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The dust of 100 dogs, p.9
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       The Dust of 100 Dogs, p.9

           A. S. King
 
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  “Here, into this squalor? Why would you wish such a thing for a girl you love?”

  “Because this is her home. Because we’re the only family she has left!”

  He made his way back to the well, then walked to their hillside cave, curled up in himself, and sobbed. For all his confident talking and promising, he felt paralyzed and helpless and doubted he would ever see Emer again. During the night, he gathered as many things as he could and started his journey east, toward the sea. Toward Paris.

  A month passed before Martin returned on the cart. He arrived at midday and the first news he heard was the news of Seanie’s disappearance. Mary told him as he ruminated over a mug of fresh brew.

  “There’s no way he’ll find her now. She’s chained to that boat until it reaches France, and she’ll be met at the dock by her husband. He’s just a stupid boy. He hasn’t a clue about the real world.”

  “He went the same day you did. He could have followed you.”

  “The girl has no way of escaping. I’m sure of it.”

  Mary heard him say this and nearly choked. What sort of man was this? How many times would she listen as he went on like some sort of hero?

  “It’s a shame,” she said.

  “A shame we couldn’t do it sooner!”

  “Martin, stop acting as if she was any trouble. She wasn’t.”

  “Shut up, woman.”

  “There were plenty of men here who were smitten with her. You could have at least not sold her off like a slave to a foreigner. The poor thing.”

  “Mary, did you hear me? I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

  She paced, her arms crossed, then turned to him. “You don’t like talking about anything that has a bit of truth in it, do you? For years, I let you treat us all like nothing. Like nothing! But now? I won’t have you telling me my business! You could never handle the truth, and it’s caused you to do a great many stupid things in your time!”

  “Woman, I’m warning you.”

  “Oh, do! And then what?” she crossed her arms again and cocked her head. “Will you tie me up like a common animal and send me off to Europe, too? Will you give me to your English friends to slave in the islands? What is it I should fear from you but a mouthful of hateful rubbish?”

  He looked over at her and smiled an evil flash of teeth. “How about we go to bed?” he asked.

  “What?”

  “Oh, come on, Mary. I’ve been away a whole month and managed to keep my hands off the girl. The least you can do for me is that.”

  “Get out!” she screamed.

  “This is my house.”

  She stood up and grabbed a broom. “Get out or I’ll brush you out myself!”

  “Shut up, woman, and let me alone. I should have known that leaving for a time would give you such satisfaction.”

  “I only wish you’d never come back!”

  Mary walked out of the house and dragged her youngest daughter with her. She hoped that Martin would get up and look for solace in the tavern with his pals, but he didn’t. He just went to bed and fell asleep, leaving Mary with little option for the afternoon.

  Seanie walked to the east coast of Ireland. In less than a month, he’d met with so many different authorities in uniforms that he was no longer afraid of what they might do to him. Once he reached the walled town of Drogheda, he made his way to the docks and started asking about passage to France.

  It was nearly impossible for Seanie to find an Irish-speaking man on the dock willing to talk, but once he did, he clung to his arm and asked several questions in quick succession. The man answered back the best he could. He didn’t know what boats were sailing where, only that he would be on one of them, working. When Seanie asked him who to talk to about a voyage to France, the man pointed to an Englishman who sat at the side of the quay, sipping tea from a china cup.

  “I’m sorry,” Seanie said, trying not to meet the Englishman’s eye. “My English is poor. I have passage to Paris? My family awaits me.”

  “Paris, eh? What do they do?”

  “They are farmers.”

  The man laughed. “There are no farms in Paris, I assure you!”

  “Please sir. I would do anything to have Paris.”

  The man looked Seanie up and down. “Have you money boy? Airgead?”

  Sean shook his head. “Work?”

  “And you’ve worked on a ship before, then, have you?”

  Sean shook his head again.

  “I will see what I can do for you. Come back tomorrow.” He waved Seanie away with his supple white hand.

  Seanie walked that day with a hop in his step, thinking of Emer. He slept that night under a dock, nestled into sand, and dreamed until daybreak of kissing each one of her freckles.

  Back on the dock, he found his Englishman again and approached him.

  “You still want passage to Paris?” the man asked.

  Seanie nodded.

  “Well you’re in luck, boy. That boat there—” he pointed to a huge, three-sailed boat “—is leaving today. Can you cook?”

  Sean didn’t understand, so he shrugged.

  “You Irish boys prove useless in most things. I say, how did you survive at all?”

  Seanie didn’t answer.

  “That one there, the Fortune. Can you read, boy? I guess not. It’s that one there,” he finished, pointing again.

  “Thank you, sir. I can’t thank you enough.”

  “Go on, before I change my mind.”

  Seanie walked to the gangway and climbed into the enormous ship. It rocked ever so slightly, throwing him off balance at first. He started slowly across the deck, eyeing each sail and its boom, avoiding the hundred ropes strung across it. When he looked up to the crow’s nest he felt a bout of dizziness, so looked back at the deck.

  “Who the hell are you?” a voice asked in Gaelic.

  “Sean. Sean Carroll. I’m here to work on this voyage.”

