Talk Like A Pirate Day Special – Pirate, Not Princess
Imaginary friends are very important.
15 Years Ago
‘Stephanie, sit here while I take this meeting?’
‘Dad, I dun want to be called-’
‘Your mother and I did not choose your name so that you could butcher it into something short. Now, I have to go to work, you’ve got your colouring book.’
Of course I did, it was in my bag – his meetings always take too long, even a “quick stop” at his work usually left me in the office for ever and ever and ever. Sometimes there was a girl there, playing with the computer, but she didn’t like me bothering her while she worked, the rest of the times, it was just me, and a book. And if it was the right book, there would be someone else.
‘How long will you be?’
‘A couple of hours.’
Ok, well, he hadn’t promised a short trip this time, but…I could have just stayed home. He said that mum wanted some mum time, and she can’t have mum time if I’m up in my room, but that’s silly, cause I don’t make that much noise or anything. Maybe she’s going to leave a present in my room. Maybe that’s it.
He smiled, but he didn’t look happy, but he never looks happy, I don’t think dads are supposed to look happy. They do on TV, but everyone looks happier on TV.
‘Now, be a good girl, sit and don’t make any noise.’ He passed his large bag to me. ‘You can have the special job of keeping an eye on this.’ He stopped for a second. ‘But don’t open it, just guard it.’
‘Sure dad,’ I said as he disappeared into a room full of more men in suits. I sat down in a corner, trying not to make any noise – you can’t make noise around lawyers, otherwise the bad guys get away.
I unzipped my Purple Princess Pony backpack – at least it was better than fairies, and I’d used felt pens to make the horse look like Buttercup a bit more. There was a colouring book in there, but there was also another book, the kind with words. A magic book.
Well, not a spell book magic book, but its magic all the same. This is the only one, the magic doesn’t work with any other book, I tried. It took ages to try all of them. This is the only one that works, and that’s ok, cause it’s my favourite anyway. It’s Grandfather’s copy of Peter Pan. Well, not his copy like he used to read it himself, he used to read it to his kids, and then mum got it, then I got it.
I discovered the magic by accident, or maybe it discovered me, I’m not sure. That happens sometimes, the magic finds you, it’s just floating around like a cloud and goes “oooh, that person can be a wizard” and then it goes ZAP and that person’s Merlin.
I don’t think I’m a wizard, it’s not like I can throw fireballs or anything. I can only do one spell, and I’m not even sure that it’s a proper spell, cause there’s no sparkles involved, and no smoke. It’s a very clean spell, which is good for when I do it in my room.
I lifted the book, and rested it on my knees, then closed my eyes. Closing your eyes is very important for the start. I lifted a finger, like one a contractor lifts his stick at the opera, and wrote over the letters on the cover. It’s a leather book, so it’s easy to do, they’re sort of buried into the leather, so you can read without looking.
The first part done, I flipped open the book – it’s been open to the magic pages so much that it almost knows where to open by itself, or maybe that’s part of the magic too, I dunno, it’d be good if it was, cause that means that magic’s kinda practical, and not just really special. Really special is awesome, but practical is shiny – it’s like…if you could magically wish for a cookie, that’s special, right, but it’s got to be practical too, cause what happens if the magical cookie forgot the flour or the sugar from the recipe? Practicality means that it’d taste good all the time, cause no one wants to eat a sugar-less cookie.
I opened my eyes, and grinned – it was the right page, or at least one of the right pages, there were a few, and I only needed three for it to work. I quickly read the magic words from this page, and flipped to the next magic page – you can keep your eyes open for this part, it’s only the finger-writing and first page that you have to keep your eyes closed for.
I read those one, and then the magic words on the third page, then just waited. Most of the time, he came very quickly, but sometimes he lagged a bit, sometimes so much I had to cast the spell again, just in case I hadn’t done it right. Cause magic always works, just sometimes you don’t do it right. Magic is always right, it’s people that are wrong.
I sighed and waited, looks like he was going to be late this-
A cold hook touched my cheek.
‘You’re getting slow,’ I said to him as I looked up, ‘you used to come almost straight away.’
