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ROLLING WITH JAMES JOYCE ON AN IRISH HILL

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ODE TO THE BOOKISH GIRLS

The story of Ishmael

story IshmaelShop the dream

Some people sail to take revenge on a sperm whale, others, like Ishmael, to see “the watery part of the world,”* I on the other hand, wanted to see the stars properly through the darkness of the sea. I stayed at an inn the night before I sailed, sipping whisky, listening to the piano being cheerfully played and saying “aye” instead of “yes” to avoid standing out in an inn filled with burly men holding their harpoons.

After sharing a bed with another sailor, sleeping tush to tush, I packed jumpsuits, playsuits, and headed towards the ship in my Thakoon lace bodice jumpsuit and Brain Atwood over the knee boots; with my hair up in braids, I hoped I would blend in with the rest of the crew.

The captain did not show up on deck until we were deep within the terrain of the sea. I was ordered to man the mastheads — a solitary endeavour that was ideal for my mission. I spent hours up there, looking at the stars, looking at nothing but the sea and the rare presence of an albatross, reminding me of one cursed man and his experience with this creature.

At first, my time on the ship was an idyllic experience of solitude and comradeship. After hours by myself, I would climb down and go sit at the long table with the harpooners, who ate with fervour for a very long time. They never once noticed I was a girl — I ate with my hands and I cursed until the table went quiet when I couldn’t burp quite properly. Good times.

Things changed quite quickly however. I was ordered to work with another sailor and forego my solitary station. “Call me Ishmael,”* was the first thing he said to me — but it wouldn’t be his last. We spent whole days together with Ishmael recounting stories about whales, lectures on their physiognomy, bible stories and more. I mean really, how many stories can one person tell?

The days of solitude were a mere dream after weeks spent with him and I thought I would never again know the pleasure of solitude. By that time, we hadn’t even come across one whale and I was praying for the quivering terror such a creature would bring with it, rather than to keep enduring this purgatory of theories and superstitions on the mighty whale. Then one day, we saw a ship approaching, with the fabric of its mastheads torn and surrounded by an aura of weariness and abandonment.

It did not take long for my shipmates to realise it was a pirate ship and action was taken to steer our vehicle away from the dangers of this ship. Ishmael had hushed at the first sight of the ship, he was thinking of something but for once he was not sharing it with me. I turned and looked at the ship as well and with that, “Madeliene”, said I to myself, “you can stay here and listen to this man go on about the sperm whale or you can risk death on the pirates’ ship.”

I removed my boots and jumped the boat soon after and well, the rest, you already know.

Story credits: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick*;Vogue Italia for the image.

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