BY STEVEN WOLF
Not on my boat, Mom writes on the rise of my thigh. Ink spreads and rivers and runs to the scars of my knees. “A pirate tattoo for you,” she says. Cold sweat and stink sweat, moss water green, here on the lake behind our house we row in the dark. Mom in her PJ pants, mud smeared, lip split in two, tongue full and sinking into the blood meat gap.
“Not on my boat,” I say to me.
We rock and move to stand on the seats. Mom plucks through the pile of teeth, chicken hen quick, counting thirty, thirty-one. One good as gone, lost to a notched wrench, the blow above the sink.
“Treasure,” she says. “We bury our goods.”
We take the teeth and toss them across the water. Rainy plink-plunks and they swim like minnows to the bottom of our lake-sea.
We look at the lake and act like it’s endless. England, France, and Spain, over there, she points a bone-smooth finger at the dark beach pimpled with grass. Beware this lair of naughty sea creatures. “Do you see the mermaids?” she asks. “Look.”
At home before I had shown her the scars of my knees, the kissy bruises on my neck and belly. She read them braille blind. Thumb twitch, press, circle and circle. Carousel smooth. Mommy soft motions, she prayed and cried. She wrestled the wrench from the toolbox and stood sink side for Dad to stumble in.
“Pirates?” I asked.
“The English,” she hums. “Be on guard.”
No “hi” or “what” when Dad arrived. Just wrench and head, a quick metal jab before “stop” could pop in his wet flesh mouth.
Dad sailed a stray fist sudden into her mouth, clipped her lip and popped it fat like a vein. The whack sound of wrench to teeth. Key clink and crunch, red drooled over and down he went. He spit and spun on the floor. A hiss of brain air spewed from his nose. A raw pulp crater where salt kisses used to swell.
No words for years. I sat on the stool and she grabbed apple juice from the fridge. Poured.
“Pirate rum,” she said. “For pirate’s work.”
We took Daddy English’s teeth with hammers and screws. Yellow fat nerve strings snapped and unspooled. No teeth, no fingers. I cried. She stopped to kiss and smooth and say, “No pirate tears. Pirates don’t cry.”
We wrapped him in a tent tarp I grabbed from the garage.
“Sharp pirate thinking,” she says. “You’ll get promoted.”
We haul our lump load to our boat on the dock. We set sail through the straight waters smooth. A flat glass top wrinkled at the bow. Mom massages my wrists, smiles teary blind.
We scatter teeth like petals, and then the tarp goes over. A ripple and down. I watch the Daddy English lump settle green then grey until it’s buried and gone.
Mom tucks me under her chin and sinks kisses into the top of my head. We stare across the Atlantic.
“Not on my boat,” she says. “No way.”