‘Less than a minute is still good for this old sea-dog, don’t you think?’ Hook asked as he looked down at me. ‘I was busy fighting the crowing youth, he and his ilk were-’
‘I don’t want to hear about Peter,’ I whispered. Whispering was good for three reasons. One, so that the men in the next room wouldn’t hear me. If I got found out, then I wouldn’t be able to play. The spell always seemed to break a bit when grown-ups were around. Two, I don’t like telling Captain Jas. Hook what to do. And three, whispering is just that much more fun. ‘He’s boring to hear about.’
The Captain sat back in a big red plush chair that hadn’t been there a minute ago – that’s another thing I like about the Captain, he always brings his own furniture with him. I mean, otherwise he’d be stuck sitting on plastic chairs sometimes, and pirates can’t sit on plastic chairs, it’s just not right!
He reached into his jacket and pulled out a tobacco bag and a pipe. He’s given up cigars for a little while, just until Peter’s supply of jokey-exploding cigars runs out. He doesn’t like the pipe as much, and it’s harder for him to smoke two at once, but he does like that it’s got a little pirate ship carved into it. You can’t carve pictures into cigars.
‘I’m afraid, dear one, that until he’s defeated that my escapades are rather limited. It’s hard to be a pirate when everyone wants to stop you.’
I pouted. ‘He’s only one boy, can’t you-?’
He held up his pipe hand and waved it, spreading a little bit of smoke around. ‘He’s not only a boy, he’s my greatest nemesis.’ He looked around the room. ‘What ghastly corner of your world is this?’
‘Dad’s work, he’s through that door,’ I said, pointing to the next room, ‘talking to a bunch of suits.’
He chewed on the end of his pipe for a moment. ‘And you’re stuck here, all by yourself?’
‘Not no more,’ I said with a grin.
‘Not anymore,’ he corrected. He looked down at dad’s big bag. ‘And what do we have here?’
‘His boring work bag with his boring work stuff in it.’
‘Did you open it?’ he asked.
I stared at the boring brown bag, and made a face. ‘It’s boring.’
‘There might be treasure in it.’
‘He’s too boring for treasure, Captain.’
‘You will be surprised to learn what treasure can look like. It’s not all gold and jewels and the like.’
I clicked open the locks on dad’s bag, held it from the bottom, and tipped it upside down. I expected everything to fall out in messy piles, but he’s kind of a neat-freak dad, so everything fell out in really neat piles, held in place with paper clips and rubber bands and desk drawer stuff.
The Captain moved from his chair, set his pipe in the corner of his mouth and knelt beside me, his long red fuzzy – velvet – coat dragging across the floor as he did. He pointed with a finger to one of the neatly wrapped folders. ‘Most of this is boring, but he did indeed leave his treasure here.’ He looked across at me. ‘One other than you, of course.’
‘I’m not his treasure. He calls me princess, but I think that’s cause he knows I hate them. They’re so boring, all they do is sit around and have tea parties. They don’t get to fire the canons or make people walk the plank!’
He pointed his hook at me, and raised a finger to his lips. ‘A good pirate knows when to be quiet.’
I clapped my hands over my mouth, they wouldn’t hear Hook, they never heard him, but the magic didn’t extend to me, they could still hear me if I was being too loud. ‘Sorry Captain,’ I said through my hands. I slowly let them drop. ‘Like when you’re sneaking up on lost boys, right?’ I whispered. ‘It’s no good if they hear you coming, they’ll just jump into trees and hide if they hear you coming.’
‘Exactly, my dear.’ He lifted a little leather wallet with his hook. ‘Now, what shall we do with his treasure?’
I screwed my face up. ‘That’s just his wallet.’
‘He carries his gold in here, it is considerably lighter than the method I prefer. Maybe I’ll get myself one of these when I get old.’
She shook her head. ‘You’re not gonna get old. You can’t, you’re Captain Hook, you never grow old, you never die.’
‘You make me sound like the crowing youth.’
I grinned. ‘But Captain, unlike Peter, people actually like you being around. The world can live without Peter Pan, it can’t live without Captain Hook. He’s just a boy, and boys are stupid. There’s lots of boys, there’s boys at my school. We can replace him easily enough.’
He opened dad’s wallet and pointed a few of the plastic cards. ‘These represent enough gold to buy a fleet of Jolly Rogers.’
