"Them fuckers in the Services get all the credit for winnin' the goddamn war. But who got their asses shot out of the water to get them their shit, for chrissake? Us fuckers in the Merchant Marine. Goddamn sub-bait." - Cookie Rorke
"If you don't like romance, Cookie says go fuck yourself." - Holly Rennick, Merchant Marine Cadet
The son-of-a bitch sub! Everybody said they'd been run out of these parts and all we was carryin' were fuckin' refugees. Fuck!
Cookie bobbed in his lifejacket and watched the M/V Parkton disappear, a sorry excuse for a vessel, to be sure, but still his ship. All them fuckers in steerage gonna to get a new start and now this! Goddamn Nazis!
He'd seen the sub quickly dive, since a destroyer might have heard the SOS.
The lifeboat had been empty, probably dumped by the fuckin' deck crew. He'd scrambled over the gunwale and pulled one survivor with him, a girl who'd maybe been sucked out the concussion hole in the sinking ship. Life's mainly luck.
The girl was maybe fourteen. Thick black braid. Eyes almost blue, strange for one with such dark hair, Cookie thought. A lot more than fourteen by the stare in those eyes, though. He couldn't understand a word she said, but fuck it.
Nobody else floated by, not live ones anyway.
The lifeboat seemed sound and at least the fuckers hadn't spilled the rations. But goddamnit, his Giants were playin' them asshole Dodgers at the Polo Grounds and it would've been on the short wave. Luck goes both ways, he realized; he'd been on the ladder to the radio room when the torpedo hit. Anyway, who gives a shit?
The fuckin' destroyer still didn't show and after a few hours of huddling wet, Cookie realized he'd fuckin' better get to work.
The girl's name seemed to be Mirta, something like that. Cookie's asking "Momma?" and "Daddy?" must have made some sort of sense in her language, because she shook her head. She didn't try to explain more.
She may have been a foreigner, but at least she saw how a lifeboat works, making herself useful rewrapping rations and even snagging an extra oar that floated by. Not that they'd row anyplace, Cookie realized, but at least she had some sense.
Cookie had been torpedoed once before, that one up in the North Atlantic where it was colder than a witch's tit. They say the third's the one that sends you with the ship. He'd done his share in this fuckin' war. Goddamn Merchant Marine! They'd pay him for the fuckin' days till his ship got sunk. That's all. Nothin' for sittin' in this goddamn lifeboat. Fuck everything.
Cookie figured they were close enough to the African coast to drift there eventually, but he'd keep a flare ready for something quicker. The fuckin' M/V Parkton wouldn't have taken this goddamn route if it weren't for the subs and they still got us, he complained to himself. There was no way to complain to the girl.
They ate okay for being in an open boat, though Cookie would have liked a little variety. He'd cooked his way around the world enough times to know what could be provisioned if you cared how it tastes. The girl took what he served without comment. It would have been nice to talk, though, if she'd known how.
Into the second day, still no ship appeared and Cookie knew it could be a while.
The girl didn't say anything, or better put, didn't say anything that made sense to Cookie. She didn't even seem that affected, like a paying passenger would be. Maybe wherever the fuck she came from, Cookie guessed, she'd had lots of ships sunk, so to speak.
When the girl let herself over the side, her hands on the safety rope, Cookie figured she was peeing. Cookie thought it stupid to get yourself fuckin' wet, but maybe they're more private where she comes from. Just in case, Cookie looked the other direction.
Cookie didn't give a shit; he just waited to get rescued.
By the next day, though, watching the swells was tiring in itself. A turn in the weather was at least a change.
When splashes of sea soaked the girl's blouse, pasting it to breasts high and angular, Cookie could see her nipples. Probably whatever fuckin' place she came from, underwear's a luxury, these days. Puny tits, he decided.
Cookie had fucked tons of women. There were whores, in fact, if their daddy wasn't watchin', would fuck him free. Bein' a sailor, you fuck when you get the chance.
