Today has been a far better one… there are three installments to share. I caution… I have changed the POV from first person to third person after I found every time I sat down to write I would accidentally begin writing in the third person… lots of interesting potential given this change of view.
Peace resided in the movement and sound of the sandpaper block over wood, in symphony with the crash of the waves. Even the motion of the clipper ploughing through the sea had a certain harmony and connection. Looking down at the dark water churning below, a swath of white foam rising as the wooden hull sliced through the water, Ryan was humble enough to remember it had not always been such a treat and thus I enjoyed his new found affinity with the sea, a respect hard earned.
Three days out of Aberdeen he wondered if his mother had been right about hell on earth… only it was hell on water, his stomach pitching with the boat and whatever resided recently in his stomach shot up and splashed down onto the deck, or his feet or feet of whatever poor soul happened to be too close by. He noted with queasy disquiet how the other crew members avoided him and the rest of the paying passengers did too. It was only the bosun, Rum Hutchinson, with his characteristic wack of the shoulder, who dared to venture close enough to be hit by projectile bile. Rum told him to hang in there, he’d soon find his sea legs. But it wasn’t sea legs Ryan longed for, a sea stomach is what he yearned for, in fact prayed for each evening from his heaving hammock. He was certain, if found, the rest of his body would follow in compliance.
Sea legs came… eventually, with the greatest of relief, after what seemed an eternity. Ryan realised the rest of the passengers settled into the seaward motion, at best, only a week ahead of him.
“Different folk take different times. Be grateful lad you’re not puking the entire trip.”
And he was grateful, especially since sea sickness did not excuse him from the assigned tasks which came with the free passage and occupied all the other times between sun up and sun down when he was hunched somewhere. While Ryan wasn’t technically a carpenter, wood spoke to him, like the sea murmured to sailors (or so they claimed), and he was more than competent in the maintenance tasks required, under the watchful eye of the bosun.
“You’re diligent and hardworking, Anderson.” The voice startled him and looking up Ryan saw the bosun standing watching the care and attention in each stroke. “Was it your mother or father who beat it into you?”
“My mother, sir. I mean she was the one who told us to always work hard… hard work was the passage into heaven. Though she never raised a hand to any of us. ‘Twas the fear of her hand… or more to the point, her wooden spoon which kept us from complaining or slinking away from our chores. That and the all mighty fear of Hell.”
“And your father, Anderson?”
“My grandparents said my mother beat him with her tongue until he was as hardworking and upstanding as any man in Aberdeen.”
I nodded, unsure what he was meaning. “My mother is the most Godfearing woman in Aberdeen.”
“Sounds to me son, as though it should be God doing the fearing of your mother.”
I stifled a laugh. I’d never heard anyone make a joke about God… much less God and my mother.
“What are you plans when we make Melbourne? You don’t seem to be the sort sold on a life digging up mud for sprinkles of gold.”
“No, sir. My plan is to find work.”
“You’ve come to make money the honest way then. Well as honest as a man who can triple and triple again the price of his goods or labour.”
I looked at him.
“Ahh, Anderson. We’d better knock some of that innocence off you before we make Port Philip Bay or the whores on dockside will eat you alive before you even make it anywhere near the town.”
The heat seemed to intensify in his face again, and he looked down, focusing on the movement of the sandpaper block in a pitched battle against his embarrassment.
“Tell me Anderson, were you afraid of your mother?”
The sandpaper moved by itself as all his feelings and thoughts of my mother swirled inside his head, like eddies of fog over the sea.
“Sir, if I were scared of my mother,” I finally said. “I’d still be in Aberdeen, working for Messers MacDonald on (what street?)”
“Good lad.” He clapped his massive calloused paw on my shoulder. “When we make Port Philip Bay come and see me. I might have some contacts in Ballarat who may be helpful.”
“A letter of introduction?” Immediately Ryan chastised himself for the impulsive presumption of his words.
“Better than a letter of introduction, Anderson. My brother George Hutchinson is extending his business out into Ballarat. I think you’re just the man he might be looking for.”
“But you’ve never seen me build a coffin.”
“I’ve seen what you can do with your hands, I’ve seen your whataretheycallingit… work ethic. If I were convinced you’d fall in love with the sea, I’d offer you a permanent job on here. But you’re a landlubber.”
“Your feet belong on the solid ground boy. Your heart never gonna belong to the sea like mine does.”
As usual the wrong thing came out of my mouth when I felt uncomfortable. “But I barely feel sick any more.”
I’d never heard another man declare his love for a woman, much less the sea. Because I knew my mother would be appalled at such a thought, I tried to embrace the idea of falling in love with the sea. I imagined writing home… “Shan’t be back in Aberdeen. The sea has stolen my heart and I’m not sure when I will come to my senses again. Love lost and lornly yours, Ryan.”
The bosun’s voice cut in through my musings.“If it doesn’t work out in Ballarat, you can come back on board.”
“It’ll work out, regardless of where I’m going.”
“You’re cocky… that’s good. You’ll need that where you’re going.”
“Not cocky sir, just adamant I’m not going home to my Mother.”
Rum thumped him so hard on the back the air escaped in a surprised wheeze and it took Ryan a moment to refill his lungs again.
“When you’re done sanding and oiling the railings, the Captain’s after a new shelf.”