‘Would I lie to you?’
I smiled. ‘I dunno, you are a pirate.’ I looked at the plastic cards again. ‘But…if it’s so much gold…’ I pushed the wallet at him. ‘Then you take it, buy a new hand.’
He smiled at me, the corners of his mustache twirling up, then looked to his hook. ‘But without this, who am I?’
‘Still the Captain.’
‘My crew would not recognise me, besides, I rather like it.’
The Captain moved over to the wastepaper basket, the one with the little machine over the top of it. ‘This, my dear, is a shredder. It works as well on those little pieces of plastic as my crew’s swords do on lost boys.’ He handed me the wallet, and I began to pull out each of the little cards.
Most of them had his full name on them, I shredded those first. It wasn’t fair, it just wasn’t fair! James is the Captain’s name, why does get to run around ruining it? He’s not a pirate, he’d be terrible as a pirate, and he doesn’t even like the ocean, and yet he get to walk around using the name of the greatest pirate of all time?
At least our last name isn’t Hook, cause that would get confusing, there would be a James Hook that was awesome, and a James Hook that I hated. But that would make me Stef Hook, and when I get my ship, I’d also be Captain Hook, but that’d be no good, I don’t want to be Captain Hook, I don’t think I even want to be a Captain. I want to work for my Captain, cause he’s the best, and what’s the point of going out on your own, when you already know who you want to work for?
Maybe I could have a little ship of my own, just a little one. One that can get tugged behind the Jolly Roger. I’d only be able to have a tiny canon though, so maybe get a musket instead. Muskets are better than pistols, cause when you run out of bullets, you can beat people on the head with them, like a stick.
I pushed all of the cards through the shredder, watching the little bits of plastic fall into the bag below. I opened the other side of the wallet – the side with the paper money in it, but the Captain shook his head. ‘No, those ones we do something else with.’
He pointed at the plastic bag in the bin. ‘Bring that with us, we’re going on an adventure.’
I smiled. ‘A big one, or a little one?’
‘Just a little one,’ he said as he pocketed his pipe.
I put dad’s wallet in the front pocket of my pinafore, and lifted the little plastic bag – it was mostly empty other than the little bits of plastic card, only a few bits of paper were held captive with them. ‘What are we going to do?’ I asked as I stooped and lifted the book – I couldn’t leave the book behind, without the book, I couldn’t call the Captain, without the book, the magic broke.
‘We are going to let the four winds take it all away, they have a way of knowing how gold should be distributed.’
He pushed the office door open, and led the way through the empty corridors. He could walk upright, and not get seen – that’s also part of the magic, but I had to sneak a bit so that no-one saw me, and that’s harder, especially when you’re holding a bag full of gold, and a really heavy book.
The Captain found the entrance to the stairs and quickly ushered me in, and we made it without anyone seeing us. I quietly closed the door, and we started up the stairs, we were already close to the roof, I knew, because the last time I was here, I’d spent the whole time looking out the windows for dragons, and we could see the tops of some of the other buildings, and if you’re that high up already, then you have to be close to the roof.
‘Stairs,’ the Captain said in his grouchy voice. ‘I never did like the blasted things.’
Stairs were one thing, but… ‘I bet it’s easier than climbing the rigging!’
He stopped at the top of the flight we were climbing, took off his hat and fanned his face with it, the feather hitting him in the chin. ‘Up in the rigging there’s the wind, there’s the ocean beneath you, there’s the warmth of the crew, and the knowledge that you may get the fight the lost boys. Stairs are dead and boring compared to being up in the rigging.’
‘I want to up in the crow’s nest. I want a telescope! I want to lob rocks at Peter!’
‘All in good time,’ he said. ‘How many more of these damned stairs?’
There was a door marked “Roof” a the top of the next flight. ‘That many,’ I said as I ran past him.
I pushed open the door to the roof, and held it open for the Captain – he did look tired and old when he got to the top stair – maybe next time I’ll try and convince him to take the lift, but he really doesn’t like them. He doesn’t trust them for some reasons. And, I suppose, it’s easier to get caught by an adult in the lift than in the stairs. Most adults would rather trust the machine than their own feet.
