St Lawrence Island seemed an impossible distance away, but I was sure that if I died on my way there I would be happy to be gone, so I walked the four hours to Dublin City docks and lied my way onto the cargo ship, The Faraway Lady. She was enormous, black and grey, with a crew of ten plus me. It was nothing like when M and I took that crab boat. There was room to walk and think and hate myself and life for all the pain in it. I cooked and cleaned to pay my way and stalked the halls in sorrow, haunted by M. I could see her in the corner of my eye all the time and hear her just over the endless hum of the ships engines. Her spirit clung to me and I to it, lost and disjointed from the world. The crew found me difficult, or course, but once we were at sea it was a three month journey. They avoided me and I avoided them, cleaning only when they had all finished their meals and returned to their posts. I too became a ghost. Heard on occasion but never seen. Spoken of but never to. I did not exist. I didn’t want to. The droll chugging of the machines below decks became my hymn and silence became my prayer.
After three months we reached Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. It was as close as The Faraway Lady could take me to St Lawrence and when I got on shore my feet nearly froze to the ground. I found Astor Jack’s bar and used some of the little ship-pay that the captain gave me out of pity to buy food and beer, then sat alone and ignored the crowd, still a ghost, even in plain sight. It was busy, a nice place, but I wasn’t there. I was back in Clondalkin still frying bacon and French toast while upstairs M stared at the wall with those lifeless eyes. I was dying by the second while M whispered to me from beyond. All the world a pit of doubt mired in my loss.
“Excuse me… excuse me, Mister? Is it you that came in on The Faraway Lady?”
“The Faraway Lady. Are you hers?”
“The crew said they had a man looking for carriage to west coast?”
“That gentleman in the grey cap is a long hauler and he takes strays. He comes up from Edmonton every second week. If you offer him beers or cash he’ll help you out.”
“Eh, thank you, Miss… ?”
“Derwin. Jennie Derwin.”
Nobody had said more than two words to me in months, let alone paid me any kind of curtesy, so I wasn’t surprised that the waitress seemed insulted by my blank responses. She was just a kid, nice and simple enough. And I was a broken stone crumbling in front of her. I just left a good tip and approached the haulier with an empty heart.
“Hey. James from the Faraway Lady. I hear you’re up and down from Edmonton regular enough?”
“I got some beers and cash with your name on them if I can rent a seat in your cab?”
“Where you from, fella?”
“Fuck off, my granddaddy was Irish!”
“Fuck off, what part?”
“Down south… Dork or Pork or something.”
“Well fuck me if that’s only a hundred and fifty miles from where I was born.”
“Ha! Edmonton’s twenty times that from here.”
“What you say? A couple of days on the road with a fellow Paddy?”
“Fuck it! Why not?”
And that’s how I met Bobby Sherlock. Bald, long beard, tattoos, dirty sense of humour. We fell in together in no time; I needed to be reminded that I was in fact still alive and Bobby just seemed to need the company. It was a blessing for me. He told stories and dirty jokes, limitless dirty jokes, and gave me history lessons about every major point along routes 11, 17 and 16 respectively. He wasn’t a heavy man, but he moved slowly, until he got behind the wheel that is, at which point he became a absolute madman with no fear.
Pedestrians, bikers, even deer, everyone heard him coming and everyone got out of the way. I liked him. He didn’t ask many questions. He liked to talk and I like to not talk. And while a four day drive might seem like a long time on paper, it flew by. We passed through Lake Superior, Winnipeg, Quill Lakes, Saskatoon, Innisfree and then we hit Edmonton. In that time Bobby had coaxed the last of my humanity out of me. I had laughed and pissed on trees in the freezing cold. I’d drank beer with a new friend. I’d even talked a little about M. Not the real M of course but I talked enough to be human again, if even only for a couple of days.
“You got somewhere to throw your head down?”
“I’m gonna rent a room.”
“Me hole ya are!… did I say that right?”
“Ha, you’re getting better anyway.”
“You’re staying with little miss sexy thighs and me.”
“Fuck your “I can’t”. She’ll snap me in half if I don’t bring you home with me.”
“I suppose I can’t say no, Bobby.”
“No. You can’t! Ya bollix, ya!”
“Where is it?”
“St. John’s Street, Cardiff.”
“What wales? We’re fucking miles from the sea and whales don’t live in lakes!”
“No, I meant… ahh… just… it’s ok… never mind.”
“Ya thick, ya!??”
“Perfect! We’ll have you selling apples and oranges on Moore street in no time!”
A few minutes after we got into Cardiff we turned onto St. John’s Street. Bobby’s was a white wood-boarded corner house. A stack of fire wood was piled in his unfenced back yard and a large field sprawled out across the road. Simple. Quiet. Too good for me.
Mrs. Sherlock, Nici, was a lovely little hippie who grew her own vegetables and made pie for after dinner. I fell asleep that night to the sound of Bobby and Nici rolling around in their bed. And the next morning I woke to the sound of them snoring together like to wood mills. While it was still dark outside I folded the linen that I had slept in and left some money on top of it, then I took to the Yellowhead Highway on foot.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey