“I was not old when I left home. My father beat us and we took refuge in my mother’s stories of a tree house sanctuary. We’d move someday to a leafy hide out where we’d see him way before he us, and play Aggravation and checkers, and read in hammocks, library books we’d check out when the coast was clear. Once I realized it was only a dream and not a plan, I left. I was a long haul driver’s punk for a year or two, after the money I stole from my father ran out. Then one night I heard a fight out in the lot of some poor bar as I huddled in the sleeper cab of my master’s rig, and him getting the worst of it. They abandoned him for dead and words bubbled from his lips when I went to him before the dawn. Get help he mumbled, so I did. I took the key to the strongbox and left with his savings, my second treasure. It was a lot for a kid. After that were dishes washed and unwatched tills. I never actually killed a man and all my loot I deserved more than the ones I robbed, high pressure systems move to low.
At eighteen I found myself at sea. I actually swabbed actual decks, and painted steel and served up slop and climbed up through whatever ranks one rose through and my foot locker filled with cash from paychecks never spent and jewels I bought to save space. One day, standing on the deck I realized I was at the place furthest from a tree as if I’d kept an oath sworn as a boy, which I had in fact not consciously sworn. But life can take us to these junctures unawares, where had we sworn an oath it would be fulfilled: no more love, no more trust, no more hope or faith, no dreams of trees it was for me.
And now I’m here with you on the bed of the sea they took my ship in a storm just like you. It’s over there, full of cargo. I’ve made my bed in a container full of mattresses, king size, and wander this shining city at all hours, looking for a place to spend my loot. Would you like to make a bet?”
“I’d wager that your trucker’s dead,” the magician’s assistant said. “I stole the clipping from your purse, that was my old profession, as you spoke and gestured. So you didn’t kill him but you let him die.”
The sailor shrugged. “To remind me of my life on land. My father beats my mother still for all I know and she still dreams of trees.” He got down on his knees. “Will you marry me? I’ll pay you well. I didn’t think so.” He stood back up. “I say that to all the girls, pro forma. If only we had a big casino with roulette wheel and blackjack and a stage and a red whorehouse in the back, or a mall.
A hobo robbed me down by the creek between my father and the truck. Or drifter, if you subscribe to the romantic notion that all hobos are above board by definition. I fought him and he knocked me down and pocketed my cash. Someday you’ll see how illusory this really is,” he laughed.
“Here’s your clipping back,” she said, the magician’s assistant. “And your other stuff I took. Are there many others here?”
“There are a few. Maybe more, who hide from me. I feel their thoughts and eyes. Captain Nemo is down here, the old liar, with his lying song of death.”