

    this sequence, I read over and over again, in awe of the use of words to explain it, It was so vivid:

    Seven hours later he knelt between her knees, her screams muted by his belt between her teeth, as the cook and cabin boy carted hot water and linen to and from the galley. The Siren’s crew held their silence, but heavy, haunted chanting from the slaver, adrift nearby, sung the baby into the world between pale green flashes of Caribbean lightning.

    the use of language and action to give us the story is just wonderful.

  12. Wow…. She gave up the baby! Somehow its not a surprise I guess. I love the story though.

  13. Omg, I love this story so much.

  14. Oh dear friend! *Another* story line to swoon over? Really?!

    I love the formality of their language, the body cues, the mysteries within their roles. It’s really all quite fabulous.

    Lines like these – an unsteadiness in her gait, a pearl sheen of sweat on her fierce, white brow – read like poetry and make me dig you even more.

    XO

  15. I love how you seamlessly integrated the flashback. The difference between the screaming wailing birth in the storm and the calmness of the captain making her decision from her desk while the baby is sleeping. It’s quite striking.

  16. I really liked the line “he was more aware of the roll of the sea than he had been in weeks.” I felt it said a lot. He had forgotten or given up the idea of returning to land. You say so much in your short pieces. I love reading them!

  17. Oh goodness! I enjoyed this!

  18. ohh another story, and you’ve captivated me already.

  19. Pingback: The Earl’s Curiosity | Move Over Mary Poppins!

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