Anyone for Jiggs?

Some tubs are labelled “naval beef”
As ‘twas fed to those who worked at sea.
It’s also spelled “navel” since it’s supposedly cut
from the plate by the cows belly.
So which is right? Well, if it has bones
It’s brisket and God knows what more.
Call it “salt meat” like my mother did
‘cause it’s the trimmings from off the floor.

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Free

Putting away a  book display
that’s been up for far too long,
the covers brought a wealth of thought—
old memories, but still strong,

My mind, then cast to a time long past,
my foggy outport home down by the sea:
no arena, no gym, no place to swim,
barely two channels on TV.

And used I be bored? No, I explored;
the library was the place for me;
books, magazines (there were no screens).
“Libre” meant in many ways, “I’m free.”

And now these days I’m happy to say
I’m in a place where that spirit is not astray
and I note with pride, one’s right by my side
to once more spirit me away.

Some of the books from the display. I returned all but “The House of the Scorpion” which I’m reading right now.

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What Remains

©2021 Maurice Barry

“Probably best to take the Mystical Rose. That way we can all go together,” said Chrissy, one hand waving in the direction of the wharf. “what with the wind and fog.”

Martin put on his glasses and squinted. “Fifteen, but they’re all just moping around. More than I’d expected, under the circumstances. No kids?”

Chrissy shrugged, “Not vaccinated I suppose.”

“But it’s all outdoors,” said Martin, his hands digging through both coat pockets, then relaxing when he found the now familiar scrunchy balls of fabric, some used, some not. “More like nobody wants to get together anymore, even for this.”

On tiptoes, he felt, without success for the urns, normally tucked away on top of the battered china cabinet.

“Ellen came by this morning and picked them up. Come on, we goes.”

“Both of them?” Martin called after her as she headed down the laneway that led to the wharf.

Chrissy answered without turning around as she motioned to the crowd, gathered on the wharf, to get on board the longliner, “Both urns or her and Rory? Either way it’s a yes.”

Chrissy started the engine and Martin began untying from the wharf.

“I saw them head out earlier in Rougille’s Draw. Rory was taking his time for a change. Come to think of it they had a few extra people on board too, besides their own crowd.”

Martin shivered as a gust of air dampened his face. He fitted his cap a little tighter on his head and buttoned the windbreaker all the way up. Aside from himself, nobody was left on deck. As Chrissy eased the boat away from the wharf he stole a glance down for’d. In the glow of a dozen or more screens he saw pasty faces, mostly void of expression. “How can fifteen people all be looking away from one another?”

The roar of the diesel intensified as the vessel passed the lighthouse and hit the open water. Martin ducked inside the wheelhouse and braced himself against one side while Chrissy steered. “Can’t even see the Tolt today,” he remarked. “Just the radar to go by.”

“Awfully quiet down there,” muttered Chrissy. “Not like it was when we brought over Mom’s and Dad’s ashes.”

“Different times, I suppose,” said Martin. “And those phones…”

“It’s more than that. We had phones back fifteen years ago.”

“But not like those ones.”

“True. I still think there’s more. When was the last time we had a crowd on the boat like this?”

“More like when was the last time we had a crowd anywhere, I’d say,” replied Martin as he hung his old cap on the hook beside the door and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Hardly worth the bother,” Chrissy cracked a smile and she turned to face him.

“Of course it’s worth it! It’s what both Pat and Robert wanted, regardless of how quiet and mopish everyone is.”

Chrissy took one hand off the wheel and ran her fingers through Martin’s hair, “I meant doing this. Sure, all you have left is a few strands. Not like when we met.”

“Not bad for sixty-five, if you ask me. Granny.”

“There it is,” Chrissy pointed straight ahead then cut the throttle way back.

“Can barely see the lighthouse,” remarked Martin as Rougille Point drifted slowly astern.

“Looks like Rory and Ellen are tied up at the wharf in front of Robert’s old family home,” said Chrissy as she steered towards the white and red cabin cruiser.

Martin eyed the two-storey about fifty metres in back of the wharf. Bare, weathered wood could be seen through the faded purple paint. One window was boarded up and the roof sagged in the middle. “Place is a lot shabbier than I recall.”

“Nobody stirred the past eighteen months, and besides, Robert never came over in the winter anyway.”

“Any of Amanda’s crowd interested in taking it over?” Martin wondered aloud.

“Doubtful. None of them even came today. Just these.” Sandy reached into her purse and retrieved the little stack of cards.

Martin took one of the cards, opened it, and read, “To Uncle Robert. Hope you finally find peace.”

“They all say much the same,” said Chrissy. “Pretty sure they never really got it.”

“Agreed. Robert was at peace with himself. Just because he never talked about it to his Mom or Dad and never found someone doesn’t mean he had a bad life or lived a lie.”

Chrissy put the cards back in the purse, “Pretty sure your namesake and Mrs. Maria know full well.”

Martin nodded, “True. In the end they simply wanted what was best for Robert and left him to choose.”

“You should have left when we did.”

Looking out through the side window of the pilot house, saw Rory’s grinning face.

“We had a much smoother crossing then you did and besides, the grandkids had a chance to do some exploring before the fog settled back in.”

“Smooth. I guess that matters to some of us,” he said waving his cap at Rory’s cane.

“Now you two. Don’t get started. We all have a job to do,” said Ellen, bending down and opening the bettered blue box resting on the back deck.

“You even broke out Pat’s old steamer trunk!” smiled Martin as he reached across the gunwale and took the silver urn from his sister’s outstretched hand. “Fitting. That trunk brought Pat’s belongings all over the world and now it’s here to help her with her last journey.”

“Speaking of which. How should we do this, I wonder.”

“Since we’re both here I suppose we will do Robert first,” said Ellen, stooping once again and retrieving a slightly tarnished brass urn. “How about we swap? You were always closer to Robert.”

Martin Nodded and they exchanged.

“You by yourselves?” asked Ellen.

“No,” Martin replied.

“I thought these were the only dead ones,” Rory’s muttered comment was barely audible.

“We’re here,” Chrissy shouted from the deck and, one by one, the passengers shuffled to the deck, eyes half closed despite the deepening fog.

