The RED PILL. 1-2. ( Chapters of a new novel.)
THE RED PILL.
I have been the captain on many a ship and ferry, and I have enjoyed it nearly always. But it was not so when my shipping company had me take on “Sunland” on a cargo trip to Java. The ship was all painted black, the hull as well as all the buildings on deck, and the masts. She was not particularly significant, about 11000 deadweight tons, as far as I remember.
On this trip, I brought my new wife, Gwendoline, with me, because she wanted to experience the Indian Ocean. Gwen and I had married in June, at a chapel in Harlem. She said she would be so kind to me if I took her with me, and she would not present any problem of any sort. It was in September, and “Sunland” had in the afternoon just haply gotten underway from Amsterdam, varying lots of wheat, a couple of cars and some horses, when I felt it was something strange with the ship. Or me.
For a change, this ship also carried a few passengers: three painters and one man, who claimed he was a banker. Initially, I had told them that they would have to reside by themselves since I was busy with taking command of a ship that was entirely new for me. The painters were Mr. and Mrs. Williamson and a tiny, slender boy from Texas named Paul Contour.
I was standing in the night on poop deck only hours after we departed from the Hafen, watching the many-colored clouds in the sky. The lights of the small cities ashore gliding by as we sailed southwards towards the English Channel, more precisely Strait of Dover. I had earlier introduced myself to my crew, which I found to be of the average kind, but sufficiently good and I had learned the names and faces of my three officers: Sully, Petersen, and Ruiz. The 1st officer, Midas Sully, was a strange character. Midas was a tall guy, fifteen years my senior; grey hair, whiskers, and light grey eyes. He spoke in a hollow voice. He said he had seen my credentials and said that he also had attended Colombia College. I, as a captain and the navigation officers – like Sully and Petersen - all have responsibilities on cargo ships like this one, monitoring the ship's systems and behaviour. A sailor most often physically steers the boat. Only when the vessel is docking or undocking, the captain will take physical control of the ship, placing his hands on the controls, you know….
Ruiz, a fellow from Paraguay, stood at the steering wheel, and I had put out a whole bunch of men on the lookout. These waters by the Belgian coast have heavy traffic by everything from fishing vessels to tankers. I wanted at least to come through the Channel before I went to bed that night.
Petersen and Sully stood aloft in the back talking, as well as puffing cigars. Longitudinal on the port side, two dolphins had been spotted. They soon disappeared, though.
I ransacked my memory. I thought I had met Sully on some occasions. But I did not know where or when. He was significantly older than me - I was just thirty-three at the time - so I don´t think we had been in the same classes in high school or at the same parties. I often let my thoughts go back to my year at Colombia College because it had only been one year, due to a catastrophe regarding my family. I was not at all sure if I had met him at all.
Then I felt for the first time how something in my brain, behind the right-hand side temple, went kind of white. I got a little blinded, but I did not feel any pain, just somewhat blotted out.
Midship one of the sailors shouted out that one of the horses had become sick. Some horses were located right on deck in large boxes, and in one of the boxes, one of those beautiful black creatures was lying down on the floor. If you know about horses, you know that they very rarely prefer to lie down. If a horse is on the ground, it is either sick or dead.
When I got aboard, I had laid out the course on our main chart and put up our destinations into our logbook. I had told our telegraph operator, Trevor Swanson, to cable to our destinations. Later this day, I could not find my chart. I summoned everybody to my quarters: Sully, Ruiz, Neville ( the 3rd officer ) the chief Engineer Mr. Griffin as well as the Chief Cook, Schoenberg, and Mr. Weichsel, an unusually handsome man with a big torso and a big black moustache, who was a clerk representing the company, as well as my wife Gwen, and I told them that I could not find the chart, the map, on which I had laid out the course to Durban. Nobody had the slightest clue where to find the map. So I had to draw up the route again, making another chart. Just hours into this journey, this bode no good.
