The Pirate

The Pirate

Even before the summer sun began to paint the eastern sky, Rowan, in his purple headscarf and black eye patch, jumped out of his bunk and reached for his wooden sword stowed under the mattress. He yelled “good morning, mate” to Yellowbeard, yanking off the cage’s cloth cover as he ran past to the patio door to let in Peg Leg, his trusty Bull Terrier. Yellowbeard squawked in his cage, “Good morning, mate, good morning.”

Peg Leg rushed inside, running round and round the cramped kitchen. “Easy boy,” Rowan said. “Take it easy, you have a long day ahead of you.” Rowan tossed Peg Leg a dog bone treat from the cupboard to settle him down while he poured dog food into his bowl. Rowan reached the Cap’n Crunch cereal from the cupboard, poured out a generous amount into a bowl, and took the milk out of the refrigerator, splashing milk onto the cereal, the countertop, and the floor, which he scuffed into oblivion with his stockinged foot.

Rowan gulped down spoonfuls of cereal in his haste to get started on his newest adventure. Peg Leg, having already licked up his food, sat on his haunches waiting, his tail slapping the floor, eager to accompany Rowan. Rowan slurped the last of the milk from the bowl as he carried it to the sink.

“OK, Peg, it’s time to be off,” Rowan said, grabbing an apple from the fruit basket. The house was quiet, everyone fast asleep. Before leaving, Rowan scribbled a note on the whiteboard that hung from the refrigerator. Seeking treasure, be back by supper if the winds blow fair.

Rowan took his duties as a pirate seriously. He’d read everything he could get his hands on about the Caribbean pirates Edward Teach, Calico Jack Rackham, and Jean Lafitte, and the square-rigged two-masted ships favored by them for their speed and agility through the water. The code of the pirate was to plunder with recklessness but honor and to leave the flower of the virgin unspoiled. Rowan wasn’t sure what a virgin was but he held to the pirate’s code, and if he should ever discover a virgin, he would be sure to leave her flower unspoiled.

The back door slammed behind him as he ran toward the back gate, Peg Leg hot on his heels, through the gate into the alley, running down the hill toward Valley Road, turning west on Valley Road, running, his lungs on fire, to the end of Valley Road where it turned into a dirt track that cut through the sagebrush scrub down to the creek bottom. On the other side of the creek, far in the distance, Rowan could see the scrub rise gently to where it collided with the sheer sides of the unscalable, unfathomable cliffs. One day, he promised himself, he’d scale those steep cliffs to discover the wondrous lands that lay on the mesa top.

After running for over a mile, he slowed his pace down to catch his breath. Peg Leg ran on for another hundred yards unaware that Rowan was no longer beside him, stopped, wheeled around, debated whether to run back to meet Rowan or plop down on his haunches to wait, which he did, his tongue lapping up air. Rowan caught up to him and together they walked to the end of the dirt track and down the steep slope that led to the thick willows and Russian Olive trees that lined Montezuma Creek.

As Rowan hacked his way through the tall brush and willows, a rustling in the thicket startled him. Something splashed into the creek. Rowan’s sword worked feverishly. Out of breath, and slashed by the thorns of the Russian Olive trees, Rowan ducked under the last of the low-hanging branches to reach the creek just as something escaped into the thicket on the other side. Dragons! No doubt about it. He’d scared them off. If he’d known they were there, he would have approached with greater stealth in order to get the drop on them. They were shy creatures, these River Dragons. Part of the code of the pirate bound him to vanquish these River Dragons wherever he encountered them. They were destructive beasts bent on disrupting sea travel.

Peg Leg crouched in the tall grass and eyed the far side of the creek warily. If he was commanded to do so, Rowan knew he would attack heedlessly and without concern for his own safety. Peg Leg was loyal.

Rowan waited for the rustling on the other side to subside before he moved along the creek’s edge to find a place to cross. He saw where the dragons had bedded down and the trample of willows where they crossed. The creek was deep and swift here and not a good place for him to cross. He continued on until he found a sandbar suitable for crossing. He pulled off his boots and rolled up his pants legs and waded into the creek. Peg Leg splashed ahead of him drenching Rowan with cold, muddy water.

