From a long way away, through a dense fog, Danny slowly became aware of an annoying, tense, hammering noise, somewhat like that of a woodpecker at work; not quite as fast, but more threatening and insistent. His loose arm stirred itself and wiped across his upside ear as if it could swat away the annoyance like one does a buzzing mosquito. His downside ear was buried deep in a fluffy cloud, so had no need of brushing.
Of course, this was a useless gesture; how can you remove the annoying sound of a distant woodpecker by merely swiping an appendage across one’s ear? Nevertheless, such is the logic of the sleeping brain as it slowly awakens.
For awakening was what Danny was doing. With a start he realized that the annoying sound was not a woodpecker at all, just as his ear was not resting on a fluffy cloud. It was resting on an old satin cushion at the end of his worn sofa in his living room, and the annoying sound was the voice of his wife Maggie hovering above him. The sounds coming from her were now discernible:
“Git up, ya silly bugger! Ya lazy, drunken layabout. Dem bys Art and Jimmy McCroy are hangin’ about ours boat down bys da water. And they’ve got a pickup with an empty trailer. You git yer lazy arse down there Danny, and see what them bys is up to!”
Danny swung his legs off the sofa and onto the floor. The effort of raising himself to a sitting position too quickly brought on a wave of nausea and he grasped his head in his hands in a futile attempt to steady it.
“Will ya shut yer trap woman! Can’t ya seez I’m right here. ‘Ter’s no need fur shoutin”, he muttered.
“Auch, a person’s could die from such a man! I’m tellin’ ya, ya got ta git down to da boat before them bys do somet’in bad to it.”
“Is there any coffee on, fer pity’s sake woman?”
“Yes, there’s coffee on but it’s nearly 3 hours old by this point. The morning’s near over and you’ve not seen the start of it yet ya silly bugger. Look, I’ll warm ya a mug in ta microwave while you’ze git up and git yer boots and coat on.” With that she stalked off into the kitchen leaving Danny a moment to try to straighten up his senses. After half a minute, he managed to raise himself to his feet and slowly, one difficult step at a time, began to make his way towards the front door of their little blue house, just up from the shore of the ocean, in the small fishing village of Mary’s Bay, Newfoundland.
With each step, he was starting to feel stronger and get more of his bearings. From the kitchen came Maggie’s voice again. “Weren’t dem McCroys some of the bys youze was drinkin with last night? You didn’t do anyt’ing foolish once youz got that Screech in ya, now did ya Danny?”
Suddenly it came back to him and struck him motionless in the middle of his living room in the little blue house just up from the shore in Mary’s Bay, Newfoundland. His face was gripped by a clench tighter than a vice. Despite the chill of the morning, beads of sweat appeared on his furrowed brow and down his back.
Yes, the McCroys had been there last night. They’d been the ones to bring the cards to ol Billy’s house and suggest a round or two of poker. By the time, they’d arrived, ol Billy, Danny and the rest of the bys had been ¾ through Billy’s bottle of Screech – the notorious Newfoundland Rum. Danny always liked the Screech – too much as Maggie always nagged him. “One day, that evil rum is gonna be yer downfall Danny”, Maggie had said to him many a time.
The tight grip escaped him and with a small wail, Danny collapsed to his knees and then onto the floor. “Oh God, say it’s not so”, he mumbled bitterly. Despite not gracing the church door in over 9 months, he clasped his hands together in prayer. “Say it’s not so. Say it’s not so. Oh God, please don’t let it be so.”
How the hell could he? And now, how could he tell his long-suffering Maggie? The very same Maggie who always warned him about ‘da evil Screech’. Who warned him of his impending downfall. How could he possibly tell her that he had been drinking it last night, drinking a lot of it. That it gave him such a strong and happy feeling that he felt on top of the world. That it made him feel there was nothing he couldn’t do, and no man he couldn’t beat. So when late in the evening of poker and Screech, when he’d already lost all the money he’d had on him, when he had the makings of a great hand that would win it all back and then some. When all he needed was that one card – that King of hearts that would give him the Royal Flush – the hand to beat all hands. How could he back down from the challenge from Art McCroy? That bastard who’d been winning from him all night? Who always talked down to Danny and strutted around town with that air of superiority. Like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth – the bastard! How could he not bet his brand new dory on this sure hand? The new, upgraded dory, that he’d just sold his trusty hand-me-down-dory-from-his-father to buy. The one that he still owed payments on for the next four years. The one they relied on to make a living on the rugged coast of Newfoundland.
Oh, by Jeez, how the hell could he? For what good was a Newfoundland cod fisherman without a boat? “About as useful as a teet on a bull”, as his old pa used to say. Ya, that just about summed him up, right now.
Maggie bustled in from the kitchen with a mug of steaming coffee, but stopped when she saw her husband cringing on the floor. She looked out the picture window at the McCroy brothers as they backed the trailer up to the new dory with the flowery red curlicues on the bow that Maggie had painted by hand. Then her glance slowly returned to her husband cowering on the floor.
“Oh Danny”, she said in a hushed voice, “Youze didn’t.” A single tear emerged from the corner of her eye and slowly descended down her reddened cheek. “For the love of God,” she cried, “Tell me youze didn’t.”
2018 © Quentin Andrews