If Steinbeck wrote Chapter 33 in “Cannery Row”
Henri drank a gallon of wine, stretched out on his mattress and skimmed a passage of Rimbaud “But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking. Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.” with an indecently decent accent. The rain: undressed and barefoot, slaughtered poppies. Girls came and went like the waves infiltrating the masculine, decrepit shoreline. Henri dozed off into unbridled consciousness and entered into a bizarre ritual of Alice.
He dreamed he was the captain and she: the figurehead. Cannery Row was devilish, and deadbeat, and dark. The ocean was depleted of vastness and loneliness. Alice flowered in sad songs. Solitude pecked at Henri and the oddest personnages sprung into his reconnaissance: his possessive mother, his glacial father, his aloof sister. He recalled never leaving Cannery Row till now. His sister lived in a blue house on the brink of San Francisco with her sickly daughter. She gifted him a forked compass during a long awaited reunion. Henri left abruptly with maritime madness and bitter nostalgia.
Further along, northern California was deciduous, and rocky, and bony. He never found his parents (his mother, wasted by tuberculosis lived beneath the cerulean house and his father, sold into battle and anonymous, slept under a cross; both fertilized daffodils). Fisherman were on the prowl for shadowy schools and a train full of spirits swept past the atheist meadows. Alice was asleep in a bed of foam and singing silently.
In each Oregon hamlet they moored and ate haddock and happiness. Alice came from this hopeful despair, from wedlock, mares, sluiced wheatfields and no men. Some nights she was brought to life and they waltzed, on others she was planar, and lunar, and solar, and angular. He read too much Rimbaud and too little of himself.
Henri remembered his daughter stolen by fortune and the road. He recalled his wife beguiled by fate and the noose. Malvina floated, sweet, white and flowery with golden hair and a compass. He never lifted her fearing she would crumble and that angsty rendez-vous overburdened him more fiercely than it had thirty years ago when he immortalized them in pastels and acrylic. Washington was too regal.
Hazily, they docked in a foggy, forgotten Vancouver and seduced a park in the interior. Three autumnal flowers seized Henri and then he esconsed this unreal surrealness. The roses were wilted on the sill. The sea howled like a lost child on the cool maternal coast.
The orphanage demanded retributions and he ate another plum and drank a gallon of wine. In a journal he scribbled “the world laughing, you are weeping; the world weeping, you are laughing; the world surviving; you are dreaming, to survive inside a dream” and went back to sanding his vessel and exalting the wooden girl.
The rats scampered back in their cages, the vessels were moored to the evening and the gopher met a butterfly in the gutter. Three hours, three months, three years: the boat was nothing but a bad dream.