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The dust of 100 dogs, p.14
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       The Dust of 100 Dogs, p.14

           A. S. King
 
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  Some trouble started one night when a group of lads were playing a game of five-a-side and Rico approached Spanky. Spanky was seventeen years old, barely roaming much anymore because of arthritis and asthma. Rico was a young scruffy thing, only two or three, and hadn’t yet managed to hump anything but his master’s kitchen chairs.

  Spanky was half sitting, half lying on his side by a small ash tree when Rico began to toy with him. He leapt at him from the side and began roughhousing—a playful nip here and there, the odd growl. Spanky had trouble keeping his balance, and fell over. Rico hopped up and nipped at Spanky’s neck, nudged him violently with his nose. And when Spanky finally managed to stand up again, about two minutes later, Rico mounted him from behind and began thrusting at him with what looked like an oversized skinned rabbit protruding from his underparts.

  A few minutes later, the ten lads playing in the green heard a terrible yelping sound and went to investigate. When they arrived at the scene by the ash tree, they found the two dogs still stuck together, Spanky writhing in agony and Rico spinning, trying to pull himself free. One boy ran to his house and fetched a pitcher of cold water. The others tried to make Rico stop moving, but both dogs had threatened them with bared teeth, so no one actually did much but yell. A few laughed. When the boy returned with the water he aimed it at the dogs’ rumps. They thrashed about with surprise until somehow Rico broke free and ran around the green, shaking himself dry, and disappeared. Spanky was soaked and began to shiver and vomit, so one of the lads took him home, where he died in his sleep later that night.

  The next morning at seven thirty, the doorbell at Rico’s house chimed. When his master answered the door, Spanky’s owner barged right in and overpowered him, holding him by the arm, twisting it a little as he bellowed, “Your faggot dog raped my dog last night and fucking killed him!”

  This is exactly what I’m talking about. Dogs aren’t “gay.” They just do what feels right without having to overthink and label it like humans do.

  You’d be surprised at the long list of animals who naturally exhibit homosexual behavior.1 Rico wasn’t the first dog to do that to another dog, and he wasn’t the last. Unlike humans, he didn’t have to fear being called a queer by the pack the next day either, although from that day forward, those dogs with writable drive space did lower their hindquarters when he approached.

  1. cows, giraffes, rats, dolphins, cats, rams, goats, pigs, antelope, elephants, lions, porcupines, rabbits, female red deer, porpoises, mice, hamsters, burros, male mountain sheep, donkeys, hyenas, and male mountain gorillas, to name a few.

  As sunrise approached, Emer peeled herself from the rocks where the Frenchman slept and washed her body in the sea, twenty yards from the naked dead man on the beach. She stared at both men, ashamed.

  She walked the five miles back to the small village with the Frenchman, silently. Not even when she did understand his questions did she answer. If she was going to be a slave, then she would be a voiceless one—just like in Connacht.

  For a fortnight the lovesick Frenchman kept Emer in his bed, busy, allowing her a walk once a day for fresh air. He asked her questions about Ireland and she would answer briefly, never saying more than a few words. He tried to teach her a few French phrases, but she refused. Twice he had to leave the village to do business, and left her in the care of his servant. At first, Emer feared the island man might hurt her too, but she soon noticed that he avoided all women and kept his attention firmly, even lovingly, on the Frenchman.

  One day a supply ship came to the village dock, and while the men had a loud, all-night rum party, Emer crept on board in the Frenchman’s clothes. She hid behind a crate of fruit and stayed quiet until the boat sailed again. The crew had been so hungover from their party with the buccaneers that they never even looked up on their return to the ship. When the Frenchman woke from a drunken sleep and couldn’t find her anywhere, he went looking in the cave and around the shore for a day or two. He even borrowed search dogs from the governor, but couldn’t find her.

  A month later, the ship docked at a port south of Tortuga and Emer snuck off the boat. Still dressed in a successful sailor’s clothes, she was propositioned by several ships at the dock as she made her way into the small village of Jamestown, an English settlement on the island of Barbados.

  A week later, she sailed on a supply fluyte toward Martinique, acting as a general sailor and (happy for the meager pay) trying to stay as unnoticed as possible. But it only took three days on board for the other recruits to realize that Emer was no man. And only one day after that to realize that she was no ordinary woman, either.

  As the day the Emerald changed hands began, a few men on board approached her and jokingly asked her to bare her chest. They opened their blouses and revealed their hairy chests, each boasting that theirs was the manliest, egging Emer to join in. She ignored them and ascended to the crow’s nest, which seemed to her the safest place to be now that she’d been discovered. Then the fluyte’s captain, a man of great height and kind nature named Richard Foley, was fetched from his quarters to eye a fast-approaching brig to the east.

  “I know that ship,” he said, squinting through the small telescope and saying its name in a whisper. “Ready the cannons, men. Come about!”

  In the best male voice she could mimic, Emer shouted from the crow’s nest, “Pirates, sir!”

  “Descend and make yourself useful, sailor!” Foley ordered, turning to his first mate, who was tugging on his shirtsleeve.

  “That’s no sailor, sir. That’s a woman.”

