As many of you know, I wrote a book about Christopher Columbus’s failed fourth voyage. Naturally I want people to buy it so I thought I’d put this little teaser here. The first chapter of the book.
It’s available at Amazon.com for you Kindle people. The price is only $2.99.
The Old Man
I don’t remember how the old man, Juan, came to live with my mother and me. It seemed he had always been there. He was no blood relation of ours. Not that I knew of, anyway. He was simply there.
As a young child he scared me. It wasn’t anything he did. It was just him. Short of stature, tiny almost, his sun-weathered skin was wrinkled like a piece of dried up discarded fruit. He was forever hunched over. Even standing and leaning on the old piece of tree limb he carried with him everywhere he was never straight. His back was always bent as if he’d just spotted something on the ground and had stopped for a second to get a better look at it. When he’d been drinking he wasn’t just bent forward, he leaned to one side or the other, too. You could tell, looking at his arms, that he had once been very strong. The muscles still rippled under the faded designs permanently inked into his skin.
He never combed or brushed his hair. It was blindingly white and what little there was of it grew in isolated spots on his head. It was as light and fine as dandelion fuzz and the slightest suggestion of a breeze would cause it to flutter nervously.
His eyes were the darkest blue; like the color of the sea where the straight line of the horizon meets the lighter blue of the sky and it often seemed that he was staring intently at that distant line where whatever a seaman is looking for will first appear. And his large, hawk-like nose cleaved the sea of his face like a shark’s fin slicing through the calm waters inside a reef.
He scared me, old Juan did, but that was when I was young. As I got older and he slowly revealed his story to me I grew to love the man and marveled at the adventure of his life.
Juan would spend his afternoons at one or another of the taverns on the waterfront in the port of Cadiz below our house. I don’t know where he got the money to buy his wine but the old sailors, merchants and dock hands who worked along the waterfront always paid him some deference and bought him a cup every now and then. I had also seen him, once or twice, pouring the leftovers from someone else’s cup into his own when they left their tables to answer a call of nature. If he moved from one bar to another during an afternoon he was usually able to cage enough so he would be staggering as he climbed the small hill to our house in the evening.
It was a rainy, early spring evening when my mother insisted I go down to the docks and fetch Juan back to the house for dinner. He and I stood in the doorway of the tavern looking out at the rain-soaked street and the caravels anchored in the river dreading the idea of having to leave the cozy warmth of the bar to journey into the cold night air when Juan mumbled, “It was just like this on the night I first met them.”
“Met who?” I asked.
“My friend Ferdinand and his father, the Admiral.”
We stepped out into the rain, our chins tucked deep into our soggy cloaks in a vain attempt at keeping out the cold, and trudged back to the house. Juan didn’t utter another word the rest of the evening.