The Entire History Of Captain Hoeffel
Captain Hoeffel was on a ledge, contemplating everything that had ever happened. At one point he thought that war actually had some use in humanity and kept the population under control. He rethought a few moments later and came to the conclusion that in fact everything was completely useless and he wished, for a brief few seconds, that he had never been born at all so that he would not have had to bear all the ghastly tragedies he had witnessed in all his years at sea.
Years are abundant when in open water. That is what Captain Hoeffel’s father had told him as the young sailor set out on his first journey to war at the ripe age of seventeen. He shot seven enemies from his ship and then fell asleep, crying into the emptiness of his soggy pillow. And then he stood at the stern, feeling a lethal gale attack him from every angle, and saw the frothy water churning up and down, burying everything which entered it into the wet grave of the ocean’s bed. It looked appealing, but there was work to do. So he heaved his unwilling body down into the cabins and began cleaning the floors. This is life, accept it. That is what his father told him as the sad sailor returned from his first voyage. And then his father died. The best sailor ever to have graced the lucky seas. That is what the dead father’s colleagues said about him at his funeral.
Captain Hoeffel was old as he stood on a ledge, contemplating everything. He had not always been old. Of course not. Once he was young. But age is so capricious an entity that, all of a sudden, awaking to the frosty bite of spring one dreary morning in the open sea, he realised that he was old, for he no longer had any hair and felt pains all over his body every time he moved. He also coughed a lot. He also smelt rather atrocious.
His mother told him that he was no longer her son, one of the reasons being that he ‘smelt so vile’. This struck Captain Hoeffel as peculiar, for his mother was the one who made him and brought him up to be what he always was, so if he smelt, it could only have been her fault. She did not agree. She said that she did not make him an alcoholic and therefore did not make him smell because he was too drunk to wash. He disagreed with her. After that argument he never spoke to her again. He presumed she was dead.
In fact, she wasn’t. She lived in Dunkirk with her lover, Adriel Condune, and she was very old. But her age never stopped her adoration of wine, brandy and sex, for that was how she passed her days.
Adriel Condune was from Royan, western France. He had lived all over the country, doing dozens of different jobs throughout his long and fruitless life. He had had sex with sixty-eight women, eight of whom, peculiarly, were from the Faroe Islands, three English, seven Chinese, eighteen French, six Spanish, one Hungarian, two Argentinean, one Iraqi (a prostitute), three Nigerian (two of whom were prostitutes), two Polish (at the same time), four Dutch, six Belgian, two German, one Greek, one Macedonian (prostitute), one Scottish (his brother’s wife), and two Canadian (who he thought were American until the following morning – they slapped him: ‘We’re not fucking Yanks!’). He had been married three times (one Dutch banker, one Greek hair-dresser, one Macedonian prostitute). He had 13,649 Euros in his bank account. He owned one house in Dunkirk with his lover, Captain Hoeffel’s mother, and one apartment beside the beach in Nice. He adored dancing, drinking in the middle of the day, having sex, watching the television at night after a long, hard day, sweating so much that his eyes started to sting, scratching his toes when they itched, listening to T. Rex extremely loudly through the speakers in the kitchen whilst cooking, and travelling on trains for reasonable amounts of time. He despised having to wake up early, playing with children, watching Japanese television, people with disproportionally large feet, the sound of a steel guitar, the fact that Marc Bolan died so young, any alcoholic beverages mixed with coffee, having to clip his nails every week or so, vanilla essence in anything, and daddy long-leg spiders.
Captain Hoeffel moved slightly closer to the precipice of the ledge upon which he was perched. He felt warm air rising from nothing, tainting the underside of his chin with an orangey glow. Better an orangey glow than no glow at all. His father never heeded him that advice. Upon realising all this, Captain Hoeffel wished he had told his father that it was better to have an orangey glow on the underside of the chin than no glow anywhere. Unfortunately, his father was dead, so he would never find out this stimulating news. And even if he could have, it would only have aggravated him, for you cannot have a glow on your face or anywhere when you are in a box six feet underground. That’s where Captain Hoeffel’s father was.
What a place to be.
Now he was thinking about the steam that rises from the sea when the sun is ludicrously hot and the water equally cold. He imagined it rising up, enveloping his eyesight in misty greyness, and then the fin of an orca breaking the tranquillity and everything becoming very exciting. Captain Hoeffel screams, throwing his arms in the air, cheering on the huge black and white orca. But then his eyes regained vision and he realised that, although it was a splendid image, he was in fact standing on a ledge, looking down, and nothing else was happening.
He was now thinking of the moment when his mother had first called him a ‘useless alcoholic’. The feeling received from the conjuring memory was spectacularly banal, much like every other emotion the captain ever felt. ‘I do not need alcohol, I simply want it, therefore I am a drinker, not an alcoholic.’ He had replied to his mother, turning his back on her as he sipped habitually from a glass of whiskey (‘No ice, no fucking ice! I’m not a woman!’ He would always say). ‘Yes, but you want it all the time!’ She replied. He disagreed with her. The feeling from her to him was mutual. All who knew them surmised that it was best that they never speak to each other again.