He wasn't sure if he'd ever fucked one this young. Whores lie. He'd fucked a Chinese girl he'd thought a teenager and it turned out that she had four chink kids, the oldest ready to be fucked herself.
Did he have a string of brats in the ports, he wondered? He didn't give a shit, but probably not. Too many of his shipmates got the clap or syph. He usually wore a rubber.
It would be a snap to fuck this one. She probably put out for the Nazis, so why not? Her word against his when they got picked up and nobody would understand her, anyway. Stuck out this goddamn ocean, anybody would do the same. Fuck 'em enough and they get more into it. Maybe she'd beg for more in whatever language she spoke. He'd never fucked in a lifeboat before. Shit, yes.
There weren't any rubbers in the lifeboat -- he'd have fixed that if they'd put him in charge of the kit -- but what the hell?
He'd forced women before, nothing that rough, just bitches who winked in the bar, then turned uppity in the alley. Usually when he finished, they'd tell him to go fuck himself next time, pull their skirt down and wander back toward the music.
As the girl slept, he lay on the planking beside her and touched her blouse. You want 'em to fight, just not get at your nuts. He at least wanted her to push his hand away.
Cookie didn't realize her eyes were open until he saw the disconnected stare.
Cookie wavered. "Sorry. Accident," removing his hand himself and hoping she'd understand the apology, if not the English.
The girl lay still long after he moved away, but -- he was relieved to see -- at last she returned to her dreams. He'd give her a little more time to recuperate from the sinking.
He decided to rape her the next morning, but there were too many fish on the lines and by the time they'd finished gutting, she was too messy. So was he.
He figured he'd do it that afternoon, but a squall threw itself at them and Cookie's attention was devoted to catching fresh water.
That evening the sky was clear and the moment was perfect. The sport of it challenged him. He'd rehearsed in his mind how he'd hold two wrists behind her back while he pulled up her dress. Doing it in a boat would be tricky because if she scrambled loose, she could throw herself overboard. That wouldn't be right. He wouldn't tie her hands, though. That would be too easy. He'd let her struggle to submission, make her acknowledge his strength. Should he make her lick him first? It never hurt a girl to do it, he figured.
He wouldn't mind a few scratches, though there were no shipmates to show. "Fuckin' dame fought like a cat, she did, till I got on board, then she wouldn't let me fuckin' stop."
But when he fondled the girl awake, she just lay stiffly, looking at sky, not at him. The buttons of her blouse didn't match, he noticed, as he undid them. He wished her breasts were bigger as he squeezed them like market fruit. Her skirt was thread-bare, easy to bunch up. When he pulled down her underpants, hand-stitched from linen sacking, she gave no contest. He stared at her triangle of matted blackness.
Well look at this, he thought, exposing his hard-on. I'll bet it scares you to see one so big.
She yet lay still, not bothering to close her legs when given the chance.
Cookie looked away. Shit! This ain't no fun. He'd make it quick, for the girl's sake. There'd be more times to do it longer if they weren't rescued soon. Maybe she'd get in the mood or somethin'.
But Jesus Christ, the girl's not even bothering to tell him no. Probably been fucked through the Russian lines, the German lines, the Allied lines, for chrissake! Probably nothin' left worth fucking.
Well, he knew there'd be somethin' worth fucking, of course, given her age. She'd get scrappy and make it better.
But she only looked past him.
Fuck it, he thought, still stroking his cock. Maybe he didn't need it right now. He was in charge of this fuckin' lifeboat and needed to be watching the horizon.
He pulled up his pants a bit awkwardly.
Unsure of how to redress her, he covered her with a sail. But the canvas looked too coarse, so he replaced it with his jacket. He hoped she'd warm up.
He'd not stay awake all night, but he'd keep watch for a while. A fuckin' ship always arrives, sooner or later. What he'd do would be to rethink the Giants' batting order. They'd been leavin' too many goddamn runners on second. Fuckin' sub! Did they beat the goddamn Dodgers?