  “Who says?”

  “That man there,” Seanie explained, pointing. “He said I could come aboard.”

  “Aye. Well, get to work, then son. They’ll need you down in the store. We’ve got sixty more barrels to move down there, and then that whole pile of crates after that.”

  Sean found his way to the steps and descended into the earthy-smelling underbelly of the ship. There, he helped secure at least a hundred barrels and stacked more crates of food and provisions than he could count. It didn’t occur to him that this was far too much food for a simple voyage to France. In fact, in his mix of fear and excitement, he didn’t think about that or any other sensible thing until they were well on their way.

  It was on his second night at sea when he discovered that the Fortune wasn’t aimed for France, or even toward the continent. The Gaelic-speaking man he’d met on his first day said something strange.

  “You’ll like seeing the sun, boy, after three months on this bloody ship. It’s the sunshine that brings us all back, isn’t it, lads?”

  The Irish men grunted in assent.

  “The sun? What do you mean?”

  “The sun shines so hard down there that you’ll barely be able to keep a shirt on your back! But don’t you take it off, son, or you’ll go the brightest shade of red a man has ever been! Ask O’Malley over there.”

  O’Malley answered with a laugh.

  “I didn’t know the sun shone so much more in Paris. I had always guessed it was the same as—”

  “Paris?” the man asked. The rest of the crew let loose hearty peals of laughter.

  “Isn’t that where this boat is going?” Seanie asked, feeling his heart pound, half knowing the answer.

  “No, boy. You have it all wrong. Is that what that English bastard told you?”

  He nodde
d.

  “Well, you can kiss your dreams of Paris goodbye, son. You’re being sent to Barbados like the rest of us poor sods.”

  “Barbados? Where’s that?”

  “Down in the hottest part of the world, boy. Like hell on earth, I tell ya.”

  “We have to stop this boat! I must get to Paris! You don’t understand!”

  With that, the crew fell about laughing at him again. Some even mocked his words, repeating them in girlish tones, howling and grabbing their bellies.

  “There’s no stopping the boat, and there’s no chance you can swim to Paris, so don’t think about trying,” the man said. “Besides, what’s so important about Paris anyway?”

  “Nothing. I’m just—just—surprised.” No matter how hard Seanie tried, he couldn’t hold back the mighty sob inside his chest. He released it with an angry groan and buried his greasy head in his arm.

  When the rest of the men fell asleep that night, Seanie was still awake, thinking of Emer. Had he just stupidly sealed their fate by believing the word of a lazy Englishman? He had wanted more than anything to save her from what she faced. He’d wanted to arrive in Paris and whisk her away before anyone saw them disappear. He’d spent a month on foot getting from Connacht to Drogheda, each night settling into sleep with one thing on his mind. Now it wouldn’t be. Now he was stuck on a ship bound for hell on earth, and he couldn’t save her from anything.

  When her boat arrived in Paris, Emer was brought out on deck. Still bound at the wrists, she winced every time she moved; she’d suffered rope burn for too long. But it was a relief to see the sun again. She’d been locked in a special room for over a week at that point, eating only once a day from a tray brought by the ship’s cook. When she appeared on the gangway, two well-dressed men came to greet her. One was older and overly fat, the other was petite and quite young. She wished she could use her hands. She needed a wash and a new plait. She was sure she looked dreadful after a week in the moist, dark room.

  “Emer Morrisey?” the older man asked politely, in Gaelic, his big mouth smiling so that his fat lips divided into two.

  She nodded.

  “You’re more beautiful than your father promised! Let’s get you out of that rope, yes?”

  He looked back at his servant and snapped his fingers. The man produced a small, sharp knife and the older man used it to carefully cut the rope from Emer’s wrists. She moved her hands in circles and stretched out her fingers, but felt more pain from the burns than she had felt when the rope was on.

  “Do you recognize me?” he asked.

  She shook her head no.

  “Did your father not tell you what I looked like?”

  Emer stood, confused. Surely this fat old man wasn’t her fiancé. In all the bad images her mind had conjured up during the voyage, she had never thought of this.

  “I’m the man that will soon be your husband, girl!”

  She couldn’t help but stare at him, dumbfounded.

  “Oh, come on now, dear. You can smile with that pretty face, can’t you?”

  She made sure not to smile, and carefully looked around for an escape route.

  “William, put her in the carriage. I have business to attend to.” He turned to Emer. “Try and be a little happy, won’t you? Tonight will be a very special night for you, love.” He grazed her face with his plump hand. “A very special night for you indeed!” He slapped her on the bottom and chuckled to himself.

  She squirmed at the thought of it and followed the servant dutifully to the awaiting carriage. There, she was ushered to an ornate inner seat between two windows. On the right, she could see only the dock and several ships. She searched the ship for her presumed fiancé and found him talking to the captain very seriously. Probably making sure the men on board didn’t steal his precious virgin, she thought. She wanted to vomit. When she looked to the left, she saw a more promising escape. Before her, a city larger than she had ever seen before sprawled from horizon to horizon.

  The servant, William, sat patiently and watched her. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked.