Martin grabbed a pickaxe and shovel. Together, he, Chrissy, Rory and Ellen went ashore, and trudged up the mostly overgrown laneway that led to the house. When they reached the apple tree in front of the kitchen window they turned and waited as the others assembled.

“Perhaps we should make a circle?” suggested Ellen.

At first nobody moved. Most stood around looking at the ground or flicking through their phones.

“Like this!” Chrissy’s voice pierced the silence. “You—there, you—there,” she said pointing to the people one by one. After about a minute a ragged circle of little groups formed around the spot in front of the apple tree.

Martin looked across the harbour, past the place where the church one stood and strained to see the gravestones. Only a few were still visible through the new growth forest.

“His wishes,” he thought as he struck the ground with the adze, breaking through the stubborn sod. Two minutes later, sweating profusely, he set the cannister down into the hole. He looked up to see twenty-five pairs of expectant eyes.

“Umm. Ahhh,” he could feel the blood rush to his face as he struggled to say. Something. Anything.

“Let me. You’re winded,” murmured Chrissy, placing one hand softly on his sleeve. Her voice rose. “As you all know, Robert was a man of few words. He preferred that his deeds did the talking. So as we gather here to honour one who was to us, variously, as uncle, friend and teacher, can we each pause for a few minutes and recall some of the times when those actions affected us, personally.”

Martin hung his head down and let the flood of memories come. The boat. The school. The guitar. The art lessons. Realizing the huge smile that he now wore his eyes looked up and around, “How long was I lost in thought?” he wondered. The others seemed not to notice, but they were doing the same. Many, Martin noticed, were daubing their eyes with tissues, yet nobody spoke.

Chrissy nudged him. He retrieved the shoved and filled the hold back in, being careful to put the sod back into place.

Still, nobody moved.

“I suppose that’s it for Robert,” said Martin. “We will walk across the harbour now for Pat.

Once again Martin, Chrissy, Ellen and Rory led the way.

“Feeling your age,” joked Rory. “Too out of breath to say a few words?”

“Yes, that was odd for you,” added Ellen. “After all, you were always so chatty, even as a kid, that Robert always used to joke that you were vaccinated with a gramophone needle!”

“Yes, and here I go choking up without words at his own funeral.”

“Funeral? that was months ago. Via Zoom.” Ellen interjected.

“You know what I mean. Whatever this is. That didn’t feel like a funeral. I just wish I could have—” Martin looked gratefully at Chrissy. “At least one of us managed.”

“You could have done better if this were normal times. But they’re not and so we do what we can I suppose,” replied Chrissy.

Several minutes later the little group was on the other side of the harbour.

“I left the pick and shovel behind,” groaned Martin. “I have to go back over.”

“No need,” said Ellen. “Pat wanted their ashes spread.”

Martin looked around. Their old family cabin was behind him and their Mom and Dad’s wharf, or, rather what was left of it, wat right in front. “Here?”

“Yes, Pat and Claire had the house before Mom and Dad. Remember they bought it from the merchant couple, the Deaseys? And Pat and Claire ran the business until Claire died.”

“Claire, right. She never found another, did she?”

“No they didn’t. I think that after Claire died Pat’s interest in the fishing business died too, along with some other things. From that point it was all academia. And Pat liked it that way.”

Ellen raised her voice and began walking toward the cabin. “And now I will scatter Pat’s ashes the way they wanted them. First I will go up here. Most of you probably don’t know this but our cabin was once a shop. It was built and run by a family called the Deaseys until they died. After that Pat and Claire ran the co-operative that the Deaseys established. Once Claire died, Pat switched careers and became the schoolteacher before going on to become a professor. But Claire had half of her ashes scattered right here in back of the old shop and Pat wanted the same.”

Ellen paused and carefully poured some of the ashes around the tangle of weeds and alders.

“And now for the wharf. Follow me,” she said, setting off back down the hill. “Pat had this wharf rebuilt using materials they bought surplus when they made the naval base over in Argentia. Her Dad, our grandfather and others did the work and look, it’s still strong. Of course it was bigger in those days. Claire spent a lot of time here, as did she and our parents. Pat spread half of Claire’s ashes here and wanted the same done when they died.”

With that Ellen stopped talking and sprinkled the remaining ashes between the cracks on the aged wood.

Martin scanned all around the harbour. Through the fog and he could barely make out the dim outline of the scattered few cabins, as well as the few fishing stages that remained. There were no boats save for the two tied up at Robert’s wharf. There was no sound, save for the gentle creak-lop-lop-lop of the waves against the wharf’s uprights.

“Amazing grace…” Ellen’s powerful soprano brought Martin back to the present and he joined in. Looking around he noticed that the others that also joined in did so with their heads turned downward. Few of the younger ones did at all and those that did seemed not to know the words.

“…Was blind but now I see.” Ellen finished by repeating the first verse.

A stray gust of wind made Martin almost lose his footing and he looked to his right, towards the Tolt, to see an incoming blackness, followed by a brilliant flash.

“That’s one way to end it,” remarked Chrissy.

Martin felt relieved. “Looks like the weather is setting in. Perhaps we should be getting back.”

Martin reached inside his breast pocket, retrieved his phone and tapped the weather app, “Judging by the radar, there won’t be much to the thunderstorm but a big bunch of rain is moving in. Looks like it will be that way until tomorrow.” Raising his voice he added, “Time to head back to the boats, everyone. I’m pretty sure we have time to get back before it gets ugly.”

“Rory and I will just be a few  minutes. We want to check on the old place and make sure there are no leaks,” said Ellen. “Would you start the engine for me and make sure the crowd is all on board with their PFD’s before you head out? It will save us a bit of time.

Martin nodded and turned to head back across the harbour. This time he and Chrissy were last as the rest of the group had already left.

“Nature found a way to top off the ceremony,” remarked Chrissy.

“At least that way nobody had to say anything after.”

“Different, isn’t it. Used to be we would head over to the hall afterwards and have a chat with everyone but now it seems everyone is in their own little world.”

“Indeed,” Martin replied, noticing that the majority of those ahead of him were looking at their screens and not at the eerily unfamiliar place that once was home to most of their parents, grandparents and even to some of them. “I don’t know what they’re doing. I could hardly get service out there on the wharf, let alone here now at the bottom of the harbour under the Tolt.”

