WHAT THEY CALL ME: One-armed Jack.
NUMBER OF ARMS I HAVE: Two. One that’s 100%. One that’s about 75.
WHAT THE OTHERS THINK HAPPENED: The Battle of Phnom Penh.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: Hurricane Edna, a helicopter, and a rogue aquarium.
WHERE I LIVE: In a tent. Without a rain fly when the weather’s good. A solid fix on the sky helps me breathe. In bad weather, with no stars, I sleep restless.
WHERE MY TENT LIVES: The Florida Everglades. Hot as the bars of hell, and humid, too. Buggy. But it sure beats a highway underpass.
WHO ELSE LIVES HERE: Shorty and Train. Goodlow and Maurice. And Ripton, too. Shorty comes up to my shoulder. His face is pink and round with a beard that grows in stubbly clumps. He’s a pervert with an ankle monitor and can’t live within a thousand feet of a school or a bus stop or anywhere else kids gather. Train’s a vet, same war as me. He’s the skinny one. Says he hasn’t touched a razor in ten years. And not a comb, neither, from the look of him. He’s hiding out from his old lady, an angry Seminole who tried to kill him with a pair of hedge clippers. There’s a long scar above his temple on the left side. His left. Goodlow and Maurice set up camp before I got here. Goodlow might be a last name. He’s got a vigilante face and is twenty years older than Maurice, easy. Maurice’s skin is darker than the rest of ours, and not just from the sun. His elevator don’t go all the way to the penthouse. The lights are on, but nobody’s shopping. They could be father and son bank robbers. Or Boy Toy and Sugar Daddy. I don’t know their stories or what brought them here. Goodlow likes it that way and so do I.
WHO RIPTON IS: My dog. Some fool dumped him in the everglades and he found his way to me. He’s a chow. And yeah, before you ask, it’s hell for him, the heat. I saw off hunks of fur with the bowie knife I keep sharp. That helps, even if he looks like a sled dog that got pulled through a tractor combine. After a haircut, he’s cooler. He spends less time showing me his black-spotted tongue.
WHAT WE ATE LAST NIGHT: Grilled alligator. Goodlow has a gas grill. A regular set up. He lets any one of us use it if we ask first. The tail meat was greasy and gamey but there was a lot. Train ate a piece then rubbed his beard and said how lately he’d been thinking of becoming a vegetarian. I laughed loud and Ripton’s hackles rose up. He barked at the edge of the dark until Goodlow yelled shut the hell up.
WHO I USED TO WORK FOR: Arthur Finder.
WHAT HIS NAME IS: Ironic.
WHAT WE LOOKED FOR: Sunken treasure. Spanish Galleons. I joined Art’s search crew late in 1990 and we combed the east coast of Florida for six long years. We fed on excitement, shook off the dead ends, started calling ourselves The Finders. Hell of a way to live. I slept on-deck-only, even in the rain. People called us crazy.
WHAT WE FOUND TWO YEARS AFTER ART’S SON GOT KILLED LOOKING: The mother lode. An acre of gold bars we pulled out like a baker pulling loaves from the oven. Each loaf forty pounds. There were giant crosses we called skull crushers after Art held one overhead and said it was like the cross in that movie where a priest’s skull gets smashed by a demon he’s casting out. We pulled up fat rubies with barnacles on them and heavy chain necklaces slimed with seaweed and still-rough emeralds as big as a fist. There were golden goblets, too, just like Indiana Jones would find. And Spanish doubloons. Thousands of doubloons. Doubloons by the bushel-full.
WHO WAS HAPPY FOR US: The newspapers. The television. Our families. Our friends. Everyone.
WHO THOUGHT THE TREASURE BELONGED TO THEM: Art and The Finders. The State of Florida. Dade County. The Maritime Museum. The IRS. Spain.
WHO CAME OUT OF THE WOODWORK: An ex-girlfriend who wanted help making rent—just the one month, she promised. My former boss, Margie, who suggested I sponsor a new exhibit at the aquarium. A neighbor whose cat needed belly surgery or he’d die. A war buddy without a dime to his name. A whole bunch of friends I didn’t remember, who said I still owed them for this or that. My brother, Down-on-his-luck-Doug desperately in need of dentures. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Mary Jane. The Tax Man.
WHO OF THOSE I TURNED AWAY: The Tax Man.
WHAT I KEEP UNDER MY SLEEPING BAG NOW: A forty-five.
NUMBER OF DOUBLOONS I HAVE LEFT: Zero.
WHAT RIPTON NEEDS FROM ME: Occasional food. A daily pat on the head. A place to sleep. Water to drink. Barbering.
WHO CAME INTO THE SWAMP: A man I’d never seen before. He’d been trying to find me, he said. How did you, I asked. Mister Finder told me, he said. Ripton growled.
WHAT I THOUGHT HE WANTED: Money. There’s nothing left, I told him. Why you think I’m living in a tent?
WHAT HE SAID: I think you knew my twin sister.
WHERE HIS TWIN SISTER IS: Six feet under.
