Who doesn’t love swearing? Both English and Polish, plus many other languages, offer endlessly creative ways to say the most lurid and offensive things that actually just end up delighting and amusing due to their oddness. That being said, I felt obliged to censor the c-word in the story beneath, just in case you were reading this before the watershed…
Marek was a mere 20 years old in the story below. In Study for a Self-Portrait, he follows up the anecdote with some related thoughts from his 70-year-old perspective – I’ll put these up in the next blog.
The Temida II slowly turns round as if stuck in a glass bubble. Her sails hang limply like the broken wings of a bird. Sometimes a stray gust interlaces itself between the canvases, disturbing the sheets and bashing metal against metal. Then there’s quiet again. Baltic sailors call it “Sztyl”. Checking the map, it seems we’re in the middle of the Baltic, but there’s nothing to see.
“When it gets dark, the situation will be clearer,” assures the captain. Maybe we’ll see some sort of lighthouse. A fog like white steam, saturated with brightness but impenetrable to the eye, surrounds us on all sides in a circle.
The Temida II has no motor. It is above such vulgar modern inventions. This is the yacht of Mariusz Zaruski himself, captained by Wojciech Stypula. Our captain is pretending to be mad, as is his wont, sporting a ruffled black beard and red pirate headscarf.
“I’m about to ride you guys pretty hard,” he threatens menacingly. But his eyes are laughing. We know these eyes of his, the kind that let off fireworks nobody fears. There are six of us strapping young lads, each one quicker and nimbler than the last. Barefooted, dark-skinned. Except one isn’t turning out that well. This pale, lazy and greasy mummy’s boy lies naked on a coil of rope and vainly tries to sunbathe. We call him Pancake.
“Seaman Pancake,” shouts Stypula, “cover up your charms, because you’re making my dick stand up.”
Captain Stypula doesn’t like Pancake. He somehow doesn’t quite fit his concept of what the Temida II crew should be. Perhaps he’s simply the wrong colour. Too pink. When something on deck isn’t in order, he always suspects it’s Pancake’s fault. He usually appoints him to the mess, all the more because Pancake is the only one of us who knows how to cook.
Captain Stypula has an exceptionally rich list of naval insults which all the boys of the crew have learnt by heart. They feel it’s their duty as sailors, much like tying knots. Our captain is capable of swearing like nobody else on Earth.
“What manner of crayfish c*** has gone and tangled up these sails?” he intones with a wild shrill that could drill through a storm, throwing his blood-red eye upon our friend Pancake.
“It wasn’t a crayfish c***,” pipes up Pancake with pride, “but a real fish prick.”
On this memorable day, there was a great calm. The captain couldn’t seem to think of anything else to occupy the crew with. The deck had been twice doused in water and scrubbed, all the gaps between the planks were like new and needlessly filled in, the boat’s sides had been painted once again, the masts and boom polished, the ropes wound up tighter, the lifeboats oiled, all the brass cleaned until it shone like gold, all the surplus canvas checked…
“Captain, can we go for swim?” we ask.
The captain tugs his beard. He looks at the sails to check they aren’t picking up wind. There’s a dead calm, the yacht stands motionless as if moored.
“OK,” he replies finally, “but I’m warning you now that it’s around 200 metres deep here and I’m not fishing anybody out.”
A stamp of bare feet on the deck and everybody starts leaping into the sea together. Naturally it’s a race and naturally I want to be fastest. Others momentarily halt and turn back to swim around the yacht to avoid losing sight of it. I don’t see all this – I steam forward in a straight line.
And suddenly I’m alone. There isn’t a living soul around me. The bubble of fog had shifted along with me – I’m in the middle of it. The inscrutable whiteness has engulfed everything around me – I can hear my friends’ voices, but I can’t tell from which direction. The silhouette of the yacht had disappeared – the only thing that reaches me is the distance clatter of the rigging. But I don’t know where from. Looking at all sides around me means I’ve lost all sense of direction, and I don’t know which way might be a trustworthy return route.
I start to swim towards where I think voices are coming from, but they seem to get quieter. I change direction and I stop hearing them completely.
I am seized by panic. I feel – literally – the hairs on my head standing up. My heart is beating like it’s about to burst any moment.
What did Stypula say? I’ve no chance. Beneath me, it’s 200 metres. After a couple hours I’ll be completely exhausted and start sinking, at first there’ll be green water with white bubbles, then it’ll be black with green bubbles – and in the end pure blackness and a deep-sea icy coldness.
I start calling out, but my voice is stifled as if in a dream and my lips scoop up water, becoming filled. I throw myself in one direction, then the next. I no longer have any control over myself. I thrash around senselessly in fear.
I have to calm down – the thought flashes through my head – because any moment I’ll start going under. If I try four directions one after the other – I’m trying to think logically – then ultimately I should swim up to it.
So, still a little too quickly, I swim in yet another direction. Then another, but now slower.
Finally from afar, as if from beyond the spirit world, I hear voices again. I start swimming like crazy, trying to keep to the same direction. And suddenly – totally close – the white shape of a yacht emerges from the white fog.
I become weak.
With the utmost effort, I drag myself onto the deck and get a violent attack of vomiting.