Authors: Michael Phillip Cash
Eli sat on the top of her dresser, watching the girl’s movements as she walked around the room. His eyes glittered in the dark.
“Wait for it. Wait for it,” he told himself. He planned on putting her in her place. It was time to take back his territory. He opened his mouth to roar.
Olivia’s little fingers grazed the walls as she circled slowly in his direction. He had filled himself up with air, ready to unleash a blast of icy wind, when her chubby but determined fingers settled on his calf, squeezing his skin until he howled like a little girl.
Olivia twisted again, causing Eli to rear up in pain, wondering how in the world she was able not only to find him but to touch him. Making a fist, she punched hard, this time slamming him in his groin, reminding him of a long-forgotten part of his body. He curled into a ball and rolled onto the floor.
“Olivia, you OK?” Her mom’s muffled call floated up the staircase.
“I’m fine, Mom,” she shouted, taking her petite foot and kicking him in the bread basket. “That’s for making a mess,” she hissed.
Eli groaned, holding himself, then croaked, “Who told you to hit a person there?”
“My poppi. Who are you?” Her amber eyes peered down at him intently, her little brow furrowed with anger. Eli might have laughed if it didn’t hurt so much. She was a miniature of the woman downstairs, but a termagant if he’d ever seen one.
“You’re going to make some guy’s life a living hell one day, princess.” He crawled to be nose to nose with her. “Aren’t you afraid of me?”
Olivia mutely shook her head. “Are you the captain? Do you know Stella’s mom?” Olivia peered closely at his face.
“Who’s Stella?” he asked, watching her just as closely. Maybe the couple in the shiny clothes could scare her, but he sure as hell wasn’t doing much. “How did you know I was a captain?”
“The painting in the living room. Do you live here too?” She kept up her rapid-fire questions. “Are you doing this because you like my mother?”
“Like your mother?” Eli asked incredulously.
“Are you trying to get her attention?” Olivia thought for a minute. “You know, you are not making good choices.”
“You’re asking for a time-out,” Olivia said as she climbed back into her frilly bed.
“Time-out?” Eli wondered what she was talking about but found himself following her.
“I’m tired. You have to do something else, because she was really mad about the mess.”
“Mess?” Eli asked, bending over the bed.
“Yes, the mess. As if you didn’t know,” she muttered. Olivia reached for the covers. “I can’t get them. Can you hand them to me?”
Eli stood open mouthed, his hands slack at his sides.
“The covers, please?” Olivia said.
Without knowing why, Eli found himself tucking her in, a memory tickling at the back recesses of his mind. He watched her eyes drift shut. They widened as the little girl fought sleep. “I forgot to ask What’s your name?”
He thought for a minute, reaching for the information. It had been so long, he wasn’t quite sure he could even say it. But he did. “Eli, Captain Eli Gaspar.” He bent low, close to her face.
“Captain Eli. That’s a funny name.” Olivia patted his cheek. “Did you catch the whale?”
This was crazy, the world was upside down. He had to think of something to get the upper hand. After all, who was in command of this ship? He was going to have
to pull out all the stops and show this halfling who was in charge. Using all his energy, he turned transparent, his skin sliding off, leaving him a skeleton, his eye sockets empty but for worms. It was no use. The imp of Satan was snoring softly.
Eli sat down on the carpet, humiliated. He had lost his touch. Too many years of comfortable existence with Pat. He was rusty, couldn’t scare a six-year-old. What was happening to him? He stared at her red-gold hair fanned out across the pillow. Taking a curl between his fingers, he caressed it. It was baby soft, like down.
The room clouded, and distant cries of seagulls filled the air. The ocean pounded against the shore, and the room faded into sepia-toned hues spangled with gold.
ake up, Princess Charlotte.” Eli Gaspar nuzzled the petal softness of his daughter’s cheek. “Wake up, my sweet girl.”
“Eli. Eli, is she up?” a musical voice called from downstairs. “Really, Eli, we’ll be late for church.”
They could hear the distant bells of Saint John’s in the distance, calling parishioners to the Sunday services.
Charlotte stretched widely and opened sleepy blue eyes.
“Papa!” She jumped up and threw herself at Eli, who caught her deftly.
He stood to his full height, his dark head grazing the low beams of the whitewashed ceiling. “Wisht, you little powder monkey.” He pulled off the sleeping cap that covered her bouncing curls. “You must have grown a foot,” he groaned, swaying as if she were too heavy to carry.
“I mithed you!” Charlotte revealed a gap-toothed smile that sent Eli into whoops of laughter.
“What happened to your teeth, kitten?”
“Marcus hit me in the fath and knocked out my tooth.”
“I’ll keelhaul the little bastard.” His face darkened.
“No, no, Papa. He didn’t do it on purposth. He did it ’cause he likth me,” she explained, as if he were an idiot.
“What do you mean?”
“Eli!” Sarah called from the bottom step. “Eli, I can’t make the steps today. Please don’t make me climb the steps.”
Eli and Charlotte exchanged guilty glances. He dropped her on the feather bed. “Come on, shark bait. We better get moving before your mother gets upset and has the baby early.”
