Night Before Landing
Walking around the deck in the dark Nick passed the Polish officers sitting in a row of deck chairs. Someone was playing the mandolin. Leon Chocianowicz put out his foot in the dark.
“Hey, Nick,” he said, “where you going?”
“Nowhere. Just walking.”
“Sit here. There’s a chair.”
Nick sat in the empty chair and looked out at the men passing against the light from the sea. It was a warm night in June. Nick leaned back in the chair.
“Tomorrow we get in,” Leon said. “I heard it from the wireless man.”
“I heard it from the barber,” Nick said.
Leon laughed and spoke in Polish to the man in the next deck chair. He leaned forward and smiled at Nick.
“He doesn’t speak English,” Leon said. “He says he heard it from Gaby.”
“Up in a lifeboat with somebody.”
“Maybe with Gaby.”
“No,” said Nick. “She told me she couldn’t stand him.”
Gaby was the only girl on the boat. She had blonde hair which was always coming down, a loud laugh, a good body, and a bad odor of some sort. An aunt, who had not left her cabin since the boat sailed, was taking her back to her family in Paris. Her father had something to do with the French Line and she dined at the captain’s table.
“Why doesn’t she like Galinski?” Leon asked.
“She said he looked like a porpoise.”
Leon laughed again. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go find him and tell him.”
They stood up and walked over to the rail. Overhead the lifeboats were swung out ready to be lowered. The ship was listed, the decks slanted and the lifeboats hung slanted and widely swinging. The water slipped softly, great patches of phosphorescent kelp churned out and sucked and bubbled under.
“She makes good time,” Nick said, looking down at the water.
“We’re in the Bay of Biscay,” Leon said. “Tomorrow we ought to see the land.”
They walked around the deck and down a ladder back to the stern to watch the wake phosphorescent and turning like plowed land in perspective. Above them was the gun platform with two sailors walking up and down beside the gun black against the faint glow from the water.
“They’re zigzagging,” Leon watched the wake.
“They say these boats carry the German mails and that’s why they’re never sunk.”
“Maybe,” said Nick. “I don’t believe it.”
“I don’t either. But it’s a nice idea. Let’s go find Galinski.”
They found Galinski in his cabin with a bottle of cognac. He was drinking out of a tooth mug.
“Hello, Nick. Here, Leon. Haff a drink.”
“You tell him, Nick.”
“Listen, Anton. We’ve got a message for you from a beautiful lady.”
“I know your beautiful lady. You take that beautiful lady and stick her up a funnel.”
Lying on his back he put his feet against the springs and mattress of the upper berth and pushed.
“Carper!” he shouted. “Hey, Carper! Wake up and drink.”
Over the edge of the upper bunk looked a face. It was a round face with steel-rimmed spectacles.
“Don’t ask me to drink when I’m drunk.”
“Come on down and drink,” Galinski bellowed.
“No,” from the upper berth. “Give me the liquor up here.”
He had rolled over against the wall again.
“He’s been drunk for two weeks,” Galinski said.
“I’m sorry,” came the voice from the upper berth. “That can’t be an accurate statement because I only met you ten days ago.”
“Haven’t you been drunk for two weeks, Carper,” Nick said.
“Of course,” the Carper said, talking to the wall. “But Galinski has no right to say so.”
Galinski jogged him up and down by pushing with his feet.
“I take it back, Carper,” he said. “I don’t think you’re drunk.”
“Don’t make ridiculous statements,” the Carper said faintly.
“What are you doing, Anton,” Leon asked.
“Thinking about my girl in Niagara Falls.”
“Come on, Nick,” said Leon. “We’ll leave this porpoise.”
“Did she tell you I was a porpoise?” Galinski asked. “She told me I was a porpoise. You know what I said to her in French. ‘Mademoiselle Gaby, you have got nothing that has any interest for me.’ Take a drink, Nick.”