A shooting star passed overhead, heading south.
When he awoke, the girl was dressed, boiling a fish stew over a Sterno and ignoring him other than to lay his jacket in the bow. But he knew she watched him while he washed his face with salt water.
Shit, he decided! She probably wasn't used to this type of weather. He gestured for her to keep the jacket.
She nodded and he could see the blue in her eyes.
For fish stew, it wasn't bad. She must have found some better spices.
The breeze blew them onward to wherever breezes blow.
The vessel that plucked them from their lifeboat was British, so nobody knew shit about the National League. It dropped the two in the Crown Colony of Sierra Leon where the U.S. Consulate would tide Cookie over until an American ship could sign him on.
If anyone in that shit-hole of Freetown could understand the girl, Cookie couldn't find the fucker. It wasn't that hard for Cookie to pass her a few dollars from his poker winnings. He'd find her sitting in the square, a white face amidst black. Maybe she slept here, he wondered. Anyway, she had to fuckin' eat.
As there wasn't much else to do, Cookie stepped into the Church of the Sacred Heart. He knew it was the right kind by its name. As he'd not been to mass for quite a while, he confessed and felt lucky to get off with 100 Hail Marys. Cookie took the father's "Welcome back, my son," at his word, as seamen are prone to do. Never mind that the priest who entered the other side of the confessional was as black as coal. "Welcome back," the father had said.
Cookie lit a candle and said a little prayer that the girl would get safely to wherever she was going.
This goddamn place had an English newspaper, but it didn't say shit about the pennant race. It's the fuckin' British influence, he realized, nothin' to do with 'em bein' black. American niggers know who's how many games behind. Fortunately the Consul General followed the game, so the two had excuse for a few beers. Cookie couldn't believe the guy liked the Cubs, but at least he knew the lineups.
When a Yankee freighter hit port, Cookie stopped by the square to bid the girl adieu. The hand-wave she understood, but maybe he should shake her hand as well. After all, they'd been on a lifeboat together. When he did so, he saw wordless tears in the blue eyes. What's she gonna to do in a shit-hole place like this, he wondered? Not that he didn't know what her only choice would be. Not that he didn't like niggers, mind you, some of his best friends, the stewards, were niggers. But you couldn't leave a white girl in the middle of 'em.
The Consul General saw Cookie's point that she'd been bound for somewhere when they'd been sunk, so probably she'd had some sort of papers. In a war, papers get sunk along with ships like the M/V Parkton. "That's why FDR made you Consul General," Cookie called on his baseball buddy's authority. It wouldn't be that hard to issue her somethin' new if someone makes sure she gets on the goddamn ship.
The girl's name was Mirta; of that Cookie was pretty sure. Her second name was "Ozbekchi" he translated, knowing none of her tongue, but aware that the fuckin' form needed filling. Best he could figure out, she'd come from somewhere behind the Soviet lines, someplace where whatever future she'd had burned down, and started walking west.
She wouldn't have done such a goddamn risky thing unless things were pretty bad, Cookie figured. Probably some fucker said follow the sun until you get to a safe place and there weren't no safe places all the way to the Atlantic. At least she made it.
She knew some Russian-sounding words, but a seaman on the British freighter said she didn't know much. Must be from one of them fuckin' places no one's heard of, Cookie guessed. He wrote "Kricastan", a sound that seemed like it could be a place over there. Any fucker who stood by the Cubs wouldn't admit that as the representative of United States Government, he'd never heard of it. The White Soxs, Cookie could understand, but the goddam Cubs?
Cookie gave an address on the Lower East Side for her family; leaving the line blank would jeopardize the visa's approval. Her father works for the Sanitation Department, Cookie decided. A public servant would look good. When she understood that the question was her age, she held out ten fingers, then nine again. Cookie was surprised, but probably they don't eat very well over there.