WHO HE TOLD WHERE HE WAS GOING: Nobody. So I could kill you, I said, smiling, and nobody would know. He pointed to the guys, said, they would know. He ate a piece of alligator jerky, holding it delicate like, two-fingered. He said alligator meat was stringy and he hadn’t known. He wiped the greasy fingers on his socks.
WHAT THE MAN CALLED HIS SISTER: Rosie.
WHAT I WONDERED: If one twin dies, is the surviving twin only half alive?
WHY HE CAME: To tell me I fathered Rosie’s baby who is all grown up.
WHERE IT HAPPENED: At a fancy dance.
WHAT I REMEMBER: Being a replacement escort, filling in for my brother after he got chicken pox. We wore the same size.
WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT TUXEDOS: Baby blue is not my color.
HOW OLD I WAS: Eighteen.
HOW OLD SHE WAS: …Seventeen?
WHAT ELSE I REMEMBER: A puffy dress that sighed like a pile of snow. Long white gloves. A glittery bracelet overtop the glove. Slow music. A clumsy waltz we giggled through. Stolen kisses behind the building. Pushing my hands through the layers of her snowdrift dress. Her eagerness. That.
WHERE I WENT AFTER: Basic Training.
WHAT I SOLD AFTER THE DOUBLOONS RAN OUT: My house.
WHAT I’M WAITING FOR: The court to rule in our favor.
WHAT THE SHUSHING TENT WHISPERS IN THE DARK: Finders keepers, losers weepers. Be patient. Be payyy…shunt.
WHAT I HEAR THE MAN SAY WHEN I ASK THE CHILD’S NAME: Danny.
HOW IT’S SPELLED WHEN HE WRITES IT OUT: Dani.
WHAT I THINK: That’s a damn fool way to spell Danny. And then, wacky Puerto Ricans. And finally, but what can you do?
WHAT I THINK NEXT: If he’d had a father figure, he’d spell his name Danny.
WHAT I THINK AFTER THAT: I have had a son for twenty-eight years and no one told me. When I was held as a POW, I was a father. When I came home and the hippies jeered, I was a father. When the sound of a helicopter took me down and wrecked my arm, I was a father. When I told all those women that I never wanted to have a family, I was a father.
WHAT MY BUDDY TRAIN SAYS: The math don’t lie.
WHAT ROSIE NEVER ASKED: If I wanted to be a father.
WHAT I HAVE FOR BREAKFAST THE DAY AFTER THE MAN LEAVES: A can of Budweiser and a cigarette. I chase that down with some leftover jerky, a can of Budweiser, and a cigarette. I read a little Vonnegut in my tent. Slaughterhouse Five.
WHAT I DECIDE: I want to make it right. My father was an asshole. I swore I would never bring a kid into the world only to neglect it, taunt it, and call it pussy. Note to self: promise your son you will never call him pussy.
WHAT I FORGOT TO ASK: Am I a grandfather?
WHAT I EAT FOR LUNCH: Maurice pulls out a giant bag of hot dogs. No one knows where he got them. We pay him a dollar and he gives us four hot dogs each. I make him cook mine extra. I give Ripton one. He gulps it down whole, like a seagull.
WHAT I DO WHILE I CHEW: Make plans to visit Danny. Think about what I want to tell him. Offer to take him fishing. I picture just how it will be, the look on his face. I make a lot of plans.
Mary Akers is the author of the award-winning short story collection Women up on Blocks. Her work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Mississippi Review online, The Fiddlehead, Brevity, and other journals. She received a 2012 Pushcart Special Mention and has been thrice awarded a Bread Loaf work-study scholarship. She is editor-in-chief of the online journal r.kv.r.y.
Q: What can you tell us about your inspiration for this story?
A: The title “Treasures Few Have Ever Seen” is a line from the Jimmy Buffett song “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” That song explores the ups and downs of a life, and the wistfulness and longing for what could have been. Since the main character in the story (Jack) is a treasure hunter who finds the mother lode and then loses everything, it seemed an appropriate title.
Q: What writers do you consider to be your primary influences?
A: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Andrea Barrett, TC Boyle, Lee Smith, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, and Ray Bradbury. Yes, I know, a strange mix.
Q: What’s your ideal place to write?
A: In the shower. Unfortunately, that never quite works out for me, so anyplace absolutely quiet and with no one else around. I’m not one of those writers who can listen to music while writing because I always want to sing along. Space music would probably be okay, but nothing with lyrics. I prefer to have no distractions. (Chocolate being the only exception.)
Q: What’s the wildest bit of research you’ve done for a story?
A: Oh, I love research. I suspect I’m on some sort of FBI watch list for all the crazy things I look up online. "Treasures" is part of a recently completed composite novel that is currently out on submission to editors and a list of my internet research for that book would include: Bedouins of the Sinai Desert; Female-to-male sexual transition; the Indonesian tsunami; anti-Navy protests on Vieques; PTSD in Vietnam veterans; Silurian Eurypterids in western, NY; fatal box jelly stings, and much more. I make it my mission to confuse Google—they never know what I’ll want to research next.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m revising an older manuscript (only one more time, I swear!) and then I need to finish my current project, a dystopian novel in which everything that could go wrong—politically, socially, environmentally—has.