Sea Dogs: Stories

Sea Dogs: Stories

by Sidhant Jena




Maybe it comforts you that the high seas and the romantic past are the only places you'll run into us, as if we're no more than pages in a book. Think again. We're no dream. I, Morales, am king of the pirates. I am at your doorstep.

Languid summer days and nights develop unpredictably in Sea Dogs, John Bensko's imaginative debut collection. He takes us from the remote interior of Mexico to the streets of New York, and lingers in the harbors and beaches of the coastal South. In the least likely places, the absurd and mysterious mingle with the ordinary, and Bensko's emotionally adrift, quirkily obsessive characters find the connections they never knew they needed.

A mother discovers her distant, retiring young son's secret collection of eerily beautiful insect corpses. A blind man proves himself a preternaturally talented fisherman, humiliating a guide who doubts his skill. And in the title story, a security officer at the Statue of Liberty who spends his days rescuing panicky visitors halfway up the stairs considers himself a swashbuckling pirate.

With charm and subtle wit, Bensko's stories seamlessly shift from the real into the fantastic and reveal the magic and mystery that simmer just beneath the surface of our lives.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Sea Dogs is casual and deft, as if the stories were handed over by a brilliant friend who has nothing to prove but has seen it all.” —Barry Hannah

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555973995
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 05/01/2004
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.92(w) x 9.18(h) x 0.56(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sea Dogs

By John Bensko

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2004 John Bensko
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-55597-399-X

Chapter One

from "Painted Animals" She had told him they should never live in concrete block, but when she arrived on the bus from Ann Arbor and he took her to the house he'd rented, it was whit stucco over block, in a low place under big oaks with Spanish moss hanging form their knotted fairy-tale limbs. "Isn't it great?" he said, pulling into the sandy drive, veering around the puddles from an early afternoon rain. She'd heard from a friend who had lived in north Florida for years that the rains this time of winter would go on for days. Her friend recalled staring out the window, the sound of steady rain inside her ears a thrumming she couldn't shake. Janice looked at the dripping trees and at the line of green mold that had crept up the side of the house like the wave mark of an invisible ocean. In one of her stories, she would have put a sad girl in the house and would have had her climb one of the trees one day, finding an old woman who lived in a hole in the trunk. The woman would have told the girl a secret about the place. It would have changed everything. But as she got out of the car and her foot plunged into a sandy puddle she knew that, secret or no secret, the girl would have slipped on her way down the tree and broken her neck. "I can't believe you," she said to him. "I told you I didn't want concrete block." He was unloading her suitcases from the trunk of the car. "Will you get this, honey?" he said, motioning with his shoulder to the trunk lid while he came around the side, a suitcase in each hand. "Pete, did you hear me?" Her wet shoe sloshing, she went back and slammed down the lid. "I heard. There's nothing we can do now. It's only for four months. I tried the best I could. This is the way they build things down here." He put the suitcases on the cement landing in front of the door and fumbled for the key. He was boyish, hunched over, his hands in his pockets in front of the screen door. He was still the little boy in the woods she had written about in a story, the child who couldn't find his name. "There's a great lake near her," he said. "It's called Lake Ella and it has ducks and geese. You'll love it. We can walk there." He found the keys and opened the door, turning toward her as if he were waiting and wouldn't move until he was sure she was going into the house with him. She stayed by the car, her arms crossed in front of her, self-conscious about the pose but determined to keep it. "I'm not setting foot," he said, "until you tell me why." "Why what?"