Leaving the Consul General's office, papers in hand, the girl saw a poster of the Statue of Liberty. She looked at it for the longest time and took Cookie's hand until they reached the consulate gate.
The purser wasn't about to take on a passenger with no fare. But, the newly-signed cookie assured, this one was a cook herself. Fuckin' Grand Hotel in Kricastan, he added, figuring there'd be one.
Save havin' to hire an assistant cookie, he told the purser. Cookie wasn't that sure about his endorsement, other than what she'd done with the fish stew, but when he showed her the galley and pointed to a picture of a cake, she knew where to start. He'd never tasted one with walnuts and found it not bad.
Cookie could have bunked her. In a freighter like this, the cookie sleeps beside the galley. Nobody would have cared. She wasn't like a real passenger. She knew she owed him, so wouldn't have made a stink. The mechanics mate would have sold him the rubbers, as he wouldn't have wanted to leave the girl with a loaf in the oven. Not to a nice kid.
But it wasn't as if he really needed it. He'd fucked some chocolate ones in Freetown and could make it to the Bowery. Besides, if it was settling a debt, it would make her a whore. She wasn't that, no matter what she'd gone through. Give the kid a chance a make a new life.
She'd bought a brassiere in Freetown, larger than she needed, but in Africa they have big tits. Cookie was glad because it gave his shipmates less reason to stare at her. Their attention was additionally discouraged by the flash of whetted steel as Cookie cubed beefsteak while reading a tattered Look Magazine.
A cookie and his assistant dance closely. It's nothing to do with the two-step, which Cookie knew a little bit; it's to do with fast workers anticipating each other'. A galley's too small, the grease too hot for errors. A cookie's assistant with a filleting knife makes left turn, thinking cookie's on the right, and cookie's gut's slit, not the cod's.
Cookie and the girl danced silently. If he reached across her corn fritters for the oil, her fork wasn't in his way. Cookie figured that bein' on the lifeboat, maybe she'd learned some professionalism.
But sometimes even good dancers misstep. While the two kneaded bread, the ship might list and he'd bump her hip. She'd at first looked up, but when it didn't happen again, at least not on purpose, she ceased scooting to where she couldn't work the dough. Cookie was the one embarrassed, actually. Maybe she didn't mind that much, Cookie wondered.
Cookie would take the girl's hand to show her how to crack two eggs at once or peel a potato in the quickest manner. He liked the feel of fingers interlocked.
When Cookie whacked his head on the goddamn hatch cover, the girl held him against her chest while she bandaged the wound.
Over the galley table he'd sometimes see a breast when the neck of her blouse opened and the too-large brassiere fell loose. He tried not to look, but sometimes he forgot.
Thinking of Mirta gave him a hard-on at times. He'd not have been a sailor if he couldn't snap to attention, his justification. But it wasn't only about her breasts. He'd seen women with lots bigger. No, it was just thinking about Mirta, none of his goddamn business, he knew, but she was what he thought about. He wished he'd treated her nicer.
Once he'd gotten a hard-on when they were dicing vegetables and he could see the top of her brassiere. Why would seein' just that much give him a hard-on, he wondered? It didn't make no sense.
Maybe he hadn't turned away fast enough. He didn't know if she noticed his fly, but she muffed her recitation of oven temperatures in steps of twenty-five-degrees. Cookie couldn't teach her English, he figured, but he could teach what he knew about. It hadn't occurred to him that she could blush, but maybe it was because of her counting error.
Another time he'd gotten an erection standing behind her at the dirty-dish sink and she backed into him when the floor tilted. He was sure she couldn't tell, though, since he was wearing his apron.
As any Merchant Marine knows how to take care of himself at sea, Cookie got physical relief. He thought about sex, of course, but not nearly as much as he thought of just being with the girl. When Cookie dwelt on her sexual aspects in the privacy of his bunk, he didn't let himself fuck her. They just touched each other.