“I suppose it will take time to get back to normal,” said Chrissy. “We’ve all been locked away for so long and we have to get used to being out and around again.”

“More than that, though.”

“More than what?”

“Huh?” Martin turned around, “Oh, I hadn’t heard you two coming. Strange. The quad is far from quiet.”

“Figured I’d better bring it over to the garage and do a little work on it. After all it’s been sitting in the shed here for over two years now. Wonder it even started.”

Ellen got off. “I’ll walk the rest of the way with Martin and Chrissy.”

As Rory sped away Ellen said, “I can’t get my mind off Pat. Over a hundred years and healthy as a horse. Until Covid.”

“We lost a few friends this past year,” replied Martin.

“I just can’t erase the memory. I had to put that tube in. No choice. Pat looked so frail in that hospital bed. I wish I hadn’t left her.”

Martin nodded, “But Pat did have a choice and she made it.”

“But still—” Ellen’s voice broke off.

“I know.” Martin stopped. Chrissy and Ellen did the same while the others continued.

By now they were at the bottom of the harbour, the Tolt squarely behind them, along with the two-storey house, still a brilliant orange and the little fishing stage, still in good repair.

Martin continued, “Funny, this is the exact spot Pat would have been when she left her house and headed down to get the punt to do some fishing. Uncle Martin used to tell me of how strong willed, yet so kind she was. She made such an impact on so many people. Robert too.” He looked down, “And today I just couldn’t find the words.”

Martin could feel Chrissy pressing against him. He heard, “None of us could. Not today.”

Ellen spoke up, “I thought by now I knew how to do this. Jimmy, Mom, Dad, Martin and Maria, Richard, Ellen, Anna. We all knew what to do. The community came together, and it all fell into place. We all knew our part. But this time—”

Martin opened his mouth, but nothing came. He cleared his throat but still nothing.

Another flash. “I suppose that’s our reminder to get on with it,” he said and continued his way to the waiting vessels.

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Stunned (or maybe Selfish)

I like to think all people are
well meaning; intelligent.
Experience shows us otherwise–
some are barely sentient.
The ones insisting its their right
to eschew the needles prick
by any objective measure are
stunned as a feckin’ brick.

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Connections

Sitting here
in this rocking chair
at my old family home.
Spending a spell
with the D2L–
connected with my phone.

Distracted, I gaze,
there, from bygone days,
my dad, teacher from a time before.
Ah, those thoughts so dear:
him also working from this chair…
That connection matters so, so much more.

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Staying Masked

2nd Pfizer in the arm–
microchips & all.
Never felt a bloody thing!
Ready now for fall.

2020 was an arse,
so, too, much of ’21.
Still, a corner has been turned.
“What’s Next” has begun.

But I’m not ditching my old mask.
I wear it to work & shops.
Been muttering #$@&%*! for long now
don’t know if I can stop 🤷‍♂️

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Snow in June

On Tuesday I put out my flowers
Two days later we got snow showers
Experience has made me understand
that summer is short in this fair land Don’t you worry they’re not dead They’re safely tucked inside the shed
I’ll go get them by and by
sometime later in July

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The Ones You Meet Crossing Over 11

Chapter 11: Crossing Over

Note: this is the last instalment. I’ll leave it up for a week to give you a chance to catch up, after that all of the chapters are going back offline.

“Here goes!” Martin pushed as hard as he could but the dory would not budge. He once again but his effort had no effect whatsoever. A small crust of ice had formed all around where the dory rested on the wharf, sticking it fast to the timbers.

 “Here, let me give you a hand with that,” said Richard.

Martin stopped pushing on the dory and turned to see his friend walking out the road toward him.

“Thanks. What brings you out the road today?”

“This. Figured you would be anxious to get her back in the water now that you’re on the mend.”

“I appreciate that very much but shouldn’t you be over there?” Martin asked, pointing to the government wharf. “The steamer is due in soon.”

“I’ll go there d’rec’ly. But I figure I’ve got three quarters of an hour before she’s in,” said Richard, pointing out across the bay. “Look, she’s only just coming into view now.”

“I’ve been trying to push it off the wharf but it’s stuck fast.”

Martin stood on one side of the dory, about halfway along its length. “Doesn’t surprise me at all. First of all you’ve got to try and get it unstuck. You get over on the other side.”

Martin stood on the opposite side to Richard. “Now what?”

Richard grabbed the gunwale and began trying to rock the dory.  Nothing happened, “You do the same but be gentle. We don’t want to rip any boards on the dory or on the wharf.”

After five or six attempts the dory broke loose and began rocking. “Alright. Now we’re almost ready to launch her.”

Martin started pushing with all of his might, “It’s still stuck.”

“I allow it is, there on the dry boards. My son, one of these days you’ll get a clue I suppose. You have to find ways to make it easy on yourself. Like this.” 

Richard grabbed a bucket from beside the wharf and filled it with salt water. He emptied it over the top of the wharf. He repeated this several times until the top of the wharf was thoroughly saturated. “Now try.”

Martin gave a push and the dory started to move along the wharf. Richard joined in. “Slow down, Martin. We don’t want to push her right across the harbour.”

When the dory was almost halfway out, Richard said, “Stop. Now grab the painter.”

Martin did as he was told and Richard gave one final shove. The dory splashed into the water and began moving forward. “Keep a firm grip,” he ordered and Martin let the line out with just the right amount of tension to bring the little vessel to a stop it reached the end of the rope.

“There we go. All ready for you again. She might take on a little extra water for the next day or so because the wood is all dried out. That will take care of itself, though and she’ll tighten up again in no time.”

“Thanks!” said Martin. “Some morning, isn’t it.” 

“It is that for sure,” said Richard as he started walking up the path. “I’m heading back over. Probably see you on the wharf in a little while.”

Martin took a long look around. The day was clear, bright and cold. The easterly wind had brought with it the threat, as of yet unrealized, of snow. But the day was still young. Things would clear up. He was sure of that.

The steamer was just coming into view around the point and about to make the turn that would carry it in through the harbour. He judged that he had about a half hour before it would be tied up and ready to receive passengers. That was time enough to get done what he needed to do before bidding Anna good-bye. 