I tossed the bag of plastic card chips and paper over my shoulder and ran to the edge of the roof. There was a concrete wall around it, with a metal pipe running around the top, just as a little bit extra of a “stop, edge of roof here” warning. Like you couldn’t tell you were on a roof, there’s nothing but sky above, where else would you be? The basement? The lunch room?
The Captain put a hand on my shoulder. ‘Do you know what to do know?’
I pulled the bag over my shoulder and held it over the edge of the rail. ‘Just let it go?’
‘No, goodness no, don’t you know anything about ceremony? You’re acting as a pirate, feel proud of yourself.’
‘I dun think I know how to.’
He nodded. ‘I know, but you’ll learn.’
The book in my arm slid a little, and I gently set it on the ground – that never felt right, like I was putting the Captain down on the ground, and you shouldn’t do that to Jas. Hook, but I couldn’t have carried a table with me, so the ground would have to do. I’ll clean it off when I take it back downstairs.
He pointed to the bag. ‘That one first, the second part will be easier. Have you thrown confetti before?’
I nodded – I’d thrown confetti at cousin Sylvia’s wedding – the adults had thrown rice, and the kids had thrown little white snowflake confetti, it was like they didn’t trust us to throw rice as well. Probably just as well, cause some of the boys tried to throw it at the girls, and if it had been rice, it would have hurt. With the confetti, most of it just stuck to their black suits, so they got in trouble for it.
‘Treat it as confetti,’ he said.
I could barely see over the roof’s edge, so I ducked a little teeny bit and looked out through the gap between the concrete wall and the metal pipe. I then stuck my hands into the bag, and began to toss handfuls of plastic card chips and paper over the edge.
The plastic card chips spun and fell, pretty much straight down toward the ground, only occasionally blown by the wind. The paper was prettier though, twisting and turning of its own accord, like hair underwater. It was almost alive in the air, but it slowly fell as well.
After a couple of minutes, all of the stuff in the bag was gone, and I looked up at the Captain. ‘The bag as well,’ he said. I lifted the plastic by the top edges, spun around, making it catch air and inflate like a balloon, then tossed it over the side. It caught the wind easily, with so much air already inside it, and didn’t fall toward the ground. It sailed up, and up and up, then over the next building, toward its own plastic-bag adventure. Maybe he’s gonna fight paper clips.
The Captain stooped and pulled the wallet from by pinafore pocket. He pulled it open, and exposed a whole bunch of money – I didn’t know dad carried that much money with him – and handed it to me. There were at least…I ran my hand over them, at least twenty notes in there. A lot were orange, almost as many were that icky greeny-gold, and some were a proper green. Only a couple were purple and blue. I could count it, but it would take a couple of minutes, but I didn’t really care. I looked up and smiled at the Captain. ‘What are we going to do with it?’
‘Just a moment, I’ll tell you.’ He took off his hat and handed it to me, before licking one of his fingers and holding it up into the breeze. ‘Ah, the West Wind.’ He took his hat back, and pointed down to the wallet. ‘We’re going to make an offering to the West Wind. I had been hoping for the North Wind, so many people think badly of him because of Aesop.’
I remembered that story. ‘The traveler and his coat.’
The Captain nodded. ‘He tried to use force, so people think the sun cleverer, and sometimes deem him nothing more than a bully. They forget about all the times when force has been nothing but helpful, or even saved lives.
‘Imagine a ship becalmed, imagine a crew whose hope has been taken away, a whiff in their sails, and suddenly, they can go home. What did the sun to do help them then? Nothing. They are each a bully in their own way, all the North Wind wanted to do was win, and there is no shame in wanting to win. If there was, I would have abandoned my eternal struggle long ago.’
‘It’s only gonna last forever until he’s dead,’ I said with a shrug, ‘it can’t go on after he’s dead. He’s the boy that doesn’t grow up, not the boy who can’t die.’
The Captain nodded, then looked back to the wallet. ‘Let us fly the first of our stringless kites.’ I giggled, and lifted the first note out, a pretty purple one – five dollars, it had a picture of the Queen on one side. ‘Lift it up high,’ he said, ‘and it go.’