  “Very big,” she answered.

  “I suppose, from what you’re used to.”

  She nodded.

  “If you don’t mind me asking,” he started, “why do you look so disappointed? I know what Connacht is like myself, and wouldn’t fancy going back.”

  “I’m just tired,” she answered, still watching the city. There was a crowd of people only a hundred yards away. Perhaps they were waiting for other passengers by the dock, or were there to board a ship. (Her mother spoke—That way, Emer. That way.)

  “You’ll be in a fine soft bed within the hour. You can rest then. We have an exceptional bath—I’m sure you’ll feel right at home.”

  “I could use a bath.”

  “Did you find the voyage exciting?”

  “I was bound and locked in a room with one meal a day, looking forward only to being the slave of a stranger. I’m sorry to sound so rude, but does that sound exciting to you?”

  “I see. I see. Well, you’ll need not worry about that sort of treatment here. Master is civilized, at least, and a jolly good man. I can promise you that. Ah!” he said, pointing. “Here he comes now.”

  She turned her head to the right and saw him approaching, two sailors behind him carrying the large case she brought as luggage. Dear God, he is horrible, she thought. So fat that he might crush me, and so old! What sort of a joke is this? She looked back at the crowd of people, and Paris. As William stepped down, to ready the carriage for his employer and open the door on the right, Emer pressed the door handle on the left and made her escape.

  She ran, as fast as she could, toward the throng of people, not looking back for fear it would slow her down. A short chase ensued—she could hear the fat man yelling, and swearing in English at his servant.

  “Run faster, you idiot! You’ll lose her! That’s my fucking property!”

  Soon she heard nothing but the sounds of the crowd, the foreign giggles of women and children as they waited at the dock. She blended in, the same way she had in the church the day that Cromwell came, and then she hid herself in a pile of planks.

  An hour later, she stepped out of the crowd—facing Paris as a free woman.

  A year later, she had still found no happiness in France. That afternoon, though, she had finally done something about her situation. For weeks there had been signs posted, proving that what the Gaelic-speaking nun had said was true—each sign claimed that women like Emer would find happiness and husbands in a Caribbean republic called Tortuga. She had heard rumors from other women that it was a trick, promising only years of slavery in the hot sun. But after living for so long in the dark grotto in Paris, Emer figured she could do no worse.

  The next morning she made the visit to town, brisk and careful, still afraid that the fat man and his servant might be looking for her. Emer signed a slip of paper and sighed. The man behind the desk smiled at her dumbly and thanked her in French.

  She decided to block out anything her mother had to say until the voyage was preparing at dockside. No need to listen to Mairead now, she figured; no possible way to believe in an ideal world where the legendary Emer could actually do something about her desperate situation. When the day came to board the huge ship, she washed in the river and dressed in the only garments she owned. She braided her long, fair hair and let it hang down her back instead of hiding it beneath her cap. Leaving her blade under a bundle of unwanted rags, she said goodbye to her dismal life in Paris. She hid her crucifix in her pocket and walked slowly to the dock, thinking of Seanie. This voyage would surely sever any thread of hope that remained for them.

  Her mother’s voice finally broke through when she reached the queue for the deck. Emer, trust yourself.

  Emer nodded.

  She ar
rived on deck and found the small quarters she would share with thirty other women. Most looked like prostitutes and barmaids. Emer reminded herself that the men in Tortuga—pirates and murderers though they may be—needed women like any other man does. They needed love and hot meals, a home and a wife, the same as any man.

  Emer didn’t yet know what would really happen. She didn’t yet know that these men had no idea she and her thirty young companions were even on their way—and that they weren’t as welcome as the signs and posters had claimed. She didn’t yet know that when she arrived, there would be no one man who would pick her out and love her, but the lust of one hundred men, prowling the night, with no notion of loving at all.

  The Adams family home went up for sale in late March of my senior year. It was a hard day. How many times had we heard our mother rejoice, “If anything ever goes wrong, at least we have this house”? I swear, whenever she said anything like that, I felt jinxed, and when the for sale sign went up, I felt as if it was somehow her fault.

  The house had come to them free of charge from my father’s uncle, back when they’d moved to Hollow Ford from London just after my father came home from Vietnam. Stuck between two shag-carpet bi-levels with out-of-ground pools and the yellow glow of colonial-style bug lamps on new aluminum siding, our little sixty-year-old house looked dignified but run-down. It could barely compete.

  But any money was better than no money, and my parents needed any money. In the time it took to find another place to live, some lucky family from Ohio agreed to pay my father $85,000 for our house. Over the next few weeks, I helped move the furniture we had left out into the yard, along with the rest of our redundant material clutter for a garage sale that earned us about two hundred bucks. It was hard to watch those things get sold, especially all by myself. Patricia would never have let her roller skates go, and Pat would have hated to watch his air rifle end up in the back of an old Ford station wagon.

  We moved into a medium-sized trailer, with two tiny bedrooms and a kerosene heater in the living room. I don’t know how much it cost or where the rest of the money had gone, but I think that, by that point, my parents had run up plenty of debt and probably used any extra profit from the house to pay things off.

 
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