By sean mcnulty
Katrine was strolling on the deck when she caught the distinct odour of gas.
She asked Stinson about it and he told her Dolores Costello smelled like that all the time. And that it may have had something to do with there being priests on-board. But he couldn’t be sure about that. Superstitious rubbish, she thought.
She continued her stroll and when near the cockpit a sweet burning scent like incense in a Taoist monastery began to mingle with the smell of gas. The sweetness didn’t last long. Something was on fire, she realised. She moved closer. Lines of smoke were oozing through the cracks of the door. She immediately dashed forward in a panic. None of these smells were a good sign. She pulled the door open rather violently and there at the steering wheel was a shocked Captain Littlewood. On the panel in front of him, Katrine saw what appeared to be a flower flaming away pathetically inside a brown pot. The petals had perished already so she wasn’t able to make out which member of the kingdom it was – but she could see it was a plant of some variety for the last of a green stem was unmistakeable, slumped in the pot, fast waning with a head on fire.
Aggravation grew in Littlewood’s face as Katrine stood in the doorway. She must have interrupted a private moment, one which involved the burning of horticultural items. Embarrassed, she said: ‘Sorry, Captain Littlewood...eh...I didn’t get to say Thank you for doing us this service.’
‘That’s alright.’ He turned his attention back to the wheel; he had a real grip on it, a vigilant grip, as though they were riding rocky waters, but in actual fact, it was a snail’s groove they were presently sailing with.
‘I’m sorry for interrupting you,’ said Katrine.
‘No, that’s alright.’
Katrine knew Captain Littlewood was nervous around her. And Captain Littlewood knew that Katrine knew that he was nervous around her.
‘I was wondering...eh...about sleeping arrangements.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Littlewood. ‘There is an extra bunk in the cabin. You could have that. Or in the cubby – if that doesn’t suit you. There are some blankets down there.’
‘And what about Walter?’
‘Oh, yes. Walter. Well, you can work it out amongst yourselves.’
‘Me? – oh yes, I sleep on the floors most always. Not a bother.’
Katrine smiled. ‘Okay, thanks. I’ll talk to you later.’
‘Okay,’ said Littlewood.
She left him in his burning retreat and went to the rear of the vessel, found the old scarred maintenance box and had a sit. Soon the gassy redolence was surrounded and concealed by the saline flavours of the sea. She breathed them in. Breathed them out.
Behind her lay her mother’s coffin. There were shades of splash all over it but it seemed to be holding up well. Captain Littlewood and Grimur Passer had tied it down ably with hooks and constrictor knots.
She leaned over the rails and looked down at the ocean quilt. It was a deep Prussian blue like her dear old bicycle back home. Though she was not unmoved by the magnificence of the seascape before her, she desired right now nothing more than to be whizzing up Stockholmsgade on a ginger evening, a storm of leaves in her face, and pulling a wheelie. It was the only moment of eccentricity she had in a day. Sure, she came off the bike regularly and wound up in a heap, but it only scarred proper when the students on their way home from the university happened to be looking on – or one of her clients. But she kept doing it. Pulling wheelies and falling off her dear old bicycle. Those were depthless scars and no match for that moment of eccentricity in a day.
She breathed in the salty air again. And breathed it out.