‘You need your mother: such love is unconditional. Forgive and forget: she made you, for God’s sake!’ One deckhand on a yacht Captain Hoeffel had had the displeasure of captaining some decades ago had told him. ‘Shut up! You are a deckhand, I am a captain: I give you orders, you take them. No advice is exchanged between us. Now, clean up some mess somewhere.’ Had been Captain Hoeffel’s reply. ‘Fuck you!’ Had been the young deckhand’s, but he dared not repeat what he had said louder and in the direction of his captain upon being asked to.
I do not need my fucking mother. No, even more so, I do not need anyone. Captain Hoeffel had thought to himself originally upon disembarking that particular yacht as it arrived in the port of Cannes, but he rethought it whilst standing on a ledge, contemplating everything that had ever happened.
For it is that thoughts always lead to each other, one to the next and next to another, as scenes in a play without the changing of the set by stagehands in between, or as droplets of rain falling into the sea, the thought of his mother’s futile place in his life led him to be reminded of a man named Donald Farm, ‘a proper bastardly shit’ was how Captain Hoeffel had described him upon recounting the story of their first meeting. It was Donald Farm who took his mother’s virginity and came back to her, claiming that he must be the father of her children, despite the fact that he had slept with her once in the toilet cubicles of a courtroom in Frankfurt thirty-three years beforehand and her children were in their early twenties.
‘Well, I either had a ten-year pregnancy or you are a daft prick who should rather quickly fuck off. Which do you think?’
He did not think either, and he resented being asked such a bias-ridden question. He slapped Captain Hoeffel’s mother, an action which presented the captain with very little feeling other than lethargy for he had just returned home from a short voyage to the United Kingdom, a voyage which rewarded him with no time whatsoever to sleep.
The thought of Donald Farm could have carried on for some time, for it was a deep and bitter hatred the captain felt toward the man, but it would have done very little to further his knowledge of anything and only have made him more glum and sick of everything than he already was, so he decided to change his thoughts (allowing the stagehands to sweep up the stage and replace the background whilst the last scene was still in full swing) to a memory of when he had once docked a cargo ship in the port of Alexandria, Egypt.
He remembered noticing the sunset for the first time. Oh, so that is why they all write poetry about it. He had thought to himself as he lit a cigarette and allowed odd flushes of whiskey to pour into his throat from a glass he held in his left hand. He was standing at the bow, watching the Egyptian deckhands moor the ship and unload its content. The captain wondered what he had actually just brought across the Atlantic in all those metal cylinders. He only thought of it for a brief second for his interest in the subject was far too low to maintain anything of any use.
That was what his first wife had complained about. ‘It is because you are not interested that you fail like that. Slap it, it might wake up.’ She had said on countless occasions. ‘Shut up. Where is the whiskey? It is asleep, it is tired, and I need whiskey.’ He had replied on an equal number of occasions. ‘Does it need whiskey to wake up, baby?’ She had said as she kissed some arbitrary kissing hub on his body, usually where the least hair was for otherwise it would get caught in her teeth, being as thick and wiry as it was, and so abundant. ‘I don’t need whiskey, I want it. And do I look like a baby? Honestly. I am bald, my penis doesn’t work and I have trouble walking. Do I look like a baby?’ He had said. ‘All those things are true of babies. So, yes, you do look like a baby. Especially with a cock that size.’ She had said. Her tone had changed. He was drunk. She hated drunken men. He hated men in general, but not as much as he hated her.
She was no longer his wife.
Her name was Estelle de la Mer. As Captain Hoeffel stood on a ledge, thinking about her whilst contemplating everything, she lay in a box beside a church in Aix en Provence with her arms folded across her chest. She was not breathing. She had no skin. Her eyes had been eaten by very small things. So had her heart and brain and everything else apart from her bones. Estelle de la Mer: a pile of bones in a box. Captain Hoeffel thought rather gloomily. But she had not always been merely bones, for she once was a rather attractive woman, at least not repulsively unattractive; acceptable to the eye. Yes, she had. And once she had walked and talked and jumped and done all sorts of things. She even opened her own mobile laundrette in Paris. But that was all before her brain and heart and eyes and skin were eaten by small things.
She fell into mutual acceptance with Captain Hoeffel at the tender age of eighteen. He had been alive for all of thirty years by that point, but his heart and his mind felt as if they had been alive (and lived a life of bitter toil) for seventy, or thereabouts. She first saw him sitting on a bench in the port of Santander, awaiting a yacht to take him to Mallorca so he could find his vessel after drunkenly losing it with a small bag of cocaine in his pocket and a white pair of shorts around his waist and upper thighs. He had no memory of how he had arrived in Santander, 450 miles away from where he left his yacht the previous morning.
‘Hello, sailor.’ Said she to him, fingering the fringe of her hair as if she were trying to capture a snake and pin it to her face.
