Samuel Bailey had teeth like piano keys. Windburned he was. A white man. He dug the dirt from his thorny fingernails with splinters of gunwale and fishbones. Bailey was a bad man, a bad man. You never knew the weather comin’ with that man, his eyes clouded all the storms in his heart. He got wild but Bailey gettin’ wild made him steady like a snake.
He sat at the oars chewing something and spitting and his mouth cracked around his jaws like it hurt to move them or speak anything. His hair was running away from his head and when he took off his hat, it lay in soft wisps over his skin.
I never saw Samuel Bailey panic, not when that black man fronted him on the island with his feathers and spears. Not when that wave rose right up out of a sea and spilled him and the rest of us to the rocks, sucked back and then dropped us again boat and all on the barnacles. Barnacles like a man’s hand with critters living in them, good enough food to suck on when your feet are planted safe on granite. No good to see comin’ toward your face and straining the brine through their jagged teeth and your blood is next.
Bailey was the only one calm. He was tipped into the belly of the whale boat, facing the mess of clouds and he was laughing and telling young Neddy once he found his seat again that he was gonna fucking killim next time he let the boat get that close to the rocks. Break his arm over his knee, break it off and chuck it to the gloamy-eyed grey devils that hunted seal too. Laughing. Made everyone else laugh too and come the next morning one of Neddy’s fingers was a missing, a bleeedin’ stump.
And Neddy would tell to no one what became of it.