“I was never supposed to grow old,” the aged pirate said, taking a long sip off his ale. We were both regulars at the tavern and, of course, I knew who he was, but we had never spoken. Rumor had it that he had served on many unsavory crews under characters like Bartholomew Roberts and Edward Low. I hadn’t been looking for a friend, just a whiskey to dull the nagging, but he had started talking and now I was in this conversation.
Above the roar of people talking lingered the sounds of the waves crashing behind the building. Most of the crash was lost to me, but the peak of the cymbal crash weaved its way through the voices periodically if one listened for it.
He took a long, slow breath that paused briefly during the crest of every wave, and I could tell that he was straining to hear them as well. I waited. More story was coming and to leave or change the subject now would be rude.
When his ale was empty, he lifted it up into the light and shook it, peering deep into the cup, as if not really believing it was empty. If I had counted correctly, he had put away quite a few.
“I’m not saying I wish I’d died,” he said, after setting the cup down with a grunt, “but we all expected to get dragged down into to the black depths of the sea, or catch a musket ball in the chest.”
He caught the bartender’s eye and waved. His shoulder came up awkwardly as he did so, as if stiff, or injured. The bartender nodded, snatching up the cup. The old man’s rough voice continued, his eyes remaining fixed on the empty spot his drink had occupied. One of his leathery hands brushed at his chin as he spoke.“We lived our lives not expecting to get old and now that I’m too old to go to sea, I don’t know what to do.”
He turned to me then, a weak smile on his sun-damaged face, and waited for a moment, straining to hear another wave crashing outside. His eyes were hollow and pleading, but I knew he didn’t expect me to say anything. Again, I waited. The bartender set another cup down, and the pirate’s attention returned to his drink.
“I’ve traded the ocean for a house by the sea, but now nobody rocks me to sleep,” he said quietly, then sipped the top off his ale and finished, “There’s nobody left, because I was never supposed to grow old.”