Margaret hummed the same tune over and over as she hobbled along the dirt path toward the chicken coop. It had a good rhythm and she didn’t want to lose it before she had the chance to write it down—an all too frequent occurrence these days. She longed for time to sit and compose without the interruption of chores. Of course, without the meager earnings the eggs and produce brought, she couldn’t eat, much less come up with enough money to produce the play once it was finished.

She leaned on her cane and stared into the distance, past the fence and empty fields, beyond the busy streets of the city miles away. She could feel the pull of the ocean, even if she couldn’t see it. It called to her at night, a faint murmuring plea, a seductive whisper that made promises better ignored.

She turned her back on it now and threw open the screen door of the henhouse, startling a line of chicks and their mother, who pecked disdainfully at her sandaled feet. Margaret was pulling a warm egg from the straw nest when she heard the car. The county road turned to dirt about a mile before it reached her mailbox and since this was the only traffic she’d seen in days, she knew the driver had come about the ad.

The BMW stopped and a man stepped out. Dust blew across the top of his wing-tip shoes and lodged in the creases of his suit as he crouched to study the boat out front, high and dry on top of a set of crumbling cement blocks. Margaret didn’t hurry to greet him but instead made her way slowly to the back door of the cottage, her limp becoming more pronounced.

Inside, she rested her hand briefly on the handle of the teapot before moving on to the liquor cabinet. She seldom drank anymore, having outgrown that habit along with the boat, but she had a feeling this meeting might require more lubrication than tea could provide.

Outside, the man worked his way from bough to stern, tapping on the bleached wood and peering inside the cabin. He was clean-shaven, his face pale and doughy without the benefit of his thick beard. Even the hair on the top of his head had thinned, and Margaret could see pink scalp beneath the raven colored strands left behind.

She turned from the window to study her own reflection, wondering what he’d see in her face after all these years. It was lined, but then it had been when he’d known her—the ravages of a life lived on deck, under the baking sun and harsh salt air. She pulled her hair back and fastened it beneath a headscarf, embarrassed by her own once-flowing tresses that had thinned and dulled. Her long skirt covered her prosthesis, and as she straightened it she wondered if he’d be bold enough to look.

“Edward,” she said, pulling open the door as he stepped onto the porch. “What a surprise.”

He raised one eyebrow, a gesture that had once raised the fear of God in everyone he’d met, but now looked out of place on a balding businessman in a too-tight suit. He raked his gaze down her body and back up, as if she were a piece of property he was hoping to acquire. “You haven’t changed as much as I’d expected, Peg.”

She winced at the nickname as she led him to the kitchen table. “It’s Margaret now. Rum?” She poured a healthy swallow into a canning jar and passed it over. “I take it you saw the ad.”

He pulled a piece of paper from his breast pocket, a square cut from faded newspaper. “Disenchanted Pirate Sells Boat—Make an Offer!” The headline seemed to scream up at them, and Margaret wondered if she’d crossed the line between clever and desperate. Still, it had gotten his attention.

“I can’t say as I was surprised to see this. You never were cut out for the sea.”

Her hand gripped the amber bottle. “It wasn’t the sea so much as the company.” She forced her fingers to relax and slid into the chair across from him. “The sea I still miss. Don’t you?”

He clicked a few buttons on his Blackberry and grimaced, then reached for his glass. “Not as much as you might think. I’m busy with other things these days.” He downed his drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Now this I miss.”

“Too busy with what, exactly?”

“I’m a commodities trader,” he boasted, puffing out his chest. “Making a killing, I am. So that hasn’t changed.” He barked a laugh and passed her a business card, dark and shiny. It matched his car.

“I imagine not,” she murmured, studying the card before tucking it under her bra strap. “More rum?” As she poured, she continued, “I’m glad you’ve come, actually. There’s a little matter I’d hoped we could discuss. Civilized, like.”

She paused to fill her own glass, and when she looked up she was staring down the business end of a dagger. She drank the shot, then said, “You really haven’t changed at all, Edward. Aside from the baldness. You still don’t know the meaning of the word civilized.”

“And you still don’t know when to keep your hands off a pirate’s treasure.”

“There was a time when you didn’t mind my hands all over your treasure,” she reminded him, gratified to see the tips of his exposed ears turn pink.

“That was before you went soft.” His eyes were as steely as the knife, his gaze as steady as the hand that held it.

“I never went soft,” she corrected him. “I just got tired of all the drama. Really, how many people had to go overboard just so you could feel like a man?”

“I’d hold my tongue if I were you, Peg, or you might not have it much longer.” His voice had slid into a low hiss, his Bahamian accent becoming more pronounced.

“I pillaged and plundered for that money as hard as the next man. I deserved my cut.”

“It became all mine the day you walked away,” he reminded her, “and as you know there are only two ways to part a pirate from his treasure.”

“I’m not going to fight you, Edward.” She held her trembling hands beneath the table so they wouldn’t betray her fear. “And I’m certainly not going to sleep with you. Now put that knife away. We’re not pirates any longer.”

He stared at her for a long moment before lowering the dagger to poke at her fake leg. “That’s a pity. I’d have liked to see what you could do with this thing. But I didn’t really expect a fight. You never were a true pirate, love.”

She stared back, holding her anger in check. “The boat for my share of the loot. That’s more than fair.”

He laughed so hard tears rolled down his flabby cheeks. “The money’s gone, Peg. Invested and whatnot. Whatever you think I owe you is long gone.” He swallowed the last of his rum and raised his glass. “To the victor go the spoils.” Then he pecked her on the cheek, took one last leering look down the front of her dress, and let himself out.

She sat until she heard his car bump down the dirt road. Then she made her way to the telephone.

“He was here,” she told the man who picked up. “He’s working as a commodities trader in New York.” She pulled the business card from her bra and read off the address, listening to the scraping sounds of his claw on paper and the crunch as the pencil snapped in half.

“I’ll take care of it.”

“And the money?”

“You loved him once. Tell me again why you’re so eager to betray him.”

She touched the plastic beneath her skirt, a reflexive motion. “You know better than anyone.”

“I’ll be in touch. You’ll have your money.”

She hung up the phone and sat down to finish the bottle of rum. Edward was wrong. She may not have had the balls for battle, but she was still a pirate at heart. In fact, that was going to be the title of her musical

# # #

Heart of a Pirate by Shannnon Schuren
originally published in the Summer 2012 print edition



Shannon Schuren lives in Sheboygan Falls, WI with her husband and three children. Her work has appeared in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Big Pulp, Concisely Magazine, and her wastebasket, among other places.

For more of Shannon's work,
visit her Big Pulp author page


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