He needed to get over to the other side of the harbour. Martin looked at the dory, now bobbing gently by the wharf. I wonder if I’m strong enough to row across, Martin wondered. It only feels like a day or so but it’s been three weeks and I’m stiff from lying in bed for too long.

He turned to the road, watching Richard make his way along and wondered if he should take the slower, but safer, course of action and just walk over. One way to find out, he muttered, jumping aboard and bringing up the oars. He pulled as hard as he could on the port side and brought the bow of the dory right in line with the Government wharf.

With smooth, practiced, even strokes he began the crossing.

———

His thoughts turned inward, as they always did when he rowed.

But there was no journey back to the war. Not this time. Maybe not ever. He did travel, but not back to those fateful years spent in France. Instead, they flew ahead, to the future.

He contemplated the remaining months he had in the school year and imagined conversations he would have with his students, projects he would help them with. He was particularly excited at the notion of finally breaking out that science equipment that had lain unused for far too long.

He planned ahead for how he would handle the night school. His time in France had left him with some experience with teaching adults and he was truly looking forward to using this new venture to make his own contribution to this place which seemed to have adopted him.

He imagined himself skating, perhaps even playing some ice hockey. Surely it was not that much different from hurley!

And, of course, his thoughts circled back to what lay in store for Anna. He could see it all so very clear—the eager, skilled, principled and, above all, kind, new master teacher out there where she belonged, marking her own mark in the best possible way she could: preparing a whole new generation of teachers for what lay in store.

———

Without even needing to look, he brought the dory in to his berth at the side of the government wharf and hopped ashore. Richard, who had arrived ahead of him, was already hauling boxes out of the shed and stacking them in a neat pile at the end of the wharf, no doubt mail and other things that had to be shipped via the steamer. There was no time to wait. Richard would have to find out the news from Ellen.

Martin hurried up the path and took a few moments to try and catch his breath before knocking on the door. He’d not realized until that moment just how much the effort of crossing over had taken from him. Still, the joy of realizing he had done it far outweighed the pain he felt in his chest. That would pass.

He turned towards the door but it opened before he had the chance to knock.

“I saw you, all red faced and puffing, coming up the path,” Ellen, said putting a gentle hand on his shoulder, “You certainly seem all of a fluster this fine winter’s morning.”

“Well, the steamer is almost in and I…” 

“Over to bid her goodbye are you?”

“Well , yes but first I…”

“Shouldn’t you be down at the wharf?”

“I have some good news for you.”

Ellen took a step back from the doorway, “Come inside and we can chat about it over a cup of tea.”

“If there’s time.”

Martin sat at the table, facing the window, keeping an eye on the steamer now almost level the lighthouse. Ellen poured two cups of tea.

“So what’s all the news?”

Still breathless, Martin reached into his breast pocket and retrieved one of the two envelopes from the previous day. He passed it to Ellen. “Have a read.”

She removed the single typewritten sheet from the envelope and  scanned it. Her eyes opened wide, and she sat down, and slowly re-read it letter. “A scholarship? How, on earth, did you…”

A flood of joy ran through Martin as he started to speak. “Believe it or not some good is able to come from that time I spent in the war. My old regiment has a scholarship fund so I wrote away and inquired whether Pat might be able to make use of it. Normally it’s just for immediate family of veterans but the board decided that this was a unique case and, they made an exception.”

“It says it’s for four years, or even more, depending on her performance,” said Ellen.

“Yes, and all you have to do is get her to Dublin. Everything else is taken care of.”

“Did you say anything to Richard?”

“No, he was face and eyes into it down at the wharf and, besides, I thought that it would be best to take this to you first and let you deal with it. I know it’s a lot to consider but give it some thought.”

“Oh, this is wonderful news. It’s just that, you know, being a mother and all, I’m not too keen on the thought of sending my baby so far away from home.”

“I know,” replied Martin, “but not all trips away have to be bad ones. See, even some good was able to come from the one I took back in ‘fifteen.”

Ellen gave Martin a knowing smile. “Thank you. This is such an unexpected and precious gift. I will tell Richard later on when he finishes up. Pat will be home this this Friday or Saturday after school and we can tell her then. I am sure she will be more than thrilled.”

“She’s still in Ansauvage?”

“Well yes, where else? She needs to be in school.”

“But I’m back now.”

“Martin, who says you’re ready? You’ve been laid up for the past three weeks.”

“I’m fine and the idea of just lying around the house is not something I relish.”

“So when are you going back to work?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Oh, I see.”

“You certainly will. You’ll see me tomorrow. Spread the word.”

The steamer was almost at the wharf. “I have to go. Thanks for the tea,” he said, gulping down the last of it.

“See you tomorrow.”

By the time Martin got to the top of the path that led to the wharf Richard was tying the steamer up. Its presence had garnered considerable attention. Judging by the crowd that had gathered on the wharf, Anna would not be the only passenger who would be embarking this morning.

“Big crowd today,” he shouted over to Richard.

Richard gave him a funny look, “Always is. You mean this is the first time you’ve noticed?”

Martin laughed, “I suppose. It seems I’ve been wearing blinders since I got here. I’m trying hard to rid myself of them.”

“Always more interesting when you keep your eyes and ears open,” Richard replied, before getting back to his work.

Martin looked around for Anna. As expected, he found her right by the edge of the wharf, suitcases laid at her feet. Mr. and Mrs. Deasy were standing at her side. 

When she saw Martin coming she walked over and met him halfway across the wharf.

“I saw your dory and knew you were around somewhere.”

“I needed to speak to Ellen about Pat.”

Anna looked at him with a concerned expression and Martin added, “Oh, no it’s nothing bad.” He went on to tell her about the scholarship.

“That’s wonderful! I am sure she will be thrilled. This is the perfect opportunity for her!”

Martin nodded. He looked at his feet, wondering what next to say.

“I suppose this is it,” she said. “There’s no turning back now.”

Martin thought of his own journey away from the quay, so many years ago. He’d had the same thoughts as well.

“But this time it’s different.” he blurted out.

Anna raised one eyebrow at the outburst, “How so?”

“When I went away to the war it wasn’t fully my choice. I was caught up in something bigger than me and I left because I thought I had to. I was wrong.”