“Damn you, Peg,” Rowan screamed at him. “Shh…we don’t want to alarm them.” Rowan knew because of their size and number he needed to approach the River Dragons with caution. He was fearless but not foolish.

When they reached the other side, Rowan sat down to put his boots on. Peg Leg, shaking off the river water, soaked Rowan again. “Damn you, Peg,” he said turning away from the spray. Half-heartedly, he pushed Peg Leg away. “You can be a real nuisance sometimes.” Peg Leg huddled close to Rowan, leaning into him when Rowan slid his arm around Peg Leg’s neck and scratched under his chin. “You are something, my friend,” Rowan said.

They stood up together and slashed through the willows and Russian Olive trees to pick up the trail left by the River Dragons. “Shh…you have to move quietly,” Rowan said. Peg Leg looked up at him, his head cocked.

Rowan bent low to examine the ground closer. He looked over at Peg Leg, wondering why he wasn’t the one doing the tracking. Shaking his head, Rowan looked down again and found the two-toed tracks left in the mud by the River Dragons rushing away from the creek. “This way,” he said. Peg Leg’s ears shot up sensing Rowan’s excitement. They hacked through the last of the thicket until they came onto the sagebrush scrub again. Off in the distance, Rowan could see the sharp cliffs of the mesa.

The tracks were less distinct in the baked red clay, so Rowan relied on the broken and bent branches of sagebrush, picking up a track now and then in the soft dirt blown in beneath the tall sagebrush. The River Dragons had a considerable head start on them. If they had any chance of catching up to them, he and Peg would have to pick up their pace.


Ruffi woke up with a start, looked around, and fell back upon the pillow. Sunlight streaked through the blinds. She reached over and grabbed her phone off the nightstand. 7:30. Dammit! She hated getting up. The alarm was set for 8:00, but what were another thirty minutes? She sighed and closed her eyes.

“Fuck it,” she said throwing back the covers and sliding her feet to the floor. She sat there for several minutes with her head in her hands. What was the point? In any of it. She had a hard time moving. Getting up. Any morning. Finding the energy to keep going.

She stood up and walked to the bathroom, lifted the toilet seat and sat down to pee. Reflexes. This is what her life consisted of now. Peeing. Showering. Eating. Backing her car out of the garage. Instincts got her to work. What she did while she was there she never could recall at the end of the day.

She stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee. It helped. For a fleeting moment, she thought John might walk down the hall and into the kitchen. He wouldn’t. He’d been gone for over six months. And he wasn’t coming back. She knew it. The kitchen light glared at her. Why did it have to do that? Why? Why the fuck did it have to do that?

Once the coffee maker gurgled to life, she walked back into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and slipped out of her nightgown. She stepped into the hot shower and let the water run over her while she cried. She cried quietly. Alone. The warm water felt good on her neck and down her back and her tears flowed easily. She cried every morning. It is what made sense to her.

As she toweled off, she glanced at her hollow body in the mirror. What had happened to her? Without looking back, she walked into the bedroom, naked, threw the comforter over the rumpled sheets and stepped into the closet. In the glare of the closet light, she stood for several minutes in front of the long rack of clothes before finally selecting a dress to wear. She slipped on pantyhose and the dress and stepped in front of the full-length mirror, smoothed out the wrinkles, frowned, turned her butt this way and that way, scrunched up her hair, and sat down on the edge of the bed in the half-light that crept through the blinds to pull on her boots. She fought the urge to cry again.


Rowan and Peg Leg stepped up their pace up the steep hill that led away from the creek bottom. The hard-charging River Dragons had a lengthy lead on them, but Rowan, even though he was out of his element, was confident he would catch up to them.

In the far distance, Rowan could see the sheer cliffs of the mesa rising straight up, a formidable challenge but not impossible. To a pirate, nothing was impossible. If the River Dragons chose to scale the cliffs, he was prepared to follow. Looking up, the sun warm on his face, Rowan began to whistle a tune that had been stuck in his head for a long time, although he couldn’t recall from where. It didn’t matter. He reached down to scratch Peg Leg and Peg Leg reached his head up into Rowan’s hand and they strode together up the sagebrush scrub toward the tall cliffs below the mesa top. Life was good for a pirate.


