Short Story #88: Old Papa Johnson by Robert Graves
Title: Old Papa Johnson
Author: Robert Graves
SummaryWhile in a hospital, the narrator encounters a gregarious man by the name of Old Papa Johnson who seems to get along well with a nurse that few others seem to endure much. The narrator befriends the man and he shares all sorts of things about his life with him, including a tale that connects him to the nurse. He explains that a while back, he was the Crown Agent on an island near Antarctica which served as a drop off station and holding station for ships who were carting off and trading off whale oil and other goods to other parts of the world. He was the sole inhabitant there and had to regulate the trade and keep things proper for the short-termers that came by. One way of doing this was to illegalize alcohol on the island due to increasingly dangerous incidents among the crewmembers. One day, two men arrive, Major Morgan and Professor Durnsford who are not part of the regular shipping activities but there on a mission to explore the life of the island for research. Johnson is overall agreeable but butts heads with the major. When the major learns he must live in the same house as Johnson (the only house on the island), the tension grows deeper. It hits a serious pitch when the Major discovers there is no alcohol (he brought his own, but Johnson kept it onboard rather than bring it ashore) and Johnson must hold him at gunpoint to make his point. The two continue their back and forth antagonize with Durnsford left in the middle to try to soothe relations. This continues on and one day, Morgan and Dunrsford are heading out but Johnson insists that they do not. He points to barometer but before he could explain, Morgan stomps out while Durnsford listens. A brutal and harsh blizzard comes crashing down on them. Durnsford insists they go save Morgan but Johnson explains that Morgan died in the first major blast--that's how brutal and nasty the storm is. He explains that the nurse is Morgan's sister but doesn't know who Johnson is, but because the Morgan siblings are so alike, he's enjoying playing nice with her.
ReflectionThis had all the elements of a yarn-story and was enjoyable to read in that sense. Stories that are about storytellers telling this story is somehow always enjoyable. That story within a story is always fun to see how it reflects back to the large world of the storyteller. The knocking of heads between Morgan and Johnson is curious because as Johnson notes at the end, that he could have probably gotten along quite well with Morgan if the stink about the alcohol hadn't been made. But instead, one man is dead and it makes me wonder about the nature of male-relationships that cause them to be so violent.
Short Story #88 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 3/25/2014
Source: The Shout and Other Stories by Robert Graves. Penguin Books, 1978.
For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.
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