The Island of Jaded Mariners by Nathan Leslie

There is one go-getter living amongst a collection of sticks-in-the mud. The sticks-in-the-mud are retired sea captains who selected the small two-mile by three-mile dollop of an island in our archipelago as their resting home. They have built stately manors and classy homes—some of the prettiest around. But they mostly hunker inside, perched in their lofts and they use their periscopes to peer out over the ocean, as if their homes were ships at sea.

The go-getter is one Arzone Quantra, a former teacher who decided she would rather write children’s books in her cabin on the beach. She writes in the morning and then rabble rouses, calling Captain Jim or Captain Mike or Captain Samuel or simply going door-to-door, knuckles rapping to investigate the latest goings on or to generate a picnic outing or a fishing expedition or badminton—she loves badminton. These are men in their sixties and seventies and eighties though and most are content to drink and sleep and perhaps read or tend to their gardens. If Arzone gets a grudging “yes” from any of the retired Mariners, she is delighted.

We do not believe the rumors that Arzone is involved with Captain Doug. Captain Doug, for starters, is a man’s man, not one to dilly-dally with a wallflower like Arzone. Also, there is the fact that Arzone is already involved with, we believe, the chief volcanologist on Loaf Island. Though she does not often see him as a result of the nature of his job, Arzone claims she is in love. And if Arzone says it, we believe it.

Captain Doug is the most active of Arzone’s captain friends—that we will say. If anyone is up for flying a kite or a canoe ride to Feather Island, it is Captain Doug. He will even whistle a tune or sing along to Arzone’s musical ramblings. With good humor.

It is Arzone—the lone woman—and all of these old men. But as captains they have sense and a kind of residual leader mentality. 

On her last night on the island, Arzone gives a reading at the Mariner Store. Some six bored mariners show up to pay homage. She reads from Thumble Bee the Bumble Bee and the retired captains give her a standing ovation afterward. As they walk home, they acknowledge Arzone’s efforts and promise they will be better—they will go to her next event.

But in the morning she is gone. Back to Loaf Island to live with the volcanologist. Her cabin is bare save for a few inkless pens. She is on to the next thing, the captains mumble. They finger their sextants and retreat back upstairs to the coolness of shadows. 

Nathan Leslie’s eleven books of fiction include Three Men, Root and Shoot, Sibs and Drivers, among others. His latest books are The Invisible Hand (Hamilton Stone Editions) and the forthcoming A Fly in the Ointment (Apprentice House). He is also the author of The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, a novel, and the poetry collection Night Sweat. His work has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, Hotel Amerika, and Cimarron Review. Leslie was series editor for Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for many years. He currently serves as the series editor for Best Small Fictions and edits Maryland Literary Review, which he founded.

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