The Puffin (iii)

My bleary eyes gazed out across the water and I concluded that I was still dreaming. This must be some bizarre waking dream cast on me by a sea witch. Here I sat on the same mound of ice that I fell asleep on, seemingly moments ago, but there stood the shore – at least three hundred yards away across the ocean! How strange. At once I stood up and the ground swayed beneath my weight. “Gods!” said I in fright. Still half awake, my foolish mind jumped to an impossible answer – I was a giant waking after a long sleep. A giant who had dreamt he was a boy named Leif and here under my mammoth feet was Iceland herself, the size of a small room. But this did not explain why I saw the shore across the waves and also didn’t explain why the fallen tree looked peculiarly like a fishing rod, or the strange building castle that resembled a can of worms.

The truth became clear and the playfulness I had to the situation disappeared with fiery striking stress – while I slept I had become stranded on an iceberg. A lone boy sitting on a lonely jutt of ice, floating as aimlessly as the clouds across the sky. Now I hear you shout, “Leif, just swim home. Put those broad Nordic shoulders to some use!” But that would have been as fatal as if I jumped from the frosty tips of one of those moonlit clouds, the water was so cold that I would be dead before I could give a hug goodbye to my faithful, abandoned donkey. I heard his fading heehaw as I drifted out to sea, he would surely starve without me. And then I started to consider my own health. I had no food save for the tin of worms I had for bait.

Cold winds picked up and the clouds crowded. I watched the sky as there was nothing else to do, I looked hungrily as the clouds devoured the clear sky and bloating up until they covered all the heavens. At this point I was clinging to my knees, accepting the consequences of my untimely nap – I would die slowly and on this lonely shard of ice. Further and further the winds blew me. How small my donkey seemed from here, as if I could reach out and slip him into my pocket. I became anxious imaging how small seemed to my donkey. If I tipped over the horizon would I simply disappear entirely? Not just my body but also from the memories of my mother and my father? Just like my brother Jon, I was destined to become broken and eaten by the land. He became the part of the mountains just as I would become a drop in the sea. In despair I began to cry. Tasting my salty tears I began to laugh, “Oh look I am already becoming part of the sea.” My laughter choked through the snot and tears until again it was deadly quiet.

Exhausted and mentally fatigued from endless mental debates, I did what I do best went to sleep. Crawled up in a ball I slipped into a dreamless sleep, unaware a thick blanketing fog was inhaling me into its fetid maw.

When I woke up for the second time on my new floating home, I had no illusions that this was not a dream. I felt the hard reality in my aching stomach. I had exactly five worms in the can, with which I could hopefully catch five small fish – sardine or some juvenile salmon – cut them in half and eat one half while the other half can be used as bait to catch a larger fish. Soon I’ll be catching a marlin or a tuna fish, then I’d set my ambitions on something larger than a shark, hopefully a great white. With a hop, skip and a jump I will have climbed the top of the food chain. “My god, what will I do with all this extra meat,” I said to myself naively as I still looked down at the measly tin of worms – in which I saw a full seafood platter. With food taken care of, I wondered how to return home. I thought of a solution rather easily. If I could catch a shark I could then bait a right-whale, not that I would bait it with meat but I would bait with my story. Once I catch a great shark, news will travel far and wide across the little critters. My story would travel from crab to crayfish, from hake to haddock, until eventually from the lisping fat lips of a walrus a whale would hear my tale.

By then the tale would have grown (as these things typically happen). I did not  slay a trivial shark but a hydra! all while sitting on one hand in the midst of a black night under a new moon. The whale is the biggest rumour mongers of the sea, their songs are beautiful to human ears but are mere gossip to those who understand. And they’re songs carry far and wide, I am sure whales off the coast of Australia would have heard about Alexander’s victory at Issus long before news arrived in Macedon. And when they arrived in droves to see me with their own eyes I would lash around them my fishing line and rein them in. How mother would laugh when she saw me flying across the ocean, a melting sleigh pulled by whales spouting sea mist and painting fleeting rainbows in my wake. All success takes it imagination and good planning, I thought with a smile, still looking at my tin of worms.

<- Part 3 of 9 ->

Mountain Barber

My hair looks too greasy today. Yesterday it was too dry. Ugh.
Maybe I should have gone to that new hairdresser run by that native indian dude.
While walking past it I thought, “Whoa, that is so culturally diverse.”
The entire place was a big teepee, big feather caps, and smoke signals coming out of it.
But then I was like, I am really ready to have get scalped by a tomahawk?
Like am I just appropirating this culture for kicks?
I mean, yeah its pretty ace, but for them it’s an artform.
Also the bloodlost concerns me… might give my skin a pale look.

Oh who cares, I am going to be months ahead everyone with this cut.

