Crossroads: A Story
All the talk about weather and especially the images I've seen of crashing waves in the UK reminded me of a story I wrote. It's a bit of a puzzle why it came to mind because it doesn't feature the ocean, but the coast of Newfoundland has a role!
By the way, we have high winds in Ontario at the moment as well, but not as devastating as those in the UK. Stay safe!
For those of you who are interested in our horses at our farm, they were prancing in the snow today despite the windy weather. They enjoyed the sunshine and warmer temperatures.
And I'm working on the rough draft of book five in the Meg Sheppard Mystery Series!
Here's the story 'Crossroads'. I hope you enjoy it. (It's another one of those 'word challenges': the words I had to use in the piece are in italics).
His matted hair shields his face as he bends over to focus on the repair of a fishing net. The putrid odour demands that I hold my breath, but, of course, I can’t do that for long, and gasp.
Being a man who has fallen on hard times myself, I empathize with this unkempt, uncommunicative person who shrinks from human contact, much like the hermit crab that crawls into its salvaged shell.
Important news is about to arrive, and he knows it. He grunts and I sense anxiety, or perhaps a desire to be rid of me so he doesn’t have to hear it. His stained, cracked hands with their chipped fingernails waver. He knows there will be word from the doula and he remains still, as if frozen. He’s at another crossroads in a life that has followed many different trails, most of which have led nowhere.
He grew up on a farm in Ontario, thousands of miles away from this ocean. Fate wasn’t kind to him right from the start. His father died in a horrific silo accident that hit the front page of the local newspaper. He was the only child and not yet a teenager at the time. His mother lost faith in her god and in herself, and sought solace in the bottle. She rented the land out to neighbouring farmers, but he was hungry and barely clothed most of the time. Once he reached the age of sixteen, he left home and worked on farms in the Niagara Region, picking fruit and living in communal cabins. In his twentieth year, depression crept over him and he couldn’t work. When the clouds lifted a little, he packed up his meagre belongings and walked all the way from Ontario to Newfoundland. If that sounds far-fetched, it is. He didn’t walk all the way. He got some rides, several of them for quite the distance, in large semis—truckers looking for company. They didn’t get much in return—just someone who’d listen without judgment or much comment at all.
By the time he reached Newfoundland, the darkness had lifted and his energy returned. He constructed a makeshift shelter in a small cove about three kilometers out of town.
Despite his humble home and the lack of amenities, he made use of the town’s laundromat and other facilities, and presented for job interviews in clean clothes, a smooth-shaven face and sharp haircut. Much to his surprise, he had to admit he was quite the looker if he could make the effort. He found work in a fish-processing plant.
That’s where he met Aileen. She lived in a rented, brightly painted, tiny cottage that overlooked the bay. He saw his first iceberg from her front window. It was during this good period of his life that Erin was conceived. But when he learned Aileen was pregnant, a full-blown panic-attack consumed him, almost paralyzing him. He envisaged a tiny, vulnerable, squirmy, squawky thing, and overwhelming fears of failure and inadequacy flooded his mind. He fled.
But fleeing didn’t help. Memories of his childhood consumed every thought. Hurt and pain that had been buried for years erupted into his consciousness. The dark clouds returned again.
Despite trying to dig a hole to hide in, he couldn’t help checking his mobile for news from Aileen. She didn’t lash out, or criticize, or blame him, or try to load guilt on him. Her lack of remonstrance somehow made him feel his abandonment more deeply and made his responsibility clearer. He should step up.
He turned around before he reached Quebec and returned to his hovel of a home, determined to clean himself up and get his job back. But he wasn’t welcome at the fish plant. Someone had used his locker to stash a wad of counterfeit twenty-dollar bills. It was a miracle he wasn’t arrested and charged, but the evidence didn’t stack up against him. But it was still enough of a blow for him to slump. No job. He could not be a father.
He picks up his mobile. I look at him and he looks at me. I gasp again. The air is putrid. His hair’s matted and dirty. The net he found, and was working on, is useless. He doesn’t have a boat and doesn’t know how to fish. Those dark clouds are ready to descend, hovering, growing heavier, blacker. He’s at a crossroads.
He switches off the camera. He can’t see himself any more. Just as he does, a text pops up. It’s from the doula. A baby girl, Erin. Mother and baby doing fine.
My fingers tremble as I respond. You could count on one hand how many times I’ve done this. I’ll be there tomorrow.
It takes almost all my courage to visit the barber in the state I’m in, but he’s forgiving. He tells me he’s seen worse, which sets my imagination running wild. I get smartened up to the best of my ability before I venture into a couple of stores. I buy a newborn baby girl outfit and a bunch of grapes.
Aileen tells me every day that I’m a wonderful father and partner. And, although I know those clouds still threaten, I manage to keep them at a distance. Aileen and Erin have helped me to create a new life full of love and hope, forgiveness and kindness. I never, ever imagined this could be possible.