Anyway, you don't screw someone you're escortin' to America on behalf of a U.S. Consul General. But fuck Uncle Sam, Cookie realized. He was just doin' what any decent American guy would know was right.
Even if she'd learned more English, Cookie realized that she'd not understand how he thought about her. He wouldn't know how to say it.
But what that girl could do with spuds and a few spices! It wasn't like he wasn't gettin' nothing out of it. Shit no! It wasn't half bad to have someone like her around. He sometimes even peeled the potatoes and he was the goddamn cookie.
A wizened sailor entered the galley, his watch spent coiling cable in the elements. The boatswain had told Cookie that the old fucker merchant marined the last war as well. Didn't give a shit about gettin' sunk. After the old man finished his soup and studied last year's calendar, the he rolled dice, right hand vs. the left.
Cookie watched the mariner blow his nose. "Jesus H. Christ!" Cookie muttered to his assistant. He wished he could have explained himself better, that they were lookin' at himself in thirty years.
Cookie liked it when Mirta joined him in the radio room to listen to ballgames. He'd move coffee cups on the chart table to indicate the fielding positions and demonstrate a home run by running the salt shaker around the diamond.
Approaching New York, the ship slowed to meet the tug at daybreak. For Cookie it was just another west-bound crossing, but then again, it was a crossing uncharted. He was on the deck before dawn when he saw Mirta alone on the forward hatch, facing into the headwind.
Cookie approached, shuffled his feet to announce his presence and sat beside her.
"Almost in port."
She nodded, but Cookie wondered if she'd heard.
"New York's a great place," he offered.
She nodded again.
As it was cold, Cookie laid his jacket over her shoulders. He spoke of skyscrapers, Coney Island, Rockaway Beach, the Brooklyn Bridge, baseball. He so much wanted to tell her that everything would be fine.
Mirta didn't understand much of what he said, Cookie realized, but at the end replied, "Rahmat. Dankew."
Cookie asked the Blessed Virgin to be with the girl. The girl was a little like the Blessed Virgin, maybe, he wondered. He spoke before he thought better of saying it. "I'll miss you."
He put her hand in his and held it. He really would.
Cookie didn't know what Mirta expected when they reached Manhattan, but when they sailed past the Statue of Liberty, she hugged him, hard breasts burrowing into his sweater. He'd seen her naked on the lifeboat floor, even once fondled her, but these breasts felt different.
He'd miss the little dame.
But there was, of course, no one for Mirta at the East River dock and Cookie had to subway the City with her, popping up in neighborhood after neighborhood for her to listen.
She clung to him tightly. As she mastered the rudiments, though, Cookie could feel her fear wane. Her steps were longer. He liked the idea that New Yorkers might think that the girl on his arm was his girl.
Cookie's arm could feel the mismatched buttons, the lumpy African brassiere, the heartbeat within. Once as the two pushed toward a turnstile, she'd turned toward him and his elbow fully crossed her breast. It made Cookie happy to have her close.
When it happened again, this time at a Midtown crosswalk, he turned in search of a street sign and let his arm cross back. "Lexington Street," he offered.
"Lex eng tone," Mirta attempted, pulling his arm again against her.
"No, not 'tone', 'tun, ' honey."
"Tone," Mirta tried a second time.
Cookie read her street signs, she practiced pronunciation and the two pressed together until the light said walk. Never did Cookie wonder about her sudden interest in street names.
In Brooklyn, Mirta at last heard recognizable words yelled by a rotund woman to a boy playing stickball.
Whatever language the women spoke, Cookie hadn't a clue, but she wore a scarf and she and Mirta jabbered away like long-lost sisters. The boy, about eight, already sounding Brooklyn, relayed his mother's questions to Cookie.
"Where's your family?" Cookie had a sister Betty Sue who'd been in Chicago, but he'd lost her address.
"How did a man learn to cook?" That's what cookies do.
