The Captain

by Ron Currie, Jr. June 15, 2006
story art

The Captain, dressed in starched khaki shirt and pants, descends the stairs for his breakfast at 7:31 AM.

Maria, his housekeeper, sets a plate of scrambled eggs and extra-crispy bacon at the head of the table. She pours his coffee. She says, Good morning, Capitan. He nods, wishes her good morning. She wants to call him Admiral—that was, after all, the rank he was given upon his retirement—but she knows this would anger him. The Captain considers himself a Captain still.

The Captain is, as he sits eating his eggs, the only man in the United States Navy to ever have been court-martialed for losing his ship during wartime. His back is straight, shoulders squared. He is seventy years old.

Maria busies herself in the kitchen. She scours the frying pan and worries. She wants to return to the dining room, to ask the Captain if there is anything else he needs. She remains at the sink.

The Captain finishes his breakfast, takes his coat from the rack in the foyer, and goes outside to meet his handyman, John. The two of them set about preparing the shrubs for winter. They use twine and burlap and blue plastic tarps.

The Captain’s home is two hundred miles from the nearest ocean.

Years ago, before it was sunk, the Captain’s ship delivered the bomb that destroyed the city of Hiroshima.

The Captain still receives letters from the families of the men who died when his ship was lost. Once Maria found him sitting on the edge of his bed with one such letter clutched in his hands. She’d begun to apologize for intruding, but the expression on the Captain’s face had silenced her.

Later, Maria found the letter in the bathroom trashcan. Merry Christmas! it began. And what a merry one it would be if you hadn’t murdered our son! When Maria read this, she crumpled the letter into a ball, brought it downstairs, and threw it in the woodstove.

The Captain comes in from tending the shrubs. He mounts the stairs and closes his bedroom door.

Maria’s hands tremble. She is near tears. Something is wrong, but she doesn’t know what to do. So she begins preparing the Captain’s lunch, though it is still early.

Upstairs, the Captain removes his officer’s sidearm, a silver-plated .45, from its holster.

In the kitchen, Maria weeps while slicing a tomato. Her vision swims. Blinded, she brings the blade down across her thumb, cutting to the bone. She screams.

In Kyoto, Japan, the man who sank the Captain’s ship goes to his bed. Like his father, who perished in the Hiroshima blast, this man is now a Shinto priest. He is older than even the Captain. His joints ache, and his dinner sits stubborn and heavy in his stomach, but as he lies down he greets sleep the way he has every night since the war ended, with a prayer for both the dead and the living.

About the Author:

Ron Currie, Jr. lives in Waterville, Maine. His work has appeared/is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Ninth Letter, Glimmer Train, Other Voices, The Sun, and elsewhere. God is Dead, his debut book, will be published by Viking in 2007.