‘Captain, what’s becalmed?’ I asked as I watched the note fly through the air – it did even better than the paper from the bag had done, though not as good as the bag itself.
‘It’s not something people have to worry about anymore, but in the old days, the very old days, sometimes the wind would simply give out and the ship would become stuck, unable to move, it may as well have been frozen in place.’
I snapped the wallet closed for a moment. ‘Couldn’t they just, like, row it? Like viking ships?’
‘Alas, that was not an option most of the time.’
‘So what happened?’
‘What would happen is that men would despair, they would weep, stuck so far from anywhere, with no land in sight, there is not much else to do other than despair. The feeling of hopelessness is so much more than that, you can taste it, it’s all you can know. Happiness abandons the ship, and the men’s hearts. It is a fate I would not even wish upon Peter.’
‘Has it ever happened to you?’
He shook his head, like a puppy – a very un-captain-like thing to do. ‘No, I, James Hook, have never been becalmed. I am far too clever for that.’
I nodded furiously, knowing it was true.
‘But, it never hurts to pay tribute to the winds. Trusting them, thanking them, they accept almost anything as a tribute, they simply like the recognition. Throw another.’
This time, I picked out a blue note, and tossed it high. ‘Thank you!’ I shouted, before remembering that we were supposed to be at least a little quiet. I looked up at the sky. ‘Can I see him?’
‘The West Wind. Is he a big blowy old guy with puffed out cheeks?’
The Captain shook his head again. ‘No, it’s hard to explain the winds, but here is how someone once told it to me. Imagine a web, a living web, that spreads across the entirety of the world, because all of the winds are everywhere at once. Unlike a spider’s web, who can only feel the vibrations when something enters the web, the winds cause the vibrations – little, like the breeze taking the vestiges of your father’s gold away, or big, the great gusts that power the ships across the seven seas.’
I reached a hand into the air, feeling the breeze against my skin. I’d always known the story of the North Wind – it was actually one of the stories that mum had read to me before I’d learned to do it myself, back when she insisted that reading to me one of things she had to do. I don’t know if she liked it, but she had to do it, because that’s what mothers do, so she did it. I’d always known the story, but I’d forgotten that the wind was a person. Ok, not a walk-around-wearing-clothes person, but people are of all kinds. Even animals can be people.
‘Cool,’ I said.
I took out the next note, and let it ride the wind. It whipped around in circles, then slowly fell away.
The Captain tapped me on the shoulder. ‘He’s coming.’
I pulled open the wallet, and pulled the rest of the notes out. I pushed myself against the concrete wall and threw them as hard as I could, they spread out like an explosion, and were whipped away by the West Wind, to wherever they were going to end up.
I turned back from the wall, popped the now-empty wallet into my pinafore pocket, and looked up at the Captain. ‘Alas, our adventure is over for the day,’ he said.
Dad came up through the door, and shook his head when he saw me. ‘Sweetie,’ he said, ‘what are you doing up here? You made a mess, you’re going to have come clean it up.’
I just shrugged.
‘What are you doing up here, anyway? There’s windows in the office to look out of. And you didn’t even colour me a picture yet.’ He looked down, and saw the book lying at my feet. I quickly knelt and picked it up, so that it didn’t get left behind. ‘That old thing? You have to stop reading the same book over and over, there’s no point.’
I shrugged again.
‘Sweetie,’ he said, ‘are you sorry for making the mess?’
It wasn’t my bag, it wasn’t my responsibility to keep it clean, it wasn’t… ‘Nope,’ I said, ‘I’m a pirate, I’m not supposed to be clean.’
‘You’re a little girl, so you’re a little princess, and princesses are supposed to be nice and clean and quiet.’ He came closer. ‘You didn’t get your dress dirty did you?’
I shook my head – there hadn’t been time to get it dirty. I’ll have to ask the Captain to take me on a messy adventure next time. Maybe with a dirt pile – those are fun to climb. Getting yelled at after isn’t fun, but the doing is fun, and that makes it worth it.
He looked me up and down, looking for invisible dirt, then his eyes stuck on something. I looked down, and saw the corner of his wallet peeking out of my pocket. ‘Is that daddy’s wallet, sweetie?’