  “A woman?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Foley watched Emer descend the ropes. “Looks like a sailor to me,” he said.

  “She works, sir. Works hard, but she is a woman.”

  “You men! Go on! Load the muskets!” he shouted, then turned back to his mate. “Bring her to my quarters.”

  “Aye, sir.”

  Emer took her new orders with great sadness. As she made her way to Foley’s quarters, the approaching ship grew near enough to be seen unassisted. The wind was strong and the crew was bringing the boat about, to face the pirates. Any minute, the fighting would begin.

  “You wanted to see me, sir?”

  He stood, ten muskets before him, packing each with powder and loading them with naked musket balls. “We have little time now. I hear you’re a woman. Is that true?”

  “I cannot deny that, sir. I am a woman.”

  “You’ll stay here in my quarters until you hear that the fighting has stopped.”

  “Please, sir. I can—”

  “Those are my orders.”

  “Sir, I—”

  He piled the loaded muskets into his arms, barrels-up, and locked the door from the outside.

  When the first cannon fired, Emer jumped a little. There were six cannons in total on the small fluyte, and each was manned by three gunners. Foley’s crew was out of practice. The gunners only got one shot off before the ship was boarded.

  She heard men running on deck; she heard men screaming, men dying, and men fighting. All of this while they still sailed with the strong easterly wind, while they were still tangled with the brig’s ropes. No one screamed anything intelligible, as if fighting had its own language that all on board could understand. Emer heard more men board, more men die, and feared that the fluyte would be taken—and she would be taken—by pirates.

  She looked around Foley’s quarters and grabbed any weapon that looked back at her. Two small daggers fit perfectly into her boots, a sharp cutlass onto her belt. Before she left the cabin, she snatched a sturdy iron club and an unloaded pistol and put them in her pockets. She eyed the lock on the door and kicked it hard with the sole of her boot. It buckled. Two more kicks and it collapsed.

  When she first poked her head above deck, she got sick. One of the men who’d bared his chest to her only
that morning now lay dead, one arm missing, his eyes gouged out. Blood covered the deck, washing back and forth over other dead men and discarded weapons. She saw Foley standing atop two crates, fighting off as many as four men at a time. She surfaced and removed the iron club from her pocket, hitting the first pirate she could find with it. His head split open, and when he turned to face her she removed the cutlass from her belt and plunged it into his belly.

  With no time to reflect, she moved on to her next victim, and then the next, making each one dead as if she had done it a thousand times before. Time twisted—into the same sort of shock-induced nothingness as when the Roundheads razed her valley or when the Frenchman had found her in the cave. She felt like an animal. She felt as big as the fires of hell, fueled by everything she’d ever suffered.

  The brig began to free itself from them and Foley led the remaining crew to the ropes and ordered them to board. With a roar, Emer jumped from rope to rope until she found herself on board the pirate ship, surrounded by enemy sailors all with the Frenchman’s face.

  She’d lost her cutlass, and so she pulled a dagger from her boot and the pistol from her pocket. Her left hand brought the pistol butt down on the enemy’s skull as her right hand stuck him forcefully with the blade. Only once did she find herself in trouble, her dagger still stuck in one man as another approached with an axe. Foley appeared and struck the man on the forehead with his cutlass. Emer grabbed the pirate’s axe and continued to fight, killing close to ten men by herself, until the brig finally surrendered. Foley ordered his crew back to the ship. Emer walked slowly, feeling a bit dizzy, over the dead. One man had a fine patch box on his belt and she squatted to retrieve it.

  When she got back to their ship, the crew had already begun to toss the dead overboard and wash down the deck. The pirate brig bobbed dangerously close, and Emer wondered who would sail it. They had lost too many crew. There were barely enough sailors to take the fluyte to Martinique now, let alone sail the new ship behind it.

  Foley had disappeared into his quarters, returning with a victory cask of quality rum and three unbloodied sailors. He ordered the men to disengage the fluyte from the brig and drop anchor. After passing a rum-filled ladle through the crew a few times, Foley asked the three men to stand on deck. He fetched a whip.

  “These men are cowards,” he said. “More than that, they hid while a woman fought for them!” The men looked surprised, and Emer tried to hide her face and blend in.

  “What am I doing wasting food on your useless bellies?” he asked them.

  Some of the crew looked around leeringly. Emer looked at her boots.

  “You, woman!” Foley called, “Come here and tell us where you learned to fight so bravely!”

  Emer continued to look at her boots. “Woman!” he ordered one last time, and Emer moved slowly through the remaining crew and took her place beside the captain. He handed her the cask of rum and she drank from it. Feeling sick from a mix of approaching drunkenness, embarrassment, fear, and exhaustion, Emer could do nothing but lean wearily on the nearest crate.

  “I’ll have her first!” a sailor called out. “I’ll have her next!” another answered.

  Foley banged his fist against the crate and began to scream at his crew. “Shut up, you idiots! She just saved our lives, she did! Have some bloody respect!”

  “She didn’t save my life, sir,” someone answered.

  “Right. Who said that? You. You in the back there. Come forward.” A large man walked forward, still smiling. “Woman, kill him.”

