Doldrums (Story by Risa Peris)

England was lovely. Comfortable. Refined. The weather could be grim but spring was always gorgeous and fall was cozy. There was liquor. Food that was delicious. Well, if you had money and if it was influenced by the rest of Europe. There were women. Women in gorgeous gowns with fluttering eyelashes. There were also naughty women. Coarse and less appetizing. England had everything I needed and wanted. So…why was I on a ship in the middle of an ocean far from the England of my dreams? We were stuck. The blasted ship stuck. We were near the southern tip of South America and the doldrums held us steady. There was no wind to catch the sails. We were waiting for the trade winds. There was no respite from the heat. We were eating gruel and our rum rations were running low. My whiskey stash had been depleted two weeks ago. I now had to drink gin, which I despised. I didn’t want to drink the men’s rum. It seemed unfair to me. I was the Captain and I drank a great deal. From morning until night when I collapsed in my bunk soaked in sweat. I wanted to end it. I wanted to pierce my skull with a bullet. Sometimes, I think the men knew I was suicidal. I looked for wavering doubt about my leadership in their eyes. Surprisingly, the men held steady. They went about their duties. The men directly below my rank remained loyal to me. They never said a word about my drinking.

One morning I was roused from my stupor by the second in command, Drake Witcomb. “Captain, Captain.”

I woke from my dream of England and the many fine women I had met and danced with at parties brimming with whiskey.

“Bloody hell, what is it?”

“The trade winds, Sir. We’ve harnessed the wind. We’re moving. Not fast but we’re moving. We can reach South America in two days time at this rate and take on provisions.”

I sat up. That was indeed good news. I went on deck. The men were happy and going about their duties. Some were sipping their rum rations. I looked at Witcomb. He was clear-eyed and impeccably groomed.

“Why did you join the Navy and leave England, Witcomb?”

“For the glory of England and adventure.”

“Adventure…You would be a fine Captain, Witcomb.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Carry on.”

I went to my cabin and stared at the lousy gin bottle. I left England to be unhappy. I left England to die. My life was not worthy. I had no wife. I had proposed five times to the same woman and she rejected me each time. No. I was not worthy of life. I lifted my gun to my temple and ended it. I would be cast into a watery grave. Goodbye, England.


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