‘I am not a sailor. I am a captain.’
Some distant relation or acquaintance of some sort for whom Captain Hoeffel cared very little had mentioned something about love at the wedding ceremony of the captain and Estelle de la Mer. He had replied: ‘Love [Sarcastic laugh]! All any married couple can hope for is a mutual acceptance of each other: I put up with her and she puts up with me. And we have not killed each other yet, so we must be doing well! Although I did try just yesterday, during luncheon, but she was being a disastrously stupid fucker so I had all the reason to, really. She said that Africa was a country. Women, all the same: idiots. I’m lucky I don’t want children, really, or I would be stuck with her for my whole life.’
‘Oh.’ The useless relation replied. He left and called the registrar of the district, who dealt with all the weddings, and begged that he would annul the marriage of Captain Hoeffel and Estelle de la Mer for they were utterly insane. The registrar checked their papers. He saw that they had paid half his month’s wages to have the privilege of being wed in the city’s cathedral. He allowed their marriage to continue.
They, however, did not. For hatred is a burning thing that kills whatever it sees, and it never dies. Not even love can kill hatred, for it is far fiercer and knows no limits. Accordingly the newlyweds, bound together in holy hatred, in mutual acceptance, left each other because the groom’s penis did not work due to two very large factors which had governed a major part of his life: whiskey and a lack of interest in everything.
Another drop hit the ocean and another scene was arranged in the play of the captain’s mind. This time he conjured the memory of his second wife, Teresa de la Tierra. Thinking of his wives’ names made him chortle ever so briefly: Estelle de la Mer had been born on land, in a hospital made of bricks and wood and things, despite the suggestion of her name; Teresa de la Tierra, however, had slipped out of her mother whilst sailing across the Mediterranean in a cruise ship, despite, again, the suggestion of her name.
Teresa first cast her brown eyes upon the undeniably unpleasant sight of Captain Hoeffel as she walked out of a hospital in Southampton. She had just ridden herself of cancer, or at least the antibodies put into her blood by the doctors had done so, and she was feeling ready for anything, ready to face life. Ready to seize. It just so happened, as Sod’s Law would have it, that the first thing to pass in front of her was the captain of a cruise ship. He had no hair upon his head for it had all fallen off. He had dark bags under his eyes for he smoked too many cigarettes and drank too much whiskey to ever fall asleep. He had a deep frown between his eyes for he was eternally unsatisfied with everything. He had white shoes for he liked to look better than anyone else on his ship. He had a briefcase for he was carrying the duty-free cigarettes he had bought in the port of Athens to his rented room in Southampton. He was based there for two months, waiting for his boat to be fixed by a team of repairers who went by the name of The Southampton Boat Repairers. Captain Hoeffel looked down on them for they could not come up with a more imaginative name. Fucking simpletons. He thought upon leaving their office, seconds after paying them £4000 for their time and the materials they would have to use in fixing his ship.
‘Take me!’ Teresa de la Tierra said to the first man she saw.
‘What? Who are you?’
She could not hear him. Or she had no interest in what he was saying. He took her back to his room and prodded her vagina with his penis for three minutes and fourteen seconds, until his penis became flaccid and he began thinking about the amount of money he had given the simpletons at The Southampton Boat Repairers and what utter bastards they would probably turn out to be if he could ever care enough to get to know them. He lit a cigarette. He looked out of the window at the dull town of talentless, wind-stricken Britons and sighed. Three months later they married in a tower in Chur, Switzerland. Why Chur, of all the mundane towns on the mundane planet, why, why on Earth Chur? Well, it hardly matters.
In fact, Captain Hoeffel thought to himself as he stood on a ledge contemplating everything, does anything matter? Is there, looking beyond every smile and every love and every tragedy and every tear in the whole world, any point in anything? Does anything actually matter in the slightest, or is this all just one futile and sad fight for survival, albeit at times beautiful? Is there truly any god or higher being of omnipotence looking down upon us and surveying the damage it caused to the universe? Is the death of a child really any worse than the death of a mass-murderer, and if so, why is one life more valuable than another? Will anything be remembered once that everyone we know dies and there is no one left to tell our story, or will everyone only remember his own story and forget everything that ever happened before him for it is all done now anyway and people have been saying for millennia ‘Forgive and forget’, or will he no longer know that phrase for it will have been forgotten along with everything else for it will be dead, just like us and everything we know? And is there, looking at it objectively, as if the mind contemplating such a matter were not human at all but a judge for life, an external examiner on a day trip to study the human race and its little blue planet, is there truly any point in being born at all?
Probably not, Captain Hoeffel thought to himself.
And then the ledge on which he had been standing, contemplating everything that had ever happened and if it really had any use, no longer held the weight of his old body. For his body was a mess of matter on the ground below. And what a mess he had made. One would suppose, if he had been alive to do so, he would have wished that he could have told the deckhand on the yacht he captained some decades beforehand to clean up the mess his body had made: ‘You are a deckhand, I am a captain, so clean me up!’