Joseph Conrad Took Twenty-Five Years to Bust My Balls, That Twit
by Louis Roddan Leggett
The Royal Navy swore to organize, educate, and train British gentlemen on its two-decker Conway’s second-rate decks. The Crown could feign rechristened indifference – Nile or Conway, no matter – but I averred rule-breakers, resented toeing lines with nervy Russians holding British papers. Korzienowski or Conrad? Indeed.
One Friday, I received his monogrammed note, in impeccable hand, that deigned ask me to dinner. I cursed it: ruse de guerre.
I showed the note to my fellow, Martyn Halliday. “What a fawning, tiresome beggar,” he said, before suggesting a plan. “Say there, Leggett, doesn’t your Sephora commission begin Saturday next?”
“Right-o. Quite, Halliday.”
I folded the linen note squarely, rolled it over my knuckles. It fluttered, rolled over my signet as I strode down hammocks, humming barBARian SON of a TYRannous WHORE to “Heart of Oak.”
The Russian stopped studying, cocked his lamp-lit head. I told him we’d dine on Sunday, six sharp, at my lawful but frowned-upon billet.
He coughed. “Doubtless.”
“Indeed, kaw-she-NYOV-skah?” I rolled the note so it scuttled at his feet.
Nigh Monday, that cheeky Russian approached Halliday. He said he’d heard the clock chime the quarter… the half. He noticed the Whydah, then Sephora, disembark. Halliday wrote Conrad was so angry, I might well have hit him as had him endure the minute-hand travelling back, its mechanical whirring like a fluttering note before sounding seven. He told Halliday that my lamp-lit face, that reversing cog, that dropped invitation all made him feel orphaned. Such unfit sentimentality.
Over time, I permitted the Russian to border-cross my thoughts. Notices for jobs on my coffee plantation appeared in the Times. I’m sure he’d see them when ascertaining his own dispatches surfaced in print. We both indulged self-forgetful fidelities by 1910, when he commissioned himself captain of my Sephora in Harper’s.
Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber, writing as Louis Roddan Leggett, loves Joseph Conrad’s Tales of Land and Sea, but wondered what was eating at Conrad when he wrote “The Secret Sharer”. Conrad scholar John Stape fact-checked this flash fiction, and said: “I like Leggett’s hostility here. He is a very unsympathetic man in the original, although in earlier critics’ readings, of the 1950s and 1960s particularly, was seen as a kind of hero. The tide, I think, has turned in views of him, which have become much more fine-grained, and you capture something essential about him: a kind of nastiness that resides in all self-absorption.” Follow Anne @AEWeisgerber, or visit anneweisgerber.com
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