I nodded, I was a pirate, a thief, but not a liar. The Captain had taught me the value of honour. You can be a pirate and still tell the truth.
He came over to me, took it from me, and slid it back into his pocket. He put a hand on my shoulder, a little strongly, but not enough to hurt or anything, just the “go to your room, now!” strong, and began to lead me back to the door.
One the orange notes – twenty dollars – landed on the ground in front of him. He made a happy noise, and stooped to pick it up. I clutched the book tighter to my chest, and I felt the Captain put a hand on my other shoulder and draw me back a little.
Dad opened his wallet to put the twenty in, then stopped. He looked down at me, then to the wallet, then back again.
‘What did you do?’
He was using his mean voice. His really mean voice. The kind that comes just before yelling. The kind that makes me want to hide under my bed. The one that makes me want to pretend I’m the perfect little princess girl just so he doesn’t yell at me. I shrank back against Hook, hoping that maybe a pirate – even a magic pirate – could protect me.
‘What. Did. You. Do?’
All I could do was shake my head, like that would make it all go away, like it would bring the money and the bits of plastic card back.
‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered. The tears were coming, I could feel them – there’s that weird hot feeling in your eyes just before you start crying, like it has to melt some eye-ice before the tears can start.
‘Why?’ he practically screamed. No, roared. Like a lion. Like a big scary lion.
Hook’s hand stayed on my shoulder – he couldn’t interfere when someone was yelling at me, it was part of the magic, only I could see him. Even if he’d said something, they wouldn’t have heard him.
I shrugged again. Why? Because he was mean? Cause he wasn’t a good daddy? Cause he left me alone? Cause…cause I’m not-
‘Why?!’ He knelt in front of me, grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to melt the rest of the eye-ice and for the book to fall from my arms. ‘Do you know how much money that was? How long it will take me to get my cards back?’ He shook me again, and this time, it hurt a little, I could feel his fingers digging into my arms, and that hurt too.
‘I’m sorry!’ I screamed, and snot flew away from my nose as I did. ‘Daddy, I’m sorry!’ He let me go, and I fell down onto the ground, hurting my bum on the concrete. ‘I won’t do it again.’
‘You’re damn right you won’t,’ he said in his mean voice. ‘Why, Stephanie, why did you do it?’
I shrugged again, not wanting to say anything, not wanting to get into more trouble. He reached and picked up the book. ‘Is this why?’ he demanded as he shook the book. ‘You wanted to steal, to be a thief?’
‘A pirate,’ I said without thinking.
‘Well then,’ dad said, ‘I’ll correct that, shall I?’ He walked the few steps toward the wall, and tossed the book over.
I looked away from dad, and up to the Captain. ‘The magic’s gonna break!’
The Captain shook his head as I pushed myself up. ‘Quickly, listen-’
I pushed myself up against the wall, and leaned up and over so I could see the falling book. ‘Come back!’ I screamed. ‘Don’t break!’
I only know the one spell, I can’t move things with my mind, I can’t teleport things, all I can do is use the magic book to call the Captain, and without the book-
I turned to the Captain. ‘Don’t disappear,’ I begged, ‘please don’t.’
I looked away from him, in time to see the book hit the ground. It flopped open, a few pages coming loose, the spine breaking, leaving it lying open at a strange angle. It was dead. The magic was broken. The book was gone, and so was my ability to call the Captain. All gone, because of…
I turned to dad, and hit him in the shin. He jumped back, swore and looked down at me. I punched him again, aiming for the other shin, but he moved, trying to avoid my punch, and I ended up hitting him in the boy-bits instead.
He yelled the swear-words this time, pushed me, and stumbled back, holding where I’d punched with both hands and whimpering a bit. A big scary lion reduced to a puppy.
I fell down onto roof, and my hands slid a bit, the rough concrete ripping my hands open. I looked at them, and bit my lip when I saw the little streaks of blood and bits of ripped skin. More eye-ice melted, and I couldn’t even wipe away the tears, cause it would hurt my hands too much.
Dad looked down at me, swore again, this time at me, not just at the world, and limped back toward the door, he slammed the door shut, leaving me alone on the roof. I scooted back against the wall, brought my knees up to my chest, and just cried, because even pirates are allowed to cry.