IN THE FIRST weeks the patriarch carried the child about with him in little hessian hammock that he rigged to a length of piping and he would hang the contraption from a convenient davit when he worked on the maintenance of the solar panels that lit the few dim bulbs below and fed the batteries for the lumbering solenoid that powered the lift. When the boy woke, Delfan would sit him down in a patch of shade and continue his labour and he came to know the small grunts and the frowns of interested concentration which signalled the child’s evacuations.
He would exclaim then and lay down his tools and take the boy up one-handed by the ankles so that their heads were level with each other and the inverted Hob would gurgle and chuckle and clench his little fists and wave his arms about. Delfan carried a bucket with him and when the diaper was removed he would wash the arse of the child most thoroughly with crude soap and cold and precious water from the dew traps. At these times Hob would bellow in a fashion that gave clear evidence his provenance. Delfan, as he stashed the diaper for later incineration, would hold the offending garment distant from his nose and holler curses of his own so that the whole vessel rang with the noise of the little family.
Sometimes in the evenings when the sun was low on the horizon Jack Delfan would walk about the deck with the child and on such an evening he discovered that the tyke had an impulse to straighten its legs. He set Hob’s feet in his rough right palm which he held before him at chest level and he supported the boy’s back with his left hand and Hob straightened his legs. Delfan removed the supporting hand and the boy was much astonished to find himself standing, and so high above the world. He opened his eyes wide and bent his knees and dropped and his father caught him as he passed his groin on his journey deck-wards.
Hob came to enjoy the sensation however, and often enough at sunset Delfan would be found marching about with the child balanced like a juggler's pole on his palm. Delfan would shout out the poems he had learnt by heart in his youth and Hob would ride before, bobbing and swaying like a figurehead on the prow of a clipper.
She was boarded she was looted, chanted Jack Delfan, she was scuttled till she sank, and the pale survivors left us by the medium of the plank.
The infant stood with his little knees locked straight and he waved his fists about and he caught this father' rhythms and he shouted, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da.
Not long after Hob's delivery, Delfan moved his belongings from the iron dungeons below and into the captain's quarters below the bridge, and there he slung hammocks and placed the primus stove that warmed their tins of beans and corn. It was Delfan’s habit to read before sleeping and he found that sometimes the child complained for lack of attention but he complained less when Delfan read aloud. And so Hob, before he could understand the words, became intimate with the rhythms of the book.
Now King David was old and stricken in years, read Jack Delfan. And they covered him with clothes, but he gat not heat.
Da, said Hob. Da.
Wherefore his servants said unto him, let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin.
And let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.
Da, said Hob. And then he seemed to ponder a little. Ma?
Jack Delfan’s eyes were drawn away from the text by this new sound in the infant’s mouth.
Not ma. I am your father. Dada.
Ma? Said Hob.
No, said Jack Delfan. Da.
Ma? Said Hob.
Dada, bellowed Jack Delfan.And he turned out the light and when Hob howled the patriarch took precious wax from his stock of candles and he blocked his ears with it so that he might not hear the child’s cries.