Ruffi backed her car out of the garage, turned into Westin Street and drove to Lesser Avenue that took her to the interstate highway. She didn’t think about her route anymore, it had become routine. She sipped her coffee and flipped through stations on the radio. She and John had different tastes in music. But this had nothing to do with their breakup. Music was an easy thing to fix. Some things can be fixed, some things can’t.

She knew why he left but it didn’t ease the pain. He told her he couldn’t stand being in the house. He begged her to put the house up for sale, move the hell out of town, get as far away as they could. She couldn’t leave, she told him, it was all she had left. The thought of him, the smell of him, the fibers in the carpet, the songs still in the air. John looked at her hard in that way he had of looking at everything. Tears softened his hard face, but he turned away. He always went somewhere else when the tears came.

Music screamed from the radio, signs and light poles blurred as she sped down the interstate highway. For the first time, she noticed it was raining, the wipers slapping back and forth. Her life was spinning out of control and she couldn’t stop it.

“Fuck it,” she screamed, slamming both palms hard against the steering wheel. She asked herself why John had to leave. He could have stuck it out. She did. Tears bleared her eyes. What choice did she have? The wipers slapped against the gloom of rain. It occurred to her to drive right past her exit, to keep going, it didn’t matter where. She looked down at the speedometer: 92 mph. Her gas tank was full. She felt like a space traveler. Through the gloom of rain, the fog, the slapping wipers, the blur of sign posts, the tears. What did she have to lose? Hadn’t she lost everything already?

What kept her from slamming her car into the underpass?


Rowan and Peg Leg broke over the rise, the sagebrush scrub opening up in front of them, running to the uplift of foothills and sheer cliff. His heart pounded in his chest. Today was the day, he could feel it, today he’d climb those cliffs. As a pirate, he was a little out of his element, but he didn’t mind. His duty pushed him onward. The River Dragons had mocked him in the past, but not today. Today he was hot on their trail and if they had any chance of escape, they’d have to scale the cliffs faster than he could. He was up to the challenge. He looked down at Peg Leg. “You might have to stay behind,” he said. “It isn’t that I don’t want to take you along, but I’ll travel faster alone.” Peg Leg cocked his head.

They moved with purpose. He no longer needed to study the ground for tracks, the pinnacle was right in front of them. A pirate lived according to his instincts, sometimes recklessly, but always fearlessly. He couldn’t give into fears or doubts, a pirate charges ahead. Up ahead he could see the rise of dust from the hard-charging River Dragons. They were better suited to river travel, so he was confident he could overtake them on the steep cliffs of the mesa.

When he reached the upsweep of land where it rose to meet the sheer rock face, he looked up in surprise at how the River Dragons moved effortlessly up the cliff face. He tucked his sword into his thick black belt and knelt down beside Peg Leg. “Listen, trusted friend,” he began, “if I shouldn’t return, I want you to carry on without me. It is the duty of every pirate to carry on through adversity, through pain, through sorrow, through despair. In despair, one gains strength. Duty, my friend. I trust you to uphold your duty.”

Peg Leg cocked his head but stayed behind as Rowan moved up the steep upsweep of land to where it met the vertical rock face. Peg Leg never moved. His ears pricked up when Rowan moved his arm in a broad sweep back and forth and yelled down the slope, “Carry on, trusted friend.”

In the growing dusk, Peg Leg remained behind. He never considered the possibility that Rowan wouldn’t return. Rowan always came back. Through the night, the night he didn’t come home, Peg Leg waited. And in the first light of morning, he waited. Through the day and into the night, he waited, until the next morning, dejected, he walked wearily home.


Ruffi didn’t drive her car into the concrete abutment of the overpass. She went to work. She faced this day as she’d faced the days before. One day, she’d find the courage to drive her car into the concrete wall. At the end of the work day, Ruffi drove home, pulled into the driveway where Peg Leg waited as he did every day. She pulled into the garage, turned off the engine, and walked into the kitchen with Peg Leg close behind her, the garage door closing noisily behind them.

Peg Leg moved wearily to his bed in the corner while she poured out food into his dish. He ate mechanically, sadly. She knelt down beside him to scratch behind his ear but he found little comfort in this act of kindness. He hadn’t been the same since Rowan’s death. He was Rowan’s dog.

