Saltskin by Louise Moulin Read Free Book Online

Book: Saltskin by Louise Moulin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Louise Moulin
Davy waiting respectfully
outside, Angelo lay down on Pierre and Magdalene's bed.
He lay in the centre with his arms outstretched, like Jesus
on the cross, and said a prayer for the only mother and
father he had known. And he acknowledged to himself
that he was alone.
    As they boarded the whaling vessel Davy said, 'Do you
believe in mermaids?'
    Angelo was silent for a second, then he said in a level
voice, 'Swear on your mother's life you won't tell a soul
about my mermaid.'
    'I'm an orphan, remember, and you are and all.' Davy
flung his arm around Angelo.
    'I swear not to tell anyone about your mermaid. Not a
soul.' Davy let his arm fall.

Jacob's River, New Zealand
    The bronze-clad brigantine, the Unicorn, was mighty. With her sails at full
    mast and the trade winds behind her, she plunged through the sea like a bucking
    animal. Captain Angus ruled a crew of the most lawless men ever conceived.
    A stew of misfits: villains, traitors, murderers, poachers and rustlers, highwaymen
    and failed pirates, wife- abandoners, orphans, runaway boys, escaped convicts,
    circus freaks, mercenaries, thieves, rogues, bootleggers, blackbirders and
    vagabonds. Each man was on the Unicorn for a different reason, and all had
    a sense of displacement and loss about them like exiles.
    Angelo endured the first week of the sea journey to
the new world of New Zealand by being sodden drunk
on a substance the colour of muddy water but made of
all things inferior. Under the influence of the crude drink
and the sickening sway of the ship as it crested and fell,
he was as useless as a baby on laudanum. He trembled
and quivered on deck with the harsh sea air, his jaw
clenched spasmodically, he sweated horridly, his eyes
rolled backwards, he vomited so often all that came out
was curdled spit.
    On those black nights when even the Eastern Star
was opaque, Angelo lolled on his back-curling hammock,
feeling he were in the bowels of a monster. Inches from
his nose, the ceiling of the cabin suffocated him. The
creaking ship, with its mysterious gurgles and frightening
oscillations, shunted him this way and that so that even
lying down his muscles were tense. His mind turned to the
hope, the conviction, that out in the wide sea he just might
find his mermaid.
    He saw her waiting. He clutched his breast pocket with
the drawing and the letter like a medal of St Christopher
and by journey's end they were losing their ink, yet indelible
in his memory. He saw her in his mind, swimming in the
sea blissfully, innocently naked, with him, her hair scarlet
and silken spread around them, swirling in the currents.
He'd have her smile for him, she'd hold his hand and
laugh a tinkling laugh and they'd frolic in the waters of his
delusion. Then he'd vice her in his embrace.
    Sometimes he'd drift off to sleep and when he next
looked she had vanished, and he could not break the
surface of the ocean for it was sealed over, an impenetrable
skin of glass. And he'd mewl in his seasickness, writhing
under the stiff grey blanket, host to the bodily emollients
of countless sailors before him: sweat, piss, tears, shit and
salty spunk. Through the boards of the ship the fishy tang
of the sea seeped in.
    Davy never once believed Angelo wouldn't make it,
even though other sailors had bet coins, tobacco and tools
that he would be chucked off before the Unicorn reached
Jacob's River. One of the crew, Jake, whose blackened gums
hosted only two (rotten) teeth, tormented the delirious
Angelo. Whispered, 'Die, die, die,' in his ear.
    Jake was a blackballed pirate who hated for hate's sake.
A small man with a mean streak in a fatless body tightly
coiled with muscles like a circus contortionist. His body
was bald of hair, as if he had come from a pod, and his
fingernails were stubs he'd gnawed down to the quick, the
surrounding skin raw and jagged. He had tattoos on his
arms of snakes writhing in skulls and naked maidens trussed
and gagged. He liked to wipe the sweat under his

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