The Cay: Chapters 1–5

Shipwrecked and blinded from a torpedo attack, Phillip must conquer his prejudices when his only companion is an elderly West Indian man named Timothy.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–5, Chapters 6–13, Chapters 14–19
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  1. gable
    the triangular wall between the sloping ends of a roof
    I was asleep on the second floor of our narrow, gabled green house in Willemstad, on the island of Curaçao, the largest of the Dutch islands just off the coast of Venezuela.
  2. refinery
    an industrial plant for purifying a crude substance
    I remember that on that moonless night in February 1942, they attacked the big Lago oil refinery on Aruba, the sister island west of us.
  3. crude
    not refined or processed
    Then they blew up six of our small lake tankers, the tubby ones that still bring crude oil from Lake Maracaibo to the refinery, Curaçaosche Petroleum Maatschappij, to be made into gasoline, kerosene, and diesel oil.
  4. galleon
    a large square-rigged sailing ship with three or more masts
    Or sometimes we’d pretend we were the Dutch going out on raids against Spanish galleons. That had happened too. It was all so real that sometimes we could see the tall masted ships coming over the horizon.
  5. schooner
    sailing vessel used in former times
    Of course, they were only the tattered-sailed native schooners from Venezuela, Aruba, or Bonaire coming in with bananas, oranges, papayas, melons, and vegetables.
  6. appeal
    request earnestly; ask for aid or protection
    The radio was on, and a voice said that fifty-six men had died on the lake tankers that were blown up and that the governor of the Netherlands’ West Indies had appealed to Washington for help.
  7. sorrowful
    experiencing or marked by or expressing sadness
    I listened to the sorrowful sound of his voice until my mother’s hand switched it to off.
  8. aviation
    the operation of aircraft to provide transportation
    Late in the afternoon, my father, whose name was also Phillip—Phillip Enright—returned home from the refinery where he was working on the program to increase production of aviation gas.
  9. leeward
    on the side away from the wind
    I loved the old fort, and the schooners, the Ruyterkade market with the noisy chickens and squealing pigs, the black people shouting; I loved the koenoekoe with its giant cactus; the divi-divi trees, their odd branches all on the leeward side of the trunk; the beautiful sandy beach at Westpunt.
  10. mutiny
    open rebellion against constituted authority
    They were angry with the Chinese crews, and on the third day, my father said that mutiny charges had been placed against them.
  11. ballast
    any heavy material used to stabilize a ship or airship
    The big tankers from the United States or England always carried fresh water to us in ballast, and then it was distilled again so that we could drink it.
  12. distill
    undergo the process of purifying a liquid
    The big tankers from the United States or England always carried fresh water to us in ballast, and then it was distilled again so that we could drink it.
  13. aft
    near or toward the stern of a ship or tail of an airplane
    She had machine guns fore and aft, one of the few armed ships in the harbor.
  14. disheartened
    made less hopeful or enthusiastic
    He was tired and disheartened over what had happened to the Empire Tern.
  15. defy
    resist or confront with resistance
    The ships had begun to sail again, defying the submarines.
  16. stern
    the rear part of a ship
    She was a small Dutch freighter with a high bow and stern, and a bridge house in the middle between two well decks.
  17. starboard
    right side of a ship or aircraft to someone facing the bow
    In our cabin, which was on the starboard side and opened out to the boat deck, my father said, "Well, you can rest easy, Phillip. The Germans would never waste a torpedo on this old tub.”
  18. sextant
    an instrument for measuring angular distance
    He was carrying a brief case and a navigation instrument I knew to be a sextant.
  19. lubricate
    make slippery or smooth
    Tins of lubricating oil in the afterholds had ignited and were exploding, but the ones forward had not been exposed to the fire.
  20. lurch
    move suddenly or as if unable to control one's movements
    At that moment, the Hato lurched heavily and something happened to the boat falls.
  21. alabaster
    a very light white
    His face couldn’t have been blacker, or his teeth whiter. They made an alabaster trench in his mouth, and his pink-purple lips peeled back over them like the meat of a conch shell.
  22. welt
    a raised mark on the skin
    He had a big welt, like a scar, on his left cheek.
  23. latitude
    an imaginary line around the Earth parallel to the equator
    As to our veree location, I mus’ guess we are somewhar roun' d’cays, somewhar mebbe fifteen latitude an’ eighty long.
  24. treacherous
    dangerously unstable and unpredictable
    We should ’ave pass dem til’ dat mos’ treacherous torpedo split d'veree hull.
  25. occasional
    occurring or appearing at usually irregular intervals
    There was nothing but blue sea with occasional patches of orange-brown seaweed.
  26. flimsy
    lacking solidity or strength
    But soon, we had a flimsy shelter from the burning sun.
  27. despair
    abandon hope; lose heart
    He said, “Do not be despair, young bahss. Someone will fin’ us. Many schooner go by dis way, an’ dis also be d’ship track to Jamaica, an’ on.”
  28. lull
    make calm or still
    After a bit, lulled by the bobbing of the raft and by the soft, pleasant sounds of the sea against the oil barrel floats, I went to sleep again.
  29. barren
    providing no shelter or sustenance
    He scanned the barren sea and then looked back at me, his old eyes growing remote.
  30. parched
    dried out by heat or excessive exposure to sunlight
    My lips were parched and my throat was dry.
  31. stubborn
    tenaciously unwilling to yield
    It was then that I began to learn what a stubborn old man he could be.
  32. sprawl
    sit or lie with one's limbs spread out
    Then he closed his eyes and would not speak to me any more. He just sprawled out, a mound of silent black flesh.
  33. deft
    skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands
    Before total darkness, he had skinned them, deftly cutting meat from their sides.
  34. clammy
    unpleasantly cool and humid
    They were stiff from salt and felt clammy.
  35. recollection
    something recalled to the mind
    “I 'ave no recollection o’ anythin' 'cept dese islan’s. 'Tis pure outrageous, but I do not remember anythin’ 'bout a place called Afre-ca.”
  36. outrageous
    greatly exceeding bounds of reason or moderation
    'Tis even more outrageous I do not remember a fatha or my mut-thur.
  37. grope
    search blindly or uncertainly
    His eyes groped through the darkness for mine.
  38. unbearable
    incapable of being put up with
    The pain in my head was almost unbearable now, and I remember moaning.
  39. drone
    an unchanging intonation
    The faint drone of the aircraft seemed closer now.
  40. douse
    put out, as of a candle or a light
    After a moment of silence, I heard the sizzle of the water as Timothy doused the torch.
Created on September 25, 2014 (updated June 24, 2022)

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