Anna smiled, “That sounds exactly like the case for me, but in reverse. Staying here was the choice I thought I had to make.”

Martin nodded.

“And I, too was wrong,” Anna added.

“Just like coming here was the right choice for me.”

Anna smiled. She put her arms around Martin and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you Martin,” she whispered. “I am so grateful for all you’ve given me.”

“And I love you too and am also so very indebted to you for all you have done. I will miss you.”

“Oh, silly, you’ll be far too busy for that,” she said, whacking him across the shoulder.

“Look who’s talking. I’ll give you until the summer. By then you’ll be running that place in there.”

Anna raised both eyebrows, tilted her head and said, “Who says I’ll stop with town?”

“Oh, one more thing I want to tell you before you go,” he said, retrieving the remaining envelope from his breast pocket. “A few weeks back I wrote to Sean. It was the first time I’d contacted him in years and I wasn’t sure how he’d respond.” He held out his hand, showing the letter, “This came while I was…”

“…out of it,” she finished. She took the letter from his outstretched hand and scanned it. “Martin, this is good news. You’re an uncle and I’d say he, too, wants to be family again.”

“Yes, like your father always says, ‘Everything happens in its own time’ and I have lots of that.”

“Time to write me a few lines every now and then as well, I hope.”

“Of course. I imagine we will both have lots to say.”

Through the corner of his eye, Martin spied Ellen, talking with Richard over by the office. She had Martin’s letter in her hand. Seeing him looking over, Richard looked back, smiled and nodded.

They walked back to where Anna’s parents were standing. They both kissed her goodbye. Anna grabbed the two suitcases and walked up the gangplank. When she reached the top she turned and waved before going inside.

Richard untied the ropes and the steamer began to pull away from the wharf. Mr. Deasy motioned to Martin to come and stand beside them.

Barrrroooommmm!

The steamer’s whistle boomed through the harbour, its sound amplified by the echo from the many surrounding hills. The children at the wharf jumped and put their hands to their ears.

Martin stood calmly, watching Richard and Ellen, now  in the motor boat, also pull away from the wharf, following just in back of its wake. He watched as the two boats headed out through the harbour and across the bay. When they reached the open water the steamer turned towards the south, heading for its next stop on its route. The motorboat continued on straight across the bay, towards Ansauvage.

Pat will be in my class tomorrow as well, Martin thought. I had better spend the rest of the day getting ready for class.

Mrs. Deasy put her arms around Martin’s waist and together, the three of them stood and watched both vessels sail away.

Martin found himself humming a song, and, without even thinking, the first bar of Pack Up Your Troubles escaped his lips, “Mm mm mm mm-mm mm-mm mm mmm-mmm mm mmmm mmmm mmmm.”

From out of nowhere, Mrs. Deasy’s voice joined in, “where the sun don’t shine.”

And then the Mr. Deasy joined her, “and quicker than a bloody wink my arse I’ll haul to a place I know that’s mine.”

Laughing, Martin joined in chorus, and all three of them strained their voices, singing, “My dory and my jigger, garden, the woods and the sea. Won’t be much longer now I figure ‘til homeward bound I’ll be.”

“Vince wrote lots of letters home,” Mr. Deasy said to Martin, “you’d be interested to learn the things he told us.”

The steamer blew its horn one more time, just before it rounded the point and headed south, continuing its run. Martin piped up with the last two verses. The Deasy’s looked at Martin, then at each other and shrugged. As he continued singing the words, committed at last solidly to memory it dawned on him that not only did he still have much to learn but, just as importantly, he had a few stories of his own.

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The Ones You Meet Crossing Over 10

Chapter 10: Awakening

At first, he drifted in and out of sleep. There was plenty of wood and he reasoned it would stay lit for at least several hours. When it died down, the cold would awaken him and he would add to the wood. 

The dreams carried him here and there.

He was back in Ireland, before the war, back to a time when he and Sean still acted as family. It was spring and the leaves were finally growing on the trees, providing shelter from the rain that fell onto the busy streets. Together, they travelled to the university, “We’re both almost finished,” said Martin. “Soon we will have the good jobs we have worked so hard to deserve.”

After class they played hurley on the field just in back. And there was always the rowing. Day by day they rowed the Liffey, one oar each, their backs straining. There was always the next big race, but each one knew he could depend on the other, no matter what.

“As a solicitor there is a lot I could do,” said Sean. “Maybe I will run for office. There’s a lot I would change, given the chance.” 

“That’s not for me,” said Martin. “I want to write.”

“About what?”

“Oh, about life. All of it!” replied Martin, quaffing the last of his pint. 

Sometimes they even took the stage and, together, sang the songs they’d learned from their parents. 

“Not those old war songs though,” their parents kept insisting. “It’s time for us all to come together, not to fight amongst ourselves.”

But they sang them anyway. They were young. What odds!

It became hot. A fire appeared between them. Where did that come from? Neither of them had lit it. As it grew larger and larger, each began blaming the other for starting it. Their voices grew to a shout as the flames grew higher and higher. Finally, neither could see the other anymore through the smoke and fire. Still they kept shouting across the ever-growing maelstrom, the noise getting so loud that neither was capable of hearing the other. Not anymore.

“Martin!”

The flames disappeared and he was on board a liner. The waters were choppy and the vessel pitched and rolled as each passing wave threaten to toss all on board into the cold, unforgiving ocean. 

“Why did you do that?” came the voices of his parents, over and over.

Martin tried to stand, to face the stern of the boat and to call out to them, no doubt standing arm in arm on the wharf. He couldn’t. He was held back by the force of some unseen hand. He tried to break free, turning this way and that, but it was no use. That which held him was much more powerful than he.

He gave up and let the engine, the wind, and the waves just carry him along.

And carry him they did; across the channel, along the rails and through the fields of France, to the trenches, to where he’d met Vince.

“Martin!”

It was Vince. He was standing at Mr. Deasy’s wharf and beckoning for him to come and join him. Martin ran to him and embraced him, crying, “I’m so very sorry.”

But Vince just smiled, “Don’t be. I made my choices. Now you have to make yours.”

“Join me,” he said and together they rowed over to the flat Island, laced up their skates and stepped out onto the pond. 

