Long John Silver
English editor: Harry Mathews
DVIR Gallery Tel-Aviv | October 2006 | within Hakafot | LONG JOHN SILVER
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I faced a lame vagabond. He had his weapon, many tools, and the famous crutch by means of which he hopped with scary speed from one place to another. He was yellow to the rim of his obscurely mad eyes; his whole face was wrinkled and pitted, yet without the least hint of bitterness or suffering. His bearing delineated a vital, coherent appearance of evil. The weaponry hanging on him stuck out in all directions; he looked decidedly prickly. His complicated shadow formed a strange, captivating pattern on the sand, calling to mind some archaic instrument of astronomical measurement, perhaps an astrolabe.
But I could just as easily think of him as a mere varmint.
And he had well-shaped thighs.
The single shank was perfect; its thin ankle was joined to an elegant foot thrust into a buckled spurred boot. The missing shank was replaced by a simple wooden crutch shaped like an overturned plunger. The remains of the knee were fixed to it by thongs. It was an old prosthesis, a legendary piratical item, perhaps still to be found in Pakistan or Africa, though there too it has long ago vanished, especially since Doctors without Borders began arriving everywhere, sometimes even before any blood is shed.
There are no such legs anymore.
The sharp disparity between the plunger and the pretty leg made it look even more beautiful.
Boot and crutch were stuck in the sand. His legs were spread wide. I lowered my gaze on that unique spectacle. All beauty was here below, innocent of any wickedness, indifferent to my one wish that at least loathsome traits such as viciousness and envy should be inscribed evenly over bodies in their entirety. But there was no wickedness in these thighs, nor in this ankle. I knew that the character of the man I faced was crooked from top to bottom, I knew it all along, prior to his entering my field of sight. I knew it beforehand, from my childhood, from the story; but nevertheless I started to wilt faced with those well-shaped limbs, as if they had been stolen from someone else, someone who was truly beautiful from top to bottom, someone who was as beautiful as he was good and generous, with cheerful eye, etc. etc.
It was an abominable situation. The most I could do was to search for my notebook and write things down: A fact or a nightmare: below his hips Long John Silver is perfect.
He stood there balanced, fiercely intent, watching my pitiful struggles with my bag, pockets, and notebook. Evidently it did not occur to him to ask what was I scribbling.
Two Merlin pistols were being held at shoulder level.
Whenever he was not frozen in place getting set to shoot someone, he was forever shaking and raving. His arm together with his walking stick was longer than any leg, and when he moved they worked together like some rotating pin that by rowing in the air thrust his body forward. Thus, while he had only one leg, Long John Silver galloped on three.
Now he stood still, the stick fastened between his sacks. Behind him two crossed Yatagan swords were fastened by belts to his hips. Two curved daggers, also Turkish, projected from the leather pockets flanking his thighs. Two Harrington guns hung on one shoulder. A pair of leather sacks sewn with thick thread lay on his back on top of a patched coat. The terrifying walking stick that had just now been put there was pointing north. He also kept in reserve there another stick, which pointed south.
In combat Long John Silver could leap with demonic agility without using these walking sticks, or stand, as he now did, balanced and fiercely intent.
His madness, the notorious folly of all solitary aging, was apparent: his belongings were all arrayed in pairs. He likewise wore two hats. One, with a huge rim, had once been an umbrella, most of its ribs now stripped away. Attached to an iron hoop, it seemed soldered to his head. Above it was a second, blue captain’s hat, its edges still sharp; it pointed east and west. A red-tailed, one-eyed grey parrot joggled on top of this assemblage. It was just one parrot, but once its beak opened it said everything twice.
Something else: the parrot exuded stench. I did not know a living parrot could stink.
Lame Long John Silver faced me with drawn pistols.
He was violent, vulgar, hostile, and merciless. From the stories, I knew that he murdered like God, without passion or desire, without any special sentiment or cause, merely destroying the one that it had occurred to him to destroy. Despite of the decisive impression he left on me, I had nothing to say to him. I knew all what I was supposed to know, and I felt what I felt . He stood there, comfortably poised on his boot and plunger, those devastatingly handsome parts, and that was it.
I could have approached him with a certain humility: Long John Silver, you, sir − your mere shadow, that is, − are as magnificent as an astrolabe. But who can attest that he would have accepted it as a compliment? Had any conversation developed, I could have explained myself: the astrolabe, I would have said, the 'star lift', both this and that, one instrument and a thousand applications.... I somehow thought this word would lighten him up instantly and rescue my hapless case, even if I could not in the least imagine at what moment it might be possible – as an astrolabe – to calibrate him, nor imagine the location of what star or possible place he might conceivably be pointing to.
Unbelievable, all what can pass through one's head at such a crowded time.
But Long John Silver was taking aim at me.
I had no time to loose, or I would lose the world. I stared at him; shivering, my mouth painfully dry, and I intently focused, in truth, on having skipped the word astrolabe; it would not leave me, it hung on my tongue as if it had the power of garlic to exorcize vampires. Eventually, after much exertion, in the most respectful tone of which my voice was capable, I said to him: Listen, one more hand, another screw, and one spring, and you become a perfect... compass.
It was silly, no doubt. For some reason it seemed to me that I had hit the bull’s eye. In situations of such scope you are very sharp in one sense, and vague, utterly fuzzy, in fact veritably lost in another sense. My voice twittered annoyingly, it was thinner and higher than usual. He fired his two pistols simultaneously. One bullet pierced the right chamber of my heart, the other the left one. He slid his pistols into the holsters on his chest. Who beat you? I asked him. I managed to avoid the word 'idiot'. The next time it came out short and sharp: Who beat you? He turned to me then, tilting slightly, the two broad palms of his hands resting on his hips. He was yellowish all over − his desiccated skin, his hair, his clothes, all his tools. I loathed his color, and even more the foul odor he and his parrot gave off.
He examined me with his one eye; the other one was covered by a black patch, and possibly because of this it betrayed something almost friendly. I then uttered the word 'Nil'! He cut off my head with one stroke of his sword. My head dropped on the sand between the crutch and the boot. He sent me a knifelike glance; the eye that poked out of one side of the black patch was once blue, perhaps. It is good to die, said my head, and then I stuck out my tongue – or, to put it better, my tongue came out. The sword was raised a second time, and my tongue was also chopped off. Cork yer 'hole, John Silver was screeching, and the parrot repeated it twice. There's a ship on the horizon... My quivering lashes winked. The wooden crutch banged down on my skull, burying it deep in the sand.