SCRIMSHAW:A Short Story from the
A MysteriousPress.comOpen Road Integrated Media eBook
“Scrimshaw” is, you should permit the immodesty, one of my favorites among these yarns. It was written where it is set — in the town of Lahaina and along the coast of Maui — and was provoked by a conversation with a waterfront scrimshaw shopkeeper who complained at length about the high cost of real ivory in the age of Endangered Species laws…. This story was filmed as a half-hour TV play and shown as an episode of the “Tales of the Unexpected” anthology series in 1981; the stars were Joan Hackett and Charles Kimbrough, and their performances were so good they — and John Houseman’s Hitchcockian introduction — nearly made up for the show’s questionable production values.
She suggested liquid undulation: a lei-draped girl in a grass skirt under a windblown palm tree, her hands and hips expressive of the flow of the hula. Behind her, behind the surf, a whaling ship was poised to approach the shore, its square-rigged sails bold against a polished white sky. The scene was depicted meticulously upon ivory: a white fragment of tusk the size of a dollar bill. The etched detail was exquisite: the scrimshaw engraving was carved of thousands of thread-like lines and the artist’s knife hadn’t slipped once. The price tag may have been designed to persuade tourists of the seriousness of the art: it was in four figures. But Brenda was unimpressed. She put the piece back on the display cabinet and left the shop. The hot Lahaina sun beat against her face and she went across Front Street to the Sea Wall, thrust her hands into the pockets of her dress and brooded upon the anchorage. Boats were moored around the harbor — catamarans, glass-bottom tourist boats, marlin fishermen, pleasure sailboats, outrigger canoes, yachts. Playthings. It’s the wrong place for me, she thought. Beyond the wide channel the islands of Lanai and Kahoolawe made lovely horizons under their umbrellas of delicate cloud, but Brenda had lost her eye for that sort of thing; she noticed the stagnant heat, the shabbiness of the town, and the offensiveness of the tourists who trudged from shop to shop in their silly hats, their sun-burnt flab, their hapless T-shirts emblazoned with local graffiti: “Here Today, Gone to Maui.” A leggy young girl went by, drawing Brenda’s brief attention: one of those taut tan sunbleached creatures of the surfboards — gorgeous and luscious and vacuous. Filled with youth