“Let me show you how to stop, first,” said Vince, turning his skates sideways, shifting his weight backwards and shooting up a cloud of snow before him. “Just like this! It’s easy.  You just have to know when it’s time.”

They each took a hockey stick and Vince dropped a puck on the ice. Together they played a game of one-on-one. 

“You’ve come a long way,” said Vince, as Martin skated effortlessly around the pond, stickhandling like a pro, then came to a sudden stop in front of the net before shooting the puck right through Vince’s legs.

“I’ve had a lot of help,” laughed Martin.

“Well then, I guess it’s time for me to go then,” said Vince, jumping into the dory and rowing away, over the ice and flying just above the trees beyond.

“Wait,” shouted Martin, “What were the last two verses of the song you used to sing back in France?”

Over the cry of the wind boomed Vince’s powerful voice as he sang the words that Martin immediately recognized from so many years before, “You can take Fritzy’s guns and bombs and shove them all…”

“No, not that one, the other one?”

“What other one?”

“The one you sang on the night before…before…”

“Before I died? Oh, I’m surprised you remember that one because I only sung it that one time. It went like this:”

And over the wind, Vince’s voice boomed:

Until that happens I’ll be keeping up my end
but I’m not in this alone.
I’m surrounded by this motley bunch that I call friends,
the finest crew I’ve known.

As for what is there before you,
nobody knows just what’s in store.
But if you work in concert with this fine crew
we’ll see vic-to-ry for sure.

“Martin!”

It was Anna. They were at the hall and she was looking at him with concern. Everyone was there, and all were, it seemed at first, looking at him. No, they were looking at someone else, too.

“What shall we do with them?” the voices were all saying.

“I’ll be alright,” he replied. “I have lots of help.”

He stood up, walked out the door and entered his office back in Dublin. The war was not yet over but his fighting days were. “Your lungs are scarred for life,” the doctors had told him, “You’re lucky to be alive at all. You are not going back to the front. Not ever. Here, mind this desk.”

Martin did as he was ordered. He crouched by the desk, hand on the trigger of the Vickers, and waited for the enemy. 

They never came. Only shadows—friend or foe, he was never sure but he stayed at the ready. It was his duty now.

Then the war ended. “The desk is fine now,” they told him, “Off you go. On your way.”

Martin drifted from place to place, spending a little time at each, and always guarding the desk. But the money and the promotions never came, and the desks never changed.

He waved goodbye to his parents as they sailed away forever. They did not want to go but they too were in the grip of a force much greater than they were. Sean was there as well but the fire still burned between them and the voices still could not carry over it.

“Martin!”

Richard called to him from the forest and Martin helped him carry out the firewood wood. “You’re doing a lot better now than when you came, still you still have a lot to learn,” he said, watching Martin try to fillet the fish he’d just caught. “Perhaps next year you’ll even be fit to take hunting,” he added, laughing.

“Yes, but first we’ll do a bit of reading together,” he replied, holding up a book he’d brought along.

“We’d all like it if you’d show us to read as well,” said the voices from just downstairs as, one by one, they came to visit. “How’s he doing?” they chanted before leaving.

And in the silence they left behind Martin rowed slowly around and around the harbour. 

Sometimes the sun would be out, warming his heart, lightening the weight of the oars. Other times wind and rain stirred the water, dampening his spirits. From time to time he rowed by the light of the moon, its pale glow, barely hiding the ghosts of those he’d lost, observing from just beyond the meadows and gardens that lined the edges of this little haven of humanity; this sacred space that all seemed so bent on hanging on to. 

The light faded and then there was complete darkness. He rowed blind, guided only by the ripple of the tide and the sound of the boats squeaking against their wharves.

“Martin!”

He stopped rowing, feeling his heart race. Where was that voice coming from? He could not make out anyone in the darkness.

“Martin!” the voice called again. It was Ellen.

The dory vanished. He was warm and comfortable, in bed. He opened his eyes to find Ellen sitting in a rocking chair just at the foot of the bed. He looked around. All four walls were papered with white flowers, with green leaves and gold-coloured stems, all set on a black background. 

Where had he seen that paper before? The sight of it calmed him, reminding him of when he had arrived and, for the first time in so many years, felt hope and a sense of belonging. He was not at home but this place was so familiar. He racked his brain trying to recall where he had seen it before. Then it dawned on him. He was in Pat’s room.

He tried to stir but found it difficult, even painful.

“Don’t move too fast,” Ellen said, “You’ve been laid up for a long time.”

 “What am I doing here?” he asked.

“Don’t you remember?”

“Remember what?”

“You almost died.”

Martin tried to recall how he got there. The flat island. The dory. Something about skating, perhaps? Yes, that was it. The snow squall. “The last thing I remember was lighting a fire and waiting for daylight.”

“We brought you to our house shortly after we found you. You’ve been here ever since. You’ve mostly been asleep but every now and then you’d wake up and we’d get a bit of food in you but the talk and such you were getting on with made no sense. And that cough. It was awful.”

“I had my all lungs scarred up in the war. I was gassed.”

“I figured something was up with all that hacking and barking you’d do from time to time,” she said, “but I didn’t want to ask. You didn’t seem to want to talk much about your past.”

“The past is gone,” escaped his lips, involuntarily, as if he’d been rehearsing it the past few weeks. “How long have I been here?”

Ellen hesitated before answering, “Three weeks.”

“I’ll get Richard,” she said. “I’ll be right back. Don’t try to get up.”

She padded downstairs and Martin heard the door opening and closing. Get up? Martin doubted he could. He could barely move. He was sore all over and strangely tired. Just what had happened, and why was he here?

The door opened and soon Martin heard several voices talking downstairs. Shortly afterward, Richard and Ellen came into his room. Ellen resumed her place in the rocking chair, and Richard sat at the end of the bed.

“How did I get here?” Martin asked.

“Don’t you recall what happened?” asked Richard.

“Some of it. There was a sudden storm. We barely made it back to the flat island. I made a shelter and lit a fire. That’s all.”

“We became worried when Pat didn’t get back before dark,” Ellen said, “Not that it was completely unusual as sometimes it happens. But when it was time for the concert, and she still wasn’t here we knew something was up. We went over to the hall to see if she’d gone directly there but found out she hadn’t. Some of the people said that she’d gone fishing after skating with them, so we became concerned for her safety.”