"Why you did it when you knew I didn't want you to." "It's a dry house," he said. "It's perfectly dry. That was what you were worried about, wasn't it? I swear it's dry." Standing on one foot, she reached down and loosened her wet shoe, letting the water drain from the heel. "I had to take it," he said. "It was the only place I could find that would give a six-month lease." She shook her head. "I'll come in and look around," she said. "But I know it's going to depress me." Oddly, though, when she walked into the living room she was not at all depressed. At the back of the house, a picture window facing south filled the room with light. There seemed to be more sun inside the house than there had been in the yard, which didn't make sense when she thought about it, but which she accepted, even a little pleased that there was something magical about the place. "There's a terrific room for you to write in," he said, and he took her hand, leading her down the hall and past the bedroom, the bathroom, into a small room on the southwest corner of the house. It must have once been a child's, with a parade of painted animals around the wall. Turtles, and alligators, and leaping fish. The window shaped the sunlight into a rectangular spot on one big alligator who had his arms spread and his mouth open as if singing. The painting, like the others, struck her as a little crude. The alligator's snout was foreshortened badly, the lower jaw more like a beak. The teeth were the same size in the front as the back, so that they filled the alligator's throat. Still, crude as they were, the paintings gave her a pleasant feeling. She could picture her writing table under the window, and her couch, the ragged green one she liked to lie on when she was tired and needed to think, along the wall near the door. Two days later, when the truck with their furniture arrived, she'd decided she'd been wrong to give him such a hard time. They'd spent the nights on sleeping bags on the floor of the living room where the carpet was thicker. It was very romantic. He'd gone out and bought candles and put them on paper plates, even though the electricity had already been connected. The candlelight flickering on the white cement walls softened them, and though no rain fell those two nights she wished it had so she could have heard it dripping off the eaves. All the furniture had come in, remarkably, without loss, the driver and his assistant unloading quickly, the numbered cardboard cubes resting on the carpet like makers in a game. She enjoyed having so many spaces in the room empty except for these brown repositories of her memories of Michigan. She knew that as she opened them, their contents unfolding and spreading across the floors and up the walls, it would be the unfolding of her imagination, only more satisfying. The driver of the truck kept telling her how lucky she was to be living in Florida. He was a big black man with a toothpick in his mouth and a long black comb in his back pocket. "Love this weather down here," he said, resting for a moment on the handles of his hand truck as he paused in the doorway and gazed into the mottled yard of sun and shade. "Love these one-month winters." He told her he'd lived in Ocala with his sister one year and how in late January he'd been surprised when she started talking about getting ready for their Welcome to Spring party. "I thought she was off it and I told her," he said. "Getting' up for a party two months away." He laughed and rocked on the hand truck. "Come to find out, down here spring don't wait that long. She was talking about next week." He leaned the hand truck back on its wheels, pushing it back and forth and sideways as if he were dancing with it. When the movers left and she was alone in the house, she felt glad that she, and not Pete, had been there to direct them and organize everything. She was responsible now, not him. So far, everything in the move had been his, the new job, the plans, the trip down to find the house. Now, it was becoming hers. She went to the kitchen to fix some tea on the stove. Gas, she hadn't used a gas stove for years, not since she stayed with her grandmother in the summers when she was a girl. That faint, sweet smell as she turned the knob, before the pilot lighted the burner. She would go into the kitchen and the little dog her grandmother kept would follow her, its small black eyes looking up at her expectantly. Puffy, that was the dog's name. She ad tried to remember the name before. It had come back to her. Puffy, with her squeaky bark that sounded like a rubber heel scraping linoleum. Something made her look up from the stove. There was a face at the window. A woman's face. She was there for a moment, and then she was moving toward the back door. A tap on the glass. Janice turned down the flame under the kettle. When she opened the door, a woman in her late-fifties was on the stoop, leaning forward as if she were straining to see through the screen and past Janice into the recesses of the house. She peered up into Janice's eyes and smiled. The lips of her small, round mouth were heavy with red lipstick. She was wearing an old gray sweater that bagged out in the front and on the sides above the waist. "I'm Eveline," she said, her Southern accent thick, rising on the last syllable. "I came over to see if you needed any help. Being that the movers have gone and you're here alone." "I'm Janice." She opened the door. "I don't need any help, but you're welcome to come in. I was just making tea." Eveline, who in spite of the bulk of her sweater was actually very thin, glided past her and into the kitchen. "I used to practically live here with the last people," she said. "They were my best friends." She paused and then, absently, said, "The Rodgers." Walking to the edge of the living room, she looked at the furniture and boxes. "You'll be needing some help," she said. When the tea was ready, they sat at the table and drank it slowly, neither of them saying much. From her first impression, Janice had expected the woman to be a talker, but Eveline seemed more intent on gazing around the room, drinking her tea in little sips. After she finished, she said, "When it's empty like this I can almost see it the way it was, you know." She looked at Janice and her quick eyes wrinkled at the corners. "You mean when the Rodgers lived here?" Janice said. "Oh no. Of course, I can still remember that. I mean when I used to live here with Sam and the boys." She didn't stop, and her voice ran on, light and crisp, so that Janice thought of a brook, the ice melting, the air still so cold that the water ran in tiny shatterings of ice over the pebbles. "He worked at the Springs," she said. "Ran one of the boats. The water's like glass, you know. You can see all the way down." Then she paused. "You haven't been, have you?" she said. "I can tell by looking at you." Janice shook her head. She had heard of the Springs, but of course she hadn't been. There were so many things to do. It wasn't the kind of thing she liked anyway. Feeling like a tourist made the skin on her arms itch. "We'll go," Eveline said. "We'll go next week after I help you get moved in." Before Janice could say anything, before she could put down the foot that she sensed would need to be put down, Eveline had stood up and walked to the hallway, motioning with her arm for Janice to follow. "Now we'll have to have a talk about the boys' room," she said. The arm swooped more insistently. Janice rose from the table and followed.


Excerpted from Sea Dogs by John Bensko Copyright © 2004 by John Bensko . Excerpted by permission.
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