Charlotte threw on her dress, and Eli deftly buttoned up the back. They clamored down the steps, Charlotte on his back, Eli leaping off the last step to his daughter’s delight.
“Eli, the noise, please,” Sarah implored, her hand at her temple.
He had just gotten home from a six-week trip. Both he and his father-in-law had met their investors in Connecticut. He had struggled so to get here, his first command. He had served as second mate for the past seven years. Because he was working hard, he had missed every milestone from his honeymoon to the birth of his daughter, Charlotte, over the past half-dozen years or so. It was a hard life, but he loved it and saw great potential in it.
They had scrimped and saved, and with his father-in-law’s help, his dream had just become a reality. His profit, along with the money Sarah’s father invested, made up for half of the cost of the twenty-thousand-dollar
, a neat little hundred-foot bark. Eli was excited—his first command. He swung his daughter around to land in a ruffled mess on the floor.
“Gertie, get Charlotte’s spencer ready. Go on,” said Sarah. “Get in the trap with Gertie, and I’ll meet you there.”
Charlotte ran after their cook to get her outer clothing and leave. Sarah turned to place her small hand on Eli’s chest. She pressed her big belly against his side. Eli wrapped his arms around his wife. The amber earbobs he’d purchased on his last trip winked in the sunlight pouring in through the spotless windows.
“Do you have to leave so soon?” she pleaded. “The baby is due in just a few weeks.”
He kissed her gently on her soft mouth. “This won’t be a long trip.”
She eyed him distrustfully. “You said that the last time, and it was four years.”
“Come on, Sarah. I’ve been hugging the coast for the last few years, taking in small loads. That trip was years ago.”
It was still a bone of contention between them, sorely testing their relationship. He had left soon after they married for a four-year trip, making them enough to start their life together and purchase this little cottage. In her defense, he shipped out not knowing she was pregnant. If not for her parents, who lived up the hill, she would have lost her mind.
After he returned and saw how she had suffered in his absence, he selected local jobs that took him away for shorter periods, but he didn’t make as much. He missed
the open sea and the opportunities of better fishing. Sarah hated the whaling. She despised the odor that clung to him, the danger he put himself into. With her mother dying earlier this year, Sarah became more unreasonable. She was weepy, difficult, but a man had to support his family.
“We need the money. I have to do this for your father, Sarah. He’s put up eight thousand dollars. I owe it to him.”
“What about me?” she demanded. “You just got back.” Sarah rested her head against his chest, and a tear slid down her face. Eli hated when she cried. It always started with delicate sniffles and grew into dramatic sobs. She was a wee bit spoiled. Her father spoiled her, Eli spoiled her. He couldn’t help it. Sarah was special. She wasn’t cut out to be a whaler’s wife. She had grown up with finer things. As the daughter of a prominent attorney, she was used to her comfort. She never missed a chance to let him know what she thought of his career choice. She wanted him to open a shop or work in one of the many mills.
Eli loved the sea and all that went with it. There was nothing more exciting than chasing whales all over the world. He had a chance here to change their lives. He made it up to his wife by stretching his budget and hiring both a cook and a tweeny—a little servant girl to clean the fireplaces, do the slops. It reduced the portion for his own needs. He wore old boots and a secondhand coat, but Sarah had what she needed. He looked down at her rosy complexion, framed by golden curls. She had dark blue eyes, rimmed with black lashes that could capture
his attention without a word being said. He kissed her upturned nose, the dewy skin making him wish his daughter would go to church with Gertie and give him a few precious hours with the love of his life. He knew she loved him just as fiercely, and she had thought she understood his life when they wed.
That was the lot of a whaler’s wife. It wasn’t easy, but it was the best opportunity for a poor boy from Long Island. His parents owned only enough land to help their older son, his brother Jacob. There was nothing left for Eli, not that it mattered. He had no head for farming, never had. He fished the harbor for years, selling oysters and clams to the Milleridge Inn. He got his first job at sixteen on a fishing boat. He made it to first mate by the time he married Sarah, shipping out on that long trip weeks after they married. It was one of the first to depart out of Cold Spring, but he made good money and was able to buy the small house for his little family without the help of her father.
When Charlotte was born while he was at sea, he decided to change ships, taking quick runs instead, learning the waters of the North Atlantic, where they picked up blackfish and small pilot whales. They were easy to catch, yielding profitable quantities of oil, and hunting them trained him for the bigger prey in deeper waters. He flexed the muscles of his forearm. It was hard work, filthy, but it had the potential to make him a good life. They saved and saved, enabling him to buy in as a partner on the bark with his father-in-law and a couple of big shots from Connecticut.
He was a merchant now and didn’t have to rely on his brawn. Soon he’d have a fleet of ships, he assured his wife. They would move to one of the bigger houses on the hill and have lots of servants. Couldn’t she see this time as an investment in their future? He and Sarah had both grown up in the town. She was educated at home, and he had attended West Side School, established in 1790. George Washington himself had set the rafters in that school. While he had gotten a fair education, a clerk job was not for him. His son would go to that school and maybe become a lawyer like his grandfather.