Nobody missed me, Martin thought. I really do need to be less of a loner around here.

Ellen continued, “We organized a search party but it wasn’t very hard to find you. The first thing we came across was the motor boat, empty and adrift. It was out of fuel. From there we could see a huge fire lighting up the sky over the flat Island so we all went there right away. When we arrived we found the two of you in a shelter, both of you near death.”

“Good thing we arrived when we did,” Richard interjected, “The fire had caught to your load of wood. What a bonfire you had going! It would have likely burned the whole island if we’d not been there to put it out.”

“Yes, but without the fire we might not have found you in time,” said Ellen. “We put you both in a motor boat and went first to the hall, because we knew it was warm there. After that, we brought you back here and you’ve been here in the bed ever since”

“Pat?” Martin asked.

Ellen looked at Richard. Both looked down. 

In the silence, Martin’s heart began racing.

Ellen started slowly, “Pat’s gone…”

Martin closed his eyes, “Another lost friend,” was all he could think.

Ellen continued, “She left for Ansauvage to continue her schooling. With you here sick in bed for the past three weeks there’s been nobody to take your place. We were going to put you in one of the spare bedrooms but Pat insisted you stay here because this room is warmer. With all that coughing and hacking you’ve been doing we weren’t sure you’d ever some out of it.”

A wave of relief spread over Martin.

“That’s enough for now,” said Ellen. “Let me get you some soup.”

She went downstairs and, shortly after, reappeared with a small bowl. Martin sat up in the bed and drank it. He put it down on the chair next to the bed. “Got any tea?” he asked.

Richard smiled, “Tea? You must be coming around. Let me get it. Extra lassy today.”

He came back up with the cup and Martin sipped away at it.

When he was done Ellen said, “Now go rest a bit more. Let’s see if we can get you up out of bed tomorrow.”

The next morning, when Martin awoke, he felt much stronger. He washed up, dressed using the clothes that had been left out for him, and went downstairs. “Mm, toutons! I haven’t had them since you made them way back in August.”

“I made them just for you.” replied Ellen. “You have to get your strength back.”

Martin took up several and sat at the table. “These just might be my favourite food. If I could have them every morning before school I’d probably be a better teacher.”

He turned to Ellen, “What day is it? Should I be at school?”

She laughed, “It’s January the ninth and it’s a Saturday so, no, you don’t have to be in school today.”

“And neither do I,” she added.

Martin looked at her quizzically? “You? At school?”

“Yes, I’m your new colleague. I just started full time last Monday. And I might say it was pretty quiet with nobody in the next room. I will be happy when you are strong enough come back.”

“Then Anna…”

“…is leaving for town tomorrow,” Ellen finished.

“So she’s taking the job?”

“Yes, as far as I am concerned there was never any doubt,” said Ellen. “That new position is just perfect for her and she’s paid her dues here to this community. It’s time for Anna to cross over and see what’s next for her.”

“It’s just that I…” began Martin.

“Oh you don’t have to explain it to me. I know how it is between the two of you. She’s brought you to the point where you’re now an excellent teacher for our students and you, in turn, helped her to find the strength and courage to do what she must.”

Martin nodded, “But I’ll still miss her. I have to say goodbye before she leaves.”

“Well you missed your chance to do it in style,” Ellen responded.

“What do you mean?”

“Just last night we had a farewell party for her up at the hall. Almost everyone from the community was there and we all had a grand time. It pretty much made up for the concert you and Pat went and ruined on us just before Christmas!” she said, smiling all the while.

“I bet it was the only time she ever attended here that she didn’t organize herself!” said Martin. “I suppose the rest of us will have to step up now.”

“That we will!” Ellen assured him. “She’s taught us all well.”

“I think I will head over and check on my place,” said Martin.

“It’s in good shape. Richard’s been looking in on it like he always did.”

Martin went to the closet and found his long rubbers. He looked up on the shelf and found his woolen cap, mittens and socks placed there in a box. He looked out through the window and saw the snow on the ground, “I imagine I’ll really need these now,” he said.

“You should probably take your time walking over there today,” said Ellen, “You still don’t know how much strength you have.”

“The dory, is it okay?”

“Yes, it was just about filled with water when we found it. We still don’t know how you had the strength to row it to the island like that. We went back a few days later, bailed it out and towed it back. We also found a pair of skates in a box in the shelter. They’re over in the house.”

Martin felt relieved. He did not want to lose the skates. Not those ones.

“We hauled the dory up on to your wharf, too, because we didn’t know how long you would be like that,” Ellen said, pointing upstairs. “Richard can help you launch it again when you’re ready.”

“Thanks!” said Martin. “Thanks for everything. You and Richard are such wonderful friends.”

“Our pleasure,” said Ellen, getting ready to close the door. She suddenly stopped, turned around and went to the kitchen. “Wait, I have some mail for you.” She returned with two letters and placed them in Martin’s hand.

“Thanks, again.”

Martin slowly walked back to his house. When he arrived he was pleased to find a huge pile of firewood, all cut up and neatly stacked on the woodpile next to his house. It was much more than he had cut.

Not that my bonfire likely left much of that, he laughed to himself. Still he felt grateful to whomever had placed it there.

He went inside and found still more wood stacked up in the box next to the stove. He soon had a fire going.

He was tired out. I am finally grateful for the daybed, he thought as he laid back and let the fire warm him up. He had a mind to get out a book but found it more interesting to, instead, just look out the window at the harbour and watch the comings and goings of the livyers as they went about their ordinary Saturday routines.

Funny, he thought, I’d never really taken much notice before, but now it was all so interesting. He looked. The children, sledding on the hill beside the school. The older ones, heading out in the boats, no doubt to do some skating or maybe even play some hockey, over on the flat island. The adults heading out, then coming back, the boats laden with fish or wood. The people simply walking back and forth and giving a nod upon seeing Martin peering out the window.

Time passed. The shadows lengthened until, finally, the sun went down behind the Tolt.

I guess I’ll soon have to get up and cook something, Martin thought. But what? After three weeks, he realized he had no idea of what was left in the cupboard. Besides, the thought of having to go the bother of actually cooking something did not exactly excite him. It was all he could do to get up, every so often, and replenish the wood in the fire.

