The island was beautiful.
It had a golden beach, the sand shimmering in the half-risen sun, the blue ocean lapping over its banks. The jungle beyond, free and untamed, harboured animals – iguanas and ocelots – who came into view breifly, then slipped away before they became noticed. Thom dragged his feet towards the spot where Mrs McCarthy and Margaret were sitting, shaded by a tree with vast leaves. He was holding the hem of his tunic up with both hands, carrying a food-source, but he stumbled, dropping the oysters he had fished out of the sea. They dotted the sand like pebbles, glistening with wetness.
Thom cursed something under his breath, Margaret – having finally lost faith in him – grumbling and helping him pick them up.
“Oysters, again?” she asked, looking at him with a cross expression.
They had left The Tinker’s Curse to wander the sea on its own, taking one of her small canoes and rowing up to this strip of land that Thom had never come upon before. He suspected it was near New Providence, but he couldn’t be sure. They had taken a few barrels of rum and dried food with them – but the food had long since ran out and the rum they savoured to the drop. Mrs McCarthy hadn’t said much, but Margaret (who had become frightened with the mutiny and successively angry at Thom’s following actions) had lost her patience. Every word was a mutter or a grumble or a groan or a sigh.
She didn’t look ten years old anymore.
“Where did Malcolm go?” asked Mrs McCarthy.
“Ye haven’t seen him?” asked Thom, taking a small knife and cracking open an oyster. The creature snapped down on his hand and Thom yelled a curse. He saw Margaret recoil at the word. No matter how many cuts he got from resilient oysters, they never failed to get curses out of him.
“N-no,” said Mrs McCarthy.
“If ye do, tell me,” said Thom with a gruff shrug, “The man’s a ravin’ lunatic, since he set foot on this island. He ain’t safe.”
“And you are, Tom?” asked Margaret.
He looked at her, not in a sensitive mood at all, and didn’t say anything.
“I suppose you’re not a gentleman, then, like you always told us in your letters.”
“I’m not havin’ this discussion wi’ ye, Maggie.”
“Why not? I’m too little? Too stupid?”
He got up and walked back to the water. Margaret followed him.
“Tom!” she said angrily, “Why did you lie to us? What are you really? A theif like Edward Teach or Tach or whatever?”
“Thatch,” said Thom, trying to control the volume of his voice, “Aye,” he looked at her, knee-deep in water, “Aye. I’m a pirate,” he spread his arms, “I’ve lived my life endin’ others and stealin’ what they hold. That’s what I am. Nothin’ less than that.”
“I wonder if there is anything less than that!”
He shook his head – unprepared for an argument with his sister – and turned away, seeing a crab scuttling along the sea-bed. He knelt down, trying his best not to stir the water, his hands poised for grabbing the creature.
And just as his hands flew into the water to crush the crab–
“Papa was right about you!”
Thom slipped and fell into the water face-first. The water bubbled up as he yelled and he came up in a sitting position – the crab holding onto his nose with one of its sharp claws. It let go, jumped back into the water with a soft splash, and scuttled away. Thom spat sea-water and glared at Margaret. She did not look amused.
“Papa always said–”
Thom stood up, “If I wanted t’know,” he said, turning away and walking further into the sea, “I’d’ve asked!”
Margaret stepped into the water, the tattered ends of her dress floating as she followed Thom. She snorted, “He always said that you were a trouble-maker–”
“Go back t’shore, Maggie,” said Thom, seeing her approach from the corner of his eye.
Her bare feet felt the soft sand underwater, and the slippery pebbles eroded to perfection. She saw clusters of small fish swim by her toes. She ventured on, until the water was up to her chest, “He said you always got in trouble. With the landlord. With the tavern-keeps. With your boss.”
“Go back t’your mammie, Margaret!”
“He said,” Margaret continued hotly, “that maybe it was a good thing that you went away!”
Thom paused, and turned around to look at her, “That’s a lie,” he mumbled.
“No,” she said, crossing her arms and tilting her head to a side, “I heard Mama and Papa talking once. He said that maybe it was a good thing that you went away – because all you ever did was get into trouble.”
Thom turned away, his eyes narrowed, “Go back t’shore,” he said, weakly pointing to the shade of the tree.
“He was right, wasn’t he?” Margaret said, “You took us. You promised you’d look after us. And look where you’ve brought us, Tom.”
Thom gritted his teeth in silence.
“And everything you told us in letters were lies. Everything,” she took another step forward and slipped, her head slapping the water before going under.
Bubbles broke the surface as she tried to scream, her clothes soaking and becoming heavy with water almost immediately. She writhed and tried to get up – but to no use.