With that decisive last thought he donned a moth eaten jacket he had picked up from a thrift store.
“Yeaa, someone actually died in a fire while wearing it,” he told his friends.
In actual fact, his mum had bought it for him last christmas and he had burnt holes in it with a bic lighter.

The Puffin (ii)

The sea came into view, but the climb down was even more precarious. If you were to slip you would be killed before your body came to a rolling stop. If you were killed down, it’s unlikely your body would be found before it became part of the land. The jagged outbreaks come from the ribs and broken elbows of careless passerby’s, moss-ridden and turned to stone before they can be found by mourning mothers. My older brother Jon is here among the shattered and doomed, I wasn’t even born when he was killed- so please save your sympathy. Save it for my Mother, who out of hunger has to send her youngest over the same precarious terrain which devoured her eldest. I don’t fear his end, my young feet are nimble and neither does the mule, he has risked his life over these rocks so many times that his fate must be written on a dusty forgotten scroll, fallen behind Death’s desk.

The fear was especially easy to subdue in the face of such a beautiful view. A world cut into thirds – land, sky, and sea. And for me, this division was more than just a view. Within the mountains, under mounds of dirt slept giants that my mother told me stories of before bed. And there the great blue sky, which my father swore was the very same one that Saint Michael descended from to trample Lucifer back into the dirt. I hope that in throwing Lucifer back down into hell that St Michael does not wake a giant – that would bring great trouble for everyone. For a giant rages like no other creature when awakening from its slumber. Who would find victory in that battle, would the angels find victory in one cruel swoop as an eagle snatches the life of a field mouse — or would the giants simply feel their spears as mosquito bite and swat them like a fly. Whoever the victor a clash between those two worlds would sink the world, bring us to the third part of this great view: the sea. You have heard the stories of the land and sky from my mother and father respectively, but the stories from the sea I reserve for myself.

An ice shelf extended from the shore. It was of the purest white that I struggled to search for the perfect fishing perch without squinting.
“Where should I begin?” I asked myself as my stomach rumbled hungrily. Up and down the coast little nooks and crannies looked inviting. But there was one magnificent spot that stood out like a sore toe – in fact it even looked like a sore toe. Here I would fish. I climbed up the outcropping of ice that looked like a giant’s foot that had slipped out from under his warm sod blanket during his sleep. He might appreciate my backside warming his big, so I took to climbing up it, and no sooner than I was up there I started to become drowsy. Something about the coast makes me feel entirely safe to sleep out in the open. Whereas down in the valley when I sleep I imagine the surrounding mountains closing as my eyes do, swallowing me into the ground while I snooze. Out on the coast, I am free and my dreams are also free to wander across the sea. This dream in particular was fuelled by my father’s tales of his adventures the prey of this new modern era: the bird-fish or as they were called in England, puffins.

Mostly I dream myself as lowly things. I’ve dreamt I was a worm, I’ve dreamt I was a dog. There are simply and secret comforts to the lives of beasts. But this dream was different, I dreamt I was with my father in search of the puffins which Europe craved. The reason behind the puffin’s sudden popularity and profitability is a result of Pope Urban III decision. He declared the small critter to be a fish which therefore could be eaten during Lent. Millions of Catholics sick of Fish Fridays rejoiced and a new puffin ventures popped up naturally. My father explained to me his job as the pilot as we walked the deck. “Leif, I am thrilled you are here at last.” I smiled nervously.
“We’ll show you the ropes my boy and you’ll have your hands on a great juicy puffin.” The crew nodded and I searched among them for the familiar smiles of my brothers but couldn’t find them. I was about to ask when a call was shouted from a lookout posted on the masthead, “There she soars!” My father jumped and dashed through the men like a banshee to take the helm. The crew came alive with him all bouncing and scrambling over each other. A great tangle of ropes was untangled from the middle of the deck and then hoisted up, at the end of them was a queer contraption that looked like a combination between a kite and a lobster cage. Inside the cages were fish heads and guts. These cages were promptly thrown off the side and caught on the breeze. I looked to my father who grinned as steered masterfully into the wind allowing the kited-cages to float up. The ship appeared to be a great Kraken with tentacles waving high above the ship- all in pursuit of a great flock of puffins on the horizon.

What a peculiar sight, even for a dream. These images are all sourced from my father’s tales which he swore on his word. And now in this dream, we are upon the puffins who have taken to the skies, safely above the ship away from any spear, net or harpoon, so they might think. Attracted to the fishheads they crawl into the kited-cages but it will be their last meal because they are unable to escape from the inside which is coated in birdlime. With glee these fishermen of the skies pulled them from their lofty prisons, squawking and cawing, I felt their terror and pain – ripping their own feathers from bloody plucked skin trying to free themselves. From behind my father cruelly laughed and I awoke.

