A New Beginning

Entry by: Tauren

7th July 2017
“But it`s not due to sail for at least another hour and a half?” Eddie heard his father complain.

The man in the peaked cap who was leaning in the open driver`s window shook his head, “There`s a fierce storm out in the Irish sea,” he said, “They had to start loading the trucks early, so they could get them chained down, they`re not letting any more cars board; sorry.”

“But.. but, what are we supposed to do?”

The man shrugged, crouched down and pointed through the car at a building to the left, the sign over the door read `Booking Office`
“You could ask them inside,” he suggested, “But I can`t let you through,” he jerked a thumb at the barrier that remained stubbornly closed a few feet in front of them. “Just pull in over there,” he gestured to the row of empty parking spaces in front of the building.

There was a moment’s pause, then his dad muttered, “Thanks for nothing,” rolled up the Cortina`s window, turned the wheel hard left, and embarrassingly dropped the clutch too quickly, stalling the car. Swearing under his breath, he hunched over the wheel as he cranked the engine back to life, over-revved the engine, the rear wheels spinning on the icy tarmac, making the estate fishtail slightly as he aimed for the nearest spot.

“Won`t be a minute,” he said angrily as he got out, slamming the door behind him.

Eddie`s mum turned down the heater, which had been turned up to full to counter the blast of cold air from the open window, twisted around in her seat, her right arm stretching behind the driver`s headrest and complained, “Jesus Christ, I told him we should have left earlier, that man will be late for his own funeral.”

Before he could stop himself, Eddie said, “We`re not late, they began boarding early, it`s not dad`s fault.”

His mother`s lips, normally thin from perpetual anger, disappeared completely. He saw her hand clench into a fist and flinched, an instinct born from a decade and a half of violence, and hunched his head down in anticipation of the blow….. that never came.

When he saw her fist unfurl, though not relax, he glanced at her, she was staring at something to his right, and when he looked to see what had stayed her hand he saw the man in the peaked cap watching them. He knew she`d never strike one of them while there was a witness, but he also knew that she would save it up, and then it would be much worse.

He looked at Pat, who glared at him, a look that said; what`s wrong with you, contradicting her like that, are you trying to get yourself killed?

They spent the next fifteen minutes in silence, Eddie torn with anxiety; not wishing for a beating, but hoping the man would look away so she could get it over with. The thought of what kind of mood she`d be in after that rage had built and built for the twelve hours aboard ship, him within reach but untouchable, what she might do to him once they got home, didn’t bear thinking about.

He was still hoping for a single punch, two at most when the driver`s door flew open and his dad nearly jumped into the driver`s seat, “Christ it`s freezing out,” he said. “Okay, best I could do was get you three aboard as walk-ons. I`ll drive up to Fishguard and cross over there,” and before his wife could protest, “I`ve already rung Dan, he`ll be waiting for you in Tivoli in the morning when you dock.”

Thankfully the gangway was covered and kept the frigid January wind at bay, their mum handed their tickets to a man at the doorway to the ship, who gave them a suspicious look, “No baggage?” he asked. Their mum only shook her head, in no mood to explain their situation; he gave them another pointed look, then waved them aboard.

They were among the last to board and every seat was taken, some people were sprawled across three, arms tucked under heads, eyes closed, body language declaring, “Don`t even think about it.”

Eddie wandered away towards the stern, pushing through an outer door, which was slammed shut by the wind as soon as he released it, the biting air forcing him to zip his anorak to his throat. He liked ships… mostly, but he hated being inside. The air was too stuffy and was filled with the sickly smell of burnt Kerosene, so thick he could taste it at the back of his throat. Another reason for getting away was the forlorn hope that, out of sight might just mean out of mind, that her anger would dissipate if she couldn’t see him; he thought there were two chances of that, neither of them in his favour.

He stood in the lee of the superstructure, watching as the enormous ropes were cast away, the deck thrumming underfoot as the side-thrusters pushed the ship away from the dock. The Innisfallen was an old ship and the least stable he`d ever sailed on, it rocked and wallowed in even the lightest swells, what it would be like in a storm didn’t bear thinking about.

The water behind the ship boiled wildly as she engaged her main propeller’s and pushed her way through the harbours calm surface, but as she reached the exit she hit the waves at forty five degrees. The bow lifted, the ship heeling to starboard as the wind and sea hit her properly for the first time, Eddie bent both knees and leaned to port keeping his body mostly upright, a few minutes of that and they cleared the harbour wall, the ship turning due west and into the waves.