She often wondered where he spent his days while she went to work. She liked to believe he spent his days down in the sagebrush scrub along the creek playing with Rowan. Or on the mesa top, though she can’t imagine how he’d get up there. A part of her liked to believe Rowan still sailed the Carribean in his two-masted ship rigged for speed. He was a pirate. And pirates never die. Not really.

Ruffi stood up, stepped over to the cage and lifted off the black cloth covering the cage. “Fair winds, mate, fair winds,” the yellow bird squawked. “Fuck you,” she said. “Fuck you, fuck you,” the bird repeated.

She reached into the cupboard for the bottle of wine, poured herself a glass, and stood at the kitchen window staring out at the gray wall of rain. She tried to stay angry at John for leaving, but she couldn’t. She understood. She would have liked to have left herself.

She carried her glass of wine down the hallway and stood in front of the door to Rowan’s bedroom. She reached for the handle but pulled back and looked down the hall at the full-length mirror. She’d always hated that mirror. Why hadn’t she taken it down? She took a sip of the wine and turned the handle and stepped inside. His bed was just as it was the day he never came back. On the walls were his posters of pirates and the fast-rigged two-masted ships. She smiled at her memories of the many Halloweens when he dressed up as a pirate. He always told her that one day he’d sail away on the fastest ship in the harbor. No one would catch him. She laughed at his rugged determination. Her little pirate.

She sat down on the edge of the bed and reached underneath the mattress where he kept his wooden sword. She had thought about putting it in the coffin with him and regretted she didn’t. John thought it was a ridiculous idea. If John were here now, she’d pull the sword out and slash him across the face. What right had he to tell her what was ridiculous? He got the fuck out. He left. You know what was ridiculous is his whimpering like a broken rabbit when the memories crept into their bedroom at night. He didn’t stay to hold on to her, to give her the deep, fierce love she needed more than anything else in the world right then. She needed to be loved madly, fiercely, unquestioningly. Instead, he told her the memories were too painful for him. Well, that’s what happens. If you are willing to love, then you’d better be willing to suffer.

River Dragons. That’s what Rowan told her he’d followed up the steep cliffs to the mesa top. That long day a year ago when she’d been worried sick when he’d come home so late. She told him she could’ve killed him she was so worried sick. She could’ve killed him. What was she thinking? Through bleary eyes, she looked up at the posters on the wall. The fast two-masted ships cut through her sea of tears.

When Rowan got home that night, she and John were furious with worry, and no matter how hard Rowan tried to explain his whereabouts, they stood firm and grounded him for two weeks. The next morning when she looked in on him, an uneasiness filled her with dread. She couldn’t put her finger on it but something just didn’t feel right, even though Rowan slept peacefully. Several times during the day, she called the house but Rowan never answered. Finally, she called John at his office, but he told her not to worry, Rowan was probably in the backyard playing with Peg Leg. She wasn’t convinced, however, and fought the urge to drive home to check on him.

She left work early and drove home in a panic. She sensed something was wrong but had no reason to believe there was. She rushed into the house and down the hallway to Rowan’s room. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the backyard either. Neither was Peg Leg. And they didn’t come home that night. Or the next. She and John went to the police and a search party was formed. But they had little to go on. Where to begin? There is an unthinkable expanse of sagebrush scrub between their house and the steep cliffs of the mesa. Worried sick, unable to sleep, they paced around their house all night, the next day and the next night, until Peg Leg showed up the following morning. He was alone.

Rowan’s body, tangled in brush along the river’s edge, was found by searchers two days later. Apparently, he had slipped underwater as he was trying to cross the river. The River Dragons got him, she told herself. Goddamn River Dragons. They were real. Rowan told her they were.

Things happen without warning. It wouldn’t have mattered if she’d known ahead of time. The outcome is what’s left behind. It didn’t matter when it came, it came, and now it stays behind. Rowan’s death lingers like the image of the River Dragons on the mesa top. They are there but they aren’t. But they are. He followed them up there. But sometime the next day, they returned to the river.

  1. Enjoyed this David. Looking out for the RiverSeagons. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you, Sam. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

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