After dinner, which was a steak we all ate under silent conditions, I withdrew with my wife to the captain's departments, which was a small suite consisting of three rooms on the starboard side of the black ship.
“Well, we are at least on our way,” Gwen told me. She had let out her red hair over her white dress, and she smiled, and her freckled shone in the light from the small roof lamps.
“Sure,” I said. “It will be a gas.”
Before my wife and I were to go to bed, I retook a stroll on the deck. I then met with the three painters, who all of them highly was taken aback with the sight of the Nord Sea. They flung bits of bread towards the seagulls, but the birds just looked perplexed.
In the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Sully, however, and I thought I could discover a wry smile on his lips.
Tomorrow we would reach Cherbourg.
I woke up the next morning by the light touch of Gwendoline´s hand. She had made some coffee to us on our own coffee-machine. Generally, I wouldn´t say I like to go to the pantry just for coffee, and she knows that. She was also with me on a trip to Galveston.
I soon was sitting by our table in our saloon reading a book while talking to Gwen. She was not much of a talker. We both realized that it was a beautiful September day, and it was not a single cloud in the sky.
“Great weather!” I grunted and turned a page in the book, which was a classic. It was a book on philosophy by Wittgenstein, and I had read it many times, but some books are like that: you never really get to grips with them ever. I used to carry this book in my side pocket, and it sometimes caused some amusement. But of course, some just thought it was a silly thing to be reading philosophical classics like that.
“Amazeballs,” Gwen said. She really did not speak much, - as I told you - but I didn´t care, because I thought she was such a lovely thing, and her appearance was stunning, and you never saw such firm bodies like hers very often. Her thighs and her breasts were like hard rubber. Not many redheads have rubber flesh like that.
It was a knock at the cabin door. It was Ruiz, the 3rd officer.
“It´s eight o´clock, sir!”
“Great!” I shouted back.
“We are outside Le Havre, sir!”
“Sure thing,” I hollered. I liked Ruiz from the very beginning. He was simple, competent, and straightforward.
“Speed?” I questioned him through the door, which was not particularly thick.
“20 knots, sir.”
“Good, I am coming,” I said in a low voice.
Gwendoline went to bed again. She took a bottle of whiskey with her, while I put on my captain´s cap and went out and on deck to meet the day. I carried Wittgenstein´s Tractatus with me in my pocket.
A young sailor by the name of Witherspoon stood by the wheel. He looked happy, and I just asked him if he could read the chart, although it was an improvised chart. He could, he said.
Then Midas Sully appeared in the doorway, smiling. He carried a giant camera with a massive objective and was about to take a picture of us all. I tried to smile but felt a sudden kind of dizziness right under my temple, and I could not see quite well, because of a sensation of white just ahead. I covered my eyes with my hand. Witherspoon looked at me and asked me if I was sick or something.
“Are you feeling well, sir?”
I waved at the men on deck and went to my quarters again. I did not know what was wrong with me.
I had never been sick before. My health always had been excellent, and I used to even joke about it. I was unjustly healthy; I used to say. But what was wrong with me. I sat down in my saloon, and Gwen woke up in the bedroom and came out, bottle in hand.
“How re you?” she said and smiled a little.
I wondered if it had been a good idea to take her with me to Bali. It took forty days to reach Indonesia, and we would spend six days there, and it would take another forty to get home again. Three months we should spend with each other in these tiny quarters. Perhaps it was just nervousness that caused my problem or was I going to have trouble with my eyes, young as I was. Perhaps some painkiller would fix it? Suddenly there was a knock on the door. It was Mrs. Williamson. I looked at her, a little consternated and a little bit dizzy too. She had a worried look, but she smiled too, holding a whimsy white hat in her hands.
“I heard you were sick. Maybe I can help. I am a medical student.”
I let her in, and after she had shaken hands with Gwendoline, I took the young doctor into my little office. Gwen disappeared out on the deck, moderately sober. This journey would indeed become something real extra.
“Perhaps I should not interfere …?” she said as I made her sit dows on