Eddie liked to watch the harbour lights for as long as he could whenever he travelled between Ireland and the U.K., it gave him a delicious melancholy feeling to watch the lights fade from view, even though they had never once stopped in Swansea, not even for petrol.

By the time the only thing he could see was the sweep of the lighthouse light, they were well and truly in the grip of the storm. The ship would power up a wave, Eddie gaining weight with every foot, a pause at the crest, then weightlessness as they drove down the other side until it crashed with a loud boom into the trough, the ship stalling, the deck shaking as the engine laboured underfoot, and then they were climbing once more.

He stood there as long as he could bear the cold, his hood pulled tight around his face, hands thrust deep into his pockets. But eventually he was driven indoors, not only by the biting winter air but by the nagging worry that she might be wondering what had happened to him. She might send Pat in search of him, which would be an inconvenience to her, adding to sins, and her festering rage. Not for the first time he was glad he`d found where she kept the rubber hose hidden, that day last March when she`d been out, and had buried it in Kennedy`s field, though he`d been surprised that she never replaced it.

He found them in a small salon type space, about fifteen feet square, at a junction of two corridors. Halfway down one of the corridors a toilet door banged open, then shut, in time to the ships heaving. Eddie had passed the toilet on his search, holding his breath as he did, the stink of vomit had reached him long before he saw what was making such a racket, and he`d held his breath as he went by. He had good sea legs, but even the strongest stomach can be turned by the stench of other peoples puke, he forced himself not to imagine the state of the floor in there.

He needn’t have worried about being missed; Pat was holding onto a railing on one wall, his mother was leaning side on to the opposite wall, clutching the railing with both hands, eyes screwed shut, her face as white as her knuckles.

Eddie grabbed the railing on the wall opposite her, a few feet from his brother, and as he watched, the most extraordinary thing happened.
She rolled around until her back was to the wall, let got the rail and slowly slid down until she was sitting on the floor, left leg out in front, the right tucked under it. Then, as if someone had snipped a cable in the back of her head every muscle in her face let go at once, one moment he was looking at the face of the woman who had spat him into existence fifteen years previously, and had spent the interlude railing against her god for cursing her with yet another son, spending her rage on her children; the next she was a stranger, a featureless flabby faced woman, skin like a melted waxwork.

Without warning she began to shriek, she didn’t work up to it, there was no moaning, no sobbing; she went from silent to shrieking in one motion. She shrieked her husband`s name over and over, “TOM, TOM, WHERE`S TOM, TOM, HELP ME TOM, HELP.” Pausing only as long as it took to take a fresh breath, before screaming on and on for her husband.

The two brothers looked at one another, neither made any attempt to go to their mothers aid, neither felt so-inclined, their faces bore the expressions of curious spectators, but every time she cried out, Eddie`s heart exulted; he wondered if his older brother felt the same.

A minute later, perhaps two, a seaman in a navy jumper with the B+I line logo stitched in white on it stopped, took one look at her and hurried off. Minutes later he returned with an officer who bent down and attempted to console the stricken woman, this only made things worse and her cries grew louder and more piercing. He said something to the crewman who hurried away again, returning after a longer time than the first with another officer carrying a wooden case, the red-cross symbol painted onto the side.

The two officers had a brief discussion and the seaman was sent away for a third time. From the box the doctor, Eddie supposed he was a doctor, produced a bottle of pills. His mum spat out the first two, but was coerced into taking two more and by the time the seaman returned, accompanied by another, carrying a collapsible stretcher, she had quieted to sobbing.

She didn’t resist as they pried her onto the stretcher, which under other circumstances would have seemed quite comical, four men trying to lift an almost catatonic woman onto a stretcher while the deck heaved and pitched beneath them.

Once they had her safely secured, the two seamen staggered away, neither boy wondering where they were taking her. The doctor stooped to pick up her handbag, noticed Eddie for the first time and asked, “Do you know that woman?”

Eddie gave him a blank look, shook his head and said, “No.” When he asked Pat, he got the same response.

After he`d gone Eddie sat on the floor and thought about what had just happened. He realised that he was free, realised that at fifteen he was stronger than she would ever be, that without his father she was nothing, that she drew all her strength, such as it was, from him. But then how much strength did it take to terrorise six helpless little boys.
He understood all of this...... and was never afraid of her again.

Years later, on the rare occasions he told this story, he would always say that that 21/January/1979 was his real birthday; that that was the date that Edward John O`Sullivan, the man he had grown up to be, had been truly born.
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