This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
“So… Steelkilt—oh. The thing about the ship they were on was it kept leaking! There were a buncha holes in it, and guys were always down there, ‘Hey, we gotta get rid of these—let’s bail this stuff out, it’s… we’re on a ship. It shouldn’t have holes in it.’”
“So. They’re down there doin’ their job, and out of the corner of his eye, old Steelkilt sees… uh, rat face Rad skulkin’ around, and he’s like, ‘I’m gonna pretend like I don’t know he’s there and I’m just gonna say a buncha mean stuff about him. Hey, you know what? I f—have a feeling a bunch of swordfish are pokin’ holes in our boat. We oughta throw Rad overboard. He could take care of ‘em. Whoa, have you seen the face on that guy?’”
“And whatnot. So Rad pretends not to hear anything, and… ‘Heave ho, you varlets!’ Or whatever.”
[Stifled laugh.] Varlets is not the… [throat clearing].
“‘Get with it, scurvy dogs! Get your hole—get those… get that… patch up those holes and… whatever you’re doin’ down here.’”
“‘Get those buckets movin’. Ye…’”
[Pause. Throat clearing. Lip noise.]
“So… uh… so they work really hard and they’re all sweatin’ and sad, and… and, uh, Steelkilt sits down and ‘Job well done,’ he thinks. ‘I really—I’m strong, I’m big. I’m handsome. I’m a smart ass, I have a lot of big ideas, and I love to shoot my mouth off. I’m great! In a single word. I’m just gonna sit down and rest after a strenuous day of—you know, next time maybe we oughta make sure there are no holes [laughter]… in the boat. Anyway, uh, that’s just me.’ So! He’s sittin’ there and old Rat Boy comes up and says, ‘Uh, here’s—here’s a broom. Go sweep the deck, you lazy asshole.’ And… Steelkilt says, ‘You know what? That’s not my job. I know you’re my, uh, superior in title, but… I’m not gonna sweep the deck. Why don’t you shove it?’ So… ‘Oh, yeah?’ says… rejoins… in a clever rejoinder, says Rad. ‘Oh, yeah?’ he says. ‘Well, this hammer has another opinion.’”
“And he picks up a hammer and he says, ‘I’m gonna fuckin’—you better do what I say! I have a hammer now.’ So Steelkilt says, ‘Oh, I’d like to—ohhhhh, you know, just give me a—give me an excuse!’”
[A sip of water. Clink of glass on coaster.]
“He says, ‘If you even touch me…! If you even graze—if you so much as… if… the…’”
“‘You better not even—I better not even feel a… a breeze from that hammer as it’s—you know, if you swing it close enough to me, uh, ruhhr, you know… so that I get a whiff of… uh…’”
“‘I’m gonna—I’m gonna murder you, and that’s it. Period.’”
“So Rad says, ‘Oh, really?’ And he… just… lightly… lightly…”
I wish you could hear how many octaves my voice just went up as I was trying to squeak out the appropriate level of lightness.
“Gently, uh… it’s a kiss! He gives Steelkilt the tiny… kiss of steel. And that’s it! Steelkilt is like, ‘All right! I told you what I was gonna do.’ And he takes his fist and he just… I mean, he just brings it down and splat! You know. Remember Mule Face? Remember his ratlike head? It’s not… It’s not so… it’s not even—it doesn’t even look that good anymore. It’s… Rad lies upon the deck. Uh, great gobbets of lifeblood, uh… gushing from his caved-in skull, so… that’s not good!”
“And Steelkilt’s like, ‘Yep. I did it. Come on, everybody, let’s go—let’s get together, because the captain might be upset.’ And indeed the captain isn’t too crazy about the first mate’s, uh, head being crunched in.”
So there’s sort of a standoff, and I still haven’t finished Chapter Fifty-Four because I have to get ready, I have a job. What do you want from me? I know what you want from me, you want me to… tell you the story of Moby-Dick. Well, get off my back, Mom!
Uh… holy mackerel. Wonder what’s gonna happen next!
[New recording begins.]
I’ll be honest. I don’t remember where we were. Hey! This I think’s a Chopin… [rapid piano notes] piano concerto… a very old recording by an old-timey [music continues]… interpreter! [Music.]
Down goes the volume.
[Music is silenced. Rattling sigh.]
Well… I—where…? I, oh, they threw all the bad guys in the… I don’t know if St—Steelkilt fancies himself a bad guy! Or if Ishmael fanc—well, Ishmael’s just tellin’ ya like it is.
Kids. Ishmael’s not gonna sugarcoat this. L—look. It’s life on the sea. Big handsome dudes like to smash the mouths of sad… uh… imps.
So goes the way of the world.
[Laughter.] I have no idea why I said, “Ding dong.”
Somebody call the hospital.
“Let’s lock these fuckers up,” says the captain. And every day a few of the guys who were like, “Yeah, Steelkilt. We believe in your crazy, uh… law-defying wackiness.” Every day a few of those guys are like, “Hey, I don’t like… havin’ bread and water. I wanna… I wanna get out and swab the deck like a… you know, I need exercise!”
So… gradually it gets whittled down to just Steelkilt and his two best buddies. And Steelkilt’s like, “All right, guys. There’s just three of us left, see? Tomorrow… when they come to give us some bread and water, let’s just grab a knife and start stabbin’. We’re gonna fuck this boat up from the front to the back, whatever you call it in… the language of the sea. I suppose from the bow to the stern. We’re gonna stab our way to glory!” [Laughter.]
Sail away with us please, into the next chapter.
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.
Please follow the original text of Moby-Dick here, if you like (highly recommended).