Thom skipped his way towards her, hurrying along with eyes wide, and pulled her up.
She coughed and spluttered and panicked.
Mrs McCarthy hurried along the bank as Thom took the girl to her mother.
Mrs McCarthy looked up at Thom with a questioning gaze as she took Margaret from him. He sighed as they walked back to the shade – Mrs McCarthy trying to soothe her frantic daughter – and turned back to get more food from the sea.
* * * * *
The clouds drifted through the dark sky angrily, heavy with rainwater, just waiting to be unburdened. Margaret was asleep, Thom’s coat covering her as she snoozed the events of the day away. She was on the opposite side of the fire to where Thom was sitting and eating a piece of fish. It was good fish but it had too many bones – and every time one got stuck in his gums, he had to make an elaborate display of breaking every single table-manner there was. Mrs McCarthy sat back and didn’t eat anything.
“Thomas…” she mumbled.
He looked up, his forefinger and thumb still trying to pry out the bone, “Madam?”
He took his hand out and closed his mouth, running his tongue along his gums uncomfortabley, “Stupid fish…” he muttered.
She sighed, “Come here,” he shuffled towards her and opened his mouth. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of his breath, but took out the bone anyway.
“Thank ye,” he muttered, moving back.
“Are you alright?” she asked, hugging her knees.
“Aye,” he said softly, seemingly nonchalant, “why shouldn’t I be?”
“Well, you killed a man, you got abandoned by your friend, one of your other friends hunted you down, your crew mutinied against you, and Malcolm has gone senile.”
Thom made a face, “Shut up.”
Mrs McCarthy gave him a look, “I heard what Margaret said, Thomas.”
He looked away and didn’t say anything.
“It’s true – you’re father did say all of that.”
“Good t’know,” Thom muttered.
“But your father was angry, Thom,” said Mrs McCarthy.
“A great comfort.”
Mrs McCarthy sighed, “He was angry because he missed you.”
Thom looked at her. It was a sour and beaten-down look, “Ye’re just sayin’ that.”
She shook her head, putting a hand on his shoulder, “No. Your father was a rough man, Thomas. He was a man who was hard to love. He found it hard to love others too,” she smiled at him sadly, “He didn’t like to show his weaknesses, lad. But he still loved you. And I don’t think he died begrudging you your mistakes.”
“Ye can’t know for sure,” Thom sighed.
“I was his wife, Thomas,” she laughed, “I think my opinion counts.”
He frowned, “Aye,” he nodded to Margaret, “but ye’re her mother,” he said, looking back at Mrs McCarthy, “and ye thought I tried t’drown her today.”
Thom’s step-mother paused, “No, Thomas, I wasn’t–”
“Ye look me in the eye and tell me ye didn’t think’t, madam.”
She looked at him searchingly and then said, “It was… an… idea that entered my mind, yes. But I didn’t believe it, Thomas!”
“There’s a doubt in your mind about me,” he said. She withered, “But it’ll always stay there. I guess that was a Hell o’ my own makin’.”
He turned his back and layed down on the sand, closing his eyes and waiting for sleep. A hand touched his forehead, and brushed back his hair. He tried to shake it away, but to no avail. A soft voice rang in his ears as the hand stroked his head:
“Come all ye jolly mariners, that love to take a drum,
I’ll ye of a robber that o’er the seas did come!
He wrote a letter to his King, the eleventh of July,
To see if he’d accept him for his jolly company –
“Oh, now, now,” says the King, “Such things they cannot be!
They tell me you’re a robber – a robber of the sea!”
Oh, they sailed up and they sailed down – so stately, blind and free!
‘Til they spied the King’s High Reindeer like a leviathan on the sea.
“Why lie ye here, ye Tinker, ye silly cowardly thief?
Why lie ye here, ye Tinker, and hold our King in grief?”
They fought from one in the morning ‘til it was six at night –
Until the King’s High Reindeer was forced to take her flight.
“Go home, go home, ye tinkers, tell ye you’re King for me:
Though he reign King upon dry land – I will reign upon the sea!”
Thom paused. He’d never heard the song being sung by a woman. Usually, it was a lot of his men crowded around a fire, drinking rum, setting it to music and singing it. And, usually, Thom was too drunk to even register the words. He wanted to say something. He wanted to ask Mrs McCarthy. How she knew the song and why she had sung it to him.
But she wouldn’t know, Thom guessed.
She had probably learnt it from his crew or from Margaret – and was only singing it to cheer him up. Because she felt bad. About what Margaret had said. About suspecting him of trying to drown his little sister.
“Thank ye,” he mumbled.
As her hand receded, Thom could almost feel her smile at him.