On board His Majesty’s Sloop Winslow
May 3, 1804:
First patient—a ruddy-faced seaman of nineteen. Strong in spirit; most powerful. Complaint: stomach distress. A fever that stubbornly refuses to subside. “How are you handling the disquietness of the first few days shipboard?” I ask. “Most honorably,” he responds. “That makes me glad,” I counter. “Please, good surgeon, may I request an elixir to relieve me of my discomfort?” This uttered by the lad, through clenched teeth. At this, I can only smile. Naïve youth!
Wordlessly, and with pipe in hand, I motion to the framed “Ph.D. in Psychology” certificate on the wall. “You are no fine surgeon?” he asks, somewhat plaintively. I aid him to his feet with: “Worry not, good boy. We have months to sort this through.” The young man eventually retreats into the quarterdeck, a little worse for the wear, true. But—one can only assume—commencing to be more sound of mind?
May 6, 1804:
Attacked by a Napoleonic frigate! 35 wounded; 9 unlucky men banished from this good earth. The screams, you can only imagine! The rivers of blood, only in your most frightful nightmares envision! So many injured, so much unhappiness! “You must help us, good Doctor!” they cry, almost in unison. “Help starts here!” I shout in response. I point to my head and my heart. They may have turned away in disappointment and pain, but as with the sea itself, much work is done below the surface.
“My arm! ‘Tis severed!” This from our valiant Captain Jenkins, pinned ‘neath the formidable weight of a fallen topgallant . Said I: “May we converse a bit upon this dilemma?” And he: “My arm . . . she is no more!” And I: “Would you care to express your distress through a pencilled rendering of this predicament? Here—with your good hand . . .”
As I now recline in my hammock, sipping sunflower-blossom tea and observing, with both wonder & joy, the stars that guide us toward our eventual destination, I cannot help but ponder how I might have handled such a ticklish situation differently: less severe love? More? New breathing exercises pilfered from my colleagues in the Orient? I then think back fondly on similar, hypothetical cases from graduate school, minus the severed arms and fallen topgallants. Life is indeed deliciously humorous when arriving full course!
P.S.—The Captain perished.
More progress (& humour!) today. Assist’d the men in loading guano onto the vessel. Men complain of numbness in hands from this hard labour. When I counter with a deeper and more complex rationale (repressed rage over Mothers’ spankings), they laugh as if the mighty ocean Herself just passed gas. What foolishness we enjoy together! Good opening for future academic article? Thesis to come.
We are down to 18 tired & disenchanted souls & I thus find myself as lone commander. Trust Games ’neath the mizzen staysail at high noon. . . .
Down to 16 men. Officers Wilson and Barrett did not take very kindly to “Falling Backwards & Being Caught By Another.” (Must pay special attention to Boundary Issues at upcoming Talk Circle assembly.)
Pirates! The devil sweeps over us all! Buccaneers have overtaken our vessel! And most quickly! We are most likely be put to death at dawn’s earliest light! Or perhaps by early afternoon. Maybe by nightfall. Why am I forever doubting myself? Go with the first instinct . . . ‘tis almost always more salubrious!. My heart breaks for all; most ‘specially those who have grown emotionally, even if they have suffered grievous physical agonies, these past six months!
A breakthrough of sorts with Arthur, the one-eyed leader of these imperfect, noble rogues. So much has been learnt over the course of our 50 minute hour together . . . & yet (& as always) it comes down to all matters pertaining to the Sexual. In Arthur’s circumstance: impotence brought on by the shame of an empty orbital cavity. I proffer that this phenomenon has less to do with his absent eye and more to do with the elderly shoe cobbler Arthur spoke about earlier in Group—the creepy one from the village over. The chap with the wandering hands. Positive changes begin now! Off with that shameful eye-patch, Arthur!!!
Arthur returns to show he has removed the “shame spiral” eye patch. In its stead: a gaping wound that is most disgusting to look at. It sickens and nauseates me and I wish to gag. It is beyond nature & outside the realm of what we consider “human.” And yet (& almost impossibly) I consider this an invaluable first step. . . . Huzzah, Arthur!
Still gagging. Back goes the eye-patch & not quickly enough. A lesson of sorts: one must sometimes go with the second instinct . . . ‘tis often better-considered.
Glorious life & all she has to offer! A gusty storm raged for the entire Evening! All intrepid souls driven overboard into the Sea’s ferocious churn, my new friend Arthur sadly included. Now I stand alone but not lonely. First order of business: to complete academic paper to be entitled: “To Survive Without the Benefit of Adequate/Fresh Water.” (Thesis to come.)
Second order of business: To replace objectionable pirate flags with more inspirational offering: WARNING! LOVE IS THE ONLY FORCE CAPABLE OF TRANSFORMING AN ENEMY INTO A FRIEND! ALL ABOARD THE SMILE SHIP!!!!
Scott Rothman is a screenwriter living in New York City.
Mike Sacks is a writer on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. His first book, “And Here’s the Kicker,” was published in summer, 2009.