"What's your salary?" Forty-five a week. The woman was impressed, but Mirta didn't seem especially interested when the boy relayed the number.
"What does your tattoo say?" Mirta must have told the woman she'd seen his back when he'd hop over the lifeboat side to pee. "Mother." The woman said that was good.
"My mother," summarized the boy, after listening to the women's prolonged deliberation, "says you are good for this girl."
Cookie turned in astonishment.
"This girl," the boy taking seriously his go-between responsibility, "says you have honor. If you ask my father to marry, she will say yes."
Cookie didn't know what to say, but when he looked at Mirta, the blue eyes held him.
The father (who seemed to Cookie not much older than himself) knew the patriarchal role, even if he hardly knew his surrogate daughter. He explained in passable English what was expected. Cookie must always work, teach his sons a trade and rarely drink.
The wife listened intently, missing the English, but astute about negotiation. At her husband's, "I put a Frigidaire," she frowned, apparently recognizing the subject.
A refrigerator, wondered Cookie? Then he realized and grinned. "No Frigidaire! Here in America it's the guy who gives his gal a ring."
Cookie knew a Lebanese who'd give him a deal. But what the hell! He'd pay a little extra if it was a nice one. Fuckin' Lebanese, they own everything, but they'll give you a fair shake if they know you.
The mother beamed when the boy explained to her that a daughter's marriage is cheap in this country.
"I teach her about ring," the father decided, the arbiter of new-world ways. "She live with us until marry day, but you to come for calling. Brother watch her pure," with a matter-of-fact throat cutting gesture.
Cookie got the old-world message. A little brother can sneak up on you and these fuckers keep their knives sharp. As they should, the culinary part of him appreciated.
After the handshake, the father mentioned that he operated the elevator in a hotel and that his friend in the kitchen was looking for help. He'd put in a good word. "You drink more vodka?" pouring his son-in-law-to-be another shot before Cookie could say, "Sure."
Cookie had never imagined he'd be married, but then again, he'd never promised that he wouldn't. Mother wouldn't believe it, rest her soul, and he knew where to start looking for Betty Sue. Well, he wouldn't believe it either until it happens.
He had the boy tell Mirta they'd go shopping tomorrow and that her father would explain the American custom.
Cookie never did understand all the steps in a wedding rooted in a land so distant, but he got the central ideas. Having been an altar boy at Immaculate Conception, he knew some lines in Latin, and although this wasn't Latin, it seemed familiar for an important ceremony to be in a mysterious language. Then incense was almost the same. Mirta's veil made it hard to see her, but he understood it to be temporary. The boy cued Cookie when he had to do something.
Mirta broadcast her smile when the portion of the ceremony ended in which she had to look sad.
After the toasts, Cookie felt a tad high, but maybe just from having kissed his wife. She stood proud on his arm as he recited "Casey at the Bat." These people understand drama, Cookie acknowledged, if not the rules of the sport. Well, that wasn't quite right. The boy knew how to get into Ebbets Field for free. Goddamn Dodgers!
Cookie had never danced with men before, but knew that sailors used to do so.
Cookie was totally sober when he carried an excited Mirta across the threshold of their new apartment. Not much of a place, he realized, but a good start. Nicer than the digs where he'd slept between sailings. Their one piece of new furniture was the bed. They'd find a larger apartment when there was reason for more rooms.
Cookie remembered Mirta's blouse soaked by salt spray. The cling of the cloth was all he let himself picture.
He undressed her, taking care to fold her day-old Macy's undergarments. The newlyweds giggled at the newness of nakedness.
Though she'd learned her English numbers, he didn't want to know how many times she'd been stripped by soldiers. He wished he'd not exposed her on the lifeboat. That he'd not gone farther he was very glad, proud of himself, even. What a real Merchant Marine would do.
Cookie had seen lots of the world, but he'd never seen anything more beautiful than his wife. He undressed in the shadows, as not to frighten her.