Monday, January 23, 2006

Pirates on Parade

Menacing the Boat

“What ho!” the child says, standing in the doorway of my office. She is wearing a black felt three-cornered pirate hat and brandishing a small rubber knife. I am reading my email.

“What ho,” I respond, with a little less enthusiasm, because it is morning, at least in my universe. I’m not sure what’s going on in hers. Besides the hat, she is dressed in a black turtleneck, my gray vest, and a pair of brown tights tucked into her black hightop sneakers.

“Have ye orange juice? I’ll not be getting scurvy,” the pirate child demands. She squints one eye and glares at me in an altogether non-threatening way.

“Is there none in the ice chest?”

“Aye, but it’s above me head.”

I abandon my email and shut down the computer. It will be easier to concentrate once she’s left for school. We go down to the kitchen and I pour her a glass of OJ while she gets a NutriGrain bar from the cupboard.

I let her finish half of it before I ask, “So who goes here this fine morning?”

“They call me Cap’n Pete,” she says. “The fiercest pirate on the seven seas. There’s a merchant ship in the harbor, laden with treasure, and I mean to take her.” Cap’n Pete polishes off the last of the cereal bar, crumples the wrapper, and lobs it toward the trash can. It falls a few inches short and skitters to rest next to the stove.

“Is that merchant ship sailing anywhere near school?” I ask, pointing to the wrapper, which she retrieves and tosses into the can. “It’s almost 8:30, so it had better be sailing soon.”

“School? Schools are for fishes, madam.” She cocks an eye at me to see if I get the pun. I give her a weak smile.

“I’m meeting up with the dreaded Lonny the Red, and we plan to loot and plunder.”

This is good. If she’s meeting Lonny, who’s in her class, then she’s headed in the direction of school.

“Will Lonny be dressed for battle as well?”

“Aye, that she will. For today we shall. . .” she falters, and I can tell she’s groping for appropriate pirate words to express something pirates never do.

After a few seconds she removes her hat and her dagger and puts them on the kitchen counter. “It’s a rehearsal for the school assembly thing,” she says, in her normal voice and cadence. “The fourth grade is doing Explorers, and Lonny and I said we’d be pirates. Pirates made going anywhere by boat pretty dangerous, you know.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“We get to attack an English vessel. We can’t attack the guys who discovered rivers and stuff, ‘cause pirates are just on the ocean. And we don’t get to kill anybody or sink their ships, on account of the guys in the play came home okay. Otherwise we wouldn’t have to study them.”

“Good point.”

“But we do get to menace Sir Francis Drake. They named a street after him in Marin.”

“I thought all the pirates were on the East Coast?”

That stumps her, momentarily. “I think most of them were. But Sir Francis Drake came from England so maybe we menace him before he finds out about the pointy end of South America and comes here and discovers Nova Albion. That’s what he called Marin, you know.”

I did know that, I think. It’s on a plaque out at one of the beaches. But since I couldn’t have come up with the actual name to save my life, I say, “No, I didn’t know that.”

The child beams, the way she always does when she knows something I don’t, knows a fact that a grown-up doesn’t. It’s a sweet feeling, as I remember, but one that you have to abandon around high school, when telling other people that you know more than them becomes a social liability.

“It’s time to get going, kiddo,” I say, looking at the clock.

“Aye.” She puts her pirate hat back on and tucks her dagger into the waistband of her pants, then sighs and puts it back on the counter.

“You’re going unarmed?”

She makes a face. “We have to. We have to use these dorky construction paper swords that look totally lame because we’re not allowed to bring anything onto school property that looks like it might be a weapon. There are kids that have real guns and stuff, or their brothers and their dads do. So nobody can bring one to school without getting suspended. Kids at other schools got shot, for real shot, you know, on the news.”

I do know, and it scared me then and it scares me now. And I know that if I were a nine-year-old pirate, I’d be pissed at having to leave my good rubber dagger at home and have to use some cardboard imitation. But I’m not nine. I’m a grown-up, and I’m glad the school is paying attention.

I’m relieved that she can’t take her rubber dagger to school. The next one might not be rubber, might not be in the hands of a pixie pirate, but an angry kid who wants to stick someone for real.

I salute her with two fingers to my forehead. “I’ll see that your weapon is stowed below decks until you return, Cap’n.”

“Aye, matey, you do that now.” She salutes me back and with a wink and a swaggering walk, heads off to meet Lonny the Red.

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