  Emer still stared at the deck.

  “Woman, do as I say.”

  “Captain, sir. With all due respect, we haven’t enough men to sail these two ships to Martinique. I cannot kill crew that we still need.”

  The Captain nodded his head, seeming to agree. Then he pulled a loaded pistol from his waist and shot the man where he stood. The crew fell silent and the three cowards went stiff.

  He said to Emer, “You have good sense, but no honor.” He turned to the cowards. “You three! Go clean that brig! I want it tip-top, sails and all, by tomorrow morning or you will all join him—” he motioned with his nose “—in Davy Jones’s locker. Men! Lower the rowboats. You, you, and you—go with them and make sure they obey my orders. You!” he barked at the first man who’d suggested having Emer. “Get up that mast. You’ve got watch tonight while the rest of us drink!”

  That night, Captain Foley had to make a tough decision. He knew his ship was no place for Emer. Neither his loyal crew nor his new recruits would be able to resist her during the long journey from Martinique to the Spanish Main—the Spanish-owned coast of the new world of Central and South America. He half thought of leaving her at port, but knew what became of women stranded on small Caribbean islands. They were sold as slaves, worked as whores, or captured by pirates not unlike the shipful she had just helped destroy. There was only one option—to give her the brig and some loyal crew and let her make her own way.

  For the next year, Emer sailed around in the Emerald looking for answers. Looking for an escape, or a home, or herself. Once, in Jamestown, she overheard two Irish men speaking of their home in a rocky place called Connacht.

  “Well, at least it hasn’t sunk into the sea,” Emer thought, even though she half wished it had. What good was a homeland like Cromwell’s Ireland? What point was there in even thinking about it?

  Her first mate, David, a young Welshman who knew the Caribbean’s waters better than most, had been Foley’s best officer and friend. It was David who Emer sent ashore to recruit men, and it was he who procured supplies and ammunition. He steered the Emerald into ports and familiarized Emer with the arts of navigation and map reading, secretly, by lamplight. As far as any of her crew knew, David was their captain—which was a fair assumption, because they never saw their mysterious leader. She often stayed below deck for days at a time, and only came out in the middle of the night, while they slept.

  The crew are itching for a fight.”

  The sea had been quiet for nearly two weeks, and the Emerald was stuck in the molasses of light air. Not a passing seagull, no porpoise or sharks, just calm, still water and no breeze for fourteen days. Her crew was starving and Emer knew she had to do something about it, but she still hadn’t figured out what. She prayed for the wind. She prayed for answers.

  “I say, the crew are itching for a fight, sir.” David said, sipping brandy from a small flask.

  Emer continued patching two holes in her trousers and didn’t answer.

  “They grow bored with the little money they make shipping. Some speak of finding another captain, one who will fight against the Spanish.”

  “Do they threaten mutiny?” she asked, still concentrating on her sewing.

  “The last two ships we met could have paid us all for our troubles.”

  “I’m no pirate, David. You know that.”

  “It sure is a waste.”

  “A waste?”

  “A waste of talent.” David answered, swigging the last of his brandy.

  Emer looked up from her needle. “This is talent. How I make perfect stitches and hide them in the hem! How you were able to teach me so many useful things! Good English! Good navigation! That is talent!”

  “But aren’t you bored?”

  Emer dismissed him to his quarters. She finished stitching her trousers and placed the needle and thread in a small sewing box and went to bed, thinking about what David had asked her.

  Frankly, she was bored. She’d accomplished very little in the year she’d sailed the Emerald, and she could do worse than become a pirate of the Caribbean in 1661. Surely she could take on any ship and win. What did she have to lose? Seanie was already gone. Her family was already dead.

  She called David back into her quarters.

  He arrived, half dressed and quite drunk. “Yes, s
ir.”

  “You say the crew is bored?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “And not just because of the wind?”

  “No, sir.”

  “So, what are they complaining about?”

  “Well,” David stuttered, “well, there are three sailors we recruited in Port Royal. They tell the others tales about Spanish treasure.”

  “Spanish treasure? What about it?”

  “Well, they fancy getting their own ship one day and pirating the waters west of Havana, sir. They say working the Emerald will do nothing for their savings, not without taking more passing ships.”

  “Savings? Sailors with savings? I’d like to meet these sailors, David. Bring them to me tomorrow.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Savings. That’s very amusing, don’t you think?”

  “Yes, sir. Amusing.”

  Emer opened her sewing box again. She sat up in her bunk and reached for something on the shelf above her. She unfolded the old woolen cape on her lap and inspected its ragged seams and hems. “No point in making something pretty if it’s not perfect,” she thought, and began fixing a raw edge with her needle.

  But something inside her burned when she thought about Spanish treasure. She’d had enough of being poor and desperate. She was sick of re-hemming the same old cape. Maybe it’s time I faced the facts, she said to herself. Maybe it’s time I get what I deserve.

  From the moment I stepped off the plane in Montego Bay, my life became a sort of dream world. It was as if I split in two—my body down at the baggage collection area while my eyes watched from the door. My hand paying the taxi driver while my ears listened to the locals speaking patois.

 
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