 < Part 2 of 9 ->

The Puffin

Often a strange story begins with a strange awakening. My story begins with a strange nap. It was a nap that took me half way around the world, not within my dreams, I truly lived this adventure. I doubt that my imagination could even conjure up a dream as otherworldly as my adventures have been. My odyssey will be but a footnote in history, in fine print it will be written just after the death of Christ and before Ragnarok, on this day Leif Erikson fell asleep and changed the world! Aye, changed the world and all it took was a sickening amount of pain.
I regret nothing, it was a pleasant snooze.

I remember the warm afternoon well, warm for an Icelandic morning anyway. I woke up late and my mother scolded me for not doing my chores on time. The first of these was to kill a chicken for dinner, which I had left too late – the sun was already setting. By my villages tradition, we kill livestock in the morning, the idea being we send the animal’s spirit to rise with the early sun.
I approached my mother cautiously while she was washing clothes in a basin.
“Ah, so you did not die in your sleep as I thought.”
“No Mother, I’m alive and well.”
“Alive and well but hungry, you haven’t prepared a chicken.”
“I was thinking…” I said, “Perhaps I can still kill us a chicken.”
She continued washing, “You know the rules.”
“I was thinking I could kill one and then we invite his soul to stay the night, just till tomorrow morning.”
That made her laugh, “You’re a funny boy Leif.”
“Thank you, you do say that often.”
“It’s a shame you’re only funny when you’re trying to get out of work.”
“I’m sorry, you do say that often.”
She managed to keep a straight face, “Go grab your Father’s fishing rod and be back before dark.”
I gave in.

My father’s shed always felt ominous. As a small child, it felt like I was walking into the jaws of an iron monster, sharp and rusted farming tools jutted out of the walls like ruined teeth. At the very back was his harpoon, unused rusted as the rest of the farming equipment. He was still at sea at that time, hunting a very different beast to a whale. As I walked past it, I felt somehow ashamed by its disuse. I thought of me and my two brothers playing with our pretend harpoons, one would be the whale spurting water of our mouths while the others chased him down with sticks. None of are whalers now, least of all me I thought as I plucked my mighty weapon from its scabbard- a crooked fishing rod. Fishermen may lie about the size of fish they catch to their wives, but that is only because they are jealous of the whaling men who can scarcely measure the size of their catch with three arms lengths. If I could travel back to that moment I would have dropped the rod and ran away with the harpoon to find some wayward vessel and live out my dreams…of course instead I did what my mother told me.

“Take the mule,” my mother cried as she hung up clothes on the washing line. I whistled for for him and off we went. The mule trotted ahead, he knew the way well. He didn’t have a name, my father didn’t want us to get attached in case we had to eat him when times were bad. He was over thirty years old and still didn’t he have a name. We wandered through weed ridden farmland, that turned into rolling hills, which then became crueller in character until they were craggy mountains – where nothing grows but a healthy respect for mother nature. Up and up we climbed, out of the valley which our house sat in. The mule was fitter than me despite his age and wasn’t slowed by the terrain. Maybe he thought that if we didn’t catch any fish by nightfall that we would eat him. He looked back suspiciously as if reading my mind.
“Don’t worry I would never eat a dear a friend,” I reassured him, “Especially not one as old and chewy as you.” With a snort he trotted away. We reached the summit of our climb and I took a rest.

Though I had no idea at the time, those few moments I spent on the mountain top would be a final farewell to my childhood. Looking down to my house I could just barely see a human figure in our garden, my mother. She was surrounded by radiant white sheets that blew in the wind, they lit up her blonde hair which humbly danced with all the trees and bushes around despite outshining them all. What a beautiful scene, she could have been Venus herself in that moment.

I reminisced about the clothesline. That was the same clothesline I used to swing back and forth on, I used to love that. I remember many a summer day spent being pushed back and forth by my brothers. Too big and too old for that now. Funny, I guess one day I simply let go of that clothesline and never grabbed hold of it again. The exact moment of that final farewell is lost in a vague blur.

On the contrary, the final farewell with my mother is a very exact moment – it was that very moment on the mountain top. She finished hanging the washing, walked inside, and I would never see her again. I question whether on some level I knew this was goodbye because all the while I wanted to shout and wave like a child – but I resisted and remained silent. I will always be grateful to myself for this, it would have tarnished a comforting memory which I have replayed many times in the ceaseless theatre within my skull. If you were to pry open the red curtains that cover my brain, I doubt you could dissect this memory from me without tearing out the whole stage.

The mule whinnied to get a move on and with a yawn I passed over onto the other side.

Part 1 of 9 >