An Observant Witness or a Deluded Fanatic?
Chapter 1 : Excerpt
Silver Cape Cove, Newfoundland
My stomach lurches. Pius stands in the punt, line over the side, hauling like a madman. “Watch out, Dan. I got a big one.”
“Sit down, Pius and stop rocking the boat.”
I pull my jigger in, empty, drop the heavy leaded hook at my feet.
Sweat beads on Pius’s face and he spreads his feet, buckles his knees. His rubber boots, two sizes too big—I’m guessing they’re hand-me-downs from someone in the Cove—are planted hard against the side. He turns to me. “Grab the line, help me haul ‘en in.”
Reaching out, I kneel near the gunnels to keep from going arse over kettle into the water and stare down into the deep.
Must be a sizeable fish according to the fight he’s putting up. A shadow, the size of the boat rises. “Sure ain’t no cod, Pius. Look. Jeez,” I drop the line. Shout. “Let go, let go.”
Teeth and wide jaws break the surface. The cod Pius got on his line sinks into the maw of a friggin big shark. A cold soulless eye studies us, the mouth closes, disappears just as fast as it came.
Pius cusses a long string of oaths and still holds on to the line.
“Let go, Pius,” I whisper ‘fraid the shark will hear what I’m saying and understand. “Let the line go.”
“No, I got me good jigger on there. He can have the friggin fish but he’s not getting the jigger.”
The line pulls taut. Pius scrambles, fighting to hold on. Then, he slams back down into the punt, the raw end of his line springing back toward him. “Well, the pelt of a bitch. Took me fish and me best jigger.”
He stares at me. The hand holding the empty line shaking.
I wipe my brow, rub my hand over my chest. My heart races. “What a size, hey?” I laugh but, by jumpin’s I’m frightened shitless. “That friggin’ thing could have eaten us, boat and all.”
A breeze comes up, ripples the water as we both stare at the spot where the monster had surfaced only seconds ago. Pius lets out a breath.
“And that eye. See that? Like looking into the devil’s soul.” Pius’s brow draws down into a scowl, his face pale, right up to the roots of his blasty red hair.
“If he decided to eat us, we’d certainly be looking into the devil’s eye right now, after what we done last Saturday night.” I wink at Pius and laugh.
A smile curls his lips and color returns to his cheeks.
We’re always up to some foolishness—since we was small boys.
Pius joins in. “We’ll be crucified, Dan, if Uncle Neddy ever finds out.”
“We’s not the ones who got to worry. ‘Tis the teacher, Miss Charlotte Kelley, who carries that sin on her soul.” I say her name like she says it whenever anyone talks to her. Jumpin’s, she’s snootier than a St. John’s merchant, that one.
“More like Miss Harlot Kelley, if you ask me.” Leave it to Pius to nickname her. “I’d like to know where she gets her moonshine.”
“Wonder what’s going on between her and Uncle Neddy Bright. He had his hand on her—”
“Don’t even say it.” Pius can be vulgar sometimes. “I don’t doubt that’s not the only place he had his hand.” I scan the water. Been out here since the sun rose. Early enough this time of the year. Late June and the sun is blistering.
Pius grabs the oars, sets them between the thole pins. “Might as well go home, wha?”
Sizing up the catch, I check the height of the water against the gunnels. We got a fine load and although ‘tis still early, we got to clean this fish before Mam puts dinner on the table at half-past twelve o’clock. “Saturday, Pius. Pea soup and duffs. Can’t wait for that.”
“You got it good, Danny b’y. Ya mammy cooking for ya.”
I want to come back with a saucy answer, but I hold my tongue. Pius likes to joke about my ‘easy’ life. His life is so full of turmoil I got to wonder how he’s survived these past eighteen years.
Silver Cape Cove. Been home to my people for close to a hundred years, Da says. A little piece of heaven brought together in a collection of houses and skiffs, flakes and twine sheds, spread out along the Trinity Bay side of the Bonavista peninsula. Middle of the summer, and on this afternoon, with the sun scalding the rocks, everyone eats his pea soup and wishes he could crawl away for a nap like they’ll do tomorrow when the youngsters goes off to Sunday school. Flies buzz outside, not daring to enter the kitchen since Mam blew up a paper bag, tied it, and hung it smack dab in the middle of the doorway. She worries too much about them getting into the food and bringing sickness.
Finishing the last drop of soup, I rise from my place, and catch Mam’s eye. “Thanks, Mam.” I nod to her. Da trained us early on to be respectful. Liz and Molly, the younger maidens, start clearing the table.
“Daniel, you’ll be around to help me later, will ya??” Da wants a hand fixing up the pounds in the salt shed. Some of the boards have come loose and once the salt fish is put in there to ‘make’ we don’t want the pen coming apart. He wanted everything in solid shape before the season started—had preached that time and again.
Harry, the youngest of the family, pushes a chubby fist into his left eye, rubs and yawns. Slipping from his chair, he hauls off the towel Mam puts around his neck so he don’t waste soup on his shirt and heads toward the door. “What do you say, Harry?” I call after him.
He stops, turns on the heel of his small boot and stares toward me. “’Bout what?” His innocent face drawn down in a frown.
“What do you say to your mother, Harry?” Da watches as Mam pours more tea into his cup, touches her arm. Lets her know it’s enough and smiles.
Harry’s dark eyes skip from Da to Mam. “I’m going out, be back for supper.”
“No, my son.” Da sighs. “Thank you. We always say ‘thank you’.”
“T’ank you, Mam.
She approaches him gently. “I think you should stay in and have a nap, my darling.”
Harry runs out the door, feet pounding on the wooden steps as he makes his getaway. Da makes a tut-tutting sound like the old women at church, wipes his brow, and studies the tea in his cup like ‘tis something he never clapped eyes on before.
Throwing a clean cup towel over her shoulder, she tilts her head. “Now, Thomas. He’s barely five years old.” “Old enough to know the difference. I swear, Janey, you got that boy spoiled rotten.” Putting a teaspoon of sugar into his tea, Da stirs. Over and over, clinking the spoon against the sides of the cup. When Nanny Anna is around, she puts her hand on his arm and smiles. ‘’Nough now, Thomas. That sugar is well settled in there.’
I run my hand down my face. What kind of a fool am I? Here I am wanting Florrie to trust me when I can barely trust myself.