“It would be nice if Ellen would drop by with a few more toutons,” he mused.

A movement down by his wharf caught his eye. A motorboat had crossed the harbour and was now tying up to his wharf. He sat up higher on the daybed and strained his eyes to see what it was. Nobody but him ever used the wharf! Who could it be? It was low tide, though, and he simply could not see.

Mrs. Deasy?

And Mr. Deasy.

And Anna!

The three of them were coming up the path to his house. Martin got up as quickly as he dared and, in a sudden panic, looked around the soon to see how presentable the place was. All good. He resolved to thank Richard and Ellen later for that.

A knock. Of course. It was, after all, Anna. He opened the door.

“We heard you were up and around and wanted to pay you a visit,” she said.

“Please, come in!”

“Lovely heat you’ve got on here,” said Anna, “looks like you don’t restrict the bonfires to the flat island.”

“I try.”

“We brought our welcome,” said Mrs. Deasy. “Would you care for some supper?”

“I’m famished!” Martin hadn’t realized how quickly the time had passed.

Mrs. Deasy spread out the food. Roast duck, boiled salt beef, bread pudding, vegetables and a pot of gravy, which she warmed on the stove. Martin pulled out the table from the wall and fetched two extra chairs from the bedroom. Mr. Deasy lit the lamp and they all sat down together.

“This is the first time I’ve had anyone over for supper,” Martin offered.

“Well, hopefully it won’t be the last,” replied Mrs. Deasy, and we hope you won’t be shy in joining us over at our place from time to time. Maybe we could even make a regular thing of it now that…”

“…Now that I won’t be around for you to tend on anymore,” Anna laughed.

“Martin, you had us all very worried,” said Mr. Deasy. “We were afraid we were going to lose you. And especially now that I’d finally gotten used to having you hanging around the shop every Saturday.

“Yes, the whole community came together to try and help out. At least to do the few things that Richard and Ellen would let us do. Those two! They seem to have a real soft spot for you,” said Anna. “They all helped with the wood, and you’ll find your cupboard very well stocked. Don’t be surprised if you get a few more visits like this one, too. There are a lot of people who would really like to get to know you and this is a nice way to do it, wouldn’t you say?”

They sat and ate; most of the talk during supper was of the day-to-day variety. After supper, Anna insisted on washing the dishes. She filled the pan with hot water from the kettle and went to work while the others lingered at the table.

“So you’re leaving tomorrow,” Martin said to Anna.

“Yes, they said I could start at any time and just into the new year seemed to be a good time to make the change.”

“But why didn’t you leave last week when the Christmas break was over?”

Anna stopped what she was doing, put the cloth down by her side and turned to face Martin, “Because I…” 

She stopped and looked down. She stood in silence for a few seconds, then lifted her head and tried again, “Because I just could not bear the thought of losing you and being so far away from you if you, if you…” 

She trailed off and started again, “Look, nine years ago, my brother died, alone, all the way over in France and I was not there to be with him when he needed me most. I was not prepared to lose you that same way. Since he’s been gone you’re the closest thing to a brother I have had. …ever will have.”

Her shoulders drooped. Martin could see she was fighting back tears. It got quiet.

“Vince didn’t die alone,” Martin’s gentle voice broke the silence. “I was there.”

Anna went white. She wavered and steadied herself against the wash stand. It looked like she was about to fall, but she just dropped the cloth and made her way over to the table and sat back in the chair. “What did you just say?”

Martin took a deep breath and then let it all out. He started by telling of how he’d met Vince, just after training. He went on to tell her of how they’d grown as friends as they served together and how Vince had almost single-handedly maintained the morale of the entire platoon through his stories and songs of life back home. He went on to tell them of the skilful, effective sergeant he’d become and of how he’d served with bravery and honour.

Martin finished with, “Vince died right by my side. I had his head in my lap the whole time. In all honesty I can tell you that his friendship was the one good thing that happened to me during the war.”

They all sat in silence for a while. 

Finally Anna, who had been looking straight ahead, out the window, tilted her head to look at Martin, “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”

“I wanted to. Lots of times. It never seemed to be the right time to bring it up and, as time went on, it just became harder and harder.”

“And it took my moving away to get it out of you. We would never have known.”

Martin hung his head. He had no further words. He wanted to be away. In the boat. On the island. Even up in his empty classroom. Anywhere but right here, right now.

Mr. Deasy cleared his throat the way he did when he wanted everyone to listen. He reached inside the breast pocket of his coat and retrieved a battered envelope. From it he withdrew several sheets of letterhead that Martin recognized. He spread the sheets out on the table and pointed to the last line of the last sheet. “This is you.”

Martin looked where he was pointing. It was his signature. It was the letter he’d written to Vince’s parents, who he now knew as Mr. and Mrs. Deasy.

“Yes, I wrote that letter. It was my first one and it was probably the hardest thing I ever did.” He stopped, almost choking on his words. “Vince was my friend. My only friend.”

“I figured it out shortly after you arrived. You see, you were not the only one who wrote home. I kept all the letters. He considered you his best friend too.”

Anna looked at her father with a mixture of anger and hurt. Everyone heard the question. She didn’t need to ask it out loud.

“Because everything happens in its own time,” was all he said.

“I think it’s time to head home for the night,” said Mrs. Deasy. Looking at Anna she continued, “You have a big day tomorrow and need to get some rest.”

They all got up to leave. “Thank you for everything,” Martin offered, as they left the step and turned to walk down the path.

All three turned to look at Martin. Anna spoke for them all, “No, thank you, Martin. For everything.”

Martin went back inside, and turned down the light in the lamp. He watched the boat cross the harbour. He observed as all three got out at Mr. Deasy’s wharf and walked to their house. He kept looking out at the harbour for a long time afterward.

The fire died down, but before Martin went to bed he wrote in his journal.

Jan. 7: Awoke today after a long sleep. Despite my recent illness, I confess to feeling more alive than I have in a very long time.

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Twenty Twenty Won

Such relief when 2020 finally was done
‘til it dawned on me that this one’s “2020 won.”
And I’d look forward to also bidding this one fair adieu
‘cept